Six Year War

Politics

You hear an unending torrent of complaints about Congress these days. Most of it is centered around inaction, obstinance and an unwillingness to go against a faction of radicals. This has exacerbated in the past two weeks thanks to the government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling battle.

It’s the voters’ fault though. Despite the fact that Congress has a 19-percent approval rating, 90 percent of incumbents were reelected in 2012.

As of now, polls are constantly showing that the public primarily blames Congressional Republicans for the shutdown. There’s a chance to change things in the 2014 election. Voters can send out the incumbents by either choosing the other party or finding another candidate in the primary. If you take a look back though, that’s not going to happen.

When it comes to Congress, that mid-term election in the sixth year of a president’s reign doesn’t go well for the White House. President Obama faces that problem in 2014. As we can tell so far, it doesn’t look good that he’ll win the House or even keep the Senate.

No president has ever gained control of the House of Representatives during a mid-term election in that respective president’s second term.
None of them, that includes George Washington, whose Federalist Party lost seats in the House in the 1794 election. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Frankling D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan—none of them have been popular enough for their party gain seats or wrest control of the Congress halfway through their second term.

The vast majority of presidents lost seats in those elections. No incumbent president’s party, save only Bill Clinton, has gained seats since FDR.

James Madison and James Monroe did win additional House seats in the 1814 and 1822 elections respectively. Both of them though, faced a dwindling Federalist Party and both of them already had control of Congress.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Republicans managed to gain three senators in 1906. Clinton famously beat the odds in 1998 when, despite a looming impeachment, Democrats gained seats in the House.

As far as shifting power, only Andrew Jackson and the Democrats won control of the Senate from National Republicans in his sixth-year Congressional election in 1834. Democrats already had power in the House at that time.

No president has gained control of the House from the opposing party.

Every election is unique and there are a lot of factors that play into them including the economy, wars, redistricting, scandals and presidential approval ratings.

Congress is immune to approval ratings and history is stacked heavily against Obama. Democrats have to win 17 additional seats. No party has come close to doing that in the sixth year election.

But Obama is the country’s first black president. He was also reelected with an unemployment rate at 8 percent.

Anything’s possible.

But it’s still not likely.

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Minority Hostage

Politics

bound

I always like to start off with numbers.

Percentage of voters who opted for President Obama in November – 53 percent

Percentage of voters who identify themselves as Tea Party in January – 8 percent.

And yet, we are on the verge of a government shutdown because conservatives in the House are afraid of that 8 percent. Tea Party people are bullying those representatives by threatening them with a challenger in the upcoming primaries if the reps don’t vote how they like on the looming budget/Obamacare issue.

So the country’s economy and credit rating hangs in the balance because of a very slim sliver of the electorate. Hardly seems right. But don’t blame the Tea Party backers, they’ve figured out the primary process and it has worked, at least when it comes to picking candidates — not in the general election, i.e. Aiken, Mourdoch, etc.

The people who are to blame are the moderate voters. They can make a difference but they are often apathetic in the primaries. Why? Because many of them know they’ll vote Blue or Red in the general election regardless of the candidate. It’s that default setting which the Tea Party has preyed upon. Because they’re fired up and are willing to turn out for the primaries, Tea Partyers have the power.

The specter of a shutdown and credit default is, for the most part, theater. Cruz is going full-tilt boogie for the shutdown knowing damn good and well it won’t happen, or if it does it won’t be for long. He knows too that it if it has negative effects, it won’t come back on him. He gets to be the loud ideologue with no repercussions.

Yes, Obamacare is unpopular. Most people don’t want it. But most people, both moderates and zealots, voted for the President in 2012 knowing that he would never repeal his signature achievement. In other words, they want Congress to work together and stop with the non-productive grandstanding more than they want to get rid of government healthcare.

I’d like to think eventually that voters will get sick of the gridlock and push out some of the incumbents who are making it difficult for Washington to do its business. Sadly, that won’t happen. No president’s party has done well in a sixth-year, mid-term election in the past 100 years. No doubt Republicans will hold the House in 2014 and they have a good shot at winning the Senate.

So no change. We’ll get yet another two years of gridlock and inaction thanks to an obnoxious, obstinate minority who has no moral high ground.

To be fair though, it’s not like politicians have ever really cared what the general public thinks, at least not until November.

First Steps

Philosophy, Politics

Lion

Today I saw my daughter take her first, unassisted step. I was holding one of her favorite stuffed animals, a yellow lion, she reached up to grab it and when she couldn’t reach it, she inched forward.

One step. Then she fell on her butt.

Not bad for an 11-month old.

I didn’t notice it when it first happened but I later realized something. While I was marveling at her first step I missed something pretty important. Why did she take the first step?

