Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Let's Open a New Box of Cereal

We have come to the bottom of the cereal box. That’s the problem with politics in America. It’s morning, we’re in the kitchen, and we want some cereal. We discovered that the box was light, we knew what that meant, and we dumped it in our bowl anyway. We should have known what the result would be. Whatever cereal you eat, and whether it comes in a box or a bag, there comes a time when it is almost gone. At that moment there are still some things that are recognizable as Chex or cheerios or whatever, but there’s also an awful lot of dust and crumbs. It’s all the same stuff, but presentation matters. Who wants milk covered dust? It’s messy, unappetizing, and tends to sully everything around it. You don’t want to eat it, but if you don’t than what happens with the rest of your day. Breakfast is important. What can you do? Well you can open another box and start with a fresh bowl. That is exactly what we have to do with politics. We don’t have to put up with politicians who believe God is punishing us for extending health care or that God created us all in six days and on the seventh declared that we should be bigoted and intolerant. We don’t need to accept insults and innuendo in the place of explanation. We deserve politics rooted in logic, reason, problem solving, and compromise. We deserve better, but we’ll only get it if we are willing to go and get it ourselves. So, let’s do it. Let’s get a new box.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Michele Bachmann isn't very funny

Michele Bachmann said: “I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here‘?’’ She now claims that she was joking. I have to admit I don’t think it is much of a joke. The reason it is not much of a joke because there are folks involved in Republican politics who have said things very much like this, and meant them. These folks are members of The New Apostolic Reformation, and have linked world events (like the Japanese Earthquake or the 9/11 attacks) to domestic politics. They also claim to have been given this information through their direct connections to God. They have a 50 state ‘prayer warrior’ network, which they are using to try to take over government. They are a lot of things, like scary and wrong, but they aren’t really all that funny. The idea that God is punishing us for trying to give everyone health care could be funny, except someone actually believes it. So Bachmann’s latest slip up isn’t funny and isn’t unimportant. It might not even be a slip up. In any event, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t laugh.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene and US

We faced Hurricane Irene as one country. I don’t remember thinking, well the important thing is that Pennsylvania wasn’t hit that hard … screw New Jersey. We faced it as one country, and we will clean up and recover together as one country. That is the way it should be. We are, after all, one country. We are more than just an assemblage of states, and have been since we abandoned the Articles of Confederation for the Constitution. If Ron Paul and Rick Perry really want Texas to be able to solve its own problems on its own, they should argue for refusing every federal dollar offered and move for secession. The idea that the solution to all of our problems is to erase hundreds of years of American history and start taking apart the federal government is laughable. The idea that one state can, by itself, solve problems like immigration, a failing infrastructure, and an underperforming education system is equally laughable. The idea that people are better off with less government is one that has not an iota of real evidentiary support. We are lucky to be one large country with a stable and capable government. We are lucky to be free of sweat shops, child labor, segregation, back alley abortions, rampant kidnappings, lawlessness, warlords, and widespread uncertainty in the wake of natural disasters. If you really believe that this is a great country, how can you deny that our government is part of what makes us great? If you believe this is a great country, how can you attack the very thing that makes us one country? If you have common sense and any interest at all in logic, reason, or facts … particularly in the wake of Irene … how can you take people like Ron Paul seriously?

Friday, August 26, 2011

but she couldn't really be elected ... could she?

“She can’t say things like that and get elected as President.” “He can’t believe those things and have voters take him seriously.” “Romney will win, he’s the biggest threat, they can’t possibly nominate anyone else.” This is what many of us say. This is what many more of us believe. It makes us feel better about the future of the country, without having to do anything at all. Why should we waste our time, these folks can’t get elected. The problem is that they have already been elected. Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska. Rick Perry is governor of Texas. Michelle Bachman was elected by folks in the ultra conservative state of Minnesota to represent them in Congress. I should mention that while the focus I now on Republicans that should be electe3d, in the past there have been plenty of Democrats that fall in that category: people like Dennis Kucinich and Kwame Kilpatrick might be examples. The bottom line is that these unelectable folks have actually already been elected … and could be again. They should be unelectable, but they aren’t. We need to act accordingly.

