Why I’m Not Voting in November

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I will not be voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in November. Instead, I will not be voting at all.

I’m not a purist. I don’t have to agree one-hundred percent with a political candidate in order to vote for them. And I don’t believe, like third-party candidate, Jill Stein, that the act of voting ought to necessarily be an expression of personal values. Instead, in any democratic system, people vote for their own self-interest and strategical purposes. Values should play a strong role in determining the outcomes of our political system, but values have to be tempered with an understanding of what is practically feasible. In the words of Hillary Clinton, a politician who “gets things done” is what any voter in a democratic country desires, as well as a politician who works on their behalf.

In this election, the reality is that we have neither.

Without a significant change in the composition of Congress, it is highly unlikely that a Clinton presidency will result in substantially different policy than what we’ve seen for the past eight years. She will continue to chart a course similar to that of Obama: centrist, elitist, and protective of the status quo. Her entire campaign has been about defending the “Obama legacy.” And what legacy has that been? Lackluster healthcare reform and unenforceable financial reform? More immigrant deportations than President Bush and an equally aggressive foreign policy?

If we change out one corporate Democrat for another, our country isn’t going to see positive changes that empower working-class people. Even if there was a change in the composition of Congress, President Clinton will fight members of her own party, tooth-and-nail. She was a key architect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She promoted fracking across the globe as Secretary of State. She seems satisfied with the healthcare system as it currently exists, despite unsustainable costs and millions who remain without health insurance. She even voted for the construction of a border fence with Mexico back in 2006. To put it simply, she’s not a progressive. Even if progressives are elected to Congress in large numbers, fueled by Sanders’ insurgent campaign, there will still be considerable gridlock.

On the other hand, it’s highly unlikely that Donald Trump will have the ability to achieve anything substantial as President. Numerous establishment Republicans dislike him, even those who have given him support during the campaign for the sake of party unity. Most of his proposals, including the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, are not politically or economically feasible. Business interests who monopolize Congress will not tolerate a significant reduction in cheap, immigrant labor. According to the Center for American Progress, it would take nearly $300 billion and 20 years to successfully deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States. Add to that a $2.5 trillion drop in GDP and 50 percent reduction in the agricultural workforce that would be caused by mass deportation, and it’s safe to say that Trump’s extreme rhetoric will never be realized.

From day one, a Trump administration would be riddled with numerous problems. If Trump tries to reduce American involvement in international organizations single-handedly, he will be faced with numerous injunctions which will limit his administration’s capacity to act. Without Congressional support, even something as simple as expanding the border patrol, will be a no-go. If Trump is elected, he will be perhaps the most unpopular candidate to ever become President. Republican leaders, deeply aware of the need to modify their party’s image to meet ongoing demographic changes, will jump ship if Trump pursues any drastic actions. Even if he is able to pass legislation through Congress with Republican support, there could be obstacles waiting in the executive branch. Federal workers with nearly unlimited job security can effectively serve as a “fourth branch,” checking any kind of drastic legislation which comes through Congress. Trump does have the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, but those still have to be approved by the Senate. Even if they are approved, future rulings could potentially be ignored by progressive administrations. Ignoring Court rulings would mean a sharp turn from current attitude of deference to the Court, but it is definitely possible.

What can definitely be guaranteed from the victory of either candidate is continued gridlock. And, of course, stability for the business interests who influence policy in this country. Just recently an economist at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch told CNBC that the election will be a “non-event for markets and the economy.” Though most Wall Street giants have been panicked by a Trump wild card–and prefer Clinton for the sake of stability– there is a growing consensus among elites that whatever happens will not matter to them. As neither candidate will substantially redistribute power to ordinary Americans, those in business have nothing to fear.

Certainly, during this election, ordinary Americans have everything to fear. The political and economic status quo is not sustainable, and millions of us are in desperate need of a real alternative. The problem is that– at this point– no alternative exists. With Bernie Sanders, the United States had a real progressive option that could have mobilized the country past the status quo. Now, we will have to wait through another painful four years– perhaps even longer– before any significant changes can come about.

All hope is certainly not lost. I think that those of us on the left should support electing real progressives to all levels of government, including some Democrats. But we should not hold illusions about how power operates in the United States. Until there is a broad-based, left-wing movement working for real change at both the ballot box and in society at large, we are not going to see substantial changes to the political and economic status quo.

