In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Barack in the (Pouring) Virginia Rain

For the other Virginians out there, take a look at Obama's speech from Saturday in Fredricksburg, VA--and yeah, he gave it, and they stayed, in the pouring rain:

Rousing ay? And what do you know, it turns out there's something to ideas like "change" and "hope"--they mean things aren't right at a given time, and need to change; but hope means that, with serious interests at stake, it takes some motivation, some hope, to consistently fight and work and push to bring about whatever changes may be needed (in health care, in our approach to war, to energy, to civic engagement, etc.).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Debate #1: McCain Won't Even Face His Challenger

For all of McCain's supposed experience, his errors on Iraq--among other policy issues--are glaring. What was just as obvious at the debate was his unwillingness to admit this; further, he wouldn't even look at Obama as he was challenged on it:

I couldn't find a clip that went beyond that point where Obama stopped above, but McCain didn't answer any of those charges Obama challenged him on with Iraq (you can watch the full debate here to see for yourself). But let's analyze this a hair deeper: the invasion of Iraq has been considered by many, such as Richard Holbrooke, former UN Ambassador under Bill Clinton, as the "worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam; and McCain voted for it, so surely it is not too much to ask for him to face his challenger on the issue (not to mention actually addressing Obama's charges). But no, he simply tries to weasel out of it, saying that the next president won't have to decide about whether it was right to go into Iraq. Obama has put it well in the past, using an analogy of a bus that goes off the road into a ditch; surely we need to look at getting the bus out, but even more fundamentally we need to decide what went wrong in the first place. How can we avoid having it happen again? And more specifically, should we look at whether the bus driver was responsible? If so, perhaps he should get the hell out of the driver's seat and stop putting children (or to extend the analogy, the world) at risk.

As I mentioned, you can watch the full debate video here (and I urge you to take the time). If you do, you'll see that McCain almost never looked at Obama during the entire debate--where's the courage in that? I should note that the debate moderator specifically explained at the beginning of the debate that the candidates were to directly engage with each other, and to speak directly to one another. Thus, the fact that McCain wouldn't look at Obama over the entire debate comes across as cocky and weak if you ask me. Dialogue is so key, and in my opinion is the fundamental ingredient to working out a problem and seeing the humanity in one's opponent (not to mention how important it is for the American public to hear both sides of an argument in order to cast an informed vote).

I also saw a good deal of sloppy thinking on McCain's part. For example, he attempts to claim that earmark spending is a problem while not admitting the vastly more important financial calamity (and inequality) brought about by Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy (which McCain supported and promises to continue); out of the blue he proposes a blanket spending freeze while not admitting that there are crucial areas of funding that this would overlook--to name only a few, funding would stop for early childhood education, cancer research at NIH, infrastructure rebuilding to avoid more Minnesota bridge collapses, etc., etc. There is obviously plenty of other debate analysis out there, so take a look and see what you think, but again, I urge you to balance it out by actually watching the debate for yourself.

Update: Another good point on the debate, as highlighted in this Obama ad:

Also, if you want to plan to watch the debates, here's a schedule of them (there are three left, including the VP debate this coming Thursday; you can also find a handy overview on how to host one here on Obama's site).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From the Horse's Mouth: National Service Forum With the Candidates

The Time cover to the left caught my eye back in the Spring when it came out--the article's in it are well worth the read. The "national service" options proposed are compelling, with suggestions for volunteer possibilities similar to the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, but with different focuses--e.g., a green corps (volunteers focused on energy/environment issues); a health corps; a senior corps (of older/elderly folks helping out in myriad ways); etc. The presidential campaign began to focus on this issue with a September "National Service Forum," which both McCain and Obama participated in. I'll paste a video of it below, but here's a great quote from Obama during the forum that sums up some of why I think he would have it in him, above and beyond McCain, to call our nation to really give of themselves for a larger good (he was responding to a question about what he would've done after 9-11; the transcript is available here):

"I have to say that the president did rally the nation in a speech at Ground Zero and subsequently. We went after those who had attacked us, appropriately. But rather than tell the American people to shop, what I would have done is to say, now is the time for us to meet some great challenges. We’ve been tested. And yet we have survived it. And we are going to be stronger than we were. And the way we’re going to be stronger than we were is to tap into the feeling that everybody has been caught up in.

We’re going to have a bold energy plan that says that we are going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 20 or 30 percent over the course of a decade or two. We are going to ask all citizens to participate in that process, not just government, but each and every one of us are going to have — are going to make commitments in terms of increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and homes, and the government is going to be in partnership with citizens to make that happen.

We are going to tap into this desire when it comes to first responders. One of the striking things, as you travel around the country, is the number of small towns and medium-sized towns that rely exclusively on volunteer firefighters. And think about what we could have done all across the country as part of a homeland security initiative to organize groups around the country that could serve in those common ways.

And I would have asked very explicitly for young people to engage in community service and military service."