Rick Perry ... prophetic ... pathetic

Rick Perry hangs out with folks who believe that that the recent Japanese earthquake was a punishment for the refusal of the Japanese to embrace Christianity and for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t tell’; that Hitler was a “gunner” for God; that mosques should never be built in the United States, that Hitler used gay men as soldiers because of their innate ferocity and generally evil nature; and that God talks to them about future tragedies like the recent east coast earthquake, or even worse, Rick Perry’s election as President. Rick Perry hangs out with leaders of the New Apostolic Movement, people who believe that God is working with them to take over American politics. If Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright was a big deal, what is this? How can we seriously consider voting for someone that hangs out with, and shares many beliefs, with people like this? What has happened to the Republican Party that this kind of religious fanaticism is associated with one of the frontrunners to be the party’s candidate for president? It doesn’t take a prophet to foretell disaster if we elect someone who believes in this kind of nonsense. I pray that the disaster will be limited to the Republican Party … but I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

it is time to sit down

Is historical accuracy important to you? What about solving problems? Do you value compromise? Do you prefer logic and reason to the alternatives? Do you get angry when people offer up personal attacks and appeals to fear and anger in the place of rational arguments? Does it drive you nuts that no one ever admits making a mistake or takes responsibility for anything? If so, I want to offer you some reassurance and a challenge.

First of all, you aren’t alone. There are others who winced when Sarah Palin claimed that Paul Revere was warning the British, and then got plain old angry when she refused to admit her mistake and instead blamed the media. You aren’t the only one that wonders what constitution it is that Tea Party People are talking about since ours was written to replace a state-centered system with one where there was more federal power (maybe they are thinking about the Confederate constitution). Many of us wonder what “big government” is. Many of us wonder what you call a government where the elected representatives put the interests of their party above the interests of their country. Many of us wonder why the question of the President’s citizenship lingered as long as it did. Many of us wonder why politicians are stirring up so much hate and whether they have thought about the short and long term implications of their hate-mongering. Many of us wonder why the blame for the financial crisis seems to have moved from the poorly regulated financial sector to unions, big government, and retirees. Many of us wonder why the Nazis and the Fascists and the Soviets seem to come up so often in analogies and arguments made by American politicians against their American rivals. Many of us wonder why compromise has become a dirty word. No, you are not alone.

Unfortunately you are not alone in your response to all of this either. We sigh. We moan. We complain to each other. We occasionally write impassioned letters to the editor. We let fanatics dominate the conversation and set the agenda. The debate on the debt ceiling never should have been focused so much on taxes. The debate on health care was too much about death panels, abortion, and homosexuality. We also let our elected representatives, and those folks who are seeking to be our elected representatives, get away with giving us insults and hate in the place of rational arguments. We have only ourselves to blame for the mess we are in … and we are the only ones who can get ourselves out. So what can we do?

First of all, we can recognize that we are every type of people. We are PhDs and people who never graduated high school. We are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, African, and every alternative and combination you can think of. We are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Atheist. We are poor and rich. A few of us are even still in the middle class. We are registered as Republicans, Democrats, and even Socialists (some people really are socialists). We are all of us.

Second, we can reoccupy our democracy and our history. We can stage a sit in. In fact, that could be our name. We could start the Sit In Movement. It’s a better historical touchstone then the Boston Tea Party (which by the way was about taxation without representation and not just taxation). It highlights that America wasn’t created as a perfect thing right out of the box. We have had to change it over the years to make it more inclusive, more effective, and just plain old better. That change hasn’t been easy, it’s required being right there in the middle of things, and we need some more of it. We need to get back in the middle of things. Every time someone makes a mistake and blames it on the press, we should be there to hold them accountable. Every time someone said that they will never compromise, we need to unceasingly and aggressively tell them that they are wrong. Every time people twist the truth or support their arguments with nothing but hate and nastiness, we must be there to tell them that we deserve more. Every time someone trots out tired and meaningless labels like fascist or communist, we have to shout them down and out until they come back with a different approach. We need to be the noisy ones. We need to be the annoying ones. We need to be making ourselves heard in every way and whenever possible.

