Democracy Stolen: We Must End Gerrymandering

Find me at @edub910 on Twitter

Imagine a world where, rather than politicians being selected by voters that the voters get selected by the politicians. Well, you wouldn’t need much of an imagination because this is exactly what’s happening in America today. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to gerrymandering. The United States is one of two democracies in the world that gives its politicians an active role in drawing up voting districts with a ‘winner-takes-all’ voting system – and the result is disastrous. It’s exactly what it sounds like, districts are manipulated to maximize the benefit of a specific political party thus creating brash representatives with no fear of losing an election. The last time that Congress had an approval rating higher than its disapproval rating was way back in January 2004 – over thirteen years ago. Not only that but its approval rating has even slipped down in to single digits while yielding no real improvements through the election process, and this is no coincidence. Meanwhile, since the country’s inception this method has continued to be used at the expense of the American people and now it’s up to us to make a change.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

gerry2

The very first case of gerrymandering in America occurred in 1788 (even before all the states had ratified the Constitution) by none other than the man responsible for the above quote, Patrick Henry. He intentionally created a skewed voting district of whom he anticipated would include a majority of anti-federalist voters in order to snub our future president, James Madison. Though his effort failed, the idea that ensued has played a vital role in the political tides throughout American history. So where did the term “gerrymandering” originate? Elbridge Gerry, former Massachusetts governor and vice president to James Madison. See the photo above? That is a caricature of the egregiously drawn voting district that made gerrrymandering famous. The term is actually supposed to be his last name mashed together with ‘salamander’, which as you can see from the photo, was used to describe the shape of the district that coined the term.

gerry4

There are two main methods used to gerrymander voting districts, the first of which is “packing“. This is when you purposely pack together as many voters from the opposing party as possible in an effort to minimize the amount of seats they can win in an election. A perfect example of this is the state senate district where I reside here in Fayetteville, North Carolina – senate district 21:

gerry3

As you can see the district purposely reaches out in to Cumberland County and grabs up some of its biggest African-American voting precincts. This story goes a bit deeper than the map above suggests though. I’m sure most of you have heard of Zach Galifianakis, the actor made famous from the movie “The Hangover” (yes – Alan with the beard). As a North Carolina native he helped film a documentary about the detrimental impact gerrymandering has on the state and featured this very district along with former state senator Margaret Dickson (watch the clip in this link). As you see they intentionally took her out of senate 19 and redistricted her home address in to senate 21 removing her ability to represent what was once her district. Aside from her, they also took four Democrats from the United States House of Representatives and fused them down into two districts creating the same effect. How is this legal?

wp-1488081595016.jpg

The second technique is “cracking“. This is when people from the same area (who tend to vote similar) are purposely divided up into different districts to dilute their voting power. This is usually done when a district can no longer be packed so they take the remaining constituency and split them apart.

The Voting Rights Act

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most monumental achievements of the civil rights movement. It guaranteed fair government representation for minorities, and that racial discrimination couldn’t be used when it came time to hit the polls. The bill assured that the rights from the fourteenth (due process) and fifteenth (the right to vote) amendments extend to racial minorities while also enacting many provisions to protect them from other circumstantial situations.

To no surprise, gerrymandering was used as a means of vote suppression, and for the most part it was the “cracking” method at first. Picture this – you have a black neighborhood surrounded by four white neighborhoods. Rather than group the black neighborhood together as a district (giving them representation), the legislature decides to split the black neighborhood in four parts and put a different piece in each of the surrounding four white neighborhoods. What’s that mean? The black voters don’t have enough votes to carry any district, thus their vote is suppressed from being diluted through redistricting.

This brings us to what changed the game as far as redistricting goes – Thornburg v. Gingles. This created what is known as “majority-minority districts” which is defined as:

A majority-minority district is an electoral district, such as a United States congressional district, in which the majority of the constituents in the district are racial or ethnic minorities (as opposed to white non-Hispanics).

What this did was take away the ability to “crack” minority communities and provide them with government representatives that truly act as a reflection of them. However this led to consequences rather early. While Congress steadily (and still continues to) became more racially and ethnically diverse the Democrats started losing congressional seats. Though there are plenty of state legislature examples one could look at, we will go with Newt Gingrich and his “Republican Revolution” in 1994. The Republicans won both chambers of Congress for the first time in over 40 years, but as you see from this New York Times article dated just a few days after the ’94 election, grouping large portions of minorities together pulled Democrat votes from swing districts and handed them over to the Republican party. This is the idea that ‘mainstreamed’ the “packing” concept. The more like-minded voters you group in a single district, the less effect they will have in places that would otherwise have been competitive. To put it simply – yes, they discovered a way to use this historic legislation against the people it was meant to protect. This is why North Carolina’s districts were ruled unconstitutional in a federal court.

So How Has It Affected Us?

wp-1488076384268.jpg

Though gerrymandering is a technique which has been around for centuries, the 2010 election cycle took things to an entirely new level with the Republican-led “REDMAP” initiative. This was a two part plan with the ultimate goal set as obtaining the ability to draw up the new congressional districts after the 2010 census and give themselves a clear advantage heading forward. In order to do that though, they needed to take back some of the state legislatures that were, at that time, in the hands of Democrats. Karl Rove actually warned the Democrats prior to the election but they failed to take it serious. The first step of REDMAP was dumping $30 million into what would normally be docile districts that were generally uncontested or unsuspecting, flooding them with attack ads among other things. So did it work? Absolutely. They flipped 10 of the 15 states they targeted.

us-house

The above photo is the dramatic change to U.S. House of Representatives that was ushered in after the implementation of REDMAP. How bad is it? Lets view the numbers. Just through state legislatures the Republicans have gained almost 700 seats (more than Democrats did after the Watergate Scandal!). This plan gave the right wing vast control of state legislatures across the country. On the national level the results mimic those of the states. In its first election in 2012, REDMAP paid off tremendously for the GOP. Even though Democrats received 1.4 million more total votes for the House than Republicans, the GOP still grabbed a 33 seat advantage. North Carolina has thirteen districts and Democrats scooped up a 51%-49% advantage overall which would mean seven Democrat seats and six Republican, right? Wrong. Despite the numbers the Dems only took four of the thirteen seats.

13556889_1750566291894190_1713595225_n

David Daley’s book explaining the effects of REDMAP and gerrymandering

It has happened all over the country – in Pennsylvania the Democrats won 51% of the total vote yet only won five of eighteen congressional seats. In Wisconsin Democrats received a majority of votes yet only won 39 out of 99 state legislative seats. In Michigan Democrats held a majority yet only hold 47 of 110 state seats. In Virginia the Democrats had a 4% advantage yet were held to just three of eleven congressional seats. This problem is bipartisan, even though so far I have primarily talked about the affect gerrymandering has had on Democrats. According to Harvard Political Review, redistricting heavily favored the left from the 60’s to the 90’s – it’s just this current level of gerrymandering has never been seen before. The Democratic state of Illinois is notorious for using similar gerrymandering techniques, and so is Maryland. Since the Constitution only says how to pick representatives, the fine print on the procedural end is generally left to interpretation.

REDMAP was such a success, in fact, that Democrats have planned out their own initiative for the next census titled “Advantage 2020”. The problem? Well for starters the right will see it coming from a mile away. Also, it will be much more difficult to take back districts already set against them in a way that was done with such precision. However some feel as though this gerrymandered atmosphere created by Republicans is responsible for the current grassroots campaigns on the left and may end up helping Democrats in the long run. Another issue that’s created – you have two parties who don’t fear the loss of elections which creates an enormous tank of fuel to add to the partisanship in Washington. The reason is simply because politicians will be more focused on playing to their bases to win primaries rather than losing in the general election where there isn’t any real competition. Just look at our most recent election as an example. Congress holds an average approval of around 10%-15% yet out of 435 congressional districts *drumroll* only eight districts actually saw an incumbent lose.

 So How Do We Fix This?

imrs

There are many solutions that have been proposed to end gerrymandering, above is one of them – computer generated compact districts that are based solely off population. This way ensures that your party, race, wealth, along with practically every other ‘class’ label become irrelevant. We all know how bad NC is gerrymandered, look at the difference:

wp-1487550805063.jpg

Now on the flip side let’s give Maryland a look:

wp-1487550814698.jpg

We also have what is known as the “fair vote” which I find very interesting. Not only that, it isn’t as complicated as it can initially seem to be. It basically takes the existing congressional seats and merges them into larger districts – meaning a district has multiple seats. Why would a district need to have more than a single seat? Because governing power would be split within the district between the winner and the loser(s). Meaning if a district has 8 seats, and a candidate wins 55% of the vote they get to hold 5 seats of those 8 seats, with the ‘losing’ representative acquiring the remaining ones. The goal here is to give every voter representation, even if their party loses. CLICK HERE for a video that explains this in more detail.

Another idea I saw suggested is called the “double proxy” system. Now this one is kind of complicated. But using the example that the source above gave:

In this system, every Congressional district gets two members instead of just one.  Each political party fields one candidate per district, and the top two vote-receiving candidates are elected to Congress.  Typically, that would be one Democrat and one Republican. However, and this is key, the members are not equal.  Each elected member carries to Congress the proxies of those who voted for him/her, and it is those proxies that he/she casts when voting.  If member A is elected with 300,000 votes, and member B is elected with 200,000, then whenever a bill comes up for a vote, member A will be casting his/her 300,000 proxies, and member B will be casting his/her 200,000 proxies.  To pass a bill, you would need a majority of the proxies.

One of my favorites however is “ranked choice voting”. Being that I’m from North Carolina I’m a major college basketball fan so maybe this is why I find it so appealing. This would be like voting for your politician the same way that the AP votes on college rankings every week. You rank your favorite to your least favorite, and the “number one” candidate just depends on how the numbers tally up. Not only that, but the cities that have attempted this have yielded positive results.

And while all these are all new and innovative ideas, we could make this extremely simple just by looking at Iowa. Their state legislature stopped handling redistricting in 1981, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. They created an independent and non-partisan organization that ensures the redistricting process is a fair one. While their main focus is population equality, when necessary they do take into account certain boundaries like county and city lines. They even have a provision stating that districts have to be geometrically sound and can’t be irregularly shaped.

With all these possible alternatives it is crazy to not create a better system to take the power of voting from the politicians and return it to the people. Grassroots campaigns have sprouted up across the nation addressing numerous issues (including this one) and we have to continue to mobilize so we can produce results off this momentum. Get active. Get involved. It is up to us to make a difference for the future.

Wednesday March 1st in Raleigh, North Carolina we are having the “Citizen’s Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering” at the NC General Assembly Legislative building. #FairMapsDay will hopefully begin the movement to put an end to this once and for all. If you’re interested in attending you can click HERE for a video explanation. RSVP HERE or HERE on Facebook, and for any further questions contact Common Cause NC. For my fellow North Carolinians here are some stats Common Cause has provided regarding our current electoral process:

Redistricting in North Carolina 

The Problem

30% – Percent of 2016 state legislative seats where candidate had no primary or general 

election opposition

40% – Percent of 2016 state legislative seats with no opposition in the general election

0 – # of competitive congressional races in North Carolina in 2016

91% – Percent of 2016 state legislative races decided by more than 10 percentage points

30+ – # of court interventions in North Carolina redistricting cases since 1980

The Solution

63 – Number of NC House members (out of 120) cosponsoring bipartisan reform bill to take 

partisan politics out of the process and remove map-drawing power from politicians in 2015

Once – NC House passed reform bill in 2011 with bipartisan vote 88-27; including support of NC 

House Speaker Tim Moore and U.S. Senator (and then-House Speaker) Thom Tillis. NC Senate 

never considered.

5 – # of times Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored reform bills while in the minority 

party

4 – # of times House Speaker Tim Moore sponsored reform bills while in the minority party

0 – Number of redistricting lawsuits in Iowa since that state adopted redistricting reform

“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election, 

makes all of our jobs difficult.”

 Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R)

“I will work to expand voter opportunities and create a non-partisan Redistricting Commission 

to make voting districts fair and competitive.”

Gov. Roy Cooper (D)

Together we can and will make a change! I hope to see you there!

-John Streaker

Advertisements

The Doomsday Scenario: Could Fascism Happen in America?

