Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Red ribbons with anti-drug messages have been distributed to staff and students, and we are being reminded to wear the things at all times.
My ribbon was waiting for me in the mailbox. Cheerfully, it rhymed, "United We Stand - For a Drug-Free Land!" and it bore the image of our nation's flag.
Face in palms.
Look, friends, I'm on board with telling kids to stay away from drugs. It's an issue of health and security. Where patriotism has to come into it, I don't know. Many of my adult friends enjoy themselves a bit of the marijuana from time to time and I do not consider them traitors to their country. Presumably, this patriotic red ribbon does not refer to drugs that are legal, like nicotine and caffeine. The ribbon doesn't say anything about "an addiction-free land." It's a reminder to me that the war on drugs is a political business, not strictly medical.
So I put it on backwards, going for the absent-minded professor dodge, and leave it on my desk at other times. It seems like a thoughtless use of the flag to me. "If you are a real American, you must uncritically adopt this sweeping statement about narcotics." Well, neighbor, I don't.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
And, maybe, help us clarify what the heck socialism really is, because the word is in danger of becoming meaningless. When a mainstream Democrat who supports free trade talks about adjusting the tax code, and partisans scream "socialism!" without anyone correcting their terms, this literally cheapens political debate in a nation that is supposed to value debate and democracy.
The Socialist candidate for President is more than happy to talk about it. Surprise, he says Obama is no socialist. But we knew that. Obama is not mounting an attack on economic neo-liberalism, and has even backpedaled his criticisms of NAFTA. His campaign has benefitted greatly from the support of our oil barons. He is certainly not advocating worker-ownership of the automobile manufacturers - or state ownership.
It's an interesting time for anyone to be hurling the S-word at anyone else. Obama made a remark about "spreading wealth" and the Republicans started painting a hammer and cycle on him. On the other hand, tax revenue worth more than $8,000 per household in America has just been "spread" upward.
Like Robert Reich recently said, maybe what we have here is socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the rest of us.
Is it a "socialist" observation that capitalism, at least as we practice it, has concentrated political clout and wealth to a small, elite class of our society? The fact is not in dispute. The debate is over what it means and whether it is just.
As we have seen, our government is quite willing to intervene in the workings of the market economy, which resembles the philosophy of some socialists. If we are willing to invest public money to prop up ailing financial institutions, to 'nationalize' them to some degree or other, to make our government a shareholder in what were private companies, then we are somewhere on the socialist spectrum, aren't we?
We're just afraid of the word, that's all. It's used as an epithet to hurl at political rivals, interchangeably with 'communist.' The words do not illuminate. We need to be considering good ideas and bad ideas, not worrying about whether Karl Marx said them first.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The head of the local Republican organization has letters in the local paper often enough that he functions as an unpaid columnist. His letters mainly exercise the talking points of the campaign although he has some thoughts of his own about abortion, one of his favorite topics.
In another of New Mexico's counties, the local Republicans made news in a way they might not have wished. A woman named Marcia Stirman, the head of the Republican Women of Otero County, had a letter published in the Alamogordo Daily News referring to Senator Barack Obama as a "muslim socialist."
Wrong on both counts, but her mind is made up and will not be reached by facts, no matter how they are presented. The Associated Press took an interest in her, so they interviewed her and she elaborated: "Muslims are our enemies...why we are trying to elect one is beyond me."
The Otero County Republicans commented on this to say they are going to ask Ms. Stirman to step down but had no other comment.
When "muslim" is uttered as an expletive, like a brand-new "n word," and when the word "socialism" doesn't mean what it truly means, hung like a hood over the heads of moderate Democrats who support free trade, will the Otero County Republican spokeswoman take her moment in the spotlight to be a voice of sanity? Is Stirman merely being punished for P.R. reasons, because she said things that are unfashionable yet tacitly believed by her group? Or will the Otero County GOP make a statement, for this half-a-minute the spotlight is on them, to say, "We are intelligent people and desire a decent politics, a politics of truthful statements and honest opinions?"
