Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


“I am as enthusiastic about others’ fulfillment as I am about my own. I avoid treating others’ successes as the cause of my lacks.” ~Stephen K. Hayes, How to Own the World

As today’s events have unfolded, I am reminded of the ugliness of humanity, from one citizen to the other. People are using the inauguration of our new President to jab hurtful things at each other. When Obama was that man, I admonished anyone who treated the sitting President as their own personal scourge. These people gave Obama power over them, if only in their tacit perception of him and the office he held, and he became the object of their scorn. “Why do you give him such power?” I would ask. “He is not in control of your life–you are.”

All the Obama doomsayers were proven wrong on Inauguration Day, January 20th, 2017. Whether you agreed with his policies or not, Obama didn’t turn out to be the gun confiscating, Muslim, Socialist Antichrist many were convinced he was. Not even close. But those who felt oppressed by Obama are expressing feelings of freedom they haven’t felt in eight long years. This belies a certain breed of insecurity on the part of these “oppressed” individuals.

It is easy to blame one man, or woman, or political party, or institution for our lacks in this world. It is more difficult to soberly embrace responsibility for one’s choices and actions. For that is where the true power lies; in our ability to choose, to take action, and to give context to moments.

Leaders will come and go. Institutions will rise and fall. Trends will be popular, then fade. What remains throughout all of this is you. You, as an individual have freedom of choice to believe what you want, to empower yourself to make decisions, which will impact the world you inhabit.

The question that remains is: What kind of person will you choose to be?

two people arguingToo many times I’ve gotten sucked into religious or political debates online. Whether it’s on Facebook when I see someone posting something I disagree with as it enters my news feed, or vice versa.  Or when I’m reading the comments section of a controversial news story. I read the thread as it spirals downward into name-calling territory and personal attacks and further from the topic.

All too often, these types of conversations devolve into vicious sniping sessions of the worst passive-aggressive variety. I’m convinced that none of these issues will ever be settled by means of a social network platform. I’m not trained in the art of debating. I lack a formal education in the schools of philosophy and theology and indeed the scientific disciplines. But that hasn’t stopped me from having a particular reaction to what I see others posting about these topics.

Why? Why do I have this reaction? It seems like an easy question to answer, but it is something I’ve had to devote some time into self-exploration in order to understand this behavior. If I am so secure in what I believe, or if the belief-system I subscribe to is to me unshakeable, then why have I devoted so much time and effort towards trying to get people to see my point of view? I mean, what does it matter to me if religious people are making declarations of faith? I am a non-believer, so why does this affect me? When people post politically-charged internet memes and links that clash with my own, why am I so affected? These people have the right to the same freedom of speech that I enjoy, right? And difference in political views is one of the aspects that make our society diverse and robust, right? So what’s the big deal? Despite the grim satisfaction I got from these interactions, I couldn’t ignore the nagging sensation that something about this felt wrong. And then it hit me.

frenemyInstead of spending my time squabbling with Facebook “friends” over unresolvable issues, the more important issue at hand here, is how to convince people why it’s important to seek quality information. And indeed, how to evaluate information critically in order to make more informed decisions. The lack of factual information I’ve seen come across social media is alarming. This, I’ve decided, has been the cause of my distress over the so-called “hot button issues.” So instead of getting quicksanded into endless debating, I will try to tackle what I see as the causes for much of this disparity: Bad information/Bad communication.

The internet has been a great tool to gather and spread information, but—as they say—with great power comes great responsibility. The internet has provided us with the access to more information, but MORE doesn’t exactly mean BETTER. In fact, I would argue that it’s more difficult to attain quality information, because first, you have to sift through all the crappy information (and there’s a lot of crap). Before the internet, information had to pass through a more rigorous process in order to be broadcast for public consumption. Now, anyone who wants to say something has a platform (even me). And this is great, because the internet has democratized information, but the rigorous, skeptical process of vetting information has fallen by the wayside.

The internet has become a morass of half-baked truths, bad ideas, and dangerous misinformation. But what’s even more dangerous are the lazy attitudes people have adopted towards seeking truth and disseminating quality information. Social media platforms have become breeding grounds for virally destructive ideas. Often, these ideas are spread through memes. Sure, memes can be funny, stinging, poignant, and factual. Anyone can create them. I’ve used them before. They are like greeting cards; a way to share beliefs and sentiments across the social webs. There is nothing inherently wrong with memes. But memes (especially ones revolving around hot-button issues), can also be factually incorrect, misleading, or propagandistic. The problem becomes when people don’t fact check. As I see it, this is a two-fold problem:

  1. It takes nothing to put something out there, regardless if it’s true or not. Most people don’t take the time to consider the source of the information, but simply accept its existence on the internet to mean that it must be true.
  2. Some people would rather accept information they suspect is misleading if it supports their worldview, especially if it’s entertaining or acerbic.

