Military disenfranchisement

August 25, 2012

Ahh…election season.

With the 2012 presidential election just around the corner, politicians everywhere are beginning to bombard their constituents with increasingly negative — and downright wrong — campaign ads. They all hope to convince the undecided and uncommitted electorate that voting for the other side would bring about the apocalypse, and the only way to preserve American life as we know it is to vote for Mitt Romney, a true American, or to vote for Barack Obama, because he’ll keep us from going to back to the Dark Ages.

Whatever. Since I don’t live in a contentious swing state, nor do I own a television or pay for cable, I don’t see them everywhere. I find them amusing more than annoying.

But instead of finding new ways to piss off the American public, what the politicians really SHOULD be doing is making sure that every citizen can make it out to the polls. And that includes a voting bloc generally overlooked by both the public and politicians alike.

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend this morning about soldier’s voting rights, and I decided to take to the blogosphere to post more thoughts about the subject. (To the friend this is referencing: You had to have seen this coming.)

As I’ve established on this blog previously, I am an election nut. So like those horribly negative campaign ads, expect more rants/posts about voting and modern disenfranchisement as November approaches.

Living in such close proximity to a military installation has trained me to keep my eyes and ears open to issues especially sensitive to soldiers and their families. One of these issues is the continued disenfranchisement of our boys in uniform.

It’s not a too much of a problem for soldiers who are at home. They’re subject to the same voting procedures as everyone else. The problem is for soldiers who are deployed overseas. These soldiers have to abide by absentee voting procedures, and absentee voting procedures are generally just a clusterfuck of awful, made ten billion times worse by the fact that every damn state has a different procedure.

Here are the problems:

  1. Much like the U.S. Census (which is another issue), soldiers’ votes are counted toward their home of record. Not where they actually live. This makes it difficult because, as I’ve said before, voting procedures are different in every single state. So a single unit deployed to Afghanistan is subject to potentially 50 different absentee ballot procedures.
  2. In order to get their hands on an absentee ballot, soldiers have to request them. Do you really think these soldiers (who are already preoccupied with their survival) are going to remember to request a ballot? Why aren’t we making sure we send enough absentee ballots WITH them when they deploy?
  3. When soldiers finally get the ballots, there’s no effective way to get them back home. So they usually come back late.
  4. There are no effective ways to keep our soldiers informed of issues while their overseas. They have spotty access to the news and, once again, they’re preoccupied with their survival. Voting is usually the last thing on their mind.

My friend pointed out that an easy (and frankly obvious) solution to the absentee voting procedure would be to let the U.S. Department of Defense govern soldiers voting overseas. With modern technology and the Internet, it’s ten million times easier today than it was twenty years ago.

But the problem with this is it would LITERALLY take an act of Congress. And as we all know, they can’t get anything right.

This is just one of the myriad problems with our voting laws, but I think it’s probably one of the more important and pressing problems. These men and women risk their lives everyday to protect our freedoms. The least we could do is make it easier for them to have a say in who their own commander-in-chief will be.


Aspirations of a military reporter

August 21, 2012

This post is dedicated to a reader who’s in for a long day. He says my blog posts make him laugh and think at the same time, so I hope this cheers him up and comforts him at the same time.

So with that said…

I never used to care much about the military.

I was a supremely unathletic girl growing up in the suburbs of north Texas. I liked stay ing inside and reading during recess. I liked glitter and unicorns. I liked writing more than I liked playing sports. So the idea of people torturing themselves on purpose and learning how to shoot guns disinterested me.

I probably should have cared more. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the Philippine Air Force. He signed up to fight in WWII when he was just 14 years old. My paternal grandfather was an officer of the Philippine Army, and he survived the Bataan Death March. My family has a storied military past, and I was raised to respect it. But I never gave the military much thought.

Then I came here. I was lured by the promise of a government reporting position, only to learn after moving that I would also have to be a military affairs reporter. All of a sudden, I could no longer afford not to care about the Army. It was my responsibility to give a shit about our uniformed personnel.

What I didn’t expect was that it would be so easy to care.

In my short tenure as the military affairs reporter, I’ve shed my armor of apathy and developed a deep, abiding appreciation and respect for the Army. I’ve met families and friends of people who risked it all. I’ve heard tales of valor, bravery and courage that I never believed was possible. I’ve been in the presence of some of the Army’s most brilliant leaders. I’ve listened to speeches that made me laugh and cry at the same time.

