Saturday, July 05, 2008

I Hate To Say I Told You So, But...

The contract between a government and its people is understood to be one where the government has to not exercise its power entirely.

Parental, in other words.

A government which fully exerts its power over its people is a tyranny, a totalitarian regime, fascism.

A people who do not exert their responsibilities can be viewed as child-like, refusing to accept their position as necessary to the functioning of the nation as a whole. This is the paradox of the one versus the many: how much difference can one man/woman/vote/dollar make?

The Dalai Lama and other Buddhists will tell you, quite a bit. See, it's not ultimately about the exertion of influence but about the exercise of freedoms. The pursuit, if you will, of happiness.

To digress for a moment, one reason I agreed to blog after katrina urged me time and again was the opportunity I saw to influence even just one person to think differently, to let one other person know he or she was not alone in what they perceived around themselves. To understand that we are connected.
I see the struggle for the political will of this country coming down to three factions:

First, the right, with its individualistic, opportunistic, capitalistic thinking that by each of us pursuing our own self-interests, we can lift the nation as a whole, on average, higher. This work, believe it or not, but it's not enough, clearly. For the first hundred and fifty years, this nation operated in precisely this fashion and for one hundred and fifty years, we left people behind.

Second, the left with its notions that every problem is so intractable that it demands we gather in as many resources as possible to allow the government to dictate solutions to us. This works in some instances, particularly in emergency situations when consensii must be reached quickly. Indeed, we've seen the failure of underactive oversight of government in the Hurricane Katrina debacle.

Third is the middle, the vast majority of Americans, some 60-80% of us, who sit there and see the failures of both sides as well as the successes and wonder why there cannot be a better way that combines the two.

I wish there was an easy answer for them but there simply is not. The political tides of this nation ebb and flow on the backs of these people: the philosophy that can capture more of public opinion will be the philosophy that prevails at that particular moment in time. When the left can exert influence, like during the 60s, progressive philosophies are tried, and while their strengths are revealed, their weaknesses are immediately exposed as well.

Similarly, as in the 80s, when a right-wing philosophy is experimented with, whatever strengths it exhibits is coupled immediately with its weaknesses.

This opens the door to communication and marketing, of course. This is why we no longer talk about policies when comparing two candidates, but about the effectiveness of the "message" and the messenger. This is why politics is now covered like a horse race rather than a debate. The right had seized on this secret during the Reagan years and managed to massage it for decades. Indeed, if Bill Clinton hadn't won in 1992 by stealing this technique from Republicans, it is likely that President Gore would now be talked about for a third term. It's not so much that Reagan did anything remarkable during his two terms that had people talking about his image on Mt. Rushmore, but that he followed nearly twenty years of malfeasance, corruption and perceived incompetence. All you needed was a trained chimp at that point, and twenty five percent of the country would rejoice for the Second Coming.

Sort of like Dumbya, now.

We are on the cusp of a moment which cannot be denied. People have grown weary with right-wing bromides of privatization and laissez-faire economics and benefits for the rich. So long as these were not perceived as hurting the hundreds of millions in the middle, the middle was content. While it is conceivable that John McCain could steal away this election, it would be only a temporary delay. The age of progressivism seems to be upon us, yet again.The pendulum has swung once more and to the left.

The question is, what to do about this? The 2006 elections showed us an interesting mandate: while Americans are tired of the right-wing "lower taxes will solve everything" mantra, they clearly have become indoctrinated to the right wing message of "left=anti-America." This is one reason the Obama flag pin trope worked so strongly during the primary campaign, both as an influence on leftists who had to abandon Edwards and Kucinich ("See? He ain't buckling under to no flag pin wearing fascists!") and on rightists ("See? He ain't American!").

The 2006 elections saw the rise of the middle left: people like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill, rookie senators who won in traditionally red states by running not as Democrats but as disaffected Republican-could-bes. Yet, they support many progressive ideals-- some are pro-choice, some are pro-healthcare, some are pro-safety (antigun, the right would call them).

This has created a gulf in the Democratic party, as the puffed-up chests of and dKos over the sensible and calculated moves by Obama to move to the center in time for the general election are rolled out., in fact, has asked its supporters to escrow their donations to Obama by banking them with truly progressive Congressional and Senate candidates, thus indirectly supporting him while not allowing him to take advantage of their support.

Madness, but they have every right to be infuriated. Obama set himself up as a candidate of the left, and did nothing during the primary campaign to dissuade the Obombers from believing he was anything but in sync with them.

Well, see, that's not entirely true. He did flip-flop on the NAFTA and on a few other issues, taking first a strongly progressive view and then whittling it back and effectively kneecapping his original position.

In point of fact, it is the Obombers who have to suck it up and understand they got bamboozled. Anyone with a lick of sense, yours truly among them, realized this would happen.

Friends have asked me if I had painted myself into a corner with my strong support for Hillary and my strong denunciations of Obama. Possibly, but you'll notice something: I'm not the one who's disliking Obama more and more each day now!

Friday, July 04, 2008

No Body Haf Afk'd Me, Verily....

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the nunited States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

While The US Burns

As California begins the wildfire season both early and in earnest, the question has to be asked, why so many so big?

National Geographic Magazine's latest issue attempts to answer this question:
In 2006, wildfires burned 15,000 square miles across the country, a record nearly matched last year. Two-thirds of the burned acreage was in the West. One obvious cause is a decade of drought and warmer temperatures. Mountain snow melts earlier, and winter storms arrive later, extending the fire season in some regions by several weeks. Vast tracts of drought-weakened forest have succumbed to insects and disease, turning trees to tinder. In response, we have bolstered our fighter ranks, padded them with private contractors, provided them more hoses and axes and trucks. Annual federal spending on firefighting has leaped from $1 billion when the recent drought began in 1998 to more than $3 billion last year, with even greater costs forecast for the future. But the drought is only one part of the burn equation.

"The more money we spend, the worse it gets," one fire scientist told me last summer. "If that's not a condemnation of our fire policies, I don't know what is."

One answer is, of course, the short-sighted fire management policies of the past, which demanded that each fire be put out as it occurs and that the best way to do this was to throw monoey and manpower at it.

In some areas, government policies work best on large problems. In others clearly not so well, and this is one of those times when panicked policies designed to serve the desires of developers and settlers, people with an economic interest in natural resources, were foolish and flawed.

Another answer is, naturally, global warming, yet another instance of Bad Big Government in the form of protectionist policies for economic development. A balanced approach to shepherding and managing our natural resources.

It costs roughly $200,000 a day to fight even a small fire, so that adds up to millions even assuming a quick battle of less than a week. Multiply that by 1,400 fires, and you're talking about hundredss of millions a week, even billions and that's starting to rival the Iraq war for inefficiencies.

Now add to this the cost of protecting other "investments" made with private funds, and you begin to grasp the costs of greed, and for what?

So someone else can have a nice view out their window in the morning?

A new beginning must be undertaken to straighten out the priorities of this nation, one that doesn't exclusively accept that "money=good."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Tale Of Too Shitty

Compare and contrast:

Drug Use Increasingly Common in All Countries

TUESDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- The United States has one of the highest lifetime rates of tobacco and alcohol use and the highest percentage of people who reported using marijuana or cocaine at least once in their lives, a new survey shows.

Researchers from the World Health Organization analyzed alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use in 17 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania.

Among the major findings:

The use of all types of drugs in the survey is becoming increasingly common in all the countries. Males were more likely than females to have used all drug types in all countries and all age groups.Younger adults were more likely than older adults to have used these substances.People with higher incomes were more likely to have used legal and illegal drugs.Alcohol has been used by most survey respondents in the Americas, Europe, Japan and New Zealand, compared to smaller percentages of respondents in the Middle East, Africa and China.Alcohol use by age 15 was far more common among Europeans than among those in the Middle East or Africa.Lifetime tobacco use was most common in the United States (74 percent), Lebanon (67 percent), Mexico and the Ukraine (60 percent and 61 percent) and the Netherlands (58 percent).
With this:
Survey Finds U.S. Leads World in Substance Abuse

The U.S. leads the world in marijuana and cocaine experimentation, as well as in lifetime tobacco use, according to a survey released this week by the World Health Organization.

For the survey, which was partially funded by a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia looked at drug, alcohol and tobacco use in 17 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. More than 54,000 people participated in the survey.

"The United States, which has been driving much of the world's drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies, as well as (in many U.S. states), a higher minimum legal alcohol drinking age than many comparable developed countries," the authors wrote in the study, which was published in the July 1 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

"The Netherlands, with a less criminally punitive approach to cannabis use than the U.S., has experienced lower levels of use, particularly among younger adults," they added.
Does it seem odd to you that the more reasonable, and more honest, headline is over the more sensationalized story, while the zanier headline is over the more upfront fact laden piece?

Here's the kicker: the first story was taken from the Washington Post, the second from....drumroll,!

There's something wrong with this picture, as well as right, when FOX has the better story (wrong), and the Washington Post has the more accurate headline (right).

The implications of this study are fairly clear and it is ironic that this study is released the same day John McCain visits Colombia for photo ops with the drug interdiction forces: tougher drug laws do not discourage drug use.

The percentages are staggering: in the US, over 40% of respondents said they had used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. In the Netherlands, which has far more liberal drug policies 9so you would think they'd be nothing but pot heads), less than 20% of respondents reported using pot even once.

Too, arguments against smoking laws can be made here as well: the US leads the world in tobacco use (76% of respondents had tried some form of tobacco at one point or other. The next highest percentage was Lebanon, with 67%), despite some of the toughest anti-smoking laws on the books, particularly when it comes to advertising.

The trouble with both of these conclusions, of course, is that it would be hard to discern the effects of a recent smoking ban in, say, New York City with someone who is, say, 50. I smoked, but do not anymore. If I had been born 30 years later, I likely would not have smoked.

Similarly with marijuana, drug criminality was made harsher during my lifetime. It's possible that people born after the Rockefeller laws, and certainly after "three strikes" were passed, might see a far lower percentage of drug use.

Personally, the libertarian in me would like to see all drug laws rethought and the liberation of about 1.5 million people currently serving jail sentences for smoking a joint.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obama Finds Religion

Interesting little wrinkle being reported today:
CHICAGO (AP) — Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.

Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday in Zanesville, Ohio, at Eastside Community Ministry, which provides food, clothes, youth ministry and other services.

"The challenges we face today ... are simply too big for government to solve alone," Obama was to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "We need all hands on deck."
Now, this is one aspect of Bush's administration I could give even tepid support to. The idea that a Christian or other faith-based organization could more effectively distribute assistance to the poor, the hungry or those in crisis makes sense.

After all, isn't this what religion is supposed to be about, recognizing the troubles of your fellow man here on earth and maybe earning a couple of brownie points in your Creator's eye?

Plus, and this is a biggie, most religions have a few hundred if not thousand years headstart on governments when it comes to figuring out who truly needs assistance as opposed to those who just need a kick in the pants, plus they have the wherewithal (and lack of political opposition) to be more patient than a bureaucracy that demands results, however slow in coming.


This bit worries me:
But Obama's support for letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions could invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination.

Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxypayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.
That last codicil, allowing hiring and firing only in non-assistance related positions, makes a bit more sense out of a potentially unconstitutional situation, but it doesn't make things completely hunky-dory.

What this would open the door for is challenges across the board in any industry or company who deals with the federal or state government to "liberate" themselves from federal hiring (and firing) guidelines based on religion.

You know the challenges would come quickly from the right-wing economic royalists who would sense an opportunity to dump first EEOC regulations, and then follow quickly with other "color/gender/sexual orientation/physical ability blind" regulations and, frankly, laws.

This is one aspect I wish Obama would revisit, and quickly, before he makes a mishegass of what could be a very good and fair way of encouraging community and citizenship.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Decent Shot?

Certainly, if any candidate can pull this off, it's Barack Obama:
Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said he saw “tremendous potential” in several Southern states.

“If you go in and look at the number of unregistered voters in demographic groups that are important to Barack’s candidacy — younger voters, African-American voters — the potential is just incredible,” Mr. Hildebrand said.

And yet since the South began to shift away from the Democrats in the 1960s, it has become one of the biggest and reddest of the Republican strongholds. In the last two presidential elections, the Democrats failed to carry any of the Southern states. Although recent Democratic nominees have typically gotten about 9 out of 10 of the votes of Southern blacks, they still need a substantial chunk of the white vote to prevail. Political scientists put that figure at close to 40 percent, though it depends on the state, and the Democrats have rarely gotten it.
The key here, of course, is turnout, something the GOP in states like Florida, Mississippi and Alabama have long suppressed through various mechanisms, including misleading or even lying about election day, intimidation and harassment of black voters, and the denial of basic civil rights to people who have paid their debt to society.

Certainly, Obama's formula could work.
The only times since 1972 that the Democrats have carried more than a third of the Southern white vote, according to exit polls, were when Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, both Southerners, were atop the ticket. In 1996, for example, Mr. Clinton got the votes of 36 percent of Southern whites and 87 percent of Southern blacks, and carried 5 of the 13 Southern states.

Mr. Obama’s Southern strategy relies on significantly increasing black registration and turnout, as he did in the primary season. Mr. Hildebrand said that by some estimates there are 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia alone. The higher the black share of the vote, the lower the requirement for garnering white votes. But the Obama camp argues that it can increase its share of the white vote as well by focusing on younger, more progressive whites.
It could work. It's possible.

But it's risky, to be sure. So many factors could play into this strategy that it's impossible to be certain that it's a winning one, and that's not making any judgements on the strategy per se. Factors like the ones mentioned above, which we can now anticipate will see a skyrocketing number of voter purges in Southern states and challenges to voter's authenticity at the polls as Republicans attempt to bully voters away from the polls.

And then the strategy itself has some weaknesses: young voters are traditionally the least committed voters to the electoral process, so the "young white professional" vote that Obama is counting on could dissolve away with any October surprises. That would mean Obama would still have to pick up something on the order of 30% of the aggregate working class white voter, an order of magnitude he was barely able to accomplish when it was just Democratic white working class voters.

There is one last possibility: that this strategy has been planted by Obama as a challenge to McCain to defend turf he's already "won". Wars, which in this instance includes political campaigns, are not won by who has the most in his arsenal, but by whom can most effectively manage his resources to victory.

After all, Hillary Clinton had a commanding amount of money going into primary season and look where it got her!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

One Must Simply Marvel

In this day and age of drug-enhanced athletes and money-grubbing hit-and-run phenoms, it's not only refreshing, but breath-taking, to hear of an athlete who is trying to push the envelope for the right reasons: to prove she can do it:
NEAR THE WARM-UP POOL AT THE Missouri Grand Prix swim meet, in Columbia, a crop of Olympic hopefuls lolled around in practice suits and towels on a Saturday morning in February. Fully clothed among them stood some relics of Olympics past: Scott Goldblatt, who won a gold medal in the 2004 Games, wore an aqua sport coat and a striped tie and was doing on-air commentary for; Mel Stewart, who won two golds and a bronze in 1992, wore the same goofy get-up, working as Goldblatt’s sidekick. Meanwhile, Dara Torres, who won the first of her nine Olympic medals in 1984, a year before Michael Phelps was born, stripped off her baggy T-shirt and sweat pants, revealing a breathtaking body in a magenta Speedo. She pulled on a cap marked with her initials and prepared to swim. Torres is now 41 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace. She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at 14, and she has retired from swimming and come back three times, her latest effort built on an obsessive attention to her aging body.

This is that "aging body":Dara Torres

Impressive, no?

As a former competitive swimmer (I was in contention for the 1980 Olympic team), I can admire the dedication it takes to achieve a certain level, and the energy one has to expend. That's just in your twenties. That doesn't take into account the ravages of age and time:
Last November in Germany, Torres clocked 23.82 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle short course, breaking the American record and making her one of only five women to swim the event in less than 24 seconds. The day after she got home to South Florida, she had a bone spur shaved out of her shoulder. In early January, she had another operation, to deal with a torn meniscus in her knee. Now just five weeks after the latest procedure, Torres looked great. She flashed her wide-open smile at Stewart and dove in the pool. Stewart retreated to Goldblatt and shrugged. “Hey, we’d all be in there if we could be winning,” he said.
Hell, I still can barely lift my left arm above my shoulder from all the training!

Should Torres prevail at the Olympic Trials this week, she will attend her fifth Olympic games and will be the oldest female swimmer ever, as well as the older American Olympic swimmer, a title previously held by Rowdy Gaines who swam in 1996 at the age of 35.

Lest you think that her life has been all strawberries and cream, go read the article and get a glimpse of what someone has to give up to be that dedicated to competition.

Marvelous. Simply marvelous.