Clean Elections and St Louis

While reading Steve Patterson today, I read about the new campaign finance laws (or lack of) for St Louis. Right now, if you are running for alderman, you can only accept individual donations of up to $325 per person or business, or if you are running for a city-wide position, $1275. Those donation limits will be curbed as of January 1, 2007, making unlimited contributions a possibility.
I am against this for several reasons. One, it disenfranchises the everyman from becoming the alderman. You are essentially putting more money into the election process, allowing a person to write his/her own check for their campaign. One great thing about the aldermanic races is that, in many wards, it's a low-turnout election, so grassroots campaigns have a great chance at succeeding. Allowing candidates unlimited donations essentially neutralizes the power of the people and puts the power in the pockets.
Two, having campaign donation limits assures that one person just can't write a check to put a candidate in his/her pocket. As the new rules will stand, theoretically, any one person could write a check that completely funds a candidates campaign and could use that person to his/her advantage or to benefit his/her own personal agenda. Washington is corrupted by political donations. It's the reason our government is so screwed up and so enabling of large corporations: reciprocity is expected or reelection is threatened. One could argue that you can raise the same amount of money using either method, but having donation limits forces a candidate to get funding from several sources, which is more representative of a democracy than getting money from just one source.
Obviously, those in power are not going to give up their power without a struggle. Elected officials will continue to accept campaign funding wherever they can get it, and, as a consequence, will continue to vote in big donors' best interests, not the common people's. People will continue to get fucked, both by big businesses and by the government. I believe there are three solutions:
One, everyone needs to realize that we, as people, do have power. Small groups of committed people are the only thing that have ever changed the world, and to resign ourselves to helplessness is going to ensure than no change occurs. If you feel helpless, do something. Join one of the thousands of local groups that are fighting to change things right now.
Two, mobilize non-voters. So many people who get fucked by government don't vote. If we could mobilize those missing voters to all elections at all levels, by getting them to realize that their vote can make a difference in their lives, major changes can happen. It's easy to feel like you are helpless and that your vote won't really matter, but, especially at the local level, your vote can and does make a difference. You should have to register to vote when you sign up for any type of social services, get your driver's license, or register for the draft. Two elections that impact people in a tangible way on the local level are school board elections and, here in St Louis, alderman elections. Although in smaller municipalities, they may be largely ceremonial positions, they do make real decisions about the workings of cities and schools.
Three, work to change the election system as it exists now. Until money is out of elections and representative government, and elected officials aren't just rich people, with rich friends, primarily representing the interests of the rich, things will continue to be corrupt and we won't have a government that really represents the interests of the people. In the state of Maine, candidates can choose to run as a "clean" candidate after voters passed the "Clean Election Act," which states (from their website) The law was passed by Maine voters in a referendum in 1996 and came into effect in 2000. Candidates who demonstrate citizen support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions from voters within their districts (50 contributions for a State House race, 150 for the state Senate, and 2,500 for a gubernatorial race) are eligible for fixed and equal campaign funding from the Clean Election Fund. To receive their money, candidates must agree to forgo all private contributions (including self-financing), and limit their spending to the amount from the fund. Participating Clean Money candidates are also given an additional one-for-one match if they are outspent by non-complying opponents or are the target of independent expenditures (such as ads produced by a group not associated with the opposing candidate). Candidates who reject the option of Clean Money or who fail to qualify are still free to collect private money under the existing system.
In the 2004 elections, 71% of candidates chose to run "clean," and over half of "clean" candidates won their elections. Because of clean candidates, Maine passed the Dirigo Health Reform Act, which aims to improve health care quality, expand access to health care, and contain health care costs. Citizens are integral in the process of health care reform, and have been included in planning using a "21st Century Town Meeting" model. This was possible due to candidates being elected by Clean Money. Elected officials are accountable to people, not lobbyists or big donors. They are free to make decisions that have their constituents' best interests in mind, not their biggest donors.
This, I think, is the biggest, most effective change we can enact. Think of how the demographics of candidates would change! People who would never even consider running for office could now run and actually have a chance to win. This is what democracy is supposed to look like.


Witnessing History

Only moments ago, one of the greatest moments in reality television history occured, and I didn't even see it coming.

Some background: one of the tribes on Survivor, threw the immunity challenge to get rid of the overweight, lazy, metalhead. After the challenge, dude is looking for some sympathy and says randomly to another tribe "I'm the next to go." One of the girls in the other tribes says, "Aw, we love you." Dude hesistates and says, "I love you, too."

Flash forward to Tribal Council. Dude is clearly getting voted off, but randomly in the pre-vote questioning, he busts out with, "It doesn't matter if I get voted off. I found true love on the island. With Candace" Candace being the girl who said "Aw, we love you," which were probably the first words she ever spoke to the guy.

In the sweetest TC moment ever, Jeff Probst visibly shits his pants. Because Dude? Is serious. Dead serious. This guy thinks that an offhand remark during an obviously awkward situation is a clear indicator of reciprocated love. So awesome, because you can actually pinpoint the moment his tribe goes from "Voting Dude Out Because He Doesn't Do Shit" and "Dude Is Batshit Crazy. Restraining Order Necessary."

It's unfortunate, because I think a lot of people wrote this Survivor off because of the ratings ploy of the racially divided tribes, and they missed this totally unpromoted, but awesome scene. It's like a little gift from the editors for showing up.

I promise, it is way more awesome if you watch it. I'm sure it will be on the Soup, but you could probably catch it via YouTube.


Lazy Activism

If you are like me, and are civic-minded and interested in making your voice heard, but don't always have time to make protest placards and attend every protest for every cause you believe in, and also enjoy spending inordinate amounts of time on the internet, you might be interested in online action campaigns. There are several for progressive causes. Basically, they create letters/e-mails/faxes to your elected officials to let your voice be heard. They work, too. Code Pink for Peace caused chaos in Washington when they phone/fax bombed senators and congressmen/women on a specified day in 2004. Anyway, here are some I frequent:

MoveOn's campaigns are progressive and political and call for change in our current government.

National Resources Defense Council covers all things environmental.

The Human Rights Campaign works for equal rights for the GLBT community.

Amnesty International works to prevent human rights' violations around the world.


Media Mentions

Several media sources/comments of note:

Mother Jones' current newstand issue is their 30th anniversary issue, and it rocks. There are awesome articles about voting fraud and disenfranchisement, immigration, Iraq, and Guantanamo. There's also a funny-but-scary retrospect on predictions made over the years about where our country is/was heading.

Yes! Magazine is a progressive, ad-free magazine that focuses on positive changes in our society, published quarterly. Teachers can get free one-year subscriptions. The latest issue is on health care, namely a call for universal, single-payer health care. There are a lot of critics of single-payer health care, but American's health care costs more than any other country in the world, yet we are nowhere near the top as far as health of citizens or quality of care. More Americans are currently uninsured or underinsured that ever before, yet pharmceutical companies are experiencing record profits. Fucked up. Online, if you want it.

The Amazing Race started last night. Awesome, as usual, except for the fact that the team of two Muslim men and the Hindu couple were eliminated first and second. I was looking forward to some diversity, but I can't help but think that conservatives who believe in "Islamofascism" cheered when the Muslims were first to sequesterville, and that made me sad. TAR is such a strong contrast to the backstabbing, conniving, disgusting display of humanity that is Big Brother, specifically Big Brother All-Stars. If any of you watched the finale of that show, I'm pretty sure that it was last week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us. TAR actually makes their people, you know, hustle and work hard using their own skills and talents to stay on the show, not sleep with people, "showmance", or showcase other, um, talents (Mike Boogie, I'm looking at you, you chauvanistic, superficial, shallow, washed-up, has-been, played-out, coattail-riding, no-talent ass clown. I'm pretty sure if I ever ran into you on the street, I would, honest to God, punch you in the taint and then spit on you. Uppercut, bitch.)

I also, via YouTube, caught up with Weeds' second season. Hands down, the best comedy on TV. Period. Awesome writing, awesome storylines, awesome satire, awesome acting. Justin Kirk AND Kevin Nealon? As stoners? So freaking sweet I can't believe it. If you don't believe me, get on YouTube, search "weeds" and "masturbation" and check out that video. I dare you. Unfortch, while I taught myself to knit (inspired by Sha-Na-Na-Na) and watched Weeds, I decided to follow by checking out Season Three of Laguna Beach. I'm not even going to say anything about that show other than I am glad my students aren't rich and I got dumber by watching it. I unlearned how to knit and had to reteach myself, all in one day, because my brain almost exploded from hearing the words "like," "dude," and "random" eight million times.


A Haiku for 9/11

One of my students turned this set of haikus in to my student teacher today.

Going to the club
dressed in drag shakin' my thang
daddy isn't proud

Standing in the street
pulling up my pantyhose
god this chafing sucks

Went into his room
selling my hidden secret
Guess what's in my pants

Have to make money
to get my operation
I need a new vag.

Well, I guess they are about nature, in a roundabout way.


Bastard People

One of my greatest kids, a girl who undoubtedly will go far (and a baller soccer player), sat down and talked to me today about racism. Apparently, she joined a new club soccer team this year, and the girls, the vast majority of whom are upper-middle to upper class, all of whom are white, have repeatedly proved themselves to be racist and homophobic. This girl is part Filipino and totally an Ally. Some girls on her team refer to her as Mexican and tell her "I'm going to take away your green card". They use words like "nigger" "spick" and "faggot" in everyday conversations.
This took me aback for several reasons: one, it's 2006, assholes; two, I'm so used to the diversity of our school, where if you dropped a racial slur such as those listed above, somebody is bound to kick your ign'ant ass and everyone has friends of different colors; three, even if you are from lily-white St Charles or a cracker private school, isn't your racism supposed to be more...covert? and four, you are claiming to be an elite female athlete and you are homophobic? I'm not trying to perpetuate stereotypes, but you better be down with some lesbians if you are going to play a sport in college, because you are bound to play with a few.
I don't think it's from being sheltered. My parents never knew brown people their whole lives until I was in grade school, pretty much, and if I would have said "nigger," et al, my mom would have beat my ass. You don't have to live in diversity to value it, along with tolerance and understanding. I just don't understand how teens today, living in a culture where so much art and entertainment, including sports and the media, is a forum for diversity. I'm not naive--I know racism exists. Like Avenue Q says, everyone's a little bit racist. But I thought it was in smaller pockets, less overt, and certainly not as blatently ignorant as what my student is facing. What's frustrating is that she feels as though she is fighting a losing battle. She desperately wants to take a stand and put some learning on their asses, but she's new to the team and is already fighting alienation. She has the typical need to belong that most teenagers have, but she's smart enough to know that silence is compromising who she is. I want to call her mom--only because I know her mom will kick some ass, but my student really wants to handle it herself. She needs the team to reach her soccer goals, but she knows that this intolerance makes her character fundamentally different from these girls, and doubts as if her one voice will change these girls. My other kids, of course, want to just kick their asses and be done with it, but that obviously won't solve any problems. I kind of want her to be able to have an awesomely snarky retort for everything ignorant they could say, but even if she outwitted them at every turn, there would be no one around to appreciate her snark. Because it would be awesome if, after they referred to her as "Mexican", she referred to them as "Spoiled, oblivious, morally bankrupt, repressed future lesbians" (which I'm fairly certain at least a few of them are) but they wouldn't get it. We're brainstorming solutions, many of which involve my kids rolling up melting-pot style and being super-nice to all of the girls to to fuck with them, or t-shirts with awesome tolerance-supporting phrases. If you have any solutions, let me know.