One Democracy, Please

He talks in his Democratic National Committee voice as if he still writes press releases for the Governor of New York.

“Our Candidate…” he keeps repeating, referring to Hillary Clinton.

“What about Bernie?” I ask.

He scoffs. He says he doesn’t have a chance. Hillary has the money and the establishment support.

My Dad has worked in politics, public and private sector, for over 25 years. In November, he came to New Zealand to visit me. The sandflies are nipping at our ankles as we drink beer and wine at a campsite in Marahau after hiking a portion of Abel Tasman track.

“But the only thing that matter is who gets the most votes,” I say. “We live in a democracy. It doesn’t matter who has the most money.”

His experience tells him otherwise.

My idealism and optimism in young Americans gives me confidence.

Bernie doesn’t exist in his mind. Just as he doesn’t exist in the minds of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the 359 superdelegates, according to the AP, already pledged to Hillary.

A few days before the Iowa Caucus, Serena and I are taking a luxury day away from the free campsite — where you have to bring your own toilet paper — to shower and use power, Internet and the kitchen at the Queenstown Holiday Park.

I’m devouring the New York Times. I try to explain what it all means and how Iowa is the first state to hold a primary, but it’s not a primary it’s a caucus and it makes no sense and Iowa is not a representative sample of America so why does it matter anyway.

Trump leads the polls amongst the Republicans. Hillary is ahead of Bernie by just a few points. I pull up Real Clear Politics and see that Hillary’s lead has been shrinking over the past week.

She doesn’t understand.

“So Bernie and Hillary are in the same party?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say.

“Do they like…” she can’t find the words.

“Work together?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Not really. They have really different ideas,” I say.

She doesn’t understand.

She explains the party system In Ireland. If you vote for a politician you basically vote for their political party. She supports Sinn Fein, which just recently became a feasible political party and is overcoming its status as a terrorist group and IRA connections. It’s funny how the world is changing. With Justin Trudeau recently winning in Canada and Jeremy Corbyn winning in the UK

“Well there are only two political parties in America,” I say.

She is shocked.

As she should be. As we all should be.

New Zealand is where we met for the first time as equals. I am no longer the son who he kicked out of his house and he is no longer the father that I depend on. We are two free men talking and drinking and enjoying each other’s company.

“I like talking about this with you because I have ideas, but you have a lifetime of experience,” I say.

He tells me Obama lost all credibility in his first 18 months in office. He didn’t fight hard enough. Too many concessions to the Republicans who only had one word to say: No.

He says we need a new leader in the next few years. Obama destroyed the Democratic Party.

What he doesn’t understand is that the “new” leader we need is a 74-year-old socialist from Brooklyn.

Hillary says she will protect and continue Obama’s legacy.


What was Obama’s campaign all about? Change. Why would he want his predecessor to stop the change? I want us to go further. We can’t stay like this.

The United States of America is not a democracy.

When one is elected as President of the United States that should be taken as a referendum. Take the power and do something with it.

(President George W. Bush doesn’t count. He didn’t win the popular vote. And, wow, that brings me to another point. I have to distinguish which President Bush I am referring to. I don’t want to have to distinguish which President Clinton I am referring to. I don’t want dynasties in America. Two families shouldn’t be President for 24 plus years. Didn’t we, like, fight really hard to separate ourselves from Kings and Queens and ruling families?)

I don’t like the status quo. I want more change. Let’s keep going.

Why don’t we spend more money on education and health care than we do on “defense” which is code for pouring endless money into the wallets of private contractors who benefit from the military industrial complex? And I’m really tired of reading about drone strikes killing civilians.

I want money spent at home so Americans aren’t living in poverty. I don’t want money spent on the latest technology that kills people who have brown skin and live in deserts in the Middle East. Sorry, I mean protecting democracy around the world and keeping Americans safe. Silly me.

