Category Archives : Political or Social Stuff

Who We Should Actually Blame for the Baltimore Riots

Everybody’s talking about the riots in Baltimore. When everyone’s talking about something is usually a great time sit down and shut up, but, hell with it. I did sit on this for awhile, because, well, the last time I got annoyed by something on Facebook and wrote a post about it, I had to deal without about ten thousand angry internet people. Fortunately, they were idiots, and soon moved on to other hashtags.

Anyway, I’ve been noticing a lot of folks on social media, mostly young white people from suburban backgrounds, saying some version of this, “I don’t condone or condemn the rioters.”

Now, my first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “Both apathy and stupidity are contemptible, which makes you double contemptible.” But that’s not fair. We must resist these urges. Sure these people are being stupid, and they are wrong to have this non-opinion, but who isn’t stupid now and then? And who hasn’t just been too fed up to care at one time or another?

So, I think you’re wrong, and I’m going to explain, very carefully, why I think that.

The Single Important Thing to Remember

Even if you get mad at me and completely disregard everything else: Nine out of ten people in a crowd are always pretty okay. Remember that whenever you do anything, it will make life easier. It makes keeping the peace easier, it makes finding the justification for not acting like a dick a little bit less difficult on the hard days. Fact is most of the police are doing their jobs just fine, and most of the protesters are there exercising their right and responsibility of citizens to protest injustice.

The other thing you have to remember is that any time you get a group of ten or more people together, one of them is there to kick someone’s teeth in. It doesn’t matter if the group is police, lower class black kids, or nuns. It probably won’t even be the same one in ten from one day to the next. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s me.

The other thing you have to remember is that burning cars make better news and better political fodder than conversations. Which now brings me to the meat of the issue.


Not just the rioters, mind you, and we’re getting to that bit, but absolutely, definitely, condemn the rioters. There’s no reasonable reason to be on the fence about this.

First off, and I’m speaking as a poor person here: If your reaction to your situation sucking is seeking out the property of other people in your situation and destroying it, you are shit. Shit. You deserve to be treated like it; scooped up, dumped in a pile with the rest of the shit, and sent somewhere far away from the nice things where you won’t stink things up. What color shit you are isn’t really something that needs to be considered in the process.

Now, some people are going to point out that change through violence is a very common method for changing things. You’re not wrong. However, change through violence involves the consequences of violence. Take a look at the places employing that on a wide scale. It’s not something we need here. It’s not something we want here. The only time change through violence is needed is when avenues for peaceful resolution do not exist . . . when they clearly do. As evidenced by the massive numbers of peaceful protesters and the small number of rioters.

The looters and rioters are making a shitty neighborhood worse. They are making it that much more likely that the cops in that neighborhood will be trigger-happy. They are undercutting everyone out there trying to show the world that they are people who deserve respect. Now, let’s pause for something everyone can enjoy:


The Worst Part

Okay, back to the serious bit. The worst thing these rioters do is rob any momentum for peaceful resolution. Right now, there is a crowd full of people who took a day off work they many probably couldn’t afford to take, to calmly hold signs and make a point. No one is ever going to read those signs, however, because two blocks over, a bunch of people who don’t have jobs (possibly because their reaction to anger is to smash windows and light things on fire) are looting drugstores and burning down peoples’ homes.

Guess where the news cameras are?

Not here.

What about where the responsible members of the community are working to clean up the mess left by the looters?

Nope, no reporters here.

By not treating the rioters like the angry and irrational sideshow they are, you’re condemning the protesters. Condemning them to continuing in the cycle in which they are currently stuck. You’re telling each and every peaceful protester, “I’d love to listen to what you have to say, but I’d rather just watch these people break everything you’ve built.”

Of course, the media has gone out of their way to stoke up racial tensions, lately. It is, of course, their job to bring to light cases of police abuse, but there isn’t even the pretense anymore of sticking to facts. Every effort is made to make everyone angry, get everyone, whatever their viewpoint, riled up. After all, angry people drive up the ratings. No one’s going to tune in to hear about the police and community leaders meeting to resolve tensions–so it’s best to be proactive and make sure that’s not ever an option.

There Are Two Sides to Everything

And they’re not really who you expect, usually. For example, you could say that the sides in this current unrest are black residents of Baltimore and the police, along with the entrenched power structure they represent. I say there are two sides to this, and you need to shake your preconceptions about the composition of those two sides.

Before I go any further, I want you to do something. I want you to divide this picture based on the Maryland flag into halves representing common interest groups. Horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, by quadrant, however you like, ok?


As personality tests go, I think this is a pretty good one.


You want to know who to blame, and who to reach out to? Ask yourself this:

Which groups benefit from a state of disorder, distrust, and anger, and which groups benefit from peace and cooperation?

On one side, the residents who want to live in peace, and the police officers who want to do their job protecting people in reasonable safety; the people who tangibly benefit from peace and cooperation. On the other side you have the opportunists profiting from the chaos and misery; the looters, the politicians, and the media.

I think that makes it pretty clear who’s to blame for this current situation. You have the criminals, who benefit from the chaos, and from a community that distrusts law enforcement–criminals, by the way, is a category that includes police officers who fail to uphold the law. You have the media, for whom every dead black man or police officer (as long as they’re not both) is a bankable check, and you have the politicians, who always gain from a polarized electorate.