This type of negligence toward quality information spreading is problematic because it takes little effort to spread poor information and nearly anyone can be a carrier. People have less time and less desire to get into the details of an issue. It’s more convenient to simply “share” a meme.

meanmemeAlthough it can be tedious at times, it is more important than ever to seek out good information. It is key to being a well-informed member of society. Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating information:

  • What is the source? Don’t just accept things at face value. Find out who or what is behind a particular bit of information. Just because it appears on the internet or on the cable news, doesn’t mean it’s true.
  • Is the information credible? Reliable information should be testable, verifiable. Too often, people react to information on an emotional level, which can sometimes cloud the facts. Try to remove personal biases. Seek corroborating evidence.
  • What does the opposing view say? It’s a good idea to understand all sides of an issue. This is not only a good practice for gathering information, but practicing empathy as well.
  • What is the context? Is there any additional information that is able to paint a more complete picture of an event or news story? Literal or Symbolic?
  • What is the intent? Is a particular piece of information designed to inform, or sensationalize? Are all the facts presented or are some of them purposefully obscured to mislead?

These are just a few ways to look at incoming information with a critical eye. There are many resources available that go much further into detail about how to examine information. I will list some of these links down below.

teamworkhandsOn a final note, one casualty of these internet information wars has been civil discourse. Lobbing word grenades at each other from the safety of our computer chairs has become the norm. This is a sad practice that gets us nowhere. I’ve been guilty of this at times and have felt the sick satisfaction that comes from “putting someone in their place.” But how can I expect another person to listen to my ideas or respect me, if I’m unwilling to do the same? There needs to be a return to thoughtful, respectful discourse. And the best way to create that environment is to put it to practice myself. It may be tempting to pulverize an easy target, but as a friend of mine once challenged me: Be the bigger person.

Here are some helpful links for improving your critical thinking skills:

Author and professional skeptic Michael Shermer writes about Carl Sagan’s famous ‘Baloney Detection Kit’

Radio host and political commentator David Pakman’s Critical Thinking Miniseries



We Americans are in the midst of a civil war. It is not so much a battle of blood and glory, but of ideology and what is at the core of the American identity. More and more often, I have found my point-of-view attacked by the social network commenting class. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy a robust discussion of diverse opinions and I am certainly not beyond reproach. However, I have been surprised by the frequency and ferocity of these attacks, especially after posting a rather innocuous opinion, or one that had the purpose of uniting. While my political beliefs might be difficult to pin down, they really aren’t very extreme. I mostly believe in sensibility between people, and I use my social media platforms to express my thoughts on current issues. With all of the outrage generated by my posts, I began questioning my values. Was I really that far off-base, to garner such opposition? Was I simply some nobody who should just shut-up and get out of the way of the real thinkers? But I soon discovered that there was a deeper, underlying issue at play here.

ImageWhat mostly set me apart from my critics, is that I actually took the time to articulate a well-thought-out, researched response. I didn’t just spew out someone else’s talking points or resort to using simple-minded bumper sticker slogans. I respected the intelligence of my opponents by responding thoughtfully and intelligently. But, that was the problem. I assumed their intelligence. What I encountered from my opponents, more often than not, was a complete disregard for facts, an unwillingness to parse specific issues within the greater context, and disinterest towards a deeper engagement over the issues. Mostly, their comments and responses amounted to nothing more than childish blurts.

After encountering this so often, I realized that the blurting didn’t bother me as much as did the spirit behind it. Most of the time, there was a distinctive tone of superiority behind what my critics were saying. It didn’t matter what I said or how well I said it, they responded with an “I know better than you” attitude. They weren’t interested in what I had to say. They were merely outraged at the audacity that I would say anything, let alone post it for the whole world to read. These critics adopted the personae of the Protector, crusading against the spreading of all my dangerous ideas.


Rather than allowing my smarmy critics to take charge of the discussion, I really dug into the issues, presenting a researched opinion. But they consistently failed to answer my points with like-consideration. Instead of a nuanced, intelligent discussion, I was faced with commenters who valued ignorance above open-minded reason. So, after much soul-searching, I concluded that my perspective wasn’t the problem; it was just as unique and valid as the next. The problem really lied within the mindset of the ignorant individual.