The question of course becomes, what specifically would the candidates do to promote national service? You can see McCain's plan here and Obama's here; both are similar in ways, which I think hints at the consensus there is to actually make something happen on this front. I like a lot about both, but: Obama was a community organizer; he did give a speech explicitly on this subject (though McCain approached the idea in past speeches too); and he also has a detailed nine-page PDF you can look at here (which McCain doesn't have anything close to right now). William A. Schambra, director of the conservative Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, said in July: "McCain is likely to have the strongest service component of any Republican in recent times...[but it] is not likely to be as expensive and sweeping as the Obama proposal. Obama has a very extensive program, has for a long time." (And I would take issue with anyone that does not think Obama's program is worth the investment, as we are financially able to.)

All of that makes me think Obama understands this issue in ways McCain does not. And while McCain of course understands military service in ways Obama doesn't, the beauty of these national service initiatives is that it would create many more ways, beyond simply militarily, to serve our country. A quick story to illustrate the import of alternatives to the military: I have a friend who was considering enlisting because his college and related debt had become too much for him and because he thought it could provide entree into some good job opportunities. Think about that--we provide massive enlistment bonuses, as well as options like college tuition repayment, for the military, but for nothing else that I know of (to that degree). And we wonder why we are such a war/military-obsessed country, why gun violence plagues us, and why peace as a practical possibility is not talked about or pursued in meaningful ways by our people or our country. We need to give folks like my friend more options beyond the military to serve their country and the world, to develop job skills, to deal with, or pay for, college debt (just as we do for those who join the military). The Peace Corps is not enough, AmeriCorps is not enough, and both, as Obama has so insightfully pointed out, have to turn many away each year--don't we want people, particularly young people, to serve, to get the hell outside of themselves?! I know I could have used that, after high school and during my teenage years in general.

But one last point before I paste the Obama and McCain forum video, related to that idea of teenage-service opportunities. There's a section in Obama's service plan PDF that focuses on the need for a "service-learning" surge. This especially sticks out to me because my mom, who is wonderful in so many ways, has been incorporating service into many of her college classes, and even teaches a course that is explicitly service-learning in nature (in the class they read numerous biographies of leaders such as Ghandi, King, Sister Helen Prejean; they then go out and serve their community for a certain number of hours). But, with Obama's plan, the introduction to his section on service-learning says:

"[Obama] believes that all students should serve their communities. Studies show that students who participate in service-learning programs do better in school, are more likely to graduate high school and go to college, and are more likely to become active, engaged citizens...The Obama-Biden plan sets a goal for all students to engage in service, with middle and high school students performing 50 hours of service each year, and college students performing 100 hours of service each year. Under this plan, students would graduate college with as many as 17 weeks of public service experience under their belts."

As a teenager, that type of service would have changed my world real quick, period. Because of this type of nuanced (and detailed) solution from Obama, and for reasons I've posited in this blog (such as the series of posts I did on the values of Obama), I think he is uniquely equipped to provide leadership to move our country into a whole new era of service--not just service to the abstract idea of "country," but a selfless approach to service as a way to bring about a larger good for the many (opposed to the current prospering of the privileged few, as "income inequality [grows] to levels not seen since the Gilded Age").

I'd encourage people to think about that idea of which of the candidates could lead on issues such as this as you watch this fairly in-depth forum with the candidates on national service from a few weeks ago (if you're able to take the time to do so); McCain went first, followed by Obama:

Both Obama and McCain's plans, which I linked to above, appear to draw from the Time series I mentioned at the beginning of this post. An overview of that series, which has a number of various articles connected to it, is here; the primary article which I read and was inspired by back in the Spring is here. It's worth reading in full, I think, but just to wet your appetite for some of the national service options being proposed, here's a quick list directly from the article (many of which are being proposed in some similar and sometimes identical ways by the candidates; I think most, if not all, could do wonders for our national morale and, more practically, our nation's (and youth's!) connections to the realities of our world):

1. Create a National-Service Baby Bond

Every time an American baby is born, the Federal Government would invest $5,000 in that child's name in a 529-type fund — the kind many Americans are already using for college savings. At a rate of return of 7% — the historic return for equities — that money would total roughly $19,000 by the time that baby reaches age 20. That money could be accessed between the ages of 18 and 25 on one condition: that he or she commits to at least one year of national or military service. Like the old GI Bill, the money must be used to fund education, start a business or make a down payment on a home. The bond would preserve the voluntary nature of the service but offer a strong incentive for young people to sign up for it. Says City Year CEO and co-founder Michael Brown: "It's a new kind of government philosophy about reciprocity. If you invest in your country, your country will invest in you."

2. Make National Service a Cabinet-Level Department

Right now, the Corporation for National and Community Service — created in 1993 to manage AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America — is a small, independent federal agency. Find a catchier name, streamline its responsibilities and bring it up to Cabinet level. This would show that the new President means business when it comes to national service and would recognize that service is integral to how America thinks of itself — and how the President thinks of America. And don't appoint a gray bureaucrat to this job; make it someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Mike Bloomberg, who would capture the imagination of the public. In fact, the next President — whatever party — should set a goal to enlist at least 1 million Americans annually in national service by the year 2016.