Don’t get distracted. Don’t get apathetic. And, if you do get angry, be smart about it. Make sure you align yourself with the people trying to make things better, and–if you can’t find any–be the first, and hope someone follows.

Basically, take a lesson from this giant guy in a Punisher T-shirt.


6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President 2

6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President

Hillary Clinton will never be President. There, I said it. In twenty months we’ll know if I’m right. But I am. Look, I’m not going to be making the case that Hillary isn’t formidable; she is an unusually capable person by most standards. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t be in a position of practically locking a nomination a year in advance. Hillary is a lot of things. Things like smart, driven, ruthless, political, and, yes, courageous, certainly determined. One thing Hillary will never be, though, is President.

There are a lot of very good reasons for this. No one of these would sink her, but any two or three by themselves would do it–and there’s two or three times that many to choose from. I’m not even going to bother adding “baggage” to the list as its own category.


1. She Can’t Believably Run as a Populist


Dolla, dolla Hills ye’all!

It’s pretty clear that’s what she’s aiming for out the gate. It’s ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is not Elizabeth Warren. She’s a former Walmart Board of Directors member, and AIG donated more than a quarter million dollars to her foundation last year. Sure, Hillary Clinton honestly can say she’s not neck deep in big business connections–but only until she needs to come up for air.

Hillary Clinton, in person or through her foundation, has taken more money from big businesses and foreign governments in the past few years than any hundred of us combined will see this year. Listening to someone talking about how she understands the plight of the common man when she gets paid about three hundred grand an hour to talk is a little bit beyond absurd. For some people the fact that she donates the money to her foundation will mitigate the price–but it’s hard to charge that much to give a canned speech then turn around and run on being just folks, ya know?


2. She Can’t Believably Run as a Business Friendly Candidate

MNic Clinton BizFriend 2

But wait, she’s clearly in bed with big business and rich folks . . . so she can hit back at the Republicans by taking some their, “Yes, but what if you’re not poor and don’t want to become poor?” thunder. Right?

Maybe, if she hadn’t been part of the last administration. Barack Obama burned this bridge. Not actually, mind you–no candidate in history has accepted more money from large donors that him–but in public perception. He campaigned against Romney by suggesting the closing of tax loopholes for the ultra rich. Then didn’t even try to do so. Strange, that. Still, there’s just not anything a Democrat can do for an election or two that will make them seem like they’re pro-business, pro-job. Personally, I think even a small dip in the market running towards the election would sink Hillary.

She knows this, or she wouldn’t have jumped towards populism out the gate. Her plan may be to squeeze out the populists early so that she pivot towards the moderates as soon as possible–that’s probably smart, since the populists will mostly pick her over a Republican, if those are their only choices–but she’s not going to fool the folks she needs to fool to make that happen, any more than Romney did.


3. She Can’t Believably Run on Foreign Policy

Hillary FP 2

One thing that I think most everyone (myself included) expected would be a Hillary strength, as a rather hawkish Democrat and former SoD, was foreign policy. Up until a year ago, it looked like her only foreign policy legacy challenge would be Benghazi, and that was nearly put to rest. Now, her signature overtures are in tatters. China is aggressively building bases and challenging its neighbors. The Russian Reset apparently reset us a little too far back, all the way to when Russia invaded neighboring countries at will. And her Arab Spring and Middle East peace initiatives leave a legacy of genocide, razed global heritage sites, and rampant sexual slavery.

Worse still, for Hillary and the people suffering for her hard work, none of these problems appear likely to resolve themselves before the election. Even Benghazi is getting another look, now that it turns out she used a private email server during her tenure and deleted it all.


4. She Can’t Believably Run as a Symbol of Female Empowerment

MNiC Clinton GP

Hillary Clinton is a name everyone in the US, and most folks in Siberia, for that matter, knows. However, in an alternate universe Hillary Rodham is probably a state senator, maybe a Congresswoman, in Arkansas. Sans Bill, Hillary wouldn’t be running for President. What’s more, she knows it: Why else would she stick with him while he banged his way to, through, and out of the White House? Maybe she was fine with it in private, some people work that way, but to stick with him after it all came out is another story entirely.

Susana Martinez, Elizabeth Warren, even, yes, Sarah Palin could all run on the principle of, “A Woman Can Be President!” and they’d be right. Hillary’s theme starts the same way, and continues ” . . . If she marries a man who becomes President, ignores his infidelities, then rides his coattails to an uncontested safe Senate seat, and no one charismatic with a penis runs against her in the primary.”

Not exactly, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

One theme I’ve repeatedly run into, from people all over the political spectrum is that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really deserve to be the first female president. Is that sexist? Absolutely. However, it is only by running on the (also sexist) First Woman platform that Hillary opens herself up to this line of attack. The only thing she can do, really, is not open that door at all.


5. She Can’t Believably Claim to Grab The Other Clinton’s Voters

Bill Clinton appealed to white working class voters, minorities, and blue collar across the board. Granted, Obama proved that isn’t necessary to winning the Presidency–provided you can grab most Hispanics, and motivate the hell out the black community. Look at the states Bill won in 1992:

Who here likes Hillary’s chances of taking Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, or Kentucky? Yes, democrats have gained in new areas, but this doesn’t change the hard truth that the coalition that elected her husband is gone, and the coalition that elected Barack Obama is going to be hard to motivate to come and support her, thanks to the aforementioned points.


