Why Super-Delegates Should Side With Bernie Sanders

Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders for President
Photo Credit: Bernie Sanders for President

As Bernie Sanders has slowly but surely gained momentum from the public in his bid for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency the media has consistently flaunted the fact that so called super delegates nearly all but support Hillary Clinton. Even as Bernie Sanders soars in polls, picks up win after win, state after state, and amasses pledged delegates through the democratic process, the media is all too eager to remind the public that our efforts are in vain because super delegates are disproportionately not feeling the bern.

Defeatist headlines overrun popular internet forums and the front pages of mainstream media outlets like “Clinton has 45-To-1 ‘Superdelegate’ Advantage Over Sanders,” and “Over Half of Democratic Superdelegates Support Hillary Clinton,” and most recently, “Winning Wisconsin Won’t Change Bernie Sanders’ Superdelegate Problem.” These headlines are deliberately confusing with the intention of discouraging young voters, most of whom support Bernie Sanders. Until last month The New York Times was disingenuously combining the number of pledged delegates and super delegates before they began reporting the delegate count separately. As it stands now, Clinton has an advantage of 469 super delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 31.

But, why is that? Why do so many super delegates support Clinton while so few support Sanders? Maybe super delegates back Clinton because they feel she is the stronger candidate (despite evidence to the contrary in most recent national polls and virtually every one on one poll against republicans). Perhaps super delegates support for Hillary Clinton has something to do with her financial ties to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or the fact that nearly 10% of super delegates are lobbyists. Or maybe super delegates just see the virtue in a good pants suit?

When Fox News asked Democratic National Chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) why super delegates are separate (and seemingly more important than pledged delegates) she said, “…we separate those so that we don’t have elected officials and party leaders running against the activists.” Isn’t that inspiring? The head of the DNC openly stated that super delegates exist to keep establishment candidates insulated from democracy. According to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz super delegates function as a buffer between candidates ordained by the elite, and those chosen by the people. Their stated function is to maintain the status quo and protect against insurgent candidates like Bernie Sanders or George McGovern.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this (as the New York Times now reluctantly notes). Super delegates can and sometimes do change their stances. A few examples exist of super-delegates switching their allegiance, especially in states where Bernie Sanders won the caucus or primary by an overwhelming margin. Democratic National Committeeman Pete Gertonson (D-Idaho) from Idaho switched his allegiance after Sanders’ walloped Clinton by over 50% percentage points. After Bernie’s victory in Wisconsin, State Rep. David Bowen (D-Wisconsin) became the first of the states ten super delegates to jump onboard team Sanders. Though not a super delegate, veteran and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) quit her post as the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to support the Sanders campaign. Change is possible, it just takes a leap of faith that you’ll be caught on the right side of history.

So my pitch to you super delegates is this — side with us. Vote for Bernie Sanders. It’s true, Hillary can offer you a temporary injection of cash into your campaign coffers. But we can offer you something Hillary cannot, longevity. The average age of a Hillary Clinton supporter is approximately 800 years old. The average age of a Bernie Sanders supporter is seven. Think about who will be around and voting in elections for the next twenty to thirty years. Think about those who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty when campaigning for candidates that support the ideals of the American people, and against those who suppress the will of the public.

Millennials aren’t as lazy and disengaged as we are portrayed to be. We organize, we create viral content, and we donate. Together, with Bernie Sanders at the helm, we can revitalize the Democratic Party, and elect candidates who support policies like a $15 dollar minimum wage, universal healthcare, and equal pay for women. We are the future of this country and more so than ever before, in this election, we are watching how you vote. As Spike Lee (another Bernie supporter) would say, it’s time to “do the right thing.”

Michael Schirtzer is a comedian and political activist based in Los Angeles, CA. He successfully managed a city council campaign and now spends most of his time telling dick jokes at dive bars.

For more comedic/political musings and other strong opinions follow @MicSchirtzer on Twitter.

4 years, 3 academies, 2 bulged discs, 1 belt

I’ve worked four years for this very moment.

Promoted to Blue Belt by the living legend, Nino "Elvis" Schembri.
Promoted to Blue Belt by the living legend, Nino “Elvis” Schembri.

I started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in November of 2010 at Paragon Jiu Jitsu in Santa Barbara. My girlfriend at the time, Marissa, bought me a month free pass to the academy because she knew I trained traditional martial arts as a kid and would always talk about going to Paragon to train — even though I never did. I am sad to say it but truthfully I was one of those people who thought I “got” jiu jitsu because I had trained Tang Soo Do since I was six years old. I found out very quickly that I didn’t.

The gym is run by Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller, though I rarely saw him there and don’t think I even attended a class where he taught. That’s not a reflection of him so much as it was my spotty attendance. The individual who taught the majority of classes I attended was Sean Apperson. I also had the pleasure of training very briefly with Jeff Glover. I remember I did that first month and went in pretty regularly. I waltzed into the Advanced Class thinking I was hot shit because I believed my traditional martial arts background would transfer over. The first move I was taught was a jump triangle — which in retrospect just shows how inappropriate it was for me to be in that class. I managed to drill the move successfully cause I was nimble and driven, but when it came time to roll the reality of my inexperience sunk in. To say I was manhandled is an understatement. I recall Sean motioning me to come over and roll with him. He was annoyed that I had not listened when he told me to come to the beginners class. He put me in a d’arce choke so tight that I still remember the excruciating pain of his arms around my neck to this very day. After class he gave me a glib, “good job, come back to the beginners class next time.”