Hillary Clinton and the Russian Distraction

In recent weeks, news networks like CNN and MSNBC have been obsessed with finding connections between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. In a McCarthy-esque turn of events, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid sent a letter to the FBI asking for an investigation into ties between Trump’s business interests and the Kremlin. Despite the fact that both the Director of the FBI and the Secretary of Homeland Security conceded that it would be nearly impossible for hackers, Russian or otherwise, to sway an American election, the anti-Russian fervor has not stopped. Last Thursday, Hillary Clinton angrily denounced Donald Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin, describing his comments as “unpatriotic” and “scary.” And of course, most of the mainstream media rushed to defend her statements.

Do I want a President who praises Vladimir Putin? Probably not. Do I want a President who will go to war with him? Even less.

What gets lost in the media spin is Hillary Clinton’s record. We hear Donald Trump’s rhetoric. We witness a man who has never held political office making vulgar statements and ridiculous promises that he can’t keep. But we never hear what Hillary Clinton has actually done. That’s what the American people deserve to know.

Email controversies and corruption scandals aside, Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate. Beneath a veneer of can-do spirit and middle-class sensibility, lies a cynical politico with an insatiable desire for aggression on the international stage. To put it simply, Hillary Clinton is a neoconservative and a war hawk. Since her Iraq War vote in 2002, she has learned nothing about the limits of American military power. According to foreign policy analyst, Vali Nasr, “Hillary Clinton is very much a member of the traditional American foreign-policy establishment.” So much so that she receives warm praise from arch-conservative Henry Kissinger and Robert Kagan, a Republican who strongly supported the Iraq War.

Let’s take a look at her record with Russia.

As a senator, she voted for H.R. 3167, a bill which endorsed the expansion of NATO to include seven more countries in Eastern Europe. In 2008, Hillary Clinton cosponsored another piece of legislation that expressed support for Ukraine’s entry into NATO, despite the fact that a large majority of Ukrainians opposed entry. As America pressed forward, allies such as Germany and France voiced opposition, believing that NATO expansion would eventually cause problems with the Russian majority who live in the Crimea. And of course, that’s eventually what happened.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton achieved some success with getting Russia to back sanctions against Iran. But for the most part, our foreign relations with Russia continued to deteriorate. In 2011, she negotiated an agreement with the Romanian foreign minister to deploy a new ballistic missile defense system. Though the Obama Administration reasoned that this was to prevent an attack from Iran, the system was directed against Russia, undermining their strategic capabilities in Eastern Europe. After cooperating with the United States on Iran, the Russians felt betrayed.

In 2014, Hillary Clinton and the State Department backed the Ukrainian Revolution which toppled democratically-elected leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Under supervision from Clinton and the State Department, the Ukrainian government was filled with neo-fascists and right-wing extremists. Some of the first actions of the new Ukrainian government included outlawing the use of Russian as an official language and outlawing the country’s Communist Party. These acts threatened the rights and freedoms of the nation’s large Russian minority, particularly in the Crimea. As a result, tensions soared between the United States and Russia to their highest point since the Cold War.

This is Hillary Clinton’s record. This is what Americans don’t hear from the mainstream media.

And Russia is just the tip of the iceberg. What about Syria where she supported arming “moderate” rebels who have turned out to be Islamic extremists? What about Honduras where she supported a coup against a democratically elected, left-leaning government? What about Palestine, where she has continued to support Israeli human rights violations?

As Americans, we can’t let a residual Cold War mentality shape our feelings towards the current election. Regardless of what Donald Trump says, we know what Hillary Clinton has done. We have an obligation to hold her accountable for her foreign policy blunders, especially when certain lucky distractions reduce the public’s willingness to pry. If this is a democracy, we need to be able to judge our politicians clearly, without obstructions.

Immigrants Aren’t the Problem, Bad Policies Are.


On Wednesday of last week, Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, traveled to Mexico to talk with President Peña Nieto. He then returned to the United States to give a speech on immigration. While in Mexico, he tried to flatter the Mexican president with niceties about Mexican-Americans, calling them “spectacular, hard-working people.” But when faced with an audience of loyal supporters in Phoenix, he reiterated his usual xenophobic rhetoric, including support for the construction of a border wall (paid for by Mexico).

