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

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Service-Oriented President, Finally

In a time of big Thanksgiving meals for many of us, Barack, our coming President (I can't get over saying that yet, it's great), focused on those without much to eat--it's exactly the service-oriented leadership our leader-hungry country needs. From here on his website:

Saying he wanted his two daughters "to learn the importance of how fortunate they are and make sure they are giving back," President-elect Obama and his family volunteered at a food pantry near their home on the South Side of Chicago this afternoon.

St. Columbanus Church, where President-elect Obama has volunteered before, feeds nearly 500 people a week. But he pointed out that times are particularly tough.

"The number of people who are getting food this year is up 33 percent," he said. "It gives a sense times are tough -- and I think that on Thanksgiving it's important for us to remember there's a need for support."

When a group of children appeared in the window of the church's school, President-elect Obama decided to visit the school's auditorium, where hundreds of the school's students quickly assembled.
I love that this also shows his understanding of the need for parents to really teach their children about some of the many, many issues affecting so many in our country and world. Here are some pictures of the event.

Beyond that though, as you can see in this screenshot, one of the nine main categories on his website is titled "America Serves"--they don't just give those categories away to any old subject, it's got to have some heavy merit to get in there with ones like "Agenda", "Jobs" and "About." Good stuff President-Elect, good stuff. From the "America Serves" part of his website (where it also has a place, mentioned below, to fill in your information to stay informed about coming service initiatives):

" 'When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That's why it's called the American dream.'

As the new administration takes shape, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will call on Americans from every walk of life to serve. President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps and will create new service organizations to meet the nation's challenges head on:

* a Classroom Corps to help underserved schools
* a Health Corps to serve in the nation's clinics and hospitals
* a Clean Energy Corps to achieve the goal of energy independence
* a Veterans Corps to support the Americans who serve by standing in harm's way

Obama and Biden will call on citizens of all ages to serve. They'll set a goal that all middle school and high school students engage in 50 hours of community service a year, and develop a plan for all college students who engage in 100 hours of community service to receive a fully-refundable tax credit of $4,000 for their education. Obama and Biden will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.

The Obama-Biden administration's volunteer initiatives are still taking shape, but take a moment now to let us know that you're interested, and we'll keep you posted on all the latest developments.

Enter your information below [link here] to let us know you're interested in serving the nation -- and contributing your energy and efforts to confronting the problems we face together."
Now President Barack Obama signified his seriousness about this issue when he pushed MLK Day into the spotlight January 19th, the day before his inauguration, as a day of nationwide service--hell, they even started a website for it: He noted that this should set the tone for a return to service in our country as a value, stating the following in this set of brief remarks he gave on that day:

"So today, I am asking you to roll up your sleeves and join in the work of remaking this nation. I pledge to you that government will do its part to open up more opportunities for citizens to participate. And in return, I ask you to play your part – to not just pitch in today, but to make an ongoing commitment that lasts far beyond one day, or even one presidency.

And to those who are skeptical about whether this will happen – to anyone who thinks that the American people are selfish or apathetic – I invite them to come here to Coolidge High School and to the more than 11,000 other places across this country where people have spent today fixing up schools and renovating homes and organizing food drives and blood drives and so much more. I see what the American people are doing today and every day. So don’t tell me that we can’t usher in a new spirit of service in this country.

I know we can do this."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keep the Gas Prices Up

Off the bat, an editorial called "Raise the Gas Tax," from last Sunday's Washington Post, has my vote. I'm wondering if there would be any backlash to consider from seems to me that if it was explained to the American people, and done in conjunction with a mammoth surge in alternative energy support, that it could be well worth it--if some of the pay-off could be realized by the end of Obama's first term that is, otherwise it could work against his re-election bid. Thoughts? Here's the article:

The price of crude oil closed at $57.04 a barrel on Friday. That's about $90 cheaper than it was in July. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline Friday was $2.15, nearly $2 less than it was in July. This is definitely good news for the battered American consumer. But we fear that the temptation to return to gas-guzzling vehicles, to drive more and to forget the painful lessons learned last summer will be too great to resist.

Our concern is hardly unfounded. As Post-Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote in his Oct. 29 column, "We've seen this movie before." A gas crisis leads to widespread calls for conservation, fuel-efficient cars and greater reliance on alternative sources of energy to help slip the yoke of imported oil. Then, as happened after the 1970s gas crunch, amnesia sets in the moment prices fall. One of the best ways to prevent a rerun is to raise the federal tax per gallon of gasoline. Mr. Samuelson made a worthy suggestion: Raise the gas tax a penny a month for 48 months.

In a perfect world, we'd like to see a gas tax that was the equivalent of oil at $100 per barrel. This would send a loud-and-clear signal to drivers to continue eschewing gas guzzlers for fuel sippers and mass transit. Automakers would get the message to speed up production of motor vehicles that meet or exceed the 35 miles per gallon by 2020 mandated by Congress last year. Instead of the money going to countries that have U.S. interests at heart in the same way a dealer cares about a junkie, the revenue would stay here -- and it could all be returned to the American people in the form of tax rebates.