But after the initial blow to my ego as well as the realization of how much it would cost to continue training after my free month ran out, mixed with my studies at school, and my social life I didn’t go back until later in 2011. All throughout 2011 I can say I maybe trained four or five months — each time with a few weeks or months break in between. I was not an avid student by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed brazilian jiu jitsu but didn’t have the drive or the true passion for it yet. It was only in late 2012 as I got closer to graduating from UCSB that I started getting back in the gym regularly and actually putting in time on the mats. All in all I probably trained at Paragon for roughly 6 or 7 months. There was a promotion ceremony before I left, and I remember Sean telling me to attend. I thought at this very early moment in my jiu jitsu career that I was ready to be awarded my blue belt. I was so wrong. My name did not get called, and I remember the feeling of dejection as I left the academy after watching some of my friends get their new belts. I so badly wanted to be one of them. But I wasn’t ready.

I moved back home to my parents house in Los Angeles after college. I started training at the closest gym to my house which was taught by Professor Raphael “Rafa” Carrao, a Jean Jacques Machado Black belt. I walked in off the street with the only gi I had, a Paragon jiu jitsu gi, and asked if I could train. I had no concept of the etiquette surrounding jiu jitsu and didn’t realize it was in bad taste to wear the emblem of another academy at a different school. Rafa graciously accepted me into his academy and just asked that I turn my gi inside out while rolling. I did this for a few months before the gym was taken over by none other than the superman of brazilian jiu jitsu himself, Jean Jacques Machado. It was at this point that I committed to buying new gi’s after it was explained to me that it was disrespectful to sport the gi from another school. Jay Zeballos and Jean Jac began teaching most of the classes while Rafa eventually left to open his own school in Eagle Rock.

Superman of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Jean Jacques Machado --- you'll notice I still have my Paragon gi on. This was just prior to when Machado took over the academy that was run by Rafa.
Superman of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Jean Jacques Machado — you’ll notice I still have my Paragon gi on. This was just prior to when Machado took over the academy that was run by Rafa.

I trained at this gym avidly for nearly a year while I was doing internships and trying to figure out my life/career path. I spent a solid amount of time on the mats and this gym is where I truly fell in love with the art of brazilian jiu jitsu. I made long lasting friendships and learned the basics that now make up the cornerstone of my offensive arsenal. I competed in my first competition while training at this school. I didn’t know anything about weight classes though and went in the Lightweight division because I didn’t think to cut two or three pounds and be on the heavier side of a lower division. I was dominated in my first match, both technically and physically. I then competed in the absolute division and realized it wasn’t always about strength or size. I was matched up with a much larger competitor, he probably had 50 pounds on me. I remember he picked me up like a rag doll and slammed me hard into the mats. Luckily for me the way in which he picked me up left him vulnerable to the triangle, my most powerful attack. I managed to lock up my legs in the position while he struggled to power out. He ultimately was forced to submit or face unconsciousness. His entire team was dumfounded, they shook my hand and gave me respectful compliments about my technique. It was a great feeling after having been dominated so thoroughly in the match beforehand. I ended up facing the exact same competitor that I had rolled with initially in my next absolute match and he dominated me again, though not as definitively the second time around.

It was at this point in my life that I knew the gentle art would be something I stuck with for some time. Yet as is the nature of my jiu jitsu career, I had to say goodbye to this gym more times than I care to admit. It became somewhat of a running joke at the academy. “How many times are you going to leave?!?!”

At first it was because I was headed to Thailand. I couldn’t find any job prospects and wanted to travel. Then when I returned it was because I was busy with my burgeoning political career which had brought me back to the states. I bowed out one final time when I moved to a new location after getting a different job. I left a few weeks before belt promotion and when I dropped in again shortly thereafter I saw one of my good friends and someone who I had mentored from the day he walked in, David, had been promoted to blue belt while I was still a white belt without a gym to call home. I will admit that at the time I felt bitter, I had been training much longer than he had and felt as though I deserved the belt then. I was wrong. In my last session before I left for my new job that would force me to relocate I attempted a move that we had been taught in class that day. I hit it twice before in various rolls so I was feeling confident. The move was a diving loop choke. I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic. I don’t know why but I’ve always enjoyed executing flashy techniques. In diving I landed directly on my C4 and C5 and I immediately felt a shooting and excruciating pain in my neck. I tried to finish the roll but I realized I could not and had to stop and sit out by the side. I left the class early, saying goodbye to everyone at the academy for what I promised would actually be my last time. I had never experienced pain like this. I couldn’t move my neck at all and even lying down brought me to tears. My girlfriend at the time, Rachael, had never seen me in so much pain. I could tell she was worried.

I had to take 9 months off jiu jitsu. I went to the doctor, got an MRI, had to do physical therapy and all that jazz. They were two and three millimeter bulges respectively. Not enough to require surgery, but just enough to fuck up your life.

The entire time I was out I was salivating for the moment I could get back on the mats. Rachael and I had moved in together in an apartment in Torrance because it was closer to my job in Manhattan Beach. I started looking for new academies to train at the second my doctor/physical therapist told me I could train. At first I tried a Carlson Gracie gym in Torrance. The gym was new and the students were mostly white belts. The instructor spent far too much time lecturing (without ever really saying anything of importance) for my liking and there was very little rolling. I decided to try another gym.

I walked into the gym where I currently train, Nino Schembri’s Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu gym. I thought that because of the time I had spent on the mats I would immediately impress and be awarded my blue belt upon entry. Again, I was wrong. I did impress, and was often questioned about my status as a white belt, I continued to regularly attend classes starting in the later months of 2013. But I soon recognized that Professor Nino Schembri does not simply give away belts. Promotions had to be earned. I competed a few times with varied success. I won matches and lost a few as well. My strength and conditioning never seemed to be up to par with that of the other competitors, and in fairness, I didn’t do much to rectify that problem.

