17 November 2008

Do the Right Thing

In the wake of Proposition 8's passage in California, lesbian and gay people have certainly had an impact in the public arena. You've seen on the news protests, rallies, and marches staged across the country by those of us who seek to achieve equal rights so that we may enjoy the financial and emotional stability in our relationships that can only come with some form of legal recognition. Some of these protests have been directed at churches and people of faith, while others have focused on our courthouses, city halls, statehouses, and capitols. On Saturday, my partner, my sister, my nephew, and I attended a rally for equality at Salt Lake City Hall. I was proud to see so many people of our generation stand up in solidarity with us as we continue the process of seeking legal recognition for our relationships. For those of you who attended or who have supported us through all this, thank you so much, and we love you and are so grateful for your solidarity.

Our words and actions were peaceful -- sure there was anger, and we are right to be angry, but I think I speak for many of us when I say the mood was hopeful and optimistic, because I feel that justice will prevail in the end. But it will take the work of all of us to make it happen.

Some of the protests have been aimed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I understand and sympathize with the anger that has been directed at them for their strident support of the proposition, and the near insistence that their members donate time and money to the cause, I do not feel the directing wrath at a religious institution is effective or appropriate. Certainly any violence aimed at a religious group undermines our message of freedom and equality. But there is something we can do -- we can undertake a constructive effort to change the law in this great State, by working in dialogue with the LDS Church. Below is a quote from a recent Equality Utah email:

"Throughout the recent election cycle, the LDS Church has demonstrated its willingness to participate in political issues by asking its members to do all they can do, including donating their means and their time, to support California's Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution and eliminated gay couples right to marry by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The LDS Church has articulated it is not "anti-gay" but rather pro-marriage and it "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights." On November 5th, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose "civil unions or domestic partnerships." In response to these statements, Equality Utah is drafting legislation for the 2009 General Session of the Utah Legislature to address each of the issues mentioned by the LDS Church."

To me, this is the essence of the issue. Robert and I have been together for more than 9 years. In that time, we have bought a home, shared in the expense of a car, dealt with medical emergencies, invested, and experienced all the joys and agonies that any couple, gay or straight, who lives together is bound to experience over time. Yet we have none of the rights that can be obtained with a simple $50 marriage license. We can work with estate attorneys to assemble a series of legal structures that provide a thin approximation of the legal protections afforded by a marriage license, but at great expense -- in some cases $3,000 or more.

I think we need to take the LDS Church and others at their word, and pursue the recognition of equal rights in the State of Utah. Five bills will be presented in the Utah State Legislature this winter that will address the injustices we face, economic and moral. One of these bills will establish a system of civil unions in the State, so that Rob and I and others like us could gain the legal protections we deserve as a couple -- since we face all the health, financial, and legal risks currently.

The LDS Church has indicated that they will not stand in the way of civil unions, and I think the time has come to achieve this in the State of Utah. Even those of you who may be reluctant to allow same-sex marriages can appreciate the fundamental economic and social justice issues we face because we have NO legal recourse. I need your help to make this change in Utah. For those of you who live in our great State, I suggest two things:

1. Sign this on-line petition from Equality Utah:

2. Write your State Representative and Senator. I can help you find them if you don't know. Also write the incoming Speaker of the House, David Clark, the incoming Senate President Mike Waddoups, and Governor Huntsman. Tell them it's time to recognize that equal rights and equal protection under the law do not challenge anyone's values.

Here are their addresses:

Rep. David Clark: 1831 RED MOUNTAIN, SANTA CLARA, UT 84765
Sen. Mike Waddoups: 2868 West. Matterhorn Dr. West Jordan UT 84084
Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.: PO Box 142220 Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.



03 November 2008

Thanks, Your Excellency

Today, Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn had this to say about people who vote for Obama:

"Give consideration to your eternal salvation, because to vote for a person who has expressed a fanatical determination to not only support abortion as it exists now but to remove all limitations on it through the Freedom of Choice Act and to extend it without any recourse, throwing out all the efforts of the citizens over the last thirty five years to place reasonable limits on abortion -- that you, by voting for a person who has expressed his determination to do this to Planned Parenthood, to NARAL, that we are -- you make yourself a participant in the act of abortion. That's gravely wrong, and you mustn't do it because your eternal salvation is tied up with that important choice."

I abhor abortion, and I want desperately to inhabit a society where abortion is seen as unnecessary. I consider myself pro-life, although I distance myself from the abortion debate in this country, because is geared more toward cynically driving elections than actually reducing abortions and improving the lives of women in difficult circumstances.

But what Bishop Finn is saying is beyond the pale: I am a concerned voter in America, who is too young to vote on a single issue. The issues at play in this election effect the health, economic well-being, and security of millions of Americans...myself, my friends and family, my nieces and nephews.

In the past seven years, America has been beset by one catastrophe after another. In this time, our President has fought a war in Iraq, killing and displacing millions and engendering a deep hatred in a new generation of Muslims, while the real fight needed to be fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Worse, the war was planned and prosecuted in the shadows of the executive branch, without appropriate oversight from Congress. We allowed the executive branch to torture, to incarcerate indefinitely without charge, and to wiretap on citizens. We've condoned the politicization of U.S. Attorneys and the Department of Justice. We made a mockery of FEMA, and the Gulf Coast was permanently scarred in the process. While we were careening toward economic collapse, our President sent us checks in the mail and encouraged us to shop more. That, Your Excellency, is sin.

I want a change, a profound and dramatic change for the better. From the outset, I believe Barack Obama has made a sounder case for better change than has McCain. I totally respect those who believe differently, and I even respect and sympathize with those who vote on the single issue of abortion. They are making a choice based upon the deepest of convictions, although they have been cynically manipulated by their party to turnout in elections because of it. Nevertheless, after what we've gone through in the last several years, to suggest I am teetering on the edge of damnation because I'm voting for a party and a president that supports Roe v. Wade is galling and unconscionable. A Catholic of a bygone era might call Bishop Finn's statement a "reductio ad absurdum."

For a Catholic prelate to instruct his flock to ignore the massive and categorical errors that have taken place in our public life in the past seven years in order to attain salvation is irresponsible, and it tethers the Church too closely to cynical, partisan politics. Shame on him.

I am a Catholic. I am also an American. I am asked to step into a voting booth and make a decision. These decisions never come easily to me, because I take this process seriously and reverently. My decision is made, on balance, because I think it's what's best for the country (not just for me, or for Joe the Plumber, or unborn babies). I will not have my faith and my salvation challenged on those grounds by a bishop in a battleground state.

I love my Church, and I've been in a lovers' quarrel with my Church. I feel marginalized. I can do or say little, publicly, in my Church community for fear that I will be perpetrating "public scandal." I have abided for a decade in hopes that the Church could move to a place where I could have a reasonable conversation about grace, faith, love, sin and redemption. Instead of moving forward, my Church is regressing. A Catholic priest in California, presumably celibate, was relieved of his ministries for speaking out against Proposition 8 and sharing with his congregation that he is gay. How am I, a devout gay Christian, supposed to react? I've asked this question hundreds of times, and I've gotten hundreds of different answers, none of which are sufficient.

A common thread in many of those answers is "sit down, shut up, and pray." Yet I also know the unique blessings and burdens that God has endowed me with, and I know that I need to use them to bring light and peace into the world. That's my job. And while I do pray, I will not sit down and I will not shut up. That is not what God wants of me.