America The Land of the Free

This is Americathere is no way a fascist dictator could overcome our system of checks and balances and take reign over the country! Are you sure about that? Is there a way where that is actually possible? The answer may not be what you’re hoping for. Due to the current political climate with President Trump the word ‘fascist’ has been tossed around loosely as a description of his administration. So how close is he to actually fitting this illustration that the critics have tried to paint him with? Why do they make this reference? And how exactly could a president take total control of the federal government? We will get to all of this, but let me say first that this is a purely hypothetical writing. I don’t believe it will happen, this isn’t Infowars or some conspiracy theory. This is simply an observation of characteristics paired with what the ‘worst case scenario’ could be. Can it actually happen? Unfortunately, if the presidency somehow slipped in to the wrong hands – the answer is yes.

Why Do They Keep Calling Trump a Fascist?

fascism-1

No, Trump isn’t Hitler. However we can begin with the constant assertion that Trump and Hitler are two peas in a pod. Trump hasn’t actually done anything that’s anywhere near par with the atrocities the world seen from Nazi Germany so why even compare? To understand why someone would say this, one needs to understand what the defining characteristics of a ‘fascist’ actually are. We look to Dr. Lawrence Britt and a report he authored in 2003 titled “the fourteen defining characteristics of fascism.” He discovered fourteen traits that were consistent among known fascist through history including Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and other Latin American regimes. Let’s glance over the fourteen traits, and remember – this is from 2003.

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism. Many identify Trump’s administration as overtly nationalist, and he even has cabinet members who self-identify under this label. He mentions constant use of patriotic slogans  (Make America Great Again) among other things. Trump carries this trait with ease.
  2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights. For starters, Human Rights Watch isn’t very fond of him. However it’s a known fact that Trump is an avid supporter of the use of torture, disregarding the opinions of scientist as well as his own CIA director. Not to mention the refugee situation is the biggest human rights crisis since World War II, and everyone knows his stance on that. One could successfully argue that he is two for two.
  3. Identification of enemies and scapegoats as a unifying cause. Dr. Britt specifically refers to using “patriotism” to rally the masses against ethnic and/or religious minorities. With Trump’s border wall policy and anti-immigrant rhetoric paired with the targeting of Islam and his promise to “eradicate” extremist off the face of the earth, it’s easy to see he is doing both (ethnic and religious). Three for three.
  4. Supremacy of the Military. This is once again no secret, everyone should know his stance on this. Though they may not know he wants to have military parades which would mimic other dictatorships  from around the world and through history. Four out of four.
  5.  Rampant Sexism. When you bring up his comment on grabbing women by the pussy (among countless other misogynistic comments) there’s a very strong argument to be made here. Add the vast accumulation of women who have accused him of sexual assault, and one can argue that this trait is obviously present. Five for five.
  6. Controlled mass media. Trump is at war with the mainstream media and has even had his counselor label blatant lies as alternative facts. He declared the media to be the opposition party as well as an enemy to the American people, including labeling almost all of the outlets as “fake news.” His constant efforts to undermine the public’s faith in the news makes this an easy six for six.
  7. Obsession with national security. Refer to number 3 (border wall, immigration ban). Clear cut seven for seven.
  8. Religion and government are intertwined. Trump has cemented his allegiance with the religious right, and has vowed to put Christianity first. He said he would grant privilege to Christians with his immigration ban. As we have already stated, he has made various comments about the Muslim faith which makes him eight out of eight now.
  9. Corporate power is protected. We can start with the recent deregulation of Wall Street. Then we can move to how his cabinet is loaded with corporate influence. He has six people with Goldman Sachs ties working for him. He plans on cutting corporate tax rates. He even suggested a corporate tax holiday, as well as promoting a corporate friendly agenda to big business. 9/9.
  10. Labor power is suppressed. Even though he has flip flopped on the issue, he has said he was against having a minimum wage (Mike Pence has historically been opposed to the minimum wage as well). His first Secretary of Labor selection Andrew Pudzer was against the minimum wage as well as paid sick leave. Trump is against labor unions and the Republicans even suggested a national ‘right to work’ law which would bust them for good. We have to wait and see how he will affect the Fair Labor Standards Act, but given what we know the argument could be made. That’s 10.
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and arts. He is proposing to cut the National Endowment for the Arts and also cut funding for PBS with his first proposed budget in the name of fiscal austerity. Eleven.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment. He is throwing the book at protesters by charging those at his inauguration with felony rioting (including journalist). He has also threatened to “send in the feds” if Chicago doesn’t do something to hinder their growing murder rate. He actually lied and said the “murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” He advocated a national stop and frisk policy, and has also made ICE raids for illegal immigrants a big thing here in recent days. That would be twelve.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. The rumor mill is churning in a big way for this one. Whether you bring up Michael Flynn’s resignation less than a month after the start of the new administration, or the $500 billion oil deal between Tillerson and Russia, any part of the Russian scandal (the oil, the hacking, the dossier, the unlawful communications), or even the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who wouldn’t deny her family donating $200 million to the Republican party (including to those voting her in), there’s plenty of this to go around and make the case for an easy thirteen.
  14. Fraudulent elections. This one should be self-explanatory. He has pushed this fabricated story of 3-5 million illegal immigrants voting and costing him the popular vote. He asked to launch an investigation in to this while many of his Republican counterparts are pushing voter ID laws while simultaneously cutting voting access under this ‘voter fraud’ banner. He’s oddly (and falsely) claimed to have the biggest electoral win since Ronald Reagan. So as you see, it can be factually argued he displays all fourteen of the defining fascist characteristics.

I decided to go this route because I thought it was important to illustrate that Trump can easily be characterized as a fascist even with out carrying out the actions similar to that of a past fascist regime. Even though he carries these traits that are similar, that doesn’t mean he will in fact attempt some kind of dictatorship (and I do not believe he will). Let’s now ask the big question – could he do it if he wanted? Keep in mind this would also apply to all future presidents. The answer – an emphatic yes.

That Really Happened?

fascism-4

Apparently federal over-reach is as American as apple pie so I’d like to give some examples of past presidents abusing their executive power. We can start with the Alien and Sedition Acts from John Adams. Though Thomas Jefferson repealed most of it when he took office, this law (which is about to sound eerily familiar) allowed the deportation and imprisonment of foreign immigrants from ‘hostile nations’ while also making it more difficult for them to vote and gain citizenship. That’s just the icing on the cake though, this also allowed the free press and lawmakers to be imprisoned for publicly speaking out against the federal government. Yikes.

Next we will look at some of the actions of Honest Abe. Abraham Lincoln? No, not him! He actually suspended habeas corpus! For those not familiar with the term, that is your right to see a judge to justify your imprisonment or be dismissed. Not only did he suspend it, he did it without the consent of congress. It wasn’t until two years later congress passed a bill justifying the suspension. To stop Maryland from joining the confederacy and isolating Washington DC he had all the Confederate sympathizers in the Maryland Legislature imprisoned and held without trial. In the midst of the turmoil an estimated 10-15k were imprisoned with no trial. He also signed an executive order to arrest the free press who wrote negatively about him.

Then we have the Espionage Act of 1917 which was signed in to law by Woodrow Wilson. This made it illegal to, “utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane…or abusive language about the United States government or to disagree with its actions abroad.” It was immediately used to imprison his political opponent Eugene Debs, who was sentenced to ten years in prison. It has been used multiple times since then in many different cases while undergoing various amendments.

Another mind boggling instance of executive abuse is from FDR when he chose to imprison Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. This order imprisoned 127,000 American citizens for no reason other than ethnicity. This quick brush through history is to show, once again, even by using our own predecessors as a base for comparison we have quite a ways to go before we reach there. But now we can get in to the exact details on what needs to happen.

Judicial Checks and Balances?

fascism-2

Now please remember, this is the worst-case scenario. This is purely hypothetical, but could happen. With that being said we will begin with the judicial side of the checks and balances system since a judge just ‘overturned‘ Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven countries. If you recall, the first judge who ordered the ban to cease was ignored by customs agents who continued to carry out the order of the president. At first I was outraged thinking, “he can’t just ignore a federal judge, right?!” Or can he? When I went to research this topic what I found left me stunned.

To find the answer we must go back in history and review the Supreme Court case for Worcester v. Georgia in 1832. The court ruled that the Cherokees were a sovereign nation meaning that only the federal government could work out a treaty or agreement with them. At the time the Georgia legislature was attempting to drive them out of the state by negotiating with them directly. Done deal? Not exactly.

This is where simple civics comes in to play. The judicial branch has no authority to execute any law they set in place. The execution of the law is the sole responsibility of the executive branch of the government (the president and his cabinet/agencies). So what happened? President Andrew Jackson completely ignored the Supreme Court ruling. Not only that, he is quoted as saying, “the decision of the supreme court has fell still born, and they find that it cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.” He completely ignored the order. I’d also like to point out Lincoln ignored an order from his Chief Justice regarding the suspension of habeas corpus.

The president has to act on the behalf of the court to carry out it’s laws, the judicial branch has no authority to carry them out themselves and there is no law in place that forces the president to do so. This means? The president can totally ignore the court and it’s 100% legal. This would be step one to fascism, but he wouldn’t do this because the fear of impeachment right? Not exactly.

Legislative Checks and Balances?

fascism-3

This is where the country falls victim to a fascist takeover, and the worst part about it – it’s fairly easy. By this stage the people of rational thought will realize exactly what’s going on. Whereas the ones who are listening directly to the president (rather than the media) will be in an oblivious state of political bliss. Half the country is cheering on the dismissal of ‘so-called judges’ while the other half is more than likely petrified of what’s to come. By this time we can expect political dissent. You already have John McCain coming at Trump saying this is how dictatorships get started, imagine what people would be saying at this point!

The 25th amendment allows the executive branch to remove the president if they see him as mentally unfit, but being he appointed everyone I see this as a slim to none possibility. The only shot we got is an impeachment through congress. So what does he do? Easy, just lock them up. Or even better, just kill them and get it over with. Wait for it, here’s the best part – it’s totally legal!

How though? Well it all started with 9/11 and G.W. Bush signing the notorious USA PATRIOT Act. Not only did it make spying on the American population with out a warrant 100% legal, it actually gives legal grounds to Trump on detaining immigrants and refugees trying to get in to the country. This law allows the indefinite detention of any immigrant (even the totally legal ones) for as long as they please. This egregious act set the stage for what I believe is the worst bill in American history in regards to stripping American civil liberties.

The National Defense Authorization Act was signed by Barack Obama giving unprecedented powers to the executive branch, though he promised not to use them. Now I am a life long Democrat. I voted for Obama twice. But this my friends (or should I say comrades) is the bill which enables fascism. The executive director of the ACLU (of whom I am a member) declared “President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law.” It allows the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens. But that isn’t even why it’s such a big deal, it also allows American citizens to be lawfully assassinated with out a trial. Yes, you read that correctly.

But that guy was a terrorist, totally different right? Well, not quite. Check THIS out from the 2012 election cycle. Yes, you can use this to legally kill or indefinitely imprison political opposition by slapping a ‘domestic terrorism’ label on them, anybody in America actually. This is a terrifying reality. So the first step would be to ignore the federal court system. The second step, when the congress moves to impeach Trump all he has to do is say they are Islamic sympathizers and label them domestic terrorists to lock them up indefinitely. Who will challenge his authority after that? Point being – we could easily fall in to a fascist system no matter who the president is.

So what do we do from here? There are big issues we all fight and argue over but we cannot allow this to continue. The NDAA threatens the very democracy that we have shed blood to preserve for the last 241 years. What will happen? None of us really know just yet. But the one thing that I know for sure – we gotta come together to make sure this is never used to take our country hostage.

-John Streaker

The American Utilitarian: Preamble

Please join our Facebook group – “The American Utilitarian” to continue discussion

If you aren’t familiar with the material I’m about to cover let me put you on the right path, you’ll need to read THIS article in its entirety before moving forward. However if you are familiar than you’ve probably been waiting for the beginning of this series. I’m sure you can imagine – given the current political atmosphere – I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. What I intend to do with this is illustrate a few things to give clarity to “political utilitarianism.” Its intent is aimed at bypassing partisan politics to create solutions that will allow our government to move forward. I will detail the philosophical history of utilitarianism as well as how the political history of America has lead us to our current position – extreme polarization.

