Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Statue of Responsibility

It turns out someone has already thought to construct a Statue of Responsibility. Wikipedia has an article about it and the official website is: http://www.sorfoundation.org/. From the Wikipedia article, it looked like the project has been floundering for the last few years. I'm going to investigate this project further and see where it's at.

I suspect most of the culprits in the illegal Bush administration activities will not be brought to justice. This does not mean we, the citizens, cannot learn a few good lessons from the past several years of top-down political and economic irresponsibility. We would benefit from a public art project designed both to remind us of the necessary balance to liberty in our quest for freedom, and to inspire hope.

And it's never a bad idea to put artists to work,it keeps them out of trouble (FDR knew that).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goodbye Mr. President: Please Just Leave

In seeking to understand the legacy of George W. Bush during these final weeks of his presidency, it becomes clear to me he and his administration have accurately expressed the imbalance in place in our national psyche and in understanding this we can also better intuit a remedy. To paraphrase once again Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and went on to found the existential therapeutic approach of Logotherapy: the statue of liberty should be balanced on the opposite shore by the statue of responsibility. I couldn't agree more, but in the remaining sad weeks of this indefensible, truly terrible presidency, it becomes clear we will not enjoy anything like this sentiment from W.

W. and his fellow apologists are now insisting that, though their policy in Iraq has been correct, they were, themselves, misdirected and misinformed by the intelligence community on Iraqi WMD. This appalling shrinking from responsibility through purposeful and aggressive lies is par for the course in a power structure that justifies any and all injustice through a policy of power-over bullying. We can and so we do. We lie to make it seem otherwise when the consequences are terrible.

But this hideous warping of reality is truly the final insult to the world and the U.S. citizens and, in the end, the final act of cowardice by a man desirous of power without an acknowledgment of responsibility. He and his arcane, throw-backs from the middle ages of an administration (and in Cheney's case, this may be literally true)wanted and worked ruthlessly to secure the personal power necessary to enforce upon hundreds of millions of people, arguably billions, their will. It was not the liberty, or freedom to act, of the people they envisioned when they proposed the "spread of freedom," but their own liberty to act upon others without consequence and without brakes. These psychopathic men and a few warped women sought to establish a quasi-dictatorship under Carl Roves "permanent Republican majority."

To my deep relief, there was enough democracy left in tact to depose our stupid dictator and his dubious staff. But it is estimated that the Obama administration will be sifting through the thousands of orders meant to tie down our democracy even after the current administration is finally ousted for many months. There will likely be bills passed in Congress listing hundreds of these orders at a time just to undo the damage quickly enough to begin the real work. And there is so much to be done.

To fathom the damage done to our democracy, economy and social structure is painful To imagine the pain caused worldwide by our policies is almost unbearable. We cannot undo what has been done, no matter how sublime the voter's choice of new leadership. However, we can begin again anew to make our country a better place and our international influence earnest and hopeful.

I argue our government should aggressively pursue criminal charges against all of those responsible for the illegalities of our international and national policies including the president and vice president. In the mean time, our citizenry has collectively turned our faces away from W. and his cronies in a group rejection of their very existence as if to say, "Goodbye Mr. President. Please, just f---ing leave."

And as a reminder to how wrongly our political systems can go, and how fast this can happen, I propose a Statue of Responsibility to be designed and raised in the Pacific Ocean to balance the ideas of our American mindset.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deserved Wealth Not "Bonus Bonanza"

This morning I read in the New York Times a front page article "On Wall Street Bonuses Not Profits Were Real." Having recently completed a series about "It's A Wonderful Life" and given a lot of thought to the higher ideals some Americans in the past imagined for our economy, I was particularly struck by the following paragraphs in the article:

A Bonus Bonanza: For Wall Street, much of this decade represented a new Gilded Age. Salaries were merely play money — a pittance compared to bonuses. Bonus season became an annual celebration of the riches to be had in the markets. That was especially so in the New York area, where nearly $1 out of every $4 that companies paid employees last year went to someone in the financial industry. Bankers celebrated with five-figure dinners, vied to outspend each other at charity auctions and spent their new found fortunes on new homes, cars and art.

The bonanza redefined success for an entire generation. Graduates of top universities sought their fortunes in banking, rather than in careers like medicine, engineering or teaching. Wall Street worked its rookies hard, but it held out the promise of rich rewards. In college dorms, tales of 30-year-olds pulling down $5 million a year were legion.

Compare these tales, if you will, with other tales of hardship and sacrifice for one's community and children. Spend a minute recalling the stories from your own family about your ancestors who moved here from other countries and worked tirelessly, often in dangerous situations to make a living and hopefully a future for their families

In my own family, my mother's father was the last child born to his Swedish immigrant parents. Their older children were brought over with them from Sweden. They survived the Great Depression by planting gardens and tending chickens on land they settled along the Puget Sound of Washington State. (I want to acknowledge here their land was likely taken from Native American people who had lived there for thousands of years- not something I'm proud of).

My grandfather worked in the forests as a logger. It was dangerous work and men frequently were killed by falling logs. The owner of one company he worked for was particularly scrupulous and wouldn't allow work to be delayed in order to return these bodies to their families in a timely fashion.

Instead, the bodies would remain until the section of trees was cut. It was often several days before a body was brought home and, without refrigeration, was often in very bad shape. The workers had to organize and demand that when a man died his body was brought home that day. They did not fight, at that point, for improved safety standards to protect their lives, but instead for a basic acknowledgment from their employers that their lives mattered.

This is a dramatic story. Perhaps it is not one immediately recognizable as related to those young people in the NYT article in their dorm rooms fantasizing not about the betterment of mankind but of themselves, but I think there is a parallel in mentality. It is a mentality of deep disconnect with their fellow human beings.

In the last several years the twin national humiliations of the horrendous Hurricane Katrina debacle leaving thousands of Americans, particularly African Americans, stranded in flood waters peopled by the floating dead, and the illegal, immoral and utterly destructive Iraq war, which has taken thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, have brought this nation to its knees and to its feet.

In counterpoint to the wankers, young and old, focusing their neurotic energy on wealth, there were the thousands of Americans, young and old, focusing their hopeful energy on changing their country from an increasingly unjust heartbreak to an example of the possibilities of civilization.
There will always be those with a mentality of pure greed and the superficial, incurious thinking processes that mark that cognitive style. But as a culture and a nation, we need to make clear that these mentalities are not the ideal, but an unfortunate human occurrence, like the clap, that needs to be treated as a disease and protected against contagion.

Our highest ideals do not include outrageous personal wealth juxtaposed with the real human suffering brought when this wealth is stripped away from those people who work the jobs, buy the homes, and pay the taxes in our working class and middle class neighborhoods where the largest part of our economy is born and grows.
Our highest ideal is when wealth and security is distributed fairly, not in fifty thousand dollar dinners paid for with real money gotten from imagined profits, but by families enjoying well-earned vacations at Disneyland or being able to pay for their child's tuition at the state school. And for those business people with the Midas touch who actually lead their organizations to real growth and the resulting prosperity (i.e. Bill Gates) go ahead, buy that fifty thousand dollar dinner. You actually earned it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

An American Hero Archetype: The Merciful Middleman

This is the final of my three pieces exploring the American classic film "It's A Wonderful Life" as a kind of projection from the deeper American psyche following the conclusion of World War II. I have maintained that the characters and plot provide us with a kind of dream scape of how Americans felt in 1946 and perhaps even today about the ideals of our economy, our ideas of the Divine Mother as represented by Mary Bailey, and finally, our heroes.

The character George Bailey, played by the ever-crabby Jimmy Stuart, is a unique expression of the age-old human prototype of Hero. Unlike other mythical heroes, he is not a warrior, a millionaire, or a religious figure. He is what I will term the Merciful Middleman. He represents the results of the combination in the American subconscious of the higher ideals of humanity with economics.

Other mythological representations of the hero archetype, explored exhaustively by such great minds as the late Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, include the pantheon of Greek and Norse Gods and typified by Homer in the Odyssey. I would also include the Christian figure of Jesus, and even more recently, Martin Luther King, Jr. in this group of men, historical and imagined, who come to represent the ideals of mankind including courage and intelligence. More recent representations of this ideal also tend to be attributed the qualities of kindness and compassion.

The cinematic dream of the George Bailey character conjured these higher ideals in a distinctly American manner. It took the stories of sacrifice, in Bailey's case his lifelong dreams to leave his small home town and explore the world, and merged them with economics. Bailey chose to respond to the greater economic needs of his community before his personal needs for adventure and personal glory. His community needed an honestly run savings and loan organization that made the collective American dream of home ownership possible for the average worker. For many reasons dictated by fate, he was the chosen one for this job.

This glorification of the middle man, a man of the sub-optimal merchant class, is a novel one historically. As far as I know (and if anyone reading this knows more than I on this matter, I encourage you to respond) this distinctly American melding of higher ideals with an economic system had not before been expressed in a hero myth. Although the intellectual underpinnings and necessary social changes had been evolving around the world for hundreds of years, the dream of this system seems to have crystallized here in the states.

