Heads Up “Lawmakers,” this one is gonna sting a little…


This is my second installment in the “Heads Up” series.

My son made an interesting comment the other evening over dinner. We were discussing a new law passed in San Francisco that requires cell phone retailers to include a warning about radiation emitted by cell phones, when I made a rather bitter comment about how the law will get crushed once enough lobbying money is mobilized by the wireless phone industry. My wife added a comment about how several European studies linking cancer to cell phones will not be enough to jolt our populace past the lobbyist funded media cloud, “assuring” us that cell phones meet acceptable federal safety standards. I replied, “who do you think paid to set those supposed safety standards.” My son, 11, put his fork down, and said, “I can’t believe we live in such a corrupt country.”

Well, this wasn’t exactly the response we expected, or wanted. Both my wife and I spent the next five minutes assuring him that we live in a great country, and explaining how lawmakers and lobbyists work. We sort of glazed over the money aspects, and I’m not totally sure my son was convinced that we fully believed what we were saying. He’s heard our take on dozens of similar issues, from small things like cell phones to Wall Street. He’s heard us discuss how life might be a little less marred by nonsense in New Zealand, and ponder if it was possible to relocate before “it was too late.” I have no idea what “too late” means, but my son has been listening. We’re not happy with the direction of affairs in our great Republic, and guess what? I don’t think we’re alone.

Right now, you’re probably convinced we’re liberal activists. Not really.  Yeah, the move out of the country theme sounds very Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins-esque, but I assure you this isn’t completely the case. I don’t like to typecast, because this evokes expectations and a silo approach to thinking. Too many of us are stuck in silos, liberal or conservative…you can’t see very much outside of your silo. Independent? Another label, unfortunately. So, where do we fall on the spectrum? Who cares. I care about issues, and how they affect my family. Sounds selfish, but oddly enough, I haven’t come across many challenges that can’t be served by this litmus test, or any greater societal issues that wouldn’t be well served by it. Some examples?

I don’t want to pay more taxes (sounds conservative)…not because of a deep-seated political belief, but because I don’t want to lose more money from my paycheck. Who does? I feel like I pay enough right now, and I haven’t yet felt the sting of paying self-employment taxes on royalties for my latest novel. 15.3% (12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare) on top of federal and state taxes…not a bad deal for Uncle Sam. I wake up at 4:45 every morning, and write for a few hours, so our government can pay off their loans to Wall Street. Or is it the other way around. Nobody is quite sure. I would, however, pay more in property taxes to fund the new intermediate school proposed for our town…because we really need it.  Convince me that any tax increase will go to infrastructure building or initiatives designed to wean us off foreign oil…and I’ll gladly pay a little more. Though I suspect there is plenty of money collected each year to pay for these things, if our “lawmakers” could achieve a competent level of “lawmaking.” On the flip side, I see a war brewing with Iran, and a relatively futile decade old conflict in Afghanistan, that I don’t care to fund with my taxes (now I’m a liberal hippie).

I would love less government (conservative), and less regulation (very conservative)…because I think all of our lawmaking apparatuses are hopelessly compromised by big industry money (liberal?) and I don’t trust them to serve the people’s best interests. Sad? Very sad…that I am at the point where I every time I see a politician’s face or name in the news, I shake my head and mutter something to the effect of “criminal” under my breath. I no longer see a difference between Wall Street CEO’s and politicians. It’s really depressing that I don’t trust our legislative branch anymore, at all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that all politicians are essentially corrupt (despite what my kids might hear me say). Some are, most aren’t. Just like in any organization or group. The system is corrupt, and when you operate within a corrupt system for long enough, it’s hard not to start walking like everyone else.

I don’t know the solution to bring back my faith in Legislative Branch, but here are a few suggestions that might be a step in the right direction:

1.) Vote Independent. Yeah, I know it’s a wasted vote, for now, but I’m not going to be influenced by this line of thinking anymore. If there’s one thing I can guarantee you for the upcoming 2012 election, it’s that I won’t be voting for a democrat or republican. The two-party system is broken beyond repair, and adding a viable third-party would be the number one step toward restoring some honesty to our capitol. Pressure from each side is overwhelming, and stifles any dissent outside of party thinking. Junior members of the House and Senate don’t last very long if they fail to toe the party line. See the quotes from John Adams below, his thoughts on the development of two powerful political parties were amazingly prescient.

2.) Hold your representatives accountable. Communicate frequently. I don’t do this, but with the internet, it’s as simple as a few mouse clicks. Ideally, I’d love to see a system where we can vote on major expenditures just like on a community level. Want to fund the new intermediate school in my hometown? Vote directly in November. If it passes the popular vote, guess what? The school is funded. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this on some level with national decisions? Imagine having to rush out to your local high school or precinct location to vote on an emergent national issue? You’d feel a little more important and invested. Electing a representative to do this work in a compromised political environment isn’t really working for us anymore. At the very least, we should all have the ability to “cast” a vote/opinion on issues, and see if our representatives are even close to representing their direct constituents. I think the results would be surprising.

3.) Involve your children in this discussion, at some level. And I don’t mean that you should teach them that America is corrupt. I feel bad about my son having this impression, but there is value to understanding why the system has some flaws. The sooner they learn that the “status quo” might not be the best thing for our country, the sooner it will change. Trust me, I can’t quit my job and rally full-time against Wall Street or Washington corruption (or even part-time). I have soccer games to attend, kids to shuttle around, a sailboat to enjoy. A full life modeled around what I considered to be the American dream. It’s pretty nice, and I’m not complaining. The kids are the key to affecting change. Republican or Democrat, the breakdown of Washington resonates. Let them in on the secret a little earlier, it may have a profound effect.

4.) Invest in an earpiece for your cell phone…it’s the least you can do for yourself, unless you trust the FCC to look out for your best interests. Guess who shapes their thinking?

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

“There is nothing I dread so much as a division of the Republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and converting measures in opposition to each other.”