Utilitarianism – The History

The man pictured above on the left is named Jeremy Bentham – he is credited with creating the ethical theory that is now called “classical utilitarianism” (or Benthamism). According to him, “utility” is the total sum of pleasure minus the total sum of suffering created from a single action – a ‘happiness’ metric. This theory is the simple idea that the best action is the one that produces maximum utility (the most happiness). Now, from a theoretical standpoint I can see the flaw in this. This would automatically put people in minorities at a disadvantage because according to this form of utilitarianism the simple majority of people who are made happy with an action implies that the aforementioned action is the correct one. While the intent was pure, when specific stipulations or scenarios are applied the outcome can be perceived as questionable.

Then came the man in the middle of the photo above, John Stuart Mill – he is actually the man who coined the term utilitarianism. He tried to further explain what Bentham had started by elaborating in more detail to how this ethical theory worked. He believed that not all pleasures were equal and that quality (adding desire and value) should be considered as well as quantity. He also argued that the proof ‘utility’ existed was frankly a man’s basic desire to pursue happiness. The problem with his version of this theory was determining how one could decide the desirability of an action. What I consider desirable may not be desirable to you. This also means one would have to assume what the desires of others are – so still a flawed system.

Let us fast forward to “act utilitarianism” and “rule utilitarianism” which became popular through debate in the 1950s and 1960s. These two were created to further escape the fallacies of the theory. Act utilitarianism leaned on the classical definition stating that the right action is the one that produces the maximum amount of happiness. Rule utilitarianism is when you maximize utility while having a specific rule or stipulation applied.

The man on the right in the above photo is R.M. Hare – one of the most recent experts in utilitarianism. He believed that the rule method eventually broke down in to the act method because if a rule didn’t allow the maximum utility it would have to be amended or have a sub-rule attached to it. This led to his development of “tw0-level utilitarianism” which is where our history lesson ends. He described two sets of rules to be viewed – one that was omniscient and had no bias, and a second that was ignorant and incapable of critical thinking. This isn’t all of them though there are many forms of utilitarianism. I wanted to give you the history first so you’re aware of the roots for the future. I’m sure people will try to debate the theory (as they have with me already) so it’s best to know its origins.

The point of all this is to demonstrate that since its inception utilitarianism has been tweaked, modified, and molded to shape various different ways of thinking and decision making. We have decided to take this ethical theory and use its foundation as a basis for a political philosophy. Now that you have a clear understanding of utilitarianism and its variants, let’s get in to this new point of view.

Political Utilitarianism

While I’ve mentioned the idea of a ‘third party’ the main intent here is to abandon the grouped philosophies that are now plaguing our political system. This would be a form of rule utilitarianism, and that rule would be to maximize utility using our main political ideologies. When you say “I’m a liberal,” or “I’m a conservative,” or even “I’m a libertarian,” this immediately gives you a predetermined answer for every issue. People assume your positions based off your label, and people who share your label expect you to share their views on positions – you’re pre-programmed. Our goal is to look at each individual policy objectively and create a solution that is the best for everyone. This grouped philosophy approach is a big factor in creating polarization. The best thing about political utilitarianism is there’s no doctrine that is set in stone. It evolves with the positions and views of society, so new ideas are welcomed rather than shrugged off. As I stated in my previous writing, I believe new ideas are the only way to possibly sway those already in a polarized environment.

As I’m sure you know by now, we initially put policy together under this banner by using two liberals, two conservatives, and two libertarians. This is where utilitarianism comes in to play – you make the best policy you possibly can that each side will agree to, thus creating maximum utility among constituents. By creating policy based off the best ideas from each political school of thought, you maximize utility because the policies that come from this appease the maximum number of voters instead of just a single base – unity achieved through compromise. The purpose here is to say, first of all, maybe all your ideas aren’t as bad as we thought. And secondly, to create a constituency that will be as happy as possible. Another thing I’d like to point out is that innovation occurs through necessity. Most of these ‘new’ ideas we created were due to the necessity of having to achieve a compromise on each stance, which yielded great results.

Let’s go back to the ‘third party’ suggestion for a moment to see how we can achieve it and what obstacles would be placed in our path. According to Duverger’s law (a law in political science) when you have a voting system that only allows voters to make a single vote per race within an electoral district it tends to favor a two party system. This is the rule that is cited to discourage the idea of third parties from breaking through to the mainstream. I’d like to point out first that even under the umbrella of this law there have been instances where a third party has came and took the spot over the weaker ‘mainstream’ party – like when the Whigs were replaced by the Republicans. The best way I could see this happening within today’s political system would be if a caucus split from one of the main parties to create a new party all together – like the progressive caucus abandoning the Democratic Party.

While researching I stumbled on to the “New Party Manual” written by Carl S. Milsted Jr. of Holistic Politics. He claims to have found two loopholes in Duverger’s law and they make a lot of sense. The first is triangulate – viewing the political field from a multidimensional point of view to open pathways to new bodies of voters. He uses the ‘Nolan chart’ to demonstrate this very theory to display the Libertarian Party:

util4.png

He also made a chart to display what he believes is a possible electorate that is still currently untapped and could be enormous if tapped in to:

util5.png

What this demonstrates is by thinking outside the box and creating new ideas the potential could be substantial. Our target was moderates because they make up an overwhelming majority of the total voters (which he also details how flawed that can be). We feel that the only way to reach these moderates is by compromising ideologies to take the best ideas from each school of thought. The response? Even though moderates vary, the online reception from them has been overwhelmingly positive – even with something they may not totally agree with. Compromise would also play in to his rule that states a successful third party must avoid extreme positions to be successful. You don’t want to alienate yourself if at all possible. Whether we like to admit it or not, a major part of politics consists of marketing.

The second loop hole he suggests is to use gerrymandering to our advantage and run in districts that would normally have a race that with no opposition. This would actually play in to Duverger’s law and create a two party race. In a district which is gerrymandered that heavily, one would assume the incumbent would tilt more to the extreme side. Being a ‘moderate’ candidate may pull voters from their base while also giving those who are unrepresented a person to vote for.

How Did We Reach This Point?

There are various circumstances that have had an influence creating our current hyper-partisan atmosphere. We can point fingers at media, soceity, among countless other things and be right in every instance. However I’m going to begin my analysis with three conditions from social psychology.

First is “group polarization” which is a phenomenon that causes people who share an ideology, when grouped together, to make decisions that are more extreme than one would make individually. Picture a group of people hyping each other up before doing something stupid. It tends to occur hand in hand with the second condition, “attitude polarization.” This is when people who share the same ideology, when grouped together, reinforce their way of thinking through discussion resulting in the strengthening and intensification of the already existing bias they have. This is an effect of the third condition, “confirmation bias.” This plays off one’s cognitive dissonance and is defined as:

The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

Think about this: our entire culture is built to maximize and amplify these very effects that keep us so far apart. Social media has greatly intensified this. On Facebook for instance, you ‘like’ the pages that share your beliefs. You join in groups with people who share your beliefs. You subconsciously group together with those who share your ideology. I’ve even seen people ‘unfriend’ others who didn’t share their beliefs. This results in a constant feed of ‘confirmation bias’ paired with both attitude and group polarization because people choose to surround themselves with those of the same school of thought. Now turn on your television, and what do you watch? The news channel that fits your political bias. What websites do you seek information from? The ones that fit your political bias. See where I’m going with this?

We have fostered an environment that creates a 24/7 ‘echo chamber.’ Due to the three conditions I’ve listed this chamber self-sufficiently grows and reinforces itself daily through every aspect of media. This is gradually driving the wedge further between us as each minute passes. This is why ‘fake news’ is thrown around so loosely now. This is why ‘alternative facts’ can be allowed to exist. Yet this is another positive with political utilitarianism – while theoretically one could assume the positions of others to create policy on an individual basis, it’s strongly recommended (if not required) to venture outside these ‘groups’ and engage in dialogue with those who have different beliefs. The result (if the group is trying to be mature adults atleast) is what you seen in the first article, critical thinking, unification, innovation, and positive dialogue. The silver lining? It also simultaneously begins dismantling the echo chambers as well, thus resulting in a well informed population.

The photo above is from this Washington Post article that illustrates just how polarized Congress has become from 1949-2011. When I was in high school I was very interested in pursuing law after graduation. One of the first things I did was take Lincoln-Douglas debate which teaches you to take two positions on a topic – the affirmative and the negative. My polarization was indoctrinated in me at the age of 14. Lawyers in many cases have to take a firm stance on their position regarding law. I thought maybe this contributed to this polar train of thought, but:

util6

As you see the number of lawyers in Congress has declined in contrast to polarization increasing during that same span. That obviously indicates that even if there’s any law related influence that it’s minimal. Does that mean media is the sole perpetrator? While my answer is no, I will say that I feel it is the biggest factor in our present situation.

So how do we fix this? The first step to correcting a problem is admitting that it exists. A person has to be willing to dig deeper beyond the comfort of reaffirming one’s own beliefs. I find myself catching my own bias now that I have came to terms with our modern political system. A person has to be willing to look at things objectively and find ways to empathize with the other side rather than try to prove that it’s wrong. A person has to realize that there are instances where something you once thought was a positive may not be as positive as they perceived. A person has to have an open mind, an open heart, and a clear understanding that the cumulative goal is to make things better.

I learned from our experience debating policy that being wrong is okay sometimes, and other ideas may yield a better result. Political utilitarianism can make a ‘no government libertarian’ realize that government can be capable of really helping with the right people behind the steering wheel. It can make ‘big government liberals and conservatives’ realize that some times we need to remove government intervention to let things play out justly. It can make those from the right realize that welfare isn’t actually as bad as it seems. It can make those from the left realize that helping business may actually be good for business when done correctly. It allows us to use critical thinking as well as understand the feelings behind each others actions. We must begin to abandon bias and seek the truth whether it’s reaffirming or not.The only way we fix this system is by fixing ourselves first.

– John Streaker

Be on the look out for the rest of the series, I will begin writing the details behind various policy positions next! Join “The American Utilitarian” group on Facebook to discuss what you want to know in detail as well as other things!

Trump’s Inauguration: The Women’s March on DC

screenshot_20170121-204817.jpg

Over the past week I have seen countless people pushing the same message about the women’s march: “Why are they even marching?” or “I just don’t get it.” Even written and video responses from people trying to delegitimize the historic event that took place the day following the inauguration. An event that was possibly the biggest organized protest in American history. I was fortunate enough to attend and witness a movement that reverberated not only across the country – but across the entire globe. You don’t get it? It probably wasn’t meant for you then. As a matter of fact, I’ve found it rather humorous and entertaining when attempting to read various interpretations from people who didn’t attend yet still would try to explain what it was about or the true meaning of the march. Allow me to attempt to shed some light on this for you in the best way that I can.

womens-march-metro

To begin the day I caught a Metro from Huntington station slightly before 9am and let me tell you – I have never been on a train so jammed full of people in my life. The train contained men and women from all over the country. There was even a couple that planned on getting married that same day who accompanied us. The mood (aside from the fact we were all hot and crammed together) was jubilant at minimum. I seen many people who suggested that those marching were “sore losers” among other things. These ‘sore losers’ had an aura that expressed a higher degree of joy when compared to the ‘winners’ I met attending Trump’s inauguration the previous day, oh the irony. The level of excitement was something I didn’t expect. If I’m being honest, I had no clue what was awaiting me going in to this situation.

la-na-pol-womens-march-live-washington-metro-ridership-skyrockets-1485021677

The ride was filled with conversations a political junkie could only dream of having with a decent sized and highly engaged audience. The topics varied but for the most part everyone was generally on the same page about policy and the direction our country should be headed in the future. The trip seemed like it took forever – but when we arrived at the L’enfant Plaza station and walked up the stairway to the glass topped opening each step added that much more excitement. Once I was able to walk out and observe the scenery I was astonished at the amount of people that were present. On top of that, this didn’t feel like a protest – it felt like a block party. Every minute that passed it appeared that more and more people continued to flood the streets. Our general vicinity, as well as all surrounding areas, filled up to the point where it was extremely difficult to walk around at all.

