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We the People Would Appreciate Green Beans

Written by: Eric Blair

My college diet is not exactly wholesome. Especially now that I’m off campus, general nutrition has taken a backseat to low prices and easy access. Ravioli has always been a favorite cheap food of mine – it takes two minutes to heat up and less than five minutes to eat. It’s simple and routine; just enough to satisfy me until I have time for a full meal. But the last time I went to chow down before diving into the pit of despair and anger that is math homework, things did not go as planned. I opened my can of ravioli to find it full of green beans.

I generally loath any food I deem fit for rabbits, but green beans have always held a special place on my palette. This might be because I normally lather them in salt and bacon, but I think it’s because I appreciate healthy alternatives every once and a while. Perhaps someone pure of heart at Bon Italia recognized this desire and decided to subtly inject some variety into my sustenance. More likely, someone screwed up somewhere along the assembly line. Still, I was happy to have unintentionally escaped the banality – to have encountered something fresh and different, something actually better for me.

Recently, our government decided to do something ostensibly courageous. On their website, they put up a petitions page entitled “We the People.” Anyone could start their own “We the People” petition, and if they got enough people to electronically sign their petition by a certain date, their petition would be reviewed by the Administration, an official response would be issued, and the appropriate policy-makers would be notified (presumably so that they could take action).

I suspect that not many people found this all that inspiring. What possible difference could it make? Though I am usually cautiously optimistic when it comes to politics, occasionally I play the part of the political romantic. This was one of those times. I was much more excited about it than most: what an excellent opportunity to interact with our government via technology! What a great way to make yourself heard! The White House apparently shared my enthusiasm:

“The right to petition our government is guaranteed in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Throughout our nation’s history, petitions have served as a way for Americans to organize around issues that matter to them, and tell their representatives in government where they stand. Petitions have played an important role in many of the changes throughout our history, from ending slavery to guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov gives Americans a new way to create, share, and sign petitions that communicate your views about your government’s actions and policies.”

This sounded like a good deal to me. I didn’t create any petitions of my own, but I signed many of the more popular ones: end federal funding for Boy Scouts, decriminalize marijuana, eliminate “In God We Trust” from our currency, and eliminate “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. These were all gaining a large volume of signatories (in fact, out of the top ten most signed petitions, half of them related in some fashion to decriminalizing marijuana). Wonderful! Now I would receive thoughtful, well-reasoned responses; and maybe, just maybe, this would all translate into some simple policy decisions.

I received my official responses, and I was ready and eager to read, “Of course! You’re absolutely right! Marijuana is significantly and demonstrably less harmful than other legal drugs like cigarettes!” or “Wow! Damn straight! ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Under God’ are some of the most blatant violations of the separation of church and state in our history!” I craved something fresh, something different. Instead, what I got were the same tired, canned, ready-made responses which I had heard many times before. I received a whole bunch of the usual ravioli.

Each response was simple, routine, and just enough to satiate my initial desires. Not a single response left me stunned or contemplative. The supposed rich history of petitions to which the White House alluded earlier seemed rather vapid. The cynicism which lied dormant in me throughout the entire process reared its ugly head and wrote off the entire thing as a massive waste of time and energy. My fellow petitioners shared my frustration, and quickly started a petition that called on the government to take their other petitions seriously.

The responses to the “We the People” petitions were predictable and stale. I think we the people deserve more, and I think our government lost out on an excellent opportunity to put technology to good use in our political system. I hold out hope that eventually we’ll receive some actual, substantive responses to our concerns and not just something to pacify us. Perhaps we’ll get our own healthy surprise someday, even if only accidentally.