And it’s all in the name of fighting terrorism. Who is the terrorist in this scenario? The poor teenager who’s village was bombed and his family killed and then joins a group of “freedom fighters” who drive up in a pick-up truck and offer him a new life? Is he a terrorist? Or is the terrorist the most powerful country in the world that makes innocent people live in fear and if they die they are deemed enemy combatants because history is written by those who have power.

No more of this bullshit.

Hillary is a hawk. I want a dove. I want peace and prosperity for Americans.

Phew. Sorry about that. Where was I?

I can’t help thinking about the conversation I had with my father as I am hitting refresh on my laptop watching the Iowa Caucus results trickle in at the Queenstown Public Library.

Bernie didn’t win. Hillary has 49.9 percent to Bernie’s 49.6. Hillary didn’t win.

They both leave Iowa with the same number of delegates. Iowa is not a winner-takes-all state. What a strange system.

Now the establishment Democrats are scared. Even though it’s just Iowa, they see that Bernie has people power. The most important type of power in what is supposed to be a democracy.

I check Reddit and read about Iowans saying their precincts ran out of voter registration forms. New voters means Bernie wins. Young voters means Bernie wins.

From my years as a Political Science student, writing research papers and opinion columns for the school paper, reading news, watching news, working as a Congressional intern, a media watchdog intern, trade association intern, think tank communications temp, and working on the campaign of the Governor of Virginia, I’ve learned that enthusiasm determines elections.

Certain people — older, whiter, and more conservative — always vote. Other people — younger, darker, and more liberal — usually don’t vote.

Obama won his elections because young people and minorities were very enthusiastic about this intelligent and charismatic young black man who was running for President. He was different and exciting.

Right now in America, young people are excited about Bernie Sanders. They are excited because he has a lot of revolutionary ideas that will take America away from being owned by the moneyed interests and instead transform the country into a beautiful thing: A True Democracy.

That’s what socialism is. Democracy. It means people working together instead of competing against each other. In unchecked capitalism, there are winners — which we always hear about — but there are many more losers. We don’t talk about the losers.

How strange this must be to Australians who are required to vote or else face a fine.

The United States of America is not a democracy.

Republicans want to take us even further away from democracy. They call for voter ID laws and scream and yell baseless claims of voter fraud on their media outlets. And more furtively they disenfranchise voters via redistricting and gerrymandering.

Oh look. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus. That doesn’t mean anything. He can’t win a general election. We have come too far. He wants to shut down the government. He wants to have a 10 percent flat tax rate and he wants to abolish the IRS and make everyone pay taxes on a postcard.

Wow, so simple!

Is it any surprise that people who don’t have a college education are more likely to support Ted Cruz? Of course uneducated people are going to vote for Ted Cruz. All they know is their own insulated existence and they don’t have the critical thinking abilities to filter out what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh spouts from their spitting, seething, hate filled lips.

When they hear a 10 percent flat tax rate they think they will save a few thousand dollars every year. But what they might not understand is that the top marginal tax rate used to be 94 percent in 1944 and then down to a comfortable 70 percent until 1981. After deductions the millionaires and billionaires would pay a much lower rate but that shows how much we have changed since Reagan began to deregulate and favor the rich.

If the super-rich pay a 10 percent tax rate, then United States of America would lose an incredible amount of revenue. We can’t just cut spending. America is people. Some people are poor. Some people can’t support themselves because the system is rigged.

I understand that a lot of people out there like Hillary and don’t appreciate this divisive Democratic Party that is similar to the debate between the Tea Party Republicans and Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

Yes, I read, An All-Caps Explosion of Feelings Regarding the Liberal Backlash Against Hillary Clinton, which several of my female Facebook friends have shared.

You say that Hillary has to be a part of the establishment because she’s a woman and she has no choice. I don’t care. This isn’t about Hillary. I don’t care about Hillary or your feelings, even if you are yelling.

I care about America. I care about the future of America and I know that Bernie Sanders has the ideas that will take us in the right direction.

I’m voting for the candidate who represents my beliefs. I don’t care how hard Hillary has worked to be here or how she has to act a certain way because she’s a woman. I agree with Bernie much, much more often than I agree with Hillary.