This person doesn’t take the time to research or formulate his/her own original thoughts on a subject. He/she accepts half-truths as long as it aligns with his/her world view. There is no room for debate. No room for the finer nuances that might challenge their black and white view of reality. This embracing of filtered reality, of fiction-over-fact has led to a type of American Schizophrenia, one with many competing and often contradictory voices. I have outlined a few recurring themes that keep coming up in my social media circles.

Here are my observations:

mad_max A tribe called America. There is a very vocal contingent of right-wing extremists calling themselves “Tea Party,” who are actually anarchists. The most extreme of this group aren’t calling for less federal regulations, they’re calling for no regulations. In this nightmare scenario, our society would regress into neo-tribal, secessionist territories with questionable or no food, environmental, educational, transportation, or public safety standards. Strangely, these people are at ease with violent upheaval. They (in their disgruntled anguish) are quick to forget that you usually trade one set of problems for another. Mad Max, here we come!

  • Today is opposite day! As Americans, we have learned to accept the complete antonymical identification with the terms “Liberal and Conservative.” In other words, people call themselves one thing and act or speak on behalf of the opposite. Look up the origins of the words, liberal and conservative. Do these definitions really match the values of their respective parties? Why is environmental conservation usually associated with being a liberal value? Why are Liberals so quick to restrict the liberties of others by use of more government regulation? Black is white and white is black. Orwell had a term for this: doublespeak.


  • Might is right. Most Americans use the terms “democracy and republic” interchangeably. If only we lived in a true republic! But alas, the tide has shifted towards a populist democracy. The problem with this, is that when you have a growing population, the opinions grow ever more diverse as well. It becomes impossible to accommodate all persuasions. With media influence becoming ever more democratized, truth and facts become diluted with half-truths and outright lies. If you don’t have a well-informed public, bad ideas can spread like a virus, leading to fractured factions of mobs who cling onto falsities and misnomers. People think they’re right because they’re mightier. Power perceived translates into real power. Instead of a relatively stable Union, we become captive to the populist political movement du jour.
  • Behold the martyrs! There is a false perception among popular groups that they are in the minority or are being persecuted. Two examples are Evangelical Christianity and what I call the “gun-hugging community.” Both groups are highly popular in America, and indeed dominate the landscape of religious and political influence here. But both groups continue to perpetuate the belief that they are being persecuted. Gun-huggers spread unfounded conspiracy theories by claiming that Liberals, or Obama, or Peaceniks, or shadowy elements within our government, or some other mysterious force is trying to take away their guns. Ok, maybe there is a tiny, outspoken group within the U.S. that would go as far as to abolish ALL guns. But they are demonstrably fringe and non-influential. In fact, despite higher rates of gun violence, guns have become even more popular. It’s like the high school football team saying that the small group of nerds somehow kept them from playing football. It just ain’t so. The same goes for Christianity in America. Christians claim they are being persecuted, all while enjoying tax-exempt status, political power, and absolute constitutional freedom to practice and spread. Christianity is the most popular religion. Period.


  • The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The internet is full of “yacktavists” opining from their ivory towers, spewing out one set of standards for the rest of the world, while holding themselves to a different set of standards. If you’re for smaller government, but unwilling to cut defense spending, then you might just have a double-standard. If you complain about your lack of freedom of speech by ranting on YouTube, you might have a slight disconnect with reality. If you’re sick of this bad economy, but refuse to identify with those less-fortunate, who really have been negatively impacted by the economy, you might be a bit out of touch with the suffering of others. I mean, it’s not like you lost your house, or second vehicle, or even your internet connection.  C’mon! If you’re going to make these grandiose proclamations, loud political rants, scathing social commentary from the safety of your home computer screen, at least follow your own rules. This is passive-aggressive hypocrisy at its worst. Fellow citizens be damned!

These are just a few symptoms of the greater disorder that is American Schizophrenia. Most of these points illustrate how divided we are as a nation, politically and philosophically. However, I don’t think that people realize that these differences are mostly cosmetic. I think that deep down, we agree on the most important issues: reduced suffering for all, personal freedom (as long as it harms no one), a greater understanding of the world, etc. If you actually go out and meet more diverse people, the level of fear and xenophobia goes down. You realize that the angry blogger from next door might actually be a decent person when you strip away the self-righteous posturing. It’s good to remain humble because you haven’t walked in another person’s shoes, and you never know when you might need a hand up. Even when help might come from someone you disagree with.


I am disheartened by the failure of leadership by the Executive and Legislative branches of our government.

This recent financial crisis has illustrated the dysfunction in our current political system. Too many people get distracted by the political kabuki created by their respective political parties and pundits. They are quick to assign blame to individuals while ignoring the larger systematic failures of the institutions. It is sad to see our country in such decline.

