Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Collective Sigh of Relief

Eight years ago, my hometown was hit with the worst flood in its recorded history.  Downtown was decimated and countless homes were destroyed.  It was ugly.  Last week we found out that another flood was on the way.  River levels were predicted to hit somewhere between 24 and 25 feet.  To put this in perspective, the river usually runs 11 feet or less, and anything over 16 feet is considered major flooding.  The 2008 flood was just over 31 feet, but the forecast was still the second largest in our recorded history.

When our community found out about the impending deluge, we sprung into action.  Hundreds of people swarmed sandbagging centers, filling the bags for people in flood impacted zones, whether businesses or residences.  City workers erected hesco barriers and earthen dams in a valiant attempt to keep the water contained and away from property.  City officials confidently estimated that the barriers would hold back anything less than 24 feet, and hoped to hold back 25 feet of water.  The river crested yesterday at just over 22 feet, and our hard work has paid off.  I'm aware of one business that may have been hit, though I'm sure there were more.  I'm not yet aware of any homes that were flooded, though I'm sure a lot had water in their basements.

In preparation for this flood, citizens filled between 300,000 and 400,000 sandbags.  The city used somewhere between 10 and 20 tons of sand, costing an estimated $7 Million.  But it worked.  The largest issue most of us have had to deal with is traffic.  The river basically divides the city in half, and there was effectively one way to get from one side of the river to the other.  My daily commute went from five minutes to 45 minutes.  But in the grand scheme of things, this was such a minor issue that it's really not worth mentioning.  In approximately a week, the river will return to its banks, and life will start returning to normal.

Thanks to those of you who offered thoughts and prayer.  Now we can breathe a collective sigh of relief, and start trying to figure out what to do with all of this sand.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Allow Me to Retort

I just finished reading this article on the "folly of protest voting."  The article is long and the arguments are well-thought in places, but the underlying premise is fatally flawed at the beginning and at the end.  Early on, the original author says...

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, this is an incorrect application of the false equivalency fallacy.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise, the false equivalency flaw goes something like this... Puppies are fuzzy.  Kittens are fuzzy.  Therefore puppies and kittens must be the same animal.  The author's supposition disregards the possibility that people are genuinely disgusted with both Trump and Clinton, but for completely different reasons.  The argument dismisses the reality that people genuinely believe neither candidate is qualified for office.

Next, the author extols the virtues of Hillary while excoriating Trump, thereby revealing the true purpose of his article.  I will concede his contention that the next President will appoint numerous Federal Judges.  But that's not the point.  The point is that the author inaccurately applies a logical fallacy to support his argument, and then expects us to buy into the false dilemma fallacy, which he uses by implying that our only choices are Trump and Clinton.  For those of you not familiar with the idea, the false dilemma says that if you don't support Trump, then you must support Clinton... completely ignoring the possibility that other choices exist.  The Democrats, Republicans and mainstream media have been perpetuating this delusion for literally as long as I can remember.

After this, the author says that protest voting isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!  He believes that voting for the lesser of two great evils is somehow more adult and noble than refusing to compromise your principles, and believes that it's dumb to think critically, and look for answers other than what we are spoon fed by the political machine and the complicit media.  And then, in the ultimate display of adult-like behavior, he uses insulting, condescending language toward anyone who is considering a third possibility.

I am going to freely concede that Johnson and Stein are facing uphill battles.  But until we as a society stop compromising our votes, and quit sustaining the lie that only two options exist, we will only perpetuate the self-fulling prophesy of our corrupt two party system.  Who wins in this scenario?  The politicians.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wasting a Vote

Today I am going to tilt at another windmill.  I am going to ask people to not vote straight ticket, because by doing so you could be wasting a vote.  Don't believe me?  Read on.

Since I am a candidate, I received a sample ballot in the mail a couple of days ago.  My ballot will have four straight ticket options this year... Republican Party, Democratic Party, Libertarian Party and New Independent Party Iowa.  On my specific ballot, the ONLY party that has a candidate for each office is the Democratic Party.  The Republicans are sitting out two races, and the Libertarians and NIPI have more unrepresented offices.  Now, for the sake of argument, let's pretend that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, who would rather chew off my own nose than vote for a Democrat.  (Forget about the logistical problems with chewing off my own nose, focus on my point.)