OK so that was quite a tangent, but the point is this: I've spent over a decade trying to understand my unique role in the Body of Christ as a gay Christian. I've also tried to discern my place in the Roman Catholic Church. As if that wasn't enough, some Bishop decides that if I vote for Obama, I'm going to Hell.

Your Excellency, you're NOT helping.

01 November 2008

The Vox Civitatis Election Projection - Update

My prediction: voter turnout will exceed 130 million, with Barack Obama getting 52 percent (at least 67 million votes), and McCain getting 47 percent. It will be somewhere between a blowout and a nail-biter. Virginia will turn, North Carolina won't. Obama will get in the neighborhood of 311 electoral votes

One thing we have to remember is that voters turned out in extraordinary numbers to vote in the contested primary. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that McCain will sluice off signifgant numbers of disgruntled democrats, except in idiosyncratic West Virginia. On the contrary, Obama (and Wall Street and Palin) brought the Hillary democrats home. Given the enthusiasm in the primaries, Obama's extant ground game (*because* of those primaries, in many cases), and the general partisan ID/voter registration advantages the democrats have, I'm assured of an Obama victory. It would have been a total rout, but one thing Sarah Palin did was ensure at least the standard GOP turnout.

credit: Pollster.com

A friend shared this graph with me earlier today, that essentially explains why Obama is in a better position than either Kerry in 2004 or Gore in 2000. Is a McCain win still possible? Sure, but only barely. McCain will have to count on Obama's turnout machine to fail...and, having been tested more than 50 times during the primaries, I'm sure it will not fail.

28 October 2008

The Vox Civitatis Election Projection - Update

Here's my updated electoral college projection:

Again -- just based on a hunch. I see Obama expanding his map, and of the two "red" states I listed in my original map (not the best case scenario), I think Ohio and Nevada are the most likely to switch over. Why? Well, Ohio's polling shows strength for Obama, and reports about an outrageously good ground game and initial successes with early voting suggest he is more likely to win the state than McCain. Nevada may tip because of Obama's emerging strength with Hispanic voters. They have in essence left the GOP, although they supported Bush in significant numbers.

It's looking great for for the gentleman from Illinois. It's becoming increasingly difficult for McCain to change the game, but he sure is trying. I think McCain's redistribution/socialism canard and lingering doubts about preparedness, exacerbated by Biden's comment about Obama being "tested" within six months of assuming office, are having some effect in national polling. Still, I feel it's too little, too late. I'll update again on Friday afternoon.

23 October 2008

An Update on That Map

I've always felt that this election could go one of three ways, ranked from high probability to low: Obama wins the election narrowly, Obama wins huge, or McCain wins the election narrowly.

All evidence suggests that voter turnout will be huge this year. I think something is happening, the question is...what? Could it be an Obama surge? Could it be an anti-Obama countersurge? My hunch is it's both.

The Washington Post gives us a clue. The polls are clearly suggesting an Obama blowout. I'm not sure I believe it, just yet. But, digging into the polls reveals the signs that make me wonder if my second scenario - Obama winning huge - may bear out in time. The numbers behind the numbers suggest that Palin has (rightly) become a massive liability to McCain's prospects. Obama has become the more trusted person to lead in a time of crisis, is more trusted on the economy, and is almost at parity with McCain on the question of who would be the best in terms of foreign policy.

But increasingly, regardless of what the polls say, the game now becomes one of strategy. The Republicans have a vaunted voter-identification and turnout effort. It is largely grass-roots and religious folks play a big part in generating turnout in critical areas of the country. It's what puts Ohio and Florida, and even Pennsylvania, in play for the GOP. In the past, the Democrats have had a difficult time competing with this infrastructure. Now, Obama's campaign believes they can. Some people say it's untested, but I disagree. In the course of the primaries, Obama had some 50 trial runs at inspiring turnout...he was quite successful overall. Some anecdotal evidence suggests the GOP ground game isn't there this year, but I can't say for sure that it is.

If the GOP ground game has collapsed, then the electoral college map will look like this. You can call it my best scenario:

This doesn't depend on Obama's performance. This is all about the GOP's turnout at this point. I think there is so much enthusiasm for Obama that it does threaten to overwhelm the GOP in most states where Obama is remotely competitive. On the other hand, I think the GOP is still a sleeping giant. We are still a center-right nation, and the infrastructure that has served Republicans so well in the last two elections is still in place. The question is can they mobilize this time around? It's a fair question given the state of affairs in our country...but I'm not willing to count the GOP out just yet. So my map below stands as my best guess for the outcome of this race, with the following caveat: if the GOP really falls flat, which is definitely possible, we'll see an outcome like the one above.

20 October 2008

The Vox Civitatis Electoral College Scenario

In brief, I see a much narrower Obama victory than most pollsters are projecting at the moment. Despite the seeming groundswell of support for Barack Obama, we are still a 50/50 country, with a decided center-right lean. Nonetheless, Virginia and Colorado may go Obama's way owing to his successful get-out-the-vote efforts in urban and suburban areas. This is Obama's hidden strength, and will be manifest by his overwhelming advertising and this is also where McCain's organizational weaknesses will show up. But for all the talk of Ohio and Florida turning, I'm not so sure at this point. Ohio has proven resistant to Obama's surge in other battleground states, and Central Florida's conservative core along with senior citizens will probably break for McCain come election day.

What do you think? I'll update this scenario as we move closer to the election. Let the games begin!

09 October 2008

Something Ugly

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

-- Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 1861.

When Abraham Lincoln assumed the Presidency, the nation was staring headlong into civil war. The urgency of the occasion compelled the newly inaugurated president to use the occasion of his first address to appeal to the better angels of our nature to strive for unity and peace in the land. This idea, that we Americans have "better angels", defines our sense of patriotism and cultivates the notion that we are an exceptional nation, gifted with great attributes, and burdened with great obligations. Our founders crafted a nation on a series of ideals, the first of it's kind in the world and perhaps still the world's best manifestation of a state premised on a set of values, rather than a tribe or religion. But it was Lincoln who, by pen and by sword, reified our national values into a set of guiding principles for a modern nation state.

If you're wondering why I'm so troubled by the direction this nation has taken since 2000, it is simply because our leaders have so systematically ignored or even dismantled the values and guiding principles that previous generations have spilled so much blood and treasure for. Between selling a war premised on lies, condoning and abetting torture, profligate spending and incompetent fiscal management, cronyism, arrogating illegal powers to the executive branch, and blithely disregarding good government, the Bush Administration has failed this country, eroded the public trust, undermined the Constitution, and cheapened the public debate.

As a student of government, and as a public servant, I am appalled at what has happened. Rather than calling forth the better angels of our nature, our leaders have summoned forth some pretty dark demons. We are now reaping what they have sown. Our economy is in a tailspin. Our efforts in Afghanistan are on the verge of being lost, and in Iraq we've lowered expectations to the point that victory as defined today would have been unrecognizable three years ago. With an unstable Pakistan, and an Iran and North Korea recommitted to weapons of mass destruction, I am hard pressed to say how the world is a safer and more secure place now than it was on the 10th of September, 2001.

Say what you will about Barack Obama, at least he has consistently acknowledged these truths about the state of our union. We stand in a moment in history that demands sobriety and seriousness in our leaders and an honest and strong commitment to improve our state of affairs. I am supporting Obama because he has shown a seriousness in his commitment to leading the executive branch. For me, it's not so much about ideology, and I certainly don't believe he is the Messiah, contra Rush Limbaugh and the right wing noise machine. I respect and admire his earnestness, his understanding of the proper role of the executive branch, his temperament, and his knack at surrounding himself with good advisers, something that even David Brooks pointed out.

I think most Americans are with me on this, and this is why the polling is moving in his direction presently:

Amazingly, as their presidential campaign has progressed, the GOP has doubled down on Bush's disregard for real statecraft. Most noteworthy is the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President, a politician patently unqualified for the office she seeks. Instead of attempting to right this perception, Palin uses her egregious incuriosity and her insouciance about our glorious and diverse world to bolster her Hockey Mom/Joe Six Pack bona fides. Incredibly, she turned her inability to properly answer a follow-up question into a critique on the alleged filter of the "media elite." Also amazing is her refusal to submit to a press conference.

But in other ways, too, the McCain campaign has shown a shocking disregard for the urgent issues of the day. His campaign manager claimed that issues are irrelevant in this campaign, and that it would be based on character. Subsequently, the campaign has launched a fusillade of attacks on Obama's character, challenging him for associating with William Ayers, a radical who led a terror campaign against the federal government in the '60s and '70s, destroying property and killing a police officer in the process. Despite the fact that he has been rehabilitated into the very society he sought to damage, he is at worst unrepentant or at best equivocal about the things he did. Fine; but rather than attempting to tie this association to Obama's policies or to any aspect of his record (which is incredibly deep), the McCain campaign seems to be satisfied by mentioning the association and letting the crowd at rallies shout out things like "terrorist!", "kill him!" or "off with his head!" This has become a major feature of his campaign in the last few days, despite a deteriorating economy and a host of problems festering around the world.

When McCain denounces the use of Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, with the motive force of an epithet, yet tolerates that use by his warm-up speakers, again to get a crowd riled up, I have a hard time taking the McCain campaign seriously. It's a joke. Unfortunately, it's a dangerous joke. Watch the video below to see what some at McCain's rallies take away from all this:

I know that people at rallies tend to be partisan and get worked up, but this stuff is quite dangerous, especially considering the likely outcome of this election will put the GOP into the position of the loyal opposition. How can Obama and the democrats build an effective coalition through possibly years of crisis when the meme of "terrorist" and "evil Muslim" take root among the opposition? McCain's silence on this issue, and willingness to blow a dog whistle to rile up the racists and bigots in the land, is truly revolting. McCain and Palin are not racists, but their cynicism is nurturing racism, religious bigotry, and fear of the other. In the absence of strong and well thought policies, which is something the GOP has not been overly concerned with in the last decade, this is all they have, and this is why I can't support them.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote of the ugliness that is becoming more prevalent at McCain/Palin rallies. It's worth a read.

For the first time in my life, I see my country in a very precarious spot. Now is not the time to amplify divisions in this country based on hatred and mistrust. Now is not the time to reward a sophomoric approach to government. Now is not the time to sustain an ever-growing and unconstitutional executive branch. This is why I can't vote for McCain and Palin. Their campaign is a dangerous, reckless joke that has spawned something ugly in the public arena. I'm voting for Obama, not with the highest of expectations, but with conviction that he will take seriously the task he is given, and work to rebuild a responsive and effective national government. I also intend to vote for him in the hope that we can move beyond the last eight years and again be touched by the better angels of our nature.

26 September 2008

Imagination, Part II

Earlier this summer, I put out a post called Imagination, describing the idea behind geofiction. Having grown up, I created my own example of geofiction: a place called Honoleo. It's stayed with me all these years and I've just had a chance to finish a revised map of the place, using Adobe Illustrator.

Here it is...just a start. Hopefully as I learn how to use the software I'll make successive maps more detailed and interesting. Rather than explain it all, I think I'll leave it hear for you to imagine, or to ask me any questions. Have fun!

25 September 2008

Making Sense of Sarah, Part V: Vice President?

In the course of the last few weeks, I've spoken my peace about Sarah Palin here on Vox Civitatis. To conclude, while she clearly has some impressive qualities -- including a latent ability to inspire and mobilize constituents central to McCain's chances at success in this election, a demonstrated ability to move rapidly from City Councilwoman to Mayor to State Oil Commissioner to Governor, a compelling story (she, like Obama, derived political power without the benefit of a pedigree) and, most importantly, her admirable (at least by the face of it) motherhood and family life.

So at some level I'm proud of her for making it as far as she has, and I admire her ability to at once break barriers while still respecting some of the deepest-held social values in our Country. It's that kind ability to find balance in the seeming complexity in life that I find admirable in people, and it bodes well for good political leaders.

Unfortunately, she is unfit for the office she seeks. Her career as Mayor and Governor is a case study in authoritarianism, cronyism, an inability to keep her private grievances private, profligate spending, lies (at least twelve odd lies, according to Andrew Sullivan), profligate spending, and, as evidenced by her responses to the rape test kits and the book censorship question, a blithe indifference about the finer points of governance and an attenuated sense of the constitutional and moral obligations of public office. McCain asked us to look at her record. I did, and I don't like what I see. What I don't like doesn't have much to do about ideology; it has to do with process, with the day-to-day act of governing, and with the set of principles that guides and nurtures quality leadership. These issues are not partisan, and no party can claim a monopoly on them. Good leadership is a self-evident characteristic, and I just don't see it in Sarah Palin.

These happen to be the things that matter to me, since I was a student of government and I have since dedicated my life to public service. My complaints are arcane and academic, but they matter to me because it's the world I live in, day-to-day. And, you know, it's not like this world doesn't matter. The next President and Vice President will inherit a vast bureaucracy, and recent history shows that Vice Presidents have significant influence over how that bureaucracy functions.

Based on Palin's leadership style as evidenced by her career, I shudder to think of her a heartbeat away. She may be a fantastic mother, and that plays a major part in her success in the national arena. But being a good mother and being a good statesman require different skill sets. It's a mistake to conflate the two.

In the last few weeks, it has emerged, also, that Sarah Palin is frankly, ill equipped for the task she is asking us to give her. She's held three sit-down interviews and has had no other press availability other than answering the odd question shouted from a reporters' pool. Her interviews (the only chance the nation has gotten so far to see her respond to substantive issues) have been train-wrecks. Rather than detail them out to you, I offer a few clips below. Suffice to say she relies heavily on the anodyne talking points of her party, goes to great and painful lengths to avoid specifics, and is skilled at saying so much

Watch CBS Videos Online

(the last 30 seconds is very revealing)

her interviews are breathtakingly bad, and reminds me of the times when I was a high school debater, being asked in a round a question that I was woefully unprepared to answer. This is the sense I get from Sarah Palin on the national stage. While I don't think she's a slouch, I think her range of experience (and, frankly, interest) is so limited that it renders her substantively unqualified for the the office she seeks.

Politically, I see the appeal of having Palin on McCain's ticket. It may yet rescue his campaign. But I am astounded at how ill-conceived this pick is, from the standpoint of actually running a country. Either McCain didn't know about Sarah Palin's shortcomings, which we are just now learning about, or he didn't care. Either way, it does not instill confidence in me that he will make a good President. In fact, quite the opposite. Looking at the choice of Sarah Palin in the broader context of the other rash, impulsive choices McCain has made to shake up his campaign time and time again calls into question whether or not McCain himself is temperamentally suited for the job. If he isn't, he and Palin will make quite a pair if they take office.

24 September 2008

Andrew Seconds That

Andrew Sullivan posted an email I sent to him earlier today, making the point I made in the post immediately below. Cool huh?

Leadership in a Crisis.

A few years ago, my house got broken into in the middle of my term in grad school. I was still expected to turn in my homework on time. McCain should debate.

If McCain were a rational candidate wanting to demonstrate leadership in a time of crisis, he would simply suggest refocusing Friday's debate on economic issues, and holding it in Washington, D.C., so that he and Senator Obama could be present on the hill for a vote if one were to be called. Alas, he's yet again demonstraited a callow, vainglorious attitude in his campaign for the Presidency by dramatically suspending his candidacy and calling for a postponement of the debate while Congress debates the bailout package. It's part of a pattern that does not instill confidence in his ability to steadily guide a nation through crisis.

By one account, a deal is almost sealed anyway, and there's a legitimate question as to whether two senators whose presence would inevitably politicize the process more than it's been politicized already, would even help.

All this shows me is that he's demonstrably unfit for the job. I'm voting for the candidate who acts like an adult.

23 September 2008

Don't Cry for Me, Alaska

Image credit: Reuters

Today, from the Associated Press...

"ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Less than a week after balking at the Alaska Legislature's investigation into her alleged abuse of power, Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday indicated she will cooperate with a separate probe run by people she can fire."

This lede is clearly dripping with contempt, but understandably so. I still have yet to write my concluding thoughts on Sarah Palin, but the AP's sentence captures the central thrust: that far from being a maverick or a reformer, Sarah Palin is mercurial, cavalier, opaque in the management of her public affairs, and frankly just not attuned to the unique burdens and obligations that come with elected office in our Republic. If the lede were written about a dusty former Soviet Republic or a benighted African kleptocracy, we'd either laugh, roll our eyes, or shake our heads, knowing such behavior is to be expected. Alas, this is the United States of America.

22 September 2008

We The People

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."

-- Section 8 of the draft legislation on the financial bailout working its way around Congress as I write this.

Almost $1 trillion of our national wealth may get wiped away without the slightest bit of oversight, review, transparency, or accountability. Whose country is this?

One of the saddest, most distressing legacies of the Bush years is the unprecedented and reckless expansion of the executive branch in ways that preclude judicial review, congressional oversight, transparency, or respect to our nation's founding principles.

16 September 2008

The Bullwinkle Election

“Sarah knows how to field-dress a moose. I know how to castrate a calf. Neither of those things has anything at all to do with this election. But since we know so much about Sarah’s special skills, I wanted to make sure you knew about mine too,”

-- Iowa's Liutenant Governor, Patty Judge, on Sarah Palin.

14 September 2008

Making Sense of Sarah, Part IV: Governor

Photo note: Palin in Kuwait. Big lies and small lies...Palin's people initially reported that she had been to four foreign countries: Ireland, Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq. All were visited on an official visit as Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard. Turns out that Ireland was a refueling stop, and she never left the plane. Today the campaign admitted that she made it to a border crossing in Kuwait but was not given the permissions to cross into Iraq. After a big lie, repeated over and over again, the small lies begin to matter.

Palin’s trajectory from mayor to governor was quick and auspicious. In 2002, she mounted a bold outsider bid for Lieutenant Governor, but lost out to a better-funded and better-connected politician. According to Politico, her loss was quite auspicious, as her would-be running mate, Frank Murkowski, would later appoint his own daughter to the United States Senate seat when he moved to Juneau, and would later be embroiled in his own corruption scandal.

Term-limited out of a job, Palin took a position with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and shortly after her appointment, she blew the whistle on one of the commissioners. This action enhanced her credibility with the State Republican Party worried about its long-term electoral prospects and fixed her reputation from her time as Wasilla mayor as a reformer and a change agent. In 2006, she defeated Murkowski easily in the GOP primary soon thereafter became Alaska’s youngest and first female Governor.

Her time as governor is now well documented, and the investigative pieces by the Washington Post and the New York Times are worth a read. They paint a picture of a Governor who is willing to break some china in the pursuit of her causes (which, by the way, can be a good thing in a leader), but the articles bring to light some darker issues. The Times piece indicates that Palin hired extensively from her network of high school friends, including Franci Havemeister, appointed to head Alaska’s Agriculture Department. Havemeister was a realtor in her previous life, and cited her “love of cows” as a qualification for running the department.

The accusations of cronyism are certainly not unique to her. Our current President has raised cronyism and hackery to new heights in the modern era. But examples like Palin’s cow-loving Agriculture director raises a question that you will see raised over and over again in the remaining weeks of this campaign: isn’t this at odds with her carefully cultivated image as a maverick and a reformer?

During her time as Governor, Palin worked closely with Alaska’s congressional delegation in pursuing federal earmarks for state projects. On a per capita basis, Alaska’s earmark haul was well in excess of any other state in the Union, at over $500 a person. The video below explains it – and yes, it includes pigs.

Going into deeper detail, the AP does a handy fact check on Palin’s earmark record. Granted, earmarks have reduced significantly under her watch, but $200 million in a fiscal year is still a great many earmarks. Furthermore, the McCain-Palin campaign has consistently promoted her as a determined earmark reformer, but her record as Governor undercuts this claim. Again, politicians play this game all the time, but Palin is selling herself as something entirely different, and has asked us to judge her on the criteria that she herself set. So be it. Now let’s talk about that bridge!

Palin’s repeated claim that that she said “thanks, but no thanks, to that Bridge to Nowhere” has turned out to be a lie. Not just a typical politician white misstatement, but a really massive lie – that, astonishingly she has repeated several times since almost every major media outlet called her on it. This rises to the level of a major issue because of her insistence on making that claim in her stump speeches, as recently as yesterday.

What makes this lie all the more remarkable was that Congress effectively killed the Bridge to Nowhere before Sarah Palin even became governor, and she pressed hard to get a less grandiose version of the project resurrected. When her efforts failed, she still managed to keep the funds initially allocated for the project, redistributing them to other projects across the state. Again, an understandable political decision that probably countless governors and mayors have made. But it’s not exactly “thanks, but no thanks,” is it? This wouldn’t be such a big deal to me if she hadn’t made this issue a central element of her campaign. It shows her to be a liar. And the campaign’s continued insistence on propagating this lie is an insult to voters.

Another important issue that may emerge is the alleged heavy hand she placed upon Alaska’s top cop in firing a state trooper who happened to be the ex-husband of her sister. This issue has been reported extensively, but the real meat of it – if there is any – will be revealed in the course of a pending investigation by the State of Alaska. Suffice it to say, what I find shocking is that McCain chose Palin with this investigation underway. There is ample evidence to suggest that McCain’s choice was rushed (they met only once before and shared a few phone calls before the offer was made) and that she was, at least in the conventional sense, unvetted. With her political career littered with wedge issue politics in a small town, rhetorical questions on banning books, profligate spending and high municipal debt service, rape test kits, a massive and sustained commitment to earmarks, and a fight to the death to save a bridge that she would later lie about, it is hard to see how, if Sarah Palin went through a normal vetting process, she would be the Vice Presidential nominee today.

Making Sense of Sarah, Part III: Mayor

Contra Rick Davis' odious campaign tactics and Sarah Palin’s honorable motherhood, it is the issues that interest me in this election, So when Palin or the media talk about her role as Mayor of Wasilla, and the McCain camp cites her two terms as Mayor as a reason why she’s prepared to be Vice President, one needs to look at how she employed her responsibilities as Mayor. I have, I don’t like what I learned.

Nathan Thornburgh of TIME wrote a useful piece on September 2 describing how she ran Wasilla. One of the highlights of this piece is that, allegedly, Palin injected hot-button social issues in her campaign for Mayor in 1994. In a town where the pressing questions were infrastructure needs and public safety, Palin’s opponent at the time asserted that the Palin campaign raised gun control and abortion as issues in her campaign against her opponent, although an American municipal government has no leverage over these issues. To run a campaign on issues over which you would have no control as an executive is disingenuous and dangerous. Having been subject to small town politics, I’ve seen what happens when essential issues get overwhelmed by the traumas of the culture wars – and it’s never pretty. A quick read of this Washington Post article reminds me of some the various shenanigans, distractions, and putsches that have occurred in South Salt Lake, the small suburb where I live.

As long as we’re looking at her mayoral record, Palin did a few things that I question: her decision to hire a city administrator to assist her with the day-to-day tasks in a town of a little over 5,000 people, a budget of $6 million and a workforce of 56, was money probably better spent elsewhere. Her plan for a sports complex that cost nearly $20 million, supported by a bond and a sales tax increase, was an enormous financial burden to place on such a small community (one report I’ve read states that the sports complex is still not able to support itself through membership fees and is a continued drain on the Wasilla treasury). Certainly, her decision to hire a lobbyist to gather over $27 million in earmarks in her time as Mayor undercuts a fundamental claim that the McCain campaign has made: that she is a reformer who has stridently and consistently opposed earmarks. At least that was the impression I got from her speeches. But more on that later. These questions I raise are admittedly wonkish, and none of these prevented Palin from getting re-elected in 1998. Clearly, most of the people of Wasilla liked her.

Two separate stories emerged from her time as Mayor that caused me to question her judgment and fitness as a public figure. In two cases where she was given the opportunity to demonstrate grit, dignity, and humanity as a public figure, she apparently didn’t. The first issue is about the library and censorship. The second issue involved rape test kits.

Shortly after Palin became Mayor, she asked the City Librarian what the process was on banning books. The Librarian, reportedly aghast, replied that there was none and that books would not be banned on her watched. The Librarian was fired, then reinstated after a community uproar. Palin later claimed she was merely being “rhetorical” when she asked the question. For the sake of argument, let’s take her at her word for a moment as I walk you through a thought experiment.

For the past four years, I’ve been a Planning Commissioner, an appointed volunteer position in the City of South Salt Lake. Imagine me in a public hearing, where the petitioner is seeking the destruction of a man’s house in order to build a strip mall. In this hearing, I ask the City Planner if, hypothetically, there’s any way we can condemn a house to make way for commercial development, without paying the property owner?

Imagine the reaction. What do you think the City Planner would say to me? How would the Mayor react? He appointed me; would he terminate my appointment? Most importantly, what would that question say about my fitness to be a Planning Commissioner?

The answers are simple: The City Planner would say to me that people have a constitutional guarantee to life, liberty, and property, and that property owners are entitled to fair market value for their property if it is taken from them. The Mayor would be furious, and rightly so, for implying that one of his constituents didn’t have a valid property right, and he would be within his purview to terminate my commission. Most importantly, were I to ask such a ridiculous question would betray my fundamental lack of fitness for the job.

I hold the right to speech as high as the right to hold property safely, and I think the Founders would agree with me. Palin’s “rhetorical” question is ridiculous, and it shows a shockingly poor understanding of peoples’ rights and a callow attitude to the oath that she presumably took to uphold the Constitution. She had the opportunity to clearly state a commitment to free speech and the right of people to read and learn without the interference of a community censor. She failed, instead, asking a question that should never be asked by a responsible public official, hypothetical, rhetorical, or otherwise.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I came across a story on Thursday that asserted that the Wasilla Police Department under Palin charged the cost of rape test kits to victims’ insurance when possible. According to former governor Tony Knowles, Wasilla was the only municipality in Alaska that had such a policy. In 2000, the Alaska Legislature passed a law banning the practice.

When Palin became Mayor, Wasilla had a surplus of $4 million. By the time she left, Wasilla collected $27 million in federal earmarks and construction was underway on a $20 million sports center. Yet here’s what her Police Chief, Charlie Fannon, said in an interview to the Frontiersman, Wasilla’s newspaper:

"In the past we’ve charged the cost of exams to the victims’ insurance company when possible," Fannon told the newspaper. "I just don’t want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer."

Harry S. Truman famously said “the buck stops here” when describing his responsibility as President. Sarah Palin made much the same point when she described the nature of her tenure as mayor in a cheap shot against Obama during her convention speech: “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” The buck stopped with her, and she had the responsibility over her police department. Fannon said in the local newspaper essentially that Wasilla couldn’t afford the $5,000 to $14,000 liability of performing forensic tests on rape victims, while apparently the City was able to find the money for a sports center, a transit hub, a rail project, and other earmarked goodies, some of which McCain objected to. Here again, Palin was given an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and kill this policy right away, because it’s egregious, deplorable, indefensible, and inhumane. Instead, she either chose not to or she didn’t know (and if she didn’t know at the time, shouldn’t she have been reading her local paper?). Either way, it causes me to seriously doubt her judgment and fitness to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Pasrt Four: Governor and Part Five: Vice President? are coming soon. Stay tuned!

Making Sense of Sarah, Part II: Mom

By choosing Palin, McCain eliminated in a stroke the lack of enthusiasm he found among the Evangelical Christian base of his party. Much of this has to do with her role as a mother. The genius of McCain's choice is that he can mollify restive pro-life activists within his party without mentioning hardly anything about abortion, which could alienate the swing voters he will need to win election. Sarah Palin need not say much about abortion either: in what was undoubtedly among the most momentous decisions in her life, she sided with life. After a prenatal exam revealed that her her baby would be born with Down Syndrome, she carried him to term. Trig Paxson Van Palin was born earlier this year, and in her words, he is a “perfect” and “beautiful” baby boy.

Her decision to carry Trig to term is a powerful testament to her character and to the strength of her family, and it puts her at odds with the norm. According to Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, 90 percent of fetuses who are determined to have Down Syndrome are aborted. Gerson's beautiful article is well worth the read.

Having grown up with a neighbor who devoted her life to caring for Down children in her home, and having played with these kids, I find that statistic horrifying. Palin is right: these are perfect and beautiful people, capable of the full panoply of the human experience, and aborting them is tantamount to eugenics. I commend her and her husband for carrying Trig to term, bringing him into the world, and acknowledging his full dignity and humanity. For all the questions I have regarding Sarah Palin’s judgment and principles as a public official, her decision not to abort is very strong testament to her character as a mom. It showed clearly in her speech in St. Paul, when she looked assertively into the camera, and said:

To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.

It was a powerful moment, and one of the highlights of this campaign. She is not only the most authentically pro-life candidate on a Republican ticket that I can remember, her presence on the campaign moves forward the need for more awareness, compassion, and care for special needs kids. It’s little wonder why the Republican base is so enthusiastic. They have good reason to be. Her decision to carry her baby to term is a strong testament to her character.

Her honorable choice reflects grit, dignity, and humanity that suggests that she is a fine mother with a strong moral compass. However, there is a difference between personal virtue and public virtue – and so it is to her public persona that I now turn. The McCain campaign clearly wants us to keep our eyes trained on the personal: in the past two weeks press access to either of them has been very limited, and McCain’s campaign manager famously said that this election is “not about issues” (which in these grave times is political malpractice, condescending to voters, and a disservice to the public debate – but that’s another post for another time).