It is only by luxury that our elected leaders are able to squander the economic progress we have made over the last few years. They play around with our financial capital as if it were Monopoly money. They play political games while real people have lost time, money, and resources. The result is that we are more divided and rightfully cynical about our government’s ability to lead.

Most Americans are actually pretty moderate in their beliefs, but tend to cleave towards arbitrary poles when the partisan cheerleaders roll out their song and dance.

I believe in America; not my America or your America, but a place where we can all live peacefully and prosper. I support ideas that benefit the whole country, not just an elite few. We need to stop living by the rule of “every man for himself,” and start looking out for our fellow citizens. If we don’t, then we have lost something far greater than our country; we will have lost our soul.

Conspiracies are all around us.“A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum – the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They’re the people who always try to divide rather than unite us.” -John Avlon

The latest string of gun-related violence has brought the issue of gun control once more into the forefront of national debate. We are a fractured nation over this issue, many of us fed up with the lack of progress towards a solution. The left-wing is clamoring for stricter gun laws, and the right-wing is screaming for more guns in public places. There are no easy answers, as the gun control debate highlights a much larger epidemic involving mental health, media violence, and civil liberties. It is a complex issue convoluted even more by the right’s persistent inclusion of paranoid conspiracy theories threaded within the subtext of its ideology.

The first decade of the new millennium belonged to the fringe left in terms of conspiracy theory. They promoted a deeply-held belief that the draconian machinations of the Bush Administration were part of an agenda to achieve nothing less than world domination abroad, and total subjugation of its own citizens domestically. During those years, the right-wing surged in power and influence. Left-leaning activists shouted from rooftops and street corners, warning us that our civil liberties were over and that George W. Bush had essentially “torched” the Constitution. Names like “Skull and Bones Society,” “Bildebergers,” and “Project for a New American Century” floated their way to the surface of leftist debate, and for a moment, our imaginations were allowed to ponder the possibility of a New World Order, complete with dictators Bush and Cheney at the helm.

Now that much of the dust has settled since the Bush Administration, we can see that a majority of the fringe conspiracy theories were unfounded and rather silly. Trust me, I hated the Bush years as they were happening, and I had indulged in my share of conspiratorial speculation. Over time however, I realized that my loathing of the Bush Administration had been for more practical reasons, such as its poor fiscal management, terrible foreign policy, and intolerant social agenda. During those years, I feared that we were regressing as a nation and that there was no end in sight to what was beginning to feel like the new normal.  Yet, as the torch was passed from one regime to the next, the world at large became a less-scary place.

After Obama was elected President, we were presented with a more tolerant and compassionate administration. More emphasis was placed on personal responsibility towards making our lives, our communities, our nation a better place. It seemed that the conspiratorial curtain of government abuse and mistrust had been lifted and exposed for the facade it was; a largely non-existent monster under the bed. Or, at least, that’s what I thought. It seems that a different kind of torch has been passed, from the left hand to the right.


Once the purview of the left, conspiracy theories are now championed by the right-wing. The same group who had dismissed the left as being absurd and “anti-American” for entertaining notions of an Orwellian government agenda, now have a bevy of their own conspiracy theories. Ranging from the relatively harmless (the so-called Birther Movement), to the dangerously absurd (Obama wants to steal our guns), these theories have sadly become the new standard of thinking within the ranks of the far-right. Most of these theories have stemmed from the peculiar notion that Barack Obama is a socialist dictator who—wait for it—wants nothing less than world domination abroad, and total subjugation of its own citizens domestically.

For anyone who has kept up with Obama’s record as president, it is clear that he is neither a socialist nor a particularly fervent leftist. In fact, many of his policy decisions have put him at the center-right. Those who believe otherwise are either ignorant or are purposely obfuscating truth to create a more protracted reality. It is this group who now dwell in the lunatic fringes, refusing to live outside of the bubble that they have conveniently constructed around them.

These same conspiracy theorists, while claiming that the left is attacking their civil liberties (including free speech), use the very tools of mass communication to spread their delusional ideas. In other words, in a dictatorship, the right would not have the ability to freely share their ideology by use of a mass communications platform. So I think it is safe to say that our form of democracy—as flawed as it may be—is a far cry from a socialist dictatorship.

What I believe to be the undercurrent of all this, is the perceived shift of mob rule from right to left. The right-wing was disbelieving and upset over Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and never really got over it.  Obama’s reelection seems to have only angered the right more. Members of the extreme right express vehement (and sometimes violent) opposition to anything that Obama says or does. These misguided individuals cry out in righteous indignation that seems to be laced with—dare I say it?—racism.