As my professional life began to pick up steam I could no longer attend jiu jitsu as frequently as I had in late 2013 to early 2014. My attendance again dropped down to one or two times a week. Sometimes with a week or two in between classes. I noticed others in the gym surpassing my skill level but I just keep showing up and working on my own game. I haven’t competed since February of 2014 and I don’t have any plans to do so in the immediate future, but nonetheless I am a regular in the gym as much as I can be. I now train anywhere from 2 times a week at the least to 5 times a week at the most.

My game has changed with time and the injury. I still occassionally attempt flashy moves, but I’m much more about the basics than I was as a young white belt. I’m still a heavy guard player but I’m trying to develop my top game always keeping pressure in mind. My triangle is still my go to move but I’ve learned to set it up with fakes and feints as opposed to simply trying to slap it on. My mindset is different as well. I view jiu jitsu as a hobby, a passion, and something I will likely be a part of my entire life but I have no illusions of grandeur about winning Pan Ams or getting sponsored. I may compete again (though my injury is a constant worry when I do) but I’ll do so on my own terms, simply to test my skills against that of people from other academies. The glory of jiu jitsu is not so much in the medaling (though in all honesty I wouldn’t know) as it is embracing the daily grind. Walking through the doors even on days when I’d rather be at home relaxing, getting up every time I get thrown down, and restarting once I’ve been tapped out. It’s the ability to remain calm and collected in uncomfortable positions and execute techniques without attempting to overpower my training partners. To me now, the glory is in the struggle.

In my time doing jiu jitsu I’ve graduated from college, gone through three long-term romantic relationships, traveled the world, held various positions in a number of fields, got someone elected to city council, lost family members, gained new ones, found new and exciting passions, and learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.

On November 22nd 2014, a full four years after I cockily waltzed into my first academy, I was awarded the right to wear a blue belt by the living legend, Nino “Elvis” Schembri. It was a truly humbling experience. Now I can confidently say I have finally earned this belt.

White belt and Blue Belt comparison
White belt and Blue Belt comparison

I thought that getting my blue belt would impart upon me some mystical wisdom. Now that I have the blue strap around my waist I’ve come to the conclusion that my journey has really just begun. I know some of the basics of brazilian jiu jitsu but I still have so much to learn. It’s only with dedication, perseverance, and the blood, sweat, and tears that come exclusively from time spent on the mats that I can even begin to call myself a practitioner of brazilian jiu jitsu.

I want to thank everyone who supported me throughout my endeavors, and all the people that made it possible for me to be where I am today. I love and respect you all. I will continue to try and be the best person I can be and live up to the expectations of a blue belt, both on and off the mats.

Post Promotion Group Pic
Recent Group Pic

Clearing the Air — Israel and Palestine

Gaza "Hell on Earth" Source - Imgur
Gaza “Hell on Earth” Source – Reddit /u/jjlew080

I’m about to do something that anyone who aspires to a political career in the United States ought not do — I am going to criticize the Israeli government. I have been tempered in my response, and my outrage on social media thus far. I haven’t remained totally quiet to the suffering of the Palestinians, I couldn’t, but I haven’t spoken my mind either. I have refrained from posting much on my twitter or this blog because I know there will be ramifications. If not today, then someday. For every action there is a reaction; free speech is not without consequences. But I can no longer be muted by my ambitions. I am and have always been a humanist at my core and if speaking my conscience on the issue of Israeli aggression disqualifies me from public service to the people of the United States then so be it. I’d rather speak freely with a clear conscience than censor myself for the prospect of political gain.

Preface #1: I believe Israel has the right to exist, and defend itself from actionable dangers. As do the Palestinians. I am not, nor have I ever been an anti-semite (though I know accusations will come flying my way simply for thinking of criticizing the Israeli state). I think there ought to be a clear distinction between Zionism as a political philosophy and Judaism as a religious practice. Finally, I have a great many friends who are either dual Israeli-US citizens or simply Israeli citizens. I love them very much, and despite this idealogical difference, I hope to remain close friends.

Preface #2: I am in no way excusing the actions of some Palestinians, I am simply assessing proportionate levels of violence and reacting to what I see on a human level. You may notice I don’t mention Palestinian violence in this post except here. It’s not because I condone it or don’t believe it exists, rather I think it’s a predictable human response to an otherwise hopeless situation. I condemn Hamas violence just as I condemn Israeli violence. There’s just way more violence to condemn on the Israelis side.

As you’re likely aware unless you’re totally out of touch with civilization – there is violence again in the land of milk and honey. More accurately, the people of Gaza are under siege. I would like to take a few moments and clear up some misconceptions I’ve encountered quite frequently, on the internet, in passing conversations, and in talks with my own family.

Israel is our closest ally:

I think this misconception stems predominantly from the fact that so many of our representatives foolishly believe or purport to believe this statement. For instance, imbeciles like Lindsay Graham continue to spout nonsense along the lines of, “they’re [Israel] asking for our help, they’re our best friend in the region, one of our best friends in the world.

Not only is that a childish way to conduct statesmanship, it’s also stupid and inaccurate. Nations are not people, they do not form friendships. Nations have interests, and those interests are suited by strategic partnerships with allied nations. For instance – Bahrain is a US ally in the middle east. It’s function in the strategic partnership is to house the entire 5th fleet as well as most US naval assets in CENTCOM. In return President Obama calls for democratic elections in Egypt and Tunisia but looks the other way on human rights violations when the government of Bahrain violently suppresses its peaceful protestors. See Amber Lyon’s documentary that was censored by CNN for more information on this subject.

All one need do to drive home the point that Israel is not our closest ally is listen to the CIA. They consider Israel to be the greatest intelligence threat in the middle east. Hear Dr. Michael Scheuer, formally of the CIA where he led the unit tracking Bin Laden, on the issue.

They are not alone. According to a Stratfor document that was published by Wikileaks:

“Israeli intelligence remains a hostile intelligence agency and is number
1 on the FBI list of intelligence agencies of greatest concern to US
intelligence. However, we can’t say (or out) they are # 1 on the list.”