This past week was a celebration of the local Army division’s anniversary, and one of the command sergeant majors decided to hang up his fatigues after a 37-year-long career. CIA Director and retired general David Petraeus came for the ceremony to speak about his dear friend and how proud he was to have served with him.

I cried during the ceremony. And so did nearly everyone in the audience.

I no longer don’t care. I care a lot.

Which is why I want to embed.

For those of you who don’t know, units of the U.S. Army takes journalists with them when they deploy. It’s a way for the media to see how the United States is fighting the war while also protecting the civilian journalists. They call it embedding. Three units of the division here have begun deploying to Afghanistan, and I hope to go with them by the beginning of next year.

I haven’t even gotten approval from our publisher yet, and I don’t know if I will. Even if I do, I know it will be a long and difficult process because everyone knows bureaucracies are pains in the ass. But I’m excited for the stories I’ll be able to tell, the things I’ll get to see and the people I’ll get to meet.

However, the problem with embedding is it’s almost treated like a curse word among journalists. Some of the sharpest, most brilliant minds in my industry look upon the practice with disdain. They say it’s nothing but a way for the Army to perpetuate its propaganda machine. They say the Army is using the media to portray only the stories they want told. They say not much real war reporting can be done using a U.S. soldier as your shield.

That all may be true. I wouldn’t know. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a war correspondent. I want to be a military reporter. I am a military reporter.

The truth of the matter is I work for a community newspaper. We write and report stories that are meaningful to the community. Our community just happens to have a disproportionate amount of soldiers. And if a large percentage of the population in our community spends nine months out of the year getting shot at overseas, then it’s worth a look.

I don’t want to write about Middle East politics, because quite frankly I don’t know a thing about them. And I’m sure there are a lot of Afghanis who have amazing stories just waiting to be told by some intrepid, fearless reporter who works for a national paper of record, not a community paper.

Afghanistan is not my community and the Afghan population is not a part my coverage area.

The Army is my community, and the soldiers living in Afghanistan is a part of my coverage area. And there are stories to be told overseas, stories that a great deal of children, wives, mothers and fathers care a lot about and have a stake in.

I hope that makes sense.


Unwanted networking

August 11, 2012

August.

August means three months ’til election. Ninety days left for desperate politicians to vy for the affections and votes of undetermined or disinterested voters. In the political realm, this means crunch time.

This particular week was a good one for U.S. congressmen and women because the congressional session ended two weeks ago, which gives pretty much every representative in the U.S. House time to go back to their districts and kiss up to voters.

Our representative for this district was particularly hard at work. I don’t know why, since he’s been in office about as long as I’ve been alive and the guy running against him is…well, let’s just say he’d never make it in Washington. Ever.

Anyway, so our representative has been campaigning pretty hard. He made three appearances in our coverage area this week alone. In fact, I saw him so much I felt like I was stalking him.

One of the appearances he made was at this minority business conference. He gave some opening remarks, then he split the minute it was over because he had to drive to the next county over to speak at their rotary club.

The congressman was scheduled to speak at 9 a.m. I got there super early because the press release said he’d be there an hour earlier. Whatever. That wasn’t what bugged me.

What bugged me was one of the conference-goers who thought I was a fellow conference-goer.

From the minute I spotted him, I knew he thought he was hot shit. He was dressed in this really tacky, khaki suit with a deep blue shirt that didn’t match at all. He was kind of a squat man with a well-groomed, but dated mustache. And he wore this self-satisfied grin, like he knew all the tips and tricks for making it in this world and he wanted to share them with everyone.

He zeroed in on me the minute he walked into the room. I, having no reason to formally suspect him of being a gigantic asshat, grinned and shook his hand when he offered it. It was clear from the beginning of this conversation that he thought I was a conference-goer, just like him. So I introduced myself as a reporter right off the bat.

“I’m with the local newspaper. I’m covering this event, I’m not attending it.”

He still kept smiling at me and nodded. “OK. Well let me give you my card.”

For the record: I didn’t want his fucking card. I wasn’t looking to network with anyone at this thing because 1) I’m not a business owner and 2) I WASN’T ATTENDING THE EVENT, I WAS COVERING IT. But whatever. It’s just a card.

Then he went on to brag about how he was a journalist, too. He’s a “blogger” and he writes about news and entertainment, blah blah blah.

First of all, I haven’t really ranted about how I feel about bloggers calling themselves journalists yet (because that probably deserves a book by itself), but in a nutshell: I don’t consider bloggers journalists.

Second of all, he was being a condescending douche about it. Granted, he was probably twice my age, but that didn’t mean that he was a better “journalist” than I was. I told him I was there to talk to the congressman, and he replied that he wanted to talk to him as well.

Well the congressman made his remarks, then he split the minute he was finished. I ran out to catch him and ask a couple of questions before he could go, and the blogger guy followed me. We waited while the congressman took care of some business in the conference hall offices, and the douchey blogger regaled me with more tales of his own awesomeness.

“My business has taken me all over the world. I’ve talked to all different kinds of people,” he said.

Oh, really? “That’s cool,” I responded.

“Have you ever considered radio or television news?”

I’d rather gouge my eyes out. “No, I haven’t.”

“Hmm. Well you should. You have the voice and you have the look. And it’s been my experience that when you know more, you get better jobs. People will be more willing to hire you if you know a lot about different mediums.”

OK, first of all, the plural of “medium” is “media.” That’s why we’re called THE MEDIA.

Second of all, WHAT THE HELL. Do I look like I need your help? I already found a job, thank you very much! And yeah, I don’t plan on staying here forever, but I think I know what it takes to get hired in this business. I want to THE best school of journalism in the world. I studied under numerous Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and I worked alongside some of the best reporters and editors of my generation. I’m perfectly capable of understanding what it takes to compete in my chosen profession. Thank you.

But it didn’t stop there. Oh, no. When the congressman finally came back out to answer our questions, Bloggy von Doucher graciously allowed me to ask my questions first. So I immediately pounced.

“Mr. Congressman, why did you decide to make an appearance at the Minority Business Conference today?”

[Insert trite platitudes about encouraging small business owners who happen to be minorities here.]

“Mr. Congressman, one of the speakers mentioned an interesting statistic. He said that soon the minority population would overtake the white population. What did you make of that?”

[Insert more drivel about how awesome and diverse America is.]

“Mr. Congressman, the same speaker also mentioned that without immigration, America would actually experience a population decline, and that instead of closing our borders, we should be opening them. What do you think about that?”

[Insert meaningless talk about how illegal immigration is a problem, and we value diversity, we just wish people would immigrate legally.]

“Mr. Congressman, the same speaker also mentioned that government should invest in businesses by entering into contracts with them. He offered the example of IBM supplying the government with computers. How do you feel about that assertion?”

[Insert more talk about how government should invest in businesses, but by deregulating and limiting barriers to entry.]

I chose this line of questioning specifically because the congressman is a Republican, and the speaker who came after him brought up a lot of points typically held as platforms by the Democratic Party. So I thought his answers would be more interesting than they were. I should have known better than to expect a Washington Republican seeking reelection to provide interesting answers.

Well when I was finished with my questions, the douchetastic blogger chimed in with his questions.

“Mr. Congressman, how do you propose helping minority business owners?”

[Insert typical answer about deregulation here.]

“Mr. Congressman, why is it important to invest in minority businesses?”

[Insert another typical answer about creating new jobs to get out of the recession.]

“Thank you so much, Mr. Congressman,” we both said when he finished answering our questions. Then we shook his hand and he took his assistant and aid back to the car to go wherever they needed to go next.

When he was gone, Senor Asshat smirked at me and said, “Nice job, little lady.”

Ugh, I wanted to punch him in the face. His two questions were the most basic questions any beginner reporter could have asked and he was looking at me like I was the rookie.

After I left the conference, he sent me an email saying we should keep in touch and that I should check out his blog. Needless to say, I deleted that shit before I read through the whole thing.


Why moderates hate this Chick-Fil-A debacle

August 2, 2012

Apparently not.

As a general rule, I don’t post my opinions about fad issues. I consider fad issues as subjects that have a shortened news life: no longer than a week at most. If they last longer than a week, it’s because pundits and extremists force the topic long after the general public has forgotten it.

So I don’t bother forming opinions or even writing about fad issues because their relevancies don’t last long enough for me to care. Not to mention, they usually have no bearing on anything of immediate or even long-term importance.

But in the case of this whole Chick-Fil-A debacle — I just can’t. I can’t not write about this. It’s just pissing me off so much that I have to say something to relieve my frustration.

