Monday, March 31, 2008

Democrats to End War

A commenter on another blog, in response to my comment that I would not vote for Clinton, said the following,
it makes you a McCain supporter by default. You can argue otherwise, but you'll have to argue over the sound of bombs falling over Teheran.

...but if you don't vote for a Democrat, you might as well be voting for 100 years of war...

My response is this, not if Congress does its job, even if McCain were to be elected.

The AUMF was passed by a Congress in which the Senate was controlled by the Democratic Party. It has been funded for over a year by Congress in which both houses are controlled by the Democrats.

And yet Democrats keep pretending that all we have to do to end the war is elect a Democrat, any Democrat at all, as President. This when both Democratic candidates have said that Iran is highly dangerous to us and that "all options are on the table" in dealing with them.

All of this heated rhetoric about who we will elect as President but we will, pretty much without discussion, re-elect all of the same people to Congress. Including Nancy Pelosi, who unilaterally rewrote the constitution by declaring that "impeachment is off the table."

Nuclear bombing is on the table, but removing a rogue President is not.


...and counting. No, that's not how much our government has spent fighting a war in some given period of time. That's how much has been spent so far on this seemingly endless campaign for President of the United States. That's how much has been spent, with seven months still remaining before the nation casts its vote. That extrapolates to $985,516,110 that will have been spent, nearly one billion dollars, by election day.

Think how much more usefully that money could have been spent. Think how many homes could have been rebuilt in New Orleans. Think how many impoverished and homeless people could have been fed and housed. Think how many sick and dying people could have been treated. Think how many bridges could have been strengthened, prevented from collapse and lives saved.

Instead, that money has been spent on the self-aggrandizement of egomaniacs in the relentless pursuit of power.

And that only counts money spent by the candidates themselves. Add to that the money spent by surrogates, 527's and other political action groups outside the candidacies.

What a godawful waste.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Media and Titles

Until recently I seem to recall the media referring to former Presidents as just that, but nowadays Mr. Clinton is seemingly always addressed as and referred to as “President Clinton.” It makes it sound as if our nation has two Presidents; a rather horrifying thought, given the damage that is being done to the office and the nation by the present one.

Or perhaps we now follow the example of emerging nations, and maybe Russia, and now elect our highest office as “President-For-Life” which is another pretty appalling thought.

If either of those is the case, we need to rewrite the hand-book.

From the Hand-book of Official and Social Etiquette and Public Ceremonials at Washington,
FORMS OF SALUTATION: (… ) The right to use the title of President ceases with the retirement of the individual from office. There can be but one President, and the title belongs to the office and not to the man. It is proper to use the title Ex-President, and this should be used in speaking to or writing of a retired President.

Another classic display of ignorance by our media.

San Diego is for Surfing

surfin usaThat definitely is not me. It looks like it could be Molly, but it isn't.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Endless Campaign

Form the Los Angeles Times, with a March 30 dateline,
Polls published last week showed some of the dangers: McCain has gained ground against both Democrats, and at least 20% of each Democratic candidate's supporters now say they would consider abandoning the party in November if their candidate is not the nominee.

I doubt that I would ever vote for McCain, but I am at the point now that I pretty much intend to stay home on election day (for the first time since I came of age) no matter who the Democrats nominate. I am simply fed up with the whole process, which has gone on for far too long already.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Military Justice

From Think Progress:
Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum, who has admitted shooting civilians inside their homes as part of a pursuit of insurgents, was exonerated and granted immunity to testify in further hearings related to the Haditha investigation. The move leaves just one Marine — Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich — facing charges in connection with the shootings Nov. 19, 2005. As many as two dozen civilians were killed that day after a roadside bomb hit the Marines’ convoy and killed a member of their unit.

The Marine Corp is now letting three walk in exchange for testimony (I seem to recall in initial reports that up to eight Marines were involved), and only one will now be prosecuted.

That is not the way military justice worked when I served.

I Can Haz Cheezburger?

poopedI'm in about the same shape as this kitten today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Always Prepared

Northwest of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Temperature 25, wind 30 knots and gusting, seas eight to ten feet, water temperature 35 degrees. A ship founders and sinks. 43 of her crew are rescued. 5 lost, but 43 are saved.

Our armed forces are getting well-deserved praise in these perilous times for “defending freedom” and “spreading democracy” and “keeping America safe.” But in times of war and of peace, with a motto of “Semper Paratus,” these men and women stand “always prepared.”
Coast Guard43 families have their loved ones safe at home today because these men and women stood ready, faced nature at its worst, and brought their people home safe. It’s what they do.

I served in the Navy and we made jokes about the, shall we say, limited geographic area in which the Coast Guard served. But when a call for help comes these men and women cast off lines and put to sea in weather that would have us running for cover in ships far bigger than those vessels they call “cutters.”

Boaters and ship masters piss and moan about the regulations these guys impose, but when a vessel is in peril that white cutter with the orange stripe is a very welcome sight indeed.

When the engine’s failed and the gunwale’s down,
When it’s freezing cold and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat,
When it seems as if all is lost and there’s no hope left,

Call the Coast Guard.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Last Straw

What do you do with the camel after you have placed the "last straw" on its back, the straw that broke its back? In the Democratic Primary Election you place yet another freaking straw on its back.

First this week we get that Clinton (I'm through using honorifics) is lying to us about the Tuzla trip; pointless, self-aggrandizing, blatant lying. When caught out she mumbles something about, "I mis-spoke, let's move on."

When, for once, the media doesn't move on, she tries to deflect attention from it by doing something that the Republican machine has so far declined to do. From Steve Benen, in part,
...we now have a situation in which John McCain defended Obama against Wright-related charges, and Mike Huckabee defended Obama, but Hillary Clinton sat down with editors of a conservative newspaper to reignite a fire that had already largely gone out.

He has more on this,
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a wide-ranging interview today with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporters and editors, said she would have left her church if her pastor made the sort of inflammatory remarks Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor made.

“He would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.” […]

The Clinton campaign has refrained from getting involved in the controversy, but Clinton herself, responding to a question, denounced what she said was “hate speech.”