Despite the fact that illegal immigration has become a massive issue leading up to the election, the illegal immigrant population has been in decline for over the past five years. After hitting a peak of 12.2 million in 2007, the number has declined to roughly 11 million people, less than 4 percent of the American population. The Obama Administration has been engaged in a record number of deportations: 2.4 million people were deported from fiscal year 2009 to 2014, according to Pew Research Center. In 2012, the New York Times reported that Obama was deporting illegal immigrants 1.5 times faster than the Bush Administration. Many of these deportations have been conducted with scant justification. In fact, nearly 2 million of these deported immigrants had either no criminal record or had committed only minor offenses such as traffic violations.

Under President Obama, communities have continued to be terrorized by ICE immigration raids– single mothers taken from their infant children, entire families ripped apart in order to satisfy the Administration’s voracious desire to be tough on “illegals.” Recently, Donald Trump praised the President’s immigration stance, saying that he would do the “same thing” as the President but “perhaps with a lot more energy.” Want to see what a Trump Administration’s immigration policy would actually look like, instead of outlandish rhetoric? Just look at what President Obama has already done.

The reality is that illegal immigrants are not a problem for this country. Instead, they’re willing and necessary participants in American life.

In a survey performed by Pew Research Center in 2012, over 90 percent of illegal immigrants said that they desire to become American citizens.

Contrary to Donald Trump’s claims that illegal immigrants are “criminals, drug-dealers, and rapists,” a number of studies have shown that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born citizens. For example, a study by the American Immigration Council found that incarceration rates for native-born citizens were generally 2 to 5 times higher than incarceration rates for men comprising most of the illegal immigrant population. This trend even holds true over three decades, from 1980 to 2010.

If it weren’t for illegal immigrants, the United States would witness a significant drop in agricultural output and rise in commodity prices. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 50 percent of agricultural laborers in the United States are illegal immigrants. In 2009, the National Milk Producers Association stated that milk prices would be 61 percent higher, if the illegal labor force was removed from the United States.

Instead of “abusing” government benefits, as Donald Trump claims, illegal immigrants actually contribute more to government coffers than they receive in services. A study performed by the Congressional Budget Office in 2007 found that both legal and illegal immigrants contribute more to taxes than they receive in government services. Considering that the illegal immigrant population has been in decline since then, it is safe to assume that this still holds true.

I think it is abundantly clear that the facts don’t line up with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. They also don’t provide much justification for the abusive policies adopted by the Obama Administration. So what are the real problems that we need to address? If we’re concerned with promoting the general welfare of the country, and dealing with the illegal immigrant population that is already here, what steps do we need to take?

For starters, we have to look at the policies that have caused illegal immigration. Particularly, why– until 2007– the United States saw a huge spike in the number of people crossing the border from Mexico. We also need to look at why illegal immigrants remain illegal, despite the fact that the vast majority of them desire to become American citizens.

In 1995, the passage of NAFTA ruined the Mexican economy. Though NAFTA wrecked economic prospects for working-class Americans, the trade deal also caused job losses for over 1 million Mexican farmers by flooding Mexican markets with subsidized American corn. President Clinton’s free trade success story turned out to be Mexico’s worst nightmare. As wages plummeted from 1,959 pesos a month in 1991 to 228 pesos a month in 2003 for the average farmer, immigration to the United States soared as many Mexicans sought a better life north of the border.

As America has moved to a post-industrial economy, many Americans are now overqualified to perform low-skill labor such as agricultural work. Our outdated immigration system does not reflect the demand that has opened up for positions which Americans are no longer able to fill or accept. Onerous requirements and rigid caps prevent most immigrants from taking advantage of guest worker programs like H2-B and H2A, while the American economy continues to need immigrant labor to fulfill demand in sectors like agriculture and meat-packing. To add insult to injury, the cost of citizenship (over $600) and lack of English language instruction make it nearly impossible for illegal immigrants already here to receive citizenship.

Clearly, the answer to the real problems surrounding illegal immigration cannot be solved by building a border wall or deporting millions of more immigrants. Instead, there are three things we should do.

One, we should reform the immigration system to reflect the economic reality we face.

