The Electoral College
I've changed my mind on this--it's got to go.
I know the arguments in favor of it--without it, small states will be ignored in favor of large urban areas with easy access to advertising, blah blah blah. I don't care anymore. We need to go to a direct election of the President, complete with a runoff if no one gets 50%+1 of the vote. None of this tossing it to the House if we don't go for more than 50%. Sure, it will be a major overhaul of the Constitution to make it happen, but hell, the religious nutjobs in this country want to enshrine homophobia in the Constitution, so what's a little direct election among enemies?
So what's brought this on? After all, if we'd had a direct election system in place for the November election, all the Ohio recounts in the world wouldn't make a bit of difference, right?
But it would. First off--if we're talking about direct election of the President, then the ruckus over electronic voting would be a much larger issue. It wouldn't be dismissed as a Florida thing, or a conspiracy theory thing. Everyone with the slightest bit of distrust for the government--and that encompasses a large part of the voters on both sides--would be clamoring for transparency and an auditable paper trail. Go visit the Free Republic if you want to see government fueled paranoia run amok--they make the Black Box Voting people look like staid academics.
Secondly, the country has changed so much since the institution of the Electoral College in terms of communication technology that keeping with that antiquated system makes no sense whatsoever. I can read about politics--indepth--on my cell phone. I did it today while I was at work. I can keep up with current events in a way I couldn't have imagined ten years ago when I was selling cell phones at Sears--the kind with a bag and shoulder strap. Politicians who want to get me their message have more options and more avenues than I can even think of, and I'm a poor guy, financially speaking. So why should I take part in a system where my vote, because I live in a "safe state" (God, how I hate that term now) is symbolically valuable, but practically meaningless?
But here's the biggest reason I want to get rid of the electoral college. As long as the electoral college exists, political professionals will continue to divide up the country as though it's some oversized game of Risk, parceling out safe states to the two big players, and skirmishing over the swing states in order to control the country. Neither of the big parties wants to change the system, because they both know that if the dice roll comes out for them, they can win for a while. The Ed Gillespies and Bob Shrums of the world count on that for their electoral strategies--narrow the field and concentrate your forces on a precious few. Well fuck that.
I don't want forces concentrated on a narrow segment of the population--I want the largest possible population speaking out and being spoken to. I want the Republican candidate coming to California to rally the meager troops here and I want the Democratic candidate going to Texas and Alabama and Louisiana to let the progressives there know that they aren't forgotten. I'm tired of being taken for granted. I want to be fought over, damnit. I'm worth that much.
Okay, I'll admit it--there's one more reason. The fact is that if we have a direct election, more emphasis will be paid to urban areas because they're easiest to advertise to and they offer the most bang for the buck in terms of votes. But would that be a bad thing? Look at the studies about red states vs. blue states in terms of tax dollars paid in and received. The biggest welfare states are the red states with sparse populations. The biggest paying states are blue states with large urban populations. If the electoral system changed, and the cities were more important politically, then suddenly both parties would be more interested in social justice and the problems with crumbling infrastructure. It wouldn't matter which party did it, in my opinion--as long as it happens, I don't care if it comes from a person with an R or a D next to his or her name.
What the demolition of the Electoral College would primarily do is take power away from the political professionals and would transfer it to the people at the bottom, to the 50% of wage earners who make less than $30,000 a year, because suddenly their votes would matter a whole hell of a lot more than they do now.And that, my friends, is precisely why it'll never happen.
Still, a guy can dream, can't he?
The danger of Hostettler
In a column in yesterday's Palm Beach Post, George McEvoy wrote about what he calls the attempt by the right-wingers in Congress to denude the federal courts of their authority to determine what is Constitutional or not. These cases would, predictably, be largely about social issues--gay marriage, abortion, separation of church and state--and would then be decided by judges who, in many cases, are directly beholden to the electorate (and by extension, less independent as jurists). Say what you will about the ludicrous rhetorical gymnastics Antonin Scalia has to perform in order to get to some of the decisions he's authored over the years, his position as judge for life allows him the independence to make decisions that go against popular opinion. Sometimes this sucks, as in Bush v. Gore, but it also gave the Warren court the ability to make those landmark civil rights decisions that changed our country for the better in the sixties.
So here's what Hostettler said:
"When the courts make unconstitutional decisions, we should not enforce them. Federal courts have no army or navy... The court can opine, decide, talk about, sing, whatever it wants to do. We're not saying they can't do that. At the end of the day, we're saying the court can't enforce its opinions."
Lots of people over at the Daily Kos have gotten exercised about this, and have compared it to Andrew Jackson's alleged comment about Chief Justice John Marshall in Worcester v. Georgia: "George Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." And much of the discussion over there has focused on this historical precedent.
But it seems to me that many of them are missing the larger point. Hostettler is trying to echo the argument of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience,
but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.but here's the problem: Thoreau was talking about acting as a private citizen standing in defiance to an unjust government. Hostettler is trying to use one branch of government to beat another branch into submission. He's actively working on legislation that would remove the federal judiciary from their Constitutionally mandated as overseers of what is and is not constitutional. He's not trying to stop the machine--he's trying to retune the machine to serve the whims of his constituency, a constituency that is trying to move us ever closer to theocracy.
I'm all for civil disobedience. It was the basis for those landmark Supreme Court rulings in the fifties and sixties. It raised public consciousness about issues that most people of the time would have been happier ignoring. But the people who defied the existing laws did so in the knowledge that they were risking jail time, the vengeful acts of a hostile populace, and quite often, retribution at the hands of local law enforcement groups. They knew going in that they might never have the backing of the government or of the courts, but they made their stand anyway.
Hostettler is talking about something different. He's suggesting that if a court makes a decision that the Congress disagrees with, the Congress can tell the court to go take a leap, that the Congress can assume the power of two of the three branches of government by fiat. That's what ought to scare Americans--the thought that a group of idealogues in Congress could conceivably turn the federal judiciary into a rubber-stamp for whatever they want to push through, simply by refusing to enforce the Court's decisions.
Had a great time
It was a good visit. Northern New Mexico is just gorgeous and relaxing--and cold. My B-I-L lives in a ski valley, and there was more than enough snow around to start the season while I was there. Es no bueno for a boy from the deep south. But that was the only downside, and it served as a wonderful reminder that I am for the tropical climes, so if things really go badly, I'll have to defect to somewhere like the British Virgin Islands instead of Saskatchewan.
And the high point of the vacation? Had to be the frozen turkey races--people of all ages and sizes sliding down a section of the bunny slope sitting on (or more often, falling off) a frozen turkey. Great and hilarious fun. And no, I didn't participate as anything more than a photographer.
Going to New Mexico for the holidays--see you when I get back.
Fuck John Kerry
I want my money back.
Someone explain this to me--if Kerry really believed that this was the most important election of a generation, that there was no length to which he was not willing to go in order to beat George W. Bush, then why the fuck does he still have $15 million in campaign funds left over?
Here's my notice: I didn't give you much, John Fucking Kerry, but what I gave, I want back. And I want you to deliver it personally, so I can kick you in the balls--you owe me that much. I didn't like you in the primaries, and I didn't like defending your sorry ass in the whole general campaign, but I did it because I allowed myself to believe that you were serious about winning this thing. Obviously, I was wrong. You owe us that money, John Kerry, so pay up.
Gonna be on the tee vee
Want to see the man behind Incertus? The reading I did tonight with Stephen Elliott will be televised in about a week and a half on BookTV on C-SPAN (1 or 2 I have no idea). The rumors were true--the camera was there when I showed up to the Stanford Bookstore at 6:45 p.m. this evening, and everything went off without a hitch. I doubt the schedule is up on the C-SPAN website yet, but in a couple of days, you can go there and do a search for Stephen Elliott and it'll give you a broadcast date. I'm hoping it'll be archived online as well so I can get a copy--no cable for me, as you may remember.
I'm excited. I'm only on for a couple of minutes, and it is C-SPAN, but it's still national tv. Can I get a poem or two published now?
Poetry readings tonight and tomorrow.
I just got back from listening to and visiting with my friend Simone Di Piero. He read tonight at the Booksmith, a beautiful bookstore in the Haight. He read from his latest book, Brother Fire, a book I heartily recommend. Here's a sample.
Didn’t You Say Desire Is
like the elephant fog
a white sun going down
through clouds horizoned
on my dog-eared stack
It feels good and right
to waste earnest hours
of an early evening’s
daylight saving time
in uncertainty and want
these cranky climates
changing in us while we
haven’t started dinner yet.
My reading with Stephen Elliott is tomorrow night. Stanford Bookstore, 7:00 p.m. After the reading tonight, the husband of one of my former classmates asked me whether or not I was excited about the C-SPAN cameras tomorrow. I started hyperventilating then and haven't really stopped. I don't know if it's true--Stephen didn't mention it and there's nothing about it on the C-SPAN website, so it could be just a rumor, but I'm slightly more stressed about it now than I was before. On the other hand, it could wind up being amazing.
Scott Peterson is guilty!
And the world released a collective yawn. At least, that's how it should have been--no disrespect to the family of Laci Peterson or those who are close to Scott. This was a murder trial, one that, for some reason, what passes for a news media in this country decided to pluck out of the thousands of murders committed and prosecuted every year and turn into a national event. Think I'm kidding? Think again.
What warranted this kind of news coverage? At least O.J. had celebrity driving the media frenzy. But who the hell were Scott and Laci? Read that article I linked and notice the paucity of anything spectacular--again, nothing personal to anyone who knew her--that warranted this kind of coverage. I mean, there's nothing overwhelming in even the nature of the crime. It wasn't substantially more horrific than anything you might read in a daily newspaper--it didn't involve cannibalism or necrophilia, for instance. It was just a sad story of a man who killed his wife and dumped her body in the Bay. Sad, certainly, but certainly not worthy of the insane attention it received over the last two years. Surely, the news media could have found something more pertinent (Hint--it involves soldiers dying needlessly).
That didn't take long.
Bush announced today that he was nominating White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to take the place of John Ashcroft. Is this an improvement? Well, Gonzales was the man who wrote the memo in which Bush claimed the right to waive anti-torture law and international treaties providing protections to prisoners of war. And if we go back a little farther in his relationship with Bush, we find that he's the guy who reviewed most of the death penalty clemency petitions during Bush's tenure as governor of Texas, and the person who Bush said he leaned on in making those decisions. Predictably, both the media and the Senate Democrats are rolling over for this guy, and I suppose, when compared to Ashcroft, Gonzales might be an upgrade, but that's like saying that Moloch is an upgrade from the Prince of Darkness. It's small comfort at best.
On a slightly more pleasant note, I got a call from the below-mentioned Stephen Elliott last night, and he asked me to do a reading with him at the Stanford Bookstore next Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Come by and check it out.
And the only thing I can think is to wonder how far into the pits of hell will Bush go to pick someone worse than Ashcroft. I have complete and utter confidence in his ability to do so, mind you. It's about the only thing I have confidence in his ability to do--to pick someone completely and utterly unfit for the job.
Not politically--that time has come and gone. Now it's professional crunch time. The deadlines for the Yale Younger Poets series and the Walt Whitman award are in a week, and I have yet to finalize a manuscript. Time to get to work.
It's my birthday tomorrow, and for the third time, I'll be dealing with a Bush presidency while thinking about my own mortality. To be fair to Poppy, I wasn't politically active when he was elected, nor did I have any real grasp of the issues involved, but there have been plenty of times in the last dozen years or so where the intersection of my birthday and election day has been a real kick in the balls.
Fortunately, some of the anger has passed, and I've become resigned to the idea that we'll have four more years of Bush and at least two more of a Republican congress. Unlike many other bloggers, I'm not as sanguine about the potential for a Republican Civil War anytime soon--power covereth a multitude of fiscal retardedness. It may take a Vietnam/Great Depression type disaster to swing the electorate back from where they are currently, and damn is that going to suck for the people on the bottom. But then again, it always sucks for the people on the bottom, that is, until they storm the castle and hang everyone in it from the ramparts.
Mainstream American Thought
Throughout the past two years, when I've gotten into online arguments with conservatives, invariably they've said that Democrats (by which they mean liberals) are out of touch with the mainstream of American thought. Ever since the election on Tuesday, I've been wondering about that, and I've come to the conclusion that they may well be right. Not because overall attitudes have changed, but because there's a different group of people making their presence felt these days.
We have to face it--the evangelical movement has made its mark in the political and social arenas, and as a result, the country has lurched rightward on significant issues like abortion rights and gay rights. And because their socially libertarian brethren in the Republican party haven't stood up to them, these evangelicals are now in a position to pull the country even farther to the right. Because of this, the mainstream, which was once moving toward greater social justice and overall equality, has now shifted back toward the Puritanical.
We're now looking at a group that is largely dictating morality in Biblical terms, even though you'd never know it from watching network or cable tv, but it is happening, and they've managed, with the help of their brethren in the Republican party, to fashion an electoral majority. By my lights, that makes them the mainstream, painful as that idea may be.
So what does that mean? It means that I'm damn glad I'm out of the mainstream. If being in the mainstream means that I have to be a gay-hater, that I have to believe that the Bible is absolute truth and the only moral guide to follow, and that it's my duty to legislate that morality on the infidels (read, liberals), then I'll stay over here on the left, well out of the mainstream, thanks just the same.
Is this where we're headed?
Post-election rant, Part the Second
There are some more people I want to address here, but I didn't want it to get lost in the rant below.
First--Bush voters. Every soldier who dies in Iraq, every civilian who dies in Iraq, every human being who dies as a result of terrorist action inspired by the war in Iraq, their blood is on your heads. We had a chance to repudiate the actions of Bush and his administration, and you decided not to do it. I didn't blame Bush 2000 supporters as a whole for this, because it would have been difficult to know that Bush wanted to wage this unnecessary and illegal war, but you have absolutely no excuse now. You voted for him knowing what he had already done, and what he has the potential to do in the future, now that he doesn't have to worry about re-election. If there's a God who actually cares about human beings, every single one of you must answer to him/her/it for the conscious choice you made this election day.
Second--voters between 18-24. If you voted for Bush or you didn't vote, then I hope you get drafted, because make no mistake, the draft is coming back. The military is in a shambles right now, and the Republicans have obviously decided to be constantly at war. That requires cannon fodder, and the best cannon fodder is between the ages of 18-24. We tried to tell you, but you wouldn't listen. And let me tell you something--if my 14 year old daughter is drafted in 2009, and something happens to her, you guys are in a world of shit. You don't want to tangle with me if that happens.
This experience has been freeing in a way. A Kerry election, even coupled with taking back one of the houses of Congress, would only have forestalled the coming implosion. Now that I know it's going to happen, I can try to relax and roll with it, trying not to be completely fucked by it all. Get ready for the next four years. It's gonna be ugly.
Post election rant--Part the First
If you're a Democrat above all else, you may want to get out of the way for this, because it ain't gonna be pretty.
But first things first. Iowa? Next time you decide who's electable and who isn't, do us all a big favor and shut up. At least New Hampshire had the decency to carry the state for the guy they decided was the most electable. (I know, the full results aren't in yet, and I'll change this if Kerry winds up taking those now meaningless electoral votes.)
Kerry? What happened to that courage under fire you bragged about in the primaries? Let me tell you something--you had people ready to go to war with you on the ground over Ohio, and you chickenshitted out. You could have at least given us a day or two. Same goes for you Edwards. Don't even think about making a run in 2008, either of you. I will personally find you and shit on your lawn if you try it. I need to change this second part. According to the stories I read later, Edwards wanted to fight for the votes and was overruled by Kerry and his senior strategists. Sorry--I won't shit on your lawn.
Now to the fun part. The first chance I get, I'm going to the voter registration office and changing my party affiliation from Democrat to either Independent or Green. I will not be a member of your party again until you show some spine when it counts. We were Horatio at the fucking bridge in this election, and the hordes came pouring through. We didn't close the deal in a single major race. Not one! Where's the party? Not agitating about voting irregularities like the folks at Verified Voting. They have, predictably, rolled over. In this election cycle, simply having a D by your name was good enough to get my support. Never again. I'll vote for Democrats if they earn it, but I will never again settle for a Democrat just because the Republican is loathesome.
And why am I so agitated about all this? Because we had a chance to forestall the coming doom--and it is certainly doom we're looking at--and we botched it completely.
Let me put this in perspective. Karl Rove has now proven definitively that you can take a substandard candidate, mix in evangelical Christianity, fear, and a few political dirty tricks, and you can win a clear majority nationwide. If that's not a fucking train in the tunnel, then I don't know what is. We're headed toward a theocracy, folks, a nation controlled by those faith-based, gay-hating, abortion-banning, rapture-awaiting psychos who live across the southern, central, and mountainous regions of the country. And god help us if they ever manage a filibuster proof Senate. Pat fucking Robertson could wind up on the Supreme Court.
We've been warned repeatedly. The Bush budget will require massive tax increases, huge slashes in services, or both by 2006. 2006! And we aren't going to have tax increases with this group, so here's what we're looking at. If you're poor and need help, you're fucked unless your individual state wants to give you a hand, and most states are so strapped right now, they couldn't do it if they wanted. If you're old and need help, then see the above scenario. And if you were planning on retiring on your Social Security, forget it--you'll be lucky if you receive reduced benefits by the time you're able to retire at 75. And you can forget about programs like Head Start. They're toast.
And what did the party give us? Electability. I swear, if I hear that word come up in the next primary season, somebody's getting hurt. Like baseball bat hurt.
So to the Democratic party I say, you had your chance with me, and now I'm gone. I'm a progressive, and if you field progressive candidates, I'll vote for them, and perhaps even toss them a buck or two. But don't ever count on me for anything again. I'm going to put my head down and hope the hurricane that's coming blows softly over me and wipes out the fuckers who like to think they're big and bad.
The intersection of evil and stupid.
Others have already blogged on this, but hey, I've bowled with Stephen Elliot and gotten drunk with him, so I'm gonna mention it here. He's down in Florida, raising hell and confronting Republicans, which is odd since, as he says here, he's a coward who was counting the black women from the Baptist church to protect him in case things got ugly. Having grown up around black Baptist women from the south, I can tell you that that was a pretty good idea.
Perhaps Stephen got some of his courage from the fact that these agitprop types were trying to convince Floridians that they were from San Francisco, which to Republicans must be the epicenter of all things gay and unholy. Stephen has spent a lot of time here ever since he was a Stegner Fellow (and perhaps before for all I know). I've only been here a year, and I could spot someone who was as obviously full of shit as these guys were, so Stephen must have sussed them out real quick like.
But whatever caused Stephen to confront them, I'm glad he did, and I'm proud to know the guy, and I'll buy him a beer or six next time I see him here in the city.
That's what I keep telling myself it's gonna be--a landslide--because if it ain't, then I'm getting a torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other. A close election will be stolen by the current powers, I'm convinced, and it'll be time to storm the castle if that happens.