The time has come to demand that our elected representatives focus on solving the problems facing the country. It’s time for us to demand explanations rather than slogans and clever put downs. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get off our feet and sit down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

picketing kindergartners ... and other ways to obscure your own message

How you do something matters every bit as much as what you do. It’s true in every normal and ordinary facet of human existence. It’s true in politics too. Nothing illustrates that more than the act of picketing in front of an elementary school during kindergarten orientation. I believe that teachers are largely underpaid and underappreciated. I have always thought that unions, while far from perfect, play an important role in protecting American workers and winning them rights that they would not have received through the unfettered operation of the free market. I think that teachers and their unions have every right to fight for what they believe they deserve in terms of salaries and benefits. I am fully aware that teachers and their unions are especially under attack in the era of the tea party. All that being said … I am also a father who wanted his daughter to have as smooth and non-threatening an experience as possible at her kindergarten orientation. Kindergarten is a big milestone, and as it has grown closer everyone in my family, with the possible exception of my two year old son, has grown more nervous. We all went into this orientation needing reassurance of some kind. None of us went into it needing a picket line. I’m not going to change my opinion of this labor impasse, or teachers or unions more generally, because there was a picket line outside of the kindergarten orientation. That being said, my grandparents were autoworkers in Flint. My mother was a teacher, as were my in laws. I could have the teacher’s picket in front of my garage while I tried to teach my daughter how to ride a bike and not be turned away from their cause. Everyone isn’t like me. Everyone wasn’t born in Flint. But everyone at Albert Schweitzer yesterday morning was a parent. The leaders of the teacher’s union ought to know that. They ought to know what kindergarten orientation is like for parents … what it ought to be like. They ought to know that actions like this only obscure their message … they only play well to their hard core supporters, if at all. Their message is important, but getting people to really hear it is important too. Picketing kindergartners isn’t the best way to do that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Republican Presidential Candidates are Wrong

The Republican candidates for President are generally unelectable … or at least they should be. It might be the saddest assemblage of candidates one party has ever put forward in all of American history. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but just a bit. Think about it. First of all, anyone that doubts evolution or global warming shouldn’t be trusted with solving real problems. Science shouldn’t be seen as the enemy. Second, if you scream at the top of your lungs about government being big I can’t vote for you. Human beings have spent generations upon generations establishing governments. People all around the globe would kill to have a government like ours … and often do. The size of government doesn’t matter, its effectiveness and efficiency we should be focusing on. Third, if you scream at the top of your lungs about government being big and argue to end things like Planned Parenthood and NPR on that basis, then you shouldn’t use government to regulate who people sleep with or what they do with their bodies. That’s hypocritical … and a government that regulates bedrooms and altars is a big government. Fourth, presidential candidates, particularly those that associate themselves with the Tea Party, ought to have a good grasp of American history. That would include knowing that Paul Revere wasn’t warning the British, knowing that many of the founding fathers were slave owners, and being aware that the Constitution was written to increase federal power and not to restrain it. Fifth, a president has to be able to admit mistakes and work with folks who have different approaches to solving problems but are equally committed to doing what is best for America. Proclaiming your opposition to compromise isn’t a good start. Neither is blaming all your missteps on the media. Calling the current President a gangster isn’t so great either. Sixth, a President (or any elected representative) shouldn’t pledge not to use all the tools at their disposal to solve problems just because a vocal minority asks them too. Pledges not to raise taxes are just stupid. Seventh, a president should realize that all Americans aren’t Christians. Some Americans are …. (gasp) …. Muslims, and it might be a good idea not to proclaim your unwillingness to include them in your administration. Eighth, a president shouldn’t engage in making arguments based on fear, hate, and personal attacks. Focusing on the President’s vacation or attacking his associations with churches or radicals is a waste of our time. Putting political opponents in cross hairs on your web site is hardly productive. Calling people socialists or refusing to stand up and say that the President is an American citizen and a Christian and so what if he isn’t since it is the issue that matter is unfortunate at best. None of the Republican Presidential candidates is a serious candidate. Not a one. The sad thing is that many of us will vote for one of them anyway.