6. Hillary Clinton Can’t Believably Run as Anything

MNiC Clinton human person

I try to follow politics fairly closely. Not religiously, but a fair bit. The fact of the matter is I’m almost thirty, which means a lot of the problems I mistakenly thought my parents’ generation would solve are about to become my problems. I have absolutely no idea which policy opinions of Clinton I agree with. Because I have no freaking clue what she actually thinks about anything.

She changes her opinions on everything to whatever this year’s focus group says is polling well. She’s hardly alone in this among politicians on either side of the aisle, but she’s been in politics for a very long time, and she clearly cares about nothing as much as winning.

She wants to be President, because she wants to be President. If she ever had an actual reason to want to be President, she seems to have forgotten it a dozen or so policy changes ago.

The Upshot

Now, I might bite the bullet on that, if she seemed competent. The Reagan-Bush-Clinton trifecta was twenty years of very good times for the most part, because, while the three men were not entirely of the same political opinions, they were all, particularly the first and last, pretty good at the job of presidenting. On the other hand, the Bush2-Obama duo demonstrates rather forcefully that two nice incompetent guys with entirely different views on everything can screw things up in amazing and exciting ways. I suspect George W. Bush and Barack Obama are probably the nicest guys we’ve had in office in a fair while, but they simply suck at the job.

Will Hillary be competent? She’s tacked her name onto a number of successful initiatives, and shown a willingness to reach across the aisle. Both of these things are important in a leader. She has very few initiatives of her own, however, and her one semi-leadership role in Obama’s administration was, as we’ve already discussed. . . less than impressive.

Moreover, she’s proven that she’s pretty bad at actually running a campaign against a competent opponent. If Ted Cruz or a similar dunce wins the Republican primary, Hillary will almost certainly be President–assuming she makes it that far. Her campaigns tend to be one gaff after another–despite a top notch campaign staff. On the other hand, we all know that’s not happening. Anyone much good at threading the needle and grabbing moderates is going to win the presidency.

So, either Hillary loses primary, and another democrat takes a swing at it, or a republican takes her down in November. Either way, Hillary Clinton will never be President.

Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency 2

MNiC Feat RF Right

Religious Freedom, Business Owner Rights, and Basic Human Decency

There’s been a lot of attention paid, lately, to the “religious freedom” bill in Indiana, and a similar one in Arkansas. I’m neither gay, nor religious, so it seems like I don’t have a horse in this race. However, I am a small business owner, so stupid reactions to this do hold a certain danger to me. I have some thoughts.

This is a complicated subject, so I’m trying to give every aspect its due.

Everybody Directly Involved In These Situations Is a Bit Dumb

question man

Maybe that’s being uncharitable, but it’s definitely my gut reaction to this. I’m not looking to step on anyone’s toes, but subjects like this always involve a bit of walking on feet . . . so I’m just going to call it how I see it throughout.

Let’s get one thing straight, right out the gate: If you refuse service to a gay person, you’re stupid. Your job is to provide a service; don’t overcomplicate it. If you’re a gay person and try to force someone to provide a service, you’re also stupid. Smart people take their money to someone who isn’t a dick, tell their friends not to shop there, etc., but, come on here, if you force someone to bake you a cake under penalty of legal response, it’s going to be a crappy cake. And, if you’re really lucky, that last statement will only be metaphorical. Besides, forcing someone to do something they don’t want, regardless of whether or not their reason for not wanting to is unfair and stupid, is always a little bit of a dick move.

More to the point, the law or its lack has little practical weight. If a florist doesn’t want to, uh, florafy(?), a gay couple’s wedding, with the law in place, they can say, “No, sorry, it’s against our beliefs.” If the law is rescinded, or even if it isn’t (if the florist isn’t a few roses short of a dozen in the brain bouquet) they’ll say, “Oh no, I’m so sorry I’m booked/vacationing/restocking/doing my taxes/whatever that weekend, but I can put you in touch with someone else.”

So, practically speaking, this a fairly pointless hullabaloo–the issue’s going to come up only when a hyper-religious, unprofessional, business owner who’s too stupid to lie well meets an extremely pushy gay person who’s very insistent on giving a homophobe his or her money–however, there is the principle of the thing, and principle is important.

Before we go any farther, though, we need to look at one important point of contention.

The Moral and the Legal

business, law, rights

We conflate these things often. We’re encouraged to, by the media, because it drives ratings, and the politicians, because it drives people to vote, but it’s a really bad habit. Legally speaking, the government exists to protect all the people equally. As far as I’ve been able to tell from researching it the Indiana law is neither as insidious as its detractors claim (or anywhere close) or as benign as its supporters claim (or anywhere close). The law cannot always be moral, and legalizing morality is intrinsically terrifying as a concept.

I think discrimination based on race, gender, etc. is morally wrong. And crazy stupid. However, discrimination is an important part of life. Actively discriminating between people is how we get things done. Every job interview is an act of discrimination, every date, and so on. The problem is simply which criteria it is morally okay to use as the basis of discriminating.

Clearly, most of these decisions are based on personal preferences and innate moral codes, making laws regarding discrimination are naturally problematic, practically and ethically. Practically, because discrimination is an act of intent inherently difficult to prove (How do you know if didn’t get the job because you’re a woman, or because the other guy just nailed his interview?), but also often unconscious as we all have biases we fail to adequately examine–it’s entirely possible for a woman not to get a job because her interviewer unintentionally let her gender color his (or her) subjective interpretation of the interview. Ethically, because legislating morality is essentially the majority enforcing their core beliefs on top of those of others; ironically, the exact same process which led to laws against homosexuality.

