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Archive for October, 2010

In the midst of puritanical anger and liberal enthusiasm in the light of Proposition 19 in California, let’s not forget what actually makes common sense on the issue of the legalization of marijuana. Right now, the U.S. spends 7.7 Billion a year on marijuana enforcement- this according to a study from Harvard University.

Can you even imagine how many positive ways this money could be used in society? Building schools, hiring teachers, creating infrastructure, and helping out the needy; the amount spent is mind-blowing. This does not even take into account the additional violence and crime which keeping marijuana illegal causes. It creates a whole underground crime network that not only cripples our nation, but adds to the violence in the “drug war” which is devastating countries such as Mexico.

On the other hand, if we legalized marijuana and taxed it- the revenues of the government could be extraordinary. Again, in our financial crisis with our looming debts, do we even have the financial capacity to keep fighting this unwinnable war? And it is unwinnable. Marijuana is rampant in society and often very easy to obtain. When I was in high school, it seemed it was easier for the students to obtain marijuana than even alcohol. This was in Illinois, a far distance from the source of much of the marijuana produced.

Perhaps, we just need to look at our past and see our last failed prohibition on alcohol. Not only did crime grow up, but much money was wasted fighting another unwinnable cause. The U.S. government finally wised up and realized that they could be making money on alcohol instead of spending enormous sums of money trying to stop it and creating a whole other set of problems in the process. I think the same realization will eventually occur with marijuana, it is only a matter of time. However, the longer we wait, the more money we will waste and the more crime we will cause.

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Did you know that we have a lower voter turn out rate than the war torn country of Afghanistan (and most Western Societies as well)? In the U.S., there is only a 47% voter turnout. Perhaps, this is the reason that we still have a nation without universal healthcare, a system that allows legalized corruption from corporation campaign cash, and a nation that increasingly supports the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle class and poor.

It is well known that wealthier and older voters are much more likely to vote, and of course, they are more likely to vote for conservatives and Republicans. The lowest voter turnout occurs among minority groups, the working class, and the young which is obviously more of the Democratic block. This is why though a much larger percentage of people identify them as Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans still are competitive in elections. Because of this, the Right knows if they can suppress the vote, they have a better chance of winning. One really blatant example of this recently was a conservative Latino group that encouraged the Latino voters in Nevada to not vote at all, since they knew that the majority would vote for the Democratic candidate.

What are some of the ways to increase the voter turnout? One idea would be mandatory voting like they have in nations such as Australia and Brazil. If you do not vote, you get a fine. Though obviously this would have other issues and problems surrounding it, it might be better than the current system we have. Another improvement could be making Election Day a national holiday, so those with jobs which make it more difficult to go to the poll would be more likely to go. Another way would be allowing people to vote through the internet/email (though obvious strong safety requirements would need to be put in place).

 Another area that definitely hurts voter turn-out is the Electoral College which makes people feel that their vote is really worthless. Obviously, in the end, the populous needs to become more responsible. People need to wake up and realize that what happens in the country will affect their lives, and they have no right to complain about the nation, if they do not go out and vote. However, subtly many on the right are against getting out the vote more, because it will mean their loss of power, or at the minimum, causing them to have to change their policies to at least consider the poor and middle class. However, in the end, if there is going to be any real substantial change in the nation, people have to go out and vote. Hopefully, the economy and inequality of wealth won’t have to go to too far of an extreme for people to actually take the time to go out and let their voices to be heard.

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Why is it so difficult for us to encourage other people? It seems to have wonderful results- it usually brightens up another person’s day, creates a better relationship between us and the other individual, and actually fills us our own lives with joy. However, it often seems far from easy.

Perhaps, it is because in a way, encouragement leaves us vulnerable. It causes us to show our true admiration or appreciation for another human being, which makes us feel exposed in some way, like we are letting others walking into the susceptible parts of our own soul. The fake façade we have put up for others to see is brought down. Maybe another reason is because in some way it makes us feel weaker or less than the other person. Though obviously this feeling is incorrect, it often remains with us nonetheless.

However, have you ever had your day or even your week brightened by someone saying an encouraging word? Sometimes, it extends far beyond that, it can help redirect the whole course of your life. I know in my own life that there have been a few select and short words of encouragement which have helped me beyond measure, just like how a few words of discouragement can leave us damaged. If we know how powerful and healing our words can be, why don’t we take more time to encourage others?

As I have been studying and meditating on these fruits of the Spirit, I have realized that I need to become a person that is more of an encourager to others, and not just the superficial encouragement like telling my students “Good Job”, but the deep heart-felt encouragement that is sometimes uncomfortable and leaves me feeling vulnerable. My goal is to give at least one positive word of encouragement per day and to see how my life and the lives of others can change for the better as a result. I love how Blaise Pascal put it so well,

“Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is.”

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Though much of the Tea Party’s philosophy would be disastrous to the society if enacted (privatization of Social Security, more tax cuts for the rich, cutting educational and alternative energy spending, and an unethical immigration policy), there is one platform of the Tea Party which I think could help save democracy-term limits. However, the real necessity of the term limits is different than the Tea Party’s motivation for the limit.

Why would term limits help save the Republic? First of all, it would cut back heavily on special interests and corporations controlling the government. If a politician cannot run again for office, they do not have to worry about pleasing their corporate donors in order to get money for future political advertising. It seems recently that no politicians, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, are a willing to take on big business and corporate greed because of all the cash that is on the line.