“You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” Clinton said. “I just think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

And he suggests why she would do this,
It’s hard to overstate how disappointing this is. Clinton waited until the story had died down and then decided to make her first public comments on the controversy, going after Obama for staying with his church.

This may sound cynical, but my guess is that media interest in Clinton’s debunked Bosnia story had become too great a distraction. The controversy (and damaging videos) undermined Clinton on two fronts — credibility and national security experience — both of which are of critical significance.

So, how better to change the subject that to revive the Jeremiah Wright story with brand new criticism?

Clinton has been offered repeated chances to comment on the Wright controversy for three weeks. She’s not only declined, she’s avoided saying a single word. Today, all of a sudden, Clinton has all kinds of concerns she’s anxious to share. What a remarkable coincidence.

I keep thinking that we have reached the limit of just how disgusting this woman can be. I keep finding out that there is more.

The Favor File

If you haven’t discovered BookTV you should look for it on your cable lineup, or check out their website, BookTV, to see if they air in your area. They have speakers, interviews… Good stuff.

There is a catch, in that a surprising number of really good authors are really bad speakers. Some are so bad that I have to switch channels. There are many more good ones, though, and I have become a fan.

Last weekend I watched a bookstore speech by Vincent Bzdek on his book Woman of the House: The Rise of Nancy Pelosi. That is, I watched as much as I could stand, as he is one of those really bad speakers. I have serious doubts about his quality as an author, too, as he read excerpts from his book and they were well short of dazzling.

There was some content which he described that I thought reflected on the state of politics in our nation, and did not reflect creditably on what our political system has turned into.

I am certainly a liberal, or at least a progressive, and I champion the case for the rise of women to positions of authority and power in business and in government. But I am not a Democrat, and I have never been a big fan of Nancy Pelosi. Certainly very little she has done as Speaker of the House has seemed noteworthy to me, other than her statement, “The president is wrong, and he knows it.” There was a charming twinkle in her eye when she said that, and I admire any politician who has the courage to call this president a liar.

Bzdek went into raptures over the fact that Pelosi raised five children. He seemed tremendously impressed by this issue as did, apparently, Pelosi herself. He quotes her as saying that raising five children is perfect qualification for being Speaker of the House. He spoke at quite some length on this issue.

He didn’t say, but apparently he himself has no children.

I found myself wondering wtf? Women have been raising children for hundreds of centuries, and they’ve done it in settings much more harsh than a San Francisco mansion and without the support of a multi-millionaire husband. There seemed to be a certain, shall we say, lack of proportion about this part of the discussion.

As an aside, I had a neighbor who raised eight children. The kids were great; they were well fed, well clothed, and doing well in school. The mother was an idiot who couldn’t keep gas in her car and occasionally sent the kids to school on Saturday by mistake. By Pelosi’s rule, we probably should elect her president.

Bzdek was quite eager to describe how Pelosi got into politics. She had not been political while performing the Herculean task of raising children, but the last one was in high school and that superb feat was now all but complete. The sitting Representative of the House was dying, and she picked Pelosi to succeed her in that House seat, as “she wanted Nancy to succeed her and she knew that Nancy could not refuse.” So she called Pelosi to her deathbed and told her to take over the position, and of course Pelosi agreed. And that’s how Pelosi became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Did you notice something missing from that narrative? Ah, an election.

Nancy Pelosi did have to stand for election to the House, but districts in California, as in any state, are so gerrymandered that elections are a mere formality. The party for whom that district has been drawn up selects whom they want in the position, they pour money into that person’s campaign, and that person is in that office. Voting machines make that even easier, as the political machine can make the voting machine show pretty much any vote totals it wants.

Often, as in the Pelosi story, the person holds the office for life and then, on their death bed, chooses their successor.

We no longer even do this in secret. It’s right out in the open. We write books about it and consider it quite wonderful and admirable. We cite it to bring attention to how terrific the appointee is, that the dying politician wanted her to succeed to the office.

The other thing that hugely impressed Bzdek was what he called the “favor file” and Pelosi’s ability to work it. He described how when her father was in politics she spent twelve hours daily writing down a list of everyone they did favors for and then calling them back later for return favors. He said that she had carried this ability forward and that no one in the House was better at “working the favor file” than Nancy Pelosi.

So we have, as Speaker of the House, not the person who has shown the greatest qualities of leadership, not the best person at building consensus, not the person of the highest moral standards, but the person who is most adept at “working the system” of cronyism and corruption.

And, to repeat, we no longer even do this in secret. It’s right out in the open. We write books about it and consider it quite wonderful and admirable.

Government conducted by “working the favor file.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stop the Checks?

I have just got to stop reading the New York Times. My wife keeps telling me that, and I don’t listen. I come into the kitchen mumbling under my breath with steam issuing from under my collar and she says, “You’ve been reading the Times again. You just have to stop doing that. Take a heart pill and sit down.”

One Bruce Bartlett, who wrote a book and was “an official” under both Bushes, has an op-ed piece today titled Stop Those Checks. Having read that op-ed, I am not racing to the bookstore to get his book.

He writes that the economic recovery plan which consists of sending money to everyone in the country in the hope of stimulating spending is a bad idea, and that it should be withdrawn and the checks stopped. Okay, I’m with him on that; I didn’t like the plan to begin with and I have a lot of company on that position.

But then he says that, instead of that money being broadcast to the entire population, it should be spent bailing out homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages.

So here I sit, with my 30-year-fixed mortgage. The amount of that mortgage is 35% of the current value of my home. I refinanced once when rates dropped, but took out no cash at the time. If home values fall another 50% I will still have equity in my home, because I have exercised sound financial judgement and have chosen not to live beyond my means.

Now this guy wants to take my $1200 and give it to some greedy clown who refinanced his home for more than it was worth in order to enhance his lifestyle, someone who not only slurped up the equity in his home but pledged more than the value of his home to buy boats and vacations.

No, I don’t want the $1200, but that’s not the point.