For those of you who don’t know, CEO of Chick-Fil-A Dan Cathy made some remarks about gay marriage. Cathy subscribes to the “traditional” views of marriage, and defines it as a holy union between one man and one woman. He went further.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

Cathy’s opinions aren’t news. He’s always presented himself and Chick-Fil-A as a Christian company. It’s also not news that he’s donated huge sums of money to political advocacy groups dedicated to lobbying politicians to fight for “traditional” marriage.

Regardless of the fact that none of this is any surprise to anyone, Cathy’s remarks sparked a huge public relations clusterfuck for his company. The gay community pretty much immediately started boycotting the restaurants, and other companies and even government officials joined in. Most notably, the Jim Henson Company decided to cut off business ties with Chick-Fil-A, and the mayors of Chicago and Boston condemned Cathy for his remarks.

As you can imagine, Christian groups were outraged at the LGBT community’s outrage and formed a counterstrike to the boycott. Mike Huckabee dubbed today “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day,” where Christians and Chick-Fil-A supporters alike were encouraged to eat at the restaurant to support Christian values, freedom of speech, freedom of business practices, blah blah blah.

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I vehemently disagree with Cathy and mainstream Christianity. Love is LOVE. The oft-quoted-to-the-point-of-cliche verse of 1 Corinthians 13 begins with “Love is patient. Love is kind.”

I just cannot believe that love in any form, whether it be platonic love between friends or romantic love between partners, could ever be considered wrong. If God is love, then God is in all relationships. And yes, I fully believe that God is in relationships between two men or two women. And if God has a strong presence in the relationship between two men or two women, then I fully believe that they should commit themselves to one another.

So now that we’ve gotten my personal beliefs out of the way, let me go on to say this: We live in AMERICA. We have a FIRST AMENDMENT. And since Cathy is an American citizen, he is allowed to say WHATEVER THE FUCK HE WANTS. Even if I think he’s a big, stupid bigot who probably should have kept his mouth shut in the first place, he didn’t. And he’s allowed. He’s allowed to have his bigot opinions and he’s allowed to voice them as loudly and as stupidly as he wants.

Because here’s the thing: Our Founding Fathers didn’t throw the First Amendment in there to protect the speech that everyone agrees on. They threw the First Amendment in there to protect the minority. The problem with being ruled by a winner-take-all democracy is that 51 percent of the public can overrule the other 49 percent because of that measly, 1 percent difference. To prevent the dissenting minority from being swept up in the “tyranny of the masses,” the Founding Fathers threw in the First Amendment to allow the minority some sort of reprieve.

And here’s another point: Cathy’s free speech isn’t infringing on YOUR right to disagree with him. As far as I can tell, the boycott is going just fine, and the Internet has exploded with people condemning him and his company, if my Twitter and Facebook accounts are any indication.

Now, I personally will no longer eat there because I don’t want the money I spend at Chick-Fil-A to be funneled into political action groups whose sole purposes are to prevent gay couples from getting married. And if you feel the same way, then I applaud you. We’re on the same side, sister suffragette. But that’s a PERSONAL decision. Don’t turn my decision to avoid Chick-Fil-A into some sort of huge, political statement because it’s not.

Also, you don’t get the right to make other people feel like assholes just because they don’t want to boycott Chick-Fil-A. You don’t get to use a fucking FAST FOOD RESTAURANT as some sort of symbol for gay rights. That’s not how this works. What goes in a stupid Chick-Fil-A sandwich? Bread, chicken and a damn pickle. You don’t get to turn that into some sort of symbol for bigotry and hate. It’s not the same as someone saying “faggot.” You don’t get to equate it as such.

That argument swings both ways, too. Conservatives and Christians, you don’t get to turn Chick-Fil-A into a symbol of freedom and Jesus. It’s not a crucifix, it’s not a bible, and it’s not the Bill of Rights. It’s a fucking SANDWICH. I can make one at home for myself, and it wouldn’t mean a damn thing to anyone else but me.

The fact that this fad issue has turned into a symbol of intolerance for one side and a symbol of freedom for the other just pisses me off. It’s issues like these that rile up the extremists on BOTH sides to the point of infuriation, and exasperate the people, like me, who straddle the line.

Bottom line: Quit trying to make people feel like assholes for eating or not eating a sandwich. IT’S A SANDWICH.

Ugh…I hate this. I hate this so fucking much. I hate that this is an issue, I hate that this is in the news, and I hate that people are talking about this. I hate that I’M fucking talking about this. And I absolutely HATE that I had to defend Dan Cathy.