Intuitively, one would think that it would be okay for me to vote straight ticket Republican, but that assumption is incorrect.  Due to the fact that there are two races on my ballot without Republican candidates, my vote for those two offices would not be cast at all, and those votes wasted.  I could have voted for the third party candidate to offset that pesky Democrat vote, or written a vote as a protest.  But I waived my right to do so by voting straight ticket.

With this in mind, I ask you, dear voter, to not vote straight ticket.  If your party is fully represented, and you end up manually selecting your candidate in each race, okay.  But please, don't risk throwing away your vote by running straight ticket.

Note:  I am not writing this post as a candidate.  I am in a three-way race, against a Democrat and a Republican.  Whether or not potential voters in my district vote straight ticket, the outcome is unlikely to be significantly different for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why I'm Running

I received an email from a newspaper columnist a few days ago, asking why I'm running for office as a third party candidate.  This was my response...

Hi Steve,

I'm in receipt of your email asking why I'm running for office as a third party candidate.  I apologize for the slow response; in addition to running a political campaign, I work full time, help care for my grandson, and am active in the community, so it occasionally takes a little bit of time to answer all of my email.

The truth is, I've been sitting here at a blank screen for several minutes, trying to find the right way to start answering your question.  On the surface, it's easy.  I'm angry.  I'm frustrated with the system.  At the same time, this is an over-simplistic answer that makes me sound like I'm running out of spite, and that's not the case.  I'm running from a position of hope.

I am firmly convinced that our current two-party system is hopelessly broken.  Belay that.  It's not the system that's broken, it's the parties.  I have watched these parties misbehave for 20 years.  Politicians say that they have entered the arena to be public servants, but their actions express only desire to perpetuate the power of their party.  If an individual wishes to enter politics anywhere above the local level as a Democrat or Republican, they must be properly vetted, and demonstrate their loyalty to the party.  During the primaries, candidates show that they're the best Democrat or best Republican.  After they have been nominated by their party, they shift and tailor their position in order to appeal to the maximum number of mainstream supporters.  Meanwhile, difficult issues like Social Security goes unaddressed, and back-room deals such as the Bakken Pipeline continue, at the expense of the constituents these very politicians are supposed to protect and represent.

In their insatiable thirst for power, Democrats and Republicans have sold our individual liberties.  They have legalized the theft of our possessions and our land through Eminent Domain abuse and Civil Asset Forfeiture.  They have allowed speed cameras to ticket the owner of a vehicle, without verifying who was driving.  They have refused to implement term limits, despite knowing that the people want it.  They refuse to overhaul campaign finance laws, despite knowing how money corrupts the political process.

You ask my why I am running?  My answer is that I'm running because I have contacted my representatives at the state and federal level, and nothing ever changes... ever!  As a constituent, the most I can hope to receive for voicing my concern or support is a form letter from a career politician who is too busy to actually read my words, much less personally respond.  What I usually receive is silence.  I am running because I reached the conclusion that the ONLY way I can honestly say I did my best to change things is to throw my hat in the ring.  I did this as a Libertarian because the will of the people, and my personal integrity are more important than submitting to the will of the party.

As I said at the outset, I know this makes me sound bitter.  Yes, I'm angry, but I'm still running from a place of hope.  I hope that the people are as frustrated as me.  I hope that collectively, we are ready to tell politicians that we've had enough.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Open Letter to Gary Johnson

Mr. Johnson,

I just read the news that you will be excluded from the first Presidential Debate.  I'm sad.  I'm not only sad because you're not being included, but also because I am not surprised.  Such is the state of our political arena.

I would like to propose that you "participate" in the debate by hosting a live forum of your own.  During this forum, you can listen to the live televised speech, and when any given question is asked of your Presidential opponents, you can provide your answer as if you were there.  I am specifically suggesting that you do this live, because pursuing this course of action will demonstrate that you are just as prepared as they are to answer these questions.

