Every war [vote] when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war [vote] but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.
—George Orwell

On the eve of a little trip to the US, I found a statistic/vote about Chinese immigration in California in the late 1880s that was disconcerting.

As a run-up to this vote, I just want to mention two other votes that I find, for different reasons, dangerous, myopic and limit freedom as opposed to expanding it.


Think back now to the horrors of 9/11. One person—one person—Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, voted against a resolution (HJ Resolution 64) giving the President unilateral Authorization for Use of Military Force:

“…all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks….[my italics].”

The general citizenry of beleaguered and largely illiterate Afghanistan—one of the world’s poorest countries, hammered by ten years of war with the Russian superpower, and then the civil war, and in the grip of a non-elected fundamentalist group—surely did not plan, authorize, commit or aid the terrorist attack in New York City.

And Barbara Lee? She was not even saying no to war. She was saying:

“We need to step back. We’re grieving. We need to step back and think about this so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. We have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”

A rational response, it would seem, under most any circumstances. The vote on this resolution was staggering. It passed 98-0 in the Senate and 420-1 in the House. Lee’s vote was the only one in opposition. For this she received immediate death threats, and had a bodyguard put on duty to protect her life.

Can you imagine the courage Barbara Lee’s decision took? Now that’s worth remembering…


In California, the vote on Prop 19 (Marijuana Decriminalization with Regulation) was taken, and in the end, out of every one hundred people, 54 get to tell 46 how to live their lives. This is where one can understand what Jefferson meant by democracy being mob rule.

I wrote this:

Are you free? What does it mean to be free? People actually thought they were ‘free’ to vote against Prop 19 in the States, against marijuana’s legalization.

From my point of view, if we were truly free, we wouldn’t have that vote at all. And if we believed in freedom and decided we would vote, obviously we’d vote to get rid of criminalization for someone exercising their non-violent volition/freedom to use marijuana.

Finally, we’re so unclear about what freedom is, in some ways, that we don’t realize that being given two myopic options within a massive spectrum is by definition very limited freedom—all the worse that we don’t see it that way.

Here’s to freedom, [including] choosing to not smoke marijuana.

Finally, it should be remembered that drug dealers, Big Pharma, Government and the Big Media, ultimately, were all mostly opposed to the proposition—strange bedfellows, indeed, a bed worth avoiding. But prop supporters still got 46% of the vote.

CHINESE IMMIGRATION: Run Out of Town On a Rail (You Built)

This from Chinese Working People in America, page 23, in researching the Asian-American experience:

In 1873 the S.F. Chronicle [I think it’s recently bankrupt] wrote, “Who have built a filthy nest of inequity and rottenness in our very midst? The Chinese. Who filled our workshops to the exclusion of white labor? The Chinese. Who drives away white labor by their stealthy but successful competition? The Chinese.

Anti-Chinese agitation reached its peak on September 3, 1897 [the year my grandmother was born] when the California State Legislature authorized a popular state-wide vote on the issue of excluding Chinese immigrants from the state. 154,638 voted for exclusion and 833 opposed it.

There are always brave and brilliant ones, against all odds.

Almost immediately following the ruling, enraged and desperate whites took it into their own hands to eliminate their economic hardships by driving the Chinese from their towns. The riots and massacres of Chinese people were encouraged and promoted by the inflammatory accusations of the press and labor leaders like Denis Kearny.

The energy and anger of underpaid and unemployed white workers were turned against the Chinese, leaving the employers untouched.

What are the common components in both topic and numbers of these vastly different votes? A preliminary list:

1) Intentional Misinformation/Propaganda

2) Unconscious or conscious Tribalism

3) Relentless Fear Mongering

4) Whatever else you’d like to intelligently add _________________________

Other variables seen hither and yon: Racism, government, anger, economic uncertainty, short term interests, myopic ideas on freedom, love, democracy and so on.

My friends, love more, be expansive, watch out for the madness of crowds, hysteria and whimsical fashion, and try to eat well and laugh a lot.




  1. Jason Goode says:

    Well said, Pete.

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