Two, we should provide amnesty and citizenship to illegal immigrants, making them full-fledged members of our society.

Three, we should pursue a progressive economic agenda that will raise wages and working standards for all Americans, including immigrants. According to a study done at UCLA, legalization of more illegal immigrants could provide a nearly $1.5 trillion boost to America’s GDP over the next decade– a boost that should benefit all Americans, not just the top one percent.

Instead of separating thousands of families and condemning millions of immigrants to a harsh fate, America ought to live up to its ideals and recognize illegal immigrants as equal participants in national life. We are a land of opportunity, not a land of deportations and border walls. 

Why We Still Need Single-Payer

Despite all of the praise and hoop-lah that has surrounded “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act has amounted to a failure of public policy.

For millions of people across the South, health insurance costs continue to rise. In a recent survey performed by Scott Benefit Services, it was found that in Virginia, medical expenditures had increased by 8 percent, and in North Carolina, expenditures had increased by nearly 10 percent. In both states, a large percentage of employers– in Virginia, over half– are using high deductible health insurance plans to cover their employees. Here in Tennessee, the Department of Commerce recently approved rate increases ranging from 44.3 percent to 62 percent for health insurance plans. Nationally, health care costs are expected to rise about 19 percent to $30,632 for a family of four by 2020.

So much for “affordable care.”

As far as coverage goes, millions across the country remain uninsured. Here in our own state, nearly 230,000 Tennesseans remain without health insurance because our state legislature refuses to support the Governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Recently, a major health insurance provider, Aetna, decided that they’re going to no longer offer services in nearly ⅔ of the counties they currently serve.

The move towards high deductible health insurance plans means that individuals will increasingly have to shoulder their own costs. The average high-deductible plan has a deductible of around $5,000. This means that before one of these plans will cover costs, an individual or family must pay $5,000 out of pocket. For many working families, this is simply not an option. Rest assured, as costs rise and these plans become more common, the result will be a de facto lack of coverage for millions of people.

Listening to most liberal commentators, it seems as if what we’ve witnessed is the best the Obama Administration could have done. They chalk up the failures of the Affordable Care Act to the obstructionist tactics of their Republican colleagues. They refuse to call out the corporate Democrats in their own camp who were too afraid to challenge the health insurance industry when Democrats controlled Congress.

But the truth is that there was an alternative to Obamacare. And it would have worked.

Bill H.R. 676, the United States National Healthcare Act, would have ensured that all Americans receive health insurance as a human right. It would have replaced our current patchwork system of private oligopolies and underfunded public institutions with a single-payer health insurance system. In a 2008 study done by the group, Physicians for a National Health Program, the United States would have seen an immediate $350 billion decrease in health care costs if the legislation had been implemented. Prior to the PNHP’s study, in 2005, economist Paul Krugman estimated a cost-savings of roughly $200 billion dollars if a single-payer plan was implemented. In 2016, it can be safely assumed that the cost savings would be even greater.

Why? Because the private health insurance industry is a wonderland of inefficiency.

Private health insurance companies profit off of a lack of care. The less money that insurers have to shell out to cover high-risk patients, the more money they receive in profit. If we’re serious about meeting the basic healthcare needs of every American, the entire ethic of that industry is contrary to our purpose. So, it would make sense to actually eliminate or reduce that industry in order to promote the general welfare of the population. That’s exactly what a single payer system would do.

Nearly 31 percent of America’s health care costs are spent on profits, paperwork, overhead, and billing compliance. While a number of private companies, including HMOs, have overhead costs of about 20-25 percent, Medicare itself has an overhead cost of about 3 percent. If we improved Medicare and expanded it to cover the entire population (as H.R. 676 would), our administrative costs would be substantially lower than they are now, similar to the costs that we currently see under Medicare. No profits, less paperwork, a single system of billing, and virtually no advertising would mean that the money we pay out would actually go towards meeting our needs.

So why was H.R. 676 pushed to sidelines in favor of what we now call Obamacare?

The insurance industry and big pharma.

As he ran for President, Barack Obama had shown interest in pushing the country towards a single-payer system. But as President, when lobbyists started to breathe down the neck of his administration, he knew that he had to sacrifice public health for the sake of private profiteers. Though he knew that private profits and the public interest could not be reconciled on the issue of healthcare, he (and his party) decided to bow to their whims anyway. And now, our country has made a broken system even more broken.