This Bartlett clown wants to punish sound behavior and reward foolish and reckless behavior on the part of individuals as well as business. He wants to hamper your ability to succeed while outright denying you the right to fail.

Okay, I’ve got to go calm down.

NOAA Doing it Again

main pageEvery now and then the NOAA Weather has a "hot link" on the main page to warn us that hazardous weather is on its way. They show it in red so that you will be sure and see it, and underline it so that will know it is a link with more information. The red link means that it is important information, that you should read it. Your life may depend on reading it.

So you click on it...
main pageWell, damn, I glad I found that out. Our government at work.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Deforesting Hawaii

deforestationAnd more Hawaii forest bites the dust.
at the ranchMeanwhile, back at the ranch...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Predetermined Outcome

Updated: 9:05am, Updated again: Sunday, 8:00am

More and more I am seeing the question asked, and I ask it here,

Why is the news media still reporting as if Hillary Clinton is a viable presidential candidate?

What if Barack Obama was trailing by 157 delegates, 814,000 votes, and 10 states? What if Obama had $3 million banked to Clinton's $30 million instead of the reverse? Would the press still be cheering about what a “down to the wire” race this was? Of course not, they would be calling upon him to drop out of what they would claim is no longer a race at all.

So why all of the cheerleading for the junior Senator from New York?

Because she represents the political machinery of the Democratic Party. She knows where the bodies are buried, she knows where the favors are owed, she knows who is in debt to her and to her husband and is calling in those markers. The same moneyed interests that provide the capital to keep the trough filled in Washington own the media, and they also own the machine the Clintons are part of.

What would happen if Barack Obama claimed that he had flown into a war zone and had been forced to run for cover with bullets flying around him, and a film of the event was released that showed him strolling with his daughter and being greeted by a young girl, as Clinton’s trip is shown here and described by Fact Checker at the Washington Post? It would get a lot more attention than the media is currently giving to this outrageous lie from Senator Clinton.

But because she is given this pass, and because the political machinery of the Democratic Party does not have the courage to stop her, she continues her outrageous campaign against the electability of Barack Obama, including the use of a whispering meme about Jeremiah Wright’s effect on that issue. Her husband openly talks about how wonderful it would be to have a contest in the fall between two candidates who love America.

I hope the Democratic Party enjoys four years of the McCain presidency.

Update: 9:05am
Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings writes about this in a bit more farcial mode,
Frankly, though, the fact that she can't tell the difference between having an eight year old read her a poem on a tarmac and fleeing through a hail of bullets doesn't give me a lot of confidence in her grasp of military affairs.

You should click the link and read all of it.

Update: Sunday, 8:00am
Frank Rich, whom I seldom agree with on anything, makes much the same point in his op-ed piece in the New York Times today.

On Monday she once again pretended her own record didn’t exist while misrepresenting her opponent’s. “I’ve been working day in and day out in the Senate to provide leadership to end this war,” she said, once more implying he’s all words and she’s all action. But Mrs. Clinton didn’t ratchet up her criticisms of the war until she wrote a letter expressing her misgivings to her constituents in late 2005, two and a half years after Shock and Awe. By then, she was not leading but following — not just Mr. Obama, who publicly called for an Iraq exit strategy a week before the release of her letter, but John Murtha, the once-hawkish Pennsylvania congressman who called for a prompt withdrawal a few days earlier still.
Instead Mrs. Clinton darkened that cloud by claiming that she was fooled by the prewar intelligence that didn’t dupe nearly half her Democratic Senate colleagues, including Bob Graham, Teddy Kennedy and Carl Levin. Even worse, she repeatedly pretends that she didn’t know President Bush would regard a bill titled “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” as an authorization to go to war. No one believes this spin for the simple reason that no one believes Mrs. Clinton is an idiot. Her patently bogus explanations for her vote have in the end done far more damage to her credibility than the vote itself.
But as violence flares up again in Iraq and the American economy skids, the issues consuming the Democrats are Mr. Wright and Geraldine Ferraro, race and gender, unsanctioned primaries and unaccountable superdelegates. Unless Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton find a way to come together for the good of their country as well as their party, no speech by either of them may prevent Mr. McCain from making his second unlikely resurrection in a single political year.

I still disagree with those who make the claim that "politics has always been..." There have always been battles about policy, and I agree that those do no lasting damage. Here we have two candidates with policies that are all but indistinguishable, and the fight is about character and capability. The damage is being done, and it will get worse.

Friday, March 21, 2008

David & Goliath

University of San Diego beat University of Connecticut today to advance in March Madness. That's a little bit like Ellsworth High School beating the New York Giants. Well, not quite, but...

On a semi-political note, that's one of six picks that Senator Obama has had wrong in March Madness, and one of eight that Senator McCain has blown. Senator Clinton has remained "above the fray."

I am declining to reveal my record.

Subcontracting Government

Three State Department contract employees broke into Obama’s passport file over a three month period. Beyond that simple fact absolutely nothing is known so, of course, Keith Olbermann had to spend no less than thirty minutes and three guest commentators on the subject last night on Countdown. I just covered the entire story in one very short sentence. It was actually rather awe-inspiring how many words Olbermann and company could use to say absolutely nothing.

I watch Countdown regularly and Olbermann is my favorite “journalist,” but he can be (and not all that infrequently is) a complete moron.

Today bloggers and pundits are still panting and swooning over this issue despite the fact that, beyond the initial simple fact of it, nothing whatsoever is known.

A few Very Serious pundits are conflating this Major Event with the FISA Scandal and using it as Further Evidence that our government is Spying On Americans In A Most Heinous Manner and we have to wake up to the fact that Our Government Cannot Be Trusted. They also are proving that they know how to use the “shift” key on their keyboards.

It remains “breaking news” because we still don’t know anything about it. As soon as we learn anything about it, it will no longer be breaking news, it will just be “news.”

As soon as we find out that it was not the Clinton campaign behind this, it will no longer be news.

If we learn it was the McCain campaign that was behind it, it will not remain news, it will become “left wing blogger fodder.”