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's OK if Obama goes on vacation ... really

The President is going on a ten day vacation. It isn’t the end of the world. Actually, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. If you think it is an issue, you’re wrong. First of all, do you really think he’s leaving work behind? You think he completely checks out and he is out of contact for ten days? Second, you do realize that the President does have a staff … a pretty big staff. They do stuff. Third, you do know that the President is a human being with a job, and probably should still get a vacation … right? Fourth, what does this have to do with the problems facing this country? Is it any more connected than the color of his new bus? Fifth, Reagan took a whole year off over the course of his presidency and George Bush the Younger was in Crawford more than Washington D.C. So, what is going on here … is it only Black Presidents that don’t get to go on vacation? Sixth, let’s get back to the problems facing the country. Why don’t we focus on those rather than on the perceived personal failures of the President? If you can’t focus on the issues, and keep the debate there, I have to assume that’s because you don’t really think you have much of an argument. Why don’t you try to prove me wrong?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Michelle Bachmann should go the way of two dollar gas

Bachmann is going to bring back $2.00 gas. There are only two small problems, she can’t do it and it wouldn’t be that great if she did. Presidents don’t have that kind of power. The price of gas is impacted by a number of different factors, many of which are not under the control of the President. Can the President control the stability of dozens of foreign countries? What about weather patterns? Potential environmental disasters? All the drivers of supply and demand? Just drilling for oil, forgetting the environmental and other impacts, isn’t going to provide enough oil to make a big difference and isn’t a long term solution to any problem. Besides, gas prices are the least of our worries. It isn’t high gas prices that have caused the economic meltdown. High gas prices don’t cause wars or spread hate and intolerance. Besides, we still pay less for gas than the citizens of most other developed countries. High gas prices also create more incentive for the development and use of alternative sources of energy. Also, low gas prices are often driven by reduced demand, caused by economic problems. The bottom line is Michelle Bachmann either doesn’t know what she’s talking about or she is deliberately trying to attract voters with empty promises and blatant distortions of the truth. Either way, she isn’t qualified to be President.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Compromise has become a dirty word. Republican presidential candidates are knocking each other over to proclaim their determined opposition to it. Pledges not to give an inch on issues like taxation are all the rage. Where I live, school board members criticize each other for being too willing to engage with the enemy (unions). Compromise is a sign of weakness, vacillation, lack of commitment, and maybe even un-Americaness. Of course, this is stupid. Seldom in life are problems solved without compromise. How often is a successful marriage built on unilateral pronouncements and an unwillingness to give an inch? What would your spouse do if you walked up to them and said, “We shouldn’t spend money on clothes this year and that is that, I refuse to budge or compromise. I need the money for my new boat. I’m not taking no for an answer. If I have to, I’ll get my Jackboots on.” What about at work? If you disagree with your partner on the direction do you put your “Jackboots” on? No? Then why should the president of a school board? The bottom line is that you can’t solve difficult problems, whether in a marriage or related to a country’s budget, without being willing to compromise with others who have differing views of the problem and how to solve it. If you aren’t willing to compromise, than you don’t have the best interests of the marriage/school district/country in mind. If you are trying to be an elected representative and you aren’t willing to compromise … you shouldn’t be elected. You are too focused on your own interests or the interests of your political party or other group and not focused enough on the interests of the country. You aren’t willing to get serious about solving problems … and if that is the case, I’m not interested in you. Compromise isn’t easy. When you compromise you aren’t getting everything you want and neither is anyone else. When you compromise you are implicitly recognizing that your way isn’t 100% right and theirs isn’t 100% wrong. While it is almost always the truth, it is a hard thing to recognize. It can suck. It is, however, the only way serious folks solve serious problems. It is past time for serious folks to take back over the leadership of this country. We have plenty of serious problems to solve.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Man on the Moon

We put a man on the moon
And now
Forty years later
We’ve got men back in the garden of eden
At least for a second
Before they eat an apple
Teach women to be obedient
And teach all of us that we were designed
Man hasn’t been on the moon in sometime
But we’re not concerned with that
Our focus is
Keeping man away from chimpanzees
And out of each other’s pants
Sins are forgivable
Already understandable
But knowledge gets out of hand pretty quickly
The more you know the less you understand
The more you want to know
The more you ask questions
Take risks
Yearn for discoveries
Get messy
Maybe that’s the real problem
It had just gotten too messy
There was just too much to clean up
Cover up
It was time to start over
Time for someone else to do the revealing
But whatever the reason
We find ourselves in the bedroom
And in men’s pants
And pretty far away from the moon