My Political Compass: 15 Years

I first took the Political Compass test in 2004, shortly after I became politically aware. Those were my heady days of idealism, with the zealot’s fervor of the converted. The test has remained unchanged in the intervening 15 years, and so has my general score on it.

Economic Left/Right: -9.0
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.56

Basically, I’ve remained a pinko. Age has not mellowed my beliefs, it’s just jaded my view of the process. I was young and idealistic in 2004, now I’m just old and fatalistic.

Social Media Oblivion Retrospective

NEVER FORGET

On March 1st of 2018, I decided to do an experiment: see if I could go an entire month without checking my various social media outlets*. I was heavily active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and instead of taking a day off, I decided I was going to go for an entire month. Go big or go home, right? I had a few reasons:

  1. Quite simply, the companies behind these platforms are awful. I really shouldn’t have to go into detail about just how poorly these companies behave, about how badly they treat their users, and just what terrible corporate citizens they are.
  2. Social media was really negatively impacting my headspace. It’s no secret that use of social media makes us lonelier and more depressed, and that’s exactly what was happening. We typically only see our contacts’ best lives or worst drama, and we judge ourselves against that – I was completely guilty of this and it was dragging me to bad places.
  3. It was pretty much an obsession. Multiple updates per day, constantly checking for updates, needing it like a fix. In addition to not doing me any favors mentally, it was keeping me hooked.

So I decided to turn off for a bit and see if I could do it. Turns out, I could. On April 1st, after completing the month-long challenge, I deleted my Twitter and Instagram completely. I had to keep Facebook around due to connections and related apps, but I stopped logging in, and that went away in a few months.

A bit of clarification – I was very strict about how I used my various social media platforms, at least with Twitter and Facebook. Twitter was largely “interest” stuff, and the people I communicated with there were almost all people I’d never met, or maybe shared space with once. Facebook, on the other hand, was reserved solely for people I had met in person and was friends with. People I was likely to invite to a party.

Now it’s been over a year, and I’ve been “clean” the entire time. So, what has that been like?

To be honest, I don’t miss the constant deluge of information. I used to get all of my news from social media, and with plentiful commentary, but now I get it from other sources. I don’t get dragged into ridiculous arguments online. I don’t feel the need for instant validation.

On the other hand, I miss my community. I’m an introvert, so I don’t reach out to people, which means that I effectively lost my larger friend group when I disconnected from social media. That’s a function of how we operate now, for better or worse – I could rail against it and condemn it here, but I won’t, because it is what it is.

Last month I unexpectedly and suddenly lost the bulk of my in-person community, that is, my job. Not having the fallback of a larger friend community, one not built on the structure of showing up to work every day, was a much bigger deal than I realized. As I said, I’m an introvert – I don’t generally reach out, it’s just not how I operate (although I am working on that). Likewise, I don’t expect other people to reach out to me. It’s a two way street, why should I expect it from others if I don’t? So it’s not as if I’ve been sitting here wondering why few people have called over the last year. I haven’t called them, either.

Facebook made that communication easy. I could drop a quick note as a comment, basically a tap on the shoulder letting someone know I was there, and that was enough for me. People also organize via Facebook. Parties, simple get-togethers, etc. I know I did. Recently, I heard second-hand about a gathering I would have loved to have attended, with people I miss dearly and have thought about a lot over the past year. I thought about throwing my annual St. Patrick’s Day party, but didn’t want to send out a hundred text messages, and realized I didn’t even have all the numbers for people I wanted to invite. I felt entirely cut off from the world, and damned if that isn’t depressing and isolating.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, I guess.

So I suppose I’m going to get back on Facebook. The last year has taught me a lot of things about my interaction with social media, so I go back with eyes open and a set of rules.

  1. Stay off the damn thing. I don’t need it, I know I don’t need it, so I’m not going to be checking it every five minutes. Once every few days, just to see what’s up.
  2. Screw the “Like” button. I’m going to actually use words.
  3. Make a point to actually communicate with the people I’m friends with, not just collect them like Pokémon.
  4. With all of that in mind, try my best to deny Facebook the entirety of my existence.

So yeah, I’m back.

*LinkedIn is not a social media platform, regardless of what they would have you believe, and aside from job hunting, I don’t check the damn thing all that much because IT IS NOT A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM.

Amendment Proposals

Constitution writing is a thought experiment I engage in from time to time. While I’ve never written out an entire theoretical constitution of my own, I do have a number of ideas about how ours works/doesn’t work, and how it could be improved. Thankfully, it has a built-in mechanism for upgrades, in the form of Amendments, that can clarify or outright change sections of the original document. Here are a few Amendment ideas I’ve kicked around, knowing full well that they would almost likely never get so much as a laughing dismissal by any of the avenues to make them reality.