I never seen a group of people that were supposed to be on the receiving end of a loss show such resiliency, hope, and happiness. When I first arrived I assumed I was attending a protest. It didn’t take me long to realize that the protest portion of this event was just a footnote as to what was really taking place. The women’s march was a signification of unity. It wasn’t meant for everyone else to know its meaning. It was meant for all of us in attendance to know that no matter what happens in the next four years – we would endure it together. It was the acknowledgement of a coalition composed of like minded individuals. That those of us attending shared a similar ideology and made the decision that we will not be silenced or go down with out a fight. This is what democracy looks like (which was also a popular chant at the event). This is what the first amendment meant when it granted “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This was history.

20170121_154529.jpg

Was it anti-Trump? Yes. Was it advocating the rights of women? Yes. Was it pro-civil rights? Absolutely, it was a representation of everything. We touched on the issues I just mentioned and also a wide variety of others but the message remained consistent – we are in this together. I say that to say this – I don’t care if you don’t get it. The odds are if you don’t get it then you probably don’t share the views of those who marched, and that’s okay. However don’t try to delegitimize the valid fears and concerns of these people. One could argue it was your own fears and concerns that enabled Trump’s election. I also want to say that ideology was not a limiting factor in those who attended. There were women I met that were Republicans who, although didn’t entirely share the collective perspective of everyone, still observed the occasion at hand in reverence. Westboro Baptist Church was in attendance as well with what I will describe as ‘less than flattering’ signs aimed to upset and target people who were there. Even still, not one incident occurred that lead to the arrest of a single person.

screenshot_20170122-165007.jpg

I’ve seen many videos of people being interviewed who seem to be cherry picked in order to make the march appear ‘dumb’ or ‘pointless.’ This was not the case. I always say to myself “I wish they would have interviewed me,” when I see things like that. The media has a funny way of twisting things to cater to their audience (which I also wrote about in regards to this and the inauguration). The media has laid in to Madonna for her less than subtle comments she made about “blowing up the White House,” which is exactly what the media should do. The issue I took with it was that so many others were saying the crowd cheered and was happy when this took place. Once again – it did not happen. In the video you can hear the tone of the audience change if you’re actually trying to listen. Where I was at, this was met with a collective roar of ‘boos’ and a general sense of hostility. I for one was upset that she would make such a reckless suggestion and risk undermining the credibility of the cause we gathered for.

screenshot_20170127-192427.jpg

Finally it came time to march. I was there to write about and observe what took place, which I did. Yet when the march began I set aside my business intentions to march on Washington DC alongside thousands of others to signify intentions of my own. I proudly stand with those who gathered and will never forget the people I met, the concerns I heard, and dedication of those who did whatever it took to be in attendance that day. I was lucky enough to witness this viral photo above take place as I walked back from the National Mall. I saw her standing in the middle of the street holding a white frame around her head posing for pictures. The sight of this gave me a sense of pride in knowing how we will respond in the face of adversity going in to the future. Say what you will about the people on January 21st, but an overwhelming majority of them are no different than you and I.

20170121_155615.jpg

The overall message was to get everyone unified under the banner of women – something I’d like to think all of us can get behind. I hope – yet sincerely believe that this passion among the people will translate to the voting booth for 2018 and 2020. This was just the beginning. This was simply a message stating that we are here and plan to fight every step of the way. We will resist. We will not allow those in power to take away the rights that were fought vigorously for by those who came before us. We are the ‘refuse to be silent’ majority. We will make sure that our presence is felt at every moment possible. We will not be caught slipping again. And if this makes me a sore loser – demanding social justice, women’s rights, civil rights, fighting for middle class America, protecting the poor and providing a voice for the least fortunate among other things- then that’s a label that I will wear with pride.

screenshot_20170121-204847.jpg

-John Streaker

Special thanks to Lorraine A. Moore Everitte and Betty Basche for keeping me company on what proved to be a historic day!

screenshot_20170122-164901.jpg

Trump’s Inauguration: A Day I Will Never Forget

The season finale of America was everything I expected and more – by 7pm on inauguration day I had been caught in a full scale riot, I was famished after being on the go for 13 hours straight, I was totally exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally – and yet I thought I couldn’t have gotten any luckier than I did. Over the course of that day I had agreed with and disagreed with everyone in attendance at least five times. I saw the best in those I politically rival and the worst of those who share my own ideology. I saw how the media can twist things and just how quick people are to gobble it up. But looking back at it, the reason I was so lucky is because I truly got to have the full American experience. So this is January 20th, 2017 through my eyes and why I’ll never forget it.

Let me give you some of my background to give you a better understanding on my perspective before we go down this rabbit hole together. I was born during the Reagan years but the first president I remember was Bill Clinton. My parents were able to become home owners under his tenure, and I just remember a general sense of prosperity during this time regardless of what you may think of his personal activities. My step-father of whom I had lived with practically my entire life was a die hard conservative and my mother a die hard liberal. This meant I always heard both sides of everything, but I ended up becoming a Democrat.

My first vote for president was for John Kerry. I volunteered for Obama’s campaign in 2008 after reading his books. I attended the DNC in Charlotte in 2012 – forcing my little brother and sister to go because I told them they may never see another Democrat convention in NC in their lifetime. I was a major Bernie Sanders supporter, and though the discrepancies of the DNC had me very discouraged I ended up falling in line to support Hillary Clinton. I do not like Donald Trump, and haven’t since his birther quest. However I wanted to go to this event with as much of an open mind as possible to see things objectively while trying not to allow my personal bias to influence my actions.

The morning of the inauguration I arrived at Greenbelt station to take the Metro to DC at 6am. As I boarded I was accompanied by a large number of Trump supporters who were gleeful when speaking of the days coming events. I just sat back and grinned while listening to some of the ongoing conversations until we reached the next stop, that’s when it all changed. Protesters began to flood the train and an instant level of tension swept the atmosphere. From this point forward I was subjected to watching these two groups snarl at one another while pointing and mumbling remarks that were what I will call ‘less than respectful’ under their breath. This set the tone for the day. It was as if something crazy could have gone down at any second so when we arrived at the Gallery station I was relieved to get off the train and begin what I knew would be a long afternoon.

I followed the crowd and walked to my first security checkpoint of the event which was being ran by TSA. It seemed surprisingly quiet at first, nothing more than private conversations but then protesters started pulling out signs and yelling various chants. I heard “Hey ho! Hey ho! Donald Trump has got to go,” along with “No Trump! No KKK no facist USA!” more than anything else. Whenever these chants occurred the gate didn’t have as many Trump supporters so most of them just rolled their eyes and looked irritated while a few of them spoke up. I realized I was at a ‘protest gate’ rather quickly.

At first I was pleasantly surprised, the overwhelming amount of people ready to protest Trump made me feel like I was apart of something bigger than myself. I enjoyed seeing the signs, hearing the conversations, and just being a part of this event I knew would have a significant place in history. Almost three hours have gone by just waiting to enter the 1st checkpoint and the line became stagnant. Protesters ended up making a human wall to deny everyone entry because they couldn’t take their signs inside – which was immediately met with the Secret Service completely shutting the gate down. I thought, “Are you kidding me?!”

I am totally in support of protesting (as I have done so before) but this had me infuriated. When a protest starts affecting innocent people directly who are just trying to go about their own business that’s when you take it too far. I was seriously in doubt of being able to get in and cover the inauguration properly which was my entire purpose for being present. I agreed with their message but disagreed with their method. These protesters may have cost me the opportunity to fulfill my obligations to Center of the Aisle and the people who follow us and knew we would be in attendance. Now I had to go find another gate and had to wait all the way in the back of a new line.  I just hoped I could still arrive on time.

I arrive at my second inauguration checkpoint around 9:30am irritated and upset with how things had gone up to this point. The line was moving rather quickly so I thought it wouldn’t be that bad. It took a whole 60 seconds to realize I was at a ‘pro-Trump’ gate this time which made me feel better about getting through. I immediately thought “let me look at the shoes they’re wearing” because my intent was to make a meme saying “all these Trump voters, not one pair of work boots.” However to my surprise I noticed a substantial amount of them purposely wore work boots, even with formal attire, to make a statement which I found impressive.

As I chatted with these people I never once revealed my own political affiliations. I just picked their brains to see how they felt about everything and to get a sound understanding of what this day meant to them. I heard a lot of “we finally got our country back” along with various other concerns that I actually shared with them though I may not have seen eye to eye with them on their solutions. We had a lot of similarities to my surprise, and I actually enjoyed my time there chatting with them. I met one man dressed as Ben Franklin (whig and all) who told me he dressed this way because “the great state of Pennsylvania delivered the election to Trump.”

Then I met a man who said he was from Shallote, North Carolina – a fellow North Carolinian. How many of you seen this being spread around social media:

He thought this was an actual thing and rode his motorcycle from NC all the way to DC to be a part of it, unfortunately he was a victim of ‘fake news’ on social media which is an epidemic these days. He told me he slept on the concrete floor in Union station and woke up to come to the inauguration. Whether I agreed with him on political philosophy or not, that was extremely admirable. To ride that far by motorcycle just to sleep on the concrete and then come to see your guy sworn in – that is patriotic. I realized how much this moment really meant to the people in this line.

I began to hear chants and drums in the distance and thought “oh God, here comes the protesters to mess this gate up next.” They left a bad taste in my mouth from the previous gate. As soon as the two factions were able to see one another head to head they started trading chants and things once again became intense. The police ended up having to form a wall between the two groups to keep them separated so things wouldn’t further escalate. The man in the Ben Franklin outfit began to roast the protesters which I found myself unable to not laugh at as much of what he said was rather funny. Another moment at the ‘pro-Trump’ gate I found particularly cool was that someone started singing the Star Spangled Banner and it wasn’t long after that the entire audience sang along while protesters marched on the sidewalks.

I finally made it in – the best part was that I still had time to make it to the inauguration as it was only around 10:30am. As I paced up and down Pennsylvania Avenue I quickly realized that I couldn’t cross over to the National Mall. Now I’m upset again. I asked an officer if there was anywhere to cross and he instructed me to go to 10th street and wait for them to open it up there. The line was ridiculously long, it went to the outer gate and wrapped back around inside towards Pennsylvania Avenue. I decided to try a live video to make sure it worked, and managed to get a shot of this enormous line (this is why the 11:04am and 11:12am pics of the National Mall are bogus, no one was there yet).

At about 11:25am they opened it up, way too late. I’ll say this, though pictures may not reflect it, the people were there for the inauguration but the security and logistics were a total nightmare and they ruined their own event. When we got closer to the National Mall there was another ridiculously long line. Why? Because there was another TSA checkpoint. I thought to myself “do they intend on everyone missing this?” I had to go through the metal detectors but immediately afterwards  (when they realized they were stopping everyone from attending) they told people to go through with their jackets open and that’s it. When I tell you people were sprinting and running as fast as possible to get there that’s no exaggeration.

I finally arrived right in front of Capitol Hill at 11:46am. I had barely made it (keep in mind I got on the Metro at 6am). My initial reaction was the crowd was rather light, but I knew how ridiculously long the line to get in was. I seen Pence and Trump get sworn in then Trump began to give his speech. My first impression was that he wasn’t saying a whole lot – until he said one thing in particular. He said “we will eradicate radical Islamic terrorism off the face of the planet!” The crowd went nuts where I was at. I had noticed walking in there were some Muslim people on the outskirts holding signs peacefully and not doing much.

After Trump said this the whole demeanor of the audience changed. It shocked me to hear anyone say, in their first speech, that they would eradicate any demographic off the face of the planet. It seemed very extreme to me. They started yelling “get the hell out of our country” and pushing and shoving these people which was instantly repulsive. I felt disgusted that these people would openly treat them like that so I would not allow myself to stay and watch. This led to my immediate departure. At the time I was leaving the audience was substantially bigger than it initially was with people still running in, the time was 12:21pm and I know this because I texted my friend about what was said right then. If the media produces a pic between 12:20 and 12:30, that is the most accurate reflection possible.

To my surprise I had to go through a TSA checkpoint just to leave, and a fourth one to get to the parade area. This was getting ridiculous. I was starved so I was wanting to find a place to eat, no luck. I had been invited to a protest outside the secured zone so I figured I could check that out while also grabbing a bite to eat before coming back to the parade which didn’t start for three hours. I had no clue what I was about to walk in to. So I’m on the phone with another COTA writer Matt Miller explaining to him what all happened. I didn’t go too deep into details because so much had happened and I didn’t want to talk him to death.