When we look at life’s basic milestones, walking, talking, riding a bike, driving, etc. we think that we learn those skills just to learn them. As I watched my daughter take her first step, it dawned on me that she wasn’t thinking “I need to learn to walk.” Her thought was “I want my freakin’ lion.”

Extrapolate on this. Why do we do anything first? It’s to help us attain something else. This can be further applied to other human achievements whether it’s the wheel, the light bulb, the cotton gin, nuclear technology or the space shuttles. They were derived from a need. Even art, which many consider entertainment, was born not out of ego to please others or to entertain but to serve as an outlet of expression. The same goes with athletics. A pitcher learns to throw a curve ball not because he wants the skill but because he wants to use it against opposing hitters.

My daughter’s first step demonstrated something basic about human nature. Most all of our basic life developments are predicated on a need or a desire, not necessarily to obtain the skill.

It boils down to motivation I guess. To me this is most applicable to education, especially higher education. We spend a lot of time getting students to understand a particular skill whether it’s writing, math or research. We shouldn’t always be absorbed into developing just an ability and sometimes I feel students fall into that mode of thinking. I don’t think we spend enough time trying to explain to students that they need to find something applicable to the working world.

It’s no surprise that the most in-demand jobs these days are those that require specific abilities: accounting, nursing, information technology, engineering, etc. If we spent as much time trying to teach students how to apply their abilities beyond the education realm, it would be easier to lay the foundation for the skills they need to learn.

That process starts with one step… and maybe a stuffed lion.

We’re Not There Yet

Politics

It’s always sad when the Daily Show has to use humor to point out a huge problem in our society that the media is incapable of reporting.

Yes, we still have a huge problem with race in this country and no, the problem doesn’t just exist merely because we are saying it’s a problem.

As I see it through a white man’s eyes, the crux of the issue is too many white folk refuse to acknowledge that it’s still a problem. Many blacks and Hispanics know all too painfully that abject racism is still around. Just because America has a black president doesn’t mean that all of our racial ills are absolved.

Anytime anyone tries to point out a racial disparity, whites are too eager to say that it’s only an issue because it’s being made an issue. Then to top it off, whites want to call blacks and Hispanics racists because they’re trying to fight for their rights.

Pretending there isn’t a problem is just plum ignorant. When there is a strong reaction among a minority class about anything, it usually means there is something to it.

Nothing highlighted this problem more than the Trayvon Martin case. I’ve written about this case ad nauseum and I won’t go into the details of it. I will restate the central issue of the case’s racial underpinnings: would Trayvon Martin have been let go or acquitted if he killed an armed George Zimmerman? My contention is no, he’d been arrested and charged.

But unfortunately, whites don’t see this conundrum. There are still two Americas, two justice systems and two views on race in this country – black and white.

Whites living between 1865 and 1965 saw what was happening to blacks in this country and willfully chose to ignore it. Now, whites now don’t even see that racism is going on.

I won’t pretend that I know what it’s like to be a minority. I’m a southern, white male and racism is not something I experience. So I can’t fully appreciate what minorities face on a daily basis. I do know enough though to see there are things that need to change.

Yes we have made great strides. We have a black president. There are three women and two minorities on the Supreme Court. The majority of college degrees are earned by women.

Things have progressed.

But there ARE still issues. Until we at least make a step in the right direction and learn about those issues, they’re never going to go away.
My overall fear is not just that racial equality will stagnate; I’m afraid that it will begin to move backwards.

If that happens, recovery will be even harder to come by, especially when people don’t, and won’t, see that a recovery is necessary.

Two Courts

Politics

It’s all over now but the protests. Zimmerman was let go. Thanks to legal maneuvering and forcing the jury to consider what happened “at that moment,” a killer walked.

Many are outraged. Many defend Zimmerman. Nobody is talking about the real problem in this whole situation.

There are two justice systems in this country— the one for white people and the one for minorities. If a black man tracked down, confronted and then killed an unarmed white teenager, do you think he’d be going home that night? Do you think Trayvon Martin would have got to go home if he killed Zimmerman?

If you say “yes” to either one of those questions and honestly believe it, then you are woefully ignorant about the realities in this country, and I mean ignorant like the white folk who were shocked to learn that, as Dave Chappelle put it, police were beating up negroes like hotcakes.

Then there’s ignorance like Richard Cohen, who recently wrote a column in the Washington Post about how Zimmerman should have chased Martin because Martin was a black man.

His column highlights the problem, which is this unspoken belief among many whites that if African Americans are commonly at fault for crime, then police should be allowed to center on them and profile them.

Well that belief can be debunked quite quickly with simple logic. If all you ever look for is African American suspects, it pretty much guarantees that only African Americans are arrested. If you only target a particular group, you’ll only find that particular group at fault, even when they’re not. That’s why racial profiling is against the law.

