Love and Hate of Country

What does it even mean to “love your county“? Certainly, not romantic love, nor familial love in the strict sense. Surely it is deeper than celebrating a piece of art or rejoicing over a sporting event, though for some people at some times, both can surely reflect a deep, love. But a country is so much more than a piece of art or sibling. What does it truly mean to say you love or hate an entire country?

Putting aside the ancient philosophical question defining love and hate, accept Oxford’s symmetric definitions that these are intense feeling of affection or dislike. But what of “country”. Are we referring to the borders or the land within? To the government and the legal representatives of the people within those borders? To the people themselves, and if so, which subdivisions of the population? Or is the country’s history, it’s government’s deeds and people’s accomplishment, our focus? Does a country stand for something greater than itself? Humans are not so simple that one feeling could accurately reflect a country’s complexity and the full range of the feelings they hold towards a country, let alone the country of their birth.

Asserting that another person does or doesn’t not love our country is not merely offensive or hateful. It’s lazy. It’s cowardly. It shows us that the speaker will treat his audience like small children and recite fairy tales he knows to be false. Tales that dress the knight in white and the witch in black. Where the hero is fair and strong jawed, while the enemy some female, homo, swarthy corruption. Tales that strip us of our humanity by denying conflicting emotions or complex histories. Tales adults might yearn for but recognize as poor reflections of our actual country. Tales we tell, but know to be incomplete.

Unless, the speaker believes the fairy tales himself. In which case, why listen to him for anything besides entertainment?

Universal background checks are all about personal accountability

Washington State’s new universal background check law took effect today. Some gun rights activists will mark the occasion by gathering in Olympia on Dec 13 to hand each other guns, daring the police to arrest them. Police will mark the occasion by not doing so, because (as was said repeatedly during the campaign) I-594 doesn’t make that illegal.

I-594 never was about criminalizing such casual transfers. Nor was it about changing who is allowed to own a gun. It wasn’t even about expecting 100% compliance with background checks. Many people will still find a way to buy guns under the table. No, I-594 was about getting gun owners to take more personal responsibility when they sell guns, because not doing a background check can come back to bite you.

“If somebody committed a crime with a firearm, and if the source was tracked back to someone who didn’t do a background check of the person who they transferred the gun to, that to me would seem to be the most likely scenario where a law-enforcement official would take action,” says Mitch Barker, executive director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

In other words, if you’re about to sell a weapon to another person, I-594 has made it your business to make sure they are legally permitted to own it. This approach is totally in keeping with the character of Washington State. Most Washingtonians believe that law-abiding citizens have the right to own guns. But with that right comes great responsibility. Preventing the misuse of guns is everyone’s job, not just police, courts or mental health professionals.

The next step is to extend that responsibility to protect children. State Rep. Ruth Kagi plans to introduce a bill this year to make it a crime for someone to leave or store a loaded gun where a child could get access. Twenty-eight other states have similar laws, and Washington should too.

The Elephant in Metro’s Room

Last Tuesday’s election was not a vote against “transit”; it was a vote against Metro and the status quo. The King County Council, the City of Seattle, FUSE, business communities, labor communities, social justice communities, transit advocates, Seattle Subway, STB, myself, and many, many others asked our neighbors to keep funding Metro near the level it had been. All of us highly engaged, knowledgeable, and involved community activists knew how drastic the cuts to Metro would be; we tried to communicate how that pain would be felt by rich drivers and poor bus riders alike. But we missed – or intentionally ignored – the issue our larger community has always focused on. The bus service Metro provides kinda sucks.

Multiple transit, cycling, and pedestrians advocates I’ve spoken with over the last four years hold Metro in mild contempt. And we’re the people fighting for transportation and housing options that would make us MORE dependent on Metro’s services. Just look at the time Bruce Nourish has spent studying and writing about possible improvements or shortcomings. How many maps has Oran created that rock everything Metro publishes? Oy, even One Bus Away was created by grad students. Students … in school … doing FUCKING HOMEWORK … hacked code the County government for Microsoft, Amazon, Valve, Expedia, RealNetworks, et al. didn’t hack! And we’re surprised a good friend of mine – a bus-riding, medicine researching, self-described “tax and spend liberal” with a UPass – and at least 235,230 others voted to let Metro hang?

*facepalm*

Look, let’s get one thing clear; these failures are not the fault of Metro employees. Maybe … MAYBE … General Manager Kevin Desmond, but he’s the boss and it comes with the job. Every staff member I’ve spoken with has been open and willing to make improvements. But the staff’s hands are tied by their political overseers; the Route 42 saga is Exhibit A. The root cause of Tuesday’s defeat is the simple fact that for years, the King County Councils and the King County Executives have not provided the citizens a good service. They’ve defended Metro’s status quo ante with vigor and aplomb, but they haven’t taken the risks necessary to deliver what the voters need. Now the risk and the money is gone and citizens across the county will pay with hours instead of dollars.

One Way Out

John Boehner is a threat to national security. We could have avoided this crisis but for his ego. The House of Representatives could have passed a clean continuing resolution with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes soon after the government shutdown began, possibly before. It would simply take the Speaker of the House – John Boehner – to schedule and allow a vote on a continuing resolution or compromise with the Senate. Instead, our country and the industrialized world find itself on the brink of economic disaster. This could literally the moment in history when the American experiment begins to fade from greatness. Because one man is unwilling to risk his lofty position in government for the good of his country.

We must look like fools to the Chinese government, like children to the British. The Soviets thought we were an unpredictable threat and we’re proving it true to the Russians now. Someone, some nation, will capitalize on the historic opportunity if we default. We’re already eroding the confidence in our nation. Combined with our decade of wasteful, arrogant war and we look like a nation in decline. And John Boehner is allowing this car crash to happen.

He should resign immediately after allowing a vote on the current Senate deal or a clean CR. Let the majority of Representatives cut lose from the Tea Party and elect a new Speaker with a bipartisan majority. Historic times call for historic action and a coalition of House Leadership would be that.

John Boehner, for the good of your country, resign as Speaker of the House.

Seattle’s Next Mayor

Since July, I’ve had a bad feeling about the Seattle Mayor’s race. Ed Murray was collecting endorsements left and right, wealthy groups were funding a new PAC, and he had lined up the vast majority of official support from the Democratic party. Polls where trending his way and the other serious challengers fading with only a small shift in support to Mayor McGinn. I was thrilled when McGinn made it through the August Primary but things can’t be good when the sitting incumbent collects less than 30% of the primary vote.

Seattle is set to miss a huge opportunity. Mike McGinn is a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, passionate guy. He has the right vision for Seattle. That vision has obvious risks but uncertain opportunities for established interests. But it’s the vision we need. We need step function changes to address Climate Change. We need creative solutions to our transportation problems. We need balanced policies that enable fantastic economic prosperity while overcoming the continuing effects of institutional bigotry.  His strategic error at the beginning of his Mayoral term was to overemphasis opposition to those established interest and sour the relationships. Maybe, as Goldy suggests, he never really had a chance. The second half of his term has been markedly different, and he’s been quite effective despite the earned and unearned handicaps. Nevertheless, between the primary results, fund raising differences, and media coverage, I expect him to lose the election. The recent poll results reinforce that analysis.

I’m sure Ed Murray will be a fine, if status quo mayor. The lights will stay on, the streets will stay clean, and businesses will grow. But I don’t expect him to actively pursue the changes our city and nation need to address our key 21st Century problems. He’s lukewarm on completing the missing link and wants a Sound Transit to be even more regional than it is. How can he push for an overhaul of our transportation or land use system when he is using an outdated 20th century paradigm? I could be wrong – I actively hope I’m wrong – but I’ll put money on the table that says I’m right.

If McGinn loses, we’ll find out in the future. But until November 5th, I’ll continue supporting Mike and encourage others to do so as well.

[Edited: 16/10/2013 for grammar]

Time to Leave

The massacres across Egypt yesterday illustrate the tyranny of military rulers. Men who are taught, trained, and practice solving problems with violent tools will eventually fall back on those tools when confronting complex problems. Clearly the hope I felt at Morsi’s ouster was sorely misplaced. The irony that Morsi was displaced by the same authoritarian forced displaced three years ago is tragic. “Emergency” rule has returned. Citizens are executed by their government, such as it is.

The desire of US politicians, writers, and activists to “do” something is understandable. But we lack the diplomatic, military, or stealth tools to influence Egypt’s chaotic state. The best we can do in this case is to fall back on our own principles of Life and Liberty, promoting those ideals to all parties involved. We shouldn’t enable any side to suppress the other sides. Egyptian society is not our play thing. The Obama administration should therefore acknowledge the July 3rd coup for what it was and immediately end the military aid to Egypt. Pragmatism and realpolitik have their limits. It’s time the United States recognized our own.

The Syrian Do Nothing Option

One of the principles taught early in most – at least my two – engineering educations was that the “Do Nothing Option” is a legitimate course of action to address any problem. As options are considered, measured, and compared to one another, the results of taking no action should be considered. Of the pics piss-poor options facing the United States regarding the Syrian Civil War, the best option is to do nothing.

Arguably, this was not always the case. Perhaps early in the conflict, when it was primarily a secular and Sunni uprising against Baath party of Bashar Al-Asad, the United States and it’s allies could have come to their aid at a reasonable cost. It’s necessary to keep in mind however, that Syria wasn’t Libya or Mali. It has been a strong central state with a clear military advisory in Israel and long lasting Russian military support. At the time, Turkey wasn’t interested in hosting NATO war planes and Israel – obviously – wasn’t an staging option for attacking Syria. So the President and the EU powers demurred, waiting to see what would happen.

Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Shockingly, appallingly, Oh My G-d don’t touch that worse.

It’s so bad in fact, that most rebel groups the US and EU could align with are also fighting beside Islamist groups fighting to create a religious state of some form.

These are not the rebels you are looking for

Key Syrian Rebel Groups

Relationships and identities are so complicated, identifying who is who isn’t easy even for foreign policy minded US Senators. John McCain visited Syria last week and was photographed with known political kidnappers.  He claims this is untrue, but it is a sad illustration of the complexity of this civil war. There are more than one side in this fight and it is beyond the west’s ability to determine who wins the long struggle for eventual control of the country. And as in the run up to Iraq, few people are even asking if a country with these borders are worth saving. It is better, more moral, to do nothing now and prepare to help clean up the mess afterwards.

Conflicts of Memory

My middle name is Richard. I was named after my mother’s oldest brother – Richard Thomas Priddy –  who was killed on May 23rd, 1970 when the helicopter he was piloting crashed in Vietnam. I was born ten years later and grew up with the weight of his death. Though I’ve never been to war and do not have friends who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, I feel the weight of those lost deeply.

As the Iraq war was getting under way back in 2003, my mother cursed the war – with unusual vigor – that feckless politicians where sending men to die in another pointless war. She rarely spoke of her brother or his family, but their absence from my life has imprinted the costs of war onto me.

On every Memorial Day, with speeches given, friends remembered, and platitudes offered, I wrestle with the cost of our freedom. I wrestle with how we measure that cost. Vietnam has been a communist country for nearly 40 years and the United States’ freedom has not been threatened because of it. Al Qaeda and the Taliban were routed in months yet our men and women are still in Afghanistan. The Bush and Blair administrations were unequivocally wrong about the threat of nuclear weapons from an Iraq that actually posed no immediate threat to our freedom. Our families, friends, and nation have paid huge sums in these wars and have little net freedom to show for them. Arguably, we have less.

These costs were borne by our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. By their families and friends and communities and children who will grow up without parents. These are the costs to be remembered. Their loss is a loss to us all. But these losses must not be paraded about and abused in nihilistic rhetoric of political actors who beat the drums of war yet pay no costs. Our armed forces have entrusted their lives and their children’s futures to the wise decisions of civilian leaders and a voting public who must treat that trust with upmost care. If civilians are unwilling to pay that cost, we should not ask soldiers to pay it for us.

Policy > Party

It’s educational and entertaining reading Ta-Nehisi tear Rand Paul apart for his speech at Howard University. Ta-Nehisi has the the racial and metaphysical analysis down cold, others can speculate on the political game theory, though IHMO, Paul merely aiming to appear open-mindedness given his actual closed minded response to the post-speech criticism. Defensiveness is never an avenue for personal growth.

Nevertheless, Paul’s history is essentially true.

At Howard, he spoke for about an hour about how, historically, Democrats opposed integration and minority voting rights, while Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln. At Simmons, he talked about how blacks once registered in large numbers as Republicans, [and] how Democrats in Kentucky opposed constitutional amendments that gave African Americans expanded rights.

It was Northern Republicans who sought the limitation and abolition of slavery while Southern Democrats defended it. Before the Civil War, it was Andrew Jackson – a Democrat – who enabled the ethnic cleansing of First Nation tribes in the south via the Trail of Tears, and it was John Calhoun who – as a Democrat – led the defense of Slavery in the US Senate . The parties generally switched “sides” in the early 20th Century and the Democrats are now generally the defenders of civil and minority rights.

Paul is arguing that a party’s history should be more important to African American’s than it’s current policies. That the label should override the content of the message. This tells me that he either lacks stronger arguments for why Blacks should support the GOP – he does, though he may not realize it – or that he places more importance belonging to a Party than to the real world effects of the policies his Party advocates.  Neither is flattering.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Calhoun

Equal Protection of the Laws

I remember standing in my dinning room in 1996, reading about DOMA in Carson City’s morning paper, thinking that it wasn’t such a big deal and not understanding why it was controversial. I was 16, focused on school and swimming, lived a very homogenous corner of the US, and didn’t know any out gay people besides my sister and aunt. They seemed happy every time I saw or spoke with them, so what’s the big deal if the federal government wants to protect Alabama from Hawaii. There were many things – bigotry, the tax code – I failed to understand that morning but what is clear now, is that DOMA is unconstitutional. We should never accept a federalist approach that gradually “grant rights” to an oppressed minority. Civil rights belong to every citizen and are not to be “granted” by a benevolent majority but simply recognized by a tolerant, efficient government.

As the 14th Amendment says…

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [Emphasis mine]

Let’s take three lessons from this small story and disgraceful but thankfully relatively short period of American history. First, talk openly, honestly, and fairly about civic issues in front of your children. Second, the 14th Amendment is a wonderful and powerful addition to our founding document. And finally, civic issues and public policy has real impact to actual people. Never forget that.