Barely Passing: Some Thoughts on Election Day

I’m glad you voted. Yay. Go democracy and all that. Maybe I’m feeling bitchy because I’m fighting off a cold and am tired from too little sleep or maybe my stress at facing my comprehensive exams in 12 days is getting to me, but what I’m not glad about is this constant stream of people in my Twitter and Facebook feeds being self-righteous about having voted as if that act makes them a full participant in our civic management of this country. Again, you voted. Good for you. I’ll vote too, but you know what? As nice as it is that we are voting in a national election, if we don’t know who is on our school boards; if we have, through inaction and passivity, allowed our country to begin the cold-blooded assassination of people through a drone warfare that we are continuing, as a nation, to ignore; if we have not written, called, or showed up at our congressional representatives offices and told them what we want them do to about a myriad of issues; if we have simply gone about our lives, signed a few online petitions, shared a few links, and then walk into the polls today, we get, at best a barely passing grade on the whole democracy thing.

Look, I know we are all busy. I know we are not living lives of leisure and that taking care of self and family and friends takes up most of our time when we are not working and I know that, for many and for many reasons, we don’t have the time or energy or inclination to participate more in our participatory democracy. I am not exempting myself from this critique*. What I am saying is that I will vote today. And that I get, just maybe, a barely passing grade at civic engagement. But that does not make me either especially proud or a better person. Voting ought to be the final act of a politically and civically engaged life, not the one and only such act.

Perhaps, instead of peacocking around with the “I voted bit” we could use this day to pick one or two ways that we might be more politically and civically engaged in the coming year. Perhaps, instead if making ourselves out to be moral paragons for voting, we could pledge ourselves to volunteering more, to engaging in the battle for the future a bit more, or to actively working for more political enfranchisement for the economically disadvantaged, the protection of civil rights, or the safety of women’s reproductive rights. 1

Maybe, like I said, I’m just being bitchy. Probably I’m simply projecting a self-critique outwards to all those who are crowing about voting when all they mean to do is encourage others to do so. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much this one act of voting stands in for what ought to be a daily engagement.

  1. Or whatever is most important to you, of course. []

Hello? Is There Anyone In Charge Listening to Sense?

Boggles the mind how our leaders allow reactionary bullshit to take the place of thoughtful planning and tactics. And at the population of the US for allowing our leaders substitute smoke and mirrors (inconveniently situated ones at that) for sane and sensible and useful policy.


“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

[From The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother –]


Via Daring Fireball

A Chance to Speak and Be Heard

The Environmental Protection Agency is soliciting ideas and comments from the public until March 19, 2010.

Give us your ideas on how we can:

Work better with others inside & outside the government
Solicit feedback from the public
Improve the availability & quality of information
Be more innovative & efficient
Create EPA’s Open Government Plan

Transparency and the willingness of government agencies to actively solicit public opinion only works if we are paying attention. So if you have an idea, or even if you don’t, head over to the website and participate in the discussion because the only way for the We, the People to participate in our governance is to participate.

h/t BoingBoing

Leaving on a Jet Plane?

I have never wanted or even imagined living anywhere other than the United States..

Until now.

Not that I necessarily will emigrate. Not that there is necessarily any other nation that is not, on some fundamental level, fucked up in one way or another. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to spend my life fighting for a number of basic rights that many other countries have seen fit to offer their citizens. Like access to health care. Like not visiting war and torture upon the world. Like not locking up a significant portion of its population while denying money to social services.

Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have the Democrats in office over the Republicans any day. Despite what some might say, there are significant differences between the two parties. But even during the dark days of George W. Bush’s presidency, I could pretend to myself that, after eight years, the Democrats would bring a level of sanity and integrity back to our government.

I know, I know, it was a naive notion.

The point isn’t really about which party is better for the country, it’s that both parties seem unable to create sane policy that actually helps people. Now that the Supreme Court has determined that corporations, as persons, can donate to candidates (but of course can’t be held morally, ethically, or legally culpable for the murders they might commit), the fight for progressive causes and justice in this country will become even more difficult and slow. Yes, the United States is worth the fight. Yes, justice and progress are always created out of the hard work and dedication of people fighting for the future against the dead ideals of the past. I just don’t know how much I want to fight for certain things that are offered in other places.

I would rather have access to good health care than the freedom to own a gun.

I would rather have a relatively stagnant economy that puts workers and people before ravenous profit.

I would rather live somewhere that did not torture.

Again I say that I would rather live somewhere that did not torture.

So . . . what do these thoughts signify? Nothing really. At the moment, I’m not going to leave the U.S. and I’m still trying to figure out what I can do to help further a variety of progressive causes. But I feel very pessimistic about some important social policies in this nation and, well, I just think that it’s interesting that I’ve never before thought of living in another country until now, when the Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House.

[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]

Please President Obama

From Michael Moore’s open letter to the President. Say what you will about his tactics as a filmmaker, he is absolutely correct in his assessment:

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new “war president”? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do — destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so.


Your potential decision to expand the war (while saying that you’re doing it so you can “end the war”) will do more to set your legacy in stone than any of the great things you’ve said and done in your first year. One more throwing a bone from you to the Republicans and the coalition of the hopeful and the hopeless may be gone — and this nation will be back in the hands of the haters quicker than you can shout “tea bag!”