And I really don’t give a fuck about what the media and the establishment tells us is possible.

Let us decide what is possible. Let young people decide what is possible. Let the voters decide what is possible.

This is a democracy, right?


Climate change will increase global inequality

Professor Tord Kjellstrom gave a lecture and Q&A about the effects of climate change on workers for the Nelson Science Society on Tuesday night.

Kjellstrom, director of the Health and Environment International Trust and visiting fellow at NMIT, spoke of the “extraordinary inequality” between hot, poor countries around the equator and rich, cold countries in Europe and North America in the coming decades as a result of climate change.

Countries in South East Asia and West Africa will lose billions of dollars in productivity and work capacity, while countries like Canada and Russia have calculated that their economies will actually benefit from the effects of climate change.

Kjellstrom provided the example of the Le Lai shoe factory in Haiphong, Vietnam. During the summer, workers stay two hours longer everyday to produce the same output. It’s so hot and humid they have to take more breaks.

“The trends are always going up,” he said.

In the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, scientists and world leaders will make plans to limit the global temperature change to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years.

The graph below shows four plans for the expected global temperature change. The top blue line is unsustainable and the bottom line is not currently feasible. Kjellstrom says we can expect the temperature to rise somewhere around the green and red lines in the middle of the graph.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.58.07 PM
Four plans to limit global temperature change. Most predict we will end up somewhere around the green and red estimates.

Kjellstrom added the expected life span of his two-year-old grandchild (yellow), and the successive generations. This child will almost certainly live to 2100, when the global average temperature is expected to be 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was in 1995.

“I imagine the sort of world he is going into,” Kjellstrom, who grew up in Sweden but has lived most of his life in New Zealand, said.

Kjellstrom and his research team have compared the temperature increases in places around the world and gauged the effects on working people in fields and factories.

Here in Nelson, with a booming fruit picking industry, the temperature has been increasing at a rate of 0.16 degrees Celsius every decade. It won’t make a huge difference in labor productivity.

Compare that to Singapore, where it is rising at a rate of 0.29 degrees every decade.

Or Istanbul, at 0.97 degrees.

Or Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico, where the temperature has risen at a rate of 1.29 degrees every decade since 1980. This is not a prediction, this is what has already happened.

It is clear that as the temperature rises, productivity falls. Workers have to start earlier in the day, take more breaks, take naps during midday or, in some cases, work becomes impossible.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.29.54 PM
WBGT is a heat stress index created by the American Military. It takes into account temperature, humidity, wind and other environmental factors. As WBGT increases, productivity plummets.

With a wide disparity between hot, poor countries and cold, rich countries, scientists and economists predict mass migration, massive loss in labor productivity and mass fatality. Entire countries will become unlivable in coming centuries.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor expects a global loss of $2.4 trillion (USD) in global labor productivity annually by 2030.

One of Kjellstrom’s colleagues estimates 100 million refugees will seek entrance to Europe by the end of century because of climate change. Compare that figure to the 280,000 refugees who entered the EU in 2014 and 350,000 from January-August of this year.

That’s a lot of people with no where to go. He says they might be resettled in the cold, safe climates of Siberia or Northern Canada.

“I hope you are educating this government,” a woman from the crowd says during the Q&A, alluding to the conservative Prime Minister John Key. Everyone laughed and one man quipped, “Is that possible?”

The discussion lasted longer than the lecture. I appear to be the youngest in the crowd of about 60 in the auditorium style classroom at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Most of the attendees are the type of Kiwi mothers and grandmothers who wouldn’t allow you to refuse a cup of tea or coffee and homemade biscuits. Rumbles of mmm, mmm, mmm and head nods spread through the crowd when Professor Kjellstrom makes an especially poignant remark.

“Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in climate change?” he asks the crowd. Just laughs.

One member said, “It’s not a belief system…We should not use the word belief.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way. I find it sad that we most certainly have the ability and technology to stop climate change, but capitalism is preventing progress. Too many corporations and lobbyists are simply making too much money from fossil fuels, agriculture and livestock. They like the status quo and aren’t willing to change.

