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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bill, Where Are You?

The Dow Jones took a 500 point free fall today following a few more disturbing turns in our economy including Lehman Brothers closing up shop after 150 years, and thus reminding us how fragile our economy really is. Alan Greenspan commented yesterday that our economic situation as a nation is "by far" the worst he has ever seen. It seems we are in trouble.

There is a ghost in the machine and it is haunting us from the basement to the penthouse. For the vast majority of us, we cannot escape the haunting effects of high energy prices, job losses, the losses in benefits and wages for the available jobs, and on and on it goes. Even the large corporations are having to meet their greatest fears, except of course for the CEOs. Some of them are loosing their jobs, but reportedly not their money.

As I watched the reports on the Dow today, like taking a pulse to intuit the seriousness of the malady within, I kept hearing Bill Clinton say, "It's the economy, stupid." I found myself wanting to hear him say those words again, this time in front of a sign that says "Obama" instead of "Clinton." At this time, it seems to me, Americans need a reminder that it was a Democratic president who negotiated and promoted the government policies that helped balance the budget and strengthen the economy.

Of course it was also Clinton who pushed through NAFTA and continued conservative economic policies that contributed to the current failure (again) of the hands-entirely-off approach of the government to the economy. The horrific irony is that many of these laissez faire losers are crying out desperately for a good, long pull off the federal government's financial teat.

Clinton's policies were closer to reasonable, however, than his Republican counterparts. And Obama's economic policies are within the realm of our shared reality, unlike McCain's Bush policy ("I think everyone should be rich!").

What's more important, and I shudder to say this, is the perception of many Americans that President Clinton's economic policies were a screaming success. Although history is a more complex story than this, it is possible to utilize many American's fondness for a simplified narrative to the Democratic advantage. He still has huge political capital on this issue. He is one of the very few politicians who do, and none have more than he at this time. If Bill Clinton is truly concerned about the welfare of this country, he will get on the damn bus! The party needs his help, as today's polls illustrate, and the American people need the Democratic party.

I implore President Clinton, get in front of any camera that is shooting tape and yell into every American living room, "It's the economy stupid! Now vote for Barak Obama."

Friday, September 12, 2008

A War Memorial As Antidote To Fear

I admit it, I've been hugely over-indulging my interest in politics lately. Sometime after I watched the candidate forum on public service and before the Rachel Maddow hour last night, I noticed that familiar mental queasiness. Too many words pointing to too many ideas, and behind it all that driving feeling. I knew then I should turn off my TV. Do you think I did? Of course not. My love of this year's political season, first blush happening that night in Iowa, has now degenerated into compulsion. And what drives any compulsion but fear.

I am afraid it won't happen. I am afraid this fresh moment of possibility, where a candidate is speaking directly to my interests and doing so in a way that is inherently optimistic, will pass unrealized. I fear this avenue of hope will be steered away from by enough voters that all of us will be forced to endure another Bush-like administration. I fear we, as citizens, will be led again by people coming from a place of deep cynicism and the desperate grasping onto personal power that desperation seems to motivate.

I believe I have seen this fear expressed in the demeanor of other Democrats and liberal commentators. The magic of inspired democracy isn't manifesting the poll numbers we were expecting. A shrill church lady whose utter ignorance about the very policies she supports has been found out and broadcast across the nation. And yet her addition to the Republican ticket continues to be seen as a great victory for her party! It doesn't seem to matter how shabby the product, millions of Americans are buying it because they like the advertising campaign.

But in this moment, I am reminded of a memorial to the American soldiers in WWII who fought in France, which I saw a few years ago at a cathedral in Strasbourg. I remember the beauty of the bronze work and the earnestness of the inscription. This earnest gratitude was expressed by a friend's father who lived through WWII as a boy in the Northern part of France, Alsace Lorraine, next to Germany. The American soldiers were unexpected heroes in that war. As a group, they were considered brave and clever. Many were farm boys from the Midwest with an uncanny ability for finding creative solutions to novel problems. Many of those smart, young men died to protect the people of France from the unprovoked brutality of the German army. And this older man I spoke with was, sixty years later, grateful and impressed.

This cleverness is demonstrated in the very tool I use right now. The Internet was developed by the American military as a form of safe communication. It has been adapted for consumer use and has entirely changed the options for human communication. Millions of people around the world are not even literate. But because I was born in this country, I have enjoyed the public school system that taught me to read and write. I am enjoying the use of the Internet as both a place to get information and a place to express my opinions about this information. I am a beneficiary of our innovative political and economic system which was born of the clever, brave mentality shared by those, now legendary, farm boys fighting in France six decades ago.

There is reason to hope. We are people who have evidence, historical and current, that supports the sanity of hope. However, it is important to be honest with ourselves. This is a fragile time in our country. Our political and economic systems have made many, many wrong turns, and we,the citizens, will have to endure the fall-out. Millions of us see the emergence of a political movement that could change the direction of our country in a positive way. But many of us are anxious, keeping the pulse on this campaign, fearful the pulse is growing weaker.

It is clear those of us who support this movement must act in whatever ways we can to strengthen it over the next several weeks. We can blog, canvas, do phone banks, give money, do voter registration, or even talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about this upcoming election. American soldiers from the past and currently serving give their lives for what is believed to be for the good of this country. The rest of us need to at least give our time. "Enough," as Obama keeps saying. We've had enough.It's time to act.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rove Teaches McCain How To Be A Racist

From what I understand, it has been confirmed that the evil political master himself, Karl Rove, is working directly with the McCain campaign. It has been known for some time that several of Rove's minions are employed by the McCain campaign. It turns out the evil is undiluted, however, and the man who made President Bush is looking to make a president out of McCain as well.

And millions of Americans are falling for the man's methods again. The most recent tactic is the McCain campaign lying about Obama supporting the teaching of sex education to kindergartners. Obama has called out the lie, terming it "perverse." Of course it is, but the Rovians are not concerned with the veracity of their accusations or, for that matter, whether they are proven wrong. They are working, and polls indicate effectively, to drag the political debate down to its most base impulses by aggressively playing the race card against Obama.

McCain's campaign is seeking to stir the racist feelings in millions of Americans by portraying Obama as being a sexual deviant. This is classic Americana racism that the White dominant culture has used for HUNDREDS of years to dis-empower Black men in the most humiliating manner. And though most Americans would never, never admit they take this kind of erroneous attack seriously, behind the voting curtain, the success of McCain's campaign techniques may become evident.

I implore Americans to see what this is, the manipulations of men (and now a woman) to do whatever it takes to achieve power for their own enjoyment and benefit.

It has been well established by the extensive media investigations into his past that Obama is a man of integrity, extraordinary intelligence, and calm determination. His policies are utterly competent and highly responsive to the immediate economic, political, and medical realities present in our country. Further, he has given millions of us hope in our political system and in our fellow citizens. He has reminded us all that we are active members of this establishment, and we can choose to work towards a healthy, happy country where power and wealth are not allowed to consolidate into a few hands without being deeply challenged by the people.

How many new blogs have been born of the enthusiastic fire ignited out of the Obama campaign? How many millions of citizens have been activated since he started this journey? I was there in St. Paul with my five year old son when Obama earned the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination. There were tens of thousands of people there to see him, most of them having to stand outside the coliseum because it filled up completely. My son and I saw first hand the power of positive campaigning and the inspiring effect a good and intelligent person can have on people. We were there for him because he reminded us we need to be there for ourselves and each other.

We have two clear choices in candidates. We can choose to pick the man and woman who will literally say or do anything to achieve power for their own glory. Or we can choose Obama and Biden, inspired public servants who have made more good calls than bad. We can choose between a campaign that offers cleverly dressed up racial slurs and seeks to bring out the worst in the citizenry in order to keep power and wealth in the same hands. Or we can choose a campaign that offers competent public and international policy that may not solve every problem, but begins again a respectful and earnest attempt to turn things around.

My choice is perfectly clear. I hope the voting majority of us follow what is in the highest good this time.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Economy Imagined As A Backhoe

I've was reading up on what the government bailout of Freddie and Fannie will mean to the average American taxpayer today, and getting all worked up. Again, it seems, those who have a great deal have worked out a scheme to get more, and those who would protect the public from this avarice are unwilling to enforce any reasonable law upon them. And then I heard my little baby boy chatting with his backhoe toy as if it were a close confidante and was inspired by his imagination.

An act of imagination led to the invention of the adult-sized backhoe. This machine so inspired the imagination of children that someone thought to fashion toy backhoes. And now my little boy sees in its design an intelligence that he relates to and has begun a kind of conversation with it. Who knows how this early relationship between baby boy and creative object will influence him later on. The act of imagination seems limitless in its possibilities.

And so I will choose not to allow my intellect and emotions to negotiate the minutia of this economic situation right now. Right now, I'll imagine the economy is like a great big backhoe. The genius of the backhoe is that it allows people to get many times more work done than was possible without it. Roads and buildings would take an enormous amount of time to even begin building if not for the quick work of the earth moving backhoe. Our economy is designed to get work done. The size and capacity of our economy and the manner in which its design was adapted by countries worldwide is evidence, I believe, of the intelligence inspiring its design (and I am making no reference to God here- I'm speaking not of faith, but of reality on the ground).

But our backhoe is broken because we've been running it without doing basic maintenance for decades. Although designed to do work, our economy also must have a functioning maintenance crew able to fix repairs as needed. Freddie and Fannie were just two of the enormous work machines that have been needing repairs for some time. People in the government, even from our current White House, have been pointing it out for years. "Stop that machine, its out of oil (otherwise known as equity)!" "For God sake, the shovel is falling off (also known as housing prices."

But machines can be repaired and sometimes they need to be rebuilt. I believe we are at a point where we may need to do extensive repairs and we need a functioning Congress able to do it. I suspect the Democrats may be more likely to ignore the calls of the demands of the special interests people, like foreman working their crew do death, and get some reasonable oversight legislation passed. But maybe not. They haven't impressed anyone so far. Or perhaps this backhoe will break down beyond repair and need to be scrapped and entirely rebuilt.

This happened before. The laissez faire capitalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries ran their backhoe right over a cliff (most amazing because they hadn't even invented backhoes yet). Doesn't anyone remember their grandparents talking about the Great Depression? It really didn't sound very fun. But that may be where we're heading at this point. This morning was the first time I heard a journalist bring up the Great Depression in discussing our current economy, a journalist from the L.A. Times. Many of us have been wondering this for months.

It may be that now is a most important time to use our imaginations. Are the backhoes of our personal finances in good repair? Does it need maintenance? What can we do within our powers as citizens to elect a reasonable and responsible governing body? And here's where the imaginations of those of us who are part of the dominant American culture are really stretched: Do we need to ask for or offer help to someone else?

We can't have a work and product only mentality. We must understand a healthy economy includes serious oversight and regulation. A healthy economy looks after the well being of its workforce. A healthy economy doesn't run itself and the people who constitute it off a cliff. We act intelligently on our own and on our neighbor's behalf. We act as employees, voters and family members to ensure we are working in a manner that increases the good of our people. We need to get our backhoe back in working shape and it may take imagination to do it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Palin: A red herring in a black suit

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of women lined the streets of Wisconsin over the weekend with signs waiving in support of Sara Palin. When I saw this on the news I shrank a bit inside. They took the bait. These women, only a sample of the perhaps millions, bit down on a red herring. The motivations of the McCain campaign are ones I can only guess at, but the tremendous turn taken on the issue of the importance of experience leads me to believe they were more concerned about pulling votes than honest policy when they chose her for the VP running mate. And she is, to my eyes, a red herring in a black suit.

She has no apparent policy positions for our nation that require sustained inquiry into the factual world, the world outside of her church. Instead, she seems to have crammed for the test at the last minute and is traveling the nation repeating from rote the policies of the man who invited her to this testing situation. What she can speak to from a place of apparently fervent and long held belief is her opinion about abortion. This again!!

Look at the front of any major newspaper this morning and you will see that the largest mortgage companies in the nation, Freddi and Fannie Mae, holders of 70% of new mortgages and 50% of all mortgages, are getting saved by the most economically conservative government in recent history because their utter failure could literally drowned our economy. We're depending on money from China to pull these corporations out of the apparently inevitable chaos reached when they are allowed to do as they please without any policing.

The weather is also making the front page. Thousands of scientists have supported the global warming model that decades ago predicted increased hurricane activity in the Gulf because of warming waters. One hurricane passed through last week and there are a line coming in from the Atlantic. This is one environmental issue. There are millions more.

A friend who is a special education teacher told me yesterday the rates of autism in the children born in this country to parents who recently immigrated from Somalia are rising quickly. These are children born to families with no history of the kinds of disabilities these children are demonstrating. One may argue they just didn't have professionals to diagnose the disorder in Somalia. I would argue that the chances of seriously disabled children surviving the conditions of Somalia would likely be pretty low. Obviously, this is an area that deserves extensive and serious research. I mean here to just bring up another possible warning sign that our dirty environment is harming our children.

I have mentioned here only a couple issues of serious concern, the environment and the economy. These are issues that our nation is in desperate need of leadership on. We need explicit, well-informed policy and a well articulated plan of action. In this serious time, McCain offers us a woman who clearly has not given a lot of thought to the breadth and depth of the critical issues we, as a nation, are grappling with. She offers us a pretty face, political positions on abortion informed by evangelical Christian doctrine, and the kind of trained-parrot speeches that any University of Idaho trained TV journalist could spout given a TelePrompTer and a camera.

But what upsets me most is the footage of those women lined up along the streets yelling and screaming in support of Palin. These women may be leaving a toxic environment and third-world economy to their children and grandchildren, and they're praising Palin's right-to-life position. What kinds of lives are they intending for these unborn babies, anyway?

Friday, September 5, 2008

McCain and Obama Tell All (or at least something)

I completed my requisite citizen viewing last night of this election cycle's pep rallies, otherwise known as Democratic and Republican conventions. There were many, many things said and many promised as well. I understand that much of this frenzy of wordplay is a form of sophisticated salesmanship, but my goal in listening is always to decipher statements and comments of weight and meaning. I ask myself, "What, if anything, are these people saying."

I believe there actually were accurate disclosures of personal motivation and worldview made by several of the speakers, most notably the presidential candidates. Both Obama and McCain, in my estimation, communicated their perspectives of the world and the logic from which their actions originate. And the two men could not seem to see things much more differently.

Obama seems to see a world of nuance, commonality and connection. He also seems to be a true believer in the concepts of good and evil, seeing both as pervasive through culture and community. More than black and white thinking, however, Obama communicates a further belief in the existence of a spectrum between the two and the effect of conditions upon the expression of both. His work in the poor and decompensating communities in Chicago where jobs were withdrawn and despair and fear filled that vacuum likely gave him an education in the opportunistic nature of evil.

Where feelings of hope and well being are not, love and respect are under enormous pressure. When a man or woman feels the fear that comes when a knowing of real vulnerability for self and children sets in, life can seem not unlike a POW camp. People are in a place where dignity and purpose of work is absent, violence everywhere, predictability is gone, and a sense of an utter lack of real options persists. Although people outside the community would tell them to just leave, there is no car in the garage if a garage exists, no gas if there is a car, and most critically, a mindset that cannot IMAGINE life can be different than this.

Obama seems to understand that it is the latter affliction that makes the ever-expanding ranks of impoverished communities across the nation an immanent threat to the survival of democracy. For democracy to survive, a growing number of politicians are beginning to realize, the people must have a mentality of freedom. And only through the availability of jobs, health care, and social security for the sick and elderly can a belief in real freedom endure. Obama and many of his supporters seem to get this.

From an utterly different direction came McCain. He seemed to communicate that he is a man of endurance with an unparalleled ability to persist. It may be his most defining characteristic to me. Persistence was the underlying theme in the story he told at the convention of his time in a POW camp. Even a cursory review of his political record sees him persisting through the enormously humiliating "Keating Five" scandal. The man just keeps going and he does so, apparently, by "fighting." He used this word repeatedly in his acceptance speech and I believe it is the key to unlock what is honest in what he said.

He communicates a worldview that strongly promotes the ideas of "other" and fear of this other. He experienced horrendous mental and physical torture at the hands of the Vietcong. He was a warrior in this conflict, not an educated diplomat. The language, habits and mentality of the Vietcong were utterly foreign to him, and he had to fight mentally to survive the horror of what these "different" people were inflicting.

I have often wondered if McCain, while in that camp, experienced a phenomenon common to survivors of abuse called "splitting." When a person mentally "splits" the mind puts the world into two harsh opposites of "all good" and "all bad." In order to stay sane, the person identifies with the "all good" and all else that is threatening is "all bad."

McCain seems to see himself as the true fighter and the only one who understands the innumerable and imminent threats to our nation. In fact, in order to maintain the world view of being a "fighter" for the good, one necessarily must have an enemy. And McCain seems good at finding them, in the case of the Iraq war, where there was no enemy of immanent threat. But a fighter likes to fight, in fact, needs to fight to maintain a feeling of relevance and mastery in his world. My concern with him as president is how effective he may be at finding a fight and then funding a fight.

My caveat to this assessment is that McCain has also demonstrated an ability to tune into another part of himself that is capable of compromise. It may be that the close, grueling nature of this campaigning season has put him back into survival mode where one fights to persist. It is not his physical life he seeks to preserve now, but his political dreams. And it looks as though he will do whatever it takes to keep those alive.

Perhaps if he makes it to the White House, he will be able to shift into his other identity, one where allegiances are a matter of emotional connection other than political expediency. I doubt much would get done, but perhaps he could avoid that most horrendous of the mistakes of the Bush administration and quietly enjoy his golden years sitting in the biggest chair there is. Finally, a perfect mastery of his situation would have been achieved.

We, as Americans, finally have two choices, not one fudged option, as in many past elections. We have a nuance or all-or-nothing. We have fighting or understanding. We have hope at home or fear of the world. We have relationship or "us and them." We have the past revisited or the present reevaluated.

Our nation could pull another one out of the hat and awe many in the world with our unique ability to spontaneously adapt, or we will further constrict as a national mentality and go the way of Rome. We'll still be around as a nation but considered an excellent place to vacation to see history, not a place to look for new inspiration about what's possible.