I worked as a newspaper reporter for the better part of a decade and have sat through dozens upon dozens of criminal trials. It doesn’t take long to see the disparity between minorities and whites in the system.

When white people are processed in criminal courts, juries are more likely to give them due consideration during deliberations. Even if a jury finds a white defendant guilty, they usually take their time. And if they’re found guilty, they usually will get probation or a light prison sentence.

When a minority is on trial, deliberation takes less than two hours and it’s almost always guilty. They’re punishments are almost always heavy.

Now I hear the screams from those in the denial balcony, “What about O.J. Simpson? What about Michael Jackson?”

Easy. You see, they had money, unlike most minority defendants. As we saw with George Zimmerman, good attorneys really help.

White defendants usually have better attorneys, many of whom they can afford to hire. Minorities usually have court-appointed attorneys, who have logjam dockets.

Cohen says that we shouldn’t be ashamed to look at urban crime and recognize that most of the suspects are minorities. I feel that maybe we should have the courage to look at the larger picture and work towards a solution rather than just pretend that there’s not a systemic problem with race and the criminal justice system

As I read through Cohen’s disgusting article, one thought kept churning in my mind. It’s that thought that I’m going to use to punctuate my article.

White people have destroyed,dominated, enslaved or outright slaughtered every culture it has ever come into contact with. Native Americans, Africans, Indians, etc. etc. For us to look at African Americans and say “we should focus on them, THEY’RE violent” is absolute hubris.

Trial and Error

Politics

Justice

Watching all of the coverage about the George Zimmerman trial has made me a little nostalgic for my days as a newspaper reporter.

One of my favorite things to cover is a good ole’ murder trial. The autopsy reports, the witnesses, victim impact statements. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of heavy emotion that’s canned into a small room with 12 strangers among its audience.

I think what I liked most is that it was prepped and ready to go every day, like a stage production. It was a nice, traumatic pulp show between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No late night calls to a car wreck or a house fire. It was visceral stuff at a regular interval.

I don’t know what it was about the courtroom but I liked it. The medical examiner evidence was my favorite. During college I watched a LOT of shows involving forensic science including Cold Case Files. Listening to someone waxing epic on scorched bone injuries, bullet entry and exits, torn tissue and organ failure was a turn on.

The pictures also were interesting to take in. Red, purple and bluish tints of human remains can hit the ocular senses hard and overwhelm most people. But I liked looking at it in a scientific way. I had a lot of respect for the folks who sifted through a person’s dead leftovers to help put their killer away.

All of this makes me a ghoul no doubt. I’ve made peace with that.

The best part of the whole trial experience was that it was something people loved to read about. Going to the courthouse every morning knowing that the court audience, the attorneys and the judge read your story was a rush.

It made you feel like you were a part of the proceedings. While you didn’t have a direct impact on the trial, you nonetheless had a role.

When it comes to Zimmerman, the news aspect is magnified exponentially. Like the O.J. Simpson trial, the courtroom has become a spectacle with daily analysis with opinions about “who won the day.”

What effect does this have on the trial? That’s always hard to grasp. Some want to think that no matter what the jury decides, there will be rioting or some form of a backlash. Who knows. Supporters on both side of the issue seem pretty militant about the guilt/innocence of George Zimmerman.

We’ll have to wait and see how it goes down. No doubt whatever happens, the media will be there to feed us the incendiary details. We’ll be waiting with our mouths open.

Packaged Deal

Philosophy, Politics

 

box

You go to McDonalds. You don’t order a Royale with Cheese and then fries and then a Coke anymore. You order a number one. Apparently we don’t like to think about putting together an order of food. Listing three separate items is just too much for us to handle these days. We need it packaged into a neat, ideological box.

This mentality is beginning to spread to everything. College course plans. Vacation travel deals. Cell phone contracts. Boxed meals at the grocery store. We buy everything prefab now.

Like many things in marketing and commerce, it’s derived from convenience. It keeps us from having to sort out what specific items we want and/or need. It’s much easier for us to select from a list of pre-installed plans than to make the plan ourselves.

Of course when we do that, we sometimes get a few features that we don’t really like or that don’t fit with what we need. We’re willing to put up with those annoyances because it’s nothing compared to the time saved from not having to creating our own order.

While this isn’t much of an issue with food (because you can always sub fries for onion rings) it is when it comes to things like education. There’s a huge push to get students as young as eighth grade to begin plotting out their careers. When I was in eighth grade, I was more concerned about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than I was about my future profession.

Educators and business leaders want these students to choose early so they can be prepared to enter the workforce once they get out of school. And they want them out of school earlier too.