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 10/9

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President
On Bill Maher’s Friday (10/7) show, former congressman Alan Grayson (D – Florida) spoke up for the Occupy Wall Street Crowd against an all-conservative guest panel.
A few weeks ago, the White House launched a petition campaign (found here: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions) which allowed for citizens to start an issue drive for anything they care about. The goal was for petitions to garner about 5,000 signatures within one month; the policy area of “decriminalizing marijuana” had over 30,000 signatures within the first two days (also in those first two days, within the top 10 most supported petitions on the website, there were 4 different ones promoting the decriminalization of marijuana). This is a very significant step forward for reforming drug policy.
During each of the last two years, YouTube held a town hall with President Obama, and viewers were asked to submit questions. Each year the number one question/concern was the public’s wish for Obama to address marijuana decriminalization policies. The first year the president quickly laughed off the notion. When it hit the number one slot again the next year, he approached it with a more serious tone, but yet again held firm on a continuing policy of prohibition. This petition drive, couple with the recent report stating the failure of the U.S.-backed “War on Drugs,” the White House will have no choice but to reevaluate our country’s policy toward marijuana.
Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator
This New York Times staff editorial succinctly and clearly delineates the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Responding to critics who say the movement lacks coherence and clear objectives, the author points out that the movement is actually the populist expression of very real inequality. The accumulation of wealth by a sliver of the population can lead to poorer national health and the formation of an idle, low-skilled underclass. Such a status quo will not help this economy rebound.
Matt Seyer, Secretary
One of the most pressing problems facing America today, income inequality, has also been one of the least frequently-discussed.  With Wall Street currently occupied, now is our best chance to spread awareness.
Alex Witt, Webmaster
Technological tactics used by members of Occupy Wall Street mimic those used by Arab Spring participants.

Populist groups create stir

Written by: Connor Stangler

There’s something about a good populist crusade that invigorates the deepest recesses of a democracy. Even those members of the body politic who find it hard to get excited about governmental doldrums can feel the thrill of a coordinated mass mobilization.

Recently, the conservative “Tea Party” movement – a grassroots political movement, characterized by large public demonstrations, that protests government taxation, big government and, most recently, the policies of President Barack Obama – has fancied itself one of those rare occurrences. It wants to join its historically significant namesake event as one of those times in American history when the people stood up to the Leviathan. But as much as these true patriots believe they are the successors to the Sons of Liberty, their ethnocentricity has done nothing but contribute to the chaos. Their agenda champions impulsive and radical behavior, while the solution to the economic and political problems lies in prudence and cooperation.

Now this “populism” has subtly crept into the hallowed halls of the most dignified assembly in the United States: the Senate. While usually a bastion of reason and discriminating practicality, the venerable body has fallen victim to the whims of an impressionable, lawless force. Several prominent politicians have sacrificed their principles and those of their constituents to avoid being blacklisted or thought of as an enemy of Main Street. Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold withdrew their support for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to serve another term, citing Bernanke’s ties with the Wall Street fat cats as antithetical to this nation’s values of public trust and support. Like the Tea Partiers themselves, they have yet to suggest an alternative and instead are interested only in opposing him. Both Boxer and Feingold saw the signs, they heard the angry cries and they forfeited reason accordingly.

The Tea Party movement wants revenge. It wants to spill the blood of those who got us into this mess. It attempted to cleanse the Republican Party of its impurities by abandoning one of its own in the New York 23rd Congressional District special election, but instead succeeded only in splitting the party and handing the election to the Democrat. Recently, it sacrificed Martha Coakley on the altar of partisan democracy. But it still wants more. The citizens of Main Street will revel in the sight of a fatigued Bernanke, the symbol of the indulgent Wall Street lifestyle, pleading for mercy at the feet of a panel of Senators that is simply the agent of justice, the voice of the people. The crowd will storm the Capitol and demand that Bernanke answer to them. Consent of the governed.

Passionate unrest must have something, or someone, to unite against. It must be public, it must be visible and it must be nominally, if not deceptively, blameworthy. Bernanke is now the perfect target. He is the face of the recession – the guy who dropped the ball. In reality, a combination of bad loans, wasteful spending and reckless speculation was the root of the recession. Bernanke certainly made some missteps along the way, but he was not the only one and definitely is not the man who should pay for this. And if Bernanke’s re-confirmation is declined, and Obama rebuked, what then? Who replaces him?

The problem with plucking an outsider from Main Street and throwing him or her into the mayhem of Wall Street is that this is a game of experience. The best candidates for the job are those who also may be seen as entrenched robber barons. Other notable economists probably all will be categorized as part of the establishment. In the eyes of the Tea Partiers, they are tarnished.

So what now populism? The Tea Partiers have successfully boarded the ship of big government and jettisoned the tea of Wall Street. It is a destructive movement, and after there are no others to blame, it will slowly deteriorate. That, however, is the fate of most anarchic populist movements. The thing about anarchy is, before long, there’s nothing left to destroy.

I am surrounded by incredibly involved and motivated students. They are hungry for activism, and when they are exposed to this democratic perversion, it falsifies American values. We are here to build, help and enrich, not sabotage. These Tea Partiers are not patriots. They are interested in one thing: telling you who is to blame. They claim to fight for the land of the free. I have hope in campuses like Truman and that the people here know what that fight is actually supposed to look like.