3. Expand Existing National-Service Programs Like AmeriCorps and the National Senior Volunteer Corps

Since 1994, 500,000 people have gone through AmeriCorps programs tutoring and teaching in urban schools; managing after-school programs; cleaning up playgrounds, schools and parks; and caring for the elderly. After Katrina, AmeriCorps participants descended on the Gulf Coast within 24 hours and have since contributed more than 3 million hours of service. AmeriCorps members earn a small stipend for their volunteering and receive education awards of up to $4,725 per year. Right now, says David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, "AmeriCorps is the best-kept secret in America." But under this national-service proposal, the program would more than triple in size, from 75,000 members each year to approximately 250,000. "We don't need to reinvent this nascent infrastructure," says Brown. "We need to take it to scale."

Presently, AmeriCorps is a catch-all initiative for a variety of different programs. Here are four new branded corps and other programs that could come under the new Department of National Service.

4. Create an Education Corps

The idea here is to create a cadre of tutors, teachers and volunteers who can help the 38% of fourth-graders who can't read at a basic level. The members of the Education Corps would also lead after-school programs for the 14 million students — a quarter of all school-age kids — who do not have a supervised activity between 3 and 6 p.m. on schooldays. Studies show that students who spend no time in after-school programs are almost 50% more likely to have used drugs and 37% more likely to become teen parents than students who spend one to four hours a week in an extracurricular activity. The Corps members would also focus on curbing America's dropout epidemic. Right now, 50% of the dropouts come from 15% of the high schools in the U.S., most of them located in high-poverty city neighborhoods and throughout the South. The Education Corps would focus on those troubled school districts.

5. Institute a Summer of Service

For many teenagers, the summer between middle school and high school is an awkward time. They're too young to get a real job and too old to be babysat. Well-to-do families can afford summer camps and exotic learning opportunities, but they're a minority. Shirley Sagawa, an expert on youth policy and an architect of the AmeriCorps legislation, is proposing a Summer of Service. One hundred thousand students would volunteer for organizations like City Year, a national volunteering program and think tank, or Citizen Schools, which organizes after-school activities for middle schoolers, and run summer programs for younger students in exchange for a $500 college scholarship. Senators Christopher Dodd (Democrat, Conn.) and Thad Cochran (Republican, Miss.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat, Conn.) have sponsored a bill that would support a service "rite of passage" for students before they begin high school.

6. Build a Health Corps

There are nearly 7 million American children who are eligible for but not enrolled in government-sponsored health-insurance programs. Health Corps volunteers would assist the mostly low-income families of these children in accessing available public insurance offerings like the Children's Health Insurance Program. These volunteers could also act as nonmedical support staff such as caseworkers and community education specialists in underserved rural health clinics — which have less than three-quarters of the nonmedical staffing they need, according to Voices for National Service, a coalition of service organizations that advocates expanding federal service programs. The one-year experience in the Health Corps could lead these volunteers toward careers in nursing or medicine, helping to redress gaps that have left the U.S. with a dearth of qualified nurses and medical professionals.

7. Launch a Green Corps

This would be a combination of F.D.R.'s Civilian Conservation Corps — which put 3 million "boys in the woods" to build the foundation of our modern park system — and a group that would improve national infrastructure and combat climate change. When Roosevelt created the CCC, there were 25 million young Americans who were unemployed. Today there are 1.5 million Americans between 18 and 24 who are neither employed nor in school. These young men and women could address America's well-documented infrastructure problems. The Green Corps could reclaim polluted streams and blighted urban lots; repair and rehabilitate railroad lines, ports, schools and hospitals; and build energy-efficient green housing for elderly and low-income people.

8. Recruit a Rapid-Response Reserve Corps

The disarray and lack of a coordinated response to 9/11 and Katrina tell us there is a role volunteers can play in responding quickly to disasters and emergencies. The new Rapid-Response Reserve Corps would consist of retired military and National Guard personnel as well as national- and community-service program alumni to focus on disaster preparedness and immediate response to local and national disasters. The program would initially train 50,000 members, who could be deployed for two-week periods in response to emergencies and serve under the guidance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

9. Start a National-Service Academy

Picture West Point, but instead of learning how to fire an M-4 and reading The Art of War, students would be studying the Federalist papers and learning how to transform a failing public school. Conceived by two former Teach for America corps members, Chris Myers Asch and Shawn Raymond, the U.S. Public Service Academy would give undergraduates a four-year education in exchange for a five-year commitment to public service after they graduate. The idea is to provide a focused education for people who will serve in the public sector — either the federal, state or local government — and thereby create a new generation of civic leaders. Asch and Raymond were so dismayed by the government's response to Katrina that they wanted to create a new generation of people who were idealistic about government. "We need an institution that systematically develops leadership," says Asch. "We need to elevate it in the eyes of young people so we can attract the best and the brightest." The idea has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton and Pennsylvanian Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who are co-sponsors of legislation that would allocate $164 million per year for the envisioned 5,000-student academy.

