Thursday, April 17, 2014

Yes, There’s A Problem. And, Yes, There’s A Solution

By Matt Highland, Adjunct Staff Writer, Cal State Long Beach Graduate Student
     I routinely receive surveys from various activist and party organizations asking me to prioritize and rank the most pressing issues facing the country.
     Since 2010, I have always answered with the exact same response: “Overturn Citizens United!”
     No matter what issues are particularly important to you, progress on them face the same common road block, the influence of big money.
     While Democrats have found a possibly effective line of attack for the next round of elections by focusing on the influence of the Koch brothers, Republican voters are quick to point to the liberal billionaire George Soros. Mother Jones puts 2012 election spending by Soros at $2.6 million, while the Koch brothers and their group Americans for Prosperity spent $38.9 million, making this a poor rebuttal. Still, this should not be a partisan issue. Polls show an overwhelming bipartisan majority support for reducing the influence of money in our elections.
     Recent scandals in the state legislature such as the indictment of Democrat Leland Yee for exchanging political favors for campaign donations or the indictment involving a San Diego police detective and Washington D.C. lobbyist conspiring to funnel a Mexican national's money into local elections to Republican and Democratic candidates, show that this is not a partisan issue. Wealthy interests seek to exert influence over policy makers, regardless of their party identification. Money flows to whoever holds power.
     In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the floodgates of money into the political system. With the recent McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court has further eroded restrictions on spending limits. The decision eliminated contribution limits and has left in place a system that’s ill-equipped to detect and prosecute outright bribery and corruption. There are no safeguards to prevent foreign interests from influencing our elections. Something has to give.
     People know there’s a problem, but fear there is no viable solution. With the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, the demand for something to be done is hitting a fevered pitch. There are widespread calls for campaign finance reform and public financing of elections among other approaches.
     Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito claim to be constitutional traditionalists, who do not believe it is a “living, breathing document.” They believe justices are not meant to interpret, but to strictly read, the Constitution. How is it that they can find corporations are people and money is speech while claiming to strictly read the Constitution without interpretation?
     Corporations are not people; money is not speech; and a Supreme Court ruling is not the last word. The Constitution is. The Supreme Court is tasked with the duty to uphold that Constitution and rule on a given cases’ adherence or violation of it. We, the people, can undo this influence of money in our government by passing a constitutional amendment.
     Many individuals and organizations are now seeking to do just that. Organizations calling for a constitutional amendment include Common Cause, Democrats.com, Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, Move to Amend, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Root Strikers, and the Sierra Club, among many, many others.
     A student led movement that began at UC Berkeley called, Students United For Democracy, has launched a campaign on 86 campuses in 31 states. Throughout the week of April 14 through 18, students across the country are passing resolutions in student governments calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. On April 14, students participated in rallies and educational events in support of reforming our elections and amending the Constitution.
     The movement is gaining ground. Elected officials are now circulating petitions and mobilizing voters around the issue. Sixteen states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. Thirty-five senators and 114 members of the House of Representatives have gone on record supporting a constitutional amendment. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as local Reps. Janice Hahn and Alan Lowenthal, are among those who support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  
     Students, elected officials, organizations and everyday citizens are uniting to give voice back to the people. Whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever party you belong to, take a stand for democracy and voice your support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
     For more information on how you can get involved visit:

Originally published in Random Lengths News, April 17, 2014 edition.

matt highland, mathew highland, csulb, citizens united, mccutcheon, supreme court, clarence thomas, cal state long beach

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spooky GMO Corn for the Halloween Edition


For this year's Halloween edition I created this spooky corn, juiced up on GMOs, inspired by Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. To view the full Project Censored/Halloween issue of Random Lengths News click here. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Since Everyone's An Expert On Syria, Here's My Expert Advice:

     I understand the use of chemical weapons is an atrocity that cannot be allowed. I also understand that the U.S. was complicit in Iraq's use of them against Iran. However, that should not be an excuse to fail our moral obligations to make sure that this type of horror does not become common place. In this particular case, 350 people were killed in Syria. I find it hard to believe that any U.S. intervention or airstrikes would result in less than 350 civilian casualties. So, what should be done?

