Friday, December 21, 2012

A Commission of My Own

Here are some cold facts. There are almost as many guns as people in the United States of America. The Second Amendment is a part of the Constitution for a good reason, and the Supreme Court has recently upheld the rights of the people to own firearms, with the caveat that those firearms can still be subject to government regulation. The majority of firearms homicides and suicides in the US are caused by handguns, while the most high profile mass shootings are often associated with assault weapons. Even the term "assault weapon" is so loosely defined it could cover almost any firearm with a semi-automatic firing capability.

And then you get to the human factors: the vast majority of firearms owners in this country are law-abiding citizens, who have done everything the state requires them to do to ensure their weapons are owned legally, stored safely, and are used correctly. On the other hand, individuals who live outside the law in this country can too easily get their hands on firearms. Finally, it is difficult to reconcile these two factors when there are babies dead inside a school and church bells toll in mourning.

Furthermore, you can't take the racial and demographic aspect out of it, because babies have been getting shot for decades in certain neighborhoods this country has been too willing to write off. Many of those neighborhoods are populated by the same demographic groups that were historically and legally forcibly disarmed by the very real slavery and Jim Crow regimes that this country doesn't like to think about, so they might provide easier targets for violence from terrorist groups and harassment at the hands of authorities.

Lastly, if you advocate complete disarmament of the American citizenry, how do you do it? Who do you send to seize the guns from a population that does not want to give up their guns? Other people with guns, right? So, how many police, law enforcement, veterans, active duty military and national guard are you willing to put in harm's way to this end? How many police, law enforcement, veterans, active duty military and national guard are also legal and trained weapons owners and operators, who would be tasked with giving up their own personal weapons first? That's simply not going to work, and the gun control and gun rights crowd both need to come to grips with that.

So when you're making gun control policy in the United States of America, both gun control and gun rights activists have to take the emotion and the mythology out of the conversation. There is a lot of Constitutional space between "no guns for anyone, ever" and "no regulations, whatsoever."

Familiarize yourself with existing gun laws at both the state and Federal level. You have to realize that there are a limited number of things that can be done at the Federal level, for a reason, and that a tremendous amount of policy can (and should be) made and enforced at the state level. Municipalities can get in on this policy, too. Courts will also be important, as they've always been, as they serve as the referees on how far regulations are allowed to go before rights are violated. At that point, you can start thinking about where to go from there.

Considering all that, here are some of my ideas (if these aren't already being done) at the Federal level:

  1. A reaffirmation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and a reaffirmation of the government to enact reasonable regulation of arms.
  2. A Federal definition of assault weapons, with a list of guns on the market that qualify. It may not cover every single in-practice assault weapon, but it establishes a baseline. States can add to this definition, but they cannot reduce this definition.
  3. A national licensing and registration structure for assault weapon owners. This would include a background check, training and qualifications requirements, and a licensing fee. The license could be renewed annually, biannually, or on a time frame otherwise determined most effective, at the time of mandated training and qualification with the weapon itself. Training and qualification would have to include a safety component for locking and storing the weapon when not in use.
  4. A national licensing and registration structure for every single assault weapon. That's right, not only do assault weapon owners have to have an individual license, these weapons should be registered individually. This would also include a fee.  
  5. Additional licensing requirements, taxes, and fees for any firearms dealer who wants to sell assault weapons as defined. Licensing requirements would require additional insurance, mandates for background check and reporting of suspicious activity, providing information to law enforcement, and waiting periods. These would be the only points of sale for Federally defined assault weapons. Individuals could still sell to other individuals, but they would have to do so through a Federally licensed dealer.
  6. No more gun show loopholes. Every firearms purchase or gift requires a background check. Gun shows could invite licensed firearms dealers to support the show with their resources, and hold any weapons for their waiting periods if necessary, or gun shows themselves could apply for Federal licensing, and could even consider Federal and state participation to ensure compliance. 


These fees and taxes will be used to establish and maintain:

  1. A national registry of assault weapons and assault weapon owners.
  2. A national background check database. This will be a database maintained by the Feds that develops information provided by the states and territories. This will exist so firearms dealers and law enforcement from any state or territory can check applicants for firearms licenses or firearms purchases against someone's background and determine eligibility to own or acquire.
  3. A national assault weapon buyback program. While this would likely need to be assisted by additional budgeting from the Federal government, this would be needed to fairly compensate those gun owners who currently own Federally defined assault weapons, but do not wish to go through the licensing process. This would be best administered through the states, and functional weaponry would be stored and used to augment National Guard armories within the states.
     
  4. Funding support for an expanded national school safety / resource officer program. This would send money to the states to help schools offset the budgetary requirements of having police officers assigned to every school in the country. This would include grants to the states to support additional training for resource officers in threat assessment as well as the use of lethal force in chaotic and emergency situations. 


And that would be the extent of Federal action. It would simply focus on the assault weapons making them expensive and highly regulated without outlawing them, and compensating owners who do not wish to participate in the registration and licensing program; and gun shows.

Long guns and hand guns would still be regulated mainly by the states. Where I would advocate my state enact the following registration and licensing requirements for handguns:


  1. A state licensing and registration structure for handgun owners. This would include a background check, training and qualifications requirements, and a licensing fee. The license could be renewed annually, biannually, or on a time frame otherwise determined most effective, at the time of mandated training and qualification with the weapon itself. Training and qualification would have to include a safety component for locking and storing the weapon when not in use.
  2. A state licensing and registration structure for every single handgun. That's right, not only do handgun owners have to have an individual license, these weapons should be registered individually. This would also include a fee.
  3. Carry concealed training is already in place in my state, but due to the nature of carry conceal, additional training requirements, safety qualifications, and licensing fees should be required. The renewal schedule should be at least biannual if not annual.
  4. All gun crimes should be felonies and should remove an individual's eligibility for firearms ownership. Additionally, all domestic violence or child abuse convictions remove an individual's eligibility for firearms ownership. (This is probably already in place in my state.)  


Long guns:

  1. Background check (non-eligibility). (Probably already required.)
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Complicated

This is not an easy thing to talk about. Especially the politics of it. Heaven help us if we allow these families time to bury their dead before we begin trying to co-opt their grief for our own personal political point scoring. But that train has left the station. This is one of those events that is so rough and so emotional that the outrage isn't being held back.

There is also the fact that tragedies like this are inherently political, because decisions we make as a nation, as states, and municipalities guide the policies that factored into this event. As a matter of fact, in this country it seems that the ONLY time we talk about politics or policies that factor into tragic situations is immediately following one that has just happened. And half of those conversations involve being told to shut up and not talk about it "so soon." As if there is ever a good time to talk about situations that leave us with gunshot victims or elderly folks who drowned in a flood, or whatever it is we aren't supposed to talk about this week. Maybe it would be healthier if we kept some conversations going during whatever counts as "normal" time in this society anymore. Then again, maybe we'd never talk about anything that way.

