29 April 2010

Generation Common Sense

My generation is suffering due to the failures and short-sightedness of those before us. How do we stop this from happening again? Reform, of course. Change what went wrong in the past so it doesn't happen again in the future. Makes sense. But how do we guarantee that we don't allow ourselves to fall into another situation just as catastrophic, or worse, in the future? No retroactive policy reform is going to do that.

Only education can give us the long-term stability we desperately need. Education = rational debate and elections = more effective governance = a stable, productive and powerful America. If we become smarter, so too will our leaders. Too many big decisions are put off by elected officials too scared to do anything good for the country in the long-term if it means displeasing voters in the short-term. This (and gerrymandering) has been the nature of the beast for basically all of American political history. This model, however instinctive and logical, needs to go.

America needs more politicians like the ones our forefathers envisioned: men both enlightened and practical, faithful and humanistic, steeped in both tradition and progress. True patriots who felt a duty to serve their country, unafraid to make hard decisions when necessary. Someone who puts the good of the country over their own political fortunes without hesitation is a representative in the noblest sense of the word. Where are these people?? Politics and government in America was never meant to be synonymous with corruption and ineffectuality in the public mind. People like Sarah Palin should not be as influential as they are and issues like race, abortion and gay marriage should not keep us from doing what needs to get done. I refuse to believe this is the America George Washington imagined. (In fact, Washington warned of the distracting and divisive nature of political bickering between parties in his farewell address.)

We can easily recruit men and women closer to this mold if we start basing our opinions on facts and not blind, distorted logic. This can be difficult; everything you read is manipulated in one form or another, from the source down (even this). But education doesn't mean a bachelor's degree, it means knowing how to sift through the bullshit in order to find truth in whatever it is you're reading, hearing or watching. Every American can educate themselves through balanced, thoughtful analysis of current events and by resisting the urge to hear one point of view and settle on it.

Basically, we need more Thomas Jeffersons and less Joe Wilsons. More Paines and less Becks. More enlightened pragmatists and less ignorant opportunists. Elections and politics in general should be fueled by factual and relevant dialogue, not stereotypes, hot button issues, unsubstantiated claims, flip-flops, one-liners and regurgitated rhetoric. Am I wrong? I mean, I know there have always been idiots in American politics, but don't you think our founding fathers would be just a little disappointed if they saw how divided our country remains over issues that are irrelevant to what really matters?

24 April 2010

Arizona Cracks Down On Illegal-Looking People

I can't say I agree with this new law in Arizona, which looks like America's toughest immigration law since we put quotas on immigrants from certain Eastern European and Asian countries in the 1920s. Nevermind that it basically turns police officers into immigration officers and will inevitably lead to charges of racial profiling, it is blatantly unconstitutional. But while the East Coast liberal in me cries out for the blood of racist morons, the conservative in me says it's about time somebody did something.

Let me explain. The problem with Arizona attempting to enforce its own immigration policy is that, according to the Supreme Court, federal immigration law trumps state law. However, Justice Hugo Black included in the opinion of the seminal case Hines v. Davidowitz (1941) the following caveat:

"And where the federal government, in the exercise of its superior authority in this field, has enacted a complete scheme of regulation...states cannot...enforce additional or auxiliary regulations."

And there lies the real problem. As of yet, the federal government has failed to enact a "complete scheme of regulation" dealing with illegal immigration. In the absence of specific and relevant federal law, and in the midst of some of the worst drug related crime in the country's history, Arizona finally decided to take matters into its own hands.

Now I don't think, like some, that Arizona is just backwards. But it does seem as if Arizona voters, albeit rightfully tired of the bloodshed and kidnappings associated with illegal drugs coming from Mexico, short-sightedly put people in office who overstepped their constitutionally granted powers. Passing this bill was a desperate act on the parts of elected officials under pressure to respond to a serious issue when the federal government failed to do so.

Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind this new law, has been widely quoted as saying "illegal is not a race, it's a crime." I agree, but I don't think this naive and weirdly egalitarian view of the issue matches up with the practical implications of the law. At the end of the day, it will be up to police officers on the streets of Arizona to determine whether or not an individual appears to be present in this country illegally. While I don't think Arizona cops are going to arrest every person of Hispanic descent in the state, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to see how this could create a slippery slope toward unwarranted arrest and detention.