Make A Deal With Russia
     Russia may not necessarily care whether chemical weapons were used in Syria. Russia does care if the U.S. intervenes in what it considers a domestic Syrian dispute. Russia, and indeed the whole world, is aware of the U.S. intention to strike Syria. If indeed the goal is to stop the use of chemical weapons, and based in humanitarian concerns of stopping the unnecessary deaths of civilians, the U.S. must agree not to strike Syria, in exchange for Russia's cooperation. What would that cooperation look like? A UN sanctioned intensive de-armament of all chemical weapons in Syria, led and operated by U.S. and Russian forces. This should be coupled with unprecedented humanitarian aid for refugees and civilians. This may work. (The U.S. and Russia have worked together before, WWII against Nazi Germany!) 

How and Why Might This Work?
     Russia is increasingly irrelevant on the international stage other than in pure political theater. Yet, Russia does have a seat on the 5-member UN security council, which are both realities that must be dealt with. Giving greater strength to the UN and the international system is in the U.S.'s greater interest and gives legitimacy to any interventions in human rights atrocities yet to happen around the world. Russia has always been a roadblock to this sort of intervention. However, this deal would require Russia to put some 'skin in the game.' Russian and American forces will need to demand rigorous cooperation from Syria. Russia, being Syria's most powerful ally on the world stage, would likely cooperate if Russia demands it. Any attack by Syria on these de-armament forces would result in Russia's willingness to use force, if that unfortunate need arises.

Saving Face & International Law
     The best scenario would be that the U.S. and Russia would be able to unequivocally eradicate chemical weapons in Syria, while also providing basic needs to refugees, with the smallest amount of civilian casualties. Should it get messy, the UN would likely have the full support of the Security Council (China would quickly fall in line), giving legitimacy to any greater intervention that may be needed. This would help to give new weight to the International System, maintain the concept of sovereignty and give the U.S. the moral standing it has long desired, and perceived itself to have. Barack Obama, prior to being elected, was a strong believer in the the potential good of the UN, IGOs and diplomacy. Obama obviously doesn't want to give greater weight to Russia's influence in the world, but if we are willing to negotiate with 'terrorists' we can surely negotiate with a former ally and major world player, in the pursuit of these three primary goals:
1. Stop the use of chemical weapons
2. Prevent further civilian casualties
3. Preventing a wide scale, multi-state altercation (WWIII)

I am not actually an expert on Syria or military intervention, but I bet your are. What's your advice?

Friday, May 31, 2013

A More Perfect Unionize Walmart

matt highland, mathew highland

A Living Wage. Healthcare. Vacation. You Deserve It. They Can Afford It. 
     At a time when corporate profits have soared to all time highs, workers are dying in factories around the world, and even middle class American workers are putting in 60 hours a week to live barely-above poverty, one must ask, what is it all for? Those low prices, are they worth everything? Are they worth human dignity? If this race to the lowest wages accelerates, what becomes of humans when their labor is no longer required? Automation of manufacturing, and even point-of-sale retail, are rapidly increasing. What then, is it all for—the almighty profit? 
     That's PROFIT, NOT PROPHET. I think most prophets would agree that life is for living, and living well—Not for amassing fortunes at any human cost. You deserve to live better. Humans deserve better. 

(Feel free to print copies and put them under car windshield wipers in the parking lots of these businesses—particularly the far parking spots. They might be employees;)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Robin Tyler: Long Beach Pride Edition Cover

matt highland, mathew highland, robin tyler

This is RLn's Long Beach Pride edition, with civil rights activist Robin Tyler. She and her wife Diane Olsen were the first gay couple to marry in California while it was briefly legal, prior to the passage of Prop 8, and also helped to organize the 1993 LGBT March on Washington. A couple years ago, when I was volunteering at L.A. Pride, I had the privilege of driving Robin and Diane through the parade and talking with them. It was fun doing this cover as a tribute.