Kjellstrom said with his age he has learned to be patient. He said it is difficult to find funding for research and even more difficult for people to believe your work if it is not published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s clear this fight will take time, but by the time we take action, it might be too late.

P.S. I just watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. Holy shit. Mind blown. If you really want to be an environmentalist, stop consuming all animal products and go vegan.

A Night Out in Nelson

I had no interest in drinking with the kids at the hostel on a Saturday night, so I set off into town with my backpack and camera, not knowing what to expect.

Invisible cars.
Invisible cars.

The city of Nelson was quiet at 9 pm. I heard live music and headed in that direction. All of the sudden I see hand painted signs, tents, a circle of camp chairs, raggedy people standing around wrapped in blankets and a guy playing Neil Young on his acoustic guitar.

“Hello!” one of the white-haired ladies called out. “We’re protesting the TPPA.”

After a momentary hesitation, I realize this is the place I need to be tonight.

I take a seat and ask the woman who greeted me, “So why are you against the TPPA? Gimme your spiel.”

She began to answer and I interrupted, “You don’t want to give up your sovereignty.”

“Yes, exactly,” she said.

I think some of the protesters thought I was homeless because everyone asked me where I am staying. Don’t worry, guys, I’m staying at a hostel and I’m not crazy. I’m from D.C. and I understand politics and I just want to talk to you all.

I was introduced to Graeme, the organizer for the event. On August 16, New Zealanders all over the country protested the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Nelson had a strong turnout of about 750, according to the NelsonMail. This Occupy Nelson protest was a continuation of those protests, to show that support is still strong.

Earlier in the day, several protesters dressed up in Kiwi — not Kiwifruit — masks with Uncle Sam whipping them into line while he led Prime Minister John key on a leash.

I must say, these Kiwis certainly earn extra points for enthusiasm and creativity.

They proceeded to mob their Member of Parliament, Nick Smith.

By the time I arrived, there were 12 protesters at the Occupy site drinking tea, having pumpkin soup, and dancing to the music. Roughly half of them camped out overnight.

The problem with the TPPA, Graeme explained, is that we don’t know what’s in the agreement. It is a secret document, and more importantly it is above the high courts of the undersigned nations. It would be above the Supreme Court of the United States of America and the Supreme Court of New Zealand. What?

If passed, it would cede power to the rich assholes who run the big asshole corporations that are raping the Earth. That’s not democracy.

With an ominous red and white striped flag hanging over the stage and the Uncle Sam imagery from earlier, it is obvious that these New Zealanders are largely protesting America. But Graeme said they like regular Americans like me.

I laid it out like this: There’s the American citizen, then there’s the American government, and then there are the large corporations who have the real power.

Just take a look at TARP, the Troubled Assets Relief Program, signed by President Bush in 2008. Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone, wrote in 2013, “the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive.”

Congress didn’t really have a choice. The reckless investment bankers who got us into this mess were now telling the elected representatives of the United States that they have to pass these bailouts, or else something very bad will happen.

This is the same issue with the TPPA. It’s not only encouraging this type of behavior, it is making it legal and unable to be stopped by the established courts and political structures in the twelve countries involved. It’s the age old problem of money overpowering politics.

One of the occupiers asked me if I was involved in any protests back home. I said all of the support today is behind Bernie Sanders. He is the chosen one. He will save the world. My generation is looking around and saying, Nah, I don’t like this. Let’s change it. Bernie has the answers and we have the votes.

Just watch a video of Bernie.

Bernie speaks with passion. The middle class is dying, people working full-time shouldn’t be poor, healthcare is a fundamental right, income inequality is destroying the country, cut military spending and put it into education, let’s make college tuition free. He drives his point forward and he makes you think, Well, yeah, this is obvious why haven’t we always done this? I trust him to take us in the right direction.

Now watch a video from the Hillary campaign.