You, of course, have a couple of additional alternatives... one is to respond to these same questions the next day.  This, naturally, has the downside of giving the appearance of having extra time to polish your answers before responding.  You could also march to your own drum, but I am fully convinced that you need to participate somehow.  You could even take things a step further, and invite Jill Stein to do this parallel participation with you.  I don't think that it would hurt either of your causes.  You could play it up by calling it the "separate but equal tour," or some such tongue in cheek catchphrase.

Think about it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mistakes Can Yield Positive Outcomes

For those of you who don't know, I joined my local chapter of the Marine Corps League a few months back.  For the most part, I've kept silent during the meetings, and focused on getting to know the other Marines in the chapter.

Last month's meeting was a doozie for me.  I made three screw-ups.  First, I went to the local VFW, where the meetings are held, and asked to start a tab.  The woman behind the bar took my credit card and proceeded to bring me drinks as I ordered them.  Shortly before our meeting started, I asked her to close out my tab and at that point discovered that the VFW doesn't take credit cards.  Long story short, I didn't have enough cash to pay the tab; one of my fellow MCL members bailed me out.  (I'm still not sure why the bartender took my card when I asked to run the tab, but that's really not the point here.)

I went on to break two rules during the meeting...

-There was a rather heated discussion between a Marine who held the floor and the leadership.  Out of turn, I yelled that they needed to take things offline.  I stand by what I said, but the point is that I spoke out of turn, which is a transgression of decorum.

-Later on, I talked politics during the meeting, not realizing that doing so is strictly prohibited.

These were all honest mistakes, made out of ignorance.  Regardless, I felt the need to own up to these mistakes.  During this month's meeting, I repaid my debt, with interest.  And when the opportunity arose, I stood and publicly apologized for my errors, specifically stating that I made the blunder in public, making it only appropriate to publicly acknowledge the gaffes as well.

I really had no expectations as to the outcome.  I did what I did because character dictated that since I screwed up publicly that I must also apologize publicly.  Interestingly enough, I actually received applause for my apology, and I believe that I earned some respect for my actions.

What I'm writing today is not designed to garner kudos for my actions.  What I am attempting to do is express that sometimes mistakes can yield positive outcomes, and I'm using a personal experience as an example.  If I had never made these errors, I would have remained one of the new guys in my MCL chapter, slowly familiarizing myself with the people and the traditions of the organization.  If I had made the mistake and let it go, it probably would have been written off as a rookie mistake.  But my chosen action earned respect from several members of the group.

Monday, September 5, 2016

In Defense of Millennials

I've got two Millennial daughters.  As such, I've experienced a lot of exposure to their generation.  Yes, I will agree that they can be entitled and spoiled, but I'd like to take a few minutes to defend them.

Before I discuss the Millennials though, I'd like to delve into history for a moment, to another generation that was rather entitled and spoiled... the Baby Boomers.  They were asked to serve their country in Vietnam, and they protested... to the point of spitting on those who answered their country's call.  (Whether or not these people should have gone to Vietnam is beside the point of this discussion.)  They spent the 1970's reveling in the hedonism of the Disco Era.  The 1980's was appropriately labeled the "me" decade.  The Baby Boomers raised Generation X... my generation.

We came into adulthood surrounded by adults who practiced conspicuous consumption... who refused to address Social Security and healthcare.  We entered the workforce during a major recession.  We had virtually no voice in politics because our parents' generation, and their parents' generation drowned out anything we had to say in the political scene.  We were (correctly) labeled a cynical generation.

Fast-forward to now.  We (my generation) overcompensated by giving our kids too much... by telling them that they're all shining stars... by taking away dodgeball, competition and trophies, and by giving them recognition for merely participating.  My generation raised Millennials to believe that they were entitled.  How is it their fault that they took to heart the values we instilled.

Furthermore, Millennials have come to age in a world of crushing college debt, a struggling global economy, and a world filled with war and hatred.  It would be justifiable for them to become completely disillusioned and just drop out, but they have not done so.

The Millennial generation, instead, has chosen to adapt to the circumstances they inherited.  It's true that they don't chase the dollar like the Baby Boomers, but that's very understandable, considering the current job market.  They instead choose to focus on life experiences.  They care about the world around them.  They are ecologically conscious consumers.  They recycle.  They take mass transit, Uber and Lyft.  They ride bicycles.