(**Disclaimer** If you click on the image and read the full edition of Random Lengths News, you may notice the official paper position endorses Trutanich. I do not agree with that endorsement. I do not support Trutanich. Mike Feuer is the best choice for L.A. City Attorney.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

State of Equality: Not Black and White

     The current lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement has been a fast, confusing and very winding road.
     Now that marriage equality has reached the all-decisive Supreme Court, everyone keeps asking, “Will the court rule for or against gay marriage?” The simple answer is: It’s complicated.
     Most people understand that the court is deciding whether Proposition 8, the voter approved marriage ban on same-sex couples in California, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which only recognizes heterosexual marriages, are unconstitutional. What is important here is on what grounds are these unconstitutional. There are numerous possible outcomes, though the likely rulings will be anything but black and white.
     In the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, there are issues with “standing.” In both cases, the parties with the authority to defend the discriminatory legislation have declined, requiring others to step in. If the defense is determined to be without “standing” the cases would be dismissed. If one case were dismissed, it would seem that both would have to be dismissed considering that they suffer from the exact same problem. From the justices’ questions, the fact that they agreed to hear the cases, and what’s out there on the blogosphere, this outcome seems unlikely—but still possible.
     With that procedural issue out of the way, we move to constitutionality. One possible and likely scenario, which would be seen as a huge win for gay rights is that Prop. 8 and DOMA be ruled unconstitutional. Millions of Californians would benefit from marriage equality and DOMA would be struck down.
     This does NOT mean that marriage equality, throughout the United States, would be the law of the land. DOMA is likely to be found unconstitutional, not on the grounds of the “equal protection clause,” but under the 10th Amendment of “states rights.”
     In this likely scenario, Proposition 8 is either ruled unconstitutional with an obscure and narrow decision, or dismissed letting the 9th Circuit ruling stand. Prop. 8 will not be decided in a far-reaching decision based on the equal protection clause, as it should. It should be of great concern that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is given so little weight in this Justice John Roberts-led court. This could spell trouble for the Voting Rights Act, which the court will be taking up soon.
     While this outcome would be a huge win for gay rights, we should celebrate cautiously as this is not necessarily a progressive win. Federalism versus ‘states rights’ is an American tension that dates back to our very beginnings, to Jefferson and Hamilton. The ‘states rights’ argument has long been a bastion for resisting progress, was the refuge of the confederate states, and used to fight desegregation. This interpretation of the law does not want a large federal government capable of standing up for civil rights, only one that protects property rights. ‘States rights’ advocacy has found a contemporary home inside the Tea Party and Libertarianism.
     This ruling would be consistent with the Roberts’ court track record and agenda of dismantling progress while appearing to advance it. Remember Obamacare? Roberts upheld it, but on the grounds of it being a tax. The easiest route to have it upheld, in keeping with court precedent over the past 60 years, would have been to find
Obamacare legal under the commerce clause. This is the pillar that the Civil Rights Act stands upon. Conservative judicial activists have long held this as a target. 
     The diminishment of the commerce clause in the Obamacare ruling combined with the emphasis on states rights in the DOMA ruling, and the avoidance of the equal protection clause in Proposition 8 and DOMA signals a huge attack on Federalism and social progress.
     The Obamacare and likely marriage equality rulings will surely seem to the American public like progressive decisions by the Roberts’ court. They are not. When historians look back on the Roberts’ court this clever maneuvering will be seen as the hallmark of his style. This allows the court to avoid progressive ire while laying the foundation for truly regressive policy and conservative interpretations of law. The foundations of progressive achievements, ranging from social security to anti-segregation laws, are being undermined and set up to be potentially dismantled. So ironically, things that the LGBT movement is fighting for, like spousal benefits from social security and freedom from discrimination, may all be compromised by these decisions in the long run.