In "It's a Wonderful Life" George Bailey is a kind of personification of a more abstract mental process where hopes and wishes congeal into dreams. In the final scene of the movie, this upholding of the Merciful Merchant above even the warrior hero is demonstrated when his younger brother returns fresh from his battle glories to offer his brother help in a supplicant manner. In fact, George is heralded as the highest form of hero even by free market standards when his self-made millionaire friend, Sam Wainwright, wires an open check to George as an acknowledgment of who the real winner is. So grand was it a thing, as imagined in this film, to be an every-man's economic advocate that the angel, Clarence, who reminded George of the profoundly positive impact his life had had on the world, was awarded the ultimate honor of wings for his efforts.

Although the climax of the film brought the idealization of America's Merciful Middleman to truly absurd levels, it serves as a useful reminder to us about how Americans once hoped a fair and honest economic system would bring all of us, including the movie's recently arrived immigrants, out of poverty and hopelessness into expressions of life that are joyful and deeply moral. (Remember, in the alternate, no-George world, the community of Bedford Falls was just another town overrun by vice and poverty).

If this movie expresses accurately some of the American subconscious, it would seem we as a people once prized prosperity, morality, and community above extravagant wealth, war, and even intellectual curiosity. All of these things are included in the film and included in American life, but I would argue that the protection of economic fairness should be a cornerstone of our political and economic systems. The higher ideals of justice, joy and equality are best served when our people are well-fed, healthy, and enjoy safe homes in safe communities.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Dream of Femininity in "It's A Wonderful Life"

As the astonishing events of WWII were completed and the soldiers who survived returned home, a dream of the feminine surfaced from the collective unconscious of a deeply charged humanity that acted as a kind of salve upon the surface of this burning new knowing. And what was newly known? Just what we, as humans are capable of: not only exceedingly deadly battle fields, but mass annihilation of children, women, pregnant and not, elderly, and disabled by means of bombs more powerful than any idea of satan as well as breathtakingly cruel, government organized genocide.

Who wants to know this about themselves? And though denial can keep our most superficial thinking at ease, nothing is lost to our deeper selves. I believe as Carl Jung did that these deeper selves connect with one another and form what he termed the collective unconscious, like the bottom of billions of wells meeting up in a dark and fruitful place. On our deepest levels, I believe, we know that Terentius was right, "Homo Sum: Humani nil a me alienum puto." This means roughly, "I am a human being, and so nothing human is strange to me."

I see the Mary Bailey character, George Bailey's wife in "It's a Wonderful Life," as a representation of a collective need for feminine salve on our newly burned knowing. So powerful was this need, in fact, the dominant culture created an ideal based on it, which women were supposed to live up to in fifties and sixties. But ideals and representation only cause more suffering when imposed on reality and we saw the women's movement in part become a response to this. Despite the healthy push back against the reduction of women into movie characters, I believe there is useful information in the Mary Bailey character for us today.

Mary was a character representing the softer aspects of the divine mother and wife. In the beginning of the movie, she was the little girl so wise and knowing of her own heart that she told the child George Bailey she would love him her entire life. As a teenager, her continuing love conjured a situation where they both got naked (after dancing into the waters below) without being required to loose their innocence, exciting stuff indeed. Once she became a woman and finally fulfilled her deepest childhood desire to become wife to George Bailey she acted as initiator into the sacred rites of conjugal love on their wedding night. A surprised George tries to take in the candle-lit love nest she creates in their battered old home.

Mary's development reaches its apex as a competent wife, protective mother, clever home decorator and active member of her community. She acts as humble conduit between her husband's needs and the outside world when he is unable or unwilling to do this for himself. She calls for help for him when he is deranged with grief and serves hot drinks to the friends and family when they collect in the nurturing home Mary created to put their money where their gratitude was. Mary was the primordial cauldron: giving and giving and giving.

This image is easily argued against and has been many times, so I will not do it here. What I am mesmerized by in this emergent dream is the depth from which the need for mothering in us all comes from and the power it exerts when it arrives. Our need to be held, understood and defended is vast in this uncertain world. Following WWII, the American psyche worked overtime expressing this need and creating stories about its perfect resolution, as if it can be resolved.

Although our challenges are far different than those faced during and after WWII, there is a profound sense of uncertainty in our age right down to the behavior and future of our good earth. Again we find ourselves in a place of needing profound comfort and protection. This time around, why don't we avoid the folly that follows literalistic thinking and translate our needs intelligently into the functions of the world? Women are not the only ones capable of deep compassion and nurturing. I am reminded of this every day when I see my husband helping care for our children. Men are not the only ones with an interest and talent for business and industry, I know this because of my shrewd and brilliant aunties- pioneers in such matters.

There is now a growing demand to have Wagoner, the CEO of GM, resign as a part of this bailout scenario. As the old vanguard is finally retired, I hope those with input on these matters are ready to recommend fearless innovation in management. This should include people able to integrate the deep, unconscious feminine attributes that promote the stalwart protection of our tender interests such as healthy children and a beautiful world to call home, into our destructive and now destroyed business models of enterprise at all cost.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A New GM: Green Motors

The top execs from the Big Three are in Congress right now asking to have their companies' lives spared. The growing debate among Americans, at least the press would have us believe this, is a schism between blue and white collar classes. Why bail out the financial corps and not the auto corps? Well, we shouldn't. Our hearts should go out to the auto workers and their families. If there is a way to help them stay in good paying jobs, we Americans should support this. It is for their benefit and ours as well.

But the big problems have flowed like sewer water downhill from the top. The financial guys weren't railing on about the unions a few years ago when the companies were making strong profits off of ridiculously over sized, over-consuming SUVs. The U.S. auto makers are not just hurting right now, like more competitive auto makers, they are crumbling and it's because of extremely bad leadership.

I saw an interview with the CEO of GM earlier this year, Rick Wagoner, telling a reporter, I believe for 60 Minutes, that he does not believe in the theories of global warming. This is an astonishing position and one demonstrating how very uneducated, incurious, and out of touch with reality the executives of these auto makers really are- like dinosaurs: big, ugly, wrinkly and dying out.

But the American citizens have an opportunity here. As GM is within a few weeks of closing their doors without a big money bailout- start with them. (I should disclose here that I bought a small number of GM stocks earlier this year- silly me). If they want to keep their doors open they have to move to all green vehicles immediately. Only hybrids from here on out and only electric within two years. If they need money, give it to them to retrofit their machinery for the new vehicles. General Motors becomes Green Motors. And make a stipulation they need at least one HIGHLY affordable model. Give government rebates to families who purchase these green vehicles.

Currently, hybrids are too expensive for many families and competition in the field could be better. Even that sorry, lost old man, Wagoner, was willing to drive in from Detroit in an American-made hybrid today. Lets make that the norm.

We need to have aggressive goals not to just reduce CO2 emissions in this nation, but to eliminate them. Our enormous economic mess right now may be the greatest opportunity we have had since post-WWII to rebuild, this time along our own shores. Lets take away any need for negotiations with OPEC or on-going debate on tax code for oil companies. Lets move beyond dirty technology and fear-based economic systems.

If the CEOs of the auto Big Three (or more accurately, the Diminishing Three) are an accurate sample, the folks running these mega corporate bodies may not even have the intellectual construct for understanding what is in the greatest good for our nation and for all nations. They may not be able to imagine a better way. But many of us can.

It is time for bold action to turn the course of history. As far as the U.S. auto makers go, we have nearly nothing to loose by pushing them into the 21st century.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Economic Theory of "It's a Wonderful Life"

Beyond the oversimplified, dichotomous models of free markets occupying one extreme on a continuum and command markets pulling at the opposite end emerges the idea of economies being basically fair to those who participate. Interjecting cultural mores into the discussion of economics is invaluable, I believe, if it is our intention to elevate human economic systems above the most primitive forms, such as the biological rules that govern bacteria. In those systems, organisms lacking nervous systems consume everything available without consideration of the overall bug population or long term availability of resources. Our public policy has enacted through unimaginably complicated formulations this most basic economic system: eat what's in front of you.

But this utter scarcity of an idea was not always the dominant one as illustrated by the film, "It's a Wonderful Life." Ideas of fairness are culturally prescribed and subscribed, unique to each nation and culture. When I imagine the film as being a kind of American dream sequence bringing to consciousness matters mulled over deep in the unconscious, I feel I have insight into the collective wish American citizens once had for a fair economy. And by fair, I mean one that protects the dignity of working individuals and their families because, after much hard-earned wisdom, the collective mind had determined this to be the most reasonable course.

In the movie, there were two characters used to establish a counterpoint to the protagonist's, George Bailey, position on fair economic systems. His friend from high school, Sam Wainright, went on to find his fortune in the big city. The other wealthy man was, of course, Mr. Potter, the crippled, perpetually geriatric character who haunts generations of the Bailey boys. As imagined as a kind of dream, I interpret these two characters, Mr.'s Potter and Wainright, as expressions of American's feelings about the way in which primal, even sexual energy is expressed through participation in the economy.

Mr. Potter is throughout the film confined to a wheelchair carved and decorated to resemble a throne. Though he is clearly the economic king of the small town, he is paralyzed from the waist down and so one assumes impotent sexually. He is described by other characters as "frustrated" and "sick in the mind and soul." He represents the neurotic psyche of one cut off from primal energy. Interestingly, this character's first and second chakras would also be inoperative. These represent the root chakra associated with connection to one's tribe and groundings in reality. The second chakra is seat to sexuality and individuality. Mr. Potter could be seen as representing the natural disconnect resulting from unchecked greed expressed through an economic system.

Sam Wainright, conversely, represents overly enacted primal energy within an economic system. He is the one who courts Mary, eventually Mrs. Bailey, via phone call from New York City. A heavily made up woman is touching and caressing Wainright while he is on the phone with another woman. One assumes she is a kind of prostitute, as she does not mind her apparent boyfriend is on the phone with another woman. Here capitalism is imagined as being prone to over-expression of primal energy and immoderate appetites. This character was more sympathetic in the end as he came through for George Bailey when he needed money. Wainright acknowledged the value of the modest, middle man, though he had larger dreams himself. Perhaps deep down we, as Americans, feel it is better to be a little loose with one's primal energy than stingy.

It is George Bailey who represents the accumulated dream of a lively but fair capitalistic system where a man of forceful primal energies moderates these appetites by directing them into endeavors of higher ideals. These as represented by Bailey's lifelong dedication to the savings and loan (which he accepted responsibility for only grudgingly), and the abundant fertility of his marriage to the love of his life. This highly idealized symbol can be seen as a representation of the feelings of the dominant American culture following the Great Depression and World War II. These were people who had lived through the crushing effects of a failed economic dream and the necessary sacrifices of protecting the better interests of the world under threat of fascism.

There was an expressed tolerance for the slightly overwrought libido of the capitalist Wainright, understanding that this energy can push development forward. But it was the intelligent understanding of Bailey, a symbol of passion and sacrifice of one's personal interests towards the higher good that brings forward to consciousness the unconscious wisdom gotten through hardship resulting from excesses in our economic system.

I hope we, as a people, return to this respect for moderated consumption and understand there is a kind of wealth enjoyed by those who work for the higher good of our community not measured in the GDP. At this time, we do not need a wild swing from one form of economic system to another. Instead, we need an economic system energized by possibility and grounded by a deep sense of commitment to each other.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Dream Analysis of "It's a Wonderful Life"

I was watching "It's A Wonderful Life" yesterday, one of my favorite holiday movies. My mom called while I was watching it and teased me for my undying loyalty to the film. She said it's a good movie the first several times you see it, but she couldn't understand why I would watch it every single year. Annoyed for being called out on my sentimentality, I got off the phone and returned to watching my Jimmy.

With a sharper eye, I observed the movie with my mom's question in mind, "Why do I keep watching this movie?" After a few minutes I understood that this film is, in my estimation, a kind of dream of America. Viewed from the psychoanalytic perspective, the movie is fecund with symbols that emerge from the greatest depths of our cultural collective unconscious and, when analyzed, bring a great deal of clarity to the questions of what it means to be an American, or perhaps more accurately, what we hope it means.

In fact, I saw so much powerful symbolism in the movie I was inspired to write about it and realized in considering the topic I would need a few entries to do the subject any justice. And so this will be the introduction to three, maybe four, entries for the holiday season investigating "It's A Wonderful Life" using my skills as a therapist to understand the film as a kind of manufactured, unconscious expression of some of the hopes, dreams and social mores that work to create the American Dream.

The first entry will focus on the symbolism used to communicate normative statements about economics and the highest expression of our free market system. The second entry will look at the division of labor and relationships between the sexes. The final entry will be about the American version of the hero myth as personified by the main character, George Bailey.

The current economic situation we find ourselves addressing this year and perhaps, for years to come, makes this movie and its deep symbolism particularly pertinent. I hope you enjoy the upcoming blogs and respond if you feel like it. I updated my blog so that bloggers can give anonymous input (as long as everyone is well behaved about it). I hope everyone reading this is finding themselves if not abundant this year, then safe and healthy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Bizarre Butcher Job

Broadcast news sources today have been looping the video of turkeys meeting an unpleasant end via an industrial bleeder on camera during a recent Palin interview in Alaska. I feel it necessary to defend the woman on this one. When I tell people in the lower 48 that things are different in Alaska, they don't seem to gather my meaning. This video shot of a farmer shoving the wobbly, broken head and neck of a large turkey into a funnel-like machine while Palin rambled on about something, though I admit I wasn't really paying attention to her statements, may have been a bit jarring to outsiders.

Indeed, vegetarians and vegans probably felt more like witnesses than viewers when that came on the screen. But this was a nice example of the difference between many Alaskan's mentality and the rest of the nation. Perhaps its the harshness of the climate, or the extraction-based economy, or the temperament of those drawn from elsewhere in the world to Alaska, but there is a clear-eyed way about those people (despite what their absurd political dramas indicate). Palin and some other Alaskans would figure that the reality of eating turkey on Thanksgiving is someone somewhere raised then slaughtered the bird. Having footage of reality might not seem like a big deal to many Alaskans, even if that footage happened to have the state's governor giving an interview in the foreground.

In fact, the press reported Palin's office was notified before broadcast about Nightmare On Turkey Street and they didn't mind it being in the shot. Of course, the story was about Palin granting clemency to one turkey perhaps lulling the viewer into wrongly assuming it was a fluff piece. But in an uncharacteristic nod to reality, Palin went ahead and allowed the truth to be demonstrated in the background, the bloody, bloody background. If only she'd been that intimate with reality when campaigning for VP. What kind of footage would they have gotten of McCain in the background I wonder?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Must See & A Must Read

I viewed "Taxi to the Dark Side" last week and highly recommend that all voting, adult Americans view this documentary. The piece follows the Bush administration's policy of torture from the White house to the detainees. Any understanding of American image abroad must include this information, as horrific as it really is.

Also, I read "The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins recently. Filkins was a New York Times journalist in the Middle East and Iraq specifically for years. This book tells many stories of his experiences as a journalist there. It gave a very intimate sense of what it was like for him to see what he saw and know what he knows.

The sources have really added a lot to my sense of what the hell has gone on over there. I also found both sources to be balanced and fair to those involved, especially the soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib horrors.

I hope very much our new administration holds those responsible under real legal scrutiny. The people of the Middle East and those at home deserve at least this follow up to the illegal, immoral goings on of the past eight years.

Hillary as Madam Secretary: How to Neutralize a Rival

The announcement of Hillary Clinton as the possible appointment as Secretary of State under the president-elect Obama left me, like many, baffled. In the ensuing days, the backlash of liberal bloggers has made the news. However, I've been sitting back with a wait and see kind of attitude. Obama and his extremely politically nimble team are up to something. Of course, what that is would probably be utterly clear if I'd read "Team of Rivals" by Dorris Goodwin about the political strategy of Abraham Lincoln. Reportedly, Obama and his folks have read this and are taking a lot away from it. I'm number 11 on the wait list for this book at my local library. Damn highly literate Minnesotans, it'll be next year before I see a copy of it, let alone John Updike's latest novel.

So in the meantime, I've had to try to figure out this latest bold move by Obama without the help of an expert. It seems to me this was an ingenious proposal by the team (we assume this was Obama's idea, but many of his greatest ideas are adopted from the good thinkers he is in conversation with). In one move, he put himself in a possible win-win position. Although Hillary is not known for her foreign affairs acumen, she reportedly has been to over 80 countries. Her presence reminds those in countries around the world of a time when U.S. foreign policy followed a discernible logic and when American leaders were willing and able to learn from mistakes.

Further, insiders have always noted how likable she is in person. She is known as being friendly, open and very caring, the kind of friend who remembers to send a card when you're sick or injured. Having a genuinely concerned person in this role might prove really helpful when working to disarm violent enemies and talk other leaders in helping us with said task.

Critics who fear she and/or Bill will go hillbilly rogue haven't been paying much attention to Hillary's way of being a political animal. If anything, she has been too eager to go along with the boy's club. Her vote to authorize a shitty war that stunk before we had a chance to pull up our boot and take a look swayed me away from Hillary support for president before she formally announced. I do not believe the Obama camp would have to worry about Hillary towing the party line. She very good at that, sometimes too good.

Rumors have it that she is reticent to accept a job that puts her under a clear chain of command, she does what Obama asks her to do as Madam Secretary. Instead, so the rumor goes, she is serious about staying on as a senator and accepting as her boss the much broader authority of a voting district. She reports to herself and her people in this scenario. And frankly, this may be where she is able to exercise the greatest power over the longest period of time. This is an arena for her to fight for her favorite causes and part of me hopes she stays put.

Whatever the outcome, the Clinton political machine has been sated. Offered a highly prestigious job, the victor extended a friendly hand and acknowledgment of how important the Clinton's appear to believe they are. If she accepts, Obama's policies get the face of a popular politician that goes a long way in appeasing constituents and folks abroad. If she refuses, the offer was still made and she may be more likely to help out the administration in the halls of congress.

Nice move Obama.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Palin Not Really A Drag Queen

Sarah Palin attending the Republican governors meeting today smacks to me as being something akin to Madonna performing in a drag show. Although there is an obvious communion of ideas around image, there are differences so fundamental as to make the entire endeavor absurd. The sad thing is Madonna would know she is not really a drag queen, just as the drag queens would know this. Considering the respect and support Madonna has shown the gay community in her career, Madonna's drag show would likely be one of ironic humor and friendly acknowledgement. From the echo chamber being formed around the Florida meetings, the real Republican royalty does not appreciate this wanna be.

What Palin doesn't seem to realize is though the traditional Republican party goers may support gun rights, they have no intention of shooting wolves themselves. They may support right to life positions, but their privileged teenage daughters would be making a discreet visit to the family doctor, who would safely take care of the matter-no shot gun weddings for these folks. They may go to church, but they're not looking for an obvious sign from God to direct them to their next career move. Palin is not one of them. The Republican party may purport a whole host of every-day-man positions, but they have been a party that increasingly dedicated itself to the protection of the consolidation of power and resources into the hands of a very few. The rest of the platform was pomp for the masses because in the end, there was enough of a democracy left that the Republicans actually had to convince millions to vote for them.

The future of the party is not radical populism where Jo the Plumber is invited to policy meetings. This is image only. But Palin doesn't seem to be in on that one. When interviewed this week, she continues to espouse concerns that she did on the campaign trail about William Ayers and Obama's fitness to make military decisions. The Republican elite did not really believe any of what they accused Obama of, they were just trying to sell it to the unsophisticated masses, of which Palin is clearly one. You're not part of the show, Palin, those heals and dresses are borrowed!

The Republican party does need to regroup and balance themselves out. The extremes of their philosophies were truly expressed and the damage done is unimaginable. They will go more towards the center and it will not be Palin who becomes the figure head. She was used as a gimmick and has yet to figure out her gimmick role. My bet is on Pawlenty and Jindal.

These guys are centrist right not weirdos hanging out of helicopters with guns for fun. The real threat in 2012 to the Democrats will be the Republicans going back to more moderate traditional forms of representation. These ways cannot lead us where we need to go, but the Republicans may manage to convince many Americans that a conservative, return-to-yesterday approach will be adequate to save our planet, our economy and our standing in the world. They will get out their old Beatles LPs and sing along, "Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away...I believe in yesterday."

We need to see this one coming and do what we can with our current opportunities to get going into the 21st century.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why Capitalism Can Still Be Good

As the three big U.S. auto makers are doing the swirling whirly around the big toilet bowl that is our current economic condition, I have taken pause to consider the wisdom of capitalism as a method for creating and distributing resources. Despite the occasional suggestion by a family member that I'm a communist, this is not true.

I do believe there are areas of the economy that should be left to the government to manage. I believe in public education, public works like roads and sewer systems, a national military, and hopefully soon, the development of universal health care. The idea of pure capitalism should be the exclusive domain of eleventh grade boys in the high school philosophy club. But I don't think these beliefs make me a communist, or even a socialist for that matter.

I believe capitalism is an ingenious system for motivating human behavior. Ask a child to make his bed for the good of all then compare this reaction to the one inspired when there's a quarter or half dollar on the line and you'll understand what I'm talking about. There are enormous environmental and domestic challenges facing working age Americans right now. Imagine effectively harnessing that motivation seen in a little kid frantically pulling those blankets straight to get his reward towards the end of green energy. For me, the big tasks facing our nation and world seem more manageable with this in mind.

Of course, that motivation to get the quarter can easily be misused by big kids (otherwise legally known as adults) taking shortcuts in making their figurative bed and in the end entirely failing at the task they set out to do. Back to the American auto makers. We have known for many years carbon emissions are a big problem for the future of our planet and, therefore, the quality of life or likeliness of life for our children and grandchildren. Further, we know most of our oil is pulled out of politically unstable countries that acting on our economic self-interest has further destabilized. These are very big problems.

But in pursuing the extremely restricted guidelines of personal self-interest, our big auto makers have been mass producing monstrosities of vehicles known as SUVs for years. And apparently taking a cue from the auto makers, consumers have been buying them up like madness. Driving into the parking lot of my child's school, I would guess more than 75% of the vehicles are massive gas guzzlers. These vehicles and their production were always going to be unsustainable and we are now seeing the inevitable outcome.

What democracy depends on most in order to harness its power and direct it in more positive directions is leadership. Just as the child has little interest in the big picture of why its good to keep one's living space tidy, apparently millions of fully grown individuals must also be directed to live and produce in responsible ways. I include myself in this point. I enjoy the inspiring effect and momentum-building qualities of good leadership as much as anyone. I need it as much as any other American.

It looks like we may finally have some good leadership nationally. Lets build on it. I have been looking into a program called RePower America, which promotes a goal of all green energy in ten years. If any of you reading this want to check this organization out or let me know about others you have discovered that are looking promising, let me know about it. Share it with everyone you know. Let's use our incredible gifts of technology to spread positive ideas.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dylan Quote

This morning I found what looks like a more accurate recall of the Bob Dylan statement from the show Tuesday night. According to journalist Greil Marcus writing on Salon.com, who was reportedly also at the concert, Dylan told the crowd, "I was born in 1941, the year they bombed Pearl Harbor. I've been living in darkness ever since, but it looks like things are going to change now."

Even better than how I remembered it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tangled Up In Blue and Loving It

Last night, upon the excellent suggestion of someone who knows how to spend an election night, I attended the Bob Dylan concert at the U of M with two of my fellow progressive Minnesotans. We were among like minds in that hall. There was a kind of assumption between fans of Obama support. I asked a couple people how "he" was doing and these strangers immediately understood me to mean Obama, then gave me whatever new info they had. One man told me "he" got Ohio and I was confident of victory then, though I was feeling pretty good after Pennsylvania went blue for "that one."

Dylan and his band played a phenomenal set tearing through his meaty newer blues cuts and popping along the crowd-pleasing oldies. The show itself was deeply inspiring as a man heading into his 70s directed some of the finest rock n' roll musicians I have ever heard through truly great works that keep coming after fifty years of writing music. The set had a cool stylized compass on the floor encircled by a yellow band. Dylan played keyboards, harmonica, and for a few moments, an electric guitar on one side of the stage while his band formed a semi-circle facing him. The only musician facing the crowd directly for the entirety of the set was the drummer.

Dylan and his musicians were in an incredibly beautiful, musical conversation clearly being directed by Bob. I read an interview a couple years ago where Dylan said he knew his musician's abilities better than they knew themselves and he could get outstanding performances out of them. I remember thinking at the time this was an apt description of good leadership. Being able to watch the maestro in action creating a kind of sound vortex of deeply creative measure in the space between himself and the other musicians was a real pleasure for me.

I believe it was deeply kind and utterly appropriate for Dylan, a true genius and leader in his own right, to come home to Minnesota last night and musically mirror what was happening in our nation. Barak Obama saw in his fellow Americans a capacity for fairness, intelligence and democratic competence many of us were afraid to imagine. For myself, my hope was constrained by that looming possibility of disappointment. But last night, I was not disappointed.

Most of us were not disappointed. Our nation's next leader said to us simply and persuasively, "Yes we can." And for a moment we were able to bend our minds around that simple statement. Like the vortex of genius sound between Dylan and his band, the space between Obama and the American citizens became fecund with possibility.

Before the concert, we had a good idea Obama was winning while we filed into the hall and bought our beers. But it was Dylan who told us without telling us, a truly Minnesotan skill. While watching the band return to the stage for the encore, I wondered if Dylan and his band had been listening to the radio backstage. It seems so as Dylan, in a profoundly uncharacteristic move, talked to the audience for an effort other than to introduce his band. I cannot recall his exact words, but essentially he told the crowd that he was born in 1941, the year Pearl Harbor was attacked. He said it has been a dark world ever since but tonight it seemed change had come.

Dylan and his band performed just a few songs for the encore then released us to learn the election results from our personal electronic devises and more convincingly, from the enormous screen displaying CNN outside of the hall in the foyer. There were those who were disappointed, but they were in a stark minority. The vast majority went nuts in joyful expression. I did not cry, but moved my face in all manner of unnatural contortions to avoid it. I saved my tears until I got home and shared them, the hundreds of them, with my happy husband.

There is a genius in our system of government and it is this: a way through to second chances. Ours has been an often ugly country with hateful expressions many times overpowering our loving ones. But in America, at least for now, we have a mechanism by which to redeem our better selves and create an opportunity to make good on our highest ideals. We have that opportunity. Now lets get to work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Patty's Pet F$@#*ing Peeve From Canvasing

I completed canvasing yesterday, leaving the remainder of the get-out-the-vote efforts to my fellow committed Dems in suburban Minnesota. Despite popular myth, Democrats are a powerfully motivated bunch when they have a group of candidates and a platform they can stomach promoting.

Hats off to you all: the college-age organizers who have been sleeping in unfurnished apartments in cities hundreds or thousands of miles from home being paid a stipend that pays for food only and no beer. Thank you to the thousands of Boomers who have seen the financial results of their generation's hard push towards individual freedoms come back and bite them only a few years before they are scheduled to retire. Or rather, thank you to those Boomers who have seen this happen and are now fighting hard to correct the problems for their own benefit, and perhaps even for the benefit of others.

Thank you to the racist old Swede who told me two days ago, "I don't like Blacks and for good reason, but I'm voting for Obama." I felt torn in hearing that statement, wrenched between pain at his boldly stated racism and impressed by his willingness to consider the ballot rationally despite his racism. Thank you to the working class, White guys in Minnesota who are abandoning the Republican Macho-Making-Machine-Mentality for measured reason and intelligent choice towards economic self-interest. And thank you to the millions of African American and Hispanic American voters who will be the King Makers in this election while White folks continue our cultural battle between xenophobic yesterday and an emotionally intelligent attitude of a shared world for today.

I'm sure I have more thank yous, but that's where I'll leave it. Now for my Pet F#$@!ing Peeves.

My biggest peeve for this election year is most defiantly the White "Independent" voters. My guess is never in history have we seen so many Independent voters. I'm sure there are those who are and have been Independent voters for many years and to those I have less criticism. But from my experience actually talking with these "Independent" voters, they seem to have few answers, many criticisms, a need to seem responsible as a citizen, and some unexpressed "thing" going on inside. My guess is that this "thing" is a palpable resistance to voting for a man with skin darker than theirs, a man married to a woman who is also, oh shit, African American, as well.