This isn’t to say the laws are not necessary, at times–life is not kind enough to provide for a every problem a perfect solution–simply these sorts of laws tend towards historical drift and general messiness.

The Business Aspect

squish humans pyramid

The problem, for me as a business owner, is also morally subjective: I don’t think people should be discriminated against, but I also have a hard time warming to the notion that anyone should  be forced to provide a service to anyone they don’t want to, whatever their reason. Really, both those things are pretty bad, aren’t they? There is not act which is not trampling on someone’s ability to live their life the way they want to. Ideally, we’d not need any legal recourse at all, and it would be handled morally. That would be great, if that road didn’t lead to color-coded separate drinking fountains, because people are jerks to each other.

The problem is, you can’t legislate people into not being dicks to each other. There’s always a way around it. Personally, I’m inclined to be nervous of a government opinion either direction. Laws intended to be legally clear-cut can be applied in ways unintended, and sometimes they squish people.

The Flipside Issue

chef, scenario, mirror, dual

Let’s look at two scenarios:

1) A gay man, Gary, asks a religious bigot baker named Bob to bake him a wedding cake, complete with two grooms on the top, and Bob refuses. Does Bob have the right to do so?

2) A bigot, Jeff, asks a gay baker named Bill to bake him a cake for his “Burning a Gay Guy in Effigy” party, complete with burning gay man on top. The baker refuses. Does the Bill have the right to do so?

The truth is there’s ambiguity here. You’ve got an opinion, and the moral choice isn’t difficult–but what about the legal one? The legal answer to both those questions is going to depend on the laws in place. A law that protects Gary in the first example could easily force Bill to bake the cake in the second. Or, alternatively, a law meant to protect Bob and Bill’s rights of free bake choice could leave Gary and Jeff both in the waiting room of the same civil rights lawyer after getting turned down. It’s entirely possible a poorly thought out law could leave all four of the men unhappy.

The point is, a law leaning too far towards protecting the business owner’s freedom of action, or the patron’s right to be served, could easily mess up life for both bakers and/or both patrons.

This does possibly affect me directly. If, say (and this is unlikely) Arizona passed a law that was too harshly geared towards the right of the patron to be served, might I find myself legally forced to write a book for someone? Let’s say someone hires me to write, Cooking With Queers: A Gay Cookbook, and then I find out it’s a book containing recipes for actually cooking gay people–would I find myself under threat of being sued for backing out? Am I stuck with it? As sure as I am that I do not want, and morally should not, write, Learn How to Juggle Babies in Ten Easy Steps, The Idiot’s Guide to a Really Great School Shooting, or Why You Should Definitely Vote Along Party Lines, I am even more sure that there are people out there who would love to see them written.

The Road Ahead

MNiC RF Road

These are, uh, extreme examples, but my point is, I worry about emotional people overreacting and then passing laws which really screw me over. And other people. But, mostly me. I think it’s pretty clear Indiana’s law isn’t going to last the year, one way or another, and also that the underlying problem that caused it isn’t going away for awhile.

When in doubt, though, I place my trust in the third item in the title: Basic Human Decency. Social change is a matter of reaching out to those who haven’t made up their minds, and, let’s face it, outliving those who have. Still, the long-term resolution to all sides of this issue can only rest in the moral world. Legal measures pushing people in either direction are, at best, a temporary band-aid, and, mostly, just an incitement of the louder and less thoughtful voices across the board. Most gay and religious people already coexist in relative peace because they understand the simple fact that people can not like each other and still treat each other with some reasonable facsimile of respect.

The truth is, people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The truth is, people deserve as much right to choose as possible, and sometimes there are conflicts. I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all solution to this. Like I said, life doesn’t always provide the option of perfect solutions. What I am certain of is that if we let anger, hyperbole, and deliberate miscommunication rule the debate, it’s going to screw over a lot of perfectly nice people on behalf of a handful of asshats acting under uncommon circumstances.

So please, regardless of where you fall on the issue, let calm and poise rule the day on this one. And have a little faith in basic human decency . . . and when in doubt, just don’t be a jerk.




Should We Let People Control Their Own Taxes? 7

MNiC Feat Taxes 2What if we had personal control over our taxes? Or, alternatively, we had to pay them, but had nominal control over where they went? I asked this of my friends, and got some really interesting feedback. It’s a good starting point.

First, there are pretty clearly three, or three-and-a-half tiers to consider here.

The Basic Options

Full Voluntary Tax Burden

In this scenario, everyone would choose what they paid in taxes. This is unlikely to be feasible, but one interesting thing I noted was that my liberal friends seemed to think they wouldn’t pay taxes if they didn’t have to, and my conservative friends seemed to feel people would. I have no idea what to make of that, really. In any case, it doesn’t seem especially workable.

Fixed Burden, Control of Funds

In this scenario, you’d still pay your fixed tax burden, but you’d have control over where they went. For example, if you owed ten thousand in taxes, you could send five to the National Parks Service, two to the Department of Education, two to the Military, and one to Medicare. And so on.

There are some really great pros and cons to this. The cons are pretty clear; how much funding do you think the IRS is going to receive? The pros are quite powerful, though; try to imagine a world where American citizens have direct control over how their taxes are spent, but the Veterans Administration can’t afford healthcare for returning soldiers, NASA doesn’t have a space shuttle, and the National Parks Service has to close for a couple weeks. Can you? Because I can’t.

Fixed Burden, Hybrid System

The fact of the matter–and there seems to be a wide agreement on this point–is that some things we need to spend money on just aren’t sexy enough to fare well in a popularity contest. This leads to the third system, which is the hybrid. Herein, a certain amount of tax money is not discretionary. It is down to elected representatives to decide how this money is spent.

The rest of the money is held in the hands of the taxpayer. This is the system we’re going to explore, because it seems like the one that might actually work, and we’re going to do so on several different scales.

The Salient Points

The Prediction Problem

One of the biggest pitfalls of this system is that it will make it very hard to predict budgets . . . at first. How can you accurately project longterm costs and expenditures if they are at the whim of the capricious public?

I think this will be a huge problem . . . at first. After a few years, it will likely be more predictable than the current system, since what gets funding won’t be at the mercy of special interests and political brinkmanship. Public opinion on many subjects is very stable, and it’s unlikely, barring major changes that would necessitate budget changes in any case, that wild swings would occur.

One of the strongest objections to this whole idea was summed up by one of my friends as, “You think balancing the budget is hard now?!” I would counter that we haven’t had a balanced budget in a decade-and-a-half, an official budget from either controlling party since 2009, and we’ve failed to even keep the current budget operating once, nearly three times, in the past two years. The argument that we shouldn’t replace a broken system because the new one might break seems . . . hollow.

The Flexibility Problem

Even if the system does reach stability, there is the possibility that it will be too slow to react to a major crisis, such as a war, health crisis, or financial drop, and this stability may be a real weakness, if it produces a system which cannot easily respond to any incoming emergency. Of course, we might avoid such timely and retrospectively wise decisions as countering the military threat of Iraq in 2003 or giving several trillion dollars to bankers in 2009. All snark aside, there is a certain level rapid response required, and some method of actionable response to crises is critical to any (long term) functioning government. If there were permanent voting centers, the Senate calling an emergency authorization vote would work. I’m sure there are other possible protocols which would circumvent the problem; it simply must be acknowledged so that one of them can be implemented.

The Apathy Problem

People don’t care about the issues. Right? I mean, I don’t care, that’s why I’m writing this, and you don’t care, that’s why you’re reading this, and the nation at large doesn’t care, that’s why there three huge television news channels running 24 hours a day. That’s why, in the last election, only (slightly less than) seven out of ten eligible voters took time out of their day to go vote.

That’s the main reason we still need people who do care to go and do the work: if people cared enough to research the issues and vote, we could just phase out representative democracy entirely in favor of the direct form. Sadly, that will never happen, because no one cares. Our elected representatives don’t agree on much, but they are unanimous in that, at least.

Sure, but I’ve caught a suspicion, or maybe a blind hope, that people will care a little more in a system where caring matters. And if I’m wrong, we can account for this by making the discretionary aspect default to the elected representatives in absence of direction, e.g. if you want to give one thousand to the military, and don’t specify where the other nine goes, it goes into the general use pool.

In other words, the people who don’t care go on as they always have, and the people that do care have a say in the system. Besides, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen evidence that most the people in power of a vested interest in more than staying in power. Even an apathetic idiot has more of a stake in fixing Social Security than your Congressman who’s drawing from his own special system.

Public Control

I think the biggest advantage to this idea is obvious: the increase in control this gives individuals. In our current system, if 51% of the people in your district disagree with you on what tax priorities should be, since their guy holds the purse. For example, there are five million voting conservatives in California, and three million voting liberals in Texas–how much say do you think these people have in how their taxes are spent?

Under this system, the winning side would still have more influence, but individuals would have a say in how things are spent. An environmentalist in a coal mining district could still put money towards alternative energy research or environmental improvements. A conservative man living in a liberal district could still direct money towards paying down the deficit, or military research, and so on. Better yet, a person who isn’t a cardboard cutout of a focus group could put her money towards alternative energy and paying down the deficit.

The problem with greater control by the people is, of course, less accountability, and the potential to be influenced by ad campaigns and PR. I think the last is a moot point in the Citizens United age, but multiple people brought it up in discussions, so it deserves mention. The lack of accountability is the main concern I see.

I’ll go one step further than that, however: Yes, this system involves trusting average people to do research, care, and make smart choices. However, when you trust your elected representative to make a decision, you are, in fact, just trusting the people who elected her or him to have done the research, cared, and made the smart choice. You’re in the same boat either way; only this way, you have a hand on the tiller.

A Step Towards True Democracy

This is a step towards greater democracy of a sort that was impossible at the founding of this country, but technology has rendered feasible.

You need representatives in a world of horse drawn buggies, and two month mail delivery times. That’s a fact. It’s either that or anarchy. Today, though, we could have permanent polling stations, and democratic control of most issues. We would still need representatives, and experts to draft the legislation, but we could–in principle–run this entire country, easily, without them. I don’t mean to open up debate on whether that would be a good idea, just that it’s technically feasible.

A Final Thought

I’ve talked mostly about the practical considerations here. This will help blunt the influence of big money and Citizens United. This will alleviate the practical issue of all-or-nothing districts where nearly half the participants are rendered voiceless each election by the larger group. This will make our massive democracy more sophisticated in reflecting the interest of individuals than two party platform rule could possibly hope to. And so on. In theory, all taxes are voluntary, and our budgets are determined by people representing our interests . . . so this whole change would simply be a streamlining of the system.