The law's broad language, discriminate scope and unconstitutional foundation make me confident it will be overturned in court. But the elephant in the room is that the federal government must act. Congress needs to come up with a realistic, bipartisan solution to illegal immigration that keeps our borders secure and our cities free from drug violence. At the same time, any solution must also distinguish between immigrants who already contribute socioeconomically (they do exist, and after monetary punishment should be given the opportunity to become citizens and pay taxes) and those who are just plain criminals. If the feds continue to drag their feet, more states will follow Arizona's lead. I'm not proud of what has happened in Arizona but I'm mindful of the bigger issues that created this situation in the first place. Hopefully we'll be able to look back on this and say Arizona was responsible for getting the federal government to finally act on illegal immigration.

20 April 2010

On Sarah Palin's 1500 Minutes Of Fame

If we want rational public discourse, we need a rational public. Which means we need an educated public. America's education system is decades away from offering every citizen an equal and quality education. Until then, in order to see that all Americans not only know the facts but know how to go about finding the truth themselves, we must do our part to educate ourselves through whichever means possible.

So when people like Sarah Palin dominate the media and spread ignorance instead of truth, it takes the whole "education of America" movement back a few decades. I know, I'm trying to promote reasonable debate and not personal attacks, but I can't help but feel like Sarah Palin is all that is wrong with American politics. From spreading lies about death panels to inciting violent retaliation against Democrats who voted for healthcare to now rejecting the idea of separating church and state, the woman seems hell-bent on dismantling all that is still holding our country together in a time of crisis. When America needs stability, she offers nothing but chaos.

I can't tell if she is just backwards and delusional or if this is a systematic ploy on her part to achieve massive celebrity status, or even worse, the Presidency. Is she really a misguided moron who through luck, good looks, charm and a few well-placed winks and "you betchas" managed to become Governor of Alaska, climb to the top her her party's socio-political ladder and get on a presidential ticket? Stranger things have happened I guess... But what if it's the opposite? What if she's perfectly aware of the effect of her behavior and actually enjoys dividing the country? If so, she is more dangerous than I thought.

Either way, she needs to stop being taken seriously as a political voice. OK, she's an interesting person, a straight-talkin beauty queen who snipes moose from a helicopter, I get it. But why should she still be relevant in a political sense? She abandoned an important executive office, has made countless factually inaccurate statements and even most Republicans don't want her to run in the future. For someone who claims to want to be involved in politics, she seems to have very little knowledge of what's going on. If she were in any other job she would have been fired by now. And her references would be terrible.

But as long as there are people out there dumb enough to believe Obama is a socialist, there will be support for Sarah Palin and we will see her face on TV. Which is unfortunate, because now is definitely not the time to waste on mindless distractions, no matter how attractive. Solving America's problems as a nation is going to take nothing less than all sides sitting at the the table together and working as equals, not shouting with their ears covered. This will only happen when we have an educated public that truly wants rational political discourse and is willing to listen to and understand all sides of a debate. Sarah Palin is just proof that we aren't there yet.

I know this is a long one but I want to leave with this quote from Time Magazine's Joe Klein, who has had to defend himself against criticism for saying personalities like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck push the boundaries of "seditious" speech. I think it's a good explanation of why we need to make clear the distinction between legitimate and radical opposition:
"Dissent isn't sedition. Questioning an Administration's policies isn't sedition. But questioning an Administration's legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine or overthrow it certainly is.

It's not illegal—unless actions are taken to overthrow the government in question—but it is disgraceful and the precise opposite of patriotism in a democracy."

16 April 2010

Need A Buck? Shake Down The Homeless!

OK, so I told myself I wouldn't bombard my blog with posts when the thing isn't even up and running yet, but I had to share this. Apparently, New York City is going to start charging the homeless to stay in the shelter system. That's right folks! Finally those bastards really responsible for the financial mess we're in are going to pay. Forget the Wall Street fat cats, crooked politicians and sinister lobbyists. It's about time someone focused political energy on squeezing every last penny out of those who are truly at fault: the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in our society.

Having worked in some of Boston's busiest homeless shelters as an AmeriCorps member, I find this idea absolutely disgusting. Anyone familiar with how the shelter system works knows that charging guests is an impractical and thoughtless idea that will benefit no one. Let's not pretend these people are coasting down easy street with free room and board. Shelter life is far from ideal and should be seen as a necessary evil, not a handout. And for those who are employed and homeless, looking for permanent housing is a full time job without having to fork over part of your meager paycheck just to live in what is basically the most undesirable environment imaginable. What an insult. Enforcing this short-sighted law will only make it harder for the homeless to find housing and further crowd NYC's shelters. Furthermore, the revenue generated will be minute at best and certainly not worth the hardships it will cause to countless homeless men and women who depend on the shelter system.