While it’s always a good thing to know your way before you take the first step, that isn’t always the best option. When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Had I chosen some predetermined course, where would it have left me once I discovered that organic chemistry was a hurdle I couldn’t jump?

Doors have to be left open. Like a fast food menu, we need to be able to make substitutions or to scrap our order all together.

My biggest fear is that we will get so entrenched in boxed thinking that we won’t consider that there are alternatives. We’ll forget the benefit, or necessity, of creating our own unique path.

The pitfall is that in the long run, we become incapable of thinking outside the prepared list of options. It not only becomes difficult to make changes to these plans but we get out of the practice of doing so and we stop considering alternatives.

It limits thinking. We all know how I feel about thinking.

White Decline

Politics

Unequal

So the white people herd is starting to thin.

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

A recent U.S. Census analysis showed that for the first time likely in American history, more white folk died than were born in the last year. A slim majority, 50.1 percent, of children are white.

Even during an influenza epidemic, whites still continued to grow.

So what cut down caucasians even when the Spanish flu couldn’t? My guess: greed, in a sense anyway. Children are expensive and we don’t want to have children when we can’t afford it.

I say it’s greed because whites still earn vastly more on average than minorities, again according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They can most afford to have children and yet they have less kiddos. I guess they’re choosing to adopt Weimaraners instead.

America is changing and that tide is beginning to break against the shore. What does it mean for the future of our collective national identity? Sure we’ll become more diverse and there will be a more intense fusion of cultural mores. But what happens beyond that?

Will our education disparity remain tilted toward whites? Will the income gap ever close? Will true equality finally be close enough to grasp?

What I worry about most is how it will all manifest. Despite the fact whites are receding, they still hold the helm. How long will it take before they begin to share the top of the mountain with everyone else?

More importantly, will whites allow that equilibrium to happen or will they put up a fight? How hard will they cling to their past?

We’ll see.

Your Own Life

Politics, Uncategorized

Well, not long after I wrote about the absurdity of a company’s efforts to patent DNA locations and that Big Agriculture owns modified genes in seeds, the Supreme Court came out with a decision today saying a corporate entity cannot stake claim to naturally existing DNA.

For once, someone agreed with me.

Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion in the Big Agriculture case, wrote the opinion for the court issued today.

“We merely hold that genes and the information they encode are not patent eligible… simply because they have been isolated from the surrounding genetic material,” he wrote.

The company CAN hold patents on DNA that it has changed, which is very much akin to the previously-mentioned, genetically-modified seed case.

Click on the pic below to read the full decision:

Own life

Trust Us

Politics, Uncategorized

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the nice things about the law, despite everyone’s grumblings, is that it’s based on black and white interpretation. When a judge comes down with a decision, he bases it on his interpretation of the text.

The law can be based on bills passed by legislature, contract clauses and decisions from previous cases. There’s always some written letter which the law is read, digested and interpreted. Period.

Then there’s this.

A judge ruled yesterday that organic farmers cannot bar the evil, giant, biotech Monsanto from suing them for unwittingly using seeds from organic plants that are cross-pollinated from genetically-modified plants. The judge said Monsanto has already promised it wouldn’t sue organic farmers in said circumstances and that it states so on its website:

“…we do not pursue farmers for the accidental presence of our patented technology in their fields or crops.”

Apparently that’s supposed to be enough to sate organic farmers’ fears that they could be sued when they accidentally use Monsanto-tainted seeds.

Monsanto likes to play like it’s this very altruistic, yet capitalistic company who only sues and intimidates farmers because those farmers are breaking patent law. But their genetically-modified seeds are working their genes into regular, organic corn. That means once “organic” seeds begin to see more of the Monstanto genes, then the organic crop magically becomes Monsanto property and subject to a contract which the organic farmer never signed.

This is unnerving and scary. Patenting life I mean.

Even scarier? That justices would base their opinion not on case law, not on passed legislation, but a website. A website? Why not base a decision on the back of a cereal box or a billboard ad?

Judges need to stick to the law and the pure sources thereof. We can argue and bicker all day on a court’s opinion about the law. But when those opinions are based on text that is not designated law, it’s dangerous. It means that we could essentially make our own laws on our own websites. We can make a contract that’s binding on the Internet that doesn’t require any signature.

Also, Congress, presidents and the federal courts have been very generous with Monsanto in the past. But now they don’t even have to go through them anymore. They can just write their own contracts online, with no approval from authority.

Yeah, scary.

Oh yeah, that legal case about whether it was legal to patent life, was settled in the Supreme Court. The decision was a boon for Monsanto, who was not a party in the case. But the justice who wrote the majority opinion in that case, Clarence Thomas, is the former general counsel of Monsanto.

Food for thought.