Is that the kind of behavior one can expect from our closest ally?

While it’s true that the United States does provide Israel with roughly three billion dollars annually in aid (most of which is used to purchase US weaponry), Israel and the United States are not allies as the word is traditionally understood because they do not have a mutual defense treaty — one of the cornerstones of an alliance.

They also took weapons technology that the United States sold them and passed that information onto China! That was our little secret, Israel…

Israel is the most stable country in the region:

This is also patently false. While the bar for stability is set pretty low in the middle east, the Israeli government has managed to earn the title of “biggest threat” to peace among its neighbors. When polled 95% of respondents from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said they viewed Israel as the greatest threat to the region with the United States following closely behind at 88%. Israel is guilty of violating more UN resolutions than any country. They are illegally armed with nuclear weapons and have threatened to use them, if they deem it necessary. 

If that constitutes stability I’d hate to see them unstable.

Israel is the only democracy in the region:

Wrong again. Israel is not a democracy, at least not a substantive one. Those aren’t just my words either.

As journalists Arjan El Fassed and Nigel Parry astutely note in their 2003 article:

“For over a decade, the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI), a non-partisan Israeli research institute founded in 1991 and based in Jerusalem, has been studying the quality of Israeli democracy and how well it functions. The result is “The Democracy Index”, a long-term, comparative study of some thirty-one indicators measuring Israeli democracy against that of thirty-five other democracies. The index includes a public opinion survey component reflecting how Israelis view their democracy.

Today, on 22 May 2003, the IDI will present its 2003 Democracy Index findings at a special conference under the joint auspices of Israel’s President, Moshe Katzav, and the Institute itself.

Describing the 2003 Index’s findings as “alarming,” the IDI asserts that Israel’s political system has not yet acquired the characteristics of a substantive democracy.”’

Disturbing Trends in Israeli Culture:

On August 1st, 2014 an individual by the name of Yochanan Gordon, son of the founder of the Five Towns Jewish Times, penned an article entitled “When is Genocide Permissible.” Now if you’re like me — the answer to that question/statement is a pretty obvious never followed by a healthy sized dose of what the fuck is wrong with you?

The article was quickly taken down. But the fact that it was published initially is disturbing enough. It means that it represents at the very least a fraction of what the public perceives to be acceptable. Taken in context with other stories like the Israeli PM who claimed Hamas is committing “self-genocide” (whatever the fuck that means) and this professor calling for the rape of women whose husbands and brothers are associated with Hamas — it begins to reveal a sickness that is present in some portion of the Israeli psyche. One where Palestinians are viewed as others, less than, dehumanized to the point where any Israeli action is justifiable, including beating children and mass murder, which unquestionably is taking place.

Whether you want to label it genocide is semantics. I have not employed the phrase to describe this situation, I simply quoted an Israeli MP who did and provided an article where someone mused about the justifications for genocide before cooler heads prevailed and the article was pulled (though not before the internet grabbed screenshots and caches). Whatever you want to call it the facts on the ground point to mass murder by cutting edge weaponized technology (provided by the USA) on a virtually defenseless people.

What do you call bombs dropped wantonly on an open air prison that is 11 miles wide and home to 1.8 million people who are blockaded on all sides? What is it called when you target schools and hospitals? It’s as close to shooting fish in a barrel as one could get on the geopolitical stage. Furthermore, Israel has destroyed the Palestinians’ only power plant, leaving many without water or sanitation. Also, when did shelling journalists or first responders become permissible behavior? I’m no international law expert, but these appear to be war crimes.

 

On top of that the Israeli government and military continue to demolish Palestinian homesburn farms, and build 1,500 more settlement homes on occupied territory.

This does not bode well for peace. I can’t imagine a pathway to peace without an immediate end to the blockade, serious and genuine negations about borders, and a long term solution to refugee resettlement.

For disturbing but important pictures about the struggles in Gaza see this link here. But I must warn you — the images are graphic and will upset you.

To see what it’s like to spend an hour in Gaza — see this video.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

 

Science Fiction Novelist Sues Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald for Spoiling Upcoming Thriller

 

 

Edward Snowden - Whistleblower (Source: NBC News)
Edward Snowden – Whistleblower (Source: NBC News)

Written by: N. Emma
7/14/14

Longtime conspiracy thriller sci-fi novelist, Gerard Watkins, has filed suit against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and his journalistic cohort, Glenn Greenwald in the Southern District court of New York today. The complaint alleges that Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald “recreated the exact plotlines” found in the most recent draft of Mr. Watkin’s forthcoming novel – “All Eyes On You” which was set for publication in early August of 2014. Due to the disclosures made by Edward Snowden and published by Glenn Greenwald, the release of Mr. Watkins upcoming novel has been postponed indefinitely.

In addition, Mr. Watkins seeks compensation for “spoliation of the ending” of his novel wherein an NSA whistleblower provides evidence to a hard-hitting journalist that the National Security Agency is collecting data wholesale from the American public. The main character is then forced to flee to Moscow for asylum.

When asked about the seriousness of the disclosures Mr. Watkins gave a surprising response. He said, “sure it’s bad for the country, but think about me. Who is going to read this book now that this information is public? I’ve spent the last fourteen years of my life researching and writing this novel and now the cat is out of the bag. Just like that.” When asked a more pointed question about Snowden he responded, “yes, it’s all great and dandy what he did for the country, I suppose, but couldn’t he have waited until after my book came out?”