Making Sense of Sarah, Part I

On August 29th, John McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate in his quest for the presidency in 2008. This choice accomplished a few things: it invigorated many Republicans who had not yet warmed to the idea of a McCain presidency, it was a strong symbolic statement that McCain was willing to think outside the box and look into the future, and most importantly and urgently for McCain, it altered the narrative of the race – in his favor, at least for the time being.

The two weeks since McCain made his choice has been the most interesting episode in American politics that I’ve observed. In some respects, it’s been one of the most horrifying, with the nadir being the tasteless smear whose flame was fanned by none other than my favorite blogger, Andrew Sullivan. I’ve been trying to make sense of the Sarah Palin phenomenon, and this post is the result of my musings on the matter. Let’s be clear: I am not a fan. She’s not playing on my team this year. However, my concerns run a bit deeper than mere partisan preference. In the last two weeks, the nation has glimpsed a fascinating political character who by dint of a killer convention speech, and an iconic and sympathetic life story, has become extremely popular. She has reached an Obama-like level of celebrity while striving to be the anti-Obama: perfectly familiar, everyone’s favorite neighborhood mom, down to earth, relatable, savvy, and neighborly. The McCain campaign is working to maintain this perception of her, as they believe it will place them on the royal road to victory. So far, it seems to be working.

And yet, Palin, McCain, and their surrogates asked us to acknowledge her record: she was a small town mayor and is governor of a very unique and challenging state. In contrast to any of the other candidates in the race, including her running mate, she alone can point to years of executive experience. They asked, and I will oblige. I have paid particular attention to her record both as mayor of Wasilla and as governor of Alaska, and a number of things I see are troubling. In addition, the last two weeks have elicited aspects of her character as a public official that are disturbing. Finally, there is the question as to her readiness to be only a heartbeat away from the presidency. I will attempt to address each of these issues, but first things first: to make sense of Sarah requires acknowledgement of her role as a devoted mother: as the keystone of her story and her public persona, this explains why so much of the Republican rank-and-file responded so rapturously to her campaign.

16 July 2008


The above image is of a beautiful country called Bergonia, which rests in the Atlantic Ocean between the Canary Islands and Bermuda. Except, it doesn't. Bergonia is an example of geofiction, or the art of creating an alternative world (or city, or nation as it were). Bergonia is probably the best example of this strain of intellectual geekiness I've seen on the 'net, but of course J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth is probably the best loved, most widely read, and most beautifully rendered example of geofiction.

If you're of a mind, take a peek at Bergonia. The author, Joe Cometti, spent a lifetime developing an imaginary nation that is extraordinarily creative and visionary, and yet is designed in a way that it could quite plausibly fit into our world. His website is a wealth of knowlege and his maps are simply unbelievable. One can really appreciate the depth of knowledge and understanding it takes to pull something like this off.

I've admired Joe's project for a couple years now because I too dreamed up an imaginary nation when I was 8 or 9 -- and it remains to this day in my imagination. I called it Honoleo; any relation to the land where Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea is purely coincidental (or subliminal); I remember dreaming up the name while hanging out under my grandfather's desk and noticing the manufactuer's label: HON. Also like Joe, my nation exists in the contemporary world, and not in some fantastic place or time. My project is nowhere near the work of artistry that is Bergonia.

I used to be a little embarrassed at the idea that I carried this project into my teenage years and adulthood, but Bergonia inspired me not to worry about that. I also came to realize that, embarrassing or not, Honoleo compelled me to dig deeper into politics and economics in my quest to make the project plausible (when I created Honoleo it certainly was not plausible - but my interests today in politics, economics, and the world has much to do with my desire to make Honoleo as realistic a concept as possible.) I can't even count the ways in which Honoleo guided my intellectual development, my desire to read the news, my love of travel, my political and community engagement, and my limited graphical abilities.

A couple years ago, I wrote to Joe to express my feelings and to thank him for the fact that his work helped me to reflect on the value of my own (it is not something to be embarrassed about; it is an integral part of my life story), but I never heard back from him. As soon as I wrote, he stopped updating his site. The Bergonians were in the midst of a general election in 2006, and I was eager to hear what the results were.

When I learned yesterday in a Google search that Joseph Cometti -- attorney, environmental advocate, dogged progressive, and worldbuilder -- died two years ago in a car crash at the prime of his life, I was reminded again that projects like these are very meaningful. In an obituary published in a newsletter of the West Virginia conservation group Friends of Blackwater Canyon, Joe's sister praised Bergonia as his life's work and a reflection of his utopian nature. Joe himself wrote in a rather beautiful essay entitled "Why Bergonia?" , "Every creator puts some of himself into his creation, inevitably, and the creation becomes a bit of a mirror, something of a child. (Perhaps this is true of the Creator himself, so that the world becomes God's mirror.) This is really nothing more profound than saying that our personalities project into the things we make in our lives." Indeed.

I think only a few of you know about Honoleo, partly because it's so intimately mine and it's still such a work in progress, but mostly because I really haven't known how to discuss it without boring others or making myself seem ridiculously odd. But then life is too short to let those worries hold you down, isn't it? So I'll get my act together soon and tell you a story about a South Asian nation with a deep history and a cultural legacy going back thousands of years. It's quite a place, Honoleo, and I'm looking forward to taking you there.

15 July 2008

Yeah, What He Said

Dave Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer makes a very good point here:

Funny or Outrageous?

Over the weekend, the New Yorker published a magazine cover that a lot of people are talking about. It's quite the acid test -- the political blogs I read are expending a lot of bandwidth debating whether the cover is shrewd satire or racist twaddle. My sister and some of my friends found the cover disturbing, but my first reaction was "damn, that's funny." My second reaction was, "uh-oh..." I knew it would become the outrage du jour, and it did.

Interestingly, the New Yorker cover distracts from Ryan Lizza's article on Obama's career in Chicago, which is very long, very interesting and a must-read for anyone following this campaign. Frankly I'm surprised that the article itself hasn't garnered more attention this week. In this case and in others in this campaign season, the outrage becomes the issue, and the analysis on the TV and on the web is rather shallow. Marc Ambinder wrote a short piece on this trend here.

If you read the article, I think you'll realize that the New Yorker misread the current zeitgeist, because the cover became the message, rather than the article. Good satire never misses the zeitgeist.

Satire is tricky stuff. It's worth pondering why it's OK for the New Yorker to satirize the ridiculous assertions that the Obamas are flag-hating terrorist militants, but, as my sister pointed out in an email to me, depicting a "white guy covered in black face paint with a big white smile singing "doodah" on a vaudeville stage," satirical or otherwise, would be hard for America to take.

The editor of the New Yorker is unapologetic, stating that most Americans would see it for what it is. Most, maybe, but some Americans will undoubtedly see the cartoon as a clever illustration reinforcing their own misconstrued beliefs about Obama. Is the New Yorker responsible for that? Should Obama's campaign have laughed it off, instead of expressing outrage? Why is it OK to satirize the ridiculous assumptions about Obama's patriotism and religion, when it would probably NOT be OK to satirize American black culture?

And most importantly, is it funny or outrageous? I want to know what you think. Please Leave a comment.

09 July 2008

Run, Francis, Run

So I've had an interesting relationship with physical fitness. While I appreciate the benefits of staying fit, the shadow of middle-school gym has always loomed large, preventing me from really enjoying the experience of exercise. When I don't think about it, it's enjoyable...but when I get the slightest bit self conscious, memories of being picked on, being called unmentionable and emasculating names, and being the last one picked on the team come flooding back to the fore. As a result, I'm quite neurotic about it.

For the past couple years, I've been much better at exercise and eating better, and as I result I'm 25 pounds lighter than I was. But I feel, for my health and self-image, I have more to go...and yet, I have this hang-up. I hate hang-ups, and I don't see the value in holding myself back from something because of some irrational fear. You could say I have a hang-up about having hang-ups. Whatever; I've decided I need to overcome this hang-up.

Maybe the gym isn't for me...perhaps the smells, the clatter, the obnoxious preening of men and women in the strength training area, and the driving are such a turn off that it has become a persistent disincentive for me. Coupled with the periodic anxiety I have recalling the traumas of my teenage years, it's little wonder I go at all.

Some time ago, I listened to a gerontologist talking on NPR about the effect of physical fitness on the aging process. The doctor stressed his belief that human bodies should work like a good, cheap watch: despite some wear and tear, they keep on ticking until the battery dies and then it's over. He disputed the notion that some people can spend 20 to 30 years dying slowly (from diabetes or heart problems, for example) as being the normal course of human life. The answer? Exercise. I have no idea how long I will live, but if I'm in my 70s and I happen to have both my arms and legs, if I want to go on a hike, I should be able to. I don't want to spend my retirement confined by chronic health problems if I can avoid it. And to the extent that I can avoid it, I will. Hence the need to overcome the hang-up.

Despite my hang-up, one thing I've always wanted to attempt was a good, long run, just to say I could do it. I've heard so many people speak of marathons as powerful and possibly even life-changing experiences. Besides, running more than 26 miles is indeed a tremendous accomplishment, and it might be something worth doing before I die. These are the things that make life meaningful and exciting.

I'm not ready to say, "I will run a marathon, because, honestly, I can hardly run to answer the telephone. But I am ready to say, "I want to take running seriously as a means of incorporating fitness and health into my life." And why not? It's cheap, it gives me an excuse to wander about the City and, most importantly, it doesn't require a gym. Plus I've heard runners talk about how good they feel, even after a short run. Apparently it's a little addictive.

So, last night, I ran. Seriously ran, for the first time since high school. OK so half the time I was stumbling, but by goodness I tried. As a symbolic gesture of overcoming past neuroses, I ran on a high school track near my house. Eight times around the track, or about two miles, in 30 minutes. I was slow and it was probably ugly to watch, but I did it. The first two laps were fine, the second two were painful, but by lap five something cool happened: the sun was setting, the mountains were becoming a silhouette against the evening sky, the Coldlplay album "Viva La Vida" was blasting in my ears, and all of a sudden, everything was perfect. I ran (stumbled -- and walked occasionally) the remaining three laps. I can't tell you how good it felt afterward. I cannot recall a time when my body felt so happy or energized. This is something I will definitely continue doing, but I think I need to spring some money on good shoes before too long.

I've decided to try a modification of Hal Higdon's 30/30 program for beginning runners. I'll keep you posted on how it goes. I'm going back out there tonight.

Knowing me, I'll be tempted to settle out of the routine, so any encouragement you can offer will be much appreciated!

08 July 2008

Another E-Mail

So just as I finished writing the rant below on the anonymous e-mails...I received one.

Here it is, in all its stupefying, caps-locked, exclamation-pointed glory:






















Wow, I just don't know where to begin on this one. This e-mail has it all, the use of 'black,' 'white,' and 'muslim' with the motive force of a slur, the reference of his 'African father' who got a 'white girl pregnant' (that's an old bugbear, for sure), the casual dismissal of his job as a Civil Rights activist (which is hard and laudable work, and besides he was a community organizer -- a critical difference), the assumption that he made it as far as he did because of Civil Rights and nothing else...hell, this email even mentions sperm.

Besides, this is America in the 21st Century! Who in the &%#! talks like this anymore?

What stuns me is that many of these questions the author is CONFUSED!!!! by are easily answerable with a little internet research. Ridiculous and disgusting. In such serious and trying times, emails like this are a scandal and an affront to the dignity of all Americans.

Patriotism and the Anonymous E-Mail

Image Credit: Mark Halperin, The Page

Thomas Jefferson said "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." For as much hope that I place in our political system, sometimes, I wonder if we are sophisticated enough to operate it well.

Some time ago, my partner Rob received this e-mail through a member of his extended family:

Obama's Own Words

It’s Very, Very important that you are aware of the following. If you don’t believe it, buy Obama’s book or go to your local library and see if they have it to loan.

Subject: Obama's Own Words

This guy wants to be our President and control our government. Pay close attention to the last comment!! Below are a few lines from Obama's books ' his words:

From Dreams of My Father: 'I ceased to advertise my mother's race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mothers race.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.'

From Dreams of My Father: 'I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn't speak to my own. It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa , that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, DuBois and Mandela.'

From Audacity of Hope: 'I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.'

If you ever forwarded an e-mail, now is the time to do it again.

This e-mail and other similar canards disputing Obama's faith, patriotism, and even his birthplace have made their way around the Internet, and in some cases into my inbox as well. Incidentally, one of the above quotes was a fabrication, and the others are taken way out of context. For the Obama campaign's response, read here. As a result, there are persistent rumors afoot that Obama is a Muslim Manchurian candidate who refuses to wear a flag pin and say the pledge of allegiance, and who has a loud-mouthed (Christian) preacher. Don't think too hard about the contradiction of a Muslim with a preacher problem...humans have difficulty holding two contrasting ideas simultaneously!

Few things upset me more about American politics than the fact that we are, in general, very ignorant when it comes to politics and statecraft. As a result, our politicians pander, our political debates are watered-down affairs, we hone in on symbols at the expense of substance, and we fall victim to darker impulses - exploiting certain classes of people (gays and lesbians, immigrants, Muslims, the military) as wedge issues, voting our fears instead of our hopes and allowing dark prejudices to seep into our public discourse.

If you take all these sad conditions and package them into an anonymous e-mail, especially under the guise of patriotism and defense of the American Way, you are evil, and you are certainly no patriot. You play on the fears and naiveté of an ill-informed public.

If you read and accept these e-mails, even if they come from a trusted source, without scrutinizing or researching the information, then you are doing yourself a disservice and you need to pick up a civics text, or read some source material on the web. If you believe these anonymous e-mails wholeheartedly and pass them along, you may well be a concerned citizen, but you're certainly not a well-informed one.

This type of campaign is so pernicious because it undermines the founding principles of our republic: that factions can sit down in a forum and peacefully debate issues, balancing enlightened self interest with the greater good of the community. To attempt to win or lose an election on unverified challenges to one's patriotism, religion, or honor is a shame and a farce. Do we really want to be like Zimbabwe?

I know it's easier to capture peoples' attention with the meaningless twaddle that fills our inboxes, but, damn it, we have important issues to hash out, including energy, health care, jobs, civil liberties, executive branch powers, and our role in the world. John McCain and Barack Obama have statements and proposals on each of these issues, and we owe it to the candidates to assess them on their merits. I'm not voting for my favorite new hit single, a dinner companion, or the new color of M&M. I'm voting for the President of the United States. So are you. So maybe we should start to act like this thing matters, because it does. Talking about flag pins and resorting to our basest nature by challenging a candidate's religion (and turning Islam into an epithet in the process) is wretched, corrosive to our democracy, and frankly a waste of time. The candidates deserve better, and so do the voters.

19 June 2008

A Marshmallow in Every Pot, Part II

I was surprised to see the gas tax holiday rear its ugly head again this week, after it was denounced as a joke by the Obama campaign in April. McCain is continuing to advance this bad idea, and now he's thinking about changing his position on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). President Bush, God bless him, is using his enormous political capital in the last months of his administration to press for drilling now to alleviate the cost of gas at the pump, which now averages more than $4 a gallon (side note: I heard on the radio this morning a report that $5-a-gallon gas has been spotted in New York City).

Here's the catch. According to Bush's own Energy Department, the expected savings from drilling in ANWR is 75 cents a barrel. What's more is that we won't extract a productive stream of the stuff until 2018 A blogger/economist (I know - why should we pay attention to them?) suggests that the savings from drilling in ANWR will be 2 cents a gallon. At that price, the case for saving the wildlife refuge as a national treasure and a hallmark of conservation becomes far more compelling.

So I also heard on the radio that the average vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for April 2006 has actually dropped nationwide. People are driving less and relying increasingly on transit. Given the cost of oil and the marginal ineffectiveness of exploring in ANWR, perhaps are money is better spent on transit, and researching more fuel efficient cars and alternative energy sources.

03 May 2008

A Marshmallow in Every Pot

Here's some interesting background information on the price of gas, and how the United States fits in among the world. Relative to other countries, gas in the United States is rather cheap (we're 45th cheapest in the world, by the article's admittedly crude measure), although the article points out that we're especially vulnerable because our land use policies require us to drive much more than those in many other countries.

The article also points out that in Britain, fuel consumption has remained static, and in France, it has actually dropped.

Read the article here.

Meanwhile, political blogger Joshua Marshall described the gas tax holiday silliness as a marshmallow in every pot. I certainly couldn't have said it better myself.

01 May 2008

The Gas Tax Holiday Joke And The Hard Truth About Gas Prices

This week marked a milestone for me. For the first time in my driving history, I paid more than $50 to fill my gas tank (16.5 gallons at $3.39 a gallon at Costco). This price reflects a new economic reality in which everything is suddenly much more expensive. Gas prices are due to a number of factors, most importantly by demand driven up in part by fuel-thirsty China and India, supply kept low by an oil cartel that clearly benefits from high prices. The winners are oil companies that reap windfall profits, and oil-producing nations, some of which are entering a "golden age," thanks to $120-a-barrel oil. The losers are consumers, who pay more for gas, as well as for anything shipped long distance or made from a petroleum product.

In the midst of this, both John McCain and Hillary Clinton proposed a summertime gas tax holiday as temporary relief to the beleaguered American consumer. There are two problems with this proposal: The first problem is that the tax holiday is a convenient but, in the long range, insignificant ploy...

To illustrate, it's time for a story problem:

President McClinton signs legislation that mandates a gas tax holiday eliminating the 18.5-cent gas tax during the months of June, July, August, and September. On May 31, one day prior to the tax holiday going into effect, the price of a gallon of gasoline is $3.399. Assuming that the price of gas remains constant through the summer and that Frank fills his 16.5-gallon tank twice a month, how much will Frank save in the months of June, July, August, and September due to the tax holiday?

Let's see...
$3.399 per gallon x 16.5 gallons = $56.08

$3.399 - $0.185 = $3.214
$3.214 per gallon x 16.5 gallons = $53.03

($56.08 per tank x 8 tanks) - ($53.03 per tank x 8 tanks) =
$448.64 - $424.24 = $24.40.

Yup. I'll save $24.40. Admittedly, I drive fewer miles than the average American, and for so many people, every dollar saved does matter. But, in the end, $24, or $48, or (for you SUV drivers or long commuters) $100 over the summer is of marginal economic impact over the course of the year. This scenario assumes that gas prices will remain constant through the summer. That brings us to our second problem: supply and demand.

Anyone who's taken Economics 1010 knows the relationship between supply and demand. In terms of gasoline, it's safe to say that supply will be essentially fixed throughout the summer. Right now, our refineries are at 85% capacity. This summer, they'll be at 100% capacity, as they have been for years. In the face of fixed supply and increased demand (all those people taking road trips added to the constant increase in trip generation and vehicle miles of travel due to low density development), any student not asleep in class will tell you that prices will increase until demand tapers off. Hacking off $0.185 for a few months only induces greater demand. Seeing what appears to be a drastic price cut at the pump will compel people to drive more. In short order, prices will rise, erasing the benefit of the tax cut. Meanwhile, the oil companies and oil producing states (some friendly, some not) will reap an enormous windfall. That's what makes it silly.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the nations that benefits from high oil prices. Bloomberg reports that it is in a "golden era."

What makes the tax holiday dangerous is the potential $9 billion hit to the Federal Budget (it's worth noting that your gas taxes fund highway infrastructure. Have you driven our interstates lately? Can we afford such a hit?) McCain's proposal suggests that the federal government just take the hit. Clinton's proposal replenishes the hit by a windfall tax on oil companies, which turns the tax holiday into a pointless exercise in money-laundering.

(To his credit, Obama has called this scheme for what it is: a sham. In his words, "this isn’t an idea designed to get you through the summer, it’s designed to get them through an election." To his detriment, he's pandered on other stuff, including ethanol subsidies and vaccinations).

The gas tax holiday is a dangerous exercise in populist demagoguery. It will have a negligible impact on the consumer, and will induce long term behaviors that are counterproductive to long term energy savings. How can I say this more clearly? There is no economic benefit to a policy that promotes a demand increase without addressing supply! It is a joke. Nothing more, nothing less.

Some would argue that the real solution is to add refining capacity, to drill for more oil domestically, and to produce more ethanol. These are supply-side initiatives that could provide short term relief to the gas-buying consumer. But as long as China, India, and others demand more gas than we can produce, these are only short term fixes. Besides, the harm to our environment by our continued reliance on fossil fuels is a cost that must be considered in analyzing any supply-side remedy.

So here's the hard truth as I see it: let the gas prices rise. I know it will be painful, but we need to consider demand-side remedies as well, and price increases will naturally guide us toward some of these...call it getting whacked by the invisible hand. We need to drive less -- even if that means living closer to work in higher densities, and investing in and relying on more and better public transit facilities -- and we need to make concerted investments in more fuel-efficient automobiles in the short term, and alternative energy sources in the long term.

At the end of the day, supply side remedies such as increasing refining capacities (incidentally, Keith Olbermann played a clip on his show the other day wherein a bunch of American oil executives expressed no interest in increasing refining capacity during congressional testimony) and drilling for more oil or producing more ethanol will not save us from the point where we flat run out of oil, or(far more likely) when it becomes economically infeasible to extract. It will only move that date back a few years or decades. In the meantime, urban sprawl will continue unabated, and pollution will continue to darken our skies.

Conversely, ponder the collateral benefits that can be attained by focusing on demand: smaller, more compact, and potentially more livable cities, cleaner air, and the preservation of open space. I acknowledge it will be painful getting us there, but it will be worth it in the end.

In the meantime, I don't accept the notion that our nation will crumble under the weight of $5- or $6-a-gallon gasoline. The Canadian and European economies have long ago adjusted to very expensive energy costs, and there's nothing I can see that would prevent us from doing the same.