Published in Random Lengths News on pages 8-9: View Here

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bill of Rights for the Digital Era (#BoR2)

We are the great beneficiaries of previous generations’ efforts to guarantee basic fundamental rights and freedoms. The following amendments to the United States Constitution are put forth, not to establish new rights, rather to guarantee existing fundamental rights, applied to modern usage. It is incumbent upon us, as technology advances, to to not only pass on an advanced and connected world, but to make sure that it is a democratic and just one.

(1) Amendment XXVIII– The Constitution, and the rights it guarantees, applies to living, breathing human beings. Corporations are not people and money is not a form of speech. Corporations have legal standing to the extent as approved by the people through appropriate legislation.

(2) Amendment IXXX– Liberty is a fundamental democratic value that entitles persons to live freely without government intrusion. Privacy of individuals and their personal data shall be secured and considered the sole property of the individual. Search or seizure of one’s personal data without court ordered warrant is a violation of this right. When selling or exchanging personal data, the consent of the individual must be provided at each point of exchange or transfer.

(3) Amendment XXX– The internet’s ability to empower democratic efforts is undeniable. The converse may also be true, the internet must be protected against totalitarian efforts. Access to the internet and the freedom of expression it affords, must not be denied or intentionally interrupted.

(4) Amendment XXXI– The IV Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be secure in their personal effects which include digital devices. Using an individual's digital device without warrant to track, survey or monitor is prohibited.

(5) Amendment XXXII– Access to the judiciary and legal system is a fundamental democratic right. All contractual clauses which limit access to the courts or requires arbitration is null.

(6) Amendment XXXIII– The right for the accused to confront their accuser prohibits automated electronic devices from being used as evidence or grounds for any legal or financial action.


____________
This is a rough draft and work in progress. I'd love feedback. Be sure to check back as I'll be updating as I refine it. This is a start. 
-M.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Safer For Us All


     Violence and murder is never excusable. However, we must recognize simple cause and effect. We know that people do extreme things in extreme situations. I do not justify it, but acknowledge that it is true. Glaring injustice and abuse of power can, at extremes, drive a sane person to the edge. It might push someone returning from war, suffering from PTSD, over that edge.
    The Dorner incident and the LAPD’s response is exposing another key variable in the equation, their own insecurity. There are so many guns on the streets, they never know where fire may be coming from. They know that poor public opinion makes maintaining order a delicate balancing act. They are too frightened for themselves and their families to work the beat in the same communities in which they live. Their heavy handed bravado is masking their sincere fear for their own safety. This is why they are so trigger happy.
    Another problem they have is public perception. “Officer involved shootings” in Southern California are so common, it comes as no surprise to anyone when we hear yet again, someone has been unnecessarily shot or murdered by police.
    Police in Southern California have long had a history of racial tension with the public and a known tendency for excessive force. Historically Black and Hispanic communities have been sceptical and fearful of the police. This results in their communities' being disproportionately victimized by crime. Good law enforcement requires the support and ‘buy in’ from the community. These communities have been less likely to cooperate with police efforts because there is a lack of trust. There is a suspicion of corruption and a fear, that has been frequently reinforced. Increasingly young, middle-class, whites look towards the police with a similar distrust or disdain. I do not say that this is ideal. I simply say that it is true. And, it is unfortunate. Police in California and across the nation, may want to deny, but must realize this reality. Their reaction to the Occupy Wall Street has not improved this trend. Their shooting of two innocent women, trying to make a living, did not improve this either. I legitimately fear what the reaction may have been had those delivery women been killed. I know they have a tough job, which is why the administration of justice should be handled thoughtfully.
    My boss has often argued that there is a direct correlation between “officer involved shootings” and cops who are former war vets. In some ways it may be logical for returning war vets to work in law enforcement. They certainly need employment when they return home. But, acknowledging the realities and rates of PTSD by the force is not a sign of weakness, but intellegence. These officers should have treatment and be monitored to ensure their safety and the safety of the public. If medical professionals deem an individual unfit to serve, they should not serve.
    ‘Protecting their own’ above the public interest is not just a problem in regards to war vets. Allegations of misconduct must be treated seriously. The old business of protecting officers, above the law, creates a system of lawlessness. In the aftermath of the Dorner incident, the LAPD has had a difficult time gaining sympathy from the public. It is apparent on Twitter and in grocery store lines. No matter how this situation is resolved, it must bring about a sincere effort from the police to work with the public. The culture of the department must change. It must regard the rule of law, in it’s most just and ideal form, with the highest regard. They must aggressively fight corruption. They must do significant outreach. They must reach out to repair, or in some cases, build public trust. Doing this, in combination with sensible gun control, will make their jobs easier and safer—Which means safer communities for us all.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Well Regulated...