While other countries can provide all of their citizens with quality healthcare by spending less than 10 percent of their GDP, we still continue to spend in excess of 18 percent of our GDP to feed an industry that should have died with healthcare reform. We struggle under the weight of a 2,500-page elephant, while a 30-page piece of legislation could have taken care of all of our concerns. Millions continue to suffer, while a few thousand shareholders continue to prosper. And things only seem to be getting worse.

This is why single-payer needs to be brought back to the table. This is why we need to keep our politicians in line and loudly demand that people matter more than profits.

The Faults of Privatization, and What They Reveal About Capitalism.

One of Governor Haslam’s most persistent political crusades has been the privatization of Tennessee’s public services. Sold to the voters as a means of achieving more efficient, cost-effective governance, what proposals for privatization really mean is selling off government services to companies who are concerned more with their own bottom-line rather than with the quality of service they provide.

Case and point: private prisons. Private prisons are a massive industry in Tennessee, fueled by mass incarceration, and maintained in order to benefit a small, wealthy group of shareholders (many of them political campaign contributors).

Just like other shareholders, those who own shares in private “corrections solutions” companies are primarily concerned with their own financial gain. Profit, in other words. That’s the whole reason for their existence. Other concerns are automatically pushed to the sidelines out of necessity.

Like other shareholders, they aren’t directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the companies that they own. Instead, it’s the prison guards, cooks, and janitors who ensure that our prison system functions. They’re the ones with tacit knowledge of what proposed company policies would work (and would not work), meaningful experiences in what can improve the quality of their work (and the quality of living for the prisoners they care for), and so on. Shareholders don’t possess that tacit knowledge.

And so, like in virtually every other large corporation, those tasked with the responsibility for making economic decisions are separated from those who will have to live with them. This results in underpaid workers, ineffective operations, overcrowded prisons, and poorer overall quality, whereas if prisons remained in not-for-profit, state management, unions of correctional facility workers, as well as associations of inmates for example, could actually have a say in prison policy.

Institution shape actors. Whatever sense of altruism shareholders possess is tempered by their need to survive in our economic system. In order to maintain the industry which they profit from, they must maintain a steady prison population. Laws which would reduce that population (for example, the elimination of criminal penalties for non-violent crimes such as marijuana possession) threaten the stability and profits of their industry.

Naturally, they turn to lobbying and financing political campaigns in order to obfuscate that threat and ensure that politicians will continue to maintain policies beneficial to them. Even, if these policies are contrary to the interests of workers within the correctional facilities, of prisoners and their families, and the interests of the general population. In this way, private prisons harm our guarantees of justice and fuel the overincarceration of our citizens. We sacrifice lives, many of them innocent, just so a few individuals can make a buck.

Contrary to the “cost-effectiveness” that politicians like Haslam cite when they argue for private management, private prisons have been shown to actually increase costs for taxpayers (in Arizona, by nearly $3.5 million a year). On average, annual pay for workers in privatized correctional facilities is 21 percent lower than in state managed counterparts. Private prisons, even some institutions within our own state, have been sites of numerous rights violations, including shackling a pregnant woman as she gave birth, and allowing a member of the Aryan Brotherhood to torture and brutally murder his cellmate. Earlier this year, an infamous correctional facility in Trousdale, had to stop accepting inmates due to concerns over overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, solitary confinement, and excessive use of force.

Yet, Haslam (and many state Republicans) have continued to stand by their private prison partners, particularly since those partners have given them hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money over the years (in excess of $40,000 to the Governor alone, according to one study).

It’s obvious to see that privatization, well, sucks. But, perhaps what’s less obvious is that the privatization of our public services (prisons, in this case) provides a stunning example of the inadequacies of corporate capitalism.

When we allow any kind of small, unaccountable group of people to manage major economic decisions which affect thousands of workers and their communities, there’s no institutional means to ensure that these decisions made are fair. Those who own the economic institutions are naturally going to look out for their own interests, placing their profitability above the needs of their workers. And that results in unemployment, diminished wages, subpar working conditions, broken communities, inadequate services and products, and so on.