Whether or not members of the right-wing are motivated by racism, there has been a discernible ideological shift from right to left. Rather than grow up, evolve, or progress, the extreme right ideologues would rather sulk in the corner at the kids table, commiserating about the good ol’ days when they held the power. This was none-so-apparent as the 2012 election, where the right proved their commitment towards outmoded ways of thinking. The right remained in the relative Dark Ages of social and economic policy, choosing to interfere in women’s reproductive rights and favor the wealthiest of our citizens, among other things. The American voters decided to stick with the President and with progress.

This has done nothing to diminish the resolve of the right-wing, which has only retreated further into the recesses of obtuse thinking. The real danger is when extreme ideas have infiltrated the mainstream and are no longer confined to the lunatic fringes of the party. Otherwise reasonable-thinking individuals parrot the vitriolic views of extreme ideologues who, if for no other reason, wish to maintain absolute control over how we think and what we do with our bodies.

When asked about the influence of fringe groups on the masses, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski stated during an interview:

“In a country of 300 million people, you have to allow that there are a few nuts. Some of them speak out. Some of them have access to the mass media. And some of them have a lot of money. And that’s all right, that’s normal. But you shouldn’t take them too seriously.”


Now as a nation, we are faced with the perilous predicament of dealing with escalating gun violence in a never-before-seen way. The right has ramped-up its response to its feelings of inadequacy by resorting to fear-mongering, agitation, and bullying. The news channels are brimming with angry members of the right-wing, who continue to promote a pro-gun agenda, their rhetoric seething with conspiracy theories. They maintain that the reason to continue to allow citizens to have access to military-grade assault weapons, is to protect against the impending martial takeover (someday) by our government.

Despite the various conspiracy theories that surround the gun violence issue, the fact remains that there is a very real connection between the gun lobby and the right-wing. The fact that many on the right choose to ignore or deny the pervasive influence that the gun lobby has over gun policy in the US, shows the complicit refusal by the right to adequately deal with gun violence.

Those who are committed to maintaining the partisan standard are, by nature, the very agents opposed to advancing consensus on what to do about gun control. This issue isn’t about right or left; it’s about protecting innocent citizens from criminals. It’s about understanding the origins of the problem and doing our best to make sure that these weapons of destruction don’t end up in the wrong hands.


Love guns

Life: what a wild ride! Looking back, I never thought I would’ve ended up here; looking forward, I realize I’m exactly where I should be. As I enter into this new phase of my life, I thought it appropriate to re-introduce my blog into the fray. For those few who have kept up with my little blogging experiment, the name ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery’ should ring a bell. Those early pages chronicled my observations of life as one part personal journal, two parts ranting social commentary, and a pinch of verbose dexterity tossed in for good measure.

A blog is good for many things, if only to give oneself a bit of a bullhorn aimed at the rest of the world. Well here I am (again)! I will once again add my voice to the cacophony screaming for attention (over here…listen to me…yes! Me!). I suppose I do have more observations of the weird world we live in, as well as some unfinished business to tend to. I yearn for the narrative to continue; I crave the spinning yarn that I began six years ago with ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery.’ But why am I calling my new blog ‘Chadstract’s Beat?’

The simplest explanation is that I needed an easier way for people to associate my blog to me. ‘Bonesmuggler’s Beatery’ didn’t exactly garner any name recognition towards the mission. The Bonesmuggler handle actually sprouted from a very obscure inside joke between me and a few friends, but other than that, the name had little-to-no relevance towards my writing.

As far as ‘Beatery’ is concerned, the word ‘beat’ has had multiple significance for me. Beat signifies my reporting territory or terrain. It also implies rhythm; I march to the beat of my own drum. Beat is an homage to one of my literary heroes, Jack Kerouac, who is credited as being the “King of the Beatniks.” The word beat means beat-down, tired, but Kerouac attributed beat as a short form of the word beatific.

So this latest incarnation of my thoughts and feelings put into words will take the form of ‘Chadstract’s Beat.’ Here, I will continue my long-running narrative of the world I see, and delve into new territories. This blog will be the hub of my writing platform. It will complement my website, my niche in the morass that is the Internet. My blog may not always be Shakespearian, but it will be a glimpse into a life–my life in words. And the best part about it is that this is just the beginning…

A Vote Of No Confidence

Posted: September 15, 2008 in Politics

As I watched the conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties unfold, I was reminded once again of just how similarly America’s two top parties operate. Sure, on the surface they present ideological dissimilitude, but deep down it’s just the same show; different day. The same pandering, the same grand proclaimations of reform (now even McCain is dropping the ‘C’ word, change), the same dog-and-pony show filled with lights, multi-million dollar productions, and heavy make-up, the same grandstanding by glad-handing politicians, and regrettably, the same sycophantic dorkery from manic delegates in the audience.

