Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Who put that border there? US-Mexico relations in context

In Politics on 2010/09/16 at 11:55

Check out Chris Arsenault’s article US drones prowl Mexico bicentennial on Al Jazeera English for a reminder of what’s really going on at the US-Mexico border.

Anti-immigrant, isolationist “border hawks” play on the fears of the ignorant for political gain and deliberately ignore history as well as the facts on the ground. Arsenault outlines the sick reality of the increasing and completely unjustified militarisation of America’s southern border. Land that was stolen from Mexico in a trumped up 19th century war is now being “protected” from Mexicans impoverished by a 20th century trade agreement using 21st century technology and techniques perfected in more recent American imperialist wars.

Some will choose to ignore history. What’s done is done and maybe we shouldn’t care about the massive historical injustice being done to Mexicans, the important thing is to protect Americans from the violence spilling over the border. This might be a somewhat legitimate viewpoint if it weren’t for the fact that talk of increasing violence and crime in the south-western US just isn’t true. As Arsenault points out, the four large US cities with the lowest rates of violent crime are all close to the Mexican border. The border region is not a hotbed of violence, in fact it’s one of the safest places in the country. This doesn’t fit well into the Wild West/Gang Invasion/Mos Eisley Cantina (by the way Han shot first!) stories that right-wing fear mongers have introduced into the discourse, so they just ignore them. The real source of fears of dangerous Mexicans coming across the border isn’t facts or logic, it’s racism and bigotry.

It’s easy for people on this side of the wall to demonize and fear the rest of the world, but anyone willing to open their mind a little, learn some basic history, and get over their xenophobia will soon see that militarising the US-Mexico border can’t solve anything.


America’s Crippled Democracy: Real Choices in West Virginia

In Personal, Politics, West Virginia on 2010/09/13 at 16:23

Governor Joe Manchin is the democratic nominee to run for the US Senate seat from West Virginia previously held by the late Robert C. Byrd. He will face Republican candidate John Raese in the midterm elections this November. It’s apparently a fairly tight race at this point but I’m assuming Manchin will win. This is an example of how American democracy has been crippled almost to the point of being nonexistent.

All of my progressive West Virginian friends seem to hate Governor Joe Manchin. I never really bothered to learn why. He was the governor of the state where I lived and went to school for several years but I didn’t really know anything about him. I knew I probably wouldn’t like him but I didn’t really want to talk to my friends about what their problems with him were. I couldn’t vote in West Virginia, or anywhere in the US for that matter (I’m a legal permanent resident but not a citizen), plus many West Virginians are fiercely (and oftentimes I would say illogically) protective about their State, so that making negative remarks about the governor, or any elected official, might result in a non-native being politely told to mind their own business, even if all parties present are in agreement on the issues.

It seems like many progressive West Virginians struggle with being ashamed of their State’s socio-political and cultural backwardness while at the same time feeling very proud of and genuinely loving many things about their home. I’m not saying that any of my friends were ever rude to me about politics, but there have been several times when I felt that some of my native West Virginian friends were perhaps a bit uncomfortable with my criticism of West Virginia. West Virginia is of course the butt of a lot of jokes, sometimes but most often not, deservedly so. I understand why a progressive West Virginian might feel a tad awkward about their extremely liberal Canadian friend bashing on West bygum Virginny and I want to say before I move on that most of what I know of West Virginia is great. All of the West Virginians I know have what I would consider the normal amount of teeth, none of them have married, or are at all attracted to their siblings or cousins, they all have lovely homes, and I find their gentle Appalachian lilt quite pleasant. It’s a beautiful place that’s home to a lot of people that I love very much.

Now that I have that out of the way…

West Virginia is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with American politics. It’s a place suffering environmental devastation at the hands of some very rich people in the energy industry. It’s one of the poorest and least educated places in America. West Virginians are literally suffering and dying all the time because of the coal industry, the landscape is being devastated at an increasing rate and, to be quite frank, most West Virginians are either too poor, too ignorant, or else too jaded to really care.

America’s commitment to Two-Party politics ensures that this wont change any time soon. When I read that Governor Manchin was the democratic candidate for the Senate I decided I should finally find out what his platform was like. I wasn’t too surprised. Then I decided to look at his opponent John Raese’s platform. Also not surprised. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. It seemed that West Virginians had a fairly simple choice in this election:¬† Vote for the wealthy, pro-life, anti-gun-control, anti-gay marriage,pro-war, fiscal conservative, coal-loving politician? Or the other wealthy, pro-life, anti-gun-control, anti-gay-marriage, pro-war, fiscal conservative, coal-loving politician. Of course if you look hard enough I’m sure you can find subtle differences between what they would be like as Senators, although it was a bit of a challenge for me as Joe Manchin’s Campaign website doesn’t even have an “issues” section.

It seemed to me that there was no real choice for West Virginians in this election. The differences between the two candidates were so small that they’re not even worth mentioning. I decided not to be so defeatist. I know some very intelligent people who are very politically savvy who have become so jaded by the lack of real choice in American politics that they haven’t voted in years. They’ve realized that democracy in America is a sham and they’ve given up. I have always chastised these people, telling them that it is because intelligent people like them voluntarily give up their most cherished civil right¬† that American democracy has been allowed to become so broken. There had to be another option for West Virginia. I had to be able to say something constructive about West Virginian politics. I have found something to say.

A simple google search of “WV Third party Candidates” brought Jesse Johnson to my attention. It seems Johnson is the perennial candidate in every election for West Virginia’s Mountain Party. Johnson received something like 4% of the vote when he ran for governor and he is running this year for US Senate. I’ll let Johnson’s campaign website speak for itself on his views (since his website actually explains his what his platform is, unlike Manchin’s), what I really want to talk about here is why I think voting for a third party candidate who has no chance of actually winning is important.

Jesse Johnson is not going to be a US Senator, or hold any high office, any time soon. So why should progressive West Virginians bother to get out and vote for him, contribute to his campaign, or tell anyone about him? Because change doesn’t happen just because of one election, no matter what Obama08 tried to tell you. Huge changes in a democracy take time.

It will take many years and many elections, but one day West Virginians will have to start taking the Mountain Party’s views seriously. The more people who vote now when they think it doesn’t matter the faster the day will come when real choices exist for West Virginia. Johnson may only get 4% of the vote again, or maybe he’ll get 5% if enough jaded liberals and ex-hippies (there are a lot of them living in the woods of West Virginia) decide to go vote come November. Now let’s say Johnson gets 4.5% of the vote and Manchin wins by a margin of 3-5%, a not unreasonable scenario. If the margin of victory is around the same amount of votes that got “thrown away” on third party candidates, the smarter mainstream politicians will start to pay attention to what those voters are saying, because they have the power to spoil a future election. Manchin and his kind don’t care if you hate mountain top removal mining as long as you stay home disgusted, but if you get out and throw your vote away on Jesse Johnson, you might screw with the election math so much that it becomes a problem for someone. When the results are tallied everyone will notice that the Mountain Party got 5% instead of 4%, then next time they get 7% instead of 5% and so on.

The bottom line is that nobody cares what you think if you’re not voting. Someone once told me that the only effective way to change a system is from the inside and I believe it. The only way to change West Virginia politics is to participate in West Virginia politics. It will take a long time. You will not see any results any time soon, but everything has to start somewhere.

Raise your hand and say that you want it to stop, be a part of that proud 5%. Don’t stay home and waste your vote, get out there and throw it away! Maybe some day it will have meant something.

Again: Mountain Party Website

Mountain Party Wikipedia

Jesse Johnson Senate Campaign

Jesse Johnson on Facebook