I guess this law has been around since 1997 but no one has tried to impose it until now. I know quick and easy revenue streams have always been popular with politicians looking to point to success near election time, but this is a new low. Why should our most vulnerable population, people who were struggling far before the Great Recession hit, have to bear the brunt of an economic downturn that was largely caused by those at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum? Surely there are better ways for the city and state of New York to make a quick buck. I'll take the soda tax over this crap any day.

Why Write?

Because I am concerned for America's future. Not scared of a socialist takeover like certain historically-inept Tea Party members, but scared that the level of political debate in this country has devolved to new (well actually, old) and dangerous lows. The current environment closely resembles something created by an nineteenth century urban political machine (see: Gangs of New York). Overzealous protests and death threats are commonplace, rhetoric has become increasingly radical and borderline violent. Rational debate has been replaced by unfounded accusations, ignorant passion, and, as Hunter S. Thompson would have put it, a lot of bad noise.

This must stop for the good of the country. Partisan bickering might be good drama, but ultimately it stalls the problem solving process and makes America weaker. We are the true power behind our government. If we demand more of our elected representatives, they will deliver more. But if we allow time and energy to be wasted on the absurd and childish ramblings of the fringes of our political spectrum, right or left, we will never have the kind of rational debate necessary to solve our nation's problems. I'm afraid if we don't do something about it soon, if those who oppose progress aren't somehow brought into the realm of the reasonable, things will only get worse. It seems as if Obama's agenda has brought out old divisions within American society, and we must rise above them or face a future of increasing divisiveness.

I feel very strongly that my generation of Americans will bring common sense and reason back to politics. The situation has become too grim to continue finger pointing and passing the buck, and I think young people see that, Democrat, Republican and everything in between. I hope the current divided state of American politics will push the youth of the nation to get politically involved in a useful and constructive manner. This blog is intended to help get that ball rolling.

Kickoff Post

So this is my first post and I feel the need to make it a good one. Here goes. Since Tax Day has just fallen upon us, I thought I'd focus this first post on the Tea Party. Now, normally I don't like to give these people more press than they already get, but I figure no one is reading this blog at this point, so it shouldn't matter anyway.

Although the Tea Party has the numbers, shared interest and determination to pass itself off as a legitimate political movement, it must soon field or promote its own candidates in order to fully earn this distinction. Here's how I see it: If the Tea Party is truly principled, it will, as a whole, only support very conservative and far right-wing candidates. These candidates will, for the most part, probably not be those supported by the Republican establishment, and this will serve to split potential Republican votes between two candidates. Result: electoral victory for the Democrats.

But if the Tea Party is just a political establishment vehicle fueled by sometimes radical anti-Obama fervor (which I believe it is) then it will eventually split in half between those willing to abandon the movement's core principles just to win back the Majority and those who truly believe in the movement's conservative tenets. Either way, the future does not bode well for the Tea Party. Even if Republicans make huge gains in November 2010, it will be due to legitimate, defined opposition to Obama and the Democrats' political agenda and not ignorant catch phrases like "reload."

Don't get me wrong, Americans have a right to suspect the expanding reach of government. But when this reach becomes necessary due to the failures resulting from its absence (as it has become in the realms of finance and health care) the most patriotic thing to do is to support the President, whether it be Bush (who oversaw the bailouts, remember?) or Obama, as they set about the unwanted and difficult but ultimately right task of securing a stable short-term future in which to solve the major problems facing our country before they become unfixable. To deny this fact is the utmost in ignorance, and to do so and oppose Obama's agenda so rabidly is not patriotic, it's radical and downright scary. (As a history major, it is unfathomable that some people would compare our current situation with 1930s Germany. These people must be reading the same history books that call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression.")

The Tea Party should not be ignored or shunned from political participation, but it should be revealed for what it truly is: a once legitimate grassroots movement, hijacked by establishment Republican PACs and Confederate sympathizers, being pulled in opposing mainstream and radical directions. This conflict will inevitably leave the true followers of the movement with a bitter taste in their mouths.