Secondly, term limits would actually give some courage to legislators. Nothing can get done in the Congress up to a year before the election, because all the legislators are concerned about how their actions are going to affect the next election. It is why almost nothing has been done the last few months, because politicians are too afraid to do anything difficult or controversial before an election. Is this how a Democratic-Republic is supposed to run? Of course not. It is shameful, and needs to be reformed.

Term limits should not be enacted just because of some illogical anger at incumbent members or because some philosophy of “get them all out”. Rather, it would help cut down on the “legalized” corruption ring which is U.S. politics and actually give a little backbone to our legislators. This should be one area where progressives and Tea Party can agree. Term Limits can help save the very corrupt and inefficient system that has become the U.S. Congress and government.

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This was the opportunity that was given to the author, Donald Miller, after film producers wanted to make a movie about his life. He soon came to the painful recognition that while his books and articles were popular and interesting, his life was quite dull, passionless, and lacking of adventure and purpose. Through the course of re-writing the movie, Miller was a given chance to re-write his life, and this book is the result.

I found this book at my school library, and I hesitantly decided to check it out. I had read and really enjoyed Miller’s first book Blue Like Jazz, but had not been able to get into his other books. He seemed to be speaking about a life that really amounted to very little of substance. I was blown away when I started reading this book that this was the actual premise of his writing. He needed to make a real and substantial change in the way he saw and participated in the world.

One of his quotes book really sums up the journey and change of perspective he was embarking on, he states, “I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.”

As I finished reading this book, I felt I needed to pick it up and read it again. I rarely have this sensation; the only time I can remember having this feeling was after reading “East of Eden” by Steinbeck. However, I found through reading the re-writing of Miller’s life, that I was starting to have more reflection on the changes needed in my own life. I highly encourage you to read this book. It will not only help change your outlook, but could change your whole way of being. As Miller concludes at the end of the book,

“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”

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Lincoln once stated, “As a nation we began by declaring “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it, “all men are created equal, except Negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.”

Lincoln’s comments came at a time when Nativism and anti-Catholic rhetoric had reached a new extreme in U.S. politics. In fact, a whole political party named the Know Nothing Party had been formed on a platform of anti-immigration and anti-Catholicism. While some people were genuinely terrified of the Catholic immigrants coming into the country, many were simply spreading fear and anger among the masses to help their own political ambitions. Politicians warned of the Pope taking over the nation and Catholic teachers turning schools into a place of “catholic indoctrination” which was seeking to destroy the Republic. Later on, groups such as the KKK used this fear of immigrants and Catholics to gain more traction and support.

We look back on this today, and most of us see this as quite silly-an irrational fear that led people to deny the ideals of freedom and tolerance which the nation was founded on. The racism and intolerance is looked upon with disdain in our history. However, is the exact same thing happening today? It seems that Muslims have become the acceptable target of intolerance in the 21st Century. Right-wing media outlets such as Fox News are constantly spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric, spreading fear and anger among the populous. Obviously, there are political reasons for doing this. If you can paint Muslims as dangerous the other party as “pro-Islamic” than you can get people to go out and vote for your party, even if that party is going to actually hurt the interests of the voter.

Men such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, both whom are Catholic, would have been on the other side of the issue if this was the 19th Century. They would be the ones accused of being a threat to the United States and the Republic. Perhaps, by looking at history, we can see that this anti-Muslim rhetoric is nothing new. The targets have changed, but the tactics stay the same. Hopefully, we can have a more evolved and mature view on the way we view new religious and cultural minorities in our nation and not repeat the exact same fear, bigotry, and intolerance.

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I usually find myself rolling my eyes when someone says they are voting for the Green Party. Perhaps, this is pretentious of me, but I usually see it as a throw away vote. Though I think the ideas of someone like Ralph Nader are great, he seems to me to be a person who is simply helping steal votes for Democrats and helping the Republicans win.

Anyways, I received my overseas absentee ballot from South Carolina yesterday. It is always somewhat frustrating to vote in South Carolina-as it tends to be one of the reddest states in the country. This year, for the U.S. Senate, the choices were not great. On the one hand there is the Tea-Party extreme conservative candidate, Jim Demint, and on the other hand there is the Democrat, Alvin Greene, who won on some fluke, and is about the most unqualified person to be Senator, not to mention having a possible felony conviction for lewd conduct, by showing pornography to a college student.

Now, if I had to choose between the two, I would certainly have chosen Alvin Greene. In the end, the ideas and votes of a Congressman or a Senator are much more important than their personal flaws and inexperience. At the end of the day, the pro/con vote in the Congress is more important than the individual. However, as I was looking down at the ballot, I could not bring myself to vote for the man. It seems to me that this man is a type of mockery of a civilized system of government. I also felt that I was pawn who had to vote for this very unqualified man, just because he got some fluke nomination from the Democratic Party.

Instead, I decided to vote Green Party. Perhaps, it was a vote of protest; in a way, it was a vote for principle. Somehow, I doubt this is the last time I will be voting third party though. It seems lately that the Democrats have lost their progressive ideals and have lost any backbone as well. The two party system is destroying the Republic, and other parties needs to be introduced to save our Democracy. Perhaps, if more people voted Green Party this year, the Democrats would wake up and realize that pandering to corporations and trying to move farther and farther to the right is not a way to win elections or to govern the country. Perhaps, if there was a little more discontent in our voting and a little less resigning to the same two party madness-the nation could change, and the politicians could actually work for Democracy not campaign donations and special interests. Don’t throw away your vote, but at the same time, don’t let you vote be a tool for corporate interests and the status quo. The individual voter always loses when that happens.

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