There is an ethical component as well. I am not a pacifist, but I think not forcing pacifists to pay for wars is the ethically superior option if possible. I am not against abortion, but I think not forcing people morally opposed to abortions to pay for them is the ethically superior option if possible. We live in the real world. Sometimes, we need people to pay for things they don’t want . . . but I believe the United States should emphasize ethical responsibility in government, something it has been failing miserably at for awhile now.

The simple truth is, money is power, and any time we, as a people, have the chance to give more power to the people of this country, we have an ethical responsibility to consider this. I maintain the burden of proof should not be on the side of those asking for more freedom, but on those who say it doesn’t belong to us–that they are better than ordinary men, and so we must surrender our own right to choose.

What I’m saying is that the question’s not, “Should we let people control their own taxes?” so much as, “What is the overwhelming reason we would deny them that right entirely?”

If the powerful want to keep that right exclusively, let them prove that this system is flawed. Of course, the only way to do that is to allow it to be tested in the real world–but hey, if it’s going to be such a miserable disaster, they won’t have any trouble getting us to give that power back, right?

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Got a way to make it better?



I’m Confused as Hell by Obama’s Immigration Move 1

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I Don’t Get It

Usually, even when I disagree with a political decision, I understand the reasoning behind it. Often there are more or less cynical ways to interpret any particular decision, but the as long as you approach the situation from the perspective that the people who came up with the law, proposal, or whatever are smart people, it makes sense. There’s a tendency on both sides to assume the other side is either stupid or evil, and that’s wrong, it’s ignorant, and it’s silly. People disagreeing with you doesn’t make them stupid, or evil, and ignoring their arguments sure as hell doesn’t make you smart or give you the moral high ground. It’s a useful skill in life to take a view directly opposed to yours, and then turn around to see it from the alternative perspective. Usually, when done right, their arguments make sense, even if they might not lead to an outcome you personally agree with.


That said, Obama’s recent actions on immigration are . . . confusing. I thought there’d be something to it that made it make sense when he announced it, some sort of surprise that gave it shape. Well, I’ve been flipping it over and over, and it still makes no sense. By his own repeated assertion, it makes no sense legally. It makes no sense politically. It makes no sense from a perspective of compassion or humanitarianism, either. It just makes no sense. It comes sort of close to sense from two different angles, sort of, but both those interpretation are so cynical and petty that it sort knocks them back out of sense, and I’m inclined to hope I’m just missing something.




How Does This Benefit Democrats Politically?


So, according to Gallup, about 15% of voters regard immigration/illegal aliens as the most important problem facing the United States, and that’s a spike; it’s polled about half that most of the year. That means 1/7 of Americans think this the big issue; but this is the combined total for people both strongly for or against it. Dissatisfaction with the government  tops the list at 19%, and that’s not a split group.


So Obama has just made a major decision regarding the future of millions of people without a single democratic or republican vote. Even a great many people, myself included, who are very much pro-immigration reform are way wigged out by that. No, it doesn’t fling the door to tyranny wide open, but it’s hard to shake the sense that it certainly undid a couple of deadbolts.


One wonders why, in a political climate when a few people care about immigration, and most of them back the reform angle proposed by both Democrats and moderate Republicans, but a lot of people are nervous about government overreach, Obama has just decided to take all the pressure off of Republicans regarding one their biggest weaknesses as party . . . in a way that plays directly into the Beware Big Government narrative the GOP has ridden to a total massacre of the Democrats in two consecutive midterm elections.


What’s more, while two thirds of Americans support immigration reform, across a broad swath of political alignments, barely a third support unilateral action by the President, and a large majority oppose it. Even among Hispanics, Obama only manages to scrape plurality support. In other words, practically nobody, not even the majority of the people who stand to directly benefit from reforms, want the President to do so in this manner. At best, it’s popular with the people in the far, far, partisan end of the spectrum — you know, the ones who were already going to vote Democrat no matter what.


All Obama had to do was propose moderate immigration reform a few months, and the Republicans would have owned it. They would have had to go against a good portion of their own base and the vast majority of America to oppose it. It would probably have passed, or dramatically strengthened the Democrats moving into 2016.


Instead, he chose a route where there’s not a lot of political gain to the president or his party, and enormous (if the capitalize on it correctly) benefit to their opposition.

I mean, I’m not a politician, but tossing your opponents a lifeline tied to a noose around your neck does not seem like a good strategy. Especially if you do it while hurling insults at them and poking them with sticks. Maybe the answer is simpler? It’s simply an act of compassion from a president with basically no political capital left to lose? So. . .




What Does it Actually Do for Hispanics?


At first glance the politics seem straightforward, right? Hispanics vote more Democrat than Republican, although not by too much when Obama’s not on the ticket. This is the political payoff for their votes. I mean, that’s cynical, especially coming two weeks after the election . . . But that’s how politics is done. The problem is, if this is a reward, it’s a really, really, bad one. Just really bad. Terrible. Other people are arguing over whether or not this is legal or not. It seems like a bad idea which undermines rule of law, regardless of legality, but, other people can argue that one. What I’m talking about is the purely practical, no the overarching legal framework regarding separation of powers.


Here’s the new situation: If you’re here illegally, you can apply for a permit to stay, if you already have family here . . . because the president has made a nonbinding promise not to enforce a law . . . for the last two years of his presidency . . . through a legal-ish decision . . . that can be reversed by him . . . or his successor . . . or overruled by a congress he controls neither chamber of . . . and in no way solves the underlying issues in any lasting manner . . .

So that’s the reward? Ending any chance of real resolution to the adversity faced by these people? Like, “Congrats, welcome to America, here’s your freedom, and by freedom we mean your entire life is completely subject to the whims of a single individual!” Yay?


And it’s worse than that, isn’t it? Because there is an excellent chance that a Republican president will reverse this decision, and they can do it with a stroke of a pen. No debate, no congressional votes. Just an email to the next AG. Political heat will be pretty minimal, too: “Of course, I support immigration reform. I just take my oath to enforce the laws passed by Congress more seriously than my imperial predecessor.”


Which means it’s worse than even that, right? Because there’s the inherent implication that not voting Democrat will lead to this order being revoked. It effectively killed a legislative solution, which is desperately needed, replacing it with a tenuous promise. So the end result is: Vote for the Democrat, or else. The reward for Hispanics who voted Democrat? Here’s a freaking gun to the head to make sure you do it again, you’re welcome. Not just any gun, but a gun that will, it seems increasingly likely, pass to Republicans in two years. Worse, there’s a reasonable chance that a Democrat president will do it, too, if they’re relying on a more traditional working class coalition than Obama brought to the table. They can even use the same line from the end of the preceding paragraph. And neither needs to pull that trigger on day one. They can wait until, say, the 2018 midterms.


Think about that: There’s a pretty even divide in the Republican party between those (mostly in purple states) who want to reform immigration, and those (mostly in safely red states) who are much more draconian. If purple-state Republicans don’t do well in the midterms, the voices from the red-staters will be that much more irresistible. And, again, because this is an executive order, voting Democrats into Congress won’t in any way protect Hispanics from retribtuion.  So Hispanics in swing states may end up, thanks entirely to Obama, going into the 2018 elections with the understanding, vote Republican or else. 


I think, were I an illegal immigrant, I would be less than appreciative of that. That’s the sort of Banana Republic shit that eventually leads to buses full of students being kidnapped, executed, and dumped in shallow graves. You know, the sort of thing these people were trying to leave behind. And, on top of it all, there is zero chance I would participate in this in their shoes: Give my name and address to a government that will quite possibly use that information to tear me away from my family at some random and unpredictable point in the next half decade? Yeah. Thanks. Pass.




So, Like, What the Hell, Then?


We’re looking at something that will, most likely, help the political opposition far more than Obama’s own party. Something that doesn’t help the people it’s designed to help. Enacted via a process that even a fair portion of President Obama’s supporters do not approve of. I mean, really, if you’re anywhere to the right of Far Left, you’re against this . . . and really, how much of the support from that sector is out of loyalty to Obama rather than actual support for this sort of action?

I don’t get it. Somewhere, somehow, this must make some sort of sense, or it wouldn’t have happened. I have two theories, both of which are not pleasant.



A Desperate Ploy for Relevance?


I think it’s fairly common opinion now that Obama’s six years as president have been . . . lackluster. I think we can say that now without excessive disagreement. Most arguments among partisans are about why. His major accomplishment is the ACA which has become steadily more unpopular, may be rendered unsustainable by the courts in the next year, has been under assault from within and without, and, it turns out, has been, at best, a wash in terms of accomplishing its stated outcomes, and didn’t even meet the revised-down sign-up target of 7 million subscribers until 400,000 people were incorrectly added to it. The last election went poorly, in a “Oh, my house is burning down,” sort of way, his popularity is dropping, he’s a “lame-duck” president with no real power left, and so on. Maybe his ego just demands that he have some sort of legacy, and this is it. He can’t handle being a failed president, so he’s going to sink whoever he needs to sink to stay relevant, even it doesn’t actually accomplish much.


If so, he’s off to a bad start: All the major networks declined to show his speech. Or . . .




Maybe Sinking His “Allies” Was the Point


Democrats ran from Obama this election. They blame their defeats on his failures, and claim he’s dragging them down with his own incompetence. They may have a point, since the party has reached a new low in popularity. I mean, they spent nearly as much time and effort trying to scrape his residue off their boots than actually campaigning against their opponents. Still, that’s a pretty poor way to the repay the man on whose coattails most of them rose to power, right? Some petty payback might be in order. The journey from Chosen One to Pet Pariah is tough to handle for anybody. In this respect the president has my honest sympathies. He could never have lived up to the expectations foisted upon him, and he’s faced with the specter of not even meeting the comparatively low bar of Better Than Bush. Maybe this is his revenge. He’s still got two years left, and two or three more stunts like this will be enough to derail any Democratic campaign.


Or . . .




Perhaps More Likely


I could be missing something. There’s sure to be an angle I haven’t checked. You can never see it all. Maybe this is part of some brilliant gambit I’m failing to see. Still, from every angle I can think of, it seems like the President would have been better served by putting a bucket over his head last night and pounding with a hammer until he passed out.

If you’ve got a theory that makes more sense of this I would love to hear it. In any case, time will tell.




Cycles of Violence: Police, Black Men, and How to Fix the Problem 1

US Federal Protective Service Police officer w...

US Federal Protective Service Police officer with a riot shield. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Definition of an Ignorant Opinion

I was reading an article by E.J. Dione today. It’s an otherwise very thoughtful article, so this particular paragraph sort of blew me away:

Also noteworthy is that many whites have yet to form a view of the police response in Ferguson: 32 percent said the response has been “about right,” 33 percent said it has “gone too far” — and an astonishing 35 percent declined to express an opinion. 

What astonishes me is that basically two out of three people have an opinion. . . based on what, exactly?

Like every single hot air spewing “journalist” going on about it, I have no idea what happened. Yes, we know that an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown was shot by a police officer named Darren Wilson. We also know we live in a world where sometimes cops gun down unarmed teens, and in a world where sometimes unarmed teens do idiotic things like try to grab for the gun of a cop giving them a hard time for a minor traffic violation. Finally, we live in a world where a police officer might think someone is trying to grab his gun, panic and draw that gun, and then the other person might think he’s about to get gunned down in cold blood, panic, and make a grab for it. In this particular case we simply don’t know what happened yet, beyond a probably-preventable tragedy, and having any specific position on it is, well, by definition an ignorant opinion.

The Problem is the Cycle

All that is secondary, anyway, since the specifics of it don’t matter, except to those directly involved: This was going to happen, and it will happen again, because the entire situation is primed that way.

See, if you’re a young black man in the US (or anywhere), you’re going to be unfairly scrutinized by police officers at some point, and you’re going to resent that, because of course you will. Who wouldn’t? Sooner or later, you’re going to see police officers as the enemy, or at least be a little bit more leery of them than the average person.

Obviously, I’ve never been a black man. But I have been poor, and lived in poor neighborhoods, so I have experienced the fun of being automatically assumed to be up to no good by police, because, you know, what else would I be doing not living in a nice middle class neighborhood? There is another side to this, though, and that’s what makes it such a problem. Simple problems have easy solutions.

If you’re a police officer, you’re going to be predisposed to look suspiciously at young black men, because of course you are. And I do mean you. And me. Even if you’re black, even if you voted for Obama twice. Even if you really believe in equality. If you became a police officer, you would eventually be predisposed to be suspicious of black people. Maybe you’d overcome it, maybe you wouldn’t, but the underlying drive to be that way would exist. After all, as you go about your day, you’re going to regularly experience young black men being more surly and less cooperative than basically everyone else, on account of how they are predisposed to see you as the enemy, because you’re predisposed to be suspicious of them. At some point you’re going to expect it. You may even understand and commiserate with it, but that won’t change the fact that you’re going to be just a little more likely to expect trouble.

Now, in a perfect world, everybody would go in with a neutral outlook, or even a desire to be friends. However, humans aren’t wired that way; we’re wired for survival. Our brains are all about identifying threats and reacting as quickly as possible. So, you end up with a situation where a black man and a police officer are interacting, and the police officer sees every other black man that’s given him extra trouble when he was just trying to do his job, while the black man sees every cop who was ever a jerk to him when he was just minding his own business.

It’s a charged situation. Play it out a few thousand times and sooner or later someone is going to overreact. Play out a few thousand of those overreactions, and someone’s going to be lying dead on the cold ground.

The sad and frustrating part is that it is cycle; you arrive back here when you plug someone new into the system. Take a starry-eyed young police officer without a single racist bone in his body, who really, really, believes in “Protect and Serve” or a young black man who’s on the fast track to being a doctor or a lawyer or some other pillar of the community, and they are going to need to actively fight heading down this same road. They are going to need to face this hostility over and over, and find a way to not return it. That’s a tall order.

Fixing the Problem

We do need to have a conversation about race in this country, but it needs to be a little less about what’s wrong (we know, already!) and it needs to be a lot more about what we can do to fix it.

I do have a few ideas in that regard, at least as far as the police issues are concerned:

  1. We need to get cops and the community seeing each other as people again. That means lots and lots of community meet and greets. That means assigning cops to boring days in community centers, churches, and schools. Maybe one work day a week not doing cop stuff and just interacting with the people they’re supposed to be working with. We tend to see police only at the worst of times, and they tend to experience us at our worst as well. That’s not a recipe for understanding or empathy. We need to rack up more time when we can just people together.
  2. We need to demilitarize police, and we need to make sure they stay that way. In my own relatively short lifespan, especially the last ten or so years, police forces have all started looking and dressing like they’re auditioning for the Waffen SS, and I don’t think that’s doing any favors for anyone on either side. Maybe the next round of police uniforms should be neon pink or day-glo orange. It’s hard to act like a swaggering jackass when you’re wearing pink. Also, if you get a disciplinary note on your file, you have to wear matching pink rabbit ears for a week. Maybe that’s too far.
  3. We need to stop painting all cops as the bad guys. You want to know how to prime someone to just up and shoot someone someday?
    Have the walk around trying to help people while getting called a fascist, or a pig, or spit on, etc. This kind of goes back to the earlier bit about community meets and greets. Most cops are good people doing good work, especially here. It annoys me to read all the social media posts making blanket declarations about how terrible all cops are, because we both know if someone started breaking in to your mom’s basement ten seconds after you clicked “post” you’d be dialing 911 so fast your fingers would make little sonic booms.

The point is, this is a cycle, and you need to break it on both sides, or it’s just going to perpetuate itself. Luckily, we’ve got some pretty simple and workable ways to move towards fixing things. I’m sure other people have ideas as well. We need to get past the anger and move on towards getting something productive done.

Feel free to share your own thoughts on the matter in the comments section.