Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Relationship Vote

May 19, 2011
This piece was originally published in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review
I’ve always thought that our constitution was supposed to enshrine our rights as citizens of this state and this country. So when I heard that the Minnesota Legislature was attempting to pass a bill that would put marriage rights of gay and lesbian couples up to a vote during the 2012 election, effectively making a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, I thought that was pretty strange. More specifically, I thought it was outrageous!

First of all, and I see this as something that is very difficult to argue with, it is an incredible waste of time. As it currently stands, same-sex marriage is not legal in the state of Minnesota. The legislative session ends before Memorial Day weekend, and there is still a $5 billion deficit that needs dealing with, but instead the Senate and House are wasting their time debating and having public hearings on whether or not something that is currently illegal should be REALLY illegal.

What’s more unfortunate is that, regardless of the precedent of 28 other states passing similar constitutional amendments, our governing bodies would actively pursue the wanton discrimination of a large percentage of the population of the state, not to mention a member of the State Senate itself.

During the Senate hearing on the bill, Senator Scott Dibble held up a picture of he and his husband on the floor of the Senate on the first day of session, and he asked “What’s so different about us? What’s so dangerous about us?”

Same-sex marriage is allowed in five states in this country. So the question has to be; how has this negatively impacted states such as Massachusetts and Iowa?

But above I disregarded the 28 states that have passed similar amendments, so let’s just never mind what other states are doing. With that in mind, I would ask; how will this bill help Minnesota families?

Will it help create jobs? Will it balance the budget? Will it curb bullying in schools? The answer to those first two questions is ‘no’. There is no data that suggests that making something that’s already against the law against the law forever will have any sort of change on matters it didn’t affect anyway. But how about bullying? Anyone who isn’t aware of the high number of gay and lesbian teens who have committed suicide because of the negative ways they’ve been treated simply because they are gay (and others who were simply perceived to be gay), is either in denial or has been hiding under a rock. So honestly, what do you think this amendment is going to say to the next generation?

Senator Warren Limmer, the author of this bill, has said that the people of Minnesota have a right to vote on this issue, and that with a year and a half between now and the election, they will have the opportunity to have a conversation about it. I personally think Senator Dibble responded to this best, so I’ll just quote him:

“We’re not going to have a conversation. We’re going to have an ugly, angry, divisive campaign… And you know what that campaign is going to look like? It’s going to be about creating disinformation, about half-truths and mis-truths, and complete outright lies about what my family is all about… It’s going to create conjecture, fear, and will divide Minnesotans during this critical time in our economy when we need to be pulling people together.”

The proponents of this bill are quick to say that the people have a right to vote on their definition of marriage. First of all, I call bologna on that. There’s no choice here. The percentage of Minnesotans who think that marriage should be inclusive to all consenting adults have no box to check. The options are simply the status quo or the status quo forever. And that is beside the point that this argument is discrimination disguised as liberty. Limmer and the other proponents of this bill talk about the rights of the people to decide, but they’re deciding on the rights of others. So what about the rights of those whose personal lives are infringed with this vote? If this isn’t making sense, imagine if your marriage or your relationship with your significant other was put up to a vote by those who don’t even know you?

Our country has a history of bigotry against various types of couples, whether they be Lutherans and Catholics marrying, or whites and blacks marrying. It wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for a black man to marry a white woman in a large number of states in this country. And people were just as adamant about that concept as they are today about same-sex marriage. So what has changed? We’ve simply picked a new group to look down upon; a new group on which to attempt to deny rights.

The argument for same-sex marriage isn’t anything new or bizarre. It is simply asking that consenting adults, who would be allowed to marry someone of the opposite sex, be allowed to marry someone of the same sex, because they found a special person that they want to spend the rest of their lives with. No one is looking for extra rights. Just the same rights as anyone else who found that person who completes them, who will stick with them through good times and bad.

