Why elections matter (a political post)

For the next 18 or so months, we will be treated to the predictable insanity known as presidential campaigns. During this time, like many others, I will be tempted to throw my television out with the rest of the garbage so I don’t have to endure asinine advertising.

Considering that I can’t find anyone who actually enjoys the national campaign season, it’s a wonder that people turn out to vote at all. We’re probably fortunate that people do vote, even if those numbers as a percentage of the eligible voting public are embarrassing to the world’s leading democracy.

Except for die hard party loyalists (whose numbers are dwindling), many voters split their votes between Republicans and Democrats. There’s something that inspires pride in being able to declare independence from the two major political parties. A good chunk of these independent voters, if asked, probably say they vote for the candidate based on some factor or another. (Some of these factors I’ve heard over the years, though, are disheartening: I can think of one fellow who wouldn’t vote for a particular presidential candidate because he didn’t like the guy’s wife.) In its most basic form, the candidate’s character earns the vote.

This is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. If you are this type of voter, please stop doing this. Here’s why.

One single candidate (say to the U.S. Congress) can not make any difference at all. There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. We elect those folks, not a “boss” who will get things done. Every candidate can say he or she will work to change things in Washington, but that candidate has as much chance of affecting change as he does in changing how the traffic lights operate in Washington. It all sounds nice, but it’s baloney. No one individual can foist change upon the entrenched establishment.

So why bother voting at all?

The answer is simple: collectively we voters are choosing which political party will control the agenda and direction of the country.  We voters are choosing which party will make and approve judicial nominations. We are choosing which party will act—or not act—on climate change. We are choosing which party will make decisions based on accepted science or mythology.

From my perspective, the Democratic Party is more likely to nominate and approve federal judges who are not right-wing ideologues. The Democratic Party is more likely to listen to scientists when asking for answers about climate change or vaccination policies.

Don’t get me wrong. The Democrats are far from perfect. They are disorganized, dysfunctional, and often disappointing. But the alternative is disconcerting. They reject the science of climate change, even though over 90% of scientists agree that climate change is real and likely caused by human activity. Republicans seem more interested in expanding the power of corporations (I’m still waiting for Hobby Lobby to show up for Mass) than in limiting the ability of corporations to affect elections. Republicans are more likely to favor judicial appointments that are out of the mainstream thought of the population.

If you happen to agree with the Republican agenda, that’s great—then please vote for them. But if you happen to disagree with their agenda, yet you still vote for them because their candidates talk about “bringing values” to Washington…well, you need to stop fooling yourself. Voting for a candidate that belongs to a party whose agenda you dislike is unwise.

Our nation faces big problems that require solutions that cannot easily be explained on a bumper sticker or in a seven-second sound bite. We need to stop listening to the individual candidates and start understanding the agendas of the two parties vying for our support. The best way to figure out what the parties are likely to do is to look at their recent record, not what they and their candidates (and anonymous supporters like “Americans For Whatever”) say in TV ads.

Educate yourself. Talk to people who are well informed. Don’t talk to the candidates or party representatives. Make a wise decision and support the party whose agenda you believe is the right one for the nation.

Memories Pizza and the First Amendment

Over the last week, Indiana has experienced a political firestorm. Conservative legislators passed an expansive religious freedom bill, and our conservative governor signed it. Since then, you know the story: the NCAA, Angie’s List, Apple’s Tim Cook, and NASCAR have all voiced objections to the law. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce opposed the law before it was passed. Our governor ducked the “does this law legalize discrimination” on national TV several times in one interview, leading to his becoming the butt of late-night comedians’ jokes.

A new firestorm erupted yesterday when a small town pizza parlor in Walkerton, Indiana, caught the Internet’s attention when its owner said on TV that she wouldn’t cater a gay wedding because her religious beliefs don’t recognize gay marriage. While there have been plenty of voices of outcry and support, some of it has gotten ugly—threats to the family and the business.

This is wrong and should stop immediately.

Don’t misunderstand me. I disagree strongly with the owner’s religious-based point of view.

But she has a right to believe as she wishes and to even express those beliefs without fear of retribution. She has the right to say she wants to be able to discriminate legally.

Every one of us in the United States at one time or another believes something that may be wildly unpopular, even angering. Nevertheless, if free speech means anything it has to permit people to express views like the pizza parlor owner’s—and not have to worry about personal safety afterwards. The mob’s veto must never be allowed to silence free speech, no matter how distasteful or wrong it might be. As Justice William Brennan explained in the case of Texas v. Johnson, the answer to speech we don’t like is not restriction or mob veto. It’s more speech, with the aim of persuading the other person she is wrong.

Call the owner of Memories Pizza whatever you want: uninformed, bigoted, intolerant, stupid, anything. At the same time, please recognize that she has the right to her opinion and to voice it. You have the right to voice your opinion and persuade her she’s wrong, but you don’t have the right to use threats to force her to recant her views. That’s what fascists do. It would be unfortunate to meet intolerance with fascism. No one wins in that situation.

Lawyers winning beauty contests

The Miss America pageant they aren’t, but like other professions we have a variety of “beauty contests” that some lawyers strive for. The best known of these is probably Super Lawyers, which is a peer-nominated/selected group of highly respected lawyers in each state. The old warhorse of achievement recognition was the Martindale-Hubbell rating system. The front-runner online is Avvo.

Occasionally, a new organization pops up. Today it’s The National Association of Distinguished Counsel. I received a nice invitation packet from them (dated March 4—which means it must have arrived via Pony Express). The chair of the organization writes, “On behalf of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, it is my honor to congratulate you for your selection as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent.” The letter goes on to describe how selection of members is objective, they serve as a benchmark for other lawyers to emulate, etc. etc. Members are regularly called on by national media to offer comments and analysis.

For $300, they will be happy to hear that I’ve accepted the honor.

I think I’ll pass. I took a look at the members in my state of Indiana. I know one of the handful personally—and I’ll be the first to say he’s a damn good lawyer. Being considered as a peer of his is a welcome compliment. But I’m not sure that spending $300 to have a nice plaque, permission to use their web site badge, and discounts from Toshiba is my style. (And, hey, I can boast about the invitation here on my blog for free.)

Of course, all of these various organizations are businesses trying to make a profit. I understand and respect that. But I’m not sure that they help potential clients that much. Avvo seems to be trying the hardest to do that, yet I can’t think of anyone offhand who contacted me because they saw my profile on Avvo. So, perhaps I’m making a mistake in tossing the NADC invitation into the trash. Or maybe I’m not. We will see.

Are you broken?

File this one under Broken as explained by Seth Godin.

This week I realized that my backup hard drive at home was not working correctly. It clicks when it is powered on, and no disk utilities I have can find it. I thought I’d try a fairly robust utility that I’ve purchased in the past. My copy is woefully outdated, so I decided to buy the new one. Go along through the web site, put in the billing information, all of that.

At the bottom, the web page asks for an email address for the serial number and a .zip attachment. In red letters, the site says, “Gmail accounts can’t receive .zip files.”

 

Every email address I use regularly is supported by Gmail. Even my work email address uses Google apps for business. I could use my .mac address, but frankly I’ve found that sometimes its spam filters are a little too good and legitimate email never reaches me (in my inbox or spam folder!). So I don’t trust that address for this task. The email address given to me by my ISP? Pfft. I never use it or even bothered to set it up. I wouldn’t know the password if it was on a sticky note.

Broken.

This is nuts. Absolutely nuts. Why on earth would any business want to set up its sales system to eliminate a huge chunk of the population? And another thing—the .zip format is primarily used on Windows. This particular business sells utilities for the Mac OS only. Why use a file format that’s essentially foreign?

What is in the .zip file they intended to send to me, anyway? The software? How about just letting me download it via a link? The serial number? How about having your system generate a PDF attachment instead? A .zip file? Really? It was created back when George H.W. Bush was in his first year as president—1989.

As you might guess, I did not purchase the utility. The lesson: if you want people to buy your products or services, don’t give them a broken web commerce system.