10. Create a Baby-Boomer Education Bond

Over the next 20 years, 78 million baby boomers will be eligible to retire. That is, if they can afford to — and if they want to. According to an AARP survey, 80% of Americans between 50 and 60 said they were planning to work during retirement. "Many seniors are interested in careers that are influenced by a spirit of service. Over half want to work in the education, health-care and nonprofit sector," says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures and co-founder of Experience Corps. Experience Corps is the largest AmeriCorps program for people over 55; it consists of teams of 10 to 15 people working to improve reading for students in kindergarten through third grade. Just as AmeriCorps members receive scholarships, baby-boomer volunteers would be able to designate a scholarship of $1,000 for every 500 hours of community service they complete. The $1,000 would be deposited into an education savings account or a 529 fund to be used by the volunteer's children or grandchildren or a student they designate. "There is a whole trend of people starting second careers with a focus on service," says Freedman. "National service is not just for young people. This is the generation that national service was created for in the first place, whom J.F.K. called on to help and for whom we created the Peace Corps. Many missed their chance and are now getting a second opportunity to ask what they can do for their country."

Update: Thomas Sander, Executive Director of the Saguaro Seminar at Harvard’s Kennedy School, writes a neat blog on civic engagement issues, where he recently had a post on the above forum (and related issues) that is worth reading (as I noted before, I'm so encouraged that Obama actually participated in the Saguaro Seminar from 1996-2000, some years after graduating from Harvard Law). In Sander's post, he mentions a recent David Brooks article from the NY Times, where Brooks (a self-professed conservative) delivers a needed blow to some aspects of conservatism:

"[Barry] Goldwater’s vision was highly individualistic and celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe. The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion...What emerges is not a picture of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another. Recent Republican Party doctrine has emphasized the power of the individual, but underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.

This may seem like an airy-fairy thing. But it is the main impediment to Republican modernization...If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom. And yet locked in the old framework, the Republican Party’s knee-jerk response to many problems is: 'Throw a voucher at it.' Schools are bad. Throw a voucher. Health care system’s a mess. Replace it with federally funded individual choice. Economic anxiety? Lower some tax rate."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Republican for Obama: Enough is Enough

I'd meant to put the following article from this summer up earlier, as it really stood out to me; it was in The Huffington Post (here) under the title, "Why This Fifty-Five Year Old White Lifelong Republican Wants Obama To Win." It was written by New York Times best selling author Frank Schaeffer. Note the interesting comment about how the Bush family gave one of Schaeffer's recent books a "ringing endorsement."

"This is a great day for those of us who have been fighting for Senator Obama! I'm a good example of why he'll win in November. I'm the least typical Obama supporter. And there are many more like me.

I cut my political teeth in the seventies through the early eighties as an organizer in the antiabortion religious right. I'm a fifty-five year old white man who has been a conservative most of my life. I've been a Republican activist who campaigned for McCain in 2000. I'm a big fan of the military. My son served in the Marines. If Obama can reach me he can reach anyone.

My support for Obama has cost me friends. For instance the Bush family gave one of my recent military-related books (Keeping Faith-A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps) a ringing endorsement. After Laura Bush read an excerpt out on Meet The Press sales skyrocketed. I probably won't get too many more of those sorts of endorsements. But the chips are down and the presidential choice this year is too important not to not fight for.

We can't afford McCain. He'd be a president with a desire to be vindicated and "win" at all costs in Iraq. Iraq never attacked us. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The terrorists were not in Iraq while Hussein was in charge. We opened the door for them. We aren't bringing democracy to Iraq. This was a war of dumb choice launched in a part of the world that can't ever be fixed by our military.

The next president will inherit the mess George W. Bush created with a big assist from Senator McCain. Above all we need a completely fresh start. And only Senator Obama can provide that.

McCain has taken his lack of judgment about Iraq to the next level. McCain won't do do what is good for America, or even good for our military men and women. For instance, he is against the new GI Bill that would give fair educational benefits to our men and women. McCain doesn't want to give them anything that might entice them to do anything but go to war, again and again and again. McCain serves the warrior god of his warrior ancestors, not America's best interests.

As I see it our choice is between a heroic old man whose time has long past and who will perpetuate failed policy, and a brilliant, openhearted new founding father of the new post-racial, post-divided America the likes of which we have not seen.

How do my old pro-life views square with Obama's pro-choice beliefs? Very well. Today when I listen to Obama speak (and to his remarkable wife, Michelle) what I hear is a world view that nurtures life. Obama is trying to lead this country to a place where the intrinsic worth of each individual is celebrated. He is a leader who believes in hope, the future, trying to save our planet and providing a just and good life for everyone. This makes him someone who is actually pro-life as opposed to Bush who paid lip service to right wing religion but did the opposite of nurturing life at every turn, including senselessly killing our soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

The society that Obama is calling us to join him in striving for is a place wherein life would be valued not just talked about. As he said in his speech delivered on February 6 in New Orleans, "Too often, we lose our sense of common destiny; that understanding that we are all tied together; that when a woman has less than nothing in this country, that makes us all poorer." Obama was talking about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but his words also apply to our overall view of ourselves.

How do my pro-military views square with Obama? Very well.

Republicans may talk about patriotism but through their stubborn support for Bush's Iraq war they have become our military's worst enemies. And many of us in the military family have had it with the Republican's bellicose nonsense -- Bush's "Bring it on!" and now McCain's version; "I'll chase bin Laden to the gates of hell!" and "We'll win!" Enough is enough.