Politics is fundamentally about resource allocation; the textbook definition is “who gets what, when, and how.” Economics is no different, except with a specific focus on the products we make and services we provide (such as rehabilitating criminals).

Most of us agree that democratic principles in our political system are just, so why shouldn’t those same principles apply when it comes to economic affairs or government service provision itself? Especially when we’re the ones who have to live with the decisions that are made? Wouldn’t, say prisons, be better institutions if they were managed with input from those who work in them, and the inmates they are intended to rehabilitate, rather than by shareholders who could care less about social concerns?

This kind of logic– applying principles of democratic decision-making to both political and economic affairs–is the lynchpin of socialist thought. And it cuts to the heart of the problem with allowing large private companies to manage prisons for their own gain. It cuts to the heart of a much bigger issue– what’s entirely wrong with capitalism as we understand it today: large private companies managing our resources in their own interests, while we have no say in the large, enduring institutions which underpin our economic lives.

That’s what opponents of privatization need to emphasize in their campaigns. Not only that public is better in a limited sense (applying solely to prisons, campus facilities, etc.) but that a reimagined and democratic public sector can actually serve as a tool in promoting genuine control over the economic institutions which affect our lives. Even in areas where this is typically not even discussed, such as industry, finance, etc. There really is an alternative. We just have to brave enough to propose it, and show that it can work.

T.I.N.A: There is No Alternative? Think Again.

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Margaret Thatcher, one of the most preeminent conservative leaders of the 20th century, coined a phrase she liked to refer to as T.I.N.A.: there is no alternative. As thousands of coal miners lost their jobs across the United Kingdom, as severe cuts to public expenditure forged an environment of social degradation, and as the British political left was continually consigned to defeat, election after election, she convinced dejected voters that the “tough medicine” she shoved down the throats of her own countrymen was absolutely necessary. Her leadership left a dark legacy on the U.K.’s parliamentary democracy, pressuring her opponents within the British Labour Party to cynically drop their socialist values in favor of corporatized, centrist politics. When asked years later about her greatest legacy, she emphatically replied, “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.”

Here in the United States, even in Tennessee, even on our own campus, I think we witness a similar phenomenon at play. For decades, the Democrats (the closest thing we have to a European-style “labor” or “social-democratic” party) have been losing our part of the country (the South). Though political scholars argue over the particulars of this phenomenon, most concede that this has had less to do with race (as many Democrats like to argue) and more to do with a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party’s politics away from its working-class and unionized roots. I think that few people in our generation would believe as President Truman once did, that the Democratic Party truly represents “the People.”

Instead, scholars like Thomas Frank argue that the Democrats have taken the place of the Republicans as the party of “professionals”: upper-middle class people with virtually no ties to organized labor, no ties to the working-class people that they occasionally (and paternalistically) claim to represent.

This is how a party that used to stress its populism, a party that used to “put human welfare first,” ended up electing a certain “New Democrat” from Arkansas who deregulated the financial sector, supported a free trade deal that cost Americans hundreds of thousands of decent paying jobs, and who even attempted to negotiate partial privatization of Social Security with Newt Gingrich.

This is how, even now, under a President who is somewhat more progressive, single-payer health insurance never got to the negotiating table (though it is the alpha and omega of “affordable care” solutions), how America got a too-little-too-late stimulus package full of temporary tax cuts in 2009, and how most importantly, Democrats have not been able to regain control of the House (or make gains in the Senate) since 2010.

Instead of taking full responsibility for their political inadequacy, Democrats like to shout back at their left-wing critics the same thing Margaret Thatcher once shouted at her left-wing opponents, “There is no alternative!”

Republican obstruction! Right-wing idiocy! What else could we have done? The usual lame excuses for a lack of political will and imagination.

Perhaps where this is even more apparent than in Congress is in our own state legislature. I applaud many Tennessee Democrats for standing up to the privatization proposals put forth by Haslam and Company. I think it’s great that they’ve challenged their Republican colleagues on their refusal to support something as basic as Insure Tennessee. But at the same time, when have they gone on the offensive? When have they really gone to the voters of our state (particularly youth) and proposed a more attractive narrative and vision than what the Republicans have to offer?

The answer is that they haven’t.