2008 has certainly been an exciting year for politics, but as I watched televised coverage of the conventions, the events more closely resembled a Spice Girls concert rather than a sobering rally for change. It was painful to sit through the drawn-out speeches that were punctuated with endless disruptive standing ovations by the over-eager onlookers. I must admit that the points of the speeches were almost lost to me and the whole mess was reduced to a glorified pep rally for politicogeeks (Illinois State Fighting Donkeys RULE!!). But when the stadium lights have faded, the IMAX rental video screens returned, and the rabid delegates go back to the woodwork from whence they emerged, what does all of the grandstanding mean for us?

It is relatively easy to get a crowd fired up, if you know how to work them if your speech-writers and focus groups have done their jobs. Modern politics have become such a science that pending outcomes and results have been relegated to mere formality and predictable projections. This paradigm relies more on the tried-and-true tested methods of public relations than good old fashioned pavement-pounding aggrandizement. There’s nothing new at work here. Remember the multi-million dollar set piece of the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Lincoln, that George W. Bush used as the backdrop for his pre-maturely proclaimed “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” gaffe? It is widely known now, that this was a PR campaign used to bolster support for the war. All that is needed is a theme song, some flashy lights, a backdrop of perceived accomplices, and the appearance of success, and the public is easily duped. “It’s a pageant,” as Robert DeNiro’s spin doctor Conrad Brean deftly describes the false set of circumstances that he perpetrates on the public in the political satire, Wag The Dog. It’s all theater. It’s all a show. It’s all a cleverly crafted campaign to win the hearts and minds of American perception.

So why is this particular voting cycle so important? If you are a Democrat, Moderate, Libertarian, or even a good ‘ol fashioned Lincoln Republican, my guess is that you are fed up with the massive failures of the Bush administration. These failures are pretty widespread and sweeping such as, fiscal irresponsibility, lack of accountability, unsurpassed executive power, unprecedented deficits, and a rather blowhard approach to foreign policy, among other things. If, on the other hand, you are a Republican (especially a Reagan Republican), corporate oil tycoon, Neo-Con, or eschatalogical fanatic, my guess is that your stake in this election is to continue to hold on to the fat of the land which you have hoarded for the last eight years or more, “stay the course” with the Bush policies to really give them the time they deserve to flower (is 100 years long enough?), further entrench religion with politics (after all, G.O.P. stands for God’s Official Party), and perhaps delay the much needed paradigm shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies. One only needed to hear the sycophantic mantra, “Drill Baby Drill!” from the Republican audience during their convention to sink home the truly lack of progressiveness needed in today’s ruling party.

Whatever the case, whatever one’s political persuasions might be, whoever gets the job will be inheriting one hell of a mess. America is in what is arguably one of its most pivotal moments. We are at the tipping point. Not only has a bellicose and reckless Republican administration taken us down a spiral of economic and political decline, but so has the newly elected Democratic majority-led House and Senate, who are complicit by not fulfilling the mandate of the voting public.

An interesting aspect of this election is to see how the next president would potentially continue the Bush administration’s precedent of unbridled Executive power in a post-Bush White House. Is it conceivable that the next president would relenquish such power? Would Barack, bolstered by a Democratic House and Senate be any less of a tyranny than what we have seen in the last eight years?

Now that the conventions are over, the final campaigns are in full swing, and so are the attack ads and the political cheapshots have begun with relentless predictability. If I were forced to vote today, I would put in a vote of “No Confidence” in our system. Neither of the parties, from what I have observed, seem to have any real progressive solutions for our society and the world. In today’s arena of “political kabuki,” as Noam Chomsky puts it, how refreshing it would have been to see the two major candidates shock the world (and the delegates) by coming together to run on a bi-partisan ticket. Both McCain and Obama already have the support of their respective parties, both are the media darlings of the election, and they both have about an equal proportion of followers. What if they worked toward uniting our country instead of dividing us? Now that would have been progressive.

“If there’s one thing I can guarantee, it’s: Don’t try and have fun in Denver, Colorado. Because if you do, the fuckwits in the Denver Police Department will gas your ass straight into the ground…” –William S. Burroughs

Denver was finally given the chance to show its stuff as a major city capable of hosting a world event. Hopefully those tired old rumors of Denver being a “cow town” are finally displaced. During this politically heightened week in Denver, history was made as the first bi-racial African American was nominated for president by the Democratic party. The mood was boisterous and celebratory in light of this historical moment and it was indeed a shining moment for the Mile High City as we showed the world that we can get political (and that it doesn’t snow 11 months out of the year).