Okay, we know that the world isn't perfect and a lame-duck Congress and president aren't going to make the tough but necessary decisions on energy independence: That will fall to President-elect Barack Obama. As he puts his administration together and considers his priorities, he faces the choice of playing it safe with incremental steps or going bold with dramatic action when he assumes office on Jan. 20. We urge Mr. Obama to take the latter course. The United States cannot afford to backslide to its voracious, polluting ways as it did in the 1970s.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our President (almost)

O and Lady O on 60 Minutes last night, well worth the watch--his temperament, their temperament, his serious mind and vision, their relationship, their history, their honesty, their humor, it's all very encouraging and quite endearing:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Unsettling Times for Jihadists

This article in today's Washington Post by David Ignatius, one of their columnists, is worth the read--all about what things look like for al-Qaeda and those of a similar mind now that Obama is coming into the presidency. Here's the first part of it:

Let's try for a moment to read the mind of an al-Qaeda operative in the remote mountains of Waziristan as he listens to the news on the radio. His worldview has been roiled recently by two events -- one confounding his image of the West and the other confirming it.

The upsetting news for our imaginary jihadist is the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. This wasn't supposed to happen, in al-Qaeda's playbook. Its aim was to draw the "far enemy" (meaning America) ever deeper onto the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, the jihadists must cope with a president-elect who promises to get out of Iraq and whose advisers are talking about negotiating with the Taliban. And to top it off, the guy's middle name is Hussein.

Before the election, the radical Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradhawi even issued a fatwa supporting John McCain: "Personally, I would prefer for the Republican candidate, McCain, to be elected. This is because I prefer the obvious enemy who does not hypocritically [conceal] his hostility toward you . . . to the enemy who wears a mask [of friendliness]."

Obama makes the jihadists nervous because he is an appealing new face whose ascension undermines the belief that Islam and the West are locked in an inescapable clash of civilizations. "The Democrats kill you slowly without you noticing it. . . . They are like a snake whose touch is not felt until its poison enters your body," observes Qaradhawi.

"Even in the Arab world, Obama is very popular," explains Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar of Islam. "The global jihadists leaned toward McCain because they hoped the confrontation would get worse..."

Finish off the piece here if interested, as it's just a few more paragraphs and is worth read.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama Meets With Dangerous World Leader Without Preconditions

I got this and the caption in an email, so I can't claim it as my own, but great stuff, ay?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Only We Could Vote Out the Devastating Effects of Bush

As seen in this 15-minute or so PBS NewsHour piece, the effects of Bush and his crew's war in Iraq will not soon diminish (as unfortunately is the case with too many of the problems they put into place while in office--the destructive, unregulated financial industry; inhumane budget priorities; unjust tax policy; etc., etc.). The focus of the piece is on suicide rates among war veterans, and in it James Peake, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (V.A.), has the gall to claim that the increase in suicide rates may not be due to the effects of war (I sent in a question to the V.A. through an online forum the NewsHour is hosting on the subject, so I'll be interested to see if they respond; answers are supposed to be posted here this Friday the 14th of Nov.).

A veteran who committed suicide, along with his family, are spotlighted in the piece (he's pictured above); the V.A. actually turned him down for the full extent of support he could have received because he could not remember "dates and names" of the casualties in Iraq that were haunting him. His wife says at one point in the piece, something to the effect of how her now-dead husband didn't remember names and dates, he just would just have faces and horrible scenes flash through his mind from his time in Iraq. He had been "fun and caring and giving" beforehand she said, but came home angry--consistently angry to the point that his children became scared of him; this is what war can do to men and women, and woe unto anyone who would so cavalierly send our people into it--and then on top of that, not provide proper benefits afterwards. I could see myself changing in the same ways if I was sent into war, particularly with the multiple deployments that have now become commonplace (the piece notes that those who have gone on three or more deployments have over double the risk of suicide as those who don't). The video of the piece and the transcript are available here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reflections on Tuesday

Charity, my wonderful and passionate aunt, living in Greece right now, recently forwarded some in my family a great reflection on the election from The New York Times--it's such a good piece. She also included a few of her own thoughts though, so I wanted to start with those; her reflections, along with the article, provide a neat perspective for those of us too young to realize some of the work and struggle that made this election possible--in terms of civil rights, but also in terms of resisting the unfortunate Reaganesque view of the world that defined too many of the past twenty-five plus years in America.

My aunt wrote:

"I read this piece below, and found that it speaks to me of wounds healed, moving ahead, of once longed for dreams becoming possible, of a Democracy that I grew up in. In all of that somehow I find myself very emotional, as if all that my parents and others in the 60s worked for in the Civil Rights movement and what we have survived and struggled against during the last eight years has come to an end. Of course, this is not so, but I believe that the page has been turned and we are beginning a new walk. This is my hope. We will see. "

And below is the article by Judith Warner, from here on The New York Times website, called "Tears to Remember":

"On Wednesday, Nov. 5, 1980, my 10th-grade American history teacher started class by unfurling The New York Times. She pointed to its triple banner headline: “Reagan Easily Beats Carter; Republicans Gain in Congress; D’Amato and Dodd are Victors.”