We can't help noticing, here in the burning house, that there is real fear about this black man who might well be our next President. To look dispassionately at his voting record, you see a mainstream Democratic Party politician, even if he does have more panache than most. Yet there is such terror among some of us, that some terrible thing is about to happen, and the anguish of knowing that this disaster is looming, wondering why can't everybody see it??
Whether you have voted early or not, today is not too soon to consider how we might speak to our neighbor with compassion. It's a silly campaign with little to no sense on display, but there are real feelings on the streets. There is a house I drive by every day on Second Street, in a poor part of town near the railroad tracks and the juvenile detention center, a ramshackle house that has lost its ram and its shackle, looking barely inhabitable, and the newest thing I can see anywhere on the property is a crisp Obama sign displayed on the front window. In the same neighborhood, a beat-up old car has a fresh bumper sticker for McCain. These are real people, not campaign ads.
What words will serve them best?
Friday, October 24, 2008
Lately, I've been making them hold hands because it challenges them. It's amazing to see the aversion in some of them, as early as kindergarten. They turn into tiny Howard Hughes's, hiding their hands inside their sleeves or consenting only to link their pinkies. "Must...not....touch!!"
At such times their teacher suggests to them that their minds are telling them it's a big deal, even though it isn't.
The school day ends, and the teacher returns to what he does whenever he isn't teaching theatre: fretting about debts. Indeed, fretting so much that he called a lifeline, as on that quiz show - what was it called, uuum, Who Wants To Be Solvent? - and spoke with a money person.
Anguished conversation about payment schedules and interest rates, savings programs, and so forth. Virtual handholding over the phone. Teacher realizes things are not as bad as they were a year ago, even six months ago. Much better, in fact. As for creditors, money person says, "Have you thought of calling up and asking?"
It could not possibly be so easy, teacher protests. They'll bully me into something I cannot afford. Money person says, "Ask." Teacher instinctively pulls sleeves over his hands and says, "Eeeeeeeeeew!"
Then he remembers. Sighs. Mind mind mind. Minding mind. Makes the phone call. Secures a much lower interest rate than he ever anticipated. Sleeps better than he has in days.
Hard times aren't over, but they are overing. Slowly, overing.
You're all looking at me.
Like you're waiting for something.
Oh, right. I know what you're waiting for. Here you go.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
We're not getting into all of that stuff. We're concerned about something quite different, and it is bigger than Sarah Palin. If it is entertainment you seek, we'll reward you with some entertaining videos at the end.
Sarah Palin lacks the polish of the professionals who have selected her for this candidacy. For that reason, she may be inadvertently serving as a window onto a certain view of power that is, more and more, dropping the mask and revealing itself in its snarling, authoritarian ugliness. Perhaps the party doesn't need a candidate who is good at covering it up because it is no longer important to cover it up. A veil will do, as long as it is in the colors of Old Glory.
It's an interesting time for our sandcastle republic. For the last eight years, our family secret has been that the Vice-President has been acting as President, even though George W. Bush sincerely wishes us to view him as our leader. This Vice-President has exercised tremendous powers, granted at the pleasure of his President, and has established in our short-sighted public imagination the idea of the Vice-President as a leader of policy. Richard Cheney has actually used the office to make a gap in the separation between the executive and legislative branches, at times literally so.
The erosion of the separation of powers is something this administration has fought for as diligently as their war in Iraq, and they have done so with greater success, even after the Democrats took Congress in 2006.
We now have a candidate who, in July, said she was not sure what the VP does. She did not ask this out of ignorance; she wanted to know whether the role would be big enough for her:
By October 2, in her well-executed debate performance, she had adopted the idea that the Vice-President plays a leading role in the Senate, not a ceremonial one. Her Vice-President would not be a mere tie-breaking vote when needed, but someone who would be on the floor of the Senate steering the agenda and working with legislators.
You see, it all comes back to the "unitary executive" theory, the re-modeling of our President into a constitutional monarch, whose visions are to be faithfully executed by the Congress. If Congress opposes the President's will, they are unpatriotic.
A certain vision of executive power shows itself quite plainly here.
We can laugh about it at the moment because it looks this party is going to get trounced in the election. If there IS an election, and the votes get counted. So, as promised, entertainment.
Two clips here, parts one and two. MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann and CNN host Chris Matthews both address Sarah Palin's view of the Vice-Presidency. Olbermann uses humor and made me laugh here. Matthews does an exemplary job of holding a Republican spokesperson accountable and giving her (and us) a forceful civics lesson. Watch how a rare moment of truth-telling on national television reduces a professional liar to petulant, frustrated sighs.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Have a listen.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Pleased, I opened the mail right away and found a fundraising letter that I soon decided could benefit from a little proofreading. I went through with my pen and made some changes, correcting some minor inaccuracies and replacing them with more truthful statements.
For instance, when they wrote that they were dedicated to upholding long-held conservative principles of limited government, strong national defense and individual freedom, I thought no no no, let's get right to the point.
So I crossed out and wrote in the correction: ...post-Nixon Republican values of deregulation and lack of accountability; bellicose neo-conservatism; and class war.
After all, this is the "straight talk" candidate.
So I went through the letter and made my improvements. I folded it back up and put that in their postage-paid return envelope. I also put in some offers we received in the mail and won't be using ourselves. You know, the man's got to eat while he's campaigning, so he might be able to use those Burger King coupons. I stuffed that postage-paid envelope nice and full, and posted it right away.
Sand, not oil.
Friday, October 17, 2008
What, then, is the Secret Service? You see them in their clean black suits and dark glasses, often with a little squiggly wire behind one ear, doing a job I shudder to imagine: scanning large crowds of people, ceaselessly, for any sign of menace. A weapon. A suspicious bag. Anything. Their job is to protect government officials.
They fulfill this reponsibility in a country that has a long history of mob justice and political violence. To begin with, we aspire to democracy, which is, as H.L. Mencken described, the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. Although high-profile assassinations have become very difficult to carry out, there remains a potential for terrible suffering if you exercise your right to assemble and protest. I have been spat upon by civilians at some very unexciting war protests - and were it not for a police presence, that gob of spit might easily have been a bottle. On the other hand, if you protest GATT, you could get pepper spray in your eyes courtesy of your local riot squad. "Protesting While Mexican" is enough to get you clubbed in L.A.
Candidates are in a pretty bad spot themselves, within this horrendous mess. So the Secret Service has a huge responsibility to protect officers of the Constitution and candidates for national office. They will investigate verbal threats and prosecute. They take it seriously. As we are reminded in airports, security is no laughing matter.
For most of the time Senator Obama has been a candidate for President, they have been charged with protecting the first black man to be a national party's candidate for president. Imagine being on his detail. The pressure must be great.
Alex Koppelman on Salon reported yesterday that the Secret Service took a mighty big interest in stories about political rallies where attendees shouted "Kill him!" in reference to Obama. Koppelman reported that the investigations have found that the stories are unsubstantiated. They listened to tapes of the rallies and were not convinced that there were authentic threats of violence against the Senator from Illinois.
On the other hand, there is another item about the Secret Service from Steve Benen. As has been the fashion with President Bush's town halls (which have so often been invitation-only events), security is now being used at some Republican campaign events to keep reporters away from other attendees. Not the candidates, mind you, but from the people attending. They don't want reporters talking to McCain-Palin supporters, and are using the Secret Service to keep the press away.
Is this a proper use of the agency? Is Security Service now being used to block the press and assist candidates in achieving political goals? Steve has an interesting suggestion for reporters. In essence, Steve suggests they press on. If the Secret Service is being mis-employed, let's get it out in the open.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Have you considered "sweating" them a bit? Hold the line, if you have a minute. Get a live person on the line and hold them accountable. You don't have to roll your eyes and tolerate this stuff. Stress them out. Ask them questions, ask for their supervisor.
In the words of Gunther Eich, "Be sand, not oil, in the machinery of the world."
Call them up and tell them you don't want to be on their mailing lists. You might feel good, like you just voted. In a way, you have. Speak up. Don't roll over while your phone rings off the hook and your mailbox gets stuffed full of lies, sent by people counting on you being either passive and/or an idiot.
Today I came home and the telephone was winking at me that we had messages. What I got was a recorded phone message from the McCain campaign in Washington, D.C. Here's most of the script: "You need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans. And Democrats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country."
Barack Obama is no prince, but this message is steaming-fresh cowflop. The only way he resembles an "extreme leftist" is if you put him next to Mussolini, and even that would be an illusion. These sneaky, cowardly little messages aren't held up to the same scrutiny as television buys (and I suppose they're cheaper). It's a cowardly move, spamming people with recordings, ramming the lies into our ears and our answering machines. It's like that obnoxious roommate you once had who only ever communicates with naggy little notes everywhere in the house.
They were, however, kind enough to leave the number of their campaign office in D.C. So I called them, just to see if anyone in the office had the guts to speak directly with a voter. I punched the appropriate number on the automated menu and waited for someone to pick up. And waited. And waited. No one picked up.
Admittedly, the campaign is low on funds. Life is like that when your campaign is clearly bereft of a vision, when it is as mean-spirited and raving as a madman in the park scolding pigeons. (This blog comes dangerously close to that at times, yes, I know.) So I got on the McCain campaign's website and sent them an email message, with my phone number, inviting them to call me after 4:00 PM on a weekday if they have the courage to talk to a voter live about their allegations.
If you want to start a betting pool on whether they'll call me back, you had better seek help immediately.
Here is another fun activity for the next time you get a call from a pollster.
Ask them who they work for. Insist on an answer.
Ask them if you'll be paid for your responses.
When they so no, remind them that they work for a company that is in business selling information. "Do you really expect me to give you something for free that you're going to sell to the news media?"
They might just hang up on you - but you have given them a taste of their own medicine. You have used up some of their time.
I'm also a big fan of this line, for pollsters and telemarketers: "I'm a little busy right now. Would you like to give me your home number so I can call you this evening and discuss it with you?"
Don't roll over. Be sand, not oil. And tell 'em Al said hi.
"I have a sweet tooth for my country," said the Senator with urgency. "A sweet tooth for my country to come together and hold this truth to be self-evident: that sugar is sweet. I have a sweet tooth for my daughters, and the hope they will grow up in a country where we all understand that white sugar and brown sugar are both sweet. And molasses. And honey. And stevia. And yes, friends, agave nectar, too! I have a sweet tooth today. I have seen the shining bakery on the hill, where all our ingredients combine into wholesome goodness that will feed our nation and our world!"
Monday, October 13, 2008
...and noticed that none of the white people around him challenged him...
Well, just think on this thought and smile:
We learned soon after that she was the subject of an ethics probe in her home state, one called for by a legislative body that included three Republicans and two Democrats. The so-called "Troopergate" affair involved an allegation that the Governor abused her powers in trying to get a state official fired because he declined to fire her estranged brother-in-law. Since nothing was proven here, we didn't touch it. The investigation is now complete and a report was issued by that same 3/5 Republican legislative body. Would you like to read it? (Gosh, this internet thingie is handy.)
The conclusion is set forth in clear, declarative sentences that a layman can easily understand: The Governor "abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act."
Palin's reaction to the report was to tell reporters, "I'm very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing, any hint of any kind of unethical activity there."