The complaint alleges that the events included in his novel were “far too ridiculous” to have actually happened in real life. Watkins said, “I even wrote a scene where the plane of a foreign dignitary was downed on the suspicion that the whistleblower was on board” because it sounded, “like the stupidest diplomatic move a government could make.” Mr. Watkins stressed that he never imagined any of it would actually happen. In another shocking twist, Mr. Watkins spoke about the portion of his novel where “the whistleblower’s passport” was revoked and the “journalist’s partner was interrogated” because of obscure terrorism laws. He added that he almost didn’t include the part of the book where those in power “clamored for the assassination of one and the prosecution of the other” because he thought it was “too dystopian even for science fiction.” He followed up by saying, “I guess sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.”

Mr. Watkins and his attorney’s claim that by exposing documents surrounding the existence of a real life surveillance apparatus of the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald negate the reader’s ability to follow the fictional storyline that follows a virtually congruent path. As such, the plaintiff, Mr. Watkins argues that Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden owe him compensation for the loss of projected sales, pre-orders, and eBooks that he expected to sell, “like hotcakes” according to the complaint. Mr. Watkins and his attorney argue, “the book would have sold millions of copies if not for the disclosures made by Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald.” The complaint suggests $600 million dollars in damages to be paid by the whistleblower in exile and muckraking journalist.

The case is Watkins vs. Snowden and Greenwald et al.

N. Emma is an expert of fluidity and digestion. She reports on politics when not providing relief to those in need.

This article is satirical.

Reflecting on the Torrance City Council Election

Torrance Election Results (Source: LA County Registrar)
Torrance Election Results (Source: LA County Registrar)

Today I can proudly say that my friend, Tim Goodrich was elected to the Torrance City Council on June 3rd, 2014 (though officially the votes weren’t tallied until June 4th — I know I waited up to see them). I am even more proud to say that I was a crucial part of his success.

He came in second place, of the four council members elected, with 7,976 votes which comes out to roughly twelve percent of the voting electorate. We beat an appointed incumbent by roughly 600 votes.

I have never been prouder or felt more gratification than from seeing Tim’s name jump to second place when refreshed on the screen of the LA County Registrar’s website.

The adrenaline was unlike anything, even jiu jitsu. During the campaign, the daily rituals are grueling. Making phone calls, walking in unfamiliar neighborhoods, knocking on doors to mixed responses, calling and recruiting volunteers, planning events, etc. You almost don’t have time for a moment to take it all in.

And yet, it all comes flashing back like lightning as we were waiting for the initial projections that night at Tim’s house. His abode filled with people, food, and drinks, all of them mingling with an anxious feeling in the air. The mood was positive but pensive. When the first projections came up Tim was in 4th place. This terrified me and relieved me simultaneously. I could breath a sigh of relief because he had made the cutoff and was going to be elected to city council. The only factor was for how long. Had he placed fourth as the initial projections showed, he would have had to start running for reelection in the next year.

As the night wore on, people filtered out. However, a second wave of people came to pay their respects. Policemen, city commissioners, other officials, all came to congratulate Tim on the effort.  By the end of the night we had jumped to third place, and finally to second — where we finished.

I started on the campaign as a volunteer. I remember Tim asked me to donate $100 dollars because that’s the extent to which he thought I was interested in participating. Little did he know within a few months I would be managing his campaign. I did donate the money, but more importantly I quickly integrated myself into the routines of the campaign. At one point I realized volunteer was an insufficient title and I asked Tim what I ought to call myself when contacting constituents or other volunteers. I was initially given the title of Field Director. After another month or so I was at a Pho restaurant, Saigon Dish in Hawthorne, with Tim and his wife Meav when Tim surprised me by asking if I wanted to be the campaign manager. I was humbled, and extremely grateful for the opportunity. I took him up on it and even cut down on the frequency with which I attended jiu jitsu. Anyone who knows me would understand this as an immeasurable sacrifice.

As a campaign manager I got to work with phenomenal volunteers, (Will, Lindy, Alonso and so many more) who I became close with. We worked, we laughed, we sat in suspense together waiting for the results. It was a beautiful process and I could not be happier with the results.

There is so much that goes into a campaign and so many people to thank for the success. This victory is not so much Tim’s victory, or even my own, so much as it is a victory for collective action and for the people of the city of Torrance.

I am extremely proud of this endeavor and look forward to seeing Tim lead in the city of Torrance.

 

Torrance Election Graph (Source: LA County Registrar)
Torrance Election Graph (Source: LA County Registrar)

Victory in California!

Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)
Wolf Pac Victory! (Graphic Credit Todd Erickson)

Just last week California became the second state in the nation, following Vermont, to call for an Article V Constitutional Convention in order to address the issue of money in politics.

There are two ways to amend the Constitution. One of them is introducing and passing legislation through Congress — something they do stupendously. Or two thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention where three fourths of the states must ratify any amendments to the Constitution. Harvard Professor, scholar, and activist Lawrence Lessig has argued in support of a Constitutional Convention.

On June 23, the California State Senate voted to adopt such a resolution and in doing so became the second state in a historic effort to unravel the influence of capital on Congress and our republic.

Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D) of the 43rd district in Los Angeles initially introduced the resolution, AJR-1 (or Assembly Joint Resolution 1) on December 3rd, 2012. However, the bill was almost immediately sidelined in committee and from there it did not seem as though it would ever see the light of day again.

But that is not the beginning of this story. What started everything in motion was that Cenk Uygur, in conjunction with his popular online news show, “The Young Turks” decided that they were fed up and would not take it anymore! They decided to put together an organization of people from all across the political spectrum all with the same dream of having free fair and open elections. In order to convey how dissatisfied and determined the group was, they adopted the name, Wolf-PAC. That’s where it all started, with the people.

The people at Wolf-PAC met with Assemblyman Gatto in 2012 and because Gatto was sympathetic he introduced the bill. However, he did not have the political capital to fight for it, and there were heavy interests against it with only minimal organizing supporting the bill. It was easily sidelined. This is how the bill stayed until early 2013.