As I approached this protest I seen everything was going as one would expect. Then I heard a loud BANG behind me like a bomb went off. There were about 20 or so rioters with black clothes covering their faces throwing what appeared to be broken cinder block pieces at the police. I seen an officer get pelted in the side of the head with one while not paying attention and felt bad instantly. Before you know it there’s tear gas, flash grenades, pepper spray, pretty much anything the police can use to subdue the situation being used abundantly. These rioters were prepared though. Pepper spray? They put on ski goggles. Tear gas? They had duffle bags with gas masks. They relentlessly fought police which caused them to attack any protester in the vicinity. I must admit, it was even difficult for me to tell who was who. I tried to leave the perimeter (I was dressed in formal attire) only to be met by an officer who pushed me back. He asked me “where do you think you’re going?” I just stopped and looked at him upset and confused because I hadn’t done anything to provoke him to put his hands on me. It didn’t take long for another cop to scream at the top of his lungs “get the f*%k back!” which prompted me to do just that.

I felt so bad that these protesters who were properly exercising their 1st amendment right ended up being beaten and arrested due to the negligence of such a small group of people. I finally was able to leave the area, and the line to get back into the inauguration was still about an hour to two hour wait. Luckily I managed to slide in a gate no one was at and catch some live footage of the very end of the inaugural parade. I’ll say this though, when it was all over I had never been so ready to go from anywhere. It was like a nonstop mental roller coaster so when I went to get back on that Metro line at Gallery I had an instant sense of relief.

What I learned though was that we really have a lot more in common than we like to give ourselves credit for. Life is too short for partisanship. I said the next day to someone I know, how do we take the concerns we have and the concerns they have and somehow find that middle ground to appease everyone? Overall I’m glad I went, and I learned so much not only about myself, but about people in general. Instead of fighting we need to discover what it will take to come together and really make things better for our future generations. But before I go, I’d like to leave you with the photo I took at the end of the day to signify how I felt up to that point:

16174414_177407466071961_7052850548915888117_n

– John Streaker

Trump’s Inauguration: The Perfect Example of Why America Has Lost Faith in the Media

 

Please share this article to spread the information below in order to help curtail the amount of spin being portrayed in the media!

In recent years the American media has all but completely dissolved the line between impartiality and personal opinion. We have reached a point where ‘news’ outlets would rather cater to an audience than simply tell the complete and total truth. The truth hurts I know, but sometimes it needs to – that can be its intention. The consequences of this? Mass cognitive dissonance. The term applies to a few scenarios in psychology, but for those not familiar with it here’s what it means in the context I am using:

Cognitive Dissonance – When a person has a core belief or value that is very strong, it’s the feeling of extreme discomfort that occurs when they are presented with information or evidence that contradicts that belief or value. It becomes so important to protect this belief that new evidence cannot be accepted even causing a person to rationalize, ignore, or deny anything that doesn’t fit with this belief or value.

Cognitive dissonance is responsible for the current political atmosphere. The risen awareness of media bias caused the public to search for alternative media outlets which allowed ‘yellow journalism’ (actual fake news) to ascend to its current stature. The inevitable result has been the spreading of misinformation at rates we have never seen due to the viral nature of the internet. ‘Fake news‘ has become so popular because it plays off a person’s cognitive dissonance – which was already instilled by these major media outlets and the extreme partisan politics in this country.

Under these circumstances anything that aligns with a person’s beliefs are viewed in a positive manner making them more susceptible to fallacies and misinformation. To add to this effect – whenever they see something which doesn’t line up with their own beliefs they automatically write it off as ‘bias’ and close their mind to any alternative. This has lead to the ‘echo chambers’ on the right and left we constantly hear pundits refer to. Yet this is also caused when television and radio personalities become so caught up in reaffirming their own arguments they develop a tendency to present partial truths or even misinformation.

Enough is enough. The media needs to stop trying to prove that it’s right and start trying to prove that it’s honest. The moment you allow your actions to be defined by right and left, rather than right and wrong, you’ve officially become a part of the problem. Personal opinion is never to be placed on the same pedestal as facts, it’s to be formed after assessing the information that facts provide. Journalism should always be a reflection of the most accurate evaluation one can make after taking as many facts in to account as possible. However since the inauguration the media has pushed a substantial amount of spin. Let me say this – I am not a Republican, I am a life long Democrat and I did not vote for Donald Trump so I have no bias which would push me to write this. Now please allow me to rationalize the truth behind some of the biggest headlines from this past weekend.

wp-1485207976471.jpgAbove photo taken by Deadspin Editor Timothy Burke at 11:12am from ABC News live stream

wp-1485177141167.jpg Above photo taken by Erza Klein from The Vox at 11:04am

Both of these photos above are disingenuous

Now I’m not saying they were initially meant to be so, but regardless of the intent neither of these pictures is a fair representation of the inauguration crowd. They are not ‘fake’ as some have thrown around on the internet either, so let me explain. wp-1485208018536.jpg

Above is the map provided by the Secret Service on how to reach the National Mall for the inauguration, take a real close look at it. The bottom portion underneath of the National Mall has a much smaller proportion of Metro travelers than the top does. Why is that important? Let’s take another look at this photo:

The side where the majority of the people are standing is on the right which would be the bottom side of the map, you know – the one with the least amount of travelers. Reason? because that side was the only side open at the time both photos were taken. You see the parade route on the map above? They shut down Pennsylvania Avenue to prepare for the parade later that day which kept all the people on the top of the map (the majority) from crossing over at that time. They made us form a line at 10th street and wait until it was clear to open the path to allow everyone over. This didn’t happen until about 20 minutes after the pictures above. Matter of fact:

wp-1485207963570.png

I just so happen to post about this on my Facebook account while waiting, please look at the time of the post. Ironically this is around the same time this was posted:

wp-1485208253948.jpg

Yes Gillian, that’s because we weren’t allowed to cross over at that time. Shortly after to make sure my live video was functioning I proceeded to start a live feed while I was still waiting on Pennsylvania Avenue at 11:06am which lasted for minute:

Here’s the actual video where I show part of the line I am describing:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCOTAPolitics%2Fvideos%2F730413060454271%2F&show_text=0&width=400

It wasn’t until about 15-20 minutes after this they opened the barricade to let us through and as you see I was at the front of this ridiculously long line. To even reach this point I had to wait at two separate security checkpoints ran by the Secret Service and TSA which were comparable to entering the secured zone of an airport. It took me 4 and a half hours to reach this point only to have to go through another TSA checkpoint before entering the National Mall to witness the inauguration. I finally make it over:

wp-1485207947519.jpg

It was 11:46am, and remember I was at the front of the line. Now look at this tweet:

wp-1485208257112.jpg

This is extremely significant, looks empty right? Let me show you 1oth Street:

See where the red line is at? About center of the Smithsonian Castle where it’s curved out right?

This is where 10th street is! Meaning if the crowd is back to that point she was standing on the last platform. It also means both of the photos are totally bogus. Not only that, but I was in the front of the line. People were running to try to make it in time, I know many more came in behind me as well and there’s about 30-40 minutes from then until Trump’s speech concluded. The most genuine picture I could find was from Earth Cam but it was after the people were already leaving:

wp-1485208041579.jpg

Look to the left and you will see the massive amount of people in the grass leaving already. I find it amazing that everyone has all these pictures, yet they’re mainly prior to or after Trump’s time on stage. So no one has any of him at the peak of his speech, or even speaking at all for that matter? Odd. Yet even when viewing the above photo as people are leaving, this crowd looks bigger than the crowds in the other photos. One publication went to use this same Earth Cam and coincidentally cropped out the side that would show where people would be leaving:

wp-1485208332724.jpg

Not only did those two original photos I have discussed go viral on the internet, they were placed in publications as well. However I seen the NY Times (one of my top 3 favorite sources for media) actually have the audacity to post the photo and claim it was during “peak density” which is just flat out false!

The only photo available I have found during his actual speech is this one, and it may be a different angle but you can still see the areas being depicted:

There were three checkpoints that were mandatory (and took forever) to be able to access the outer restricted area and then the inauguration and parade. The crowd peaked right as Trump’s speech concluded because people were still coming in fast the entire time. According to my own phone records I contacted a friend at 12:21pm right as it was concluding so this would be the opportune time for an accurate photo. I left the restricted area completely at about 1:30pm (an hour after Trump’s speech at the inauguration) and there was still a 1-2 hour wait just to reach the outer zone again (plus another gate for the parade beyond that one). These lines maintained this way until about 5pm so security also kept a whole lot of people from making it in.

However the fact that the media has doubled down on these photos is crazy to me. They ranted on TV about how no one was going to show up for at least a week or two prior to the event and then go through all this trouble over some dumb photos? You guys don’t want the POTUS calling you fake news? Don’t post fake news! If you want to fight against someone why would you play right in to that person’s hand? When you do things like this you discredit real journalism and make everyone look bad. The fact – whether your cognitive dissonance allows you to believe it or not – those pics are not the actual crowd size.

Now I’m not agreeing with Trump’s numbers or his claim that “it was the most viewed inauguration in history” either. It wasn’t, Barack Obama in 2008 was at 1.8 million people. I’m sure we can all agree seeing the 1st African-American president get sworn in was a very historic moment a lot of people wanted to go see. But if the media was being honest, why couldn’t they just post this instead:

wp-1485208030891.jpg

Why try so hard to use misleading and disingenuous methods of persuasion when the numbers are right there? The city of Washington DC said they made preparations for around 700-900k. There is no such thing as alternative facts, there’s just facts and nothing else. The fact here is that while pics have circulated to make things seem much worse, the crowd was not bigger than either of Obama’s inaugurations or the Women’s March on Washington (which I also attended). Total Metro for the 20 hour period was 570.5k (about 285k people) and then you have to include people who stayed in DC, people who took a bus in, and every other method. I think the most disturbing part of it all is that neither side is being honest which means people are out here arguing over which lie is true – and that is something everyone should be concerned about.

wp-1485208489562.jpg

As soon as I left the restricted area I stumbled right into the protest that turned in to a riot and once again the media has it wrong. But just to verify, this is where CNN said that it had occurred:

wp-1485208245055.jpg

My location I gave as I was stuck in the midst of it:

wp-1485208270979.png

Now I’m here to tell you this – there was not 230 rioters as much of the media has suggested. There was around 10% of that figure actually rioting while the vast majority of everyone else was protesting in the way one would expect. This small group knew what they were doing too. They had numerous bags stuffed with various items like broken up cinder blocks to pelt the police with, ski goggles for pepper spray, gas masks for tear gas, and assorted other items to be used as weapons. They knew what they were planning to do, they seemed a bit too well prepared. The media needs to stop saying that all these people where rioting because once again it just is not true, I seen the whole thing with my own eyes.

wp-1485208514832.jpg

No actually most of them don’t (deserve it) and it is truly a shame that all these people who actually broke no laws will have to go through this and more than likely take a conviction for it. I’m not saying it was ‘paid protesters’ or insinuating any sort of conspiracy theories either. I will let everyone else draw their own conclusions. Even for me it was extremely difficult to tell who was who being almost everyone was in black attire. This situation is a perfect personification of the cliche phrases “one bad apple spoils the bunch” and “wrong place, wrong time.”

madonna-womens-march

The next day at the Women’s March on Washington Madonna gave what was initially a great speech until she had a major blunder:

wp-1485207956357.jpg

I’ve seen people say that she got cheers for this comment – no she did not. The crowd became very hostile when she made that statement. I wanted to make sure I put it up because I just knew that this story was going to be all over the news. But guess what? After the march it wasn’t a major headline on any site. As a matter of fact, I was able to re-watch the speech on a video uploaded to a non-mainstream outlet. When I went to the major news outlets all I seen was clips praising her speech with this part edited out. I honestly wonder if the internet hadn’t made such a big deal out of this if they even would have pushed the issue at all?

As Louis so eloquently put it – there are no unbiased sources. The real question is what are we going to do as Americans? This site was created as a means to break the mold of bias by allowing every political affiliation to have an unfiltered outlet to voice the concerns and ideas of the demographics that they represent. The media ‘reports’ issues – then we get upset about them and make it political so finally the politicians have to address it from there. They have the ability to steer the conversation in this country so we need to start making them answer for their accountability in regards to what their bias has created. Trump’s inauguration is just one event so imagine all the spin we face on a daily basis. The bottom line is this: research everything as well as you can and as often as possible. Oh, and when you do, please leave your cognitive dissonance at the door.

-John Streaker

What Happened To Progressive America?

Let me show you why I am angry before anything else:

stupid-progressive

Conservatives have the “alt-right,” well let me introduce you to the “fringe-left.” I have observed this ‘movement’ for months now and there is a fringe group of people who have somehow been convinced that they are the ‘real’ progressives while pushing a mantra filled with nonsense. Not only that, but they actively worked to get the left to vote against Hillary Clinton for not being a ‘real’ progressive. This is our equivalent to Infowars or Breitbart. That’s the best description I can give to paraphrase. Now allow me to demonstrate the logic (or lack of) that is being used. I’m going to quote the first line that begins this write-up:

I’m done with the lame finger-pointing and the “We told you so” movement of thinking that this Trump nightmare is somehow the fault of those who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.

News flash – Trump’s election is in fact because people didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. That’s kind of how this stuff works, the person with ‘more votes’ gets a state’s electoral votes, hence they win! You can’t make this stuff up. She goes on to say:

I didn’t give a damn about Hillary’s emails or Pizzagate; I put all that in the bucket of the Benghazism that became the religion of the GOP. I cared about her actions in relation to Haiti and when she stood for laws under her husband’s administration that decimated poor communities, in particular, communities of color, under the guise of welfare reform.

You see where she said Hillary’s “actions in relation to Haiti,” look the source she uses:

stupid-progressive-2

She actually quotes – as a source for her argument – something that Snopes deemed to be partially false. Her other issue she ‘drew a line in the sand’ with was Clinton’s welfare reform. While I can see one being upset about that she fails to mention that this ‘monster’ who ‘decimated communities of color’ cut African American unemployment in half, and reduced African American poverty to the lowest percentage it’s ever been in recorded history. And to top everything off, this was seriously the only two reasons she gave as to why she was against Clinton. Wow. Let me point out the first major flaw (other than lack of a tangible argument even existing) which ties back to her headline. What the hell does this have to do with neoliberalism? I mean, one could argue the Haitian minimum wage and welfare cuts are technically ‘fiscal’ issues, but to say that is where you draw the ‘neoliberal line’ is outrageous. I’ve seen this term thrown around so loosely among the fringe and frankly I’m convinced no one even knows what it means. Let me pull you out of your bubble for a moment.

Neoliberalism is a right wing economic philosophy. Privatization, free trade, fiscal conservatism in regards to the budget, cutting government spending, it is all about helping the private sector. You might as well say it’s a fancy word for libertarian, in the economic sense. But check this out – if you voted for Hillary you’re a ‘neoliberal hillbot,’ and the basis for this? Policy her husband put forth (something she didn’t actually do herself) two decades beforehand. Practically everyone I have personally come across that is on the left does not have these economic views at all.  Neoliberal is not a vague description of anyone who doesn’t line up with your ‘progressive’ ideologies (which aren’t even progressive). Some actually believe she used “McCarthyism” (a political term which essentially means starting a witch hunt) to blame the Russians for their role in the past elections among other things. Many have even labeled her (and Obama) a “war monger” and attached it to neoliberalism when militarization is actually a form of neoconservatism. So this brings me back to my original question – what the hell does voting for Hillary have to do with neoliberalism?

The sad part is there are real neoliberal examples the author could have brought up. Bill Clinton had many neoliberal policies but he also had some that represented the polar opposite of this view (like raising taxes on rich people). But to give you some ideas for your own argument – you didn’t bring up the budget surplus? I know this goes against everything you claim to know about MMT (a macroeconomic theory which states we have to create debt to keep the economy strong). How about NAFTA? That opened up free trade, definitely neoliberal. Or how he reduced import tariffs to open up the market. Or how he repealed the key part of Glass-Steagall that separated commercial and investment banking. Or how he pushed the fed to maintain low interest rates. Nope, none of that – just Haiti and welfare reform. I mean who could possibly argue with those two right? So in response to not knowing the definition of the first word in your headline, I’ll reverberate the last part of it back to you – shut the hell up.

After that the rest of the column turns in to a self righteous rant with a smug tone that, while pointing out valid things, fails to explain as to why those things justify a Trump presidency. I agree with the BLM points made especially, but now you’re trying to generalize everyone who voted for Hillary in to your own preconception. The fringe-left treats their own self-interest as the foundation of what they perceive as morality. Ironically this is definition of the ethical theory ‘egoism’ verbatim. The author channels her frustration at others on the left rather than the ones who have created the situations she is upset about.

She makes uninformed and misguided generalizations that are self-destructive to the progressive movement. It’s ironic that McCarthyism is such a widely used term on the fringe, because that’s exactly what she ends up doing. Creating a witch hunt through generalization. She shows that her self-interest is the foundation of her morality by making this about her personal issues and feeling. That isn’t progressivism. We don’t want others to suffer so we can say, how does it feel now? She didn’t support Hillary because – in her own words – “she wasn’t there for me.” You’re the reason people on the left are being called snowflakes. She ends her writing with:

Now suddenly you are in a complete panic because you can see the danger you are in.

Welcome to the club.

The ‘we told you so’ movement will continue to remind you how dumb this was for the next four years, so if you’re sick of it now you better toughen up. It is implausible to advocate a Donald Trump presidency and be progressive at all. This week we seen people get separated from their families, permanent American residents sent out the country with no precursor incident to justify what happened. His cabinet appointments – along with his other right wing peers – are poised to undo every left leaning progressive fabric that has been legislatively sown in this country going back almost 100 years.

You’re willing to jeopardize the foundation of this nation with fascism because you didn’t get your way? Willing to allow the repeal the ACA and strip millions of Americans their health insurance? Jeopardize the existence of social security? See medicare gutted and then turned in to a voucher system? Inevitably put in jeopardy what those people decades before us fought for to help the people most in need?! And for what – to prove an abstract political point to yourself?! Because you find some self gratification in seeing others suffer so you say “welcome to the club.” That is a deplorable stance to take and you really need to see the bigger picture. To others reading please don’t misinterpret my message – if you’re a Republican, a right-winger, anything else, it’s okay to want to change all of those policies if that’s what you prefer. All I’m saying is this – it isn’t progressive.

theodore-teddy-roosevelt-1a1

That being said, I guess I need to remind people what progressivism is supposed to look like:

Theodore Roosevelt, though a Republican at the time, was America’s first progressive in the White House. According to him progressivism represented a “square deal” between business and labor to help out working class Americans. He promoted the use of science, engineering, and technology. He wanted to see the protection of the environment and modernization. Progressivism was a populist movement aimed at taking out the corruption in politics and in corporate America. He promoted law and order in a time where police corruption was rampant throughout the country. He created anti-trust laws to break apart monopolies. He wanted Americans to have access to the purist food and drugs possible to promote living a healthier lifestyle.  He was an advocate for civil rights and invited Booker T. Washington to the White House. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1906 for ending the Russo-Japanese war. Yet this was also a man who, when the Spanish-American war started, stepped down from his political position to form the “rough riders” and actually went to battle along side his soldiers. This man was no snowflake.

You had activist like Jane Addams who advocated for world peace and fought for women to have the right to vote. She co-founded the NAACP as well as the ACLU (who is intensely going after Trump right now) and is credited with creating social work to help those in need. She created the Hull House in Chicago to help immigrants from the worst parts of the city. She also won the Nobel Peace prize in 1931. There was former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, a man once described as “dangerous because he was incorruptible.” He was considered a lawyer of the people that fought for social justice and to take down corporate monopolies. There was John Dewey who paved the way in education reform while Upton Sinclair paved the way in literature. Progressivism has a rich history of moving things forward, and did so in a way that affected many facets of life.

Do you see the common theme here? It was always about uniting for a bigger cause than yourself. It was always about social justice and helping those who need it. It was always a unifying philosophy rather than a dividing one. It is about being a part of the solution and not the problem. It is an evolving instrument of social change that adapts to the needs of society. It is about PROGRESSION, and the answer is never to purposely REGRESS. Or to purposely allow people to suffer for your own self gratification or self interest. Or to purposely allow this country to take a beating so it can be manipulated for your own political ideas. That’s not being a real progressive, that’s being un-American. One of my favorite signs I seen at the women’s march in Washington DC read, “if you are neutral in situations of social injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This is bigger than us, and Trump never was – and never will be the answer in progressive America.

 

-John Streaker

The Fastest Way To A Successful Third Party

Allow me to begin by saying that I’m a progressive that tends to vote Democrat. I have never researched and read so much for one single writing, and I did this with the help of another progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives. I ask you all, please read this in it’s entirety before passing judgement. I assure you that even as some things may appear to not make sense or be ‘radical,’ eventually things come together. So let’s begin…

American Moderates: The Template For Success

Let me start by putting this as bluntly as possible – people are sick of the partisan circus that has taken over Washington DC. It has resulted in nothing getting accomplished while everyone points at their rivals across the aisle as a means to gain political expedience. The level of trust for our politicians is at an all time low (which has a direct effect on turn out), while the desire for change against the establishment is at an all time high. The American political system continues to polarize people in such a divisive manner that the center is slowly but surely disappearing before our eyes. We have to stop that now. The fact of the matter is nothing gets done at Capitol Hill without some degree of bipartisan cooperation.

First let me clear up what I mean by ‘moderate’ as this is such a broad term. Being a moderate does not mean you share the exact ideology as other moderates, unlike conservatives or liberals. However, most people are not 100% to the right or left with their political views either. The best definition I found was in an article by The Atlantic which stated:

Moderates… aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues…

Being a moderate does not mean being an independent either. As FiveThirtyEight explained, independents tend to have a more extreme position than members of either major party with a similar philosophy (Bernie Sanders). According to polls, moderates tend to see the best of each political ideology and span across demographic lines in ways the major parties could only dream of doing. As a matter of fact in our most prior elections moderates made up 41% of the electorate in 2012 and 44% in 2008, and also tend to be the deciding factor in who’s elected.

Populist movements have become increasingly popular in the last two general elections. For those unfamiliar with the term:

Populism is a political style of action that mobilizes a large alienated element of population against a government seen as controlled by an out-of-touch closed elite that acts on behalf of its own interests. The underlying ideology of the Populists can be left, right, or middle.

In 2012 we saw Ron Paul have a sweeping populist movement, especially among the youth. This past election seen major populist movements on both the right and left in the forms of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The overall message here is people are tired of the political establishment and yearn for an environment that will finally start serving the interests of the people.

The problem with ‘moderates’ as politicians is due to the nature of the polarized atmosphere which has overcome DC, many of them are painted as ‘weak’ or ‘establishment’ representatives. I’m opposed to the idea of any politician using the moderate label to flip flop on issues – but those with a sound understanding of each issue as an individual one rather than a grouped philosophy should be viewed from a different perspective.

What I propose is a ‘moderate’ party that works for the people. If such a party was formed there is a possibility you could have the small number of remaining moderates join giving instant representation by having incumbents in DC. I believe that people witnessing the unification of those willing to get things done would be profound. A revolution in American politics “where the people finally let the establishment know, this is our country.” Sounds good right?

As I stated earlier, ‘moderate’ is a very loose term. I wanted to be able to illustrate just what this moderate party would look like which I realized rather quickly I couldn’t do on my own. So in the spirit of the National Union Party, I reached out to five other people – one more progressive, two libertarians, and two conservatives – with the goal to compromise on all our major political issues to show that it can be done. Though it proved more difficult than I thought it would be, we still managed to pull it off.

The Utilitarian Party

screenshot_20170109-221237

Now we obviously can’t go around calling ourselves the ‘moderate party.’ It sounds rather mundane and anti-charismatic. Enter: utilitarianism. This unique ideology is seldom (if ever) discussed in American politics. Classic utilitarianism is simply this: the best idea, is the one that gives the most happiness to the greatest amount of people. Imagine that – a philosophy that is driven by the happiness of everyone. I’d also like to point out that since the Declaration of Independence stated that the “pursuit of happiness” was an “unalienable right” that it is rather fitting.

Most times in history utilitarianism has been used to decide existing issues by simple majority, rather than creating new ones based off it’s principles. In my experiences when dealing with groups of polarized people, the best way to advocate for change is presenting new ideas rather than trying to prove you’re right on the existing ones. What we put together would be best described as an unexplored version of rule utilitarianism. Our goal: take the best ideas from each side and create policy to maximize utility – rather than apply the philosophy to existing ideas. Instead of seeing what provided the most happiness using current positions – we set out to compromise and create our own that would make everyone happy, thus maximizing utility to the fullest extent. We could end political polarization; rather than asking who’s right and who’s wrong the question would begin as how do we positively affect the most people? Political utilitarianism. For added insight on the logo – Democrats have a donkey, Republicans have an elephant, I went with the owl as it is a symbol of wisdom. For those seeking further discussion on social media, join the group “The American Utilitarian” on Facebook!

So here’s what we came up with, the utilitarian platform:

Compromissum Pro Unitate

These are purely hypothetical ideas! After this, I will write a series of articles detailing the specifics of the most important issues below to break down everything and demonstrate how things would work.

Immigration

Kind of hard to be a ‘fiscal conservative’ and say you’re going to deport every illegal immigrant in the United States; the costs would be astronomical to track down – then detain – then temporarily house – then transport them back to their country. A major burden on the tax payers. What we propose is a much simpler system. First of all, the immigration process is loaded with formalities and stipulations, on top of the requirements they have after all of that. We think if you can pass a thorough background check done by our intelligence agencies – then pass a civics test on how things work in America – that we are in no position to deny anyone the coveted American dream. This would apply to all those trying to come into the country (refugees included). As for illegals, we understand that they broke the law to be here. After they go through the process, we will charge them a tax penalty for a specific period of time to generate federal revenue – rather than spend more. As for walls? In the spirit of Ronald Reagan and his stance on walls, we decided it may not be a good idea.

Gun Laws – The Second Amendment

I think we can all agree that gun laws in this country are extremely confusing. Does this state reciprocate that one, blah blah blah. For instance – in New York if you get your gun rights back as a felon the manner in which they do this makes it still illegal to own a gun through federal law. We opt to abolish all current federal gun laws. Don’t think we are radical just yet! What we propose is this: A law that would require each state to start a ‘DMV-like’ department for guns. If you have a driver’s license in a state it’s recognized nationally, though each state has it’s own driving requirements. The same would apply with guns. A state would have the discretion to set whatever laws they like (as long as they don’t violate the 2nd amendment) and whatever requirements they want to obtain a license. The ‘DGO’ (Department of Gun Ownership). Every state recognizes each others license, and you have to abide by each states laws while there. This allows economic opportunities for states with loose regulation – gives states an easier template to create stricter regulation – and cuts back on federal spending quite a bit. So much so, through this we believe we could get rid of the ATF (this isn’t prohibition ya know).

Congressional Term Limits

We agreed this is a no-brainer. People argue it takes some many years (Ted Kennedy, Bernie Sanders) to have a profound effect on congress so we shouldn’t do it. But I say, isn’t that because the others who were there for decades already make it more difficult? What we propose is a 12 year total maximum amount, slightly different then the current proposal. It would equate to: 2 senate terms, 6 house terms, or a mixture of 1 senate term and 3 house terms.

LGBT Rights

We will start with gay marriage. If people want to get married, straight or gay, the government has no place saying who can or cannot do so. At the same time, it shouldn’t be able to force this to be done either. It’s only claim to marriage is tax filings, so we propose changing the tax system and taking this away to keep government out of it, but we will address that in a few. Aside from that, of course we would make sure that LGBT people are a protected class of citizens from discrimination in all cases.

Abortion

This topic was the toughest to deliberate. I suggested a federal law protecting abortions mentioned in the Hyde Amendment – which would be consistent with Poland who has some of the strictest laws in the world – including mothers who may die, rape, and incest. What we came to though was making it a state’s rights issue. Allowing states to issue their own laws on the subject.

Environment

We do not deny climate change – let me start with that. What we do have is a system that unfairly allows politics to influence environmental policy. One survey showed that 40% of EPA scientists reported political interference in their work. They do this so they can set regulations that benefit some while hurting others in the private sector. What we propose is making the EPA a federally funded organization, which operates independently from the government to remove the political aspect (eg Post Office, Federal Reserve). If a representative wants a law to help their corporate buddies, let them write and sign it themselves as they do with everything else. This would also significantly reduce the costs.

Education

If there’s one thing worth investing in – it’s education. Though we aren’t a fan of federal education initiatives (No Child Left Behind, Common Core Math) and think that all curriculum should be left entirely up to the state’s discretion. 8% of public K-12 funding is through the federal government – but through three separate departments. Simplify the process to cut out overhead by giving what’s needed by states through one grant. As a country we have 1.1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. According to the fiscal reports from the Department of Education, we spend $139.7 billion a year on PELL grants and student loans. However according to the proposal from Bernie Sanders to make public universities tuition-free, it would only cost $70 billion. You read that correctly, half the cost. Do this now. Universities can still set their own admission standards and requirements for getting in. That allows more consumer money into the economy, while providing a significant service to the public and cutting on spending. Not to mention, states will be able to invest more money in K-12 education.

Crime Reform

The United States has 25% of the entire world’s total prison population. We can’t be that bad can we? First, decriminalize marijuana entirely. If alcohol is legal there’s no reason marijuana shouldn’t be. Second, end the ‘war on drugs’ because it has taught us over the last few decades arrests and imprisonment has not bettered our society. Rather than institutionalizing our people let’s actually try to rehabilitate them. All first time non-violent drug offenders should be released from prison – period. Addiction is a mental illness and should be treated as such. We should offer more treatment, not more time. Get rid of the death penalty, if you’re going to be pro-life actually mean it. With so many people being proven of innocence, even one murder of someone wrongfully convicted is just that – murder. Abolish all federal private prisons. The more people locked up, the higher profit yielded. This has to come to an end. Not to mention, we have a federal law requiring 34k immigrants to be locked up at all times on the tax payers dime – when 60% of them are good and end up getting released. Abolish all federal drug classifications and make federal prison only for major drug traffickers and those who commit an array of crimes in multiple states. Let bankers and those from Wall Street go to state prison, no special treatment. Doing this we could shrink federal prisons by 80%. Ending the war on drugs means we can abolish the DEA.

Foreign Policy

We want to maximize military strength AND efficiency simultaneously. A high portion of wasteful spending comes from right here – audit the DoD and let the people in charge of the military decide what needs money and what doesn’t rather than some congressman trying to get his corporate buddy a government contract. Keep strategic foreign bases but cut back on the exuberant amount we have globally with no actual strategic value. Pull out of war zones and start a preemptive policy, rather than continuing an imperialist one. Focus on defense inside our nation from foreign entities. Still maintain a limited leadership role in NATO and the UN. Totally repeal the Patriot Act and the NDAA which allow the government to substantially restrict the individual freedoms of American Citizens.

Economy

Let’s start with Wall Street. We are against taxing transactions because we are afraid it would somehow lead to the regular people being taxed. We are for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagal (a law that kept investment banks and commercial banks separate) but we want amendments to Dodd-Frank because it has killed the number of small banks and credit unions in this country through regulation. We are very ‘pro-SEC’ and will support them however we can. We are against any kind of import tariffs or actions to further restrict American trade.

We wish to make major changes regarding corporate influence in DC. We currently have volunteer lobbyist and paid lobbyist – I suggested making lobbying a strictly volunteer environment. We agreed we should ban all fundraising and contributions from lobbyist entirely to stop corporate influence on politicians. Also, make PAC’s have the same spending restrictions as candidates to cut their influence there. I suggested overturning the Citizen’s United ruling which allows corporations to dump unlimited funds into super PAC’s as well.

Change the tax code to household filings rather than individual ones. This would keep government away from marriage while also significantly reducing tax fraud. Institute a modified version negative income tax at $30k per household (if you make 10k, you get 20k from the government). Doing this we could abolish all federal programs that are considered ‘entitlements’ such as food stamps, public housing, social security, etc. This would ensure every household receives slightly over $575 a week ($2500 a month) to replace every thing mentioned above. You basically streamline all programs in to one pay out which significantly reduces overhead and federal spending. Offer incentives for those who make over $30k a year, and make the first 30k tax free for every one. This program would cost about 2/3 of what social security currently does while providing more for the people it serves. Apply a flat tax of 15% above all income over 30k per household and a 15% corporate flat tax to go with it. Cut federal subsidy programs that allow government to pick and choose which companies to give an unfair advantage to with ‘free’ money. End all corporate loopholes and wasteful deductions.

After you do all this – the best part of it all – with the cuts already suggested, the government would have a minimum surplus of $200 billion. (Yes you read that right!)

We’d also like to encourage market competition with the Federal Reserve and end their monopoly, as well as make the fed a public institution and promote the use of public banks similar to the Bank of North Dakota.

We are also anti-bail out.

Health Care

The final topic! Bernie Sanders has a ‘medicare for all’ proposal at $1.38 trillion. The problem? Total health expenditures last year were $3.2 trillion, with over 2.7 of that being specifically for personal care. The math just doesn’t add up. So our proposal: since we already abolished social security with the negative income tax, we intend to do a flat 5% tax (matched by employers) on all wages which would essentially raise the same amount. What for? A single payer universal critical care system. Instead of having to wait until you’re a senior citizen to use what comes out your check it will be immediately available to you in the event of an emergency. Hypothetically, if we were to cover all 23 of America’s top health expenditures along with all hospital surgeries – we still have as much as $200 billion left when the year ended. Not only would these critical things be covered by taxes, but by doing so you take the risk out of insurance. Anyone who works in the insurance industry will tell you – risk is what drives the costs of premiums. By eliminating that, the costs of insurance would plummet and be affordable for everyone so they can receive preventative care and whatever other non-emergency treatment they need. It’s a win-win; for the left as it provides a significant safety net for everyone – and for the right as it still allows significant business for the private sector. Under these circumstances we would also allow the medical portion of the VA to be privatized so it would be easier for our vets to see doctors in a timely fashion.

A special thanks to Haley Holzer, Christopher Smith, Ronald Massenburg, Louis Fernandez, and Matt Miller for their contributions on this project! Please keep an eye out for the following writings that will provide the specifics on these positions!

– John Streaker

There is NO War on Christmas

Let me start by saying YES, I do believe in the Christian faith. NO – this article has zip to do with Santa beingwhite,” which might I add is the dumbest thing to argue over ever (grown people fighting over the ethnicity of an imaginary person)! I’m here to tell you that there is NO left wing conspiracy to get rid of Xmas. I hope that you (the reader) aren’t one of the people stuck in the right wing echo box who gets fed this “news” with very little ground to stand on. This is just another case of the right attempting to be mad about something there’s simply no reason to be mad about – imagine that.

Saturnalia: The Original “Christmas”

solstice-saturnaliaceleb

Fact number 1– the bible does not give an actual birth date for Jesus Christ. If anyone has told you otherwise, they’re simply lying. All the way up until the Renaissance which seen the birth of the Protestant religions, Catholicism was the only form of Christianity in existence (as all others were considered heresy). That didn’t happen until the Roman emperor Constantine took power in 306 AD and began to form what we know today as Christianity (hence the term Roman Catholic), including creation of the modern bible at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

Fact number 2– the origins for December 25th are actually rooted in a pagan holiday called Saturnalia (along with sol invicta which celebrated the winter solstice). To easily summarize this – before Romans were converted to Christianity they worshiped Pagan gods (we all know the Roman/Greek mythology) and even after the start of the Christian conversion of the Roman Empire many people were reluctant to switch over. So, the Romans then started a campaign to convert these people who still were Pagans to Christianity by allowing them to “keep” their celebration – which for them was Saturnalia – and just call it something else. This proved to be effective and helped convert many Pagans.

Fact number 3– almost all of our Christmas traditions have roots in Paganism. The Christmas tree is a “17th century German invention” that actually comes from the pagan tradition of bringing greenery indoors to decorate for midwinter. Even mistletoe has roots in the Saturnalia festival. Santa Clause (who’s race still remains unknown… sarcasm) is our version of the English “Father Christmas” but all incarnations of this story derive from the Pagan belief that spirits traveled through the sky during midwinter. Some say Santa Clause has his origins from Saint Nicholas (which wasn’t made popular until 19th century American literature), who was actually a member of the Council of Nicea that I referred to earlier. There’s even a story that he was jailed for slapping another bishop over their disagreement on what should be placed in the bible. Then there’s “Kris Kringle” which is rooted from the German “kristkindl, an adaption created by Martin Luther during the Protestant revolution of the Renaissance which is one of the first European versions of the “gift giver.” Point being – there is no consensus on Santa.

Fact number 4– the bible actually has passages that some have interpreted to suggest you shouldn’t celebrate birthdays, and this is the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas. An example of that is Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death is better than the day of birth.” There are other Christians who share this same view outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses that point out people in biblical times did not celebrate their birthdays either.

warxmas

Fact number 5Xmas isn’t an abbreviation meant to take “Christ” intentionally out of the word Christmas. The X is actually a Greek symbol for Christ as depicted in the image displayed above. If you know anything about biblical history, you know that the New Testament was supposedly first authored in Greek. Starting to make sense yet?

The Real War on Christmas Has Been Waged by Christians

john-calvin-closeup

What if I told you that the biggest movements to eradicate Christmas from our traditions were waged by none other than other Christians? Many fundamentalist through the history of Christianity knew that the creation of this holiday had roots that were not founded in Christian principles or customs.

When being educated on the creation of Protestantism one of the biggest names you learn is John Calvin. A chief opponent of the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century, many of his teachings are still rooted deeply in the Presbyterian church community. One thing they may tend to skip over when learning about Calvinism is that he wanted to get rid of Christmas. His view was simple, Christians should only observe things that are actually in the bible. All the man made things had no place in religious practice.

Multiple locations in Europe began to ban the celebration of Christmas as a direct result. In 1550 Geneva issued a ban on Christmas, followed directly by the Scottish. The puritan movement spread to England which eventually seen the banning of Christmas in 1647 that lasted an entire 13 years. The movement then spread across the Atlantic to America where the state of Massachusetts banned Christmas in 1659 and that lasted all the way until 1686; in fact Christmas wasn’t even recognized as an official holiday in the state until 1856. In addition to that let’s take it a step further to bring up how Congress didn’t even make Christmas an official American holiday until 1870. The French Revolution seen Christmas become outlawed when the “Cult of Reason” took power as well. Outlawing Xmas swept through many regions of the world at one point or another.

Even in modern society there is an evangelical movement to get rid of Christmas in America. Christopher J. E. Johnson is a big proponent of this, as you can see here in this video, or by reading this article on the website for Creation Liberty Evangelism. He even claims that saying “Merry Christmas” to one another is literally translated as meaning “happiness to your rejecting Christ.” Yikes. To be fair, they also believe that Dinosaurs existed (and still do) on Earth with humans. Double yikes. Though there are some that are less extreme that share the same thoughts on Christmas due to its Pagan origins, such as G.I. Williams. It’s clear that Christmas is not something that all Christians agree on.

The Modern “War on Christmas” in America

2015-12-21-donald-trump-hands-merry-christmas-sign-grand-rapids-michigan-reuters-640-668x501

Oh America, there is no better place in the world. Where feelings hold more weight than facts, where bacon, ranch, and cheese can practically be a topping on anything, and where misinformation is the biggest source of news for many of its citizens. We live in a country where the President-Elect pictured above is running a smear campaign about Christmas. Making statements such as “it’s okay to say Merry Christmas again” in an attempt to paint President Obama as the Progressive Grinch whole will force your family to say Happy Holidays forever! This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just last year Obama released an official Merry Christmas statement directly from the White House website. You can go here to see him say it countless times. This is just a culture war aimed to make you upset at the other side.

When you live in a country as diverse as America, what is so wrong with saying Happy Holidays as well as Merry Christmas? Why does it have to be one or the other? What is the issue with attempting to show respect to everyone? I truly don’t get it. The problem is – once again BOGUS news reports in a lot of cases. A prime example is the VA Hospitals getting rid of Christmas trees being painted as a Liberal act of war, though the law was passed in 2002 under GW Bush. People simply just don’t fact check or research, and due to this are easily manipulated because they let emotion drive their opinions rather than stopping to take the time to use logic instead.

The roots of this war against Christmas in modern American culture can be linked to the 1920’s when Henry Ford wrote about Jew’s supposedly trying to suppress the holiday.  Or the John Birch Society distributing pamphlets saying that Christmas was under attack by Communists in 1959. Yet Christmas just keeps on winning. Conservatives even lashed out on private sector companies for not using “Christmas” in ads such as Target, who later said they never had any intent on not using the word yet the right still kept pushing the issue.

Which brings me to my final point: the Conservatives claim to be “standing up for businesses.” They claim they’re anti-regulation and businesses need more freedom to make the choices they want to make. Yet when a private sector company makes a personal decision on something as simple as a phrase used during the holidays they lose their minds. The people in the federal government should not be telling companies what they should or shouldn’t say during the holiday season, that’s absolutely absurd. You can’t be an advocate on the freedom of choice and then go completely against your own stance once you don’t agree with the choice that is being made.

I personally enjoy Christmas. Even if it is rooted in a Pagan tradition we as Americans celebrate it as something else and that’s okay with me. The holiday season brings family together and allows us all to spend valuable time with our loved ones. However to say there’s a War on Christmas is too much, it’s simply not true. The real war here is the war for TV ratings and the ability to sell books. If we are going to have an argument on this, let’s do one based on the real facts and history rather than superficial television talking points. When you look at the history of the holiday and see it’s biggest opponents have been other Christians who have wanted to ban it entirely – while having valid arguments to do so – it’s going to be very difficult for me to get upset about a Starbucks cup.

Merry Christmas

-John Streaker

Pat McCrory: The Biggest Loser

When you ask who is the biggest sore loser in the state of North Carolina the answer is pretty simple – Cam Newton. Just kidding I love Cam, and even if he does pout from time to time he at least told us up front.  The true answer to this question is Governor Pat McCrory.

Governor McCrory finally conceded the election to Roy Cooper on Dec. 5th making him the first sitting governor of North Carolina to ever lose a 4 year term re-election bid (Charles Manly lost his re-election as a Whig back in 1850, but then the governor’s term was only 2 years). Yet that will surely go down as one of the lesser known facts in comparison to his actions as governor which inevitably led to his defeat. McCrory seen his approval rating across the state drop a staggering 15 points in his first year in office and hasn’t recovered much since. When Bev Purdue had similar numbers she actually made the call not to run for re-election, which is what set the stage for McCrory’s tenure.

North Carolina has a very unique voting history – since 1968 it’s only voted for a Democratic President two times (Jimmy Carter 1976, Barack Obama 2008). Yet in the same span of time the state has voted consistently for Democrats to hold state offices. As a matter of fact McCrory is only the 3rd Republican governor in the state in over 100 years. When McCrory won election in 2012 along side the Republican party controlling both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly, it became the first time since the Reconstruction Era in 1870 the Republican Party had this much power of the state’s government. If only we knew then what was going to happen next. When his term began he hit the ground running, signing policies to law that left a vast number of North Carolinian voters scratching their heads.

When your state has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the country, what do you do Pat? Cut unemployment. In doing so McCrory prevented 170,000 of his states citizens from emergency benefits extended by the federal government.

The Affordable Care Act offers a federal expansion of the Medicaid program to cover more low income residents, how’d you handle that Pat? Opt out of Medicaid expansion. Once again ignoring the disadvantaged in the state, this time to the tune of denying 500,000 people health coverage.

Pat McCrory made a promise to voters prior to his election for Governor that he wouldn’t sign any bills that restricted abortion. Take a guess what Pat does? Signs House Bill 465 further restricting abortion.

McCrory was employed by Duke Energy for 29 years, which showed in how he handled the disastrous coal ash spill in the Dan River. After giving his former employer what many labelled a “sweetheart deal,” he mysteriously forgot that he still owned stock with the company quickly selling it afterwards saying it was a simple mistake.

Pat has also aided and abetted the Republican legislature with severely damaging the state’s public school system, please read THIS. Per-pupil spending has dropped 14.5% while there’s been a push towards school voucher programs to put government funds in to private schools (rather than public ones). Even to schools who openly discriminate.

Pat’s clearly been in over his head since reaching Raleigh. There’s so many failures that can be covered from his short span in office I could go on forever before I reached the “big ones.”  The first “big one” we’ll revisit is the Voter ID law that was struck down by a federal judge for targeting African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” The law was made after Republicans specifically requested racial data to see which areas changing the law would most likely affect African-Americans. Not that this comes as a surprise, this is the same Republican Legislature that recently had their map of the state’s 13 congressional districts as well the 170 state legislative districts overturned by a federal court for being racially gerrymandered.

The other “big one” which is probably the more popular of the two – the infamous HB2 bill more commonly known as the bathroom bill. This could be exactly what sealed the deal for Pat to lose this election. Since being signed into law HB2 has caused the states economy to lose 1750 jobs and $77 million of revenue. It’s the sole reason the NBA All-Star game was pulled from Charlotte costing their economy an estimated $100 million. North Carolina is known for “Tobacco Road” and being one of the biggest states for college basketball. The NCAA pulled its championship games from the state, which actually extended to other sports as well. Then there’s the fine print: the bill also blocked all municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination policies (allowing businesses to openly discriminate against possible customers) as well as raising the minimum wage. Only 30% of voters in the state supported HB2, so it clearly was a major factor in his loss.

The Battle for Governor

mccrory-1

We’ve finally reached my favorite part of the story, where Pat McCrory becomes “the biggest loser.” As election night concluded Roy Cooper had a lead slightly over 4,000 votes and appeared to have squeaked by with a victory on a night other Republican candidates fared rather well in the state. Under North Carolina law if the margin of victory is under 10k a recount can be officially requested. Cooper declared victory shortly afterwards but McCrory didn’t concede.

The Republican party tried desperately  to enhance the possibility of a 2nd term for Pat. In a state with practically zero history of voter fraud what is Pat’s go to strategy? Widespread accusation of voter fraud in over HALF the counties in the state. Pat had the audacity to say Cooper beat him because “dead people and felons” were tallied in the final count. He also accused Bladen County of a massive fraud scheme which yielded zero results. After being denied repetitively by Republican controlled state boards over and over again, he tried to fixate on Durham County. However when challenging their results, it ended with Pat gaining ZERO, and Cooper adding six more votes to his total.

After undermining the state’s voting process, legally fighting as many results as possible, challenging election boards controlled by his own party in countless counties, denying the state election board lawyer appointments, Cooper’s lead finally rose above the 10k threshold and we seen “Crybaby McCrory” concede. Maybe Pat thought making it appear that widespread fraud occurred would give his Voter ID law some traction in the future? Instead he ended up disgracing the state’s voting process, himself, and his entire party in what will surely be remembered as one of the biggest “hissy fits” in state history.

Thought it was over didn’t you? So did we. In an unprecedented turn of events it appears Pat McCrory is going to use a special legislative session – which is supposed to be for Hurricane Matthew victims – to push two new state Supreme Court justices in before he packs his bags. Why is this such a big deal? In the November election the court power swung in favor of the Democrats 4-3 when Mike Morgan defeated Bob Edmunds for the seat. So as a response, Republicans are considering adding two more seats which would allow McCrory to pick two new justices and swing the court back in the favor of Republicans 5-4. You can’t make this stuff up people. The worse part about it is the sneaky maneuver they plan on using to accomplish it, using Hurricane Matthew victims as a patsy for their own self interest. I don’t know for sure if that is what they intend to do (no one does), but I guarantee that some how and some way the NC GOP figures out a way to manipulate their governing power and prove they are incapable of running our state.

I can’t honestly say I’m surprised, once again. The already tarnished legacy of McCrory takes a final step of indecency to remind voters just how deplorable he was on his way out. These kind of tactics that have such a lack of respect for democracy are exactly what’s wrong with today’s flawed political system. You’d think in the midst of all this there would be no foreseeable political future for a person of this nature, but you’d be wrong. Rumors are circulating that McCrory may actually be up for a cabinet position in the Donald Trump administration. At this point though, I’ll just be glad to see him finally leave Raleigh.