I was waiting for the ad to end and then I realized there is no ad. That’s how the Hillary campaign feels. It’s fake and forced. I cringe listening to Hillary. She has no passion and frankly, I don’t trust her. Bernie is genuine and Hillary is so very scripted and focus-grouped.

I told a protester, you want to know the difference between Bernie and Hillary? Look at their donors. Follow the money.

And don’t trust some bullshit blog for these numbers, go to OpenSecrets.

Hillary’s Career Donors

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.33.05 AM

Bernie’s Career Donors

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.33.12 AM

Hillary is the establishment candidate of banks and law firms. Money. Bernie is the candidate of the worker. Humans.

Bernie has refused to accept money from Super PACs and the average donor gives $31.30, according to campaign officials. People like me support Bernie. I’ve always donated my time to the Democrats — but I can’t do that if I’m in New Zealand — so I donated $10 to his campaign. It’s not much money, but if one million young people can give $5 or $10, that really adds up.

An all too common problem with American elections is that people think who ever raises the most money will win. While money is a huge advantage needed to buy advertisements and have a strong ground game to Get Out The Vote, it doesn’t decide the outcome. The only thing that matters is which candidate gets the most votes.

And fortunately, Bernie doesn’t need to spend money buying TV advertisements because young people —  the group who we actually need to get to the polls — don’t watch TV, and if they do, they DVR and skip the commercials. C’mon, it’s 2015.

Young people use social media and the Internet. They watch Netflix. As The Guardian puts it, Bernie is the king of social media. Young people are advertising Bernie on their own. Every election now is a new normal. It’s constantly evolving with technology and enthusiasm.

Yeah, I preached the Gospel of Bernie to these TPPA protesters. I preached hard.

Events like this always attract unique people. The litmus test is their response to the question, “What do you do?”

I asked Jonny the routine question and he said, “I am a child of God.”

I raised an eyebrow. “No, seriously,” he assured me.

As a boy he was sent out to live in the wilderness with a shovel. He dug out rabbit holes with the shovel, killed the rabbits with the shovel, and cooked the rabbits on the shovel.

As a teenager, he relied on trapping possums, hunting, fishing and bartering with the bounty the land provided. He later realized that instead of bartering, it is more efficient to develop skills. Now in his thirties, he writes Children’s books that teach children to never underestimate their own power. He is one quarter Maori and a spiritual guide.

As he explained how he lives in balance with the world, I said, “It’s permaculture.”

“Yes,” he cocked his head and looked at me with a bit of surprise. “That’s a very powerful word.”

I told him I read about permaculture in A Greener Life, the book the English hippies left in the van they sold me. Jonny, of course, was familiar with it.

During my visit to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, I thought of permaculture when I was learning about the Maori lunar calendar. There is a natural cycle that they have used for generations. The moon tells us when to plant crops, when to hunt, when to fish and when to let the sea urchins and fish grow fat. It means adjusting human life to the natural order instead of making nature change for us.

He told me of a meeting of the Nelson Science Society when one of the presenters wrote two equations on the white board:

1+1=2   1+1=1

He said he came into the lecture hall and saw these two equations and thought, there’s one equation and one unification. Everything works together. He said if you show people a picture of a landscape with trees, lakes and mountains and ask what they see, most people might pick out a few of of the individual objects.

“I see life,” Jonny said.

Jonny is like Ono, they are enlightened. You can feel it as you talk to them. They are on a higher plane of spiritual existence. They aren’t bothered by the day to day troubles, they see the bigger picture in every aspect of life.

I left the Occupy Protest and walked back to the hostel through town. The bars were overflowing with chaos and cigarette smoke. No thanks.

Sick and Tired

I’ve never known someone who was a victim of an American mass shooting until today.

I turned on Radio New Zealand this morning just in time for the headlines. I was shocked to hear that two TV journalists were murdered during a live interview in my home state of Virginia. As the morning dragged on, I heard the name of one of the victims, Alison Parker. A wave of sadness washed over me.

Alison Parker was a news editor for the James Madison University newspaper, The Breeze. She was the first news editor I worked with.