In Kingsport, where I originally come from, they don’t even run candidates. And then they wonder why people– when they do run candidates– won’t vote for them. They seem to be more worried about “Bubba” in rural East Tennessee having the ability to own a gun, rather than the fact that “Bubba” doesn’t have a union to protect him, adequate health insurance, and a real stake in the political process. They seemed to be more worried about creating a “stable” business environment, than actually working on behalf of working people. They’re actually so afraid of challenging the conservative political consensus in this state, that they have essentially abandoned progressive politics altogether for mind-numbing centrist elitism.

Yes, Tennessee, there is an alternative. If the Democrats pursued a populist approach, if they had the courage to do so, I think they definitely could win people over and make real change.

More democratic management of state political affairs, strong pro-union legislation, public banking to help small businesses and students, shifting to a graduated income tax (rather than having one of the highest state sales taxes in the country), public ownership and public-private partnerships to give citizens a say in our economy (and develop our manufacturing capacity), and so on. Crafting a narrative that actually excites people, rather than one that puts them to sleep. Becoming, once again, the “party of the people,” and in a much more radical way than ever before.

But, if they wish to continue as the professional-class anesthetists, putting the public, “the People” in the words of Truman, to sleep, more power to them. They can reside within that self-fulfilling prophecy of “no alternative,” or they can be the alternative. It’s their choice.

May You Live in Interesting Times: Introducing My Column in the Beacon

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There’s an old proverb, sometimes referred to as the Chinese Curse, that goes “may you live in interesting times.”

For years, American students (many of them UTK students, I’m sure) have found the subject of politics to be inherently uninteresting, boring, and dry. But, I think that this election year, it’s hard for anyone to argue that American politics is boring. Instead, I’d argue that we do indeed live in “interesting” times.

There are the two main options Americans have in the 2016 Presidential election, come November. On the one hand, a Democratic candidate who possesses a long history of corrupt behavior, hawkish foreign policy, and caving to Wall Street profiteers, and, on the other hand, a Republican candidate who– unexpectedly– clawed his way to his party’s nomination through primary after primary, by targeting Mexican immigrants and Muslims with vile rhetoric and his opponents with childish name calling.

This is what American democracy has come to. Two candidates who, by and large, do not represent the interests of the American public. Two candidates who symbolize the continued decline of our nation. Two candidates who will not engage in a substantive debate on the issues which affect our lives. Particularly the lives of young people, college students, the people who are our nation’s future. Our political system has been debased to a spectator sport, deprived of all substance, while we have to suffer the consequences.

I’ve decided to start writing this column because I think that there needs to be a voice on campus to stand up for a different kind of politics. A progressive kind of politics that places popular sovereignty as its highest virtue, that refuses to be slung through the mud of partisan bickering, that boldly proclaims the need to eliminate injustice wherever it may be found. A kind of politics that we seem to hear little of in East Tennessee.

Right now, our future is bleak. Despite “Millennial” optimism, the rest of the 21st century, particularly the next few years, is going to be far from a bed of roses.

Thousands of us are going to suffer under the weight of student loan debt, left in a state of financial serfdom because we had the audacity and drive to pursue a college education.

Many of us lucky enough to find employment after leaving college are going to be subjected to high-deductible health insurance plans and bankruptcy due to the cost of medical care.

The “unlucky” among us will end up having to work repetitive, mundane jobs for meager wages. No unions to protect them. No democratic voice in their workplaces to fight on their behalf.

All of us will continue to be affected by the growing menace of global climate change, as it will rapidly become the defining issue of our time.

In fact, we may be the last “normal” generation on Earth, the last generation who could have done something to avert disaster when the lives of human beings were on the line, and decided, foolishly, that the world and all its people were not important enough to save.

This will be our future, unless we have the courage to act. That’s why I’ve decided to speak out.

If we can use this opportunity, these “interesting times,” to build a new kind of political movement, a revolution that will overcome the injustices faced by our generation, our future– the future of America, the future of the entire world– will be a much brighter affair. If we fail to seize this opportunity to act, then we will have failed not only ourselves, but future generations, condemning them with a dire legacy by our own inaction.

This is the weight we carry on our shoulders. This is the burden that we will bear as we live through “interesting” times. I’m here, this column is here, in order to argue for what can be done to make this burden a little lighter and the future, a source of hope for us all.