Category Archives: Opinion

Intelligentsia: Berned Out

by Daniel J. Durand

Now that the Democratic and Republican nominees for president have been officially picked, and the dust has settled from the conventions, I’ve had some time to sort out my thoughts about the 2016 presidential election—or as I like to call it, “Pepsi Presents: Democracy Smackdown Royale 2016.”

TMI, Politics Edition

I feel Berned out.

My Facebook friends are probably not going to be surprised by my saying I supported Bernie Sanders during his campaign—I shared news updates pretty frequently and jumped more than a few conversations, both online and in person.

But they might be surprised to hear me say that I’m done. I’m out. I’m taking my ball and going home. I’m riding off into the sunset, the dust of the trail behind me, the wind of freedom on my cheek.

At least, for now.

See, I’ve always been pretty big into politics. I studied politics in school, and absorbed every ounce of news and information I could find. A lot of my friends come to me when they have questions about what’s going on in the world, or why things are happening, and over the years that’s made me even more diligent in finding the best information I could to share with them.

But I think it’s time to unplug for a while, and I’ll give a few reasons why.

First, take a look at this video by YouTuber Veritasium; in it, he talks about the “distraction economy,” and how the amount of information available today and how we consume it is similar to how we consume calories in a world where food is easily accessible.

Information has value, so when we have access to all the information all the time, we can’t help but to consume as much as possible. Binge-watching Netflix, surfing Facebook all day, or catching up on YouTube videos are a lot like reaching for an extra donut—you know one will taste good and satisfy a craving, but if you eat too many, you’ll get fat.

It’s pretty likely I would have experienced this feeling no matter what, but the 2016 campaign has brought it to a head. If you Google phrases like “political burnout” or “election burnout,” you get a sea of articles about people becoming so sick of the media cycle and politics during election years, that they tune out altogether—and these articles go back years, covering multiple elections and political offices.

More Like “Bernie Busted,” Not “Bernie or Bust”

But why am I Berned out, as opposed to just being burned out?

Well, the short answer is Bernie didn’t make it to the Democratic nomination, and I’m disappointed.

The long answer is, there were a lot of reasons I supported Bernie Sanders as a candidate and not Hillary Clinton or Scrooge McDuck… er, sorry, Donald Trump. Those reasons remain even after the nominees were picked, and what Bernie represented still resonates even though I can’t “Feel the Bern” anymore.

If you had asked me a year ago how I thought the 2016 campaign would go, I would have said without a doubt that it would be Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush squaring off in the general election, and that Hillary would win because of shifting voter demographics pushing America further to the left.

I found out about Bernie Sanders when he entered the race for the Democratic nomination, and I was incredibly skeptical that he would make an impact at all. A socialist from Vermont with crazy hair did not register very highly on my radar.

Then I heard him speak.

For years, I’ve been a believer in strong labor unions, a higher minimum wage, socialized medicine and education, stricter controls on banks, and Wall Street reform.

I remembered the Occupy Wall Street movement. I remembered SOPA, CISPA, ACTA, PIPA, and the fight for net neutrality. I remembered Citizen’s United.

I still remember, just like I remember driving my car to work with NPR on the radio, hearing Bernie speak for the first time. Here was a man who not only fought against the same things I wanted to fight, but had been consistently fighting them decades before I was born.

So, I did my homework. I donated to his campaign. I attended the Democratic Caucus in Boise, Idaho, which turned out to be the largest caucus in United States history—and I can tell you right now, it sure as hell wasn’t because of the Hillary Clinton supporters.

But why, now, after Bernie has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, and she has won the nomination, can I not also throw my support behind her, and vote for her in the general election?

Why does a baseball fan love baseball?

Is it because of tangible properties, like the shape of a baseball diamond, the size of the ball, and the material the bat is made from? What about the systems the game runs on, such as the rulebook, or the scoring system, or the positions and types of players? Perhaps it’s more about the feelings the game inspires, memories of summer days, the smell of sweat or the taste of stadium hotdogs?

Hank Green of CrashCourse gave a good explanation of the concept of identity, asking how many features you can take away from Batman—his cape, his money, his martial arts prowess—before he is no longer Batman.

Green explains the concept of fungibility, that objects are interchangeable with objects of the same kind. Some objects, like twenty-dollar bills, are fungible with each other, whereas a pet corgi is not fungible with any other pet corgi.

Getting back to baseball, how many aspects of the game can be changed before baseball fans no longer love it? For that matter, how many aspects of a presidential campaign can you change before it is no longer worth my vote?