Obama comes to us from outside the system that has produced our present multiple crises of wars of choice and a failing economy. He does what all truly great leaders do: he speaks to the soul in plain self-revealing words of hope.

I think we all vote on an emotional level, whatever we say about our "reasons." And I know that I'm not the only tired culture warrior from the right who feels relieved and uplifted and -- most importantly -- believes Obama when I hear him talk about bringing us together to shape a better future. I also believe that he is an authentic man of faith. His sincere inclusion of Christian faith in his conversation with us rings true to this preacher's kid.

Obama touches me. He has a prophetic authenticity that reminds me of W.E.B. Du Bois' prayers that Du Bois sometimes wrote for his students. Obama also brings a touch of Billy Graham with him to the podium. His is a deeply spiritual call. And his critics that have dismissed Obama's ability to inspire as "mere words" are dead wrong.

We have never needed inspiration more. And we have never needed a president to inspire the rest of the world more. Every international opinion poll shows that Obama is not only the most popular American leader, perhaps ever, but more popular than any other world leader today.

Obama offers civility. Obama speaks in complete sentences, well-turned paragraphs, offers thoughts with intellectual depth, nuance, humility and compassion. Obama does not play on our fears. Electing Obama will also tell the world--and most importantly ourselves--that we can grow, learn and move on when it comes to race. We can heal our wounds. We can set an example again.

Obama is worth fighting for. He is worth losing old friends for. History has given us an unlikely lifeline. Do we have the decency and sense to open our hearts? What a great moment this is!"

As I mentioned, that article was from here in the Huffington Post. Also, for any Republicans out there, check out this section of Obama's website that highlights both well-known and everyday Republicans supporting him, and has a related section addressing some traditional Republican issues. You can even submit a question to have answered. I also appreciated the below video found on that section of their site, being a Virginian as I am (though it does not go particularly deep into issues and at least one of them that I remember didn't use great logic, it was still worth hearing from everyday people in my state about their thought process):

Update: Here's another great video of conservative voters who have come to Obama's side, and a related website of Conservatives for Obama that has more in-depth videos of why Conservative folks are supporting him:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Woe is McCain: Country Second (on Sex Ed, etc.)

With the maddening TV ad below, McCain is clearly choosing country second, to the dismay of his clever communications folks who came up with the "country first" logo to the left (slightly modified by yours truly). But in complete honesty, I can't laugh when I watch McCain's ad below, because it comes at the sacrifice of a critical, sober discussion on how we educate kids about relationships, sex, etc. After I first saw the ad, I literally could not come up with words to describe my surprise at the utter gall it must have taken for McCain to "approve the message"--though he probably just opts out of watching the ads before they're released to avoid having his stomach turn, as mine did. I hesitate to even put the ad up here, but people need to see what's out there and do the work of considering the factual--or a-factual--nature of it all:

"Learning about sex before learning to read"?

"Wrong for your family"?

What a distortionist message. ABC, among others, looked at the issue to get some clarification (their article is from back in mid-2007 in connection with a discussion Obama had on sex education issues, though you can see a more recent debunking of it here also):

"When Obama's campaign was asked by ABC News to explain what kind of sex education Obama considers "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, the Obama campaign pointed to an Oct. 6, 2004 story from the Daily Herald in which Obama had "moved to clarify" in his Senate campaign that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten. . . The legislation in question was a state Senate measure last year that aimed to update Illinois' sex education standards with 'medically accurate' information . . . 'Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it,' Obama said. 'If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing. Although again, that's going to be determined on a case by case basis by local communities and local school boards.'

In addition to local schools informing kindergarteners that babies do not come from the stork, the state legislation Obama supported in Illinois, which contained an "opt out" provision for parents, also envisioned teaching kindergarteners about "inappropriate touching," according to Obama's presidential campaign."(emphasis added)

Now, with the above in mind, take a look at a video of Obama talking about sex education issues and tell me if you think McCain was anywhere near fair in his ad. What are you left thinking about Obama and the way in which he would approach the understandably delicate issue of teaching kids about sex? How about the idea of him using the bully pulpit, as he says in the video, to bring the best of both sides of whatever argument before the public? I think McCain was not only unfair, but lacking in the most basic aspects of integrity; par for the course with politics? If Obama sinks to this level I'm not sure what I'll do, but I don't feel he has or will, judging by the character and values that I believe he has shown throughout the campaign and his past.

But no, the man behind that ad above is not the man I want for president; I wouldn't even want to talk to him if I had the chance after watching that, though I'm sure he's got plenty of win-at-any-cost folks encouraging him within his campaign--but he is culpable, and it shows what costs he's willing to pay for personal gain. As Paul Krugman so lucidly puts it in this New York Times article on the subject (titled "Blizzard of Lies"):

"How a politician campaigns tells you a lot about how he or she would govern...Thus, the deceptive and dishonest 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign provided an all-too-revealing preview of things to come."

McCain may have stood on some higher grounds at points in the past, but we are being asked to judge him from where he stands now, and I can't swallow this. Sex education is too taboo and made into too much of a political game already, and has suffered because of it.