matt highland, mathew highland, second amendment, 2nd amendment

One of my favorite covers to date. I have long had strong feelings on gun control, and find the subject and its opposition to be deeply frustrating. Recent events have brought the issue to the forefront. I am pleased that I was able to convince the editorial staff at my office to run the 2nd Amendment on the cover, emphasizing (what I've long referred to as) my favorite part, the first three words! My love for traditional typographic design and empty space, along with my feelings on the issue, make this one particularly special.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Teddy Bears and Vaginas

     What do teddy bears and vaginas have in common? They are both more regulated than automatic firearms. Which brings my attention to the fact, that the words "well regulated" appear once, in the Bill of Rights. Where? They appear in the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. (Not bear vaginas)
     After 9/11 Americans were willing to roll back some of their most basic and cherished rights in the name of safety. Roughly 3,000 people died in that tragedy. What's a bigger tragedy? Well, in sheer numbers, gun violence in America. More than 30,000 people die each year from gun violence in America, that's 10 September 11s every year! 
     Today in America, for every 10 Americans, there are 9 guns. That is almost a gun for every man, woman and child. This is not what the founding fathers had in mind. They probably also didn't imagine automatic assault riffles. They probably didn't imagine ak-47s or oozies, or missile launchers. Missiles are a form of armory. Do we have a right to bear those arms as well? Should we have a missile launcher for every man, woman and child? I don't think so.
    Before the Bill of Rights, in the pre-amble to the Constitution, it states their goal to "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare." With a country stuffed to the gills with firearms, in every nook and cranny, this is not possible. The state of today's complete lack of gun regulation makes our nation unable to defend us from endless mass shootings, and our general welfare is completely secondary to a zealous misreading of the Second Amendment. We cannot wait any longer for this to be addressed. It is time for Americans to come to enact sensible gun policy. It is not about taking away rights, it is about defending our ability to live and move about freely, with out fear. It is about our general welfare as a nation. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

November 6, 2012 CA Proposition Ballot Guide

30 YES! Temporary Taxes to Fund Education: Schools need money more than millionaires need tax bonuses, paid for by us! We've made our sacrifices, it's time they do too. 

31 No. State Budget: Underfunds education and vital health services. Sneaky and malicious.

32 NO! Political Contributions by Payroll Deduction:  This is California's very own Citizens United. This is a law written by, and for, large corporations. They want to silence unions and progressive groups, while still allowing corporations to donate to political campaigns. F*CK'D Up, right!? Please Vote No. Root for Humans. 

33 NO! Auto Insurance Companies: Proposition 33 is another deceptive insurance company trick. Insurance companies spent millions to pass a similar law in 2010—voters defeated it. Proposition 33 allows auto insurers to raise premiums on responsible drivers up to $1,000, unfairly punishing people who stopped driving for legitimate reasons. Consumer advocates OPPOSE Prop. 33.