As of this writing, the House has yet to vote on the bill. By all speculations, it seems as if it is going to pass. I hope it doesn’t. I think it would be a shameful mark on the state’s history; a state that has a long history of compassion and inclusiveness. And the ensuing “conversation” will only create more hate and discrimination, because our government has decided that this particular group of Minnesotans aren’t deserving of equality.

My Political Life

September 12, 2010

I called upon the Democrats.

I called upon the Republicans.

I called upon the Greens and the Independents.

I called upon the fuckin’ Tea Party.

I called upon Americans who wave a flag out of habit.

I called upon men and women so I would seem more inclusive.

I called upon the corrupt, who ate their own souls.

I called upon the corrupt, who tried to buy my neighbors soul for dessert, and got a good deal.

I called upon blacks and Hispanics whose culture I co-opted without credit, but ignored this fact and wondered why they didn’t respect me.

I didn’t call upon the Native Americans.

I called upon Democrats and their followers who couldn’t recognize righteousness.

I called upon Republicans and their followers who manufactured and sold righteousness in easy to store containers.

I called upon those whose righteousness judged me.

I called upon the hypocrite who actually lives in all of us (so don’t pretend).

I called upon liberals, conservatives, and whatever you call people in the center, and I forgot what the definitions of each were.

I called upon the gay and straight, and waited.

I called upon the Christian and Muslim who secretly wanted to kill each other who then just came right out and said it because it was never actually a secret.

I called upon those who complain about life’s inequities with a passion.

I called upon life’s inequities.

I called upon those who wish for change.

I called upon the ones who pretend to see change in the same box they’ve always lived in.

I called upon the Asians whom we deny are a superpower, then denied their influence.

I called upon the socialists and communists, who are evil, but I called them anyway.

I called upon the fascists who no longer use that name.

I called upon the system that perpetuates itself.

I called upon the system that we hope to change but don’t understand.

I called upon the system that won’t change.

I called upon myself, but ignored the call.

I called upon myself and hung up, thinking it was a prank.

I called upon the Independents again and laughed at the strange name.

I called upon the angry, then got exhausted.

I called upon the exhausted, then got angry.

I called upon those who call to battle and left a message.

I called upon the rest of the religious, who called back the next day wondering if I had accepted Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Shiva, Lord Xenu, or whoever as my personal savior and completely ignored what I had asked.

I called upon deaf ears and finally got an appropriate response.

Where Have All the Artists Gone?

May 14, 2010

I read an essay the other day that posed the question “Why aren’t more poets politically involved?” So I said, “Yeah, why aren’t they?”

This reminded me of a time back in 2004 when I was still a student at the University of Minnesota and I went to a reading by Robert Bly, who shortly thereafter was named Poet Laureate of Minnesota. Bly has a long history of political engagement, most notably as a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam (to note it lightly). Between poems, he was quick to wonder out loud to the audience the same question as the essay I mentioned.

Where are the poets writing grand verse in opposition to the war? During the 1960s, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting at least one! (Paraphrased, not actually what he said.)

And you know, he was right. First of all, he was there during the ‘60s, so he certainly knew well enough what was going on. But today, there’s an awful lot of silence. There has been for most of the years the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on.

And of course, it’s not just poets. It’s artists of all mediums and genres. And whereas there has certainly been dissent against the war, not nearly to the scale that was seen against Vietnam.

I see this as a problem, and not just because I’m not for the wars. Have we become so complacent with the world we’ve developed around ourselves that we can’t see beyond our noses to what’s happening in our name both at home and abroad? I see this as more than just dissent. I see it as conscious involvement in something greater than one’s self. And that goes for whether you’re for or against the wars; whether or not you feel they’re just.

So my point is basically this: There seems to be fewer people nowadays who stand up and make their case for a cause they feel is worthy by using art.

I see two reasons for this.

One: Poetry and other forms of art have slowly taken a back seat to other forms of media that are far more accessible in the modern age of telecommunications.

And two: It only ‘seems’ that there’s silence.

I know for a fact there is no shortage of artists in this country who take notice of various political action by our government and compose pieces appropriate to their outrage. But unless you’re part of one of these inner art circles, you’re not very likely to hear about it (see reason ‘one’ above). But that doesn’t mean that Bly or the author of the essay I read yesterday are completely wrong with their assertions that there’s a lack of political involvement amongst artists today. For better or for worse, the art culture evolves to represent the modern culture. As it turns out, the ‘60s were a time of heavy popular political involvement, therefore it was represented in the art scene. Today, it’s less so.

But there has been a resurgence.

Over the last few national elections, there have been record numbers of people, especially youth, who are making it to the polls to cast their vote. The same modern means of telecommunication that has been squashing art forms in the national popularity contest has created a new informed population, and many don’t like what they’ve seen. If the numbers at the voting booths are any indication of political involvement, then there are plenty of people who want to stand up and make a case for their cause.

So what’s the problem? Did I just refute the original argument?

Not really. The point still stands that there’s not much political poetry out there that gets any attention out of specific circles. As a poet and writer, I’m a bit saddened by this. I have read a number of fantastic contemporary poems having to do with modern political issues (the wars, etc…), but people don’t take them as accessible, so they get drowned out in the flood of information we all get daily.

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe not. Either way, it’s the evolution of things. Maybe I’ll just go watch a movie instead.

An Open Letter To My Congressman

March 24, 2010

Congratulations on the passing of the healthcare bill. For all of its flaws, it’s at least a step in the right direction. But I’ll tell you what. I’m still not satisfied. But fortunately, I’ve recently read about HR 4789, the Public Option Act drafted by Rep. Alan Grayson. It’s the act that will allow any American of any age to buy into Medicare at cost. And I think this sounds like a fantastic bill. And what’s more, I think it’ll do more for healthcare reform in it’s succinct 4 pages than the entire 2000+page bill that just passed due to the competition it’ll create for the insurance corporations. Will you support this bill and do everything you can to get it to the House floor for a vote? And, naturally, vote yes for it?

Healthcare Passed. Yay… but is it enough?

March 24, 2010

Well, it’s done. Hurrah hurrah! Healthcare reform passed and now we can finally enslave conservatives and abort their babies with federal dollars so as to start our Socialist world order. Whew, it’s about time.

But to be fair, that’s not entirely accurate. Healthcare reform did pass, but everything after that is taken from bits and pieces of right wing fear-mongering talking points. So now that we’ve had a good laugh, let’s get real for a bit.

On the whole, I’d say that it’s a good thing this bill passed. People can no longer be turned down for having a pre-existing condition, and anyone who’s considered “at risk” is still able to get some sort of insurance. What’s more, the particular demographic that’s had the hardest time having a health policy (those who aren’t poor enough to have a government policy like Medicaid, and who aren’t rich enough to afford a private policy when their employer doesn’t offer it) will be able to have access to more programs because of subsidies.

And even though this is of less concern to the general public than the actual benefits created, our government spent the last year hammering through this thing. To ultimately end up with absolutely nothing would’ve been shameful at best. And to get even more superficial, for the Democrats to have failed at this attempt to make good on healthcare promises would’ve left them looking like a pile of incompetent fools who’d rather curry favors with the opposition party than to try to enact the will of their constituents (but since we’re being honest here, I think they’ve managed to do both fairly well).

But one of the big problems with this bill is that it’s called ‘reform.’ At best I’d call it a regulatory bill. All those benefits of the bill amount to the government telling private insurance companies that they can’t discriminate against the unhealthy. If you ask me, that’s just common sense. But there’s a reason why so many people for so long have called for reform, if not a complete overhaul, of the healthcare industry in this country: the whole thing is in the hands of a few corporations who make exorbitant amounts of money by paying as little as they can but charging as much as they can. This bill may help a great many people, but it doesn’t tackle the primary problem. The fact still remains that our health is still in the hands of people who will make more money if we die.

That may sound melodramatic or conspiratorial, but it’s really just the basic structure of corporate policy. By law, a corporation must do everything within its means to raise the bottom line. If you take money in on the promise of helping someone once they’re sick, you’ll make more money by finding any crack in the paperwork to pay as little as possible, if anything at all. And this bill actually assists that basic structure. We’re now mandated to have insurance.

A public option was kicked out of the bill a long time ago. If it remained, a mandate for insurance would seem like less of a burden, because there would be more options to choose from. A government run policy that would be nationwide, that you could take with you if you move or change jobs, that isn’t for profit so you wouldn’t have to worry about rates being raised so the CEOs of said corporation can afford their bonuses, is the type of policy that many Americans want. Before last year’s August recess, numerous polls showed that at least 60% of the population wanted a public option. But alas, all things must die.

Wait a minute! Government run policy that’s nationwide that isn’t for profit? Haven’t I heard of that before? More importantly, hasn’t Congressman Alan Grayson heard of that? Oh yeah, it’s called Medicare.

The original talk of a public option was about creating an entirely new entity, that would’ve cost billions of dollars to set up. In the long run, this program would’ve paid for itself and actually decreased the deficit, because people would pay into it. But there would’ve been an initial start up cost that many people were uncomfortable with in this time of economic strife.  But the congressman from Florida, Representative Grayson, has drafted a bill that would allow anyone, of any age, to buy into Medicare at cost. We’ve already spent billions of dollars creating this nationwide network so that people 65 and older have access to healthcare. The groundwork already exists. What Grayson’s bill will do is give every American a chance to have a public option, without any of the extra costs that the original public option would have.

The fact that we have this system in place that can only be used by a small percentage of the population seems incredibly wasteful. And ask any senior citizen out there; they LOVE Medicare. Why not let everyone else have a chance at it? This would be a real reform bill if it passes. Finally there would be some real competition for private insurers, who would be forced to lower costs in order to remain competitive. That is the basis of capitalism, right?

Letter to Congress

February 22, 2010

I’m a lifelong resident of Minnesota and very proud to be so.

But that’s not why I’m writing to you today.

The other night, I had a long conversation with a dear friend of mine, who, because he’s gay, is unable to be with the man he loves because of restrictive immigration laws. They met in Florida a few years back, but it all ended when a work visa expired and his partner had to return to Jamaica. It was a very emotional conversation, and whereas I knew of his predicament, it wasn’t until that night that I felt the full gravity of what he goes through.

I’ve heard many arguments on both sides regarding why gays and lesbians should or shouldn’t be able to marry. Seeing those arguments unceremoniously presented on paper says one thing, but it’s a different matter all together when you see how these decisions made at the government level affect real people trying to be happy in lives that are looked down upon because of who they are. I’m a strong proponent for GLBT rights, but that night I had a newfound disgust in the pit of my stomach for the plight of so many citizens of this country that we proclaim to be the freest nation on Earth.

As a straight man, who’s been married and is currently going through a divorce, I hadn’t realized exactly what it is I take for granted. Almost on a whim, my wife and I decided to get married. We never thought twice about our ability to do so. So when I saw my friend, finally presenting the agony he’s been feeling for so long, I felt truly ashamed to be able to have certain rights, and take them for granted, while he could only yearn for them.

I’ve decided that I am not going to remarry. If in the near or distant future I find myself with a woman who I love, I will be with her, but I will not reenter an institution that is biased against so many. Not until marriage is an institution that is inclusive to all consenting adults.

At minimum, I urge you to support the Uniting American Families Act that will allow my friend to sponsor his partner. But truly, I urge you to do all in your capacity as a representative from Minnesota to create equality for all citizens: straight or gay.

Thank you very much for your time.

(If you agree that there are unjust laws in this country, I ask each and every one of you to do at least the minimum you can, and write a letter yourself.)

What’s a Guy Gotta do for Healthcare Reform?

February 19, 2010

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I certainly have a few questions. My head is full of them lately. Like, why does free ice cream taste better than purchased ice cream? Why does it seem that your feet hurt faster from standing around than from walking? And how did something so nonpartisan as one’s health become such a national uproar?

Now, this is mostly my ignorance. The healthcare debate, namely the one involving a single-payer system or something akin to it, has been raging for decades. And in my ignorance, I looked at this bubble of healthcare fanaticism in a confused way, for why would someone take arms against the guarantee of health provisions for the majority?

And from my original ignorance, this is what I’ve gathered: there’s a few select groups in this country who feel that by having universal healthcare we’ll become Socialist or even Communist, as well as groups who by principle don’t like the idea of their tax dollars benefiting others. Now, that might sound harsh, but look around. It’s true.

But I really don’t think that these people intend to be so harsh about it. At least not most of them. I prefer to think the best of people, and when it comes to topics like this, I can’t help but believe that a thorough amount of thought simply hasn’t been put forth. Like the people at the healthcare rallies holding signs that say “Keep your government hands off my Medicare”…there was obviously a lapse in linear thought with that one! But really, with Medicare as a model, can we realistically think the worst possible scenario with a public option in healthcare reform? The same arguments were made back in the ‘60s just before that program was signed into law; Socialism, Communism! But none of that happened. As a matter of fact, if anyone tried to take Medicare away, they’d be booted out of office so fast that we’d forget why we got rid of them.

And really, socialized programs aren’t evil. Think about that next time your house is on fire, or you need the police, or you’re taking a leisurely stroll through a park. Those are your tax dollars at work, providing services to the public that the private sector either feels it can’t profit from (public parks) or is too important to deny to anyone (police protection). I personally have a hard time differentiating the need for a doctor from the need for a fireman when the moment comes.

Don’t Mess With Texas

February 19, 2010

This state or political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

The above statement is the actual language used in a 2005 Texas Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Of course, the language used prior to this sentence was a bit more gay marriage specific, and this clause itself was supposed to be designed to make sure there were no slippery loopholes in which people could join in civil unions or domestic partnerships. Whew! Well, mission accomplished.

Funny thing is, and you don’t need me to tell you this, that the above statement is quite clear that the state of Texas will not recognize any marriage. What does that mean? Texas has figured out a way to ban marriage altogether.

As we speak, state legislators are furiously working to overturn the clause in the amendment. In the historical context of the United States, the institution of marriage isn’t something that the people are just going to want to give up, so it’s no wonder so many people are upset.

But let’s consider what else this clause means for a moment.

Texas has very effectively, at least for the time being, created true marriage equality statewide. GLBT rights activists have been working hard to get such equality by letting everyone have the opportunity to get married. Texas has thrown back the veils of concept and introduced as all to an alternative: if some of us can’t, then none of us can.

Marriage itself as an institution is a little confusing anyway. A primary tenet of the founding of this nation was the freedom of religion, and the only way to effectively do that was to separate church and state, since the influence of a particular faith in the government could conflict with the interest of another church wishing to exercise their rights. With marriage, though, religious clergy have been given the legal power to join people in lifelong partnerships recognized and enforced by the state.

But as it relates to Texas, have they not also found a way to create greater religious freedom as well? The amendment doesn’t say people can’t be joined in marriage recognized by god. It just says it won’t be recognized by the state. Therefore any and all conflicts of interest in the realm of marriage between faith-based institutions and the government are effectively severed. They can marry whoever they want now.

Maybe they should reconsider fixing this little glitch, and call it a social experiment. A world without marriage? Preposterous! Or is it? I’ve already given two examples of positives pertaining to the problem, so who’s to say there aren’t more? This could be the start of a brave new world in which government has very little power over its people, with Texas leading the way.

What a crazy world we live in, huh?