Lesser Evils (Pence)

Lesser Evils

There has been some talk of impeaching Donald in response to all the drivel we have had to endure from him. Heck, they were talking about before he even won the presidency. More recently, five months in, those calls have been growing more numerous. While it might seem like it would be satisfying to have Donnie be our next impeachment victim, it could possibly turn out to be far worse.

If Donald steps down we will have Mike Pence eagerly awaiting to replace him. The two barely got on during the campaign and were found contradicting one another several times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the next administration might be more competent at taking away our rights. Mike Pence is known for his discriminating policies against the LGBT community, his ban on abortions, and general dislike of immigrants and refugees. Donald may have used Pence to get better footing in the religious right demographic because we never really think of Donald as religious. Donald’s god is greed. Pence’s god may be something similar but it also comes with all that baggage from trying to press religion on state politics. This is something that since the beginning America has tried to avoid with the separation of church and state.

The anti-women’s choice movement, be it over their jobs or reproductive rights, has gained positions in places of power. There is some truth to the saying that ‘this is a Christian nation’. Let’s say instead though, that our country has a Christian nation, as well as a Jewish nation, and Muslim, and every other denomination you could possibly think of. However, it is a certain segment of Christians that seem more apt to bring their religion into public and state law, while passing their blatant discrimination off as religious freedom. This hurts not only women but also other disenfranchised minorities in the country.

Recently, Civia Tamarkin and Luchina Fisher released their documentary Birthright: A War Story. It revolves around the increasing restrictions on abortions in America. Even the current administration is trying to get rid of access to contraceptives as well as other important civil liberties. With Pence in the office the road toward Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale only gets shorter.

The Distracted

 

After the political dust settled and Donald was put in the Oval Office, Mark Zuckerberg came out to downplay the idea that Facebook had any hand in the spreading of misinformation which may have caused people to vote a certain way during the election. Mark called it crazy (Romm, Wagner, 2017). Then in the end of April the Facebook security team released a pdf report admitting that political debate online suffered due to “information operations”.

So, even though we have this amazing new tool to research and check facts, a lot of people are using it to do the exact opposite with cruel intention. What makes this scenario even more difficult is that over the years a certain portion of the GOP’s supporters have not only been fed misinformation, they actively explain away blatant signs of collusion and corruption (Dale, 2017.) If Ronald was the 20th century’s bizarre form of media demagoguery, then Donald is the 21st century’s.  Their expectations of what they have been led to believe becomes a one-way track to what they perceive as the truth. In this bizarre case of the political nocebo effect, they have been told the media are the enemy and so in every case will expect them to be liars.

A good portion of the public has created their own self-fulfilling narrative and reality. Matt Taibbi talks heavily on this subject in his 2008 book “The Great Derangement”. He explains how it isn’t just politicians that have lost touch with Americans, it is also the other way around. Many Americans have lost faith in authority and they have become addicted to being told exactly what they want to hear. He also points out that not much has changed from Nixon in 1972, to Ronald, to Donald today (Potter, 2017).

Neuroscientist Bobby Azarian has pointed out that even though the truth may be out there and Donald’s supporters may have even heard it from a respectable source they will ignore it. Some though, are unaware they are misinformed at all. He explains the Dunning-Kruger effect as this ignorance of ignorance, a hyper-sensitivity to threat, being reminded of one’s own mortality (terror management theory), and high attentional engagement (Azarian, 2016). With high attentional engagement, we see people tuning out to Hillary’s snore fest and we see people loving the sensationalism of Donald’s charisma. But obviously, the entire country doesn’t fit this mold.

Let us not forget about our non-voters and anti-trump Americans. For many of them politics is so nonsensical there is no point in trying to fix it or change it. However, for many more still, it is not that they think that fixing the system would be a waste of time, it is that they don’t have the time to fix it. One doesn’t have to look far to see the economic disparity we have in the greatest nation on earth. The gap between the rich and the poor has only increased. The American public doesn’t have the time of day or the human energy needed to continue to protest day in and day out for a better system, especially when they have to put bread on the table. It has gotten to the point where most are content just to survive. “Please at least leave us alone in our living rooms, let me have my toaster and my TV and just leave me alone.”

First, they pander to you, then they offer you the American Dream, then you work until you die, then they win.

 

 

The Distractors

 

It was both Republicans and Democrats that fueled the fear-mongering and distractions during the Cold War. This policy was a huge step away from American isolationism before the World Wars. Suddenly the public was perfectly content with waging proxy wars through Muslim fanatics and in countries all around the world that had no interest in ever actually invading us. These surges in fear play a familiar tune. Their dreadful pessimistic language spreads like wild and when it reaches ideas like border walls and deportations, they burn like an underground coal fire. Sensationalism.

Incumbents on both sides of the aisle have cemented their respective parties and positions in an institution meant to be open and representing of us. Then they turn the blind eye and start to work on vanity projects while scratching the backs of those that donated to their campaign. They allow amendments to bend to keep the distraction game going and loop around into every hole worth its capital. The public just keeps voting for them. We live in an age of transparent corruption; which is not exactly the type of transparency that encourages participation. What system is it then that we are a part of, when almost half of the country doesn’t turn out to vote and our representatives have perverted the basic concept of their job description?

The gap between our representatives and their constituency leads to weird politics. Plato’s philosopher kings are nowhere to be found, what we have is a collection of wanna-be do-gooders, vanity clients and self-professed messiahs. All of them are spending more time trying to get reelected instead of making good policy for a successful 21st century transition. They point to bathrooms and borders as if they were an election issue. We have real issues to work on that involve helping all of us and not attacking a minority of American citizens for no reason. We stopped having real conversations too long ago. Bigotry disguised itself too easily as the defender of freedom.

If America itself doesn’t itself become an unfortunate footnote in history, then surely the past 60 years will be. The major news networks have cemented for themselves an audience and abandoned any idea of journalistic responsibility. The FCC may soon do the same for the internet and sell us all out for a forcibly mutated version of justice. Unfortunately, most of the voting population has landed itself in some self-fulfilling egotistically illogical loop. So, they elected a two-bit crook and an absolute bellend.

The jump from radio, to television, and then quickly onto the worldwide web could not be properly regulated in a political atmosphere of dread, anxiety, and empty election promises. We are now exercising a 200-year-old constitution in the 21st century all on 10,000-year-old processors, unanticipated problems are bound to come up. Both a representative congress and an informative media were tools and processes our ancestors implemented to avoid tyranny and misinformation. However, these problems don’t simply go away. There is truth to the saying; there ain’t no rest for the wicked. Democracy is a tyrant incubator and if one is to defend the ideals of transparency, equality, and justice, one must be willing to fight for it at all times. There are no time outs and as technology progresses the rules keep getting more complex. It is in this complex of gerrymandering, lobbying, Super PACs, and concealed contributions that we lose sight of ourselves, our community and our democracy.

At the end of the day it may be their game. They set the board, draw up the lines and make the rules. It took George Watson a decade to get the 27th Amendment ratified. Before that, congress would raise their own pay and give themselves special tax breaks. The amount of work that had to be done just to add a smidge of financial oversight to our representatives is quite silly. Watson stated that he further supports amendments to establish “term limits and fiscal discipline.” However, he says, “because the partisan gridlock is so strong in today’s politics at both the state and national levels, it may very well be a long, long time before the Constitution sees its 28th Amendment (Heltman, 2012).

Americans now have the opportunity to decide, yet again, is this how it is going to be? Is this what we want in our government? Could the alternative really be worse? How long can we abide by perceived necessary evils and corruption? Hopefully not too much longer. You can blame the distractors, you can blame the distracted and you can blame the system. It is a shared responsibility. Unfortunately, we can point fingers all day but it will accomplish nothing. Talk is cheap and we still hold the power to vote them in and out. We hold the power of the internet to search, and question, and come to our own conclusions. The problem here is that a good portion of people are not inclined to seek out perspective, certainty or justice or any of those ‘elitist’ ideals longer than two syllables. They just want to be in the right and they are perfectly content to explain away anything that doesn’t match up with what they have been told is normal. And perhaps they are right to stick their collective heads in the sand, perhaps this is normal and the only way to get by in America today, but it doesn’t have to be. The powers that be love a good status quo but it is the public’s decision to give it to them. Even the most vicious of circles can be broken.

 

 

 

 

The Distraction Game

The Distraction Game

New technology and arrogance continue to be a dangerous mix. Particularly when it comes to new communication technology and the spreading and sharing of information. In the 20th century the metaphorical double-edged sword was taken up and blindly swung around. The radio was utilized by not only the Nazi regime but the United States and Great Britain as well. While it was a great tool for citizens to gain information, it was also a superb tool for governments to abuse information and create a specific narrative. The great powers of World War II all used this technology to further their missions. Moving into the Cold War, America was spreading the good capitalist word in Eastern Europe with Radio Free Europe.  The youth of many western nations began tuning into off-shore radios, similar to the one depicted in the movie Pirate Radio, to listen not just to new music but to the new ideas that were purposefully being kept from them. Even leaders of the western free world at the time were trying to down play and stop such ideas from spreading. Even with the radio, the spreading, sharing, and management of information and entertainment was complicated. Denmark had the first radio station from international waters in 1958. However, before anyone even had a chance to distinguish the bullshit radio waves and talk shows from the plausible ones, the 50s came and brought with it the next wave in communicating technology; the television.

In the West, networks took off running. Each of them trying to get the most viewers for their advertisers so they could stay profitable and afloat. Video killed the radio star and didn’t stop there. Television went on to slowly bludgeon the truth to death in the name of profit. The actual information stopped being important. “An entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube!”, says Howard Beale from the 1976 movie The Network. After this generation stepped up in the world we saw, what was in the 50s, the unthinkable. The fear of atomic war landed us with the cutest rosy-cheeked President we have ever had. Reaganomics took ahold of the nation and we grew further and further away from the ideas of the New Deal. Greed is, of course, good. And insane amounts of concentrated capital are a water basin of wealth just waiting to be distributed to the work-willing masses, or so that old story goes. This story coupled with the fear of the Cold War was distracting people from certain realities. Since 1980, homes, rent, healthcare, education, insurance, and don’t forget petrol, all increased in pricing while wages stagnated and have remained the same. Economics became cruel, workers became disposable and social programs were now looked at in the same disdain as a swastika. While people were watching Dallas, Cheers, and the NFL, the future of America was being outsourced and indexed. The country that held up a banner of freedom for the world was slowly but surely leaving most of their own minorities in the dirt and no one at the networks blinked an eye.

The networks of the 1970s played on their viewers fears, Vietnam was on the television, nuclear war an ever-present danger and before they knew it Ronald McReagan was being sworn into office. An American TV and Movie personality. At the time of the election he was accused of delaying the release of American hostages in Iran with the help of Ayatollah Khomeini to make sure Carter lost. These scandalous events happening right before Presidential elections are not uncommon in the second half of the century. So much so that they have come to be known as October surprises. Clinton and Donald were both hit by these. Perhaps what is more unsettling though is the surprises that don’t make the list. Regardless, it seems that the ambition to use new technologies like the radio in the World Wars, the television during the Cold War, and the internet during the War on Terror, is always used to mislead and misrepresent rather than what it could be used for; creating an informed public debate. It was through these terrifying and desperate times that people lost the energy and power to think for themselves. The motivation was always there, but something was distracting them.

Today, the internet and personal computers are the greatest distraction machine ever conceived. It may have the ability to better connect and understand the world, but a tool is only as good as its master. During the past election, Hillary unfortunately offered no real amount of change for most Americans and her understanding of our newest technology bit her on the ass. On the other hand, Donald and his twitter account, well he offered us the greatest reality TV show of all time. This cringe worthy train-wreck entertainment is an insult to 20th century activist movements. However, insulting it is, it doesn’t make it any less effective for manipulating a generation of people who grew up on the tube and then shuffled over to YouTube. For every step taken forward in advancing a decent, fair, and just America, our new president will take us leaps and bounds backwards. Or perhaps his ineptitude will just bring us to a screeching halt, if we are lucky.

With every new wave in technological advancement brings both new hope and new concerns. The information age has already proven to be the ultimate Panem et Circenses. This is the idea of superficial appeasement for luring the general public into service that dates all the way back to the Roman empire. With public access to the world’s well of information how is it that people are being distracted so easily? How can we take a stand against the age-old excuse of ‘fake news’? And perhaps most importantly, what are we specifically being distracted from?

Perhaps, we may never know what it is that we are being distracted from. Maybe it is the downgrading of regulations on banks even after, yet another, economic down turn. This would entrench private interests in our political and economic system even further. Then again it could be a resurgence of the failed drug war that they are going after, as Sessions recently moved to lengthen sentences. It isn’t insane that the Russia scandal itself might be a distraction from taking away millions of Americans healthcare. With Planned Parenthood and the EPA being targeted; women are losing their right to choose and we are all losing our right to clean air and not being slowly poisoned without consent. Still, while all this is happening and our president is tweeting out either hateful rhetoric or complete gibberish, he is simultaneously destroying the future of America’s environment by opting out of the Paris Climate Agreements.

If this is the America we deserve, we will soon find out. If there is to be any chance for the next generation to have any semblance of a good life three things should happen:

A continued focus on real issues

Investigate Donald’s campaign for ties to Russia

Don’t give them an inch; write, call, protest

Other than that, well, just sit back and enjoy the show. Get the laughs in now. There might not be too many left to go around.

 

 

Mozart, Mountains, and Hemp: Welcome to Grastria

It was a cloudy morning in Vienna, stoners, metal heads, vegans, punks, mothers, fathers, children, handicapped, old, young, foreign and native had gathered outside the Westbahnhof on May 2nd 2015. An insane collection of diverse people came together to protest the decades old prohibition of cannabis this month with Hans Söllner and band giving a free performance at the beginning. The march was part of a Global Cannabis March with millions of people from over 250 cities taking part. For these people Grass is normal. It is drinking a coffee, having a beer or taking vitamins in the morning. For more still it is more similar to going to church, praying five times a day or reflecting and meditating on one’s own life.

Unfortunately, the Hanf Wandertags organized in Vienna over the past few years has yet to receive recognition in the form of new public policy from political representatives. The curious case of cannabis has for years remained underground. Now it is slowly but surely coming out and into the light. Grow shops, activists, artists and many more passed out fliers and information about the medicinal benefits of the plant. The sun then finally came out as those participating in the march waved flags and danced along to DJ trucks on their way to Heldenplatz. Many even smoked while hiking through the Vienna streets with police just meters away. Lucky the police did not want to turn a peaceful demonstration into a hash filled riot.

Some local grow shops passed out free smoking supplies and small cannabis plants (stecklinge). Lawyers also passed out advertisements in the form of smoking supplies with their names and information written on them. Organizations supplied leaflets, showing that the march isn’t just about encouraging a new industry, it is about education too.

As the crowd moved through the city many people came out of storefronts and windows to take pictures and see what all the commotion was about, some even danced along and cheered. The protest had an over all positive atmosphere. Although none of the major political parties dared to join or show support the Austrian Greens, KPÖ, PiratenPartei und Plattform der Unabhängigen made an appearance. At the end of the day the question is; what does the Austrian government really fear about legalizing Cannabis? There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding the substance.

While humans have used Cannabis for centuries it was only very recently that it has been prohibited. The tide certainly turned for legal cannabis advocates with the allowance for medicinal use of the substance. When people started to realize that the plant had medicinal qualities suddenly everything that had been said about it the past came into question. Synthetic medicinal Marijuana is sold regularly in Austria with a physician’s prescription. Even seeds and stecklinge can be purchased in shops. However, the sale of THC is still strictly prohibited.

Although research over the years has been severely blocked we still know quite a lot about it. Cannabis contains psychotic and anti-psychotic compounds, THC and CBD. They work to subtly change the effects and balance each other out. The reason cannabis works so well is because of the similarities it shares with our own natural neurotransmitters. The dosage is also an important factor to consider. All drugs influence maximally at small dosages, while too much can produce an opposite effect. Without this information widely and easily available to the public, how can anyone be expected to use any substance responsibly or as a medicine?

In 1970 Richard Nixon ratified the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Many of America’s allies at the time followed this strategy of prohibition despite contradictory evidence. Nixon stood politically to the right and this put him in direct opposition to certain grass roots movements that were developing at the time. The prohibition of cannabis was a cold and politically calculated move that actually had less to do with the plant and more to do with who was associated with it. This included pacifists against the Vietnam War, people against nuclear proliferation, people against racial and sexual discrimination and censorship. The rest of the world, including Western Europe, simply had to play along with the Cold War game.

The Cold War eventually ended and the wall came down. Now many world leaders are speaking out against the classification of Cannabis as a dangerous drug. Several world leaders gathered this September with the Global Commission on Drug Policy to announce a new approach called Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work. They call for a move toward public health and social investment and away from criminalization. This comes with the understanding that to actually stop addiction abusers need treatment not punishment.  Death and prison sentences for minor drug abuse in this perspective are essentially human rights violations. The idea now is that drugs become more dangerous when they are illegal. The government, not criminals, should control drugs with a more sophisticated regulation system. This can reduce the power that black market organizations have. The solution calls for regulation and responsible institutions. While many claim this is an unrealistic plan the Commission maintains that an evidence and fact based policy is feasible and necessary.

The important part in attempting to legalize this drug is moderation and information. We need to explain to teens that both cannabis and alcohol can harm the brain during development. We also need to make sure companies do not take advantage of legalization and try to market cannabis to children. It should be legal for any citizen to grow their own so that patients who use cannabis will not be reliant upon a firm or distributer. A black market for cannabis and many other substances will always exist. After years of failed prohibition, providing the public with real information on substances and not propaganda is a better solution.

There have been many regions around the world that have legalized Cannabis and they have yet to see negative results. In Switzerland possession of less than 10 grams has been decriminalized. Most German Bundesländer from Berlin down to Bayern also allow for possession of small amounts without jail time. The Czech Republic has recently allowed for limited medical marijuana. In Spain growing for personal use has been legalized, while possession in public and sale are still illegal. Spain also has around 500 Cannabis Clubs where one must be a member to smoke, 200 of these clubs are in Barcelona. The Netherlands is the most liberal with their cannabis laws. Coffee shops are legal to smoke in but not legal to sell from, though this is not strongly enforced. These are just examples from Europe. Many States in the USA have adopted medicinal marijuana and several states and cities have legalized possession and sale. In South America many states are pushing for legalization of cannabis to lessen the revenue of organized gangs. Uruguay has gone so far as to legalize cannabis nationwide. Austria can learn a lot from these countries and maybe even look to them as models for the future of legal Cannabis.

In Austria it is still illegal and can possibly result in jail time for possession and sharing, though consumption is actually legal. It is now time for the country to push for legalization and have a nationwide conversation on how this will be done. What kind of Cannabis policy could be acceptable? The Czech model, with decriminalization and medicinal access for patients who could use a healthier and cheaper alternative to prescription drugs that can be more dangerous, could be an option. Or perhaps Austria might want to increase tourism through legalization; instead of Dutch coffee shops there could be Cannabis Jägerhutte. Or if a more secure method of access is wanted Cannabis Social clubs may be the answer. In the end we may see an entirely new Austrian model for legalization. Needless to say the conversation needs to come out into the main stream. While some political parties have cautiously voiced the need for reform it is nowhere near enough. It is time to stop whispering and start talking.