34 YES! Death Penalty: Statute To Outlaw The Death Penalty. Places without the death penalty have far lower rates of violent crime. It does not deter, it validates violence. Most western democracies have outlawed the death penalty. To imprison a convict costs CA tax payers around $34,000 per year. To keep an inmate on death row cost almost $1 Million per year. With the mandatory appeals process, most inmates sit on death row for at least 20 years. Each death row conviction costs us $20 million or more! Whether you vote with your conscience or with your wallet, the answer is the same—YES! Outlaw the expensive, ineffectual, eye for an eye policy.

35 YES! Human Trafficking: Increases penalties and cracks down on a huge problem. 

36 YES! Three Strikes Law: Repeat Felony Offenders. AWEFUL. More to come. I wrote a research paper on this subject a year and a half ago at Cal State Long Beach, and the Three Strikes Law is one of the most disastrous laws in modern California history. It must be changed! Check back for more info. I'm trying to figure out where to begin!

37 YES! Genetically Engineered Foods!: Labeling genetically modified foods at the grocery store. You're buying them right now, but don't know it. Wouldn't you like to be able to make informed decisions?

38 No. Munger Initiative: Confusing and bad tax policy.

39 YES! Tax Treatment for Multistate Businesses: Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding. Yes on 39 CLOSES UNFAIR TAX LOOPHOLE letting OUT-OF-STATE CORPORATIONS avoid taxes by keeping jobs out of California. Closing the loophole protects local jobs and provides $1 BILLION to California. 

40 YES. Redistricting: State Senate Districts. Irrelevant, No campaign has withdrawn due to CA Supreme Court ruling making yes outcome mandatory.

LOCAL MEASURES
B YES- Require adult film industry to use measures to stop the spread of HIV, including use of condoms.

J Yes! With the economic meltdown we've been cutting back and putting off enough vital infrastructure investments that will pay off many fold in the long run. Our ancestors invested in us!

N YES! *VERY IMPORTANT AND DEAR TO MY HEART* The hotel workers in Long Beach are horribly treated. I've personally met some of them and we're appalled at their experiences of abuse by the Hilton and Hyatt. The workers at these same hotels in other cities, including Los Angeles, are treated with respect and rewarded for their hard work. Long Beach has no protections for them, so here they are not. It also spurs the local economy, putting more money in Long Beach instead of International Hotel Groups.

O YES! Unlike most cities Long Beach doesn't have just two elections each year, we have three. In a city of a half a million people, city council members can be elected with as little as 1,000. Consolidating elections means increased turnout and lower costs. 

District Attorney: Jackie Lacey 

These recommendations will be updated closer to the election with more information and emphasis.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Goopple SoftWARe Conflict

     I hope this whole Google Maps / Apple dispute doesn't become an all out SoftWARe Conflict. It does seem that it has been on the horizon and approaching. Apples horrendous legal disputes with Samsung does not give me much hope.
     I work on an iMac at work, and a slightly newer iMac at home. I have an iPad and an iPhone. I have used iTunes since its dawn. I use safari mostly, sometimes Firefox, don't much care for Chrome. But I do use MailChimp, Gmail, Google Maps, Search and YouTube. I also use Blogger. Both companies make excellent products, that currently compliment each other well, and seem to spur creativity. What I fear is coming, is a complete wall will be erected between Google and Apple. 
     I installed Chrome on my slightly older iMac at work. Upon doing so I was constantly bombarded with warnings and updates that were unstoppable. I finally uninstalled and hunted out every remaining bit, of the program (which bizarrly hides and seeds files throughout your system) from my computer. From what I've heard, Apple's new map system is flawed with bugs. I haven't updated yet. I really like Google Maps. But, now Apple will develop and improve it's maps. They will be good. Chances are both companies will do this more and more, isolating their ecosystems. A wall is being erected.
     Remember how frequently we used to ask "Is it compatible?" I don't want to go back to those days. I don't want to use a PC—Or an Android phone. A Windows phone? Never! In this SoftWARe Conflict both companies, greatly innovational, are duplicating efforts and probably depriving themselves and the public of even greater things.