One question that I have not heard asked, actually I think it’s the only question I haven’t heard asked, is “Why are there ‘contract employees’ in that position at the State Department?” Managing passports is a government function, so why isn’t it being done by government employees?

Okay, I know that was stupid. I apologize. I was trying to make a point.

This is one more reason not to subcontract government work. Why are we having all this breathlessness about why the information about the breach was not “passed up the chain”? It was passed up the chain. The chain stopped at the top management of the subcontractor. The top management of the subcontractor did not report it to the State Department, which is exactly what any person with half a brain would expect to happen.

Enough fun and games. This, too, is why we should not be outsourcing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Food Blogging

Updated below: Thursday, 10:00PM

Most people in Alabama, Indiana and points north and east probably think that Taco Bell serves Mexican food. I shudder at the thought. While some of Taco Bell’s food is tasty and it shares many ingredients with Mexican food, I can assure you it most certainly is not Mexican food. It’s sort of like claiming that spaghetti with tomato sauce is Italian food, or Chop Suey is Chinese food. The natives of those lands would look at any of that and utter the Spanish/Italian/Chinese version of “Oh, yeccch.”

In any case, the term “Mexican food” is too all-encompassing. Mexico is not as large as this country, but it is by no means a small nation and their cuisine is every bit as regionally varied as ours is.

The chimichanga was developed in Sonora, for instance, to serve the desires of cowboys who wanted a hot lunch. The rest of the country wraps various things in a flour tortilla, omits putting it in a pot of boiling lard and serves up a burro. Arizona restaurants mostly serve up really good chimichangas because the cooks come up from Sonora. So many Arizona tourists have been coming to San Diego that the restaurants here are now serving chimichangas too, but the cooks mostly come from Baja California and don’t really know how to make them. You are probably better off ordering fish tacos in San Diego.

There are exceptions, of course. Ponce’s in San Diego makes a pretty good chimichanga. Nobody fries them in lard any more, of course, because people in this country view lard with something approaching a state of quivering horror.

Chili Relleno, the subject of today’s recipe, is basically a mild green chili stuffed with cheese, battered and fried. It has wide variation, though. In New Mexico the batter would be corn meal-based and it would not be uncommon for the stuffing to include meat. In Arizona the batter will be flour based and the cheese usually a mild Jack cheese. In San Diego there's wide variation, and what you get sometimes doesn’t seem to have either chili or batter in it’s makeup. You’re probably better off ordering fish tacos in San Diego.

When I was growing up, canned Ortega Chilis were not available where we lived and so when we went on our annual camping trip to the Rockies we always came back with a couple of cases of these treasures. They are a reliably mild chili, available in two sized cans and in either whole or diced. Today’s recipe calls for the larger sized can of whole chilis.

The recipe is called Chili Relleno, but it actually isn’t that at all. (So it probably could be served in a San Diego restaurant.) It has no batter and it’s baked rather than fried, which makes it a bit more healthy I guess. The point of it, I think, is that it’s much easier to cook. My Mom was always big on the “easy” part of cooking; I learned all the complicated dishes from my Grandmother.

In fairness, I should point out that you do not want to order fish tacos in Arizona or New Mexico. You do want to order them in San Diego.

Chili Rellenos

1 can Ortega Chilis
Cheese (I use medium Cheddar, Jack would be better)
2 eggs
1 tbsp oil

Wrap the chilis around pieces of cheese. Place in a glass baking dish. Whip oil and eggs together. Pour over chilis and arrange as needed to be sure chilis are covered. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Not one of my more complicated or difficult recipes. Enjoy.

Update: Thursday, 10:00PM
Lest it appear that I am denigrating Mexican restaraunts in San Diego, one of the best culinary experiences I have ever had has been eating carnitas at the Old Town Mexican Cafe in San Diego. It is located, appropriately enough, in Old Town, and the tortillas made on the premises are worth the trip all by themselves. Sadly, they don't sell them to take home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Politics of Us

In the 1960’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made us look at ourselves. He gave us no choice. He gathered a following, stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and made us look at who we really were. He told us that if we did not like what we saw that, rather than looking away, we must change what we saw. We must change who we had become. We must become better.

Never in my life had I been more proud of my nation than when that nation embarked on a journey of reconciliation that was the response to Dr. King’s challenge. Forty years later the destination has not yet been reached, is barely even within sight. The pace of the journey has slowed.

About a year ago Barack Obama began to build a candidacy that was based on making the American people take charge of their own lives, take control of their own government. “This is not about me,” he would say, “this is about you. Change does not happen from the top down, change happens from the bottom up. You will change the way government works and I will lead you in that effort.”

McCain and Clinton continue the politics of fear, of making us afraid so that they can promise to keep us safe. Obama makes us look at the fact that we are afraid. We don’t want to see that. We want to be kept safe, but we want to do that without admitting that we are afraid. Obama makes us admit our fear. He challenges us to look at ourselves.

When Obama addressed the race issue yesterday he talked about his grandmother, and I had tears in my eyes because he was talking about my grandmother as well. She was a product of her generation and of the Deep South where she grew up. I loved her deeply and would never renounce or reject her no matter how much I rejected the racist beliefs that she held. He was not talking about himself, he was speaking to make America look into its own soul.

Those who are choosing Obama are the people, for the most part, who are willing to look at ourselves and to resolve, “We must be better than this.”

“If you are ready to make change happen…” Obama says.

This is the leadership that has been missing from America for too long.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"A More Perfect Union"

The following is the text of the speech, on race issues in America today, by Barack Obama. You can watch the YouTube clip here.

Constitution Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Economics 001

Read the financial news today and you see line after line about Bear Stearns, et al, selling off their “assets” to pay debts. What are those “assets” that they are selling?

Well, suppose you need some money and you have a 1977 Ford Escort that you have paid off years ago. The car doesn’t run, and one tire is flat, but you own it free and clear. You come to me and ask me to lend you some money and I agree to lend you, say, $50,000 or so. I want some collateral and a promise to pay, so we write up a piece of paper that says you will repay the money and that if you don’t then you will turn over that car (which is worth about $80 not $50,000) to me.

You then take the car to a junk yard, where it is compressed along with 24 or more others into a huge block of steel. That is not legal, because I have a lien on the car, but it doesn’t affect me financially because that car was not part of my asset base.

That piece of paper that you signed is my asset.

A promise to pay $50,000 backed by an $80 car is an asset. Did you notice a complete absence of anything in our discussion about the borrower's ability or willingness to repay the loan?

Now you know everything you need to know about our economy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

This is Wierd

snow warningThis is for tonight. San Diego County. California. Southern California.

" 2500 feet tonight...very low for this time of year." No shit. 8500 feet would be low for this time of year, and our mountains only go to 4300 feet.

Not to mention that the grammar could use a little work. "Roads will becoming snow covered and slippery..."? That jars the English-speaker's mind for mid March in Southern California at so many levels.

My Audacity of Hope

As may be clear to most readers by now, I have pretty much settled on Senator Obama as my choice for the Democratic nominee and future President. To some degree that choice is the result of his message of hopefulness and unification, of my hope that he will change the course of this nation. To some degree it is simply that he is the “least bad” of the options available, since I see some positions he takes that make me less than optimistic.

Yesterday I posted his regarding the Senator’s FY 2008 earmark requests. While there is nothing really noteworthy in the list, some of them are pure pork on their face and a list that long and containing that much money cannot fail to be financially rewarding to some of his campaign contributors.

Senator Obama supports the “Employee Free Choice Act.” I am strongly in favor of labor unionization, but this bill is misnamed: it takes away the right of workers to secret ballot elections on whether to unionize.

Currently, if a majority of workers in a workplace sign cards saying that they would like to unionize, then the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) organizes an election using secret ballots. It is not unusual today for an election using secret ballots to fail after a majority has signed the cards.

Under the proposed bill those cards are the last word. If this bill is passed then once the union gets a majority of workers to sign the cards the union becomes their sole representative to management and they’re forced to pay dues. This opens the door to union organizers pressuring workers to sign up, while taking away their right to say “no” in a secret ballot.

It is true that current labor law allows employers to unethically block union drives, and employers do pressure employees between the card drive and the election. The answer to that are stronger penalties against those employers and greater protections of elections with secret ballots, not taking away from workers the most basic right of democratic association.

Senator Obama does not rule out the use of mercenary forces in the implementation of American military policy in the Middle East. In fact, he has specifically stated that he sees an increasing role for contract forces in the area as we reduce our military presence in Iraq.

So, rather than ending the war in Iraq as he has been promising to do, he is essentially merely shifting the implementation of that war from U.S. military to forces provided by Blackwater et al. Not only is this vastly more costly to the taxpayer and more financially rewarding to war profiteers, but the performance of paid mercenaries has hardly reflected credit upon this nation so far and is extremely unlikely to do so in the future.

These positions are seriously at odds with the rhetoric of his campaign, and they make me wonder just how much of his “Audacity of Hope” will actually be put into action once he is elected. None of the others are even talking about it, though, so I can at least, well, hope.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Earmarks 2008

Barack Obama has made public his requests for funding of earmarks for Fiscal Year 2008. The list is on his website and includes 108 requests, totaling $349.7 Million of our money.

About 40 of the requests deal with infrastructure; roads, bridges, water or sewer systems and the like. For the most part I am supportive of that type of government spending; although some of them look to me like they should be funded at the local level or, if local funding is not available, dropped.

A dozen or so deal with education, another effort which I believe to be a praiseworthy effort on the part of federal government. It’s a little difficult to tell what the nature is of the education being supported, so some of them may actually be pork in disguise.

Quite a few are research and development, something that I believe quite strongly the government should stay the hell out of. Much of the R&D supported by the government is unadulterated pork, and valid research is corrupted by government money far more than it is supported.

Senators Clinton and McCain are somewhat less transparent, as I cannot find a listing of their FY2008 earmark requests. So, while I am somewhat less than thrilled with the nature of some of Senator Obama’s earmark requests, I admire his openness.

The following are my thoughts on some of Senator Obama's earmark requests. The title is in bold, followed by the description (or part of it), with my comments in italics.

Adler Planetarium, to support replacement of its projector and related equipment, $3,000,000

One of its most popular attractions and teaching tools at the Adler Planetarium is the Sky Theater. The projection equipment in this theater is 40 years old, and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It has begun to fail, leaving the theater dark and groups of school students and other interested museum-goers without this very valuable and exciting learning experience.

San Diego has so much debt that we cannot repair the potholes in our streets. Our planetarium was just upgraded using local bond money. No federal funds were provided.

American Red Cross of Illinois, for emergency preparedness, $5,000,000

Funding will assist in providing 29 chapters and 3 blood service regions of the American Red Cross with the resources to be able to deliver mass care services in a timely matter in the event of a large-scale disaster. Funding will be used for equipment such as backup generators…

In the wildfires of last year the American Red Cross provided services to San Diego County based on donations received from local citizens. Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego did admirable service as an evacuation center, and the only federal aid received was the provision of some cots. National Guard soldiers were on duty but, their name notwithstanding, they are provided by the state of California.

American Theater Company, for the construction of a new facility in Logan Square, $200,000

In the heart of Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, American Theater Company (ATC) will build an 11,000 square foot theater complex using green construction standards that will provide a state-of-the-art experience for its artists and patrons.

Why should my tax dollars be used to build a theater in Chicago? And, I strongly suspect, a theater which will operate on a for-profit basis.

Field Museum, for roof repair and rainwater diversion, $4,900,000
Field Museum, to support the expansion of the Halls of the Americas, $1,000,000

The Field Museum encompasses one million square feet under a single roof spanning 5.25 acres protecting precious collections and welcoming millions of visitors…

San Diego has an area of buildings in Balboa Park built for the World Exposition in 1910. These are astonishing works of art and Spanish architecture, and they house museums and botanical gardens of enormous value. They are being restored slowly, because the local money that is being used to do so is in short supply.

Lewis University Airport in Romeoville, for the extension of its primary runway, $3,420,000

The runway extension is to allow existing based and visiting corporate aircraft to safely and efficiently operate at Will County's Airport.

Really? Senator Obama wants to use my tax dollars to facilitate the convenience of “visiting corporate aircraft” in Illinois?

Morrison, IL, for construction of a railroad overpass, $3,812,000
Rochelle, IL, for phase two of the Jack Dame Road/Union Pacific Railroad Overpass, $1,000,000

I’m going to skip the justification for this one; they are probably needed. Railroads, however, are operating very profitably today and overpasses should be built by the railroads.

Southern Illinois University, for the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center, $2,000,000

The National Corn to Ethanol research facility located in the research Park of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, is the only full-scale corn to ethanol testing facility in the nation.

Like we don’t already know how to distill alcohol from corn. An entire stock car racing industry devolved from that enterprise more than seventy years ago.    Not to mention hundreds of chapters of AA.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Consultant Par Excellence

My wife was just named Consultant of the Year by her company, Lee Hecht Harrison. This company has more than 240 offices worldwide, so this is no small deal. In fact it is a huge deal. She works long hours and frets constantly about getting things right, and I have always admired her ability and her commitment. It is a real treat to see her receive the appreciation that she deserves.

You can read the citation here.

Falling Leaves

It's that time of year, the rustle of fallen leaves under foot...   Um, wait.

camphor treeIt's Spring in San Diego now, isn't it, not Fall? That would be correct. I have a Camphor tree in my front yard.

Officially classed as an evergreen, the Cinnamomum camphora is actually deciduous, but it's a little bit dichotomous about the process. It keeps its leaves all Winter, and then in Spring it sheds its leaves, blooms, and puts on new leaves all at the same time. The flowers are very small and insignificant, so the blooming is no big deal, and the tree actually rather looks like it's sick and dying in the process.

No, that's not my tree. Mine is nowhere near that big. And there's no "smell of burning leaves" because doing that is illegal for pollution reasons and due to fire hazard. We don't like fire here.

I'm actually thrilled that my tree is doing it's thing now, because it has gotten back in synch with other Camphors on the block. It was shedding a few weeks early and taking longer to do it because it has been infected with root rot, caused by our landscape crew overwatering the lawns for a couple of years. (I fought a losing battle with the management on that issue until the supervisor finally got a better offer elsewhere.) The watering schedule is still a bit much, but it's better and my tree seems to be recovering.

According to Anderson Nursery, more plants are killed in America by overwatering than by all other causes combined.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Purpose of Voting

I can’t tell you how many times lately I have read words to the effect of “I loathe Hillary Clinton, but if she wins the nomination I will hold my nose and vote for her.” That sentiment has troubled me every time I’ve read it and, no, this post is not about Senator Clinton or any other candidate. It’s about the act of voting.

I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and I watched the war unfold with no enjoyment at all. The pleasure that much of the media seemed to take in the destruction of another country appalled me. It seemed to me that, even if this was necessary, it was unseemly to take pleasure in doing it.

The one moment when there seemed to be some goodness was when we saw pictures of Iraqis smiling as they held up an ink-stained finger on election day. Why were they happy? Because they had picked a winner? No, they did not know who had won at that point; they had only that moment cast their votes. They were happy because they had been given the opportunity to express their choice in their own government; quite simply, they were allowed to vote.

But there had been elections under Saddam Hussein, too. Not free elections, only one name was on the ballot. The Iraqis had to “hold their noses and vote for Saddam Hussein.”

No, I am not comparing our election to the sham elections of yesteryear
in Iraq, nor am I comparing Senator Clinton to Saddam Hussein. Either comparison is utterly absurd; beyond absurd.

But think for a moment. Do you really want to “hold your nose and vote” for someone whom you actually do not want as the leader of your nation?

Granted, that person will have been selected in a democratic primary election process, but two things to think about when it comes to that moment in the voting booth. First, to what degree was that primary selection process corrupted by money? Second, what is the meaning, to me, of my vote?

Why is Chris Dodd no longer a candidate for president? He ran out of money. Six months ago we had almost two dozen candidates for our nation’s highest office, today it is down to three. What narrowed the field? All but three ran out of money.

We send a commission to other countries to monitor their elections, to assure that they are held properly and fairly. That commission does not monitor our elections and, according to Jimmy Carter who is a member of that commission, “would have trouble certifying” our elections because candidates with large amounts of money have greater access to the media and publicity than do those with little or no money.

Right now, according to the 2008 presidential election has gone through $685 Million, and we have not even reached the end of the primaries yet. Add the House and Senate, and federal elections have burned $1.2 Billion so far. Lobbyist money controls our government, and it corrupts our elections as well.

To what extent, then, do the three remaining candidates truly represent the choice of the voters in the booth?

I am by no means a fan of “bumper sticker politics,” but I saw a bumper sticker once that I might have put on my car. It read, “Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy.” Yeah, it was funny, but…

I have to live with my vote afterwards. I can live with a choice that turns out badly if it really is my choice, but not if it was just a case of me “going along.” Voting is not about going along with the consensus, or aligning myself with the polls, or picking a winner.

My vote is my statement of my own personal choice.

My vote is my statement of what I believe in. It is an expression of my hopes and dreams for my country. It says what I want my nation to be. If my choice is not on the ballot, then I will write it in. If my choice does not emerge victorious it does not matter; I will have expressed my choice and that is the purpose of my vote. I will leave the voting booth knowing that what I did was right.

One vote may or may not matter in the outcome of an election, but it will matter deeply to the person who casts the vote.

If I vote because a political party tells me that this is the vote I must cast, then I am breaking faith with the founders of this country. They staked “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to give me that vote. They gave that vote to me, not to a political party.

Keep the faith, vote your conscience.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tree Warmers

tree warmersMy neice (kniece?) is a knitter (writes a knitting blog no less) and I class myself as something of a “tree hugger”, so this piece caught my eye in today’s paper. I couldn’t find a link for the local paper so here is the AP link so you can read what it’s all about. It’s not actually about keeping the trees warm, it’s just about having some fun.

Have you hugged your tree today?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hawaii Home Values

landscapingAnd the home value crisis continues. If you click on the picture you will get a larger view of just how bad this person's home value problem really is.

Actually this is a home abandonded when the Royal Gardens was overrun by Kilauea many years ago. This was a development of homes just like a suburb on the mainland, and its destruction by flowing lava was no joking manner. This portion was not directly destroyed at the time, but had to be abandoned due to the risk of future lava flows. Obviously that risk was not exaggerated. You can see the streets of the former subdivision on the right in the larger picture.

This flow is now reaching the ocean for the first time since June 2007.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Nefarious Plots

Updated below: 10:00PM (still PST for another few hours)

You’ve probably heard that there was a bomb “blast” in Times Square the other day; one that was aimed at a military recruiting station. What you may not have heard is that Oliver North, former USMC Major Lt. Colonel, is blaming that episode on the Democratic Congress. Well, not quite, but he has said that it would have been easier to find out who did it, and perhaps to have prevented it, if Congress would have passed the “Protect America Act” instead of going on vacation.

Ollie. Listen. The PAA has to do with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Do you see the word “Foreign” there Ollie?

I really don’t think that a bomb in Times Square delivered on a bicycle, which destroyed one window and one door, was hatched in Afghanistan and discussed on international telephone wires.

We won’t go into the fact that Ollie is a former Marine and that I served in the Navy. That has profound implications as to my impressions, of course, but we will leave that alone.

I think Ollie has just been a Republican too long.

On a more serious note, a number of pundits have been swooning over the idea of what they posit as a “dream ticket” consisting of Clinton and Obama in November. Clinton is hinting that she would be quite happy to consider Obama as her running mate. That sounds gracious and noble, but I suspect her of ulterior motives; motives which I have not seen mentioned so far.

My thought is that she knows her “slash and burn tactics” are very bad for the party and is trying to bring to her side Obama supporters who want the ugliness to end. If she keeps doing what she’s doing for another six months, McCain wins in November. By holding out the olive branch of Obama as her running mate, she can get the people who want to save the Democratic Party to come to her side since, by doing so, they can still have their guy in the second spot.

We know, of course, that if Obama wins she will never consider the second spot. With Obama as VP we get both of them. What a deal.

Never mind that it’s her that’s causing the ugliness. Never mind that she is the cause of the imminent destruction. She offers to end it by electing her as the candidate and Obama as the running mate.

The bad part is, it may work.

10:00PM Update

Okay the pundits are talking about the plot aspect of this, and they are saying that Obama, and his supporters, are not falling for it. Hooray. For sure I haven't been falling for it, but...

But remember that you read it here first.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Moon With Rings

moon maniaWe all know that Saturn has rings, and that it has moons. Now it turns out that at least one of Saturn's moons may have rings. (Or a ring.) Click on the image to read the NASA article about this fascinating discovery.

Productivity Myths

In recent editorials and articles about the economy everything is negative except one, all the markers are falling except one. Productivity is improving. Mosty that that is reported as “the one bright spot” in the economy.

A very brief course in economics for those who may not know; productivity is a measure of the number of hours of work required to produce output. The output may be a manufactured product, it may be the accumulation of knowledge (something like a research paper), it may be administrative work such as billing and accounting...

An improvement in productivity means that more output is achieved in the same amout of hours, or that the amount of work is reduced to accomplish the same task. Oversimplified just a bit, it means that workers of all types get more work done in less time. To an enormous degree, increased productivity is achieved by capital investment in equipment, and lately computers have played a very big role.

Like anything else in this universe productivity is intrinsically neither good or evil in and of itself. Rain is bad if you’re having a picnic, but can be good if you’re a farmer. If, that is, it comes at the right time and in the right amount.

In a growing economy with an expanding market, increased productivity is likely to be a good thing, pretty much across the board. In any economy improved productivity will have a beneficial effect on the profits of business. But in a shrinking economy or a fixed market, increased productivity will almost certainly mean that fewer people are feeding their families and not, perhaps, feeding them better food.

Many years ago I was in Mexico with a friend of mine who was a contractor. We were watching a construction project on which peons were carrying concrete up ladders in buckets, and my friend said something to the local guy who was with us about bring his cranes down and doing the job for less money. The local guy told us that cranes were not allowed on construction jobs by law, that no heavy equipment was. My friend was astounded and asked why such a crazy law would be enacted.

“The government does not care about the costs of the contractor,” the guy said, “they want to be sure that all of the peons can feed their families.”

A few productivity myths, and some of its less-than-useful effects:

Increased productivity does not lead to higher wages, ever.

Collective bargaining is what leads to higher wages. Increased productivity is one of the leverages used in that bargaining but by itself, absent the motivation of the bargaining process, increased productivity has no influence on wages whatever.

Historically, wages and productivity have risen in unison, but that was during the times that labor unions had a strong position. More recently, while productivity has continued to increase, wages have not kept pace. The reason has quite simply been the loss of influence that labor unions have suffered. It was collective bargaining that was increasing wages, and when bargaining diminished with the loss of labor union influence, wage increases diminished as well.

Increased productivity often results in fewer jobs

In an ideal world, increased productivity would result in increased output and a lower cost product which would lead, in turn, to increased market penetration and entry into new markets. The number of jobs would remain the same, or even increase. It pretty much never works out that way.

Every new machine or computer I ever saw justified in 20 years of industry experience was accompanied by “labor saving” arguments. Laying off workers is one hell of a lot easier, faster and more certain than penetrating or entering markets.

Increased productivity often does not lead to better quality jobs

In fact, the reverse is true in many cases today. When layoffs are made for economic reasons these days the workload does not decrease and the work that was being done by those who were laid off is not eliminated, it is merely dumped onto those who remain in addition to the work they were already doing. The employer benefits from the improved productivity, but the workers who remain are subjected to greater stress for the same pay.

Productivity stifles competition

In China today, if someone wants to start a new toy factory all he needs to do is find an empty building and go out and hire about a zillion people. China has very low productivity standards, and uses many people to produce goods. Low capital investment encourages competition.

In this country, starting a toy factory is a lot more difficult. We have very high productivity standards and so the entrepreneur would need to raise a great deal of capital to obtain the production equipment needed to build the toy factory. Large capital requirements discourage competition.

Productivity stifles innovation

Products in this country change slowly and by only small increments. This is not because we lack the ability to be creative in design, but because the retooling of production lines is too costly.

Additionally, as described in the next effect, money needed for research and development is often diverted to productivity enhancement instead.

Productivity freezes capital

Capital is a resource, and not an unlimited one. To some degree investing that capital for the purpose of obtaining increased productivity is useful, but at some point it becomes self-defeating. Capital which is invested in productivity enhancement cannot be used to build roads, bridges and water treatment plants and (as mentioned earlier) it cannot be used in research and development.

We should view productivity as a mixed blessing.

Our nation would be better served if economic pundits quit worshipping productivity as if it were some sort of god, and put it into balance with the rest of the economic formula. It appears to me that in the economy as it exists today the goal of increased productivity is not something fondly to be desired.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Changing Washington, Not

Here’s why electing a Democrat to the White House is not going to create the wonderfulness that all of the dreamers are predicting. Here’s why it doesn’t matter who wins the Democratic nomination, or who wins the general election in November. The example deals with farm subsidies, but it is only one example.

Farmers are projected to have more than $96 billion income in 2008, an increase of 40% over their income in 2006. My income did not go up 40% in two years; it did not go up 4% in two years. How did your income do?

Farm real estate prices increased 21% in the fourth quarter of 2007. The value of my home decreased somewhere about 20% in that same period. How did your real estate value do in 2007?

Congress, however, does not think that farm subsidies need to be reduced. On the contrary, they think that those subsidies need to be extended from the usual 5 years to 10 years and increased over the present level by $10 billion. So on top of subsidies for biofuels, which raises the prices of what farmers are growing, increases the profits that farmers are making and increases the value of what farmers own, Congress wants to increase the amounts of the subsidies that it pays directly to those farmers.

But this story is even more sickening than it appears at first glance.

Where is that $10 billion coming from? What’s getting cut? Food stamps.

In addition to raising the profits of farmers, the biofuel programs that Congress subsidizes raise the cost of the food we eat, so the poor get hit twice over; it’s costing them more than ever to feed their families, and they will now receive less help doing it.

Okay, you think this is coming from the “Blue Dogs” or from the Senate with its insufficient majority and arcane rules. You think that increasing the Democratic majority will solve the problem because it’s really Republicans remaining in Congress that are actually doing this. You think wrong. This plan comes from Nancy Pelosi herself.

Why would Pelosi advocate such a bill? Because she is concerned that a change in farm policy could cost Democrats control of the House.

This is the Democrats who talk about fighting the good fight to help people who are struggling, who preach about economic equality, and who are now advocating taking food out of the mouths of the poor to sustain an economic giveaway program to maintain their hold on power. This is the Democratic Congress that you elected to change the way that things are done in Washington, doing things the same old way.

This is how broken and unfixable our government really is.

Media Magic

A biker is riding by the zoo, when he sees a little girl leaning into the lion's cage. Suddenly, the lion grabs her by the cuff of her jacket and tries to pull her inside to slaughter her, under the eyes of her screaming parents.

The biker jumps off his bike, runs to the cage and hits the lion square on the nose with a powerful punch. Whimpering from the pain the lion jumps back letting go of the girl, and the biker brings her to her terrified parents, who thank him endlessly.A reporter has observed the whole scene and, addressing the biker, says
"Sir, this was the most gallant and brave thing I saw a man do in my whole life."

"Why, it was nothing, really, the lion was behind bars. I just saw this little kid in danger, and acted as I felt right."

"Well, I'll make sure this won't go unnoticed. I'm a journalist, you know, and tomorrow's papers will have this on the first page. What motorcycle do you ride?"

"A Harley Davidson."

The journalist leaves. The following morning the biker buys the paper to see if it indeed brings news of his actions, and reads, on front page:


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Make It Stop

I have reached the point that I don't particularly care who wins. The Clinton smear campaign is working in that, even though I don't really believe anything that she and her surrogates are saying about him, I'm beginning to think that I don't like Obama either. All of that doesn't make me like Clinton, it just makes me angry that she took away from me something that I was beginning to believe in. It just makes me disgusted with the whole thing. I just want it to go away.

Listen to this. "I will present my lifetime of experience. John McCain will present his lifetime of experience. Barack Obama will present a speech he made in 2002." She talks about a united Democratic party in November, but she just said that if she loses the nomination you should vote for John McCain rather than her fellow Democrat.

And the Democratic Party is letting her do this.

And still, even after statements like that, people are saying that all we need to do is elect a Democrat, any Democrat, to the White House and "the heavens will open, the light will come down, heavenly choirs will sing and the world will be perfect because there is a Democrat in the White House."

Even if Obama wins, he represents a political party that allows this kind of despicable campaigning. What support will he get from his party for any kind of positive change in government? None. Electing a Democratic Congress has done precisely what for us? Electing a Democrat to the White House is, in itself, utterly meaningless.

I am sick unto death of the ridiculous posturing and posing by politicians and the endless pontification by news media on polls, horse race and "gotcha" issues. The height of media ambition is to embarrass a candidate, to ask a question that will force an "admission of guilt." It's as if the media considers that its purpose in life is to drive election losses.

No one comment, report or slogan is all that odious in itself and the claim can reasonably be made that, in that respect, this is not a particularly nasty campaign. But the endless and constant barrage of negativity, with not a single break for positive methods of campaigning, results in an atmosphere that is discouraging in the extreme.

I was hoping a couple of weeks ago that Obama would win big today so that he would be the nominee. I am still hoping for that, but only because it would give me hope that this ugly, sicking exercise of spitefuness would be over at last.

I no longer really care who wins, just make it end.