Bernie Sanders would not have gotten my vote because he is Bernie Sanders—I think he’s a sweet guy, and he seems like a genuine human being who I would love to meet one day—but because of the platform he built his campaign around, and for his credibility in standing for that platform over the course of his career.

Hillary Clinton would never have gotten my vote, because her platform has changed too often over her career. For example, I cannot believe her when she says she supports increasing the minimum wage, because she did very little to support wage increases during her six years on Walmart’s board of directors, a company that is well known for pushing its workers to welfare rather than paying them a livable wage.

When it took Bernie Sanders withholding his endorsement to get Clinton to move to a more progressive stance on many issues, and when all that is holding her to those positions is her word, I am left wanting.

To take my values, the values that Bernie just so happened to represent, and then replace Bernie with Hillary, does not convince me that my values will be represented in the White House.

To suggest that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are fungible is a farce.

The Illusion of Choice

Years ago, George Carlin did a stand-up routine about elections, and the “illusion” of choice between candidates who really represent the same businesses, lobbyists, and moneyed interests. Carlin referred to these interests collectively as the owners of the country—I don’t know if I would personally go that far, but he made a good point.

“You and I are not in the big club,” Carlin said. And I do agree with him there.

I knew I wasn’t going to vote for Hillary Clinton the minute she announced her candidacy. Even before Bernie stepped in, I knew it was going to be a major moral dilemma figuring out how I would cast my vote, or even if I would vote at all.

In my mind, the Democratic Party more or less represented my ideals, at least better than the Republicans would ever dream of doing—and I certainly would not be voting Republican. Democrats weren’t perfect, but I figured at the worst America would just have four more years of stagnation, the President making speeches while the Supreme Court gave a few more rights away to corporations and Congress blocked any and all legislation to come its way.

But I couldn’t think of voting for Clinton, who, based on her donor ties alone, looks no different to me than any Republican except for the “D” on her party affiliation. That analysis remains unchanged.

Bernie gave me a choice, a real choice. Now that he’s officially out of the running, the best anyone can say to convince me to support Hillary Clinton is that she isn’t Uncle Pennybags… I mean, Donald Trump. Which is funny, because my friends who support Trump are mainly telling me it’s because he isn’t Hillary Clinton.

To those standing for either candidate, Trump or Clinton, I respect their right to choose and support whomever they wish—but I think Carlin says it best here, too.

If this election is really the best we can do, the problems of this country are probably a lot bigger than who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

We Now Return to Your Regularly Scheduled Deprogramming

The values I believe in have not changed.

A year ago, I decided I would vote for Mr. Potato Head. I would support his platform of delicious starchy goodness, and trust that his eyes would watch over America in a way most befitting of the Commander in Crisps—I am now more convinced than ever before that Candidate Head is the best candidate to win Pepsi Presents: Democracy Smackdown Royale 2016, and he will have my vote come November.

In the meantime, I’m going to do what Veritasium suggested, and start myself on a low-information diet. Instead of following politics so closely, I’m going to catch up on my reading, go for walks, draw more, and play more Pokémon.

I don’t really care who wins the election anymore—the secret that no one wants to tell you right now is that no matter who wins in November, no one is going to be happy. Neither Trump nor Clinton will keep all their promises if elected. Either of them would do things that are questionable, or even borderline illegal.

Even Obama, who talked of scaling back the Patriot Act and the drone program started under the Bush administration, has not only utilized those dark areas of his power, but expanded them and made them stronger than ever before.

So, I’m out. I wash my hands of this. I’m taking a vacation.

However, I do have a plan for when I’m rested and ready to come back for another bowl of media soup—a plan I think everyone, whether they supported Sanders, or Clinton, or Trump, should get on board with.

See, I wasn’t the only one with strongly-held values this election. Bernie talked about his movement nonstop during his campaign, and I’m going to follow up with that movement for as long as it exists.

When I read articles that suggest fracking companies are pleased as punch over Tim Kaine’s selection as Clinton’s VP, or that wage growth has slowed to a crawl while the rich insist they’re already paying their employees too much, it tells me that there is a lot more work to be done than just voting, whether you’re Berned out, like me, or if you’re with her, or if you want to make America great again.

Donate to worthy causes. Run for political office yourself, and campaign for good people in your local offices and at the state level. Start blogging and spreading your ideals, and engage the communities you live in. Hold those in power accountable, and be ready to remove those who stand in the way of progress.

Don’t just choose the lesser of two evils; fight for even the smallest of many goods.

 

Daniel Durand is a writer based in Boise, Idaho. He can be reached at ddurand.specialprojects@gmail.com

Refugees, Immigrants, and ‘Murrican Values

by Daniel J. Durand

A friend of mine reached out to me on Facebook, and asked what my take is on the idea of refugees receiving welfare.

Refugees are a touchy subject, especially in Idaho; the College of Southern Idaho acts as a refugee center, taking people in from all over the world and helping them find homes and jobs. Many decide to settle permanently in Boise or Twin Falls, and I’ve known and worked with many refugees and their families.

In my experience, most Idahoans are indifferent or even happy about refugees living in their community. Some people, though, aren’t so thrilled, or can even be hostile to the idea, and this creates tension—there are now groups in Idaho that have formed to “watch” refugees and keep track of their activities.

Big Brother is Average Joe, but “Average” isn’t a Compliment

Recently, one of these “watcher” groups posted an article on its blog about a young girl in Twin Falls who was raped by the son of a refugee family. The article suggested not only that the boy was congratulated by his family, but also claimed that the response to the situation by the police and prosecutors hinted at a greater scheme.

Details are still emerging, but information released by the authorities involved in the case and the media suggests that there were three boys involved, one committing the crime while the others egged him on. The police responded, the boys were apprehended, the legal system is processing. As of writing this, it doesn’t look like any of the boys were refugees, either.

A young girl was sexually assaulted—but clearly, the incident was not exactly how the blog made it appear.

Keep in mind, the people running these blogs are regular people like you and me. Question is, do you trust the guy next door enough that you’d be comfortable with him watching your activities?

Is it hard to believe that in a city where refugees are common, and people are on edge, some of the details these “concerned citizens” produced were fuzzy, or even made up?

The story made the rounds in the media, and the Idaho Statesman, the Washington Post, local KPVI, and Snopes thoroughly debunked it.

Unfortunately, this was after the conservative, anti-refugee crowd got all hopped up on freedom juice—YouTube is full of videos right now linking the incident to media cover-ups and a conspiracy by Obama to strategically place Muslim refugees across the United States.

I’m not going to link to any of those videos, because I refuse to give them web traffic. If you really want to go to the freak show, just search “twin falls refugee” on YouTube. Sadly, you won’t find the media reports or credible sources, because the news agencies are using their own video players, not YouTube.

In this day and age, information is spread rapidly, but it’s the information that is the easiest to pass around that actually gets passed around, not necessarily the best information. You almost can’t fault people for buying into the bullshit when it’s so abundant and easy to find.

Almost.

Refugees on the Dole

Regardless of where you stand on this, it’s a huge can of worms to talk about refugees right now, and so I decided to take some time to gather my thoughts before answering my friend’s question, and this article is for him.

To put it simply, I am in favor of refugees receiving welfare. By “welfare,” I mean access to food stamps, housing, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, etc. Refugees have virtually the same access to welfare programs as legal immigrants and United States citizens, and in my mind, this is fair.

If you think about it, their entire status as refugees is a form of welfare—we recognize that refugees are without a country, without a home, without a life, and we strive to take care of them until they can get back on their feet. Why would you bring in refugees, and then not give them access to food, housing, medicine, and financial aid?

Refugees are your neighbor who has a house fire and has to stay in your living room. Yes, we one day want our living room back. But we understand that our neighbor didn’t choose to have their house burn down.

Ideally, refugees will return to their countries of origin when the war, natural disaster, or political climate that caused them to be refugees has subsided, or they could become citizens, and fully integrate themselves into American society. If either of those outcomes are to be realized, someone has to make sure these people—and they are people, above all else—are cared for.

How can you expect a person to survive, or to want to naturalize, when you remove all access to the systems they need to do so? Remember, refugees have nothing—no job, no money, no social security number, nothing. If you don’t give them a way out of that situation, they won’t get out.

I think this goes against what a lot of Americans believe right now, this pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that suggests if you just grit your teeth and struggle hard enough, you’ll make it. It’s got a simple sort of beauty to it, I suppose. No matter what else, you can always count on yourself, and pull yourself up, without pity or charity, or, heaven forbid, the government.

How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you have no boots?

That’s really what we’re dealing with—a group of people who have nothing, and can only depend on others, a plight that is so much the antithesis to our national mindset that the people who suffer from it may as well not exist.

But there was a second part of my friend’s question; specifically, what are my thoughts on refugees receiving welfare, when other immigrants don’t have access.

Getting Ours First

Here are some other questions you may have heard people ask when talking about refugees, or about immigration:

  • “How can we let in refugees when we have homeless veterans?”
  • “Why should we ease immigration restrictions when there are no jobs for Americans?”
  • “Why can’t they just fix their own country before ruining ours?”

All I hear is, “I want mine before they get theirs.”

Not that I’m accusing my friend of harboring that notion. But I do think the second part of his question sounds awfully familiar. So, here’s a new riddle: A Syrian refugee, a homeless veteran, and an illegal immigrant who just crossed the border walk into a soup kitchen. Who’s hungriest?

We live in a world where sometimes, people need to rely on help from others. Call it charity, call it welfare—poverty knows no nation, creed, color, or language, and the helpless will always need help. I don’t think you can assign a pecking order to the tired, the poor, or the hungry, and short of Batman, bigger soup kitchens are probably the best way to help the most people.

What disappoints me is that instead of planning to build more soup kitchens, we plan to build walls. We believe rumors a little too willingly, and care too little about the truth.

Americans believe in working hard and building a prosperous life—the American dream, alive and shining.

The second part of that ideal, the part we seem to be forgetting lately, is that once you realize the dream, once you pull yourself up by your bootstraps… you reach back down to the people below you, and pull them up.

Sometimes, reaching back means risking a bite on the hand, but we do it anyway, because that’s the kind of people we are.

 

Daniel Durand is sick of Facebook debates. He can be reached at ddurand.specialrojects@gmail.com

French Fries and Jesus

by Daniel J. Durand

A couple of weeks ago, I met a woman named Bess.

I was in Barnes & Noble, soaking up air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, thinking of ideas for articles. I’ve been doing a lot of research on green technology and have become fascinated by home solar panels and trying to make individual homes more efficient, so I thought I’d try to write an article about what I’d learned.

I was making good progress, too, but after a while of getting redirected to websites for doomsday preppers, and also learning that a “carbon scrubber” is apparently a device used in growing marijuana, not just helping the environment, I decided to call it a day.

My stomach was growling as I stepped out onto the street. French fries sounded good, maybe with some vinegar. I adjusted the strap on my laptop bag and started toward my car.

“Excuse me, can you help?”

The question had come from a woman, who was about 20 feet away from me in the parking lot. I stopped and turned, not sure if I’d even heard her. She quickly closed the gap.

“Can you help, sir?”

She had a small bag on her shoulder, a duffel bag grasped in one hand, and a taped-together picture frame in the other. She wore socks with sandals and a faded dress, and a floppy sunhat with the plastic brim falling off. She smelled vaguely of what I thought was patchouli.

This was Bess, and she was homeless.

In and of itself, I was not shocked to meet a homeless person. Boise, like many cities, has a pretty serious homeless problem.

Also like many cities, local government has been slow to acknowledge it. Barely six months ago, the police had broken up a tent city downtown, and I regularly see homeless people on the streets on my way to work.

I asked what was wrong, and Bess introduced herself. She said she didn’t want to offend me, and she didn’t want to take my time or cause me any problems. She said she had been hoping and praying for help, and wondered if there was anything I could do, and that she would understand if I didn’t want to or couldn’t be bothered.

I was about to say she had my attention, and that I would help if I could, but before I could say anything, she sped through a rundown of her faith and how her present circumstances are a test to bring her closer to God. She had clearly given this speech before, and I guessed she was probably used to people walking away or being more defensive.

“That’s why I carry a guardian angel on my arm,” said Bess, showing me the picture frame she was holding. In it was a portrait of an angel, with a serene look and clasped hands, and a background of clouds, surrounded by a glowing aura.

Bess assured me that she didn’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs. I hadn’t asked, but the reassurance was nice. Truth be told, I’ve seen enough druggies and drunks to know she was probably telling the truth, and based on her age, it seemed more likely to me she was homeless from lack of access to drugs, not misuse.

About five minutes after she approached me, I finally got a word in. I explained that I didn’t carry cash, but I was willing to come back if she’d be in the area for a while. I figured since I was going to get a bite to eat anyway, I could get her something, too, and maybe throw in a few bucks.

“Actually,” said Bess, “If you don’t mind or if you’re not comfortable giving me cash, I need medicine and I need to raise money for that.”

I asked what kind of medicine.

“I don’t like to use pharmaceuticals or manufactured medicine,” she said. “The vitamin shop is just up the street, and I need barberry tincture; it helps the gallbladder.”

I looked at my watch, and then at her face. She seemed innocent enough; her eyes reminded me of farm animals back home. She was older, but her skin seemed wrinkled more from sun than from age. I imagined she had been quite pretty when she was young. I imagined she had liked to laugh.

What the hell, I had French fries on my schedule, not a meeting with the Pope.

I threw my laptop in the trunk of my car, and we started walking to get her barberry. I thought about driving us there, but I’ve heard enough horror stories of people getting mugged or having guns pulled on them by hitchhikers to be cautious. Besides, it was only a few blocks.

Bess asked me about myself. I said that my name is Dan, and I’m almost 24. She asked how long I’ve been in Boise, and I said about a year, that I’d moved here a few months after I got out of school. She asked what I went to school for, and I said journalism.

She made an “Ah” sound, one I’d heard a lot since going to school, usually followed by comments about how bad things are with the media or that I wasted my time and should have picked another major. Her reaction wasn’t quite that extreme, though, and I decided to take the opportunity to ask about her.

Bess, it turns out, had been a night security guard for a number of years before an accident in 2012 threw her life into chaos; while crossing the street one day at a busy intersection, she was hit by a car and tossed onto the pavement, resulting in several broken bones and brain damage.

She showed me the ring on her finger, which had several spaces in it where stones had been set. The force of the impact had knocked the stones out of her ring.

While she was able to recover, she was not able to return to work. She said she had family that took care of her for a while, but they had all died, and since she never married or had children of her own, she was alone. She soon became homeless, and then decided to wander.

A few friends Bess made after getting out of the hospital scraped some money together to buy her a bus ticket to Montana. Originally from northern California, Bess didn’t tell me why she was headed to Montana, but she got off the bus in Boise because it seemed like a good place to live.

“There’s no drugs here, and it’s a very wholesome family atmosphere, and what drugs there are are illegal,” she said. “I wanted to be somewhere like that, where I could just focus on my spiritual learning and connecting with God.”

Bess continued on about her faith, how it was really what was holding her together. Her whole life had been changed in a day, and everything she thought was important was cast aside; she said without her faith, she wouldn’t have survived.

I felt funny, then. It had occurred to me that I was walking to buy homeopathic medicine that I doubted would be effective, for a woman whom I knew next to nothing about, as we talked about a god I don’t believe in.

As if on cue, she said she was very grateful that I was helping her, and that most people wouldn’t go to this much trouble.

“It’s no worries,” I said. “At the very least, you get your medicine and I get some exercise.”

We made it to the vitamin shop and I stopped to let her catch her breath. We stood there for a few minutes while she talked about a man she had met about my age from Seattle, who had gone to school to study computers and spent about a year looking for jobs and losing hope before landing a position with Micron.

“That time he spent searching was for him to learn, just like it is for me,” said Bess. “And just like I’m sure it is for you, this up-in-the-air time you have now, to learn and to go to Jesus and ask for help.”

I held the door for her and we went into the store. If I’d had any doubts about her authenticity up to this point, they vanished when she made a beeline to the barberry tincture, the store clerk recognizing her face and greeting her with a small nod. Bess had obviously been here before. I paid for the tincture and we started walking back to my car.

On the walk back, Bess said that she didn’t mean to impose anything with her religious beliefs. She only meant to share, and that the last thing she wanted was to give me unsolicited advice after all the mistakes she had made in her own life.

“When people tell me I should go to the church, or get help, or go to a nonprofit, they’re not understanding, they’re not helping,” she said. “We all have to find our own way.”

I did end up giving her a short ride a few streets over; it was getting dark and I figured if she were going to brutally murder me, she would have done it by now, so it would probably be okay to help her get on her way home, even if I couldn’t take her all the way. I dropped her off and went to get my belated dinner, thinking about our conversation.

While I waited for my order to be made, I kept thinking. When I got my greasy brown bag of fries, I kept thinking. When I got home and ate alone in my room, I kept thinking.

I’m angry.

Not because of the religious conversation, or that she talked about Jesus so much. No, that was part of who she is, what’s keeping her strong, what makes her human in a life that would make most people forget they aren’t animals.

I’m angry because Bess isn’t the first person I’ve met in the last year driven to poverty, to have their life ruined by circumstance or to be left with nothing but their faith. I’m angry because I know people who are just one step away from being Bess, from needing tinctures and angles to get through the day. I’m angry because no matter what else, these people are still people, and I feel like society has let them fall through the cracks.

Why do we let people get sick and not take care of them? Why do we let the elderly live on the streets? Why do we give people so little that when they need help most, they must depend on the intangible?

I’m angry because I don’t have answers to these questions, and because frankly, I don’t think any answer would satisfy me anymore.

But at least I got my damn French fries…

 

Daniel is a writer and editor based in Boise, Idaho. He likes detective stories and probably drinks too much coffee. Reach him at ddurand.specialprojects@gmail.com