Presidential Fitness Amendment

I. No person shall be eligible to the Office of President who shall have attained to the age of seventy years at the time of their inauguration.

II. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public their personal and business tax records for the past seven years.

III. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public a full medical evaluation from a panel of no less than six and no more than twelve qualified and accredited medical doctors in good professional standing.

IV. The House of Representatives shall have the sole authority to determine the members of this panel.

On its face, this seems like a complete rebuke of Trump, the oldest person ever sworn in as a first-term President. However, it would also exclude a number of Democratic candidates for 2020, notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as making Joe Biden’s decision easy. Yes, Trump’s refusal to disclose his financial reports and the sham of having a quack doctor sign off on his health are in there as well, but I can also cite FDR and JFK in the “medical history maybe voters would have liked to have known about” files, as well as Nixon’s tax woes. Having a panel of reputable doctors make a full assessment means we get fair and impartial medical data, not the say-so of some family friend, and having open tax records would give us some sense if a Presidential hopeful is, in fact, a crook (spoiler alert: probably).

Presidenting is a difficult job, or, at least, it should be. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama aged 20 years during their 8-year residencies at 1600 Pennsylvania, so maybe electing a guy who’s 78 isn’t the best idea. We haven’t developed a cure for aging yet, and Sanders, assuming he doesn’t try to stay limber on the golf course for most of his first term, could be reasonably expected to age another 10 years by the end of his first term. The average life expectancy for an American man is… 78 years. Sanders, if elected, will already be beating the curve on Day 1, and taking on a job that is going to age him more than twice as fast.

The effect is that if you’re 70 at the point you’d be sworn in, you can’t be President (or Vice President). 69 years, 364 days? Go for it. Same if you don’t release your tax returns. And you have to have a medical evaluation by the nation’s top doctors. The carved-out exception here is that someone who is 70+ could run and be elected to be Vice President, but they would be passed over in the line of succession, as would a foreign-born Speaker of the House or a 34-year-old Secretary of State.

Excluding the VP from Section 1 is the recognition that Vice President is not simply a John Adams-style emergency successor, but more of a Dick Cheney/Joe Biden senior advisor to the President. Of course, it probably wouldn’t take long for Old White Men to run for “Vice President” at the top of the ticket, but hey, it’s a start.

Further, this would push the realistic age for Presidential hopefuls down to 65 – if you turn 66 before you take office for your first term, you don’t get to run for a second term because you’d be over 70 prior to being sworn in. Presidential terms are only four years, which means winning a second term requires another inauguration.

This would work well with a repeal of the 22nd Amendment. Get rid of term limits – Someone being elected to their first term the year they turn 35 would only be able to serve a maximum of 9 terms under this plan. Yes, that is a long time, but with an average age of just over 55 years when taking office, we’re talking about an average eligibility for 4 terms. And that still requires winning every four years.

Like Reagan, I am deeply opposed to term limits. We already have them, we just call them elections. That line of thinking supposes transparent and unmarred elections, but in theory, at least, giving someone the opportunity to run for and win the Presidency 9 times should only be constrained by the electorate. One could make the argument that I’m imposing a term limit here, and that’s fair, but I see it more as enforcing a retirement age, not so much a term limit. You don’t get to hold the launch codes when you should be holding a Bingo stamp.

So yeah, it may seem like my Amendment is a direct response to Trump, but I’m also proposing allowing Don Jr. to serve six terms.

Congressional Representation Equality Amendment

I. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states by population, using half the population of the least populous state as the maximum size of a Congressional district.

Yes, this would increase the House of Representatives to (currently) 1,118 (1,155+ by 2020) members. But each would be representing only ~209,000 – ~289,000 people each, instead of the current ~578,000 – ~994,000. Yes, that’s right, Montana’s one Representative represents nearly twice as many people as Wyoming’s one Representative. By way of comparison, when the Constitution was ratified, Pennsylvania’s eight Representatives each represented roughly 54,000 people. Having fewer people per Representative means that Representative is more beholden to the people.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s puts a floor on the number of people a district can contain, that being 30,000. This would add a ceiling, affording the state with the smallest population two Representatives and using that as the maximum size. Currently, that would mean Wyoming’s ~578,000 people would have two Reps, each representing ~289,000 people. There would still be some disparity in district sizes, because the next smallest state, Vermont, has ~626,000 people, meaning it would get three seats each comprised of ~209,000 people.

Anti-Gerrymandering Amendment

I. All representative districting plans shall consist of: districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.

This one dovetails neatly into the previous one. Smaller, more competitive districts nationwide. This Amendment would also not simply concern itself with House representation, this would affect any representative (small r) districting plan – state assemblies and senates. The text is lifted almost verbatim from League of Women Voters, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the PA Supreme Court case that completely redrew the Congressional map in PA to eliminate the 2nd most gerrymandered map in the country.

Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Governmenting is hard work. Representing hundreds of thousands of people can’t be easy, what with those unwashed masses demanding ‘accountability’ and ‘doing your job’.  Sometimes, what that job is might slip a representative’s mind.  So, this Valentine’s Day, show you appreciate your U.S. Representative (or closest Republican rep) by sending them a gift.  Here’s a suggestion:

Should be required reading yet isn't.

All Representatives are sworn in, affirming that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” but maybe they don’t remember what that entails, or maybe they just haven’t read it.  So get them a copy.  It’s not an expensive gift (only $1.00 on Amazon!), but it’s the thought that counts.  And don’t worry, I’m sure that if someone else decides to also get a copy for them, they have a few hundred staffers who could also use a copy, so don’t worry about duplicates.

Send In The Marines

Look, I have an idea.  Let’s let the military handle policing.

What, that’s a bad idea?  Yes, yes, I know about the Posse Comitatus Act.  I know that “military occupation” isn’t exactly a happy thought.  But hear me out here – this is actually a legitimate idea.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the Army or the National Guard taking over for the police.  I’m talking more about something like the Coast Guard.  A new, separate branch of the military.  It would have an organizational command structure just like any other branch, with ranks and chain of command.  As police forces already have this, I’m not not talking about a huge organizational change at the local level.  What I am  talking about is a unified entity on a national scale.

Recruits would be drawn from every part of the country, assigned to a training base in a group, and trained as a whole.  Initial training would be the same as the military, with less of an emphasis on unit tactics and weaponry.  Recruits would be indoctrinated into the rules of military engagement, which are, quite honestly, more civilian-friendly than what’s being taught to the police currently roaming the streets.  Once the physical aspect of the training was over, there would be a more intensive criminal justice training.  Graduates from this 4-month boot camp would then be assigned to a one-year training cycle with a senior patrol training officer.  Assignments would be nationwide, not likely from the recruit’s hometown.  A large emphasis on community-based policing would be employed, with patrol officers building relationships.

Once the one-year assignment was up, recruits would become full-fledged patrol officers, and begin working their way up the various ranks.  They would be eligible for relocation assignments.  Police stations would become micro-bases, and the chain of command would follow up to the Pentagon level.  Internal investigations would be handled by a Judge Advocate General, a body far-removed from the patrol level and with much more transparency and oversight.

Military-style force (SWAT interdictions) would require authorization and coordination above the local level – the local police chief wouldn’t be able to call up a tank without going up the chain of command.

Look, we operate military and peacekeeping forces in active warzones, where anyone can be a combatant, and we still wind up with less civilian casualties from ground units.  We forge relationships on the ground to help the local populations.  When shit gets real and bullets start flying, we have rules for our soldiers, and when they break those rules, they are punished. We don’t have that for our police.  We don’t have police forces that integrate with the community.  I live in a relatively affluent, largely white area, and I don’t know a single police officer.  The ones I’ve interacted with have made me feel uncomfortable and I was just a possible witness. And I’m about as white as there is.

My point is that our individual police forces have failed many communities, particularly communities of color.  For those communities, the police are already an occupying force, one that abuses them with impunity.  Having the discipline, training, chain of command, transparency, and oversight of a military branch would turn policing into the community defense that it should be.

 

Priorities In Order

It’s safe to say there are some problems facing America right now, and here we are in the midst of a presidential election in a year where there is no incumbent running.  There will be a change in leadership.  This should be a time to reflect on the issues of the day, such as:

  • Despite the economy being stable and upwardly trending over the past eight years, the middle class is still dealing with the same lack of mobility and wage stagnation that it’s been beset with over the past 40 or so years.  The ‘American Dream’, as it were, is more and more just that – a dream – to all but the very well off.
  • Global terrorism is edging ever closer, affecting our allies in more and more instances.  Our attempt to contain the very beast our foreign policy has created over the past handful of decades has failed miserably, and it’s only a matter of time before we bleed for these mistakes again, even as we continue to make them.
  • Racial issues are approaching a new flashpoint, with a new Civil Rights movement emerging that will either be peacefully resolved or result in increasingly violent confrontation.
  • Europe is becoming a disorganized mess, and will require strong economic and political guidance from the strongest of its allies, particularly in the face of Russian expansion and sabre-rattling.

One would think that the sober heads in the Republican Party, who have spent the past 8 years dutifully providing loyal opposition, would be using their convention platform to outline their vision for tackling these issues.

But hey, why bother with that shit when you can devote time to addressing the indiscretions of a president who left office 15 years ago?  I’m sure that other stuff will solve itself.

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Waiting For Black Jesus

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
If you haven’t seen this image yet, you’re probably not reading this.

So much to unpack in this image.  So terribly, terribly much.  First off, Jonathan Bachman deserves a Pulitzer for this.  I understand right place, right time, perfect timing on the shutter, but this is an iconic photo.  Iesha Evans stands like a perfect statue of peace, eyes closed against the oncoming wave, arms crossed in front of her as if containing her power.  Her dress is caught ever so lightly by the breeze, giving her an ethereal, almost angelic quality, as if she’s just landed.  The riot officers, (thankfully) slowing, appear to be encountering her aura and repulsed by it.

That’s just the composition.

The reality is that Ms. Evans is about to be dragged down and zip-cuffed by two men more heavily armored than combat soldiers, men both nearly twice her size.  She represents zero threat.  No reasonable onlooker would conclude that she is armed. She is not in any way aggressive.  She is peacefully protesting, but committing the ultimate crime of blocking a thoroughfare. For this, the police deemed greater than military force was necessary.

Putting aside that I’m presented with yet another peaceful civilian being brutalized by a police force unconcerned with “serve and protect” and fattened on years of cheap military surplus, I have a different problem with this image and what it represents.  It’s almost too perfect.  It might actually work.  It might start to change public opinion about how policing is handled.  That’s great, but my question is: why this one?  Why this image? Why this woman?

Because we’re looking for Black Jesus.

These protests arose out of the general impression that minorities, particularly African-Americans, are assumed by the legal system to be guilty until proven innocent, unworthy of justice if they are, subject to summary punishment, that the system is unaccountable when it errs concerning their rights.  I could recite a litany of names here, but it would seem incomplete because there will be another one horrifyingly soon.  The largest issue is that even when the dead black (typically) man has done nothing to warrant roadside execution, the narrative always circles back to assume he somehow deserved it, somehow brought it on himself.  Maybe he was a criminal a decade ago.  Maybe he was rude.  Maybe he had a toy gun.  Maybe he was being suspicious.

In 1956, Rosa Parks was hauled off to jail for not giving up her seat on a bus.  Her’s wasn’t the first case, in fact, there was already a case working through the legal system that would successfully end Montgomery’s bus segregation.  But why were the women involved in that suit not raised up as icons of the Civil Rights movement like Parks was?  The first one to be arrested, Claudette Colvin, well, she was 15 and girl had a mouth on her.  She wouldn’t play well in the media.  She wasn’t a good face for the movement.  She wasn’t the Black Jesus they needed to show the injustice.  Similarly, all of these people who’ve wound up dead after interacting non-violently with police have been somehow less-than-holy.  Michael Brown may have robbed a store.  Freddie Gray was packing a knife.  Sandra Bland may have mouthed off to an officer.  Eric Garner was selling cigarettes.  Alton Sterling had a record.  No qualifiers for Black Jesus there.

Now we have Philando Castille, who, by all accounts, was a model citizen.  Gunned down without hesitation in his car after informing the officer that he was going to produce his permit to carry, Castille seems like the perfect person to hold up and say “this man did everything right.”  He yielded to the officer when pulled over.  He informed the officer that he was legally carrying.  He followed all of the motions, and still wound up bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds.

But, like Jesus, he hung out with a woman who may have been less than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, and if there’s one thing this Christian Nation cannot tolerate, it’s someone who is not white and less than perfect.  So maybe he’s not our Black Jesus after all.

It’s possible that Iesha Evans is the Black Jesus of protesters.  Maybe not.  I’m sure we’ll hear in the coming days how she once got a B on a midterm or said a bad word once, or was in some way less than perfect, justifying her treatment in the scene in which she’s been immortalized.  But maybe we need to stop looking for Black Jesus.  Maybe we need to stop looking for that perfection and understand that we’ve already seen enough to know that there is brutal injustice going on in this nation.  Half of the country lives in fear of the law, lives with a sense that they are not equal under the law, lives with examples that they can be refused justice without repercussions.  Even if this is just a perception problem, it’s a problem.  We need to stop looking for a savior to be crucified before our eyes to start working for salvation.