If you haven't heard about some of the ways sex education has suffered, just take a look at President Bush's policy on combating AIDS in Africa (known as "PEPFAR"). The program is authorized to provide around $15 billion over five years--a good thing, no doubt, except that 33% has to go to teaching abstinence-only to most of the African populations being "educated" on AIDS prevention; condomn use is only taught to sex-workers and those living with AIDS. A similar approach is taken in the US, with the Bush Administration providing sex ed. funds almost exclusively to abstinence-only education; however, after "11 years of federally funded abstinence programs, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion," 2006 saw the first increase in teen pregnancy rates in 15 years.

Well, what should we do about sex education? Should we teach abstinence only? I'm with Obama on this, as he said in the same speech mentioned above:

"I honor and respect young people who choose to delay sexual activity...I’ve got two daughters, and I want them to understand that sex is not something casual. That's something that we definitely want to communicate and should be part of any curriculum. But we also know that when the statistics tell us that nearly half of 15 to 19 year olds are engaging in sexual activity, that for us to leave them in ignorance is potentially consigning them to illness, pregnancy, poverty, and in some cases, death."

I agree with him that sex isn't something that should be approached casually--that's just not the way a relationship-torn culture is going to end up with better relationships in my view; it's also not the way we will keep more teenagers from becoming pregnant. I don't think that teaching condom use is the only way to deal with the problem, but it's one way that should be taught alongside others. When it isn't, we are telling teenagers that they do not have a choice that is actually available to them; in doing so, we're dodging reality, in my view. Reality says many teenagers will have sex and, if they do not use condoms or birth control, they will become pregnant. So, we're consigning them to pregnancy by telling them the only way they can avoid it is by abstinence. Some might say pregnancy is the lesson or some form of "punishment" that these kids need, but I have huge problems with that--namely the life a baby might be brought into and the obvious inequality of the "punishment" that is meted out to the female and not the male (in general). I think the weakness of relationships that casual sex often brings about is a hard, but fair enough lesson in and of itself.

That said, I also think we're doing kids a disservice if we don't, above all else, teach them about the complex nature of relationships and sex, as is advocated in the following quote (from this article): "You need to teach about relationships. If you look at what kids have to digest on a daily basis, you have adults teaching kids about the pleasures of sex but not about the responsibilities that go with it." (I'm assuming the person quoted there is saying that adults are "teaching" kids through pop culture about the pleasures of sex and not the complexities.) It is a complicated issue when you are attempting to find middle ground, but certainly the ground is out there if people are willing to work to find it--though I can't say that McCain appears to be headed anywhere in that direction with ads like the one above.

PS--I can't mention McCain's misleading advertisements without noting his lie of an ad about Obama and the supposed "lipstick" slight against Sarah Palin. There's a decent video that puts it in context here, but the reality is that nobody would have thought Obama was making any reference to Palin if McCain had not put this ad out (particularly becuase Obama was not talking about her at all when he used the common saying, "putting lipstick on a pig"--which McCain himself uses in the video above). David Letterman had Obama on the other night, where he discussed it (the video also gives a nice picture of Obama's sense of humor). And in just looking around for a minute I saw yet another of McCain's ads on supposed "disrespect" of Palin; check out the rebuttal of it here. Just the type of president we need right?

Update: Take a look at some of the newspaper comments about McCain's attacks in this new Obama video:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Music for Politics

I don't think it's easy to put a song together and I have a real respect for those who can. In thinking about the process just now, I realized how much is involved in putting something worthwhile together: formulating the idea, working through the lyrics and weighing this word against that, only to then be faced with the challenge of making it all sound good with an instrument (and voice)--particularly when you're talking about syncing up a whole band. Yeah, that's some work alright. Even more than that though, some actually do the work of making it into a music video. That all ads up to my admiration for those that can make this happen.

I'm going on about all this because I just listened to a kickin' song a buddy of mine from back in the day in high school put together. I just stumbled on the band Noah Ramsey-Smith is a part of called "Lady Disaster" through Facebook, and found a money music video they put together called "Oh, Obama" (video below). It's nicely unassuming, honest and irreverent, with a great female voice on vocals. It starts out like this:

"Listen here said a wise man, we're living in a troubled time. We need a man to lead all of us, and lead us to the other side. I believe in the power, of a people that can shine as one."

The chorus is great too: "What we need is change, what we need is courage, what we need is more ideas and less drama. Who can bring us love, who can bring us vision, who can help us rise up together? Obama." Bravo Lady Disaster, a welcome blow to the cynicism that is more of a threat than many realize.

Check out the full music video below though, it's well worth it:

While I'm at it here, I thought I'd include a few other songs related to the candidates. I love me some music of all (or most) stripes, so it feels appropriate personally to connect to the gravity of the election through music. The one many have likely heard is by of the Black Eyed Peas, which was composed earlier this year to capture the spirit of Obama's campaign (it now has over 5 million total views on YouTube):

There's the one country singer John Rich put together for McCain, called "Raising McCain" (though his partner, Kenny "Big Kenny" Alphin, apparently contributed $2,300 to the Obama campaign last year). I tried to get that off of McCain's website, but apparently they won't give it out unless you give them your name and email:

You can actually watch a video of the song on YouTube though:

There are some other songs I've been listening to recently that get at the importance of politics to real life, and I'll try to load some of the up here and/or link to them at some point. As a last thought though, as I've said before, feelings like those pulled at in these songs can undoubtedly be misleading; however, I think one can evaluate emotions and discern whether there is something healthy and worthwhile behind them or not. Also, I have to agree with the commenter on my last post who pointed out that issues have to trump feelings when it really comes down to your vote.

Update: I should've mentioned, if anyone knows some other good "music for politics" drop a comment here, would love to hear it.

Update 2: Here's something my aunt sent my way--not bad, and representative of the creativity and positive involvement that Obama draws out in younger folks:

Update 3: This piece from Bill Moyers on music was way good, with some rich, long clips of hearty music, check it out:

Update 4: I love this song by David Wilcox (one of my all-time favorite musicians) called "Falling for It"--check the lyrics and listen to the song here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Live Bloggin' as I Watch the Repubs' Convention, Part III (McCain's Speech)

So, waiting on McCain to roll up to the podium here, and thought I'd try a final live post here as I watch (live video if it available here). It'll be nice for these two conventions to finally be over so I can get some more sleep; it's neat to have been able to watch a bit of both though, since I (unfortunately) didn't pay much attention to the last election.

Okay, now this video of him is again, his story is more than I could ever imagine, and I completely admire the way he stayed there longer when he had the option to leave. Watch this piece on PBS' NewsHour to hear some other POWs who support McCain, but another who does not (who was with him in Hanoi, Vietnam).

I hate that line in the convention video though of "keeping our money in our pockets" in regard to taxes--it isn't always self-centered to think that way, but I think it completely encourages it. I'll tell you what they can do with that line in the video about "the stars being aligned" for McCain to be president too--that's the fate-based talk that tries to trump reason, and I've got about zero patience for it. There are reasons, many of them, to vote one way or another, and they relate to the everyday needs of people out there, our country, our role in the world, etc.

Alright, he's on now though and is talking about Bush "leading us in these dark days following the worst attack in American history"--I'm not sure I've ever seen Bush "lead" on a damn thing, to be frank. I don't think he has that circumspection; that's not a demeaning comment as much as it is an honest one--leaders don't come around everyday, they develop and are seasoned as they move into the position.

Nice comments there about Cindy McCain, I appreciate that he would lift her up and compliment her.

Now he's addressing "Obama and his supporters," saying they have his "respect and admiration"; I'm not sure that's true given his mocking of their support, calling it support for a mere "celebrity." The crowd here's one that looks more like that which is caught up with a celebrity, chanting "U-S-A" on and off with no seeming ties to what McCain's actually saying. It's not that I don't respect them as people, I just think that loving your country without standards isn't love, and that's what I think many Americans unfortunately fall into (and what this crowd is reminding me of).

He's talking about fighting corruption and pork-barrel spending now--both of which are true to a point, and valid, I just don't think he's taking the country in the right way.

And now into Iraq. He's saying we would all be threatened if we'd pulled out of Iraq sooner; that's not true and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and others have stood by that. There's no admittance of his vote that got us into Iraq in the first place.

Some nice personal stories of people struggling and a soldier who died in Iraq; those stories are of course needed for any politician to stay connected to real people.

A cut at Obama there about his vote for an energy bill that did a lot for conservation, though there was some compromise that necessitated leaving in some giveaways to oil companies.

He's going into various things now, but mentioned the idea of respecting a "culture of life," getting at abortion issues, though you won't hear him come out saying the death penalty needs to go (though Obama isn't either, not fully at least).

Now into stuff against Obama. Bold-faced lies about tax increases--again, Obama's said it will only be those making $250,000 or more who would pay slightly more in taxes. More scare tactics about health care too, saying there will be a "bureaucrat" between some citizens and their health care. But John, what about the dollar bills that are in between some 47 million citizens and their health care now? And the profit-making insurance companies that charge more to all involved by trying to maximize profit?

He's talking on education here now, and there are some fair things being said; but he's pushing the thing of parental choice as the Republican talking point it is--it may be helpful, but it's not where many believe they should focus. And now he's saying Obama would make education answer to unions--how about when he stood up to them and said the controversial thing of providing merit-based pay to teachers? Yeah, too complicated for the masses I guess.

And see, here's one of my issues with McCain and the Repubs: they mention drilling offshore first again and again when talking about energy issues. It's one thing if they were saying here and there it could be helpful to invest a little (though I definitely am suspicious of that too), but they make it the first thing they talk about consistently. It's a ploy the way they're playing it, period.

Now onto foreign policy. Stoke 'em John stoke 'em, stoke those foreign countries, threaten them, just what we need, more bellicose. I just can't get over that he'd joke about bombing Iran...He says he hates war, and I could believe that; but that doesn't mean he sees it as the absolute last resort that it must be (if that), particularly joking about it like he has (and voting for it with Iraq).

Bipartisanship is good, as he's talking about here, but the tasks and goals the president pushes and fights for matter, they simply do; there are problems that have to be worked at with due diligence and a humane perspective, and so it matters what solutions are being offered.