It’s not like I had a close relationship with Alison — I never really put any effort into building relationships or being friendly when I was in college — but I remember her always being bubbly and cheerful during the weekly news writers meetings. She was driven and motivated.

And now she’s gone.

I’m sick and tired of the constant stream of tragic shootings. I’m not sure if Americans know this, but our mass shootings are the one piece of news that are ALWAYS broadcasted throughout the world.

On my flight from Sydney to Auckland there was one television broadcast for the entire flight, instead of individual monitors. The first program was SKY News. The first story was the mass shooting of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

This was on June 19, the exact day that Vester Lee Flanagan claimed he put down a deposit for a gun in reaction to that shooting. I wonder how many crazed attackers this shooting has inspired. It was live on air, giving Flanagan a new level of infamy for others to strive for.

I’m fucking embarrassed to be an American. We are the only developed country in the world that has this problem. Alison Parker was an amazing person and journalist. Now she’s gone because American politicians are afraid of upsetting the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby. She’s gone because American politicians are more interested in tax cuts for the wealthy “job creators” than providing adequate funding for mental health facilities.

As bad as it sounds, this is the first shooting that has made me feel genuine sadness. Americans have become desensitized to mass shootings, but this one is different for me. I’ve talked to her and emailed her. She edited my news reporting on the JMU governing board. She was murdered on live television.

Alison Parker and Aaron Ward, Rest in Peace.

A Plea for Sanity from an American Abroad

Dear America,

You’re making it very difficult for me to be the American Ambassador in rural New Zealand. Whenever I meet someone new, I have to answer the same routine questions. Whereabouts in the States are you from? Virginia. Where’s that? Middle of the east coast. What’s up with Donald Trump? I don’t know. Don’t blame me, please!

The presidential election is more than 14 months away but you guys already have a debilitating case of Trump fever.

I’ve seen the Fox News debate with Mr. Trump front and center, I’ve seen the poll numbers, but for some reason I didn’t believe it was real. Like a holocaust denier, I refused to face the truth. It finally hit me when I read this Think Progress article about his recent “Pep Rally” in Alabama. I can’t deny the pictures. My god. The pictures.

These are the first images I’ve seen of actual living, breathing, sentient — maybe — supporters of Mr. Trump. They have t-shirts! And signs! What the fuck is going on over there, guys??

He doesn’t have a platform. Instead, he uses his skills from years behind the camera of reality TV shows to spew racist rhetoric and propaganda about how he’s sick of political correctness.

America is already filled to the brim with fear, hatred an resentment. We don’t need anymore, thanks. My heart goes out to the Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, who are terrified of living in America. They just want a better life for their families. I used to work a day labor job installing office furniture and cubicles. Two Mexicans worked with my friend Juan, who is Ecuadorian, and I on a Saturday. They said they have full time work during the week but they can’t take a day off. I spent the wad of twenties I earned on pot and beer and went back to my comfortable suburban home, they took the money home to feed their children.

Meanwhile, the shrinking middle class of blue-collar, god-fearing white people throw their support behind the rich asshole who tells them to blame the poor, hard-working immigrants for their financial woes, when it’s actually the rich asshole’s fault. It’s a classic scapegoat technique. Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Now Trump is using it. They gobble it up like Big Macs and Super Double Big Gulps because they can’t think for themselves because the Bible is the only book they need and because the schools are constantly being defunded by the rich assholes. Add the toxic right-wing media and you have a never ending shit-storm of ignorance and deception. Everyone loses. Except the rich assholes.

Please, I beg you, stop this madness. I know, you feel like you need to “take your country back” and “make America great again,” but this is not the way forward. A President Trump would be a worldwide embarrassment. I know many of you simple Christian Right Americans don’t travel much — you live paycheck to paycheck because of the tax-evading, deregulating rich assholes — and often stay in the small town you grew up in, but please consider the rest of the world when you vote.

I’m getting really tired of explaining the GOP reality show circus to these New Zealanders who are just as baffled a I am.