Denver has a history of large crowds clashing with the police and getting gassed. Most of these events have been sports-team-victory-related, such as the 1996 Stanley Cup victory by the inaugural Colorado Avalanche, or the back-to-back Super Bowl victories in ’97 and ’98 by the Denver Broncos. During those events, over a quarter of a million people flooded the streets of downtown Denver wreaking havok in their revelry, and sadly forcing those pussycats in the Denver Police Dept. to break out the ol’ tear gas. The Democratic National Convention was no sporting event however, and despite the overwhelming surge of people “dancin’ in the streets,” the revelry remained gregarious.
What a week it’s been trying to live amongst all of these cops and crazies and tree-hugging hippie types. Much to the relief and surprise of the planners of this event, the angry and befuddled masses kept the discourse civil and left the cops with nothing to do; well, there was a bizarre donut shortage during the week, but I say: “A happy cop is good for everyone,” and for the most part, the Denver police were a bunch of sweethearts (there was that little incident on Monday, the 25th when police gassed a group of protesters that strayed from their designated zone, but more on that later).
Now that the dust has settled, I have had some time to ponder a concept that came up during the DNC that I want to address. As I reported before, the protest movement during the DNC was well under the anticipated numbers and for the most part lacked substance. The groups were mostly fringe and precipitous and thankfully non-violent. But was this due to mere sloth, or was it due to the overall aura of police intimidation?
The police presence in Denver was mighty to behold. It seemed that there was a group of heavily armed cops on every street corner. As I walked through Civic Park in the dapple of late summer sunshine, I noticed that there were typically more cops than protesters. Some civil rights activists complained that the need for so many police personnel was unjustified and oppressive and had deterred many individuals from coming out to speak their mind.
I was able to obtain a training manual used by the police that explains certain “illegal” protest methods. Such methods include handcuffing two or more protester’s wrists together inside of a metal tube, erecting tall tripod-like structures for a protester to perch atop of, and other radical methods of demonstrating. While I’m sure that these methods amount to a headache for law enforcement, how have they become illegal?
The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights provides its citizens the right to free speech and assembly. It does not specify which acts of protesting are legal or illegal. The point of protesting is to affect change through civil disobedience usually against a tyranny. Protesting is usually the result of a person or group feeling marginalized by a more dominant group who tends to have a more influential forum. The protesters set out to thrust their beliefs into the public eye through means that are attention-grabbing, unorthodox, and sometimes shocking. How can the oppressed gain exposure if their methods are reduced to de-sensitized conventionality? What ever happened to the ’60’s? Remember the Buddhists who set themselves on fire? Talk about radical. Some of the methods used by innovative activists during the Vietnam War would, today, be rendered as terrorism.
Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have had a greater awareness for the need for heightened security. This holds true especially for Barack Obama, who is certainly a marked man. I was relieved to see that he was well protected during this event. The simple fact that I heard the “A” word already being discussed (assassination), shows me that there are still too many backwards-thinking bigots around to safely let our guard down. But where do we draw the line? How much of our civil liberties, including the right to adequately protest, are we willing to give up for this so-called security?
Demonstrators in Denver certainly got a dose of the new climate of fear and security. Larger groups were herded along designated parade routes and “free-speech” zones. When they deviated from the route, or had planned unscheduled marches, they were met with swift and brutal police force, including an ostensibly excessive use of tear gas.. A close associate of mine put it to me like this: “Their right to protest wasn’t taken away, only their mobility.” This brought up a very disturbing idea. If dissent is largely controlled, how effective can it really be at affecting change? In this post 9/11 world, has conventional protesting become obsolete? Only time will tell…
PART II: Who Are These Protesters And What The Hell Do They Want?
Conventions and other political gatherings typically generate some kind of protest from some group or another, so in light of this year’s Democratic National Convention, I was curious as to who are these protesters and what are they protesting, anyway? Are they protesting the Democrats? Are they protesting the fact that the convention is being held in Denver? Protesting Hillary’s outing, or is it just that time of the month again?
In today’s political climate, there are certainly a lot of issues on the table to be addressed, such as the economy, the war in Iraq, whether a black man should be allowed to run the country, etc. Well, actually, Senator Barack Obama is technically bi-racial, so does that really count? I keep having these visions of thousands of racist political operatives descending upon the Pepsi Center in white robes and carrying a thick rope. Scary. Aside from the yahoos that were arrested Tuesday, for plotting to assassinate Obama (mainly because of his race), I hope that it is safe to say that the racialists are safely in the margins. Some issues seem more valid than others, so I decided to go out and interview some of the protesters to see what these protesters were about and if they were debating real issues.
Most of the groups seemed to be pretty warm to the idea of Barack Obama becoming president. Some were protesting to try to bring positive attention to areas mostly ignored by Obama and the Democrats, such as immigration reform and Veterans advocacy. Not all groups however, were singing the praises of the Democratic front-runner. Some groups, such as the Communist Party, were trying to bring awareness to the analogousness of the Democratic and Republican parties, and bring light to Obama’s entrenchment to the system.
The more I walked through the park, the more the event seemed like an orgy of weirdness. There were scattered groups of protesters ranging from marijuana advocates (they were all passed out in the grass surrounded by Twinkie wrappers), various war protesters, Jesus freaks, Jesus geeks, the Communist party, Ralph Nader supporters, the usual voting advocacy groups such as “Rock the Vote,” and of course, plenty of cops. One particularly strange group was promoting the idea of reproducing the Hispanic population to start an uprising.
One protester caught my eye as she held a modest cardboard sign that read: “Who Represents Me?” She was by herself and decided to demonstrate without the support of any group. She was protesting the lack of current representation based on the issues that were important to her, such as the divisions between the rich and poor and how influential rich politicians are. Even though she does not believe that she is represented, she still plans to vote.
Overall, the general mood was amiable enough. I only saw a few hecklers trying to rile up the crowd with bigoted slurs, but they were mostly ignored and the park was alive with conflicting ideas and agendas being reasonably discussed among groups. One thing that I did not see was a great unifying movement or idea to homogenize the crowds. Also, ostensibly, no overtly pro-Republican protesters.
It was pretty neat to walk through the park and see all of these ideas being exchanged in an open manner, and without police involvement. The protesters have mostly thinned out as the week has gone on, but the police force has remained ubiquitous. There is a major immigration march set for Thursday to end at Invesco Field where Obama is scheduled to give his acceptance speech. Many Denver Hispanic residents are disappointed at Obama’s failure to adequately address the immigration issue. The hope is that this gathering at the doorstep of who could potentially become our next president, will bring them into the spotlight so that Obama will have no other choice but to respond. Is the worst over or will there be an escalation during the last hurrah?COMING NEXT:


Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?

Having been somewhat of a Capitol Hill fixture over the last five years, I thought I would be in a relatively good position to get a feel for the Democratic National Convention (DNC). After this week, I won’t be living in the city anymore, so I decided to spend my last week as a City of Denver resident smelling out the aire of the Mile High City during this national security event and how it is impacting the city. Since most of the “action” would be taking place in and around Civic Park, I could easily maneuver my way into the crowds and get the scoop, hence the title, “A Walk in the Park.” In addition to my centrality to the protest movement, my job at Auraria Campus would ensure that I could be close to the security perimeter and perhaps get some close-ups of the event.

At the college campus I work at, classes have been suspended and has been turned into a sweeping security perimeter, allowing parking access for the odd 2,000 delegates, with a ramped-up security force ranging from local cops to F.B.I., C.I.A., and Secret Service. Buildings and classrooms are locked down, as they are essentially at the doorstep of the Pepsi Center where the convention is taking place.

As the event kicked off on Monday, the police and other security forces present were prepared for the worst. An estimated 20,000 protesters were expected to maul their way through the selected parade route ending up at the designated “free-speech zone,” or as some like to call it, the “Freedom Cage.” Despite the anticipation, however, the number of protest participants numbered around 2,000. Other marches have been scheduled, but are mostly sparse and un-unified.

Word around the street is that the protesters didn’t want to be confined to a “free speech zone,” and had, at the last minute, tried to organize a walk through the trendy 16th St. pedestrian mall where, incidentally, they would have made much more of an impact. Security was formidable, however, and failing to obtain a proper permit, the scant protesters were forced to say their piece (peace) on the sidewalks after the parade route was re-opened to traffic. This had the effect of disorganizing the main movement and leaving a residue of rag-tag protesters that gathered in Denver’s Civic Park.

So with all of this hype built around these protesters and beefed-up security, the question that I have is: Where have all the cowboys gone? Where are the gunslingers, the shoot-from-the-hipsters, the new revolutionaries that pledged their fidelity towards civil disobedience? From my view, it was a pretty disappointing day for the tour de force that protest organizers were hoping for. One force that was present, however, was the police presence. And they have given assurance that they will continue to remain a very solid presence throughout the event, which has some citizens wondering if the saturation of cops is justifiable. The question is, are these cops there to serve and protect, or to deter the public from engaging in protests, peaceful or otherwise?