Now he's talking about his time in prison camp again...

"Stand up to fight against our enemies" he ended with as one of his last lines though? Geez, I actually liked the other calls preceding it to serve our country, to seek justice, etc., but I don't like the idea of characterizing some general "enemies" that we need to fight against; sure there are enemies, so to speak, of America, but I'd much rather have leaders calling for us to see how much we have in common with the world, how we can restore healthy friendships with countries, and so forth.

That's it though. I have to say I'm underwhelmed. I liked some things he had to say, particularly his calls to serve causes greater than ourselves, but I didn't hear much in the way of innovative policies to facilitate some of that service through the government. Some may shirk at the idea of innovative government programs, but it's simply the concept, as Congressman Barney Frank apparently said at one time, of people working together to do more than they can separately through an entity we call government. Many have done great things with it over time: social security so our vulnerable elderly are cared for; the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) under FDR to give young men work and to build up roads and infrastructure in America; the Peace Corps and the wonderful work that's been done through it; unemployment for those who could be in trouble because of unexpectedly losing a job (I myself have experienced this and completely appreciated being able to receive unemployment for a month or so while looking for a job; of course it can be abused, but there are safeguards put in place to attempt to ensure individuals are looking for jobs, etc.). All of these could be overdone or done badly, but I would argue with any that say they are not needed.

I'm getting into polls here though, they're a handy way to rate perspectives, so here's another related to the four government programs I just mentioned:

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Live Bloggin' as I Watch the Repubs' Convention, Part II (Palin's Speech)

I started a new live post here now that Sarah Palin's about to speak at the Republican National Convention, and will throw some thoughts on it below as she speaks...

She's a good speaker, that's something...Anyone who's anyone can respect that she has family in the military, though I like a bit more VA Senator Jim Webb's approach to campaigning, where he didn't mention that his son was in Iraq...Nothing's lost on me in terms of the good it could be to have a woman in the White House, and the potential to advocate for women--a very good thing, certainly...

She's now telling her story in general, which is very frank-sounding and nice. I just worry it gets more emotional than meaningful, though I may be wrong. It's just that all four candidates in this race, with the VPs and presidential candidates, all have fine stories that are endearing--they are not the main reasons votes should be cast though; there are too, too many issues for that to be the case...

There it was, she just lost much of my respect--thought from the way she was talking she might not. She said a mayor (i.e., her) is like a community organizer (i.e., Obama), except that "a mayor has actual responsibilities"--what a low blow right? Geez, have some basic respect lady...They said Bush's past speech writer wrote her speech, I can tell. It's good she has "hometown values" as some in her party have been saying, too bad mutual respect doesn't make the cut of those "values" of hers...

Good stuff, she was able to cut spending on unnecessary stuff she's saying now--honestly, it's great, it's fair. I can respect that; it's not that I cannot respect her and McCain, and how they've done this or that, it's just that I think the world's bigger than they make it, encompassing many more issues than they are about...

Drilling's come up again, depressing. It's just criminal it seems to play this as an issue that matters much at all when it would not have any effects for over 10 years. Geez, get on with something of substance...

Now she takes a swipe at Obama because he doesn't use the word "victory" in regard to our war in Iraq? Come on lady. And again with another small-minded swat at him, something about him parting waters. It's just pathetic. If they want to argue about who will do what's better, that would be, well, better, but this type of discussion isn't a discussion at all, it's just small and unhelpful.

Now she talks about small business owners being ill-off because of the Dems tax policies--too bad Obama and company have said they will only raise taxes on those making over $250,000 plus a year; not sure what "small farmers" and small business owners she's talking about will in any large way be affected by that.

I think Palin may think she's running for mayor again, given the base level her speech is moving forward on. I really can't imagine what kind of conversation she'd have with Obama if she ran into him after the speech--it's like throwing straight insults at someone and then wondering how they could have a real conversation after (or be considered an adult even).

It's striking now, literally, that Palin is speaking about McCain's time as a POW--making the third time tonight it's been talked about in a speech; AND she's speaking longer about it than she's actually spoken about issues. Shew, it's pretty depleting watching this whole thing, just, again, so small-minded; and I really did like how she started out, as I noted above.

And I can comfortably say that this kind of small-mindedness is exactly why one would leave this type of speech a bit despondent, versus the more expansive thinking that Obama's about--and yes, his would only be words if it didn't have actions that have and will be taken behind them; actions such as bringing about affordable health care for all Americans, only bringing soldiers to war if absolutely necessary, attacking racism face-on, hugely expanding volunteerism in the US, bringing early education to all children, and so on.

Anyone want to go out and volunteer? Kind of moves you that direction watching this. Leave any thoughts on Palin or anything else below, would be interested to hear what others think.

PS--It's disturbing that they brought out an African American on with the two other musicians after Palin spoke, even though he didn't actually do anything musically (really, nothing); I'm all for diversity, don't get me wrong, but I'm just not for token appearances of any minorities like that.

Update: I'll put links to the videos of some of these speeches here when they become available, but a quick poll for the moment:

Update 3: Obama has a good comment today in response to the lame shots by Palin, Giuliani and others at his time as a community organizer: