Saturday, October 27

Today I Vote

I have been actually dreading going to the polls and voting. The weight that I feel as a swing state voter is a burden. But no one wants to hear from a martyr, so I'll just say that making a choice for the President of the US has been the most difficult of my life for several reasons.

On the one hand, I voted for Hope and Change in 2008, but in 2012, I'm voting for good sense. In 2008, we watched out economy tank in part by economic decisions that helped the few and cost the may a lot. I am not willing to go backwards and accept the policies that brought us to the brink again, but I also wonder what four more years of partisan bickering are going to do to us.

I do not believe that the men and women running for the highest office are perfect people or even that all their ideas will be impactful. Truly the eye has been off the prize in this election. While we have been worried about who will be the next president, the House of Representatives is not likely to be changed and therefore, either we will see the same political posturing in the House or the posturing will shift to the Senate, depending on who is elected to the presidency. So whoever we elect is going to be fighting an uphill battle.

The vast majority of people think that the House is largely ineffectual, but don't understand the ramifications it has on the person they elect to the presidency. Romney says elect him because he can work across the aisle, but how much work do you have to do when it is your party in power? Yet, as we experienced under Obama, even if you have the votes, the partisan shopping cart has to be filled first and that arguably has problems too. The Affordable Healthcare Act, while well-intentioned, is not a flawless piece of legislature and people have the right to be upset about those provisions that they feel will be detrimental to them.

This election is important, but more important is how do we as Americans deal with each other regardless of the outcome. The closer we get to the election, it would seem, the more confidence we have in spending money again (and that is where jobs come from). So, is it that we are a hopeful people putting our faith in false idols or that we are simply in need of a leader that can articulate our sense of confusion and frustration over where we are going? Or do we need a leader that can get deals cut?

What I see is that we need both. And that is what makes voting all the more difficult. I see President Obama, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Rocky Anderson as men and women who do a great part with the first question. I see Governor Romney and President Obama as the deal makers. Whatever people may like or admire in a President, what they get done is what we remember.

As much as I would like to vote purely on my beliefs, I find that is not a way ahead. The way I see it, is to build support at the state level for candidates outside the big two and to seek either non-partisan elections or at least real alternatives to the big two parties. When around 40% of the electorate claims to be independent, there certainly is room for a third party or at least independent candidates that speak to that group. But that is not where things are today.

Until that happens, at the national level, it is still most important to vote for the person who is likely to do more of what you want and less of what you don't want.
- I want a president who is relatable and can clearly articulate his or her vision.
- I want the president to be straightforward and honest, but to wait until the facts are clear.
- I don't want a president that will repeal laws that impact women, nor do I want a president that will conduct drone strikes with impunity.
- I don't want a president who would make it harder for people to join or stay in the middle class, nor do I want one that would make everyone pay for the lifestyle of the rich.
- I do want a president that will improve the prospects for all Americans to receive a world-class education, but I want localities to figure out how to do that.
- I want a president that will make sure that we all have healthcare, but won't insist on fining us if we can't afford it. I want a president who wants to find a solution for allowing American workers and immigrants to both be able to work, but I don't want one who will close off markets unnecessarily.
- I want a president who supports the rights of workers to organize, but will step in if necessary if it is for the good of all.
- I want a president who doesn't want more people in jails and, at the same time makes it possible for those who have been to rejoin society without repercussions after having made restitution.
- I want a president who follows the Constitution, but does not treat it as a static document.
- I want a president that understands that we are a part of the world and not an exception from it.
-  Finally, I want a president who supports equal rights regardless of race, religion, sexual identity, or gender.

And I am voting today.

Wednesday, October 24

Consequences: Voting Your Conscience or Wasting Your Vote

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson argued last night at the Free and Equal debate held in Chicago for supporting a third party candidate. “Wasting your vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in,” he said. “I am asking everyone watching this nationwide to waste your vote on me … and then I’m the next president of the United States.” And around 1% of the voters in the 50 states are likely to do so, but it won't be because they believe they are wasting their vote.

In the current political environment (and that of the last 200 plus years), third party candidates have been choked out by the stranglehold that the two major parties and their supporters have on the election process. Whether it is ballot access, the ability to be heard at public debates, or being covered by the press, with few exceptions, the system is severely gamed against diversity of opinion. And that is a shame.

So is voting for a third party candidate really a waste of your vote? It depends on your reason for casting it. If you are protesting the current system, than it is likely to be a waste. But, if you are voting to support the ideas of the candidate, it is a good thing. It means that you are paying attention and realize that the two major party candidates are ignoring really important issues.

For instance, if you were waiting to hear either President Obama or Governor Romney or their running mates to discuss global climate change and its impact on the economy, the environment, global politics--you are still waiting. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Not once during the three presidential encounters or the single vice-presidential debate did the subject come up." Had you been watching the Free and Equal debate (which can be seen here), you would have heard a lengthy discussion from the Green Party's Jill Stein, the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson, and also Johnson about it, the legalization of marijuana, and other issues that aren't being bandied about by the other parties' standard bearers.

When the candidates were asked what amendment that they would make to the US Constitution, two said that they would have term limits, one said she would outlaw corporations as having the same rights as people, and the other would enact a equal rights act which would be inclusive of women and those with LGBT identities. How many times did Romney or Obama address these topics?

However even the most educated voters need to consider the unintended consequences of their choices (remember Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004?). For instance is imminent peril to the planet more important than who sits of the US Supreme Court? Are assassination drone strikes by the CIA and imprisonment  without due process more important than national security or the best a democracy has to offer? These are the tough decisions that voters should be making rather than feeling that they are settling for the lesser of two evils (or that a vote for third party x is really a vote for major party y).

In the end, the best vote is made by the educated voter--and having the strength of your convictions probably doesn't hurt either.

Tuesday, October 9

Investing In Careers

By day, I spend my time helping college students to plan for and execute their career plans. It is a job that I am impassioned to do and yet, I genuinely worry that we are a nation of job-seekers rather than careerists. What's the difference, don't jobs make careers? A career by definition is "life's work" and the summing of jobs that add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. It is something that we plan for, strive toward, and readjust as we understand ourselves, our talents, and the needs that we can fulfill for others, as well as ourselves.

This morning I ran into a letter by Jim Martin of Boulder, Colorado and I truly liked the premise it. Mr. Martin's letter asked why don't politicians talk about investing in career creation rather than job creation? The problem is that I don't believe that politicians can help us to do it, if they are driven in investing solely in job creation.

Martin says, "It used to be that work was more than just a way to pay bills; it was also about following your life's passions, finding your calling or developing a vocation. It was a tangible way to complete us as people.
This country was built by people with passion, vision and determination, by people pursing [sic] dreams, noble causes and some trying to actually live out their uniqueness in their work and play. They did this by pursuing careers not in just finding a job!"

I agree that careers are created by personal initiative and supported by education systems that educate us fully, an economy that is looking for better solutions, and social and private entrepreneurship. If government were to invest into people's dream careers, we might have a more robust economy, but there is no guarantee--same as is true of the private sector jobs. Careers are often trial and error affairs where we fail and succeed to understand ourselves, our talents, and our value to others in the world.

Careers are deeply personal visions and whether it is a James Audubon painting the birds of America or Henry Ford making the car that would someday drive us to the brink of an energy crisis for our personal freedom, we have seen the upside and downside to people living their dreams.

Governments and economies thrive on us doing jobs that make stuff. To fuel the systems that require public dollars, taxes must flow and rely on industry to do it. The counterpoint to this is that we need to protect those systems that make all this industry happen and hence regulations that are non-medical Hippocratic oaths to cause no harm. Careers are more than jobs, they are personal expressions of self and the self has many complexities to it. We may cause harm to understand that we shouldn't cause it, but it is always in the interest in becoming better and doing better.

Politics does not value the ebb and flow of success and failure and governments are replaced if there is a general consensus that they are failing us. Offering people the opportunity to work is a way to stabilize them until they find their career path or to support them when their career path is on the downswing is a role that government should play (and we can argue whether Pres. Obama or Gov. romney has the better plan for that), but it is up to the rest of us to encourage people to find their passion, develop their skills, and support their endeavors.

This is where the government can really shine. Helping to build a foundation of education and supports self-discovery that creates the next Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Dr. Martin Luther King is a great investment. But irrespective of what we do, it will still take the moxy of those individuals to step up. Because even the greatest society relies on the individual to create their own career.

Saturday, October 6

While I've Been Away...

We are thirty days away from the 2012 Presidential election and here in Iowa voters are already casting their votes. Since September 28th, early and absentee voting is underway, even as candidates and their surrogates are out in force trying to swing votes or to reach the 2 to 3% of Iowans who have not made up their mind.

Another important race to watch is between incumbent Democrat Congressman Dave Loebsack who is facing his hardest campaign to date from former John Deere lawyer and Republican challenger, John Archer in the newly reformed 2nd District. Loebsack will rely on heavy voter turnout in Linn and Johnson counties to offset more conservative strongholds in the southeast and Quad Cities support for Archer.

Also on the flip side of the ballot, for Johnson County residents is the bond issue to build a "Justice Center" or a $48 million combined jail and courthouse on the existing courthouse property. While few would argue that the current courthouse and jail are antiquated and, therefore, inadequate for current demand, the larger picture of whether a bigger jail is likely to lead to increased incarceration of minorities and students busted for minor offenses. While it is fair to argue the case, pragmatically, we are faced with inhumane conditions, lawyers who have no place to meet with their clients and arraigned defendants who are housed in six other counties at an increasingly higher expense.

Lastly, on side two of the ballot is the vote to retain Iowa District and Supreme Court Justices. David Wiggins is being targeted for removal because of his vote that supported same sex marriage in Iowa. What is more at stake is replacing an independent judiciary with political surrogates put forth by a nominating committee whose majority is of one party and approved by the Governor of the same party. The determination by those who want to push a state constitutional question that two other US Constitution rights already has covered is reliant to some extent on removing Judge David Wiggins. Iowans would be wise to keep a competent judge on the job by voting for his retention.