I echo Mr. Moore’s call for the President to end our war in Afghanistan, to end our support of a corrupt government, to end throwing away the lives of our soldiers on the shoals of a country that has broken empire after empire after empire. Please, President Obama, do not show us that change is a futile hope by giving us more of the same.

Keith Olbermann on Health Care Reform – A Must See For Everyone

A special, hour-long commentary. Share it with anyone you can. Regardless of your politics, this is an issue beyond partisanship and petty bickering and I hope you will take the time to listen. If you disagree, I’d love to hear actual well constructed and intelligent arguments. Specious arguments about Nazis and Socialism don’t qualify.

The Fatalism of Never Changing Minds

Recently, while I was at work, I overheard a co-worker’s conversation on the phone about how he never talks politics with friends or acquaintances because “you can never change anybody’s mind about stuff like that.” My first instinct was to agree with him, while my second was the realization that to accept this statement as a prima facia fact about political discourse is nothing short of a deeply pessimistic fatalism.

Granted, there are a lot of issues over which people will dig themselves down into a trench and refuse to budge, but if we begin with the assumption that communication, facts, or a deeper understanding of the world are entirely useless when it comes to human discourse, then we have, in a sense, given up before we’ve even begun. This isn’t to say that getting into heated debates with people who disagree with your beliefs should be pursued at the dinner party or the office lunch. Of course they shouldn’t. There are appropriate times and appropriate places for intelligent conversations about our world. But I have to believe that changing someone’s mind is never impossible. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Or at least not if the dialogue is conducted in good faith and both parties are willing to really and truly listen to the other’s facts, arguments, and ideas.

And therein lies the difficulty, because most people (too often myself included) are not willing to truly listen to ideas that are divergent from their own perceptions of the world. Of course, compounding this problem is the fact that many people don’t argue their beliefs in good faith or with a desire to enable communication and change. Yelling that Obama is a Kenyan born Nazi is not arguing in good faith (primarily due to the fact that there are, well, no facts to be found in their arguments).

I would like to believe that if faced with a compelling argument, backed by logic and factual evidence, I am willing to change my mind about issues and ideas and politics. Yes, I have my own emotional biases about how the world works, about what is fair and what is important. Yes, I am ideologically slanted toward a politics of fairness and equality and believe that government should play an active role in leveling the playing field for all its citizens. So I tend to vote Democrat and self-identify as progressive. If you come at me from a conservative viewpoint, I will naturally become wary and defensive and believe that I know better than you. Which, is most likely the same emotional state you will be in at the time.

However, if we can talk about facts and use reason in our discourse and if you extend respect to my viewpoint, I will do the same—or at least try, since we are none of us perfect. We can have productive conversations about differing political views only if we start from a position of respect and a willingness to listen. Sure, that doesn’t happen all that much these days, and sure, many in the media love the fact that our political discourse has become an ongoing episode of the Jerry Springer show, but it’s not impossible.

Because if it really were impossible to change our minds, to allow compelling arguments and new understands to change our view of the world, then we could never learn and change and grow.

The flip side to the notion of changeability, is that if someone is not willing to argue in good faith, or truly listen to you, or bother to respect your viewpoint, then don’t waste your time arguing with them because those are indeed the people whose minds you will never change.

The question we all have to ask ourselves each time we engage in a dialogue about firmly held beliefs is this: can I truly respect this person and can I truly listen to their argument. If the answer is no, that doesn’t make you a bad person. I have no respect for a Birther or a Flat-Earther and so getting into a dialogue with someone who holds those beliefs would be, at best, futile and frustrating for both sides. Being on opposite sides of a political issue is not what makes us enemies of one another. Rather, it is our actions and behaviors toward one another that will lead us to either civil disagreements (what we should all strive for) or outright war against each other (what Fox News and other “conservative” mouthpieces are promulgating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).

And one does have to wonder why so many people seem so invested in making the citizens of the United States of America into enemies of each other . . .

(Cross posted at Daily Kos)

Thank You, Rhode Island General Assembly, Thank You So Very Much

I received this email from the Amazon Associates Program earlier this week:

We are writing from the Amazon Associates Program to notify you that your Associates account has been closed as of June 29, 2009. This is a direct result of the unconstitutional tax collection scheme passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly with a veto-proof majority. As a result, we will no longer pay any referral fees for customers referred to or after June 29. We were forced to take this unfortunate action in anticipation of actual enactment because of uncertainties surrounding the legislation’s effective date. The governor could sign the bill — or have his veto overridden — any day now.

Please be assured that all qualifying referral fees earned prior to June 29, 2009 will be processed and paid in full in accordance with our regular referral fee schedule. Based on your account closure date of June 29, 2009, any final payments will be paid by September 1, 2009.

In the event that Rhode Island repeals this tax collection scheme, we would certainly be happy to re-open our Associates program to Rhode Island residents.

The Rhode Island General Assembly’s website is, the governor’s website is, and additional information may be obtained from the Performance Marketing Alliance at

We have enjoyed working with you and other Rhode Island-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program, and wish you all the best in your future.

Best Regards,

The Amazon Associates Team

I made a couple of bucks off of my Amazon Associate’s account, nothing substantial at all. But those few dollars were a nice extra and would occasionally let me get a cd or a book. In a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, our government officials are seemingly bent on figuring new and different ways to screw over RI residence.

Good going there, Gentleman and Ladies. I appreciate just how much you are “working” for the people of this state.