Saturday, November 08, 2008

California Goddam! (With apologies to Nina Simone )

Election elation… like a spiritual orgasm or simply a loosening of a long held burden, Tuesday was a night of bliss for anyone who has suffered through these past eight years of treason, mediocrity, veniality, and incompetence. The election of Barack Obama is in every way poignant and meaningful. Symbols matters. Pathos matters. There has been a perceptible shift in public consciousness and the moment will live on as its own entity forever, like a man on the moon.

And like a man on the moon, the moment itself will be of no practical importance save for what it serves as a catalyst for. Four days later is not the time to start registering cynicism. I think I can live off the glow from Tuesday night for at least eleven weeks. And perhaps even eleven weeks and one day further, because seeing Barack Obama sworn in with Michelle and his little girls by his side, I can say to anyone, in any country, that’s MY president. That’s what WE are all about.

But that was a true statement in 2000 and 2004 as well. Symbols matter. We carry darkness in our hearts. George Bush was my president, and for eight years we DID stand for torture, ignorance, war, and, recently, economic degradation due to criminal greed.

This is why, in the midst of the euphoria of seeing a man named Obama win the presidency of the United States of America… I have to look to my own state, and say “California, Goddam!

Goddam you, California for saying YES to bigotry and hatred in the form of Proposition 8!

“Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer”

Goddam you, California for looking with love and affection at an African-American man and then spitting in the faces of men and women simply because you cannot accept secular consecrations of same-sex matrimony!

“Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer”

Goddam you, California for putting the comfort of chickens and pigs raised for slaughter above the civil rights of your fellow citizens!

Goddam you, California for running the YES on 8 campaign premised on the fear that parents are too stupid to speak to their children about issues of sexuality!

Goddam you, California for running a cowardly NO on 8 campaign that further stigmatized same-sex marriage by tacitly apologizing for bigotry (“no matter how you feel about marriage…”)!

“You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality”

Goddam you, California for being on the front lines of the civil rights marches, student demonstrations, sit-ins, and immigration rallies of the past and not stepping up to help your brothers and sisters in their time of need!

Goddam ME for letting the enthusiasms of the moment distract me from the fight against ignorance and oppression… just because I’m not one of those directly impacted!

This is one of those times I used to wonder about, times in history when individuals and groups were being oppressed. I used to wonder where were the people of conscious? How could this have happened? Where was the courage? Where was the organized outrage? Where was political will?

“I've been there so I know
They keep on saying ‘Go slow!’”

I used to assume that in our enlightened day things would be different. Naturally we would be more rational, more fair, more graceful in our dealings with our fellow citizens. We are California. We have a Republican governor who thinks universal health care is a good idea. We have a Hispanic mayor for one of the largest, most diverse cities in the world. We have a three-tiered higher education system and research facilities that are the envy of world.

We have medical marijuana!

I thought WE were different from those “hick” states that want to ban the teaching of evolution or restrict a woman’s access to health care. I thought we were the “New Frontier,” the zenith of the best of moderate progressivism.

I thought… but I forgot, too. I forgot about Rodney King. I forgot about Japanese internment. I forgot about Armenian exclusion laws. I forgot about Pete Wilson. I forgot about Zoot Suit riots. I forgot about May 1 and Macarthur Park. I forgot about “local’s only” surf Nazis. I forgot about Daryl Gates and choke-holds. I forgot about Rampart. I forgot about Prop. 187 .

I forgot about a lot because you don’t want to remember the stuff that hurts. The stuff that makes you think that maybe we aren’t that good. We aren’t that liberal. We aren’t that civilized.

What hurts is that, this time, I can’t point my finger at the LAPD, or a Republican governor or a big corporation and say “you are to blame!” I can only look at my fellow Californians. I can only look at myself.

We aren’t that good.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In case, at some future moment...

... I forget, I put away, the things of the heart
I want some keepsake of the time
when that which was possible
became actual. When the promise
affirmed the better portion
of our nature and said
"Yes, this is who we are
and this is how we will
move forward."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008: A "Close-Enough" Democracy

Election 2008: A “close enough” democracy

The United States has a rancid method for selecting its chief executive. Two presidential elections are held on the first Tuesday in November every four years… the first is the ceremonial popular vote and the second is the “for real” electoral vote. Only the latter really counts.

Ask 100 Americans what the electoral college is and perhaps 40 of them will even know what the hell you are talking about. Most Americans, even after the elections of 2000, believe that their votes matters when it comes to choosing the President. Even those who feel they understand the electoral system are bound to say that somewhere along the line, their vote does matter because, somewhere along the line, the elector is popularly chosen.

You remember that campaign for elector, don’t you? Gosh, it seemed it would never end… all those negative ads…

Truth to be told, the electoral system is complex by design. Complexity is hard to communicate, which is why the whole subject is glossed over when we discuss democracy in America. We would rather believe the mythology of “one person, one vote,” rather than the more uncomfortable truth that the electoral college is in place to assure the hegemony of the two party system.

We trust you to vote for EVERY office except the most important one, because god-knows what would happen if someone from outside the club got in. Ross Perot… unhinged, perhaps paranoid though he may be, at least knew when he was outgunned. It’s not so much that he couldn’t get the votes in ’92, but that he simply couldn’t win, not without causing a constitutional crisis. Of course, the fact that the electoral college IS a constitutional crisis (in spirit if not in law) is overlooked.

Inertia has taken over. Most of the time the voting public is so doggedly apathetic of Federal politics that it is happy to look the other way. When scandal and catastrophe reach the front pages (as it did in 2000 and as it should have done in 2004) the thought of fundamental problems being at the heart of our democracy creates a kind of aphasia of the political consciousness. We can’t talk about these things because it would mean upsetting the underpinnings of our beliefs about ourselves. It is much easier to look at the “stupid” voters in Florida who couldn’t navigate a ballot, to blame Nader, or the nerd who might cause trouble by acting like a sore loser.

Political stability is not one guarantees of a free society, but at least at the Federal level, it is kind of cult which trumps our revolutionary ideals.

That being said, I am thrilled to go to the polls tomorrow. Here’s a quick rundown of how I am voting. I am including the state-wide ballot initiatives because, though flawed, California’s system of initiative, referendum and recall is a model for the nation. If I were to construct the perfect democracy, initiative, referendum, and recall would join proportional representation, parliamentarianism, election day holiday, and public campaign financing as foundations for that political utopia.

President of the United States
OBAMA - Naturally. Barack Obama has his charms and his drawbacks. But a president is not just a noun, he is an adjective. For eight years, “President of the USA” has been a byword for incompetence, belligerence, and willful ignorance. I believe that Obama has the energy, guile and the necessary narcissism to speak as America, and not simply for America. Symbols are meaningful, but substance counts, too. If Obama is “just” another JFK then little will get done in the next four years (and let’s hope that is the ONLY comparison that will be made with the late president). If he presses genius into service… and by all accounts, he just might… and he can win over detractors the way Regan and Clinton could (and I have my doubts) then things might get done.

But great, good, or indifferent, it is important that the psychic bleeding be stopped. Obama, on a very fundamental level, represents that basic change.

Also, it IS meaningful that Obama is an African-American… and more so that his is mixed. At my core I am a Woody Guthrie, Mark Twain, Studs Terkel (RIP) kind of patriot. I love that I can point to a guy like Obama and say “my President. That’s what WE are all about.”

Congressional Representative
SHERMAN – A nerd. A guy who embarrassed himself on The Colbert Report. The sort of fellow who if you saw him, you might want him to do your taxes (he is a CPA!) but not necessarily run your life. But he is also a progressive in a time when that means something. He cares about human rights. He knows that this Federal takeover of the banks is un-American, and he’s not afraid to go against the party line. Also, he is responsive to his constituents, which, out here could be a college professor or a porn actress.

State Senator
PAVLEY - The Greens (the party to which I, for the moment, affiliate with) are not running very many candidates at the moment. In any case, I do have some affinity for the Democrats at this moment, if only because we find common cause in ridding ourselves of the stinking corpse of the current administration. Fran Paveley is a Dem, which is good enough for me in 2008, but she’s also an environmentalist who gets things done. It helps that she actually knows what she’s talking about as well.

State Assembly
BROWNLEY – A down-the-middle kind of Dem with an interest in education. Essentially “ho-hum” but we have two choices… the Democrat or the Republican. That’s the way it goes in two-party, winner-take-all land. In a proportion system it might be worth-while for a Green or a progressive independent to run but things being what they are… also, I can’t bear NOT to vote.

That being said… so we live in a country where we can’t directly elect a president – an office that the electorate could conceivably study up on, but we are expected to make decisions between ten different judgeships? Who follows these careers? One candidate, Cynthia Loo, has spent time as a “Superior Court Referee.” Another, Steve Simons, has been a “Consumer Rights Advocate.” I can probably come up with a reasonable narrative for these careers, but is this really an office that should be left to a ballot? I have no problem leaving this choice in the hands of a qualified executive… a Mayor, a Governor, a City Council. Isn’t this what we do with the Supreme Court?

State Measures
1A - YES Money for the bullet train linking LA and the Bay Area. It’s about fucking time! They’ve only been talking about it for 30 years. Every governor has turned it down. Never the right time. Meanwhile, England is linked to France by a high speed train UNDER the fucking water! Meanwhile, Japan yawns in apathy over their bullet train. California probably should watch her purse (god, how sexist!) but this is a project that, when completed, will generate a lot of income for the state via tourism and interstate travel. Two hours to San Francisco? Punch my ticket, sweetie!

2 - YES Requires higher standards for animal confinement at farms. Animals raised for our consumption should be treated humanely before they are killed. Scare tactics on the “NO” side focus on racist suggestions of “Mexican” eggs and concerns for increases in cost of food. I doubt anyone will fall for that weak tea. The fact of the matter is that we are completely detached from our food. Maybe we think a chicken is running round free and an occasional egg drops out or that a pig is somehow “caught” while living free and wild on a farm. No. Think trash compactors. Think horrors.

3 - YES Money for children’s hospitals. I support hospitals for sick children.

4 - NO Requires parents to be notified if the daughter seeks an abortion. Abortion is a medical procedure which should be available to all women. Presumably, a daughter with an open, loving relationship with her parents will communicate her heath concerns to them. But, sadly, many parents suck. What if it wasn’t abortion… what if it was a blood transfusion and the parents are religiously opposed to such a procedure? For this reason, Operation Rescue must be disappointed on Tuesday.

5 - NO Changes existing drug offense sentencing rules. Drug laws are absurd. All drug use should be decriminalized. But we don’t live in Fairy-land. There are ways of moderating the draconian legislations in this State, but Prop 5 isn’t it. Good intentions, poorly construed.

6 - NO State money for local law enforcement. The usual “the criminal element is taking over” argument. Police and firemen always need more money. In a different time, a different election, I might say yes to a $965 million allocation to crime fighters. But not in 2008.

7 - YES* We are in an energy crisis. We will not drill our way out, and hybrid and ethanol are dead ends. We need big government. We need mandates. We need FDR. What we get is a sloppily-written piece of potential legislation with more holes than a good emantaller. A lot of good people are on both sides. But California needs to be in the vanguard of the green economy. We can tinker with the details later. But 7 needs to pass. UPDATE: I ended up voting NO at the last minute. I kept seeing the face of T Boone Pickens and remembering how he destroyed John Kerry in 2004. A disgusting human being who is seeking to make loads of dough now that his wells have dried up.

8 - NO Would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. This is known as discrimination. Opponents are homophobic and/or simply stupid. No reasonable thinking person can make an argument that two people of the same sex marrying would undermine the legitimacy of so-called “traditional marriage.” Similar arguments were made to keep whites and blacks from marrying not so many years ago. Let’s get over it as a people. Let’s enter the 21st century.

9 - YES Keeps the victim of a crime informed about the machinations of the criminal. Seems common sense. Surprised it isn’t common law.

10 - NO Helps consumers buy alternative fuel vehicles. Good intentions but I fear that it would favor hybrid vehicles. Prop 7 is the more comprehensive plan.

11 - NO Gives a small cabal of power brokers the authority to redraw district lines in the State. Wholly anti-democratic.

12 - YES Gives nearly a billion dollars to veterans to buy homes and farms. It is a pitiful recompense for the lies and, frankly, abuse of the armed services by the exiting administration.