This morning I read “Radical Russ’s” article on theweedblog.com urging ‘marijuana legalizers’ to vote “pragmatically” with a mixture of dismay and resignation. Resignation because, as someone who spent twenty years involved in national politics, I’ve seen this well oiled canard before. Dismay because, by following Radical Russ’s suggestion, the entire anti-war on drugs movement guarantees the status quo.
For those who don’t want to take the time to read the article, I can sum it up for you in one sentence: Vote for Obama because Romney would be worse, and there are no viable third party alternatives who can win.
The problem with his argument is that there’s just enough truth in it to to be dangerous, which is why he, and a good many other people, continue to drink the ‘don’t throw your vote away’ cool aid. Yes, as things stand today, either Obama or Romney will be elected in November. The apparatchik of the two major parties spare no energy in ensuring that their spin machines churn out a constant stream of ‘don’t throw your vote away’ propaganda every presidential election cycle. And the bigger the third party threat, the bigger the propaganda machine is guaranteed to be, aided and abetted by the MSM’s favorite political talking heads, all of whom are in one political camp or the other. Then, of course, there is the deck stacking that makes it very hard for any third party to challenge the cigar smoking titans of the big two. Right down to, and including, the fact that a third party candidate isn’t even allowed onto the debate stage unless they have “at least 15% support in five national polls as of the date of determination. A rule only valid because of the tremendous pressure the two parties bring to bear on the MSM outlets that broadcast the debates. Opinions that might prove more popular than the apparatchik’s approved party message(s) might dilute their power base, you understand. And while the two parties don’t agree on much, one thing they can agree on is that they don’t want to lose their power base.
But just because the MSM and the apparatchik of the two parties have well oiled propaganda machines doesn’t make their propaganda true. What makes it true are people like Radical Russ and millions of others believing it, acting on it, and mindlessly repeating it. Try this thought exercise: Open your wallet (or purse) and take out a bill. It may be a $1, a $5, a $20, whatever. Now ask yourself this: Why is it worth what it says it’s worth? What, exactly, makes that piece of paper worth more than its value in btus of heat if you burned it?
The answer? Because you, and everyone else on this planet, believe it to be worth what the face value says it’s worth and act accordingly. That’s it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, backing the dollars in your pocket except the widely held belief that Ben Bernanki can make good on his promise that a $20 bill is really worth $20 in goods and services. Likewise, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, guaranteeing that the Republican or the Democrat will be elected save that the majority of those going to the polls on election day believe that to vote for the Green Party, or the Libertarian Party, or the Communist Party candidate they really believe in would be the same as ‘throwing their vote away.’ So they hold their nose, vote ‘pragmatically,’ and then spend the next four years wondering why nothing has changed.
But the day that Americans quit believing the apparatchik propaganda, that truth will no longer be true. The day even a single voting block goes to the polls and votes their heart rather than ‘pragmatically’, all bets are off on just who will make it to the White House.
But that’s not today, you say, and you’re probably right. So, until such time as a majority of Americans do quit believing the propaganda, Radical Russ is right, I need to vote ‘pragmatically’ rather than my heart, right?
Glad you brought that up. Let’s look at that with a clear eye, shall we?
As things stand right now, no national candidate in modern history has every paid a political price for being “tough on crime”—which amongst other things means supporting the War On Drugs. But plenty of national politicians have been crucified for being “soft on crime.” Translation: To date, there has been absolutely no political cost for having locked up and ruined the lives of 2.5 million Americans for drug crimes (just in the last three and a half years). And until there is a political cost, nothing is going to change that political calculus for Obama, Romney, or any other national politican. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of the marijuana legalization warriors out there, but from Obama/Romney’s perspective, marijuana legalization, and even the whole War On Drugs, is a minor issue that can only hurt them, never help them.
There is a myth, promulgated by those of us who have and do work in the political world, and the media, that politicians are leaders. Think about it: How many times have you heard some reporter or lobbyist say something like “our political leaders” blah, blah, blah? But the truth is, democratically elected politicians are not leaders, they’re followers. To survive, they have to be able to read the public mood and flow with it, or they’re out of a job. Any politician who has a real spine and real beliefs for which s/he’s willing to fight will, despite what pollsters and the media tell us about ourselves, quickly find themselves back in private life. Democracies don’t want politicians who fight for their beliefs. They want politicians who fight for our, i.e. the electorate’s, beliefs.
And that dear reader, is why voting your heart, your conscious, even if, and perhaps especially if, the candidate of your heart is in a third party, is so important: It causes political pain! Okay, so maybe you can’t prevent Obama/Romney from being elected this time. But you can dis-empower him! A president who wins with only 40% of the vote has no mandate, no political capital. And the only real power a president has is that granted him by the majority of the people. No majority, no mandate, no political captial to do anything meaningful. It’s W. again—hopefully minus 9/11. Had we not been attacked, Bush would have been nothing more than a placeholder until the next election; a footnote in history.
Imagine an Obama/Romney with no power because the third parties sucked up almost as many votes as did they! Imagine a Congress so polarized by the insertion of real, third party coalitions that it’s even more dysfunctional than it is today. Sound scary? Maybe. But change is always scary, and there is so much to gain!
If enough anti-drug war warriors vote their conscience rather than ‘pragmatically’ as Radical Russ wants you to; if the third parties get enough votes to crack open the monopoly of the two major parties, if even only a little, then—then my friends, the game is on! Then we will finally be heard; we will no longer be able to be ignored by the entrenched plutocratic corpratocracy.
So go out and vote! Vote your heart; vote your conscious; vote for change; refuse to settle! For, as Thomas Jefferson once said: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
Ever noticed how, in this new era in which we live, that the Prison Industrial Complex just loves to “throw the book” at anyone who is found to not be “playing by the rules” as defined by our Government Overlords? It used to be that, if you were pulled over for speeding (shame on you!), Barney the cop might let you go with a warning, or s/he might give you a speeding ticket. That was it. No big deal.
But not today.
Today if you get pulled over for a speeding ticket you’re also likely to get a fix it ticket for the window that the neighbor kid cracked with a rock, for being three days late on your auto insurance, for that low tire, and that break light that’s out. And on any whim what-so-ever, your car can be searched and if so much as an old dried pot leaf is found, it’s off to jail with you!
Just a month or so ago the local sheriffs showed up at a “domestic violence” scene (that’s cop talk for what used to be known as a lover’s quarrel) and found a small marijuana grow. They destroyed it, obviously, confiscated the grow equipment and $800 in cash. Pot and money in proximity, you see, is automatic proof that the couple had been growing “with intent to sell.”
Never mind that we live in a world where the working poor and poorly educated are growing in number and being more marginalized and cut off from financial services every day. Cash in proximity to pot is automatic “intent to sell.” Never mind that the girl had a minimum wage job but no bank account, that the house was run down, the car was twenty years old—it was as obvious as the nose on the cop’s face that these people weren’t exactly rolling in drug cartel money. Yeah. Never mind all that. Just take the money and throw the book at them!
And that’s what they did. Because they also cut the power, so the couple’s food would spoil, because they found “code violations” in the electrical wiring. (They always do unless you’ve got an old contract showing the wiring was done by a licensed electrician, and even then it’s chancy.) So add a fine for the automatic guilt of supposedly doing electrical work without a permit (no proof that they actually did the work is required). There were small children in the house. They, of course, were immediately taken away from their parents and handed over to Child Protective Services, adding the charge of “child endangerment” to the list, even though there was no evidence of mistreatment, abuse, malnutrition, or even tardiness in school. Doesn’t matter. Hall the kids off to CPS where they can be taught how to deal drugs for real! (The success rate for children turned over to CPS and then foster care is abysmally low.) We’re going to teach these miscreants a lesson so they never step out of line again. Throw the book at them!
Except, of course. It never works. In the long course of human history it never has worked. You’d think we’d finally evolve enough to learn.
Did continual persecution of Christians by Rome for two hundred years get rid of them? They were tortured, stuck in the arena and made fun of, fed to lions, crucified, and who knows what else.
Did it kill Christianity? Obviously not.
During the inquisition thousands were tortured into confession, some were burned, others were drowned. A lucky few were simply excommunicated, though that rather came to a stop when Rome discovered that excommunicating those who don’t like you anyway does more to hurt you (in the wallet) than it does them. (They get to keep their tithe money.)
Did all those atrocities prevent the growth of science over Church dogma and belief? Nope.
Did all those atrocities prevent England from splitting with Rome? Nope.
Did all those atrocities prevent the Protestant Reformation? Nope.
The Soviet Union spent seventy years trying to keep it’s people under control. It erected walls to pen them in. It brutalized those who dared speak the truth about the regime or the true state of things in the USSR. It hunted down dissidents and banished them to live in conditions under which civilized people wouldn’t keep their own dog.
Did it prevent the truth from spreading and the walls from coming down? Nope.
You’d think we’d learn: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one,” Thomas Paine once said.
But then, I keep forgetting: We live in an age where the wisdom of our forefathers is now considered but a fad of college youth that most (real) adults soon grow out of. Then the sagacity of true tyranny teaches them the folly of Thomas Paine’s wisdom and they soon come to believe that those who rebel against reason are not the real rebels, as Paine claimed. But he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny, he is the real rebel, and he must, at all costs, be stopped. Or so our Government Overlords would have us believe.
Maybe you have a dozen credit cards in your wallet. Maybe you have none. But if you owe the government money, and especially if you’re a small business, I’ll be you didn’t know you have one labeled IRS. It’s true. No, it’s not a physical card, but thanks to our wonderful legislature, the IRS uses the same usurious practices that credit card companies do in order to generate even more revenue than the tax code originally authorized them to collect. Even more troubling is the massive increase in the IRS’s uncompromising use of collections tools at a time when tax payers can least afford it.
According to testimony in April 2011 by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, before the House Committee on Small Business, from FY 2006 to 2010 (i.e. the heart of the Great Recession) IRS Notices of Federal Tax Liens increased 55%. Actual liens increased a whopping 172%! (Footnote 74, page 21—pdf) The scary part is, once taxes become delinquent, the IRS is authorized by Congress to charge A) late fees, B) interest, and C) for every ‘breech of agreement’, a penalty. Tactics eerily familiar to those who’ve had to deal with credit card companies.
Is this fair? Is it right?
Is it right that even though unemployment is higher that at any time since the Great Depression; even though home foreclosures are higher than they’ve ever been in our nation’s history; even though construction related unemployment, many of whom are self employed small business (contractors), is at 34%; that according to Reuters, in FY 2010 the IRS accepted only 13,886 offers in compromise and “just 95,000 installment agreements on business-related tax delinquencies, which typically involve small-business taxpayers?” Is it right that “less than 4 percent of the delinquent accounts were reported [by the IRS] as noncollectable due to economic hardship?”
One would think that, given the historic nature of the hard times in which we find ourselves, and given that both the Congress and the President want to see more jobs created, that both the Executive and the Legislature would suspend the fines and penalties and other usurious practices they have authorized the IRS to engage in. One would think they would be instructing the IRS to be as flexible as possible in working with citizens who wish to do their part for their country, but find themselves on hard times. As Olson said: “The government needs to offer a taxpayer who cannot pay in full realistic options to pay what he or she can, so that voluntary compliance is practical.”
Unfortunately, practical and greed don’t mix, and our government’s appetite for money is nothing if not insatiable. Apparently that means damn the little people who get hurt along the way.
I don’t usually read the comments on articles as I cruise the web. All it normally does it raise my blood pressure and make me faintly nauseous. But for the last couple of days, for some reason I’ve found myself scrolling through the comments on articles I’ve read. It had the desired affect: I now need my antacids and a blood pressure pill.
It also leaves me rather said and worried about the future of our union. Because rarely do I see a comment that represents real thought and understanding of the issue being discussed. Rather, the vast majority resemble talk radio or cable TV sound bites loaded up for shock value and one sentence partisan zingers. Here’s an example:
You think the private sector creates wealth and the government doesn’t? You’re a joke!
This is, apparently, now what passes for political converse and economic literacy in our country, because the discussion quickly descended into foul language and finger pointing from there. And it’s hardly unique. No, it’s about on par with most comment threads I looked at. It doesn’t take perusal of many comment or forum threads to understand why the Washington political landscape is as dysfunctional as it is. Not just for its hard line “my way or the highway” attitude, but also for its complete lack of common sense. The reality that, while government can create an environment in which the private sector can better create wealth, government does not create any wealth on its own was standard fair in economics 101 when I was in high school! And yet, over half of the posted to the comment thread above seriously believed that either only government created wealth or that it was at least as good at it as the private sector, and that there was no difference, economically speaking, between a government salary and a private sector salary.
With that kind of economic and political literacy, Is it any wonder the national debt now exceeds our GDP?
Ah yes, here we go again some more. The Minnesota State government is still shut down and the masses are whining that their government won’t plunder the ‘rich’ and give them their money, while the rich complain that they’re being unfairly targeted and should be allowed to go their way, protecting their monopolies so they can soak the masses unimpeded. Meanwhile, in an oh so typical move, New York City is actually rationing toilet paper, claiming it “is so hard up for cash that it’s rationing toilet paper in women’s public restrooms—to the point where bathroom attendants are doling out a few measly squares per patron—along the world-famous Coney Island boardwalk.”
Okay, so if I’ve got this straight, it’s cheaper to pay City employees to ration toilet paper than it is to buy the cheap, single ply crap, governments always buy?
The logic there kind of strains credulity, don’t you think? On the other hand, political analysts are well aware that women, as a group, are more liberal than men. So from that point of view, rationing toilet paper to women, and women only, makes a great deal of political sense even though it’s fiscally stupid. It’s guaranteed to put enormous pressure on those trying to deal seriously with New York City’s financial problems.
And of course, neither the finger pointing in Minnesota nor the toilet paper rationing in New York City has or does diddly to address the real problem: When everybody plunders everybody else, only the politicians win—and then only for a short time. Because plunder adds no value to an economy, no matter where the money was plundered from. You, me, the rich—it doesn’t matter. No redistribution of wealth, no government project creates real wealth. Until the masses understand that basic fact (and don’t hold your breath) there is little hope for New York City, Minnesota, America, or the European Union.
A politician can’t open his or her mouth these days without blaming “the other side” for everything that’s wrong with everything that’s wrong. Then there’s the endless trail of activist groups, each with their no compromise message on whatever it is they’re not going to compromise on, and you end up right where we are today.
Example? The Illinois Gambling legislation. The chowder heads who are supporting it claim it will put an apple pie on every table, clear acne, save the world, and even do your dishes. Meanwhile, the chowder heads who are against it claim it will turn your face into one big pimple boil, wither the apples on the vine, and of course, destroy the world as we know it.
It doesn’t take a wit the size of Einstein’s to realize the claims of both side are as wrong as they are ridiculous. But it does take some work to figure out where some concept of truth, or at least logical potential outcomes, might be found. And there in lies the rub. Most people aren’t even interested in educating themselves about issues, never mind getting off their fat, lazy asses and doing something constructive to participate in our democracy. For over half the population even going to a polling station once every two years is entirely too much work—never mind that, for a large percentage that do go, they have no more idea who or what they’re voting for than they can glean from reading what’s been printed on the ballot. Or maybe they’ll take some partisan “voter’s guide” to the polls with them because they identify as liberal or conservative and so whatever the fearless leaders of their band say must be right. Or worse yet, they’ll have “educated” themselves on the issues and candidates (I use that term loosely) by listened some drooling idiot on talk radio.
You want to know what’s “wrong” with our country? This is exactly it. A lazy citizenry who either can’t be bothered or no longer knows how to educate themselves on the critical issues in front of us. They either do not participate or, if they do, they spend all their time listening to the likes of Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh; what serves for news comes from equally partisan outlets like the Andrew Breitbart’s “Bigs” (Big Journalism, Big Government, etc.) or the Huffington Post. They don’t seek out the arguments of all sides; they don’t thirst for academic and research data on the subject; they’re not interested in facts or the reasonable theories of those who have spent their life trying to understand the issue and what the results of various proposed solutions might be. And yet, this is exactly what a functional democracy requires of its citizens.
We have, as I told a friend today, the government we deserve. Its shallowness echos the shallowness of the citizens. The uncompromising partisan divides in government are but echos the divisions of the people themselves who are no longer willing to consider that maybe, just maybe, the arguments of other side might contain some wisdom. And until we the people get beyond our laziness, our insistence that our side and our side alone holds the salvation of the nation in its hands, there will be no real solutions to anything.