There are a lot of ways to talk about things today.

We'll dispense with some of the sillier and more useless talking points first. If you think this happened because "God isn't allowed in schools," then you're part of the problem. I bet you think hurricanes cause floods because of gay people, too. Besides being completely wrong - as long as you don't disrupt others' academic activities or force people who don't share your particular religion to say your prayers, students can pray as much as they want - this line of thinking completely ignores the very real steps we humans can take, regardless of creed, to address situations such as these. Now, if you find comfort in the teachings of your religion, please find comfort where you can. But when it comes to policy, we simply do not have to wait for a supernatural being to do something about our collective problems, and outsourcing the very important work we must do as a society to any supreme being works about as well as ignoring the problem completely. 

Next up come those folks who are repeating the social media line about "my right to send my kids to school without getting shot is more important than your second amendment rights, so screw off." Look, I understand that folks saying this are probably parents of beautiful little children. I also know this is an emotional time for each of them that I can't understand, since I don't have kids of my own. Maybe I should just ignore this kind of statement as an emotional catharsis that it is, but I've seen it repeated too many times on Facebook to think it is something that will just go away. And since we're talking about a very important issue, this kind of ignorance and fear must require a response.

This is going to sound very, very cold, but you do not, in fact, have a "right" to perfect safety in this country. That is not a political belief, folks, that's just stone cold reality. Rights, as codified and understood by law, do not - and cannot - work that way. Laws can try to work that way, but even then we run into problems. Connecticut has stricter gun laws than most states. I'm sure they have a law that makes it illegal to bring firearms onto school grounds. I know for a fact they have laws stating that it is illegal to murder other people.  None of those laws mattered, and the rights of those children and adults to go about their day unmolested by gunfire were taken away in the most brutal of fashions. That is because the perpetrator in this instance, as with so many other instances, did not care about the laws or the rights of his victims. Just like we can't outsource our collective problems to the supernatural, we can't legislate away every bad thing from happening.

But we can take very real steps to mitigate risks against bad things happening, and this is where policy conversations need to start.

Of course, understanding that doesn't mean we automatically start communicating effectively. The vast majority of folks I know had two political reactions to yesterday's events. The first was to demand the end to gun ownership in the United States. Most of them don't really think this (though enough of them absolutely do), and the statement actually falls somewhere between cultural or political criticism and emotional catharsis to rage against a big and seemingly intractable problem. When challenged, it boils down to general support for more regulation of gun ownership and more safeguards against guns falling into the wrong hands. Keep that in mind, because we'll get back to it in just a second.

The second political reaction to yesterday's events was for individuals to say they were "going to the gun store" or otherwise indicating that this year's shootings should not be used politically to limit their rights to purchase the firearms of their choice for personal protection, hunting, or simple law abiding sport. Many expressed the personal, law abiding steps they had taken - including registration, training, and safety - in support of their right to bear arms, and additionally expressed their desire that laws and enforcement are needed to keep weapons out of the hands of felonious criminals and the legally adjudicated individuals deemed unfit for firearms ownership due to mental health issues.

In effect, both intractable "sides" that have emerged in this conversation have some very important common ground, which will be necessary for any policy changes to be made legislatively and culturally. Both support, in words or by action, some form regulation of gun ownership. Both support, overwhelmingly, more safeguards to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. The problem is that, in "discussing" this issue with individuals from the other "side," the only things they hear are: "No guns, for anyone, ever," or "No restrictions on gun ownership, whatsoever." Those two statements, repeated back and forth between each "side," and exploited for political gain by lobbyists and pundits, have kept this nation from exploring where we can get with that common ground when it comes to firearms policy in the United States. Throw in a healthy dose of fear, emotion, and ignorance of the law, and you have the current unsustainable state of affairs.

The US Constitution, and subsequent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, affirm the right to ownership of arms at the same time they allow for regulation of firearm ownership, especially at the state level. Seeing this as an "either - or" issue only keeps the issue intractable politically. States determine their own regulations restricting concealed carry of pistols; states determine their own age limits regarding who can own what; states determine which felonies disqualify individuals for firearms ownership; states determine the level of training required to own a firearm; states determine the state tax on sale of firearms; states determine the registration requirements for certain types of firearms; etc. States have tremendous power to affect this issue, and I think the majority of American voters could find some common ground on reasonable regulations and enforcement mechanisms to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

Because you know who elects the representatives who make state law? The People.

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

An American Voter's Revenge

After four years of hearing about the birth certificate, Kenyan anti-colonialism, apologizing for America, the Ground Zero Mosque, the long form birth certificate, spiking the football about Osama bin Laden, death panels, shaking down BP, the state of Hawai'i's conspiracy to falsify the birth certificate, you lie, Reverend Wright, Black Panthers and the Justice Department, Fast and the Furious and the Justice Department, keeping the President's name off the ballot because of the birth certificate, Shirley Sherrod, ACORN, voting fraud, the "unconstitutional" ACA, Michelle's racist thesis, you didn't build that, gutting welfare reform, the "Obamaphones," and "Obama didn't have anything to do with Osama bin Laden everyday, all day, on Fox News, talk radio, all over the internet, in Facebook posts and chain emails, we actually entered the Presidential election year.

At which point the volume got turned up on all of that. Not content to let those narratives speak for themselves, we started to hear about how "legitimate rape" does not cause pregnancy, or when it does, how it is really a "gift from God" to women who "rape easy." News sources who had followed the birth certificate conspiracy with such dedication had to break into their coverage to talk about the Benghazi conspiracy.

And why shouldn't I trust the purveyors of all that information when it comes to taxes, energy independence, and foreign policy? Well, it looks like my brain has been poisoned by the demon-spawn theories of evolution, the Big Bang, and stuff like math. Doesn't matter, either, as the vote I cast on Tuesday could condemn my soul to the firey pit of Satan. And if they're good enough to know the mind of Heaven above, who am I to share my doubts in their ability to govern?

Because remember, folks, according to Republican political advertising, I am an America-hating, baby-killing, terrorist-sympathizer who, with help from my illegal immigrant friends and union thugs, will follow our illegitimately elected, Kenyan anti-colonialist President to turn this nation into a communist economy with a sharia legal code based on the homosexual agenda.

Or I could just vote "sanity" on Tuesday and pull the lever for Obama. Sorry if I find that some small measure of revenge against bullshit.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Lesser Evil


I will be enthusiastically voting for Barack Obama in November’s Presidential election. While I do not think he or his first four years have been perfect, weighed against our options and our nation’s historical context, I need not do so in shame, as Conor Friedorsdorf and other “liberals” I know demand of me.

That’s because, while it would be nice to live in a Walgreen’s commercial, just down the street from “Perfect, USA,” I have this nagging acceptance of reality to deal with. Just as I find “conservatives” longing for the “good ole days” as banal as it is historically revisionist, I find the complaints of Obama’s allegedly “liberal” detractors steeped in a worldview as fantastic as anything Disney created. While I am not interested in challenging Friedersdorf’s own moral comfort zone and deal-breakers – he is right to say everyone must define their own – I find that he is challenging those which I define as mine own.

I am a utilitarian, but I am not voting for Obama because he is the lesser of two evils, I am voting for him because he is the best candidate to lead this society away from the evils with which we are engaged at the current time. He is also the only candidate with an actual shot of continuing that difficult work.

Friedersdorf sums my views up in only one place: “On one issue, torture, he issued an executive order against an immoral policy undertaken by his predecessor, and while torture opponents hoped for more, that is no small thing.” At least there is this level of acceptance, though not for the reasons I share.

While it would be very nice to believe we live in a society where torture is truly seen as the abhorrent and immoral practice that it is, the absolute and final truth is that we do not. I would posit that, at this point in our history, a majority of voting stakeholders in our democracy not only have no problem with the use of torture as a means to an end, but support the further expansion of torture as an effective tool of more strongly correcting what they see as policy goals. How many voters openly celebrate the fact that people will be subjected to pervasive sexual torture when incarcerated in prisons right here in the United States of America? How many voters tacitly support police brutality towards individuals merely suspected of crimes? How many voters continue to equip their police forces with tasers while denying the appropriate training measures? How many individuals resist all efforts to exonerate individuals wrongly convicted of crimes for which the penalty is death?

A majority. That’s how many. And in a democracy, the majority usually wins when it comes to policy. Otherwise the practices would start changing in the cities and towns across America. Looking at it that way, understanding how many Americans don’t simply accept but actively support the torture of other Americans, what makes anyone think this majority is going to have a problem actively supporting the torture of non-Americans who they believe are out to kill Americans?

And this is where we are today, even after generations upon generations of fighting to extend civil liberties to other Americans and non-Americans. Hell, even with this majority that favors using torture to achieve policy ends, it probably represents the lowest level of popular support for torture in our nation’s entire historical context.

Yet Obama is the “lesser” of the “evils” by removing the torture aspect from our foreign policy, and is critiqued for not going after those who used it as the tool the majority so supported. One day, critics may come to understand that the political reality this President faces is not between “do not torture” and “prosecute torturers” but is between “do not torture” and “expand torture as a matter of policy.” Even in choosing the “do not torture” path, the President is reviled by nearly half the country as a terrorist-sympathizing America hater. At some point, with this subject, the responsibility lies on the American people who abhor torture to challenge their American neighbors who celebrate it. Blaming the President for not doing what we ourselves won’t do is simply projecting the guilt.

Then there are the things I think Friedersdorf gets wrong. Again, I believe that all of his conclusions stem from the same utopian misunderstanding of what American society will allow our political options to be.

Let's talk about the "drone war." When it comes to the “drone war,” we can have a President using shaky intelligence and advanced technology to strike at individuals believed to be engaged in a covert war against American interests. The nations in which these actions take place have neither effective means of (nor apparent interest in) investigating and prosecuting those individuals, nor even establishing law and order so that their own residents might live in any situation other than chaos.

What options does the American President have? Abandoning the theater of war allows enemies in Afghanistan a safe refuge to resupply, plan, and continue to stage attacks on Americans. Prioritizing the needs of “the children” may tug on the heartstrings. But you know who those same folks are scared of when the drones aren't overhead? The Taliban and the Pakistani Army, that's who. Let's not pretend for one moment that when we're finally gone, all these folks are going to dance through the fields to the sound of music.

Other options? Maybe we could invade their countries and engage in “nation building.” Think I'm joking? There's still plenty of popular support for that sort of thing here in America. Hell, the political options challenging Obama are the same folks who got us into the nation building business during the Bush administration.

But that sounds pretty “lesser of two evils,” doesn’t it? Here’s why it isn’t: the drone war is what the President is using to get NATO out of Afghanistan. What the President is hoping to replace it with is the Arab Spring. Because even a shaky Egyptian democracy run by members of the Muslim Brotherhood is better for the long term stability in the Middle East than continuing the last sixty years of US policy failure founded on propping up dictators. That's a thing the "lesser evil" crowd simply can't answer and they don't want you to think about it. Because democracy and self-determination in the Middle East, even imperfect democracy, is the only way those children you want me to worry about in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Waziristan will ever, EVER, have a chance at something more than chaos at the end of the Taliban's knives or American bombs. And the only way we get from where we are not to that point is to use the drone war, imperfect as it is, to hold that line.

Oh, and if there are some Americans who have taken up arms against America who get in the way of those bombs? Sorry, fellas. I drive down Jefferson Davis Parkway every day on my way to work. That's because I live in a region of the country that takes seriously the memory of a bunch of Americans who took up arms against America. Grant and Sherman may have a special place reserved in Hell, but they smashed Bobby Lee and the Southern Confederacy with fire and iron and without apology.

As far as the Libya thing goes, this President was faced with A) supporting that Arab Spring, B) cries from American liberals to save the Libyans who would be butchered by a brutal dictator, C) cries from American conservatives to get rid of a brutal dictator, D) requests from NATO allies to help them deal with this problem, and E) resolutions from the UN begging for help to get this thing taken care of. President Obama navigated all of that, got rid of an adversary, supported a fundamentally important foreign policy goal, supported every Western international ally of the United States, saved thousands of Libyan lives, and only lost 4 American lives in the affair (and even those lives were lost to terrorist activity by the dying embers of the former regime). That's not a "lesser evil" that's fucking brilliance. If there is a legitimate Constitutional question to be found, I'm wondering who is going to bring it up. It ain't like this Congress would hesitate to impeach the President over a foreign policy success story.

This isn't a cult of personality - these are decisions I would want to see any responsible President make. They are messy and complicated and don't make for easy campaigning. There aren't a lot of good options on the board. But this is far from the lesser of two evils. Is anyone looking beyond 2012? Are you kidding me? I've been waiting for a President with this level of foresight for the entire time I've paid attention to politics.

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Monday, September 03, 2012

Don't Talk About Politics During a Disaster


I didn’t drown this week. I didn’t lose all my possessions. I didn’t have to use a hatchet to cut my way out of my own apartment, or help my neighbors cut their way out of theirs. I didn’t have to commandeer a boat and float neighbors and pets to safety. I didn’t have to find family and friends who had done the same amidst a mass exodus of people. I didn’t have to see dead bodies floating in the flood waters and wonder who they were.

Today, I am not mucking mud out of my house, wondering if I should all just pack it up and leave.

Tomorrow, I don’t have to help family and friends do the same. I won’t have to do my time cleaning out a restaurant walk-in cooler that is full of rotting food in the 100 degree heat without power and flooded with street water.

Instead, this morning I woke up in an air conditioned house, accessed my in-home internet and checked my email, took my girlfriend’s bratty dog for a walk around the bock, and walked up the street to buy donuts at a locally owned and operated business. Happy Labor Day.

I got to do all of these things today by the Grace of God, and because the United States government spent $14 billion in tax dollars to reinforce the New Orleans levee system.  One of those is a factor of my personal faith, and is something that can’t be proven. It is difficult to reconcile with the idea that, while I am high and dry (this time), so many of my neighbors in Louisiana are not. The other of those is a stone cold fact – if you are willing to spend government money on effective infrastructure, and you stay vigilant about making sure that money is spent the right way, you are able to mitigate risks that could otherwise be catastrophic.

Do I have to draw a clearer picture than this? Because this is a story I’m not hearing many places. I guess everyone got the memo: when there is a disaster, you aren’t supposed to talk about politics.

It doesn’t matter that a disaster lays bare the relationship between the community and the government in ways that go beyond the normal bullshit you hear every day all day on cable news, the internet, and talk radio. You aren’t supposed to bring up who voted for what when people are still being picked off their roofs by rescue workers. You aren’t supposed to point out that, back when something could have been done about mitigating risk, other priorities had support. That would be considered a crass “scoring of points” or playing the “blame game,” and there are reasons we feel that way as a community. Politicians and the media often take the opportunities disasters afford people far away to do just those things. And because people don’t want to hear that crap when they’re emptying their refrigerator of spoiled food, we “don’t talk about politics” during a disaster.

But we never get around to having that conversation later. Not the important parts, anyway. Mostly, all we do is postpone the blame game and the point scoring. The conversation never really gets to the uncomfortable but necessary relationship between politics and disaster.  

Seven years ago, what passed for that conversation took an ominous tone. New Orleans is below sea level, they said. New Orleans simply cannot be defended, they said. We might as well bulldoze that city back into the swamp, they said. Why would anyone chose to live there, they said. Why should we spend money to defend that city, they said, and still say.

That was what America heard seven years ago. That was our “conversation.” It didn’t matter that so much of it was absolutely wrong. After Hurricane Isaac, we have definitive proof.

New Orleans can be protected from catastrophic flooding. Taxpayers invested in infrastructure, and it worked. And what did that $14 billion dollar investment protect? That would be over $110 billion worth of infrastructure, which included funding to help protect almost a quarter of domestic oil production and half of the nation’s refining capacity, and one of the top 10 ports in the world. You think the price of gasoline is high now? Let’s lose access to the Louisiana Off-Shore Oil Port, or any of the Louisiana refineries and see what you end up paying at the pump.

Of course, I shouldn't have to list all the positives like that. I don't know why I can't just say that $14 billion was a good start on the investment needed to protect a great American city, and be done with it. We never have this conversation about Miami or San Francisco or North Carolina, but when it comes to New Orleans, we need a cost-benefit analysis. (But don't talk about politics during a disaster!)

I’m no mathematician, but I’d say this nation makes $10 off every $1 tax dollar invested in infrastructure and protection around New Orleans. At least. And if I have to draw an even clearer picture for you that the taxpayer investment to protect New Orleans is not only worth it, but working, let me go one further. Without that money, New Orleans would have flooded catastrophically from Hurricane Isaac. We know this because a lot of our neighbors outside the federal levees flooded catastrophically.

I don’t think this means that the stronger levees in New Orleans caused the flooding elsewhere. I don’t think this means we can ignore the important work of restoring Louisiana’s disappearing coast. I don’t even think this means New Orleans could have survived a stronger storm without flooding. Yet. What I know, deep down in my bones, is that if investing in Southeast Louisiana’s infrastructure brings at least a 10-to-1 return on investment for the taxpayers of this country, this nation can afford to invest in stronger protections for more residents down here, and get to work rebuilding this coastal resource.

And that's going to require talking about politics and how it relates to disaster. That's a conversation that needs to get started right now.




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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Isaac

















Here we go again.

State of emergency declared for Southeast Louisiana including New Orleans.

Right now we've been told by Mayor Landrieu to be ready to shelter in place. Governor Jindal has opened voluntary evacuations for folks in low lying areas in the coastal parishes and those outside the levees. This will probably turn into mandatory evacuations for the same folks before noon tomorrow. Some parishes are already closing down their schools.


Folks who have i-Stuff can download "Get a Game Plan" app.

Right now, the weather is beautiful in New Orleans, though the grocery stores and hardware stores are packed. Glad I went early this morning. Here's hoping all those levee improvements that have been made over the last seven years work.

Best case scenario is that this thing stays as a rain event, and brings some much needed precipitation to the hinterlands, and nobody gets killed. But we're prepping for the worst case.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Crisis In Journalism

What the hell is happening at the Red and Black? How have we gone from editorial control questions to reporters and the folks in charge tussling on the floor?

When I first saw that the student editorial staff of the Red and Black had walked out in protest over editorial control, I've got to be honest, I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction. Maybe I'm just buying into the stereotypes of college kids who get mad when faced with real-world problems, but I'll admit that's where my incredulity comes from. I'll be honest, the reporting regarding the walkout in the regional and national press was pretty thin on the reasons why, save the story from the folks who actually walked out, and tended more towards a repetition of the situation without any in depth look at what was going on. Oh, and also because the Red and Black, when I was in college at UGA, provided a platform for a whole lot of college kids getting mad when faced with real world problems on their op-ed pages.

So you could say I was primed by the current state of the media (college, regional, national) to pretty much dismiss this story. New Orleans has her own problems with media, and they relate to slightly more robust publications than the Red and Black, and we've got a whole lot of more pressing issues on the plate. Though there are enough similarities between the situations in Athens and New Orleans to keep things interesting for me - a once daily news publication switching (or already switched) to a less-than-daily printing schedule to  supplement the online content; a question of editorial turnover and what that means for quality of reporting; issues of organizational hierarchy about where decisions were made; local groups turning to reporting bodies made possible by the internet (blogs, investigative websites, competing publications, etc.); the publication's value to the community it serves; the strange aspect of people having been removed (willingly or not) from a job having to re-apply for said job; value of the content reported; etc. Sound familiar? As someone who consumes a great deal of information from various sources of media during any given week, the fundamental changes and turmoil to how media works is something I consider important.

But I'll admit, I was willing to accept the official story of college kids and their outrage, and turn my attention to other, more interesting train wrecks.

Strange enough, a friend posted a link on Facebook about someone actually doing some investigating in to the Red and Black story. This is a link I never would have looked at in the course of my normal media consumption. But when I clicked on it, the page was down.

So I do what I always do when a page is down, I assume somebody got the URL wrong, and click on the website's headline. And then I read this. Holy ironic twist, Batman. A report investigating editorial control and possible censorship was removed from an organizational blog to a personal blog because the overall editors didn't like the content. This makes the situation very interesting, because what is going on isn't about college kids and their outrage, this is about the state of the media in our culture, and who controls it. This is big. This draws the line between what's happening in Athens and what is happening in New Orleans and Alabama and Michigan and all of these places where the institutions where people consume their information are undergoing radical changes.

We'll be talking about those changes in New Orleans at this year's Rising Tide conference. I can only wonder if those changes inspire the same sort of conversation to take place at the University of Georgia.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Joe Biden Goes Too Far


So, let me get this straight:

After four years of hearing about the birth certificateKenyan anti-colonialismapologizing for America, the Ground Zero Mosque, the long form birth certificatespiking the football about Osama bin Ladendeath panelsshaking down BP, the state of Hawai'i's conspiracy to falsify the birth certificate, "you lie," Reverend Wright, the Black Panthers and the Justice Department, the Fast and the Furious and the Justice Departmentkeeping the President's name off the ballot because of the birth certificateShirley SherrodACORNvoting fraud, the "unconstitutional" ACAMichelle's racist thesis, "you didn't build that," "gutting welfare reform," and "Obama SAID he killed Osama personally with his own two hands and everything"... everyday, all day, on Fox News, talk radio, all over the internet, in Facebook posts and chain emails...*

But Joe Biden is the guy orchestrating a "campaign of division and anger and hate?"

Really?

Some of us aren't all upset about the "put y'all back in chains" comment because we remember the lessons we learned about indentured servitude and sharecropping back in public school history classes. In economic terms, those aren't too far away from the systems of credit default swaps (where big owners purchase and sell someone's personal debt), underwater mortgages, and actual crushing personal debt. We know exactly whose economic plan led us down that rabbit hole for ten years, don't we?

And we all remember which economic system we had to "compare and contrast" to indentured servitude and sharecropping, right? Leads right into a "y'all in chains" image, doesn't it? But I guess drawing that line is just "going too far." Unless you willingly misrepresent the metaphor.

I know! Let's get rid of Medicare instead.

* (I have a feeling I'll be using this paragraph for a long, long time.)

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

What the heck is up with all the Neighborland hate these days?

When I first heard about Neighborland and what it was, I thought it was a cool idea: there's this website, and if you create an account, you can post ideas for the neighborhood and city that you live in or "like" other people's ideas. You can make comments and connect with folks based on common interests. And that's cool when the majority of my online interaction happens over Facebook and email, and those are folks I already know who I've already bored to death with my ideas big and small. This all seems pretty basic and benign to me.

I mean, click over and look at the front page of Neighborland New Orleans. The top issues when I looked at it this evening are:

Recycling glass - which you can't do in New Orleans, but is something I would like to have in town,
Bike shares - which we kinda already do in New Orleans, but the folks you're sharing your bike with generally don't bring it back,
Saving live music - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense,
Supporting food trucks - because the City Council doesn't want to write ordinances that make sense, and
Recycling access - because it would be nice to have more receptacles for the stuff that usually ends up on the ground around here.

Do any of those items inspire some righteous anger within you? I'm sure not feeling it.

I also know Alan in passing. I've been to several events sponsored by Neighborland, and they were all well organized with worthwhile content. He gave a Neighborland presentation at last year's Rising Tide conference, and the organizers and audience seemed pretty excited about having him (registration is open for THIS year's Rising Tide conference, by the way, including a panel on Community vs Commodity). I recently attended a Food Truck Symposium he organized and Neighborland supported, because I'm all about opening up economic opportunities for small business, and I know exactly how expensive and risky it is to open up a restaurant. These things were fun, informative, and - again - not exactly the stuff that incites my ire.

I never signed up for an account over there (before tonight) because I figured I didn't really need one more online thing to keep up with, especially when the ideas being talked about are generally the same ones that get airplay elsewhere around town.

But recently, hating on Neighborland is starting to get airplay around town. Who knew that behind the fascade of a basic and benign local ideas website, this organization would actually represent the sinister aspect of creeping outside agitation and public policy takeover in New Orleans?

If you too are scratching your head about how we get from "I want to recycle glass in New Orleans" and "food trucks would be fun here" to "we're taking over St. Claude Avenue and there is nothing you puny locals can do about it," you aren't the only one. I have to say I'm completely baffled.

From what I can gather, NPR ran a report that referenced the "Post-Katrina New Orleans is a Blank Slate" narrative that never goes over so well with people who live in New Orleans. That unfortunate introduction led into a report where Neighborland was discussed, and the association was made. It didn't matter if Neighborland did or didn't have a hand in the syntax of the article or the choice of words, as the Gambit comments section proves - to some folks, the mere association is enough of a crime. Especially if the organization in question might serve as a convenient caricature of the "influx" of out-of-town folks moving to New Orleans with the intention of turning the place into Cleveland. People proposing ideas for New Orleans have to have impeccable #standing, after all.

But that could just be a comment section getting heated? That happens all the time on the internets, right? Thing is, even those of us barely paying attention to the exchange took notice when The Lens published an op-ed that could only be considered a hit piece against Neighborland and founder Candy Chang. That's right, in one editorial, the basic, benign website had morphed into some shadowy organization hell bent on driving long term residents away from St. Claude Avenue, and making decisions for the community without community involvement.

The plot thickened when The Lens, a premier online investigative news source for New Orleans, quickly published a retraction and apology for printing the editorial. Because now, there's an entire blog apparently dedicated to defending that editorial and exposing the excesses and out-of-townness behind Neighborland. Apparently it isn't OK to work and secure grant funding for beautification projects, especially if you invite community comment and input about how to spend the money. Despite the invitations to participate in the process, certain folks feel they are being left out. Because that's what it sounds like folks are raising the alarms about, here. (And I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, I'm totally baffled to be honest.)

So tonight, to test the theory of not being allowed to participate in the process, I went over to Neighborland and set up an account. I was able to begin posting comments and "liking" local ideas immediately, and it was pretty easy to do. I guess that's all part of the plan, though, and they're just waiting to shut me out of the process when they spring their sinister trap and bring a Trader Joe's to Mid-City.

Wait a second....I know why it was so easy for me to sign up for an account over there! They must already know that I'm not from New Orleans. How sinister indeed! I'm actually part of the outside agitators taking over town. Guess there will be some hate mail sent my way directly.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Deep Fried Religious Persecution

Well, at least we now have a template for the open arms acceptance of religious freedom in this country – start a fried chicken restaurant. Well, maybe not a fried chicken restaurant. That market is probably cornered at this point. But the lesson is well learned: provide a service or product beloved by suburban America and any criticism of your business OR religion will be roundly rejected, and thousands of everyday Americans will rally to man the ramparts against your critics. It won’t matter if those criticisms are grounded in facts. If people love your product, your beliefs are unassailable. You will be able to celebrate any controversial position, and not only will your critics be unable to touch you, but those who dare continue their critique will be labeled haters and oppressors.

Yeah, I’m still talking about Chick-fil-a. And I know some of you are already done talking about it. (Y’all can stop reading right now, because this is not something you’re going to want to read.) But I’m also talking about the Ground Zero Mosque and the very real religious persecutions that exist in America – and that is something which I will never, ever stop talking about. Finally, behind it all is the power local governments have to make rules you have to live by, which is a power few people pay attention to because they’re too busy focusing on issues far, far away.

On the chicken sandwich thing, I was vaguely aware of their “Biblical” beliefs and practices for a long time, and continued to eat there. I love the food. Love it. I used to eat it four times a week. When people talked about the “Cult of Chick-fil-a” I thought they were talking about me and SEC football. I figured they could do with their money what they wanted, and that was OK because I patronize plenty of places where I don’t agree with the politics of the owners or that support causes I don’t. As someone who has been labeled a “Cafeteria Catholic,” my access to Chick-n-minis was consistent with my overall lifestyle.

But a funny thing has happened in the last decade. Stuff that didn’t used to bother me has started to bother me. Maybe it is because I live in a town most of America would rather give up to standing water, and because some folks said that drowning this city was God’s punishment. Maybe it is because people who disagree with me on politics have gone from joking about it over beers to seriously asking me why I support a communist dictator from Kenya and policies that will “destroy” America. Maybe it was all the people yelling “MERRY CHRISTMAS” at me back in 2005 because they thought people like me were working hard to cancel Christmas. Maybe it was a lot of things, but at some point in the recent past, someone drew a line in the sand and put me on one side of it.

Now, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t do opposition research on places where I spend my money. If they deliver a good product and good service, I’ll likely spend money there again.

However, if any business goes out of its way to celebrate and promote the fact that it will use my consumer dollars for causes I find morally objectionable, I will find somewhere else to spend my consumer dollars, simple as that. When the chicken restaurant decided to really start broadcasting what they do with the dollars I spend there, and why, and people started making a big deal about how I should just shut up and eat my chicken, well, that started to bother me. My behavior changed accordingly.

And I’m not going to judge folks who still spend their consumer dollars at such a business. They earned their money, they can spend it where they want. I’ll be getting my food elsewhere. They have their reasons, I have mine. Maybe the issues I find morally objectionable aren’t that important to them. Different strokes for different folks, right?

Wrong. Apparently, not spending my consumer dollars at a certain restaurant indicates my lack of respect for the “traditional” family and God. Apparently, me explaining my own personal reasons for my own personal economic behavior is tantamount to telling everyone who doesn’t share my reasons or behaviors that they are wrong. Apparently, posting irreverent pictures about the issue on Facebook is joining in some sort of widespread campaign of religious persecution or limitation of a certain restaurant’s free speech rights. I guess I’m just on the wrong side of that line in the sand.

The strangest thing is the reaction to my opinion, as if my simply holding such an opinion is considered completely offensive to a bunch of people. Telling is how many people feel the need to try and undermine the reasons for my decision. All I’ve said is that I’m not eating there anymore, and all I’ve done is state the (factual) reasons why. For that, I’ve been called all manner of names for finding this issue important, from silly to hypocrite.

More telling is how many people feel the need to justify or rationalize their continued patronage of this certain restaurant. Hey, folks, you don’t need to explain yourselves to me or anyone else. If you or your kids like the food, go ahead and eat. Enjoy the waffle fries, I live in New Orleans, I ain’t hurtin’ on food options.

Of course, all that being said, the whole issue is an litmus test on how American culture views religious persecution, and that’s where things start to get very interesting. Apparently, the “progressive” mayors or aldermen of several majors cities made a big deal of announcing how unhappy they were with what the chicken restaurant was able to do with their profit dollars. Additional announcements were made about how these mayors would “do everything in their power” to block the chicken restaurant from opening franchises in their cities. Political and ideological opponents of these politicians quickly took up the banner against such oppression on “free speech” and “free religion” grounds (along with the ever innocuous War on Christians), and using these blustery statements that progressives and liberals were at the very forefront of the march to Tyranny! Dictatorship! Totalitarianism! End of Freedom! “Conservative” and “Tea Party” politicians jumped right up on the bandwagon, holding press conferences at chicken restaurants, faces full of chicken nuggets and lemonade stains on their ties to prove how much they believed in Freedom! God! America!

If you’ve ever wondered how hyperbolic our political discourse has become, just let that last vision sink in a little.

But this whole Mayors vs. Freedom thing has a lot more to do with the TV cameras and the website pageviews than any sort of creeping totalitarianism. City officials “doing everything in their power” could be either “not much” and a “whole lot.” How does that work? Well, there are about a thousand different zoning requirements, city ordinances, and permits any restaurant has to get to open their doors in almost any municipality in America. If someone who works for the city wants to sink your business, they can almost certainly bury you under permits, fees, fines, paperwork, and inspections the likes of which would stun the average small-business supporting American. And it is all perfectly legal, because a lot of folks are more concerned with the Rush Limbaugh radio spot or Daily Kos to pay attention to what goes on at their own city halls. It ain’t like local newspapers cover those proceedings anymore.

Thing is, the chicken restaurant is very good at navigating zoning, ordinances, and permits to get their franchises open. They’re a $4 billion/year restaurant business that has a piece of four major college football games. Say what you want about their politics, but they have the compliance within the law down to an art (or, if they believed in evolution, a science).

That means these “progressive” mayors only recourse would be to change the laws at the last minute in order to place restrictions on the franchises based on their religious behavior. Not only will the chicken restaurant’s attorneys have a field day with that one (as the attorneys for these cities will tell these mayors), but it is tough to change laws and city ordinances on short notice. That’s why so many outdated and obsolete ordinances that hinder small business are still on the books in many municipalities in the first place!

So viewing the host of obstacles in front of them, I have to assume that these proclamations are more thunder than rain; as are the equally hyperbolic responses to this sort of fake institutional tyranny. Each side gets to rile up their respective bases, maybe make some cash via campaign donations, and get their names in the papers (or twitters).

But the rush of so many to “defend” the chicken restaurant’s “religious freedom” against personal boycotts like mine and toothless attention grabs by politicians rings quite hollow to my ears. That’s because this country is experiencing a very real assault on religious freedom that few individuals are talking about.

Basically, there are a bunch of “conservative” politicians and pundits all over this country that have been announcing how unhappy they were with members of a certain religious group owning property and building places of worship. Announcements are constantly made about how these politicians will “do everything in their power” to block members of this religious group from building places of worship, places of education, or places of business in their city. And that's the best case scenario, when this religion's places of worship and business aren't being burned to the ground by arsonists, or when houses of worship of completely different religions are attacked because they appear similar to ignorant gunmen.

Only this one religious group is singled out so adamantly by these politicians, and this religious group has been so thoroughly demonized in American popular culture, hate groups can't even figure out which religion it is that they hate. Even those who would take up the banner against such oppression on “free speech” and “free religion” grounds are said to be anti-American or anti-Christian. Advocates of extending such rights of speech and religion to members of this religion would place those advocates at the very forefront of the march to Tyranny! Dictatorship! Totalitarianism! End of Freedom! As a matter of fact, even portraying members of this religion in a positive (or even a normal) light, or in any way that may contradict the current cultural zeitgeist is viewed as an attack on American values.

Going even further, this whole specific religious group vs. Freedom thing started out having a lot to do with the TV cameras and the website pageviews, but has really become a cottage industry of actual creeping totalitarianism. The difference is that people in government are actually working and passing legislation authored to specifically restrict the rights or demonize this particular religious group. As a matter of fact, politicians fall all over themselves promising to “do everything in their power” to restrict this religion in America, and they have very real legislative goals in mind, even if those legislative goals include forbidding completely unrealistic concerns. And America’s culture-of-fear being what it is, it isn’t difficult to get local, regional, and national news outlets to contribute to the fear.

Of course, you won’t hear about the very real attacks on this group’s religious freedom in the United States, because most of the politicians organizing that attack are the same politicians up in arms over the very fake attacks on the chicken restaurant’s religious freedom. And I’d wager that an awful lot of the people who waited in lines to show “support” for the chicken restaurant’s religious freedom yesterday will vote in November for politicians and policies that restrict the other group’s actual religious freedom.

And that’s why I’m still talking about the Chick-fil-a thing. It ain't just about fried chicken, and it ain't just about homosexuality.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

You Didn't Tell the Truth About That


The thing that is going to depress me the most when President Obama hands over the keys of the White House to Mitt Romney in January isn’t that the American voters chose one set of government policies over others, it will be because they chose to believe in lies rather than truth. Lies backed up with millions of dollars worth of media exposure, to be sure, but lies nonetheless.

It will also prove just how bad Democrats are a politics, explaining their positions and policies to others, and how misplaced their priorities are. Because let’s face it, if Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives are unable to turn demonstrable facts that support their positions and policies (or to expose the demonstrable falsehoods used by the other side) into votes or material support, then there isn’t any reason to continue participating in political governance of this nation.

Right now, Republicans could run a dead cat for the office of President of the United States of America, and have a floor of at least 40% of the vote.

Democrats, on the other hand, can run the most likeable candidate in recent memory, who has been the most demonstrably effective President of my lifetime in facing a set of the most complex challenges - including an opposition party in control of the Supreme Court, a majority of the states, and the House of Representatives that is no longer interested in participating in the actual business of governing – and lose.

I’ll say it even more clearly: if Barack Obama was a member of the Republican Party with the record he currently has, we wouldn’t even know the name of the other party’s nominee. And that’s if they had a good nominee. This year, the Republicans are running Mitt Romney for the office, and there are a lot of Republicans who would have rather nominated a dead cat. If the parties were reversed, and Mitt was the Democrat, political scientists and pundits wouldn’t talk about a “landslide” in November 2012, they’d be talking about “running up the score.” Instead, right now this election is a coin flip.

Why is this happening? I’ve been saying for years the biggest problem is that Democrats refuse to cultivate a base like the Republicans. The GOP paid their dues over the last two generations and set the ground work. They pulled the most fanatic base voters into their coalition, so they’d always have volunteers to show up for their causes. They focused on capturing the suburban vote in local elections, so they could make their base the place where most Americans lived and aspired to live – and lived in a constant state of social alienation, fearful bunker mentality, and receptiveness to advertising. This ensured they would always control the conversation. They focused on state elections, so they’d always control the mechanisms that mapped the Congressional districts, assigned the Electoral Votes, set election rules, kept voting roll records, and counted the votes.  

But the second biggest problem is that Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives just don’t know how to tell the truth or expose the lie. Right now, the biggest one you’ll hear about is the “You Didn’t Build That” lie. That is the quote you will hear that came out of an Obama speech about the American system. It is an expression of how that system should work, and how most people should know this system works, and how – based on the long and messy history of the United States of America – how that system, when it works, makes America the most dynamic economy in the world. The speech sets up a choice between our current economic woes and the system not working, and the system starting to work again and our nation getting out of this funk. Here’s the idea:

You pay taxes. All those taxes, pooled together, that’s a whole lot of money. With that money, the government provides essential services and can invest in big projects that provide a material benefit to the free enterprise economy that the free enterprise economy is either unable or unwilling to provide for itself. Such services and projects create and expand opportunity to participate in the marketplace far beyond just those few individuals with generational capital. That expansion of opportunity provided the foundations of almost every small business and an establishment and flourishing of a dynamic middle class unprecedented in world history.  

What types of services and projects are we talking about? First and foremost, we’re talking about the US military, which defends the nation from international actors who would attempt to invade and take the fruits of everyone’s labor as spoils of war. Next up, we’re talking about infrastructure like roads, bridges, railroads, airports, levees, harbor dredging, postal service, power grids, radio towers, the satellite network, and the internet – all projects which create and expand access to markets. Then you’ve got the regulatory systems, law enforcement, fire protection, and environmental protections that keep internal actors from stealing the fruits of your labor, denying you your basic rights without due process of law, or poisoning your water, food, and air. You’ve got disaster response and mitigation so you and the fruits of your labor aren’t washed away, or if they are you’ve got subsidized insurance that helps cover the losses and rebuilds the communities and marketplaces in which you participate. You’ve got public education so no matter what economic status you are born into you have some sort of access to basic knowledge acquisition that may help you improve your opportunities to participate in the marketplace. You add to that some sort of social safety net for those who have not benefited from the marketplace, not only out of moral obligation to those less fortunate than us, but because providing some sort of relief to the less fortunate is far less disruptive to the market than the alternative.

That right there? That’s the deal. Every nation or community that has engaged in some form of the above system to expand opportunities and markets has experienced wealth generation greater than the tax investment they made.

Our particular version, our particular American system, has done very well for many of us. Membership has its privileges. If you start a business in this nation – from a taco truck in New Orleans to Bain Capital in Boston - and experience success, a good part of that is because you assumed some risk, worked hard, had a few lucky breaks, and earned your reward. No one should take that away from you. But you were also able to do all of that because of this systematic foundation that was already set up for you. It is a very expensive foundation, built on trillion of tax dollars and trillions of hours of work from previous generations of Americans. That system still has expenses, and now that you have your success, you’ve got to chip in your fair share to maintain it.

But if you started your own successful business, you didn’t build that system. You just take advantage of it. This is not difficult stuff to grasp. Part of your success is due to the fact that you started your business in the United States of America. Waving your flag on the 4th of July is pretty and all, but participation requires more than that. Membership has its privileges, to be sure, but membership also comes with dues.

It ain’t a perfect system. It has excesses, winners and losers and those it takes advantage of. Politics should be about how to manage that system effectively. Unfortunately, some politics want to deny such a system exists. That’s why the President’s statement “you didn’t build that” is going to be taken so far out of context that it might as well be in the next Busta Rhymes music video. That’s the lie.

Because Republicans want to deny such a system exists. They want business owners to think they somehow hacked their shops out of the wilderness and gained success by the sweat of their brow alone. They want to pretend this system of opportunity expansion and market access doesn’t have to be paid for, especially by those who benefit the most from it. According to them, the people who see this system for what it is are anti-American traitors who follow communism, socialism, and sharia. The problem is, there are so many people in this country who want to believe that up-from-the-bootstraps fantasy, this isn’t a difficult sell. There are simply so many people who think this system either should not exist, that it is too expensive, or that it somehow holds them back rather than provides them with opportunity.

Of course, I’m wondering how they (the businesses) will find customers if they (the customers) don’t have roads to drive on to get to their (the business owners') places of business.

And so Republicans will lie and run ads again and again with Obama saying “you didn’t build that,” because the President of the United States told the truth about how America works, about how making it work costs money, and because there are enough people who can’t handle that truth who will show up on election day in November.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Orleans City Council Changes

Expounding on yesterday’s post, here’s how changing election rules could improve things in New Orleans.

Right now, there are seven members on the city council representing a population of over 350,000. Five of these seats are determined by districts drawn in traditional ways – generally encompassing large areas with tentacles reaching out to snag and concentrate certain neighborhoods or voting blocs. Two of the seats are considered “at large” seats, and make up the President and VP of the Council.

Here’s how the 5 district seats are determined: all qualifying candidates in a district participate in a single “non-partisan” primary. If no candidate wins 50%+ of the vote, a runoff is declared for the top two vote recipients. This means the city basically has to pay for two elections, and turnout can vary widely. The Mayor is elected in a similar way, and there will be a referendum in November allowing voters to move the At-Large seats to this type of election as well.

Under the existing rules, candidates for the most important positions on the City Council ran in the same election – every voter got two votes, and the two top vote recipients get elected, provided they captured 25%+ of the vote. If they didn’t get to the magic number, runoffs were employed. Again, that’s setting up another election, changing voter turnout, and forcing two-time voters to decide between candidates who may not have captured a quarter of the first time voters.

The new proposal changes that slightly, basically splitting the At-Large field, requiring a primary election followed by a runoff if no one gets 50%+ in the primary. Still two elections, and now candidates will have to declare which “at large” seat they’re running for. Or something. It is “better” in that it makes more sense than the current threshold of 25% support. Here’s what I would do to eliminate the runoff elections and increase the value of every citizen’s vote. It would require uses of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) representation.

One: Move the Mayoral election to IRV. This means when citizens vote for Mayor, they list their first choice as #1, their second choice as #2, their third choice as #3 and so on. If their first choice candidate doesn’t get enough votes to win, that candidate is eliminated, and the vote goes to their second choice. If the second choice doesn’t win, the vote goes to their third choice, etc. This continues until one candidate gets over 50% of the vote. One election, one turnout, one conclusion.

Two: City Council elections become MMP. This requires doubling the number of district seats on the City Council, and giving each voter two slates within their district election. The first slate is the actual candidates from that district. Again, IRV is employed to determine who will represent the district outright.

The second slate exists for all political parties within the city, and the voter can cast one vote for their party of their choice. It does not have to be the same as the party their candidates belong to.

When the votes are tallied, the five district seats go to the five district winners. The other five seats are assigned based on the total proportion of votes by party. Those proportions would include the district winners.

For example, this being New Orleans, let’s say that all 5 district seats went to Democratic candidates. Under the current system, that’s 100% of the representation. Under the MMP system that’s only 50% of the representation.

The Board of Elections then looks at the number of party votes from across the city. Let’s say that 70% of voters, city-wide, cast their party vote for the Democratic Party, 20% cast their vote for the Republican Party, and 10% cast their vote for the Green Party. This would mean you add 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 1 Green Party representative to fill those other 5 city council seats.

Now, I know what you’re saying – that puts a lot of power in the hands of Party level decision makers. But have you ever been to a meeting with those decision makers, locally? A few extra bodies in the room would be enough to change the whole decision making process – this is the local level we’re talking about, where your voice and participation can have the greatest affect. Setting up a system in this way gives you more access to your own governance, not less. Set the rules for having an official political party at a reasonable level, and you increase the diversity of your political options instead of shoehorning them into two lackluster choices.

Pursuant to that, another advantage is that the political diversity can now lead to results in government. How many Republicans or Green Party followers are simply disenfranchised at the local level in Orleans Parish? While your partisan mind might thing “good riddance,” consider your own disenfranchisement at the state and local levels in mostly Republican Louisiana. The point of the exercise is to make your vote count and your representative government more responsive. You can’t do that sort of thing without guaranteeing the rights of others who disagree with you.

As far as the At Large seats are concerned, I think setting up a 10 member council would eliminate the need for them. Elected officials could appoint a council President Pro Tem and VP out of their own membership at that point. Since so many “At Large” seats came about as a result of redistricting and segregating neighborhoods, I wouldn’t shed one tear to consign that concept to the dustbin. .