What had happened in the intervening year? Wolf-PAC became a serious force to be reckoned with. Cenk was extremely successful at recruiting people through his online news show, which is where I became affiliated with the organization as a volunteer. In the year between when the bill was sidelined and when it started on its way through committees to the floor a popular movement materialized at the grassroots level. The type of which, in my opinion, we have not seen in the United States since the Populist party of the early 1900’s.

The organization is bare bones. It only had one or two employees to begin with, Mike Monetta, the National Director of Organizing was the only one I knew of personally. He put together online training seminars that could be easily administered once a volunteer had been through the training themselves. More like rabbits than wolves, our ranks multiplied. Ordinary people who had little or in some cases no political experience stepped up to the plate to become the leaders of this movement. One in particular, Alison Hartson, is a school teacher who initially started training other volunteers, then became a regional organizer, and would eventually rise to the position of statewide organizer for California!

Under Alison’s leadership (and a few others) California citizens put on the full court press. We contacted legislators directly, met with their staff, and representatives and lobbied on behalf of the bill. I personally met with my state Senator at the time and asked him to vote yes on the bill (he did!). We organized phone banks to people inside of the representatives districts and on a human level explained why they should be concerned about money in politics. We asked that they contact their representative. It’s extremely easy to conduct outreach when 90% of the population agrees with the reason you’re calling.

In addition to organizing phone banks, Wolf-PAC CA organized a rally at the capital during the Judiciary Committee where they had roughly 60 volunteers come and express support for the resolution. Nobody dared to speak out against the bill. It was an amazing turn of events. The bill went from being effectively silenced without ever seeing the floor of either chamber for discussion to sailing through committees like a seagull over the ocean.

Volunteers of Wolf-PAC could be heard rejoicing immediately after the vote, much to the chagrin of legislators. Cenk, of cooooourse, covered the success of the bill on The Young Turks. And with that — there are two down and thirty two to go. One more in the books for the good guys. Many other states already have resolutions introduced, and many more are on the way.

These were my immediate reflections upon hearing the news. I am supremely impressed at the ability of everyone involved as citizens to recognize the need for action and to answer the call. Let it be known that civic duty and social responsibility in the United States is not dead, it is alive and well!

The organizing and leadership skills displayed by Mike, Alison, Kathy, Will etc. is reminiscent of the populist movement. This was a true grassroots effort embarked upon predominantly by people who are not and in some cases have never been involved in politics. People who saw a fundamental problem in our system and assembled as is their first amendment right to receive the ultimate redress of their grievance. Not only did this group get a bill introduced into the legislature — which is an impressive feat in and of itself – Wolf Pac CA (and those from other states that helped out) managed to get a resolution passed in both chambers! We are the populists of our day, and we are making moves to reinstate one of the most important pillars of government — free, fair, and open elections.
I remember a conference call, probably a year or so ago, where Alison playfully posed the hypothetical question, “what you do to celebrate AJR1 being passed by both chambers?” At the time, it seemed so far away — an unattainable dream, an oasis in our desert of desperation. Now that we have climbed to mountain top, now that the promise land is still 32 states and a convention away but close enough to see there is time to pause for celebration. But we must also redouble our efforts to allow other states to liberate themselves from the chokehold of the elites. Together we will win, and we will reform this country. I am so proud to have had even the slightest part in the effort. My only regret is that I did not do more.

Three Issues Facing California

Photo Source: Forbes
Photo Source: Forbes

 

  • Problem 1: Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population

Too much of California’s scarce resources are being spent on incarcerating people, particularly nonviolent drug users. Spending at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) went from 3% of the states annual budget in 1980 to 11% in 2009. Since 1980 the CDCR budget has grown by an astronomical 436 percent. A large part of the problem is due to the policy of mass incarceration of nonviolent drug users for petty possession charges, also known as the ‘war on drugs.’

Prisons are more than overcrowded. They are a human rights issue violating the 8th amendment to the constitution. There is inadequate space, medical treatment, sanitation, nutrition, and that doesn’t account for solitary confinement, inmates on death row or the abuse by prison authorities. Filled prisons are a destabilizing socio-economic force, perpetuating cycles of poverty and single parent households especially in lower income communities. People of color are disproportionately targeted for arrest and drug prosecution. We must rectify these societal injustices and reduce our spending in this sector even more than the Governors’ 2013-2014 Budget proposal of nine billion dollars to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The Supreme Court agreed when they ruled that California had to reduce prison crowding to 137.5% of capacity by June 2013. Governor Brown’s Justice Department readily acknowledges they will be unlikely to meet the deadline.

Solution: I recommend the following: release the 24,959  nonviolent drug offenders, prioritizing those exhibiting good behavior; focus incarceration efforts on violent and sexual crimes; allot a portion of the money currently spent on imprisonment towards intensive drug treatment; and conduct research on lowering the cost of prisons while improving services.

  • Problem 2: Is our education system working?

In many schools, California’s public education system is failing its students, particularly impoverished students and students of color. Impoverished children are less likely to graduate from high school, go to or graduate from college. Of the 72,320 high school dropouts this past year, 42,129 were Hispanic. Students who do graduate college find themselves with a crippling average debt of $19,000 and unprecedented unemployment rates. The cost of education rises as services, infrastructure, and the quality and availability of instruction diminishes. There are insufficient funds for special needs, integrated technology, and blended learning programs. Standardized testing as a metric to evaluate students does little to foster critical thinking, writing abilities, or useful skills for life, future education, and employment. The Economic Policy Institute warned of damaging consequences to test-based evaluation systems or merit pay based on test scores.

  • Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Water is the most essential resource for survival on this planet, and California is running out. Regrettably, California’s water system is in grave peril. We face serious obstacles in keeping up with water demand for our current population and we will be unable to meet future increased demands. Experts agree our systems are in need of major upgrades. Climate change and droughts diminish snow reserves California needs in order replenish reservoirs. The integral hub of California’s water system, the Delta is endangered by levee failure, and sea-levels rising as native fish populations fall. Twenty million California residents rely on the Delta for water. Sea –level rise would corrupt the existing freshwater supply and flood the homes, farms, and other Delta residents’ private property. Without a stable and secure source of freshwater Californian’s could find themselves without constant access to food and water in the very near future.

Sources: Problem 1 Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population


1. “The Future of California Corrections – A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Court Oversight, and Improve the Prison System”  http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/2012plan/docs/plan/complete.pdf

2. Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California

3. BROWN, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL. v. PLATA ET AL. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1233.pdf

4. Geurino, P., Harrison, P. M., & Sabol, W. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf

5. 2013-2014 Governor’s Budget Summary, Edmund G. Brown Jr. Governor, State of California — http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/pdf/BudgetSummary/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

6. American Psychological Association – Psychologists offer ways to improve prison environment, reduce violent crime — http://phys.org/news168967098.html

7. Prison Fellowship International – beyond crime and punishment http://www.pfi.org/cjr/downloads/ten-keys-to-improving-conditions-in-overcrowded-prisons

Sources: Problem 2: Education

8. California Department Of Education Cohort Graduation and Dropout Rates 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 — http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr12/yr12rel65.asp

9. Project On Student Debt, California – http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-view2012.php?area=CA

10. Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – Economic Policy Institute — http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/

 

Sources: Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and not a drop to drink

11. California Water Today – Public Policy Institute of California —http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_211EHChapter2R.pdf

12. Association of California Water Agencies —  http://www.acwa.com/spotlight/california-water-2012-water-bond

 

 

Three Problems Facing the United States

Image Source: NYPost
Image Source: NYPost

1.     The National Security Agency (NSA)

In addition to the 2005 New York Times article, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts”, the recent disclosures by Edward Snowden reported by Glenn Greenwald (formerly of the Guardian) have cemented the fact that the NSA is conducting bulk surveillance on the civilian population of the United States, and the world.

The Executive Branch, and members of the Legislative Branch have consistently misled the public with respect to these programs. It even appears the Executive Branch has “substantially” misled the Judicial Branch on numerous occasions, according to a recently declassified FISA Court opinion.

A few excerpts from the decision and the Washington Post article where I saw the following quotes:

“For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion.

Bates continued in a footnote, “the court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”

In response to these developments – we must begin an indictment and prosecution of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper; and the Director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, for perjury to the Congress of the United States of America. Any prolonged failure to act in response to the deliberate misdirection of elected officials will only embolden future National Security figures to more boldly (if possible) obfuscate and mislead the Congress with impunity.

If we are truly a nation that respects the rule of law – we must begin by enforcing it in the halls of our own legislature.

Conclusion:

There must be swift and decisive actions to challenge the system of dragnet surveillance. Officials who misled the Congress, the Judicial Branch, and the public must be punished appropriately, and the gap between legal intention and execution must be bridged with comprehensive NSA Surveillance reform.

If you are interested in minimizing the amount of data that can be collected on your internet activity — see Prism Break.

Source: Yes Magazine
Source: Yes Magazine

2.The Trans Pacific Partnership

Aside from the disproportionate corporate influence and unprecedented secrecy under which these trade agreements are being negotiated, these two statements made by elected officials accurately represent my grievances with this trade deal.

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “…if transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” Source
  • Representative Alan Grayson stated, “what I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it…It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away…Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty.” And finally he said, “it’s all about tying the hands of democratically elected governments, and shunting authority over to the nonelected for the benefit of multinational corporations…It’s an assault on democratic government.”

Any attempt by the Executive Branch to skirt the Legislative Branch by enacting a ‘fast-track’ (formally called Trade Promotion Authority) must be challenged. Such measures would allow President Obama to sign the agreement prior to congressional approval, before legislators read the final text. Congress would have to vote within ninety days to approve the deal retroactively, but debate would be limited and no amendments would be allowed. Source

Conclusion:

Congress should not grant the Executive “fast-tracking” authority. Congress should only approve the TPP if the content of the negotiations has been transparently discussed and debated on the floors of the Legislature and found to be beneficial to the public interest.

Some of the text of the negotiations have been leaked to the public. You can access them here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has done a phenomenal job analyzing the leaked text of the negotiations.

If you are interested in organizing/protesting against the TPP — see the wonderful folks over at Flush the TPP.

Image Source: MN Progressive Project
Image Source: MN Progressive Project

3. Syria

It is widely acknowledged that the United States intelligence agencies are covertly assisting the Syrian rebels. United States allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding, training, and funneling weapons to the Syrian rebels. Quite recently Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, moved four destroyers into Syrian waters. Prior to the conclusion of the UN Investigation, Secretary of State John Kerry stated he, and the Administration, believed Bashar Al-Assad was responsible. We have since weathered that storm and found a diplomatic solution, no matter how clumsily.

But we must forcefully and vocally discourage any future attack and assert the (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11)[1] authority of the Congress to declare war. Congress needs to reassert that the War Powers Resolution does indeed apply to the current Administration, and any military intervention on a country that does not pose an immediate threat to the security of the United States is an act of aggression. Such measures are a gross violation of international law and of the public trust. We ought to push back against the Administration’s legal interpretation of the AUMF. It should not be a blank check for global military intervention.

Conclusion:

If we have learned anything from the prolonged occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that United States involvement in the Middle East increases violence and adds to the destabilization of the region. Any strike by the US will further discourage a peaceful diplomatic solution. As guardians of the public interest, we must be a vigilant voice of reason amongst the cacophony of calls for pre-emptive war.


[1] [Congress shall have Power…] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water. – Article I, Section 8, Clause 11; United States Constitution. Cornell University Law School. 

 

Memories of Cabrera

Cabrera, Dominican Republic (August 2011)
Cabrera, Dominican Republic (August 2011)

 

Camp Esperanza was one of the most mutually beneficial experiences in my life to date. Of all the activities or volunteer opportunities I’ve been a part of, Camp Esperanza stands alone. I received equally as much satisfaction (if not more) from the experience as did the kids, the parents, and the locals. Furthermore, without the courage and compassion of a resourceful and noble couple, Anthony and Fiona, this would have been entirely impossible. My gratitude to Anthony and Fiona extends eternally, approximately the amount of time this endeavor will impact my life.

 

A nearby beach. The name escapes me now.
A nearby beach. The name escapes me now.

Cabrera is an anomaly in and of itself. It is quaint, nearly unmolested, and a wholesome community wherein children hone their baseball skills in the streets during the day with whatever impromptu materials may be produced. Parents and grandparents alike congregate on their porches, or in the town square, where they avidly play bingo and/or discuss anything from dinner — to historical events. What I saw humbled me greatly. Everyone’s ability to subsist with limited materials served as both a testimony to how little one actually needs to be happy, and how much people overuse in other nations. Upon landing in the Dominican Republic, I was swept up in the intoxicating aesthetic value of beaches, architecture of houses, and the swagger of the people. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, but I knew one thing was for sure, this adventure would prove rewarding.

And boy was I sunburned
And boy was I sunburned

 

During the time I spent in Cabrera, I cultivated influential and meaningful relationships with kids on a daily basis through the interaction at camp. I served as a confidant, a counselor, and most importantly, a friend. I built deep, long-lasting connections with fellow counselors. I maintained an extremely important and entertaining bond with the spunky kids in my host family.

One of my favorite co-counselors Karsten Chang and Jenny hanging with the cool kids
Some of my favorite co-counselors Karsten Chang and Jenny hanging with the cool kids

Now that I’m back in the United States, and I’ve had time to look at my pictures and reflect on all that has transpired, there are a few things I miss greatly. I miss the pace of life in Cabrera; slower and mellower than the U.S. I miss the counselor outings to the local Internet café, Choripan, where we would reflect on the day’s activities over the comforts of Chinola Juice. I miss the deep and amusing conversations we had late at night where I not only felt as though I were a part of a meaningful group; I felt essential to something special. I miss the kids, both rowdy and pacified, and I miss playing baseball with them every day. I miss Anthony and Fiona, their house, the movie and game nights with them, and the atmosphere of feeling totally welcome.

Same beach, different angle
Same beach, different angle

I miss Cabrera for all of its faults and all of its treasures. I miss knowing that I was making a difference in a child’s life as I talked to them, spent time with them, and got to know them personally. I miss hearing the kids squeal with joy and chant my name because I blasted the music they wanted to hear.

In short, I miss Camp Esperanza.

Sunset in Cabrera
Sunset in Cabrera

Health and Hope Springs Eternal in the Jungles of Burma

As my father pointed out to me at dinner tonight, I have a tendency to spend more time talking about negative issues than I do appreciating positive developments that happen in the United States and abroad.

For that reason, I thought my first blog post should be some original content that is both inspirational and uplifting. I wrote this content for an internship that I got but was unable to fulfill due to conflicting commitments. It’s the story of the most inspiring individual I’ve ever encountered and how our interactions influenced me deeply — to strive to be a better person every day than I was the day before. His name is Sasa. He is a friend, a leader, and a solution to the problems of his people. I hope you enjoy.

___________________________

After a childhood without access to healthcare, education, stable government, or any semblance of infrastructure, one Burmese man perseveres and continues to inspire hope in the hearts of future generations. His name is Dr. Sasa, a real life superhero.

Growing up in the jungles of Burma Dr. Sasa frequently watched as those closest to him perished from what he now recognizes as preventable diseases. He remembers having to travel seven days in the rain through rough mountainous jungle terrain in order to seek medical assistance – many of his friends died on this journey.

Dr. Sasa’s experience, hope, and vision for a different future inspired him to leave his family and his village at the tender age of thirteen. He walked to the capitol of Burma, Yangoon, where he taught himself Burmese (a dialect distinct from his tribal language) and enrolled in high school. Starting in 1988 the Burmese government shut down colleges in Burma responding to student protests. Dr. Sasa was undeterred from pursuing his education. He walked to India taught himself Hindi and English and enrolled in college where he received a B.S. and graduated with honors.

Dr. Sasa then returned to his village where he hoped to apply what he’d learned in his studies to stem the tide of illness. After two years he recognized he needed additional medical training. His village sold their very limited precious belongings and raised a semesters worth of tuition and airfare for medical school in Armenia. After his first semester, Prospect Burma sponsored Dr. Sasa allowing him to stay enrolled until he graduated, receiving his M.D with high honors.

After medical school Dr. Sasa declined to remain in the West, and immediately returned to assist his people, where he put his skills to use by setting up a healthcare training center on the Burmese-Indian border in 2009. During his time in Armenia, Dr. Sasa encountered Lady Caroline Cox, the founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust UK (H.A.R.T), and with her assistance, Dr. Sasa created Health and Hope, an organization dedicated to providing basic medical training and spreading awareness of preventative healthcare and first aid techniques.

Dr. Sasa hosts eight-month courses where two representatives from each of the villages in the region of Burma are trained to provide basic healthcare. They return to their villages to promote preventative healthcare, teach basic hygiene, first aid, and sanitation. To date, Sasa has trained over 700 individuals. His journey is the source of a Documentary film bearing his name. Sasa and those around him have taken their well-being back into their own hands. In doing so they have begun to provide hope for those who, until now, thought life was hopeless.

photo

Source: Sasa — Directed by: Diane Namm/ My Hero Project