This and many other statements she made over the weekend about the report (which, again, can be read by any literate person right here ) fly in the face of what is actually stated in the summary of an orderly investigation into what happened. It presents the legal line, and demonstrates when and how the Governor stepped over it, and what one would expect is that there would be an acknowledgment. Perhaps the Governor would refute the results; or perhaps she would accept the results and express contrition.
Instead, this Governor who might be President denied reality and chose an alternative universe. If the report is wrong, she should make her case. But she is running around telling voters that the report cleared her of any wrongdoing.
Would that approach work with my car loan, I wonder? I'll zip off a letter on my letterhead telling the lienholder how happy I am that I have paid off my car loan.
Of course, if I do that, my car will get towed. If I then continue to insist that my car loan is paid, Sarah would take me to the hospital and have me evaluated for psychosis. (My Sarah, that is, not the Governor.)
We doubt Sarah Palin is exhibiting mental illness here. What she exhibits, rather, is the position held by the current regime that the truth is little more than performance art, that defining reality is a privilege that comes to power.
This is what makes her unfit for the public trust, especially in the office of Vice-President.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
After giving it some thought, I decided on a costume.
When they open the door to us, I introduce myself as "Bob the Bailed-Out Banker," and immediately start helping myself to everything in their house. When meeting new people, I say, "How do you do!" and immediately proceed to pick their pockets.
Witty, cheap to put together, and maybe we'll even snag some good china.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
A little less than a month ago, you and I, dear reader, assumed approximately 80% ownership of AIG Insurance. That was part of the enormous Wall Street bailout package passed by Congress and swiftly signed into law by the President.
As part of this package, the government, using our money, infused AIG with $85 billion. Following that, we have agreed to an additional $37.8 billion.
Shortly following that historic bailout, 70 top executives at AIG treated themselves well - very well indeed - after what was, you know, a tough week at the office.
We're not talking about the fact that the guy whose investments helped sink AIG continues to be paid $1 million a month as a consultant. We don't mean the former CEO who presided over AIG's mismanagement, who is slated to receive a $5 million bonus for what he did. That's small beer, as they say.
We're talking about a week-long retreat at an exclusive resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean including spa treatments. The bill, paid for out of a loan from you and me, amounted to nearly half a million dollars.
Even if they signed up for this a while ago, even if it cost money to cancel -- holy shinizzle!! By all means, why not cancel!?
This is the sort of madness that makes C-Span look like a situation comedy. Here is some funny television:
Give that guy props for actually DEFENDING the retreat!
Anyway, I think we should give ourselves a pat on the back. We are, indeed, a generous nation.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Bill Ayers again? We already sent this cold soup back to the kitchen! Sadly, this is all they have left. John McCain, a man who was the victim of horrendous personal smears in 2000, has ignored his own pledge regarding smear tactics and embraced them in all their warm, slimy awfulness - because the issues will kill his campaign. Moreover, having made this choice and buried his personal honor, the art of the smear is going to fail him. John McCain will not be elected president. Call it a hunch (and laugh at me if I'm wrong).
Fear of the black man is a potent weapon used by politicians perennially since the civil rights era - actually, it's been in use since reconstruction. They do not do this because they necessarily hate black people. I do not, for instance, believe that John McCain is overtly bigoted towards black people, nor would he condone such feelings in others. The sly infusion of doubt about "the real Barack Obama," about "Barack Hussein Obama," is not a condemnation of black citizens, but a cynical exploitation of white fear.
Like Jamie Foxx says in Dreamgirls: "It's business."
Yet as McCain makes his awful choice, his numbers are dropping.
My God, are we going to break the curse this year? Is the Rus Walton / Lee Atwater / Karl Rove exploitation of racial insecurity in white people going to fail? Do we have the perfect storm of mobilized black and Hispanic voters, along with white voters who are actually more concerned about issues than personalities (and our own insecurities about race)?
That would be a good moment for us fair-hued folk and our politics.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Personally, I saw this in action very briefly back in Rhode Island. There, a libertarian attorney from the seaside town of Warren ran for Governor in 1994 and won 9% of the popular vote, enough to establish ballot status for his own political party. Thus, Rhode Island's Cool Moose Party was born, and I was a member of its founding platform committee. (I wrote about that here.) Unfortunately, after a good start, the party did not succeed in recruiting good candidates for office, and after losing ballot status a few years later, the party dissipated.
Our politics would be served well by more state parties that are focused on local economics and energy, the integrity of small places and local communities. At the state level, campaigns are easier to fund than national campaigns, and national politics need not be a distraction.
In West Virginia, the Mountain Party established ballot status in the 2000 election. This means they are on the state ballot and can run candidates for any public office in the state without a petition drive. They have several candidates running for local office this year. Scan the party's platform here.
The next beachhead is being admitted to the candidate debates. Consider: the Mountain Party has the same ballot status as the Republican and Democratic parties in West Virginia. Interestingly, the Republican and Democratic candidates reportedly have no objection to Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson participating in debates. (Good for them! Stout fellows!) Still, the West Virginia Broadcasters Association is holding their gubernatorial debate at a non-profit center, and aims to exclude Johnson.
Johnson has filed suit, making the argument that this amounts to an improper endorsement. All legally recognized and qualified candidates ought to be granted participation - that is simply just, fair, and democratic. Johnson is not some quack running a limited campaign; he is the head of a legitimate and legal political party in the state of West Virginia, independent of the Democratic and Republican operations, and there are no grounds to exclude him from the West Virginia debates. Let me note again, even the other two candidates have indicated they would welcome Johnson.
We wish them well in their legal fight. We need more smart, decent, locally-rooted people participating directly in politics - and we need them especially at the civic level and the state level. We need them on our regulation commissions and utility boards, city councils, police commissions, county governments, and boards of education. We need citizens working locally to create and maintain disciplined organizations focused on Main Street (and the farms), because we know the true measure of the national parties' dedication.
We need local politics much more than we need Cynthia McKinney running for President.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
During the silence, reader (and blogger) "Blue" had a question: I keep checking back here to see what your opinion of the Friday debate is. I, myself, tend to not side with one party or the other, but the fact is one does have to vote, even if it is an illusion of freedom, so to speak.
What we have are not debates. They are scripted events, in which candidates prepare the same talking points they make in the stump speeches and attack ads, throw in some good jokes, and select phrases that are to be repeated throughout the evening so as to create a sort of subliminal anthem in the minds of the viewers.
We got no new information from the debate. They both managed to look cool and "presidential" even though their styles are plainly different. They both lie with ease. They are both in the thrall of the two national parties that uphold them.
Despite my complete disdain for the two national parties, which I assure you is genuine and well-deserved by both, I plan on voting even if it is rigged. A lot of people like these guys and believe what they say - God bless, please vote for them.
We have other options as well. Two of the "alternative parties" have well-known candidates who served in the Congress longer than Barack Obama has. Check out Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney. Check out the Constitution Party, too: on the ballot in the 44 states (more than the Greens), with a message a lot of Americans like (scrupulously follow the United States Constitution, with a Christian moral message), and Ron Paul has endorsed their candidate.
More importantly, vote in your local elections. Know who your judges are, your county supervisors, your local lawmakers. Vote for them, or vote 'em out if they need to be shown the door. Don't be afraid to stray from the national parties if a decent, smart, locally-rooted person is running (and they don't sound like an idiot).
For instance, here in New Mexico, I'm leaning towards voting for independent Zack Boatman for the U.S. Senate, and we endorse Rick Lass (a Green) for the Public Regulation Commission.
Anyway, Blue, I'm all for voting even if it is -- well, I wouldn't go so far as to call it the illusion of freedom. LACK of freedom is an illusion. Vote for someone you are proud to vote for, if that's possible, and don't be afraid to "color outside the lines" so to speak.
Think of it as performance art. Be creative. And dare.