This self-labeling "Independent" seems to give people a sense that they are good, earnest, powerful Americans who can't be pulled by a major party, so fierce is their autonomy. In reality, many of these people seem more like the kids on the playground who have lots of toys, don't want to share, and who run away, tiny arms and fists clutching their stuff, when a grown up tells them to share. In Reality World, we need to work with the problems we face, which are big and scary and not going anywhere. This means intelligent reasoning, compromise and working together.

Now I'm also a fan of multi-party systems. Many democracies other than ours have many parties represented by their governments and this is often a very good thing. I would be in full support of all those so-called "Independents" working hard, and I mean as hard as the Democrat organizers have worked this year, towards getting broader support and representation to the Greens, the libertarians and new parties as well. Even the Alaskan secessionists have a place at the table in my opinion. But unfortunately, from what I've seen, this "independent" vote seems to be mostly disenfranchised Republicans not willing to take responsibility for the horror that is the administration they put into power, and who are DOING nothing to heal this country and this world.

I very much hope that the "Independent" voters jump on the Big Ship Reality with the rest of us in recognizing no person, neighborhood or nation goes it alone and that when mistakes are made we need to do what we can to make them right again. And if those who are calling their racism "independence," then I hope their twisted and fractured thinking leaves them so empty and exhausted they cannot manage to make it to the polls tomorrow.

I hope very much that Obama's likely victory tomorrow will bring in a new culture of responsibility to our country where citizens recognize the necessity of participation in democracy and commit themselves to it. For those who are actually "Independent," I hope very much they commit to doing the work necessary to bring forth new parties, strengthen older ones and deliver to our nation additional representation in our local, state and national governments beyond the narrow agendas of our two party system. Calling oneself an Independent so you don't have to commit to doing anything for either big party is just plain lazy.

A lot of energy has been raised that has renewed our democracy. Lets keep it going beyond tomorrow and remake ourselves into a 21st century democracy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last Push to Election

I was out for several hours canvasing yesterday and will be heading out in a short time to do it again today. Although Minnesota is shown to have moved from an undependable pale blue to a solid blue over the last week, I continue to feel compelled to work on the get-out-to-vote effort. I guess I'm feeling like I need to see it to believe it. I need to talk with my fellow suburban Minnesotans to hear their rationale and gauge their enthusiasm. Also, I need to do something, anything in these final remaining hours before the election.

I admit it, my anxiety is high. As I have written in past blogs, I feel the middle class dreams of America are being stripped away by large organizations with enormous power to wield over our modest financial lives. When describing the current financial burdens of health care, energy, education and housing prices to a young Swedish man during our trip to Argentina last week, his jaw literally dropped. He is married to an American and they are considering their future plans, which include moving back to the states to be closer to her family. Their time line may be altered by my husband and my description of our lives as a young family. Just describing the costs for having our second son, a mercifully healthy process beginning to end, led the young Swede to proclaim repeatedly, "That is outrageous, that is outrageous!"

While changing airports going in and out of Argentina, the drive around Buenos Aires brought home to me the fundamental difference between first and second world country status being one of the health and opportunities for the middle class. Flying into Buenos Aires, there are many mansions peppering the landscape illustrating to me the fact that Argentina has enormous national wealth. This wealth apparently isn't generously shared as driving through Buenos Aires one sees a city of innumerable high rise slums. Despite wealth and a healthy number in their educated class, they are a country who has suffered a "dirty war" in recent decades and only several years ago a complete economic collapse.

Many Americans like to kid themselves that this could not happen to us, that we are somehow protected from the worst of the natural results of corrupt government. This is a silly illusion, but a very painful one when it is stripped away by reality. We have our own high rise slums and the hellacious aftermath of Hurricane Katrina tore back gauzy illusion to expose the gangrenous rot of poverty and social injustice. One place where the people of our nation are already suffering a second and third world nation lifestyle was broadcast worldwide. One of many shameful situations we have as a nation revealed. And of course, the very dirty techniques ordered from the highest levels for treatment of prisoners in the current war where our government has enacted exactly what it says we're fighting against. Thank you John McCain for supporting that Bush/Cheney policy.

As Garrison Keillor wrote recently, anyone not supporting Barak Obama for president at this point cannot be convinced by any use of the English language. There is no point in trying to convince anyone of anything at this point in the game. Undecideds are likely just those who know it is folly to vote for McCain/Palin, but know in their hearts they will not vote for a Black man who supports populist policies.

We, the Obama/Biden supporters, simply need to get out there to vote on Tuesday, or earlier if possible. And additionally, we need to get every single Obama supporter we know out to vote as well. If this requires making phone calls, knocking on doors or even driving someone to the polls, do it. Do this for your country and your countrymen. Washing the polls with Obama/Biden support is our patriotic duty at this time.

Monday, October 27, 2008

An Obama T-shirt In Argentina

I had an opportunity last week to travel to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina. I was in the company of people from several different countries including Argentina, Sweden, the U.S., Portugal and Pakistan. I did not know the social norms for talking politics with people from these different cultures, so I brought my Obama t-shirt featuring Obama's face on the front. When language fails, we always have symbols. My non-verbal attempt to start up dialogue with people from other cultures was successful a couple times. The most notable was a conversation I was able to have with a small group of Argentinian scientists (I was able to have this conversation because of their language acumen, not my own).

Over lunch a middle aged Argentinian man asked me what I thought about the American elections and noted my t-shirt. What unfolded was a conversation where I worked to be open to any questions he had, and to answer them with honesty and veracity (to the best of my ability, anyway). He seemed most interested in how EXACTLY the housing market fell apart. Understanding the love for detail scientists seem to have across cultural and geographic divides, I summoned the most technical explanation I could manage, which was not particularly technical I admit. I explained the use of physicists and mathematicians on Wall Street to conjure algorithms of pay schedules and magical concoctions of diced mortgages that would somehow solve the tediously human problem of loan defaults.

I felt a need to defend most of my fellow Americans and pointed out that 94% of home mortgages were being paid on time. The Argentines seemed particularly impressed by this data. I likened the mess to poisoning an apple, though most of the apple is good, the poison spreads and ruins the whole fruit. My analogy seemed to go over well. I was proud of myself, like a little girl winning a spelling bee where I was able to spell all the words, including the ones I didn't know the meaning of.

I hope my explanations were accurate enough to be truthful. It was clear the Argentinians and others were very interested in how someone inside the country perceives what is going on, even if that person fails to meet expert status. I was also very interested in hearing what other people were hearing in their country about this mess. The same Argentinian man said his government was trying to tell the people the economic implosion of its northern neighbor would not effect them, but he and the other Argentinians at the table shook their heads at this. Not for a moment, it seemed, would they believe that fairy tale.

I went on to caution this is a much larger problem than a banking problem, that our economy has been deteriorating for decades. I pointed out the crushing expenses to the middle class, housing, education and health care, and that we haven't seen any corresponding increase in wages. I told them the poison economic policies began in earnest with Reagan nearly thirty years ago and would take a long time to correct. The seemingly naturally serious Argentinians appeared to become more solemn when they heard my opinion, but nodded their heads if not in agreement then not in disagreement.

I learned later the Argentinian economy was taking some significant hits that week and the people, who quite recently survived a complete economic meltdown, may be vulnerable to another.

We are in a fine mess and it was clear by my interactions abroad that this is not lost on our neighbors. The only politician I've heard tie this odious economic trend to Reagan is Obama. Only he, from what I've heard, is clear on the natural results of letting large corporations decide tax law, government regulations and trade agreements. This has been a long time coming folks. With a good leader we have a lot of hard work in front of us. Without a good leader, we may be at the end of the line with our status as world leader.

The difference between a first and second or third world country is not wealth, but how this wealth is developed, managed and distributed. It is time our childish ideas about perfect freedom leading to perfect economic justice be shed. We need to wise up and get serious about ourselves and our prospects. No more illusions about easy money and no more fantasies of quick fixes. We're in this for the long run and we are all of us, Argentinians included, in this together.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some Minnesotans Boo McCain's Call To Reason: Angry Racism Afoot

The weather was beautiful yesterday with a bright blue sky set dramatically against the bold golds and yellows of the Midwest autumn leaves. I was paired by our district organizer with a young dad who brought along a beautiful, little girl and his incisive sense of humor.While driving to our canvasing neighborhood, a new development of town homes (1/4 of which were for auction or sale), we laughed and joked about the absurdity of the television adds being launched by the GOP in our state.

I talked about my apprehension about a possible Bradly effect, where White voters polled say they will vote for Obama, but behind the curtain, will not follow through with voting for an African American. My co-canvaser insisted this will not be a significant phenomenon, and easily overwhelmed by the enthusiastic new voters.

I want to believe this young man. But I have seen first hand that there is angry racism among many white voters here in Minnesota and the Republicans are drill-baby-drillin' into the deep wells of this hatred with their stump speeches and advertisements. I fear they will be successful in bringing this poison to the surface and unexpected outcomes will follow.

Senator McCain did "tone down" the rhetoric here in Minnesota yesterday during a rally, with a few moments of it being picked up by the mainstream media. A young white man told McCain he was afraid for his unborn child if Obama becomes president. Another rally participant, an apparently older, white woman (her back was to the camera) told McCain she was afraid because Obama was an "Arab," by which she apparently also meant terrorist. In both cases, McCain acted like a reasonable human being and told the audience Obama is a decent, family man and there is nothing to fear. The Minnesotan audience booed his call to reason.

Most of the days I canvased for the DFL over the last several weeks, I have run into at least one openly angry, white, male Minnesotan who made an active point of communicating this anger to me and at me for supporting Obama. I have not written about this before in part because I don't want to mischaracterize Minnesotans. Indeed, it is highly likely Obama will win here because of cross socio/cultural/economic support he is enjoying in the twin cities. But here in the suburbs it is different. I have run across several who were only barely able to contain their anger, with huffy voices, tense faces and defensive body postures, they have told me, in no uncertain terms, they did not support my ticket and I was not welcome on their property.

One many even followed me around his neighborhood in a car. When I approached a home across the street from his, he jumped out and yelled at me, "No one is home!"

I said loudly back, "There are some people home."

He then said, "There's no one home at my house!"

I popped back quite annoyed, "I'm not going to your home, sir." I added in the "sir" because it often calms highly agitated people down when someone makes an extra effort to be polite. I felt I was dealing with someone who may be mentally ill and instinctively moved into my therapist mode.

"Good." He got the last word in.

Yesterday, the man I was canvasing with got an address wrong and approached a home not on the list. People identifying themselves as Republican on the state voting records are not on our DFL lists. Only people who are not identified as supporing a particular party or Independents are on our lists. People who tell us they are Republican are noted and the newer lists will drop them. Most of us have no intention of changing people from one political party to another.

At any rate, a man at the house we approached did not answer the door, but watched us through a window. Apparently, he figured out we were DFL supporters as evidenced by the fistfuls of Obama and other DFL candidate pamphlets we carried. He opened his window and shouted out that he did not want us leaving any of our information and was not a supporter of us. We smiled and readily agreed.

The man in the window had that same contorted, angry expression on his face and tense voice I have seen and heard many times in the last few weeks. My fellow canvaser did not seem the least bothered by any of this and continued on his way. I was disturbed as I have been in the past. In my training as a therapist, I have fine tuned my skills at reading people, and it certainly wouldn't take a therapist to read the anger I have seen among some. These people, I'm sure not in any way a majority of Republicans, but a significant popluation nonetheless, seem to have extremely emotional, even aggressive reactions to political discussion. Political strategists on all sides need to take this seriously.

Although McCain himself did not support the angry ignorance of those in his crowd of fans, he has continued to allow his campaign to make hateful, insincere statements designed to inflame the Republican base. Considering how angry and threatened many in their base already are, this tactic of the McCain campaign is extremely irresponsible. They do not understand there is a tremendous distance between the elite and academic Republicans and the Republicans in the rural and suburbans areas.

Many of the every-day-man Republicans of the rural and suburban neighborhoods do not take these hate tactics with a grain of salt. This is not politics as usual for them. McCain's campaign isn't inspiring doubt in the electorate, they are tapping into deep rage and prejudice. And some of these every-day-man Republicans are capable of violence.

When McCain looses this election, and he will, he will have exhausted the capital he built over his political career on this dubious failure of a campaign. I only hope his legacy is the only casualty of this idiocy. I hope very much African Americans, immigrants, and other people in historically vulnerable positions in our country will not become the targets of the tapped hatred McCain's campaign and Palin have been drill baby drillin' for.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lets Be Reasonable As Well As Moral On The Economy

I watched expectantly last night the second presidential debate between Obama and McCain. I worked to view the debate as my Minnesotan friends and neighbors might see it. Were their concerns, spoken aloud or privately guarded, addressed last night? I would guess there were words spoken by both candidates that, if true and preceding effective action, would be a great comfort. Obama spoke extensively and thoroughly about the need to change focus from top-down tax policy where very wealthy people and corporations are taxed at disproportionately low rates to a tax policy that promotes economic prosperity in the middle class. McCain had an unexpected moment where he advocated the use of the federal government as watch dog and negotiator with the banks on behalf of Americans in home foreclosure. Both men had some ideas about reforming government and the economy, I would argue Obama had more ideas and was more thorough in communicating them. But I doubt if many of my fellow Minnesotans were comforted much by either candidate. Further, I doubt if it was humanly possible for either candidate to allay their fears in a presidential debate.

Last week I went out canvasing for the DFL the evening after the senate passed the bailout. It seems a long time ago now. My partner in street-pounding was the Obama organizer for my district, a friendly young woman just out of college. We had several minutes to talk when walking the several blocks from where we parked our cars to the addresses on our list. She told me the canvasing the previous night had been a veritable Demo love fest. She told me she personally spoke with four Republicans-turned-Democrats who were happy in their transition and willing to talk, a remarkable thing among many tight-lipped Minnesotans. For some reason, I doubted we would have the same reception this night, though this feeling was vague and not connected to a particular line of reasoning.

What happened, or rather didn't happen, over the next hour and a half was eerie and deeply uncomfortable: no one would talk to us. And by no one, I mean no one. The young woman and I worked our list up one side of the street and down the other. Many people were either not home or refused to answer the door. Most of those who we were able to get to the door refused flatly to talk. One woman who was mowing her lawn seemed to be trying to avoid eye contact with me as I approached her home with a clipboard and donning an Obama sticker on my shirt. Unable to avoid me finally as I stood on her doorstep and stared at her for some time, she turned off the mower and looked at me. No matter my coaxing, which included extensive use of my training as a mental health counselor, I was unable to disarm this woman. With a pained and grim grin pulled across her thin face, she said she could not tell me who she supported.

This encounter was uncomfortable but the one I had shortly afterward was a bit scary. I knocked on the front door of an aging, modest home in adequate repair and could see and hear the TV going in the window immediately beside the door. An older man with pure fury contorting the aging features of his pale face came angrily out of a side door. He spoke to me sharply from behind where I was standing and startled me. I was taken aback as he told me to get off his property. I quickly left and mercifully, had only a few more houses to stop at before the list was complete. Whether my fellow Minnesotans liked it or not, it is completely legal to go door to door and talk about politics in this democracy (for now anyway), and so I proceeded though hesitantly as it is also a right to be rude as long as it's not openly threatening.

The young organizer and I were utterly relieved to be done with our canvasing for the evening. On the walk back I wondered aloud what had happened since the night before when she enjoyed the deeply satisfying experience of having people happy to see her and willing to talk politics. Then it occurred to me, of course, the vote. The senate vote passed for the $700 billion bailout. These Minnesotans were likely furious about the vote. Being Minnesotans, they apparently were too polite to be honest and forthright with their feelings about the matter with us, but the logic flows. The only thing that had changed in politics since the night before was that vote.

And, as I mentioned in my previous blog, Minnesotan's contacting their legislators were mostly of one opinion: do not vote for that damn bill! Knowing this and strongly suspecting this opinion was the motivator behind the behavior of the citizens I approached that night, I am still surprised by how angry people were. Don't they realize our economy is diving to depths unknown? Of course the bailout isn't fair, but what about supporting lesser forms of evil? But that's not how many Minnesotans think about these things, at least apparently not in my neighborhood.

I suspect the reaction to the bailout has to do with the strong belief among many Americans generally, and Minnesotans specifically, in doing the morally right thing, whether it is politically expedient or economically sound thing to do or not. Many seem to look at these issues with moral absolutism,perhaps even religious absolutism, whereas I tend to try to see these things from a more secular idea of "the overall good."

From my perspective, an utterly gutted economy needs a rescue whether it's fair or not. Sociologists and Psychologists have noted for decades the trends of jumping rates of child, spousal and substance abuse during difficult economic times. There are many forms of right and wrong, good and evil. As I noted in a previous blog, certain conditions exacerbate profoundly evil behavior. I strongly believe there were many, executives on down to homeowners, who acted greedily and stupidly and there needs to be natural and very uncomfortable consequences for these behaviors. But we also need to work as a nation to keep things from getting worse for everyone.

I wonder if many of my fellow citizens feel that all of this is very simple, that if people who have done bad to our economy are punished, and what is "right" is reestablished, a more stable economy will naturally follow. Well, I doubt it. One of the criticisms of the Congress acting at the time of the first Great Depression was that they allowed the banking system to fall apart without intervention. When they chose to act it was too late.

Again, I argue for reason and responsibility. I completely agree with Obama on the issue of the executives from AIG being required to give back the $400,000 of tax payer money they spent on spas for themselves last week then fired. But I also believe it was the responsibility of Congress to make an attempt to keep AIG, the largest insurer in this country, from collapsing and leaving millions of Americans potentially without the insurance protection they paid for.

We have seen over the last eight years the utter failure of the "good and bad," or "right and wrong," dichotomous thinking. Because here's the rub folks, human beings are often wrong about things they were certain they were right about. For example, the Bush administration's concrete belief in the justification of the war in Iraq, the efficacy of trickle down economics, even the adherence to abstinence only sex education for youth (the teen pregnancy rate has jumped more than 25% since Bush took office and gave in to the right wing's position on this). It seems that people most likely to believe absolutely that they are absolutely right are so often wrong.

We need flexible leadership and a citizenry able to bend with their leadership. As the Buddhists have noted for thousands of years, the pliable reed bends with the wind and the stiff stick snaps.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

We Are Our Brother's Keeper

Tomorrow the House will vote on the revised economic bailout plan. It is designed to be an emergency lane for our careening semi truck of an economy apparently gaining speed as it roars down the mountainside. Somewhere along its downward trajectory, the semi hit a pig, because there is pork all over the sides of our safety lane. But that's okay. The presence of pork is how we know for certain that the emergency lane was constructed in the United States of America. (Of course the tax breaks to corporations included therein is just total bullshit!).

This bailout plan is not a scenic route and it will not get us going in the right direction, but most economists and I (for what it's worth) agree allowing the economy to tear down the mountainside will take out far too many people, businesses and yes, financial institutions, along the way.

What surprises me is how few Americans seem to agree with me. I saw on the local news that 100 to 1 constituents were faxing in messages to their representatives arguing against the bailout. I heard that phone calls in this area were running at a ratio of 1,000 to 1 against the bailout. Though I understand this reticence of the average American to bailout poorly run financial institutions and the foolish folks who got in over their heads with unreasonably large mortgages and second and third mortgages off the original, this is no time for "I told you so." We're in trouble here, folks.

We are our brother's keeper if not morally, than literally. And he is ours. Though my family and I work to live within our means and have good credit, we may not be able to get a home or car loan. We most certainly wouldn't be able to refinance in the case of an emergency. Though we didn't directly participate in this mess, we, like all Americans and millions abroad, are experiencing the ramifications of this financial situation.

In that we live in a participatory democracy, I do have to take exception to those who say they have no culpability in this situation. As I noted above, my family did not directly contribute to this situation, but I was aware of its presence for years. I predicted several years ago this bubble would pop and millions would be homeless because of it. I didn't once contact my representative during this time. For millions of Americans, they were simply not paying attention at all, and therefore couldn't predict a burst bubble or even an election day, for that matter. I believe most Americans could have done more than we did to protest the abuses of Wall Street and the inept policies of our ELECTED government.

It is easy to say "I told you so." It is easy to call a congressperson and protest a controversial bill. It is a more difficult thing to be a disciplined citizen aware of the political and economic goings on in one's city, county, state and country. I have not been the best citizen I could have been. I'm sure most of us, if we're honest, would say the same. And when we fail to insist that our interests be fairly represented, the policies of a few that serve only the few reign. Once that happens, as we have seen, it is a dear, dear price that has to be paid to get our interests back on the bill in any form other than pork.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Apollo 13 and American Hope

I have been following the economic news avidly for days, as are most Americans at this point. The president looked old and exhausted this morning in his brief comments to the nation. He was unable to conjure the kind of hopeful demeanor he has before put forth during the many crisis of his administration. This current mess he cannot cover up with a smile and impassioned statement. This disaster isn't hundreds or thousands of miles away, it is alive in the pocket books of millions of Americans.

This is the end of the line for the economic policy promoted by the Reagan administration nearly thirty years ago. The results of the undying faith and deep denial of reality for those promoting the laissez faire form of capitalism has literally brought some of its most powerful supporters to their knees (Paulson literally dropping to the floor in front of Pelosi last weekend).

All of this reminds me of a movie I have seen numerous times because my older son loves it, Apollo 13. This movie dramatizes a truly remarkable historic situation where the Apollo 13 space mission to the moon ran into a life threatening situation when a line blew and ignited one of the oxygen tanks. The crew did not walk on the moon, but they did survive with the help of a deeply dedicated and intelligent crew of mathematicians and scientists. It is also possible the prayers of much of the world helped, as well.

The accident in space during that mission was the result of avoidable mistakes. Some of the challenges faced by the crew and the people at mission control were made more difficult by poor planning. But these men prevailed. They were able to work together using their expertise to negotiate the situation. Further, they were able to flexibly adapt their expertise to address the novelties faced by the space crew. This movie really did highlight what is most unique and impressive about Americans.

We are a people of great ability and training. Though there is a lot of airplay about how uneducated and incurious Americans are, and there is certainly evidence to support this claim, what makes us capable of pulling out of fatal looking circumstances is the knowledge and training we do have and an uncanny ability to use these creatively. The U.S. survived the Great Depression and flourished. There were outside conditions that enabled this recovery, including WWII, but it was because of flexible thinkers that the opportunities in these conditions were realized.

We will, as a nation, pull out of this and turn this current economic downturn into an opportunity. I believe the desperate need for green energy and a green economy will be one of our most powerful motivators to pull our course change in a positive direction. The world was facing a dire threat at the hands of the fascists at a time when Americans were working our way out of the first Great Depression. Our world is facing a dire threat to our environment currently. There is great opportunity here and amazingly, we are the people to take this opportunity on in a new and innovative manner.

There is only reason to hope.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

To The Women of Minnesota: Don't Be Silly Women

While canvasing last week I had the opportunity to speak with an older, white man living in a lovely, white home in the burbs. I told him I was canvasing for the DFL and he responded quickly but politely that he and his wife were lifelong Republicans. I explained this was fine with me, I just wanted to record their affiliations so the DFL wouldn't stop by his door in the future. He appreciated this and launched into one of the most leading questions I've ever been asked in my life.

"So, do you want to know why my wife is voting Republican? One word, do you want to know what it is?"

I bit.

"Palin!!!!" He shrieked in a mad fit of enthusiasm,his long, grey comb-over flapping like a little bird atop his head. Reportedly, his wife started weeping when she saw and heard Palin's running mate acceptance speech in St. Paul.

That was Palin's "I do" moment with national Republican politics. And in the following weeks, it is clear that she was chosen for predictable reasons and is being treated in a predictable way by the GOP. But I must admit, the small minded, superficial and deeply patronizing attitudes apparently harbored by the men in power who made this call takes my breath away.

As journalists have scrambled to unearth and report the professional and academic qualifications of Palin for the Vice Presidency, it has become clear to many she is not prepared- at all- for this role. She is scantly educated compared to her Democratic opponents either formally or otherwise. She has been living in a state whose residents often term everywhere else in the world other than Alaska "outside" and has demonstrated adherence to this cultural mind-set in her astounding lack of knowledge about national and international politics. And she fully embraces the welding together of religion with politics. I doubt if she has read the constitution in thirty years. In fact, she presents as a person who lacks the intellectual curiousity required to read much at all. She is a woeful pick when one, Republican or Democrat, evaluates her for the job in a rational manner.

So what were McCain, Rove and the other Republican politicos thinking when they decided to ask Palin to join the ticket? What would a right wing, conservative party who needs the votes of women, but is run almost entirely by men who regularly vote against the interests of women and children, including SCHIP, minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, and women's health, want in a female running mate? Like a smarmy man who, in reality, has nothing substantial to offer, the Republican party is trying to charm the women in their base with the illusion of respectful acknowledgment. And, if this older man in my voting district is telling the truth, McCain's guys succeeded in doing just that with his wife. Unfortunately, she didn't come to the door herself, though I thought I saw her through the screen sitting just feet away. Perhaps what is most powerful and ultimately impactful, it appears they charmed Palin herself.

It is deeply disturbing to me how the GOP is treating women in this election, particularly Palin. Though there were several responsible choices for the ticket if they were looking for a GOP leader who is a woman to appeal to other women, they chose one with very little in the way of skills, knowledge and judgment. It was as if the people who made this call don't really believe a woman can be a competent, well-informed leader. Palin demonstrated in the one unbiased interview she has done, on ABC, that she is not even familiar with one of the most important policies she is promoting, the Bush Doctrine. But no worries. She is for the McCain people an attractive talking head, a spunky deliverer of teleprompter policy, a pretty newscaster of the party positions. The cynicism this demonstrates about powerful women is mind-boggling.

But it gets even more disturbing from here. Since the RNC, they have allowed two interviews with journalists, one with Fox News (which doesn't really count as journalism). The entire situation with the media dead zone around Palin and building frustration among journalists came to a boil when the McCain campaign wanted the media to bring a video camera to get pictures of Palin talking with world leaders yesterday, but did not want a producer with the cameramen. This would ensure no media questions would be asked of her. Though the producer did ultimately prevail, no questions of any substance were asked or answered. It looks like the GOP is controlling every word that comes out of Palin's mouth and demanding media compliance lest she demonstrate her own mind and accidentally speak against the collective GOP will.

This all smacks of abuse to me. Picking a woman who is utterly unprepared for this position and thus, they ensured she has no thoughts of her own on these big issues and is utterly dependent on her Republican partners to tell her what to say and where to go. Although Palin shows the most naked will to power that I've seen in awhile, even making her running mate look nuanced and charming at times, was it fair to offer her a deal she could not comprehend the terms of? This was the ultimate in ARM loans for the White House.

And now, to make this deal work out to their favor, the GOP is doing everything in their power to keep journalists away from her. They are keeping her in an unnatural bubble meant to protect themselves from the embarrassment of having the nation find out just how ignorant this person really is. The other danger is that Palin herself, through repeatedly being asked specific and important questions, begins to understand how ill prepared she is for this job. What if she comes to understand that the running mate position was not offered out of respect for her but out of cynicism about the electorate and about her? This is not a good deal for the people of the United States or for Palin.

Given more time in her current job and a hell of a good tutor (as the current Bush had in Texas to prepare him for the national stage several years ago)Palin may be somewhere closer to ready for national GOP leadership years from now. But I do not believe the GOP was interested in putting forward a strong, experienced,well-informed woman to help lead the country. They wanted a pretty woman wearing a cross around her neck to woo the other silly women who get to vote. Lets not be silly women!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More Political Notes From the Minnesota Suburbs: Canvasing

I spent several hours in the last few days canvasing for the DFL in my neighborhood in suburban Minnesota. The first day was the most pleasant. In the warm, autumn evening I pushed along my toddler in his bright red stroller and my kindergartner followed cheerfully behind. We were in the neighborhood adjacent to the high school and ran into several educators. One retired school teacher and football coach offered my little boy a bottle of water and politely listened to me chat about the struggles faced currently by young families. I also had the chance to speak with a life-long Republican criminologist who intends to vote for Obama. He told me about the power of promoting feelings of self-efficacy in deterring at-risk youth from crime. Having spent several years working in the juvenile court system advocating for abused and neglected children, this gentleman couldn't have found a more appreciative audience than me.

Of the people I spoke with this night, one that stands out the most was not an Obama supporter, but he was very willing to talk. In fact, he sought me out. He told me is a veteran who hasn't voted in the national elections for decades because he hasn't liked any of the presidential candidates starting with Reagan. The man had long, thin, greying hair tied back into a small pony tail. Several tattoos expressing his affections for a few different women followed the vertical line of his exposed arms. He was quite friendly approaching me from the home next to the one I was actually canvasing. The warm evening had inspired many people to open their windows, he must have overheard me talking with his neighbors.

When he asked me what I was doing, I explained I was a volunteer for the DFL out canvasing the neighborhood. We chatted for some time, he expressing his reservations about McCain and how they conflicted with his desire to vote for a fellow veteran. A vote for Obama, with his expansive vocabulary and nuanced answers to the big questions seemed a tremendous leap for this man to make at the polls. His reservations about McCain and utter bafflement over the Obama candidacy appeared to have left this man where he started, again, a citizen unwilling to vote.

I worked to impart to him the importance of voting in our district because of the voting power of the suburbs in determining the outcome for Minnesota. This appeared to move him. However, my support of Obama was not convincing him and he told me so. As I labored to come up with arguments that might appeal to this man, my husband drove up having just gotten off of work to help with our kids. He got out of car and walked up to us. We introduced ourselves all around. The man asked my husband which way he was going in the election. My husband responded immediately, "Obama." The man seemed surprised by this, actually jumping backward a bit.

My husband didn't get an opportunity to explain his position as the man started talking again about why he was concerned about McCain. I chided my husband about not voting in his life until recently, and this also seemed to validate my husband's position to this fellow American. The veteran nodded his head in apparent agreement with my husband's past ambivalence about participatory democracy.

I was amazed by how quickly and powerfully men speak to men, at least in this case. Here I was dragging my children up and down the streets at dinner time through the Midwest humidity, and my reasons for supporting Obama were not particularly impactful on this man. My husband pulls up looking comparatively fresh and rested in his air conditioned car, says one word, "Obama," and this friendly but unmoving man seemed to have his resistance to Obama undermined in an instant.

At this point in the election cycle, I really don't mind that my husband's input, as simple and undefended as it was, seemed to have made a difference and my greater efforts were essentially ignored in this interaction. I don't mind as long as this man gets out to vote. And if this election is not the one that gets him out, maybe the next one will be. Perhaps my husband and I managed, in a small way, to affect change on the culture of passive democracy that has taken over so much of our electorate. If we inspired him, at all, to turn off Fox news and actually start talking to other people in his community about what they're thinking and doing politically, this door-knock was a success for me.

Who knows if this man will actually vote. I hope so. His experiences and his values are important to our democracy. The discussion between neighbors about what we think and feel is important. I heard too many times in the last few days "I don't talk about politics!" Why not? Has anything good come from playing our cards close to the vest in a winner take all game? We need to talk about the economy and health care and our political system. Too many of us stopped doing that.

What our country does need, and critically, is a real-time, on-going discussion between neighbors, friends and family about our shared challenges and how to work them out. The Obama campaign, because of the nature of the electorate out here, has had to steer clear of discussion about him as a person, as impressive as he is, and focus entirely on issues. And you know, I think political dialogue is more respectful and fruitful without the narrative focus. It is one I am partial to, but see through my experiences in Minnesota much more may get done without them. If we do this as a nation, tearing our gaze away from our hyperfocus on personal narrative, we might actually get somewhere in reevaluating and rebuilding our political and economic infrastructure.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Political Notes From the Minnesotan Suburbs

I spent my free time this week attending an Obama volunteer meeting and canvasing the neighborhood for the Minnesota Democrat Farm and Labor party. Though rural and suburban Minnesotans are reserved by nature, especially when talking politics with strangers, this election year seems to be bringing cultural change around these social norms. Time will tell if these changes hold, but for now, I had the opportunity to hear a little about how some people here are thinking about this situation. And I was surprised. I'll write about these experiences over the next several days, beginning with the volunteer meeting I attended a few days ago.

The volunteer meeting was held in a very lovely home in a development of these large, new houses. The only national election political sign I saw driving into the cul de sac was one supporting McCain. The woman who opened her home literally to perfect strangers did not have an Obama sign in her yard. She did have a couple supporting well known and well liked local DFLers. Once inside, this quiet support for the Obama/Biden ticket fell away, but outside, it was another matter. People said it felt so good to be able to talk openly about why they support the Obama/Biden ticket.

There were several of us who attended. We pulled up next to each other one after another in a large, slightly late group (which seems to be the norm on how Minnesotans arrive places). None of us knew each other, so none of us were openly friendly when recognizing we were going into the same home for the same reason. This, too, seems to be a Minnesota cultural norm. Once inside, a middle aged woman with a strong, Germanic-looking build and a face like open kindness, introduced herself and welcomed us one by one into her home. As we arrived together, we were quickly seated in a circle of chairs around a laptop computer. The first half hour was spent watching a webcast of Biden and Hillary Clinton talking women's issues, a tremendously strong position for the Dems. Afterwards, the two volunteer leaders began to speak.

These two were the youngest by far in the room. They appeared to have recently graduated from college and more recently landed in Minnesota. A young man and a young woman, they were opposites in build and temperament, he an obvious techy introvert and her a spunky, born-to-be-there kind of girl. Both looked a bit unclean, as if they were living out of their cars. It turns out they have been and for some time. The young man was brought in from Pennsylvania to help organize Minnesotan volunteers after the primary season. She came in from Kansas. They brought in the youthful enthusiasm and freedom that made them able and more amazingly, willing, to live like this for several months. These were devoted citizens and in the end of all of this, if Obama wins, it will be because of this devotion by his volunteers.

The young people seemed to feel they were part of history and an excellent cause. Their interests in getting Obama elected were for the big reasons, love of country and humankind. Enormous student loan debit was also mentioned in passing. Obama wants to reinstate and further develop domestic service programs, like AmeriCorp under Clinton, that gives young people money for school for service. I did two years of this program in my twenties and it was an excellent way to get needed job skills and college money.

I was the next youngest in the room. I have the big reasons for attending, I truly believe Obama and Biden could make this country respectable, even great again. The reasons that get me out the door to meetings and canvasing, however, are economic. I have continually been astonished to find my life and the life of my peers, all now in their thirties and trying to build lives, are significantly more difficult than my parent's lives economically. Real wages have not risen much for three decades and housing prices, health care costs and college tuition are more than double and triple what they were when my parent's generation was raising small children. This situation is ridiculous, in my calculation, and I'm willing to spend my time to make it different.

The rest in the room that night were people in their fifties, most looking comfortably middle class. They were extremely nervous about health care and social security. Within a decade, most would be of retirement age and the state of our economic and political system scared the hell out of these people. One man who works in the health insurance industry became teary when he described how bad the situation in this industry really is. I brought up the independent assessment of McCain's health care plan that came out last week and estimated 20 million more Americans would loose their health care immediately with this plan and eventually it would likely dismantle the entire system, which is what it is designed to do. The room became more animated than any I have seen since moving to Minnesota.

Another person brought up the terrifying idea of what would have happened to social security accounts this week if they had been privatized, a plan supported by McCain and promoted by the Bush administration. People of retirement age could have lost large portions of their savings at a time in life when they need it most. Although this is not my immediate concern, I felt deeply for these people. I saw that they had been working for decades to secure their future and now, as they approach retirement age, we have a group of thieves and morons in power who would gladly hand over the security of our aging Americans to an economic system being run into the ground by incompetent, short sighted, greedy executives. (I'm sure there are a few good executives out there, but read Paul O'Neill's book. He was the first Treasury Secretary under current Bush who was asked to leave when he confronted the administration's incompetence).

Millions of Americans see what's here and they see what's coming down the line and we're organizing. This kind of political activity, door to door, face to face will be how Obama wins. The volunteer coordinators told us a study conducted by the Democrat party bore this out. Phone calls and mailers do not make a difference, only talking with people makes a difference in this kind of political activity. Talk to everyone you know, family and friends, about the Obama/Biden ticket. Explain the economic policies, $1,000 tax refund for all middle class families, the breaking of the chains between K street and Pennsylvania avenue, and the formation of MILLIONS of new jobs rebuilding infrastructure and developing the now very necessary green industry, an industry that could help make this a livable world for my children and grandchildren.

Even if it's uncomfortable, please, if you support Obama, do this for the campaign and for your own future.

I'll write about my canvasing efforts in the following days. I have learned a few things from my neighbors.