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Commentary Saudade

My First Foray Into Local Politics

Running for public office can be a rewarding experience, if you learn the right lessons. It’s a crash course in local government with few downsides but, perhaps, a bruised ego.

In 2012, while living in Rockford, Illinois, I did something I never thought of doing before. With little money and little experience, and with a lot of personal reservations, I decided to run for public office. While I ended up losing the race, I gained valuable insight and experience into local politics, and I saw a side to the process that most people never see. I hope demystifying this process will encourage others to get involved.

It began with a casual suggestion: We need people like you to run for office. Then, a thought: Why not? I chose to run for a seat on the Winnebago County Board in the Republican primary election. 

In Winnebago County, Illinois in 2012, an aspiring candidate only needed 25 signatures for his or her name to appear on the primary ballot for the position of County Board Member (other elected positions require hundreds or thousands of signatures, and it is always a good idea to get twice as many as you need). After introducing myself and announcing my intentions at a community meeting, and being greeted by rowdy applause, I decided to commit myself to the race. Three other candidates, including the incumbent, joined me in declaring their intention to run.

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Commentary

Leadership we Can Believe In

With trust in government and other institutions at historic lows, only a leadership renaissance from bottom-up will restore public confidence.

What people most look for in a leader, whether he or she is in politics, sports, or any other profession, is honesty, competence, and a positive vision for the future. When leaders are performing at their best, they are doing more than just getting results, they are also responding to the expectations of their constituents. 

When times get tough, people expect these authority figures to give an honest assessment of the situation, determine the root causes of the problem, and act in the best interests of everyone to solve that problem. Good leadership depends on individuals who are willing to take that responsibility seriously. 

We are currently experiencing a severe leadership deficit at all levels of society and government. That deficit has led to a crisis of confidence in America in which poll after poll has demonstrated that public confidence in institutions like government, banks, churches, and corporations is at historic lows.

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Commentary

Five Reasons to Dump the Sales Tax

Sales taxes negatively affect the economy, disproportionately hurt the poor and lower middle class, and are an unreliable source of revenue for governments.

Whether it is to fund road repair and construction, local jails, or supplement public school funding, politicians are enamored with sales taxes. A penny here and a penny there taken from the pockets of consumers, they argue, cannot be harmful. Yet there are compelling arguments that sales taxes have a depressive effect on the economy, disproportionately affect the poor and lower middle class, and are not a reliable source of revenue.

Far too often, politicians use deceptive tactics to get sales tax increases approved. Before voting on any sales tax increase, voters deserve to consider the following reasons why sales taxes should be rejected.

1. Sales taxes punish consumer spending and hurt the local economy. 

It is generally understood that taxes influence behavior, and that we get less of a behavior when it is taxed. That is why activists demand high taxes on cigarette and alcohol sales. Their goal is to make those products more expensive so that less people will be inclined to purchase them. Why then do we tax consumer spending generally?

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Commentary

What is Totalitarianism? Part II

If the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? Maintaining a free society requires knowing these warning signs.

In Part I, we defined totalitarianism as state-orchestrated control over all public and private life by an ideologically-driven political organization. In the words of the father of Italian fascism, Giovanni Gentile, the totalitarian state seeks “total representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals.”

While this control is most obvious and pronounced under a dictatorship, democratic republics are not immune. A legislature may vote in favor of a totalitarian state just as easily as a dictator may impose one.

This is totalitarianism in theory, but what is it in practice?

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Commentary

What is Totalitarianism? Part I

If the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? Maintaining a free society requires knowing these warning signs.

“Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

Benito Mussolini

Public anxiety over loss of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States has become increasingly common. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans say it is very important that the rights and freedoms of all people are respected, but only 41 percent believe that describes the country very well or somewhat well. Concerns about “authoritarianism” and lack of respect for democracy are openly expressed.

But if the United States devolved into a totalitarian state, would we recognize it? The trouble with diagnosing our condition is that most people are unaware of what totalitarianism actually is. Even among the most politically astute, there is little consideration for the possibility that a state in the process of becoming totalitarian might lack the most brutal and outward signs of oppressive regimes portrayed in popular culture.

Because of our rather simplistic frame of reference (picture black and white images of National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union) we recognize a country as either being in the advanced stages of totalitarianism or not at all. But just because a state maintains the trappings of democracy, for instance, that does not preclude it from being totalitarian.

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0-3 for Predictions

2021 is not off to a good start, not just for the country as a whole but for my predictive abilities as well. Last week, I posted my predictions for the new year. Among them was that Republicans would win both senate races in Georgia, and that the political temperature in the country would cool down now that the election is over. I was very, very wrong on all accounts.

First, I predicted incumbent senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans, would win their races on January 5th. Instead, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock squeaked over the finish line by narrow margins.

On November 3, 2020, Republican candidates in the Georgia special general election (including Loeffler) received a combined total of 2,426,120 votes. If all those same people showed up to vote for Kelly Loeffler on January 5th, she would have won.

However, as the sole Republican on the ballot, she ended up receiving 233,344 less votes. In the Perdue – Ossoff race, David Perdue received 258,043 less votes on January 5th than he received on November 3rd.

Either those people decided to vote for the Democratic candidates (unlikely), or they stayed home, which is why questioning the legitimacy of the previous election was a stupid strategy.

As for my prediction that the temperature in the country would cool down, we all know how that bit of wishful thinking went up in smoke last week. With the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building and the crackdown on social media by Big Tech, I fear things are only going to get worse.

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A Shameful Day in America

The parallels between what I saw in Baghdad in 2016 and what happened in Washington, DC Wednesday afternoon are chilling.

I was stationed in Baghdad at the end of April 2016, when Iraqi Shia protestors breached the Green Zone for the first time since it was established after our invasion of Iraq in 2003. I was at the gym when the U.S. Embassy was locked down and everyone was ordered to shelter in nearby buildings. For several hours, no one knew whether the protestors would attempt to storm the embassy. Would this turn into Tehran in 1979

A short time earlier, Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr held a fiery press conference in the city of Najaf. He gave no orders to his supporters to riot, and in fact he condemned the violence during and after, but on the crowd came, pulling down sections of the concrete walls surrounding the Green Zone and breaking into the Iraqi parliament building. Their grievance was with the Iraqi government and not with us, thankfully, but Iraqi officers with whom I worked repeatedly compared Al Sadr to then candidate Donald Trump. They were downright prophetic.

Listening to President Trump address the crowd in Washington, DC yesterday, then seeing video and photos of protestors breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building and taking selfies in the House chamber brought back strong feelings of déjà vu. In 2016 in Baghdad, panicked lawmakers fled as the crowd rushed in, then Iraqi authorities declared a state of emergency and fired teargas to clear the building. It was nearly beat-for-beat what we witnessed in our own capitol Wednesday afternoon.