Millennials face the very real possibility of being the first generation to not experience a higher standard of living than the generation before them.  As a result, they seem to have learned money management lessons that, generally speaking, skipped a couple of generations.  They save.  They carry lower credit card debt.  They wait to buy their first home.  My generation didn't practice this type of discipline, nor did my parents' generation.  And they're doing this while learning that they're not quite as special and entitled as we raised them to believe.

So yes, it may be true that Millennials can be spoiled and entitled, but I say that we need to give them a chance.  I know that my little Millennials are making me proud, and many of their friends are making me proud as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gary Johnson for President

Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States, speak in Des Moines.  I actually traveled two hours to hear what he had to say.  I have been a Johnson fan since he was nominated as the Libertarian candidate, and my enthusiasm -- yes, enthusiasm -- has only grown as time has passed.  But after hearing him speak yesterday, I was absolutely blown away, and I couldn't imagine a better candidate.  When I heard him talk, it almost seemed as if he had called me personally to ask for my position on the issues.  Yes, there are certain specifics on which we don't agree 100%, but man... I was stunned with how well we aligned on the various topics.

Let me start by discussing the areas in which we don't agree.  I will talk about places where we see eye to eye shortly.

-Social Security:  I agree that we need to tackle Social Security.  I even agree with his basic premise that there should be means testing for receiving Social Security.  I do not, however, agree with the nuts and bolts of his platform.  Paraphrasing what he said... he doesn't understand how those "with means" should receive more than they paid in.  I disagree with this to an extent.  In all fairness, I disagree with this because my wife and I have done the right thing.  We are not rich, but we have chosen to scrimp and save as much as possible in our respective 401(k) programs in order to secure our futures, and we are on track to have a relatively secure, prosperous retirement... with or without Social Security.  There is no doubt that we will end up in the "of means" category.  My problem with Mr. Johnson's proposal is threefold: 1) I find it objectionable that we should receive only our "initial investment" if we are determined to be "of means."  If we had the opportunity to invest on our own, we would have reasonably expected to receive some sort of return on our investment.  Therefore I propose that even the most well-off should expect to receive some sort of return on their Social Security "investment," especially considering that we (collectively) had no choice but to contribute.  2) If we are going to tax income for the purpose of Social Security, I believe that it's reasonable to tax ALL income to care for our elderly.  3) I believe that Mr. Johnson's current proposal penalizes people like me who do the right thing, and encourages reckless practices regarding retirement savings.  With this said though, I am willing to sacrifice some personally for the benefit of many, and for the long-term interest of my country.

-Abortion:  I'll preface this by saying that I'm going to piss off both sides with my personal position on abortion.  I do not believe that life starts at conception.  I believe that the *potential* for life starts at conception.  Stating that life starts at conception is like saying that grass seed is the same as a blade of grass.  At the same time, I find it morally objectionable that a woman can theoretically go in for an abortion the day before delivery.  And yes, this is theoretically, legally allowable in most states, though most doctors of conscience would refuse such a procedure.  I believe that life starts at the heartbeat.  I believe that abortion should be illegal past the point of fetal viability outside of the womb.  Note that there is a gray area in between the point of heartbeat and the point of fetal viability outside of the womb, and candidly admit that I do not have a solid answer for this area.  One of Gary's overriding philosophies -- one with which I agree -- is that people should be generally free to do what they choose, on the condition that those choices don't adversely impact the lives of others.  My position is that a fetus is a person before birth, though not necessarily at conception.  This means that the government has a responsibility to protect the life of the unborn child.  My major difference is that I don't blindly subscribe to the pro-life platform.  I do, however, believe that the government should stay out of a woman's womb until we can find some sort of compromise.  With that said though, it's important for the pro-life platform, and for moderates, to voice our opinions and keep pushing for some sort of middle ground.

[Edited to add a new item]
-I disagree with Johnson's tax plan.  Gary proposes to abolish income taxes for individuals and companies, and replace it with a consumption tax.  I disagree with this for two reasons: 1) A consumption tax is a de facto regressive tax, because poor people essentially have no discretionary income, whereas the rich have a significant ability to save money, thereby avoiding taxation.  2) Consumption is what drives our economy.  If you tax consumption, you create an incentive to save, which drives down spending and slows our economy.  I personally prefer a flat tax, where all income is taxed at the same rate... whether it's income, investment dividends, corporate income, etc.  I would also close all loopholes.  I would, however, consider combining our ideas, to an extent.  I could support a smaller flat tax, coupled with a smaller consumption tax, on the condition that items necessary for a person's survival, such as food, housing, clothing and medicine, are tax exempt.

Now, let's talk about areas where the Governor and I agree...

-Civil Asstet Forfeiture:  I am disgusted by laws that allow the government to seize the assets of private citizens without due process of law.  This was one of the first things that Mr. Johnson mentioned.

-Term Limits: Johnson supports term limits, a subject with which the overwhelming majority of Americans agree.  Yet our elected officials continually choose to NOT pass laws limiting their longevity in government.  I personally propose a law that allows an elected official to serve a maximum of twelve years in any one elected office.  (This is specifically because 12 is the lowest common denominator in the House, Senate, and Presidency.)  I propose that we can get this law passed by grandfathering those who were in office before this election cycle, which would help garner the support of existing lifelong politicians.  This is not my personal preference, but I am bowing to the reality of our current situation.  I would also place text in this legislation that would require the largest legally allowable majority possible in order to overturn the legislation.

-Military Affairs:  Like Gary, I am tired of being the world's police.  Our doctrine of regime change has yet to provide the desired outcome.  Furthermore, it's cost untold thousands of American lives, and countless trillions of dollars.  His position is the same as mine.  If you directly fuck with us, we will crush you.  But we aren't just going to galavant half-way around the world just because we don't agree with the domestic policy or situation of such-and-such country.

-Internet Freedom:  I'm a computer geek by trade.  I personally favor net neutrality, and find the opposing position nothing more than a money-grabbing ploy by Internet service providers.  There is no extra cost to ISPs to provide "more" internet.  Data caps screw the consumer.  "Fast lanes" screw both providers and consumers.  It's time for Internet providers to understand their place in the ecosystem... they are the digital equivalent of the dial tone for a land line telephone.

-War on Drugs:  I submit for your consideration the position that there are two things that cannot be legislated -- stupidity and morality.  The drug war is an attempt to criminalize both... it's a personal moral decision to choose whether or not to take drugs... to the same extent that it's a personal moral decision to consume alcohol.  There are certain drugs, such as heroin and meth, that it's stupid to consume.  Mr. Johnson believes that it's time to end the war on marijuana, and return personal choice to the people.  It's time for us to stop being the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, all because of drugs.

-Education:  I agree with Gary that education is better served at the state level... without Federal interference.

[Edited to add a new item]
I agree with Johnson's view on capital punishment.  Additionally, this is an area where we both changed our views over time.  I, like Johnson, used to support capital punishment.  We both changed our views, and for similar reasons... it's significantly more expensive to execute a person than it is to keep that same individual incarcerated for life.  Johnson took this a step further, referring to a review of death row inmates ordered by the Illinois governor a few years ago.  I believe there were 36 inmates on death row at the time.  At the end of the review, I believe that twenty of these prisoners were ordered released because of new information that exonerated them. That's a pretty staggering figure, especially considering that the estimated rate of error is approximately 4%.

A couple of other things I'd like to note...

Gary Johnson, unlike the Democratic and Republican nominees, did not sling mud at his opponents.  He didn't trash talk them.  He spent his time and energy discussing the issues.  This was incredibly refreshing.

There was not a single protestor at Johnson's rally.  Nobody appeared strictly to say "Johnson sucks!"  "Never Johnson!"  This is because he is a reasonable candidate and a viable alternative.  I know this is an uphill battle.  I know that statistically speaking, my words in the future will be read, and the reader will ask "Who's this Gary Johnson."  I don't care!  I believe in the depths of my soul that Gary Johnson is the best candidate, and I will do all that I can to spread the word.  I will do all that I can to break the partisan logjam that is American politics.