“Save this paper,” she told us. “This is the start of a whole new era.”

And it was. An era of unbridled deregulation, wealth-enhancing perks for the already well-off, and miserly indifference to the poor and middle class; of the recasting of greed as goodness, the equation of bellicose provincialism with patriotism, the reframing of bigotry as small-town decency.

In short, it was the start of our current era. The Reagan Revolution was the formative political experience of my generation’s lifetime, like the Great Depression, the Second World War or Vietnam for those before us. And in its intellectual and moral paucity, in its eventual hegemony, these years shut down, for some of us, the ability to fully imagine another way.

I will admit that back in January, when Barack Obama, in his post-Iowa victory speech, spoke about the “cynics,” the “they” who said “this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose,” he was talking about me.

I will admit that the call of “change” did not speak to me as an achievable goal.

Until it actually came.

On Wednesday, there was a run on newspapers, as voters rushed to grab a tangible piece of the history they’d made. My husband Max and I, unable to find extra copies, brought our own worn papers home to 8- and 11-year-old Emilie and Julia.

Sept. 11, the seismic event that we’d feared would forever form their political consciousness, shaping their world and constricting the boundaries of the possible, had actually been eclipsed, light blotting out darkness, the best of America at long last driving away the demons of fear. We wanted them to see that it was the end of an era.

“Look,” we said, pointing to the headline “Racial Barrier Falls.” “This is huge.”

We labored to make them understand that their world — art that day, and orchestra, and Baked Potato Bar at lunch — had irrevocably changed.

But how can you understand change when you’ve only known one way of being?

They were happy because we were happy. They rose to the occasion in that bemused way children do when adults tell them what they should feel. They were glad to be rid of George W. Bush and to be saved – for now – from the specter of Sarah Palin. (“It is not O.K. to say she’s an ‘idiot,’” I had snapped when they came home from school stoked by the mob. “Prove your case. Show, don’t tell.”)

They’d had, like many D.C. children, more than their share of politics. After first following the country into battle against the all-purpose boogeyman Saddam Hussein, they’d become antiwar. They had opinions on tax policy and spoke angrily about the “wealth gap.” In the past election year, they’d been fired up about the woman thing, in all its pretty girl versus smart girl iterations; in fact, they and their friends had remained hard-core Hillaryites long after their moms had moved on.

But the race thing? The groundbreaking immensity of the election of our country’s first African-American president?

“You’re being racist,” Emilie had said when I made a comment about how particularly earth-moving this election was for black voters. “Why should it matter if people are black or white?”

Theirs has often looked to me like a world drained of meaning. Girl power put to the service of selling Hannah Montana. Feel-good inclusiveness that occulted the very real conflicts, crimes and hatreds of history.

It isn’t easy to let go of the past to embrace something new, to risk heartbreak on the chance of the world’s actually having changed.

Or at least, it hasn’t been easy for me. But it comes naturally to some. Like the hundreds of George Washington University students who gathered in front of the White House on Tuesday night, cheering and screaming and shouting their goodbyes to the political era of their youth.

“Bliss it was to be alive, but to be young was very heaven,” Max emailed me, paraphrasing William Wordsworth on the French Revolution, at 11:30 p.m. on election night, after leaving his desk to walk among the revelers downtown. I, home with the kids, was in bed, sleeping the drugged sleep of an alcohol-abstaining migraineuse after drinking half a glass of celebratory champagne.

Colin Powell did not dance for joy over Obama’s victory; he wept.

“Look what we did. Look what we did,” he said, puffy-faced, red-eyed, fighting back more tears on CNN. “He’s won. It’s over.”

David Dinkins was similarly solemn. “Things do change. There is a God. They do get better,” said the mayor who presided over New York City at a time of toxic racial tensions.

Obama, too, resisted giddy gladness on Tuesday night. But he did proclaim an end to the world as we’ve known it for far too long.

“To those who would tear the world down: we will defeat you,” he promised. “This is our moment. This is our time.”

The glory of Barack Obama is that there are so many different kinds of us who can claim a piece of that “our.” African-Americans, Democrats, post-boomers, progressives, people who rose from essentially nowhere and through hard work and determination succeeded beyond their parents’ wildest dreams are the most obvious.

But there are also people who respect intelligence and good grammar. People who see their spouse as their “best friend,” as Barack called Michelle on Tuesday night. People whose children have the same knowing look as Sasha and Malia, who are probably more excited about their puppy than about their father’s presidency.

Two images will forever stay in my mind to mark this epoch-breaking Election Day. One is that of Jesse Jackson’s face, drenched in tears, in Chicago’s Grant Park on Tuesday evening.

And the other is a photo that ran in The Times on Wednesday. In it, a black mother and daughter sit on the floor of a church in Harlem. The mother, Latrice Barnes, having heard of Obama’s victory, is doubled up in tears; her daughter, Jasmine, is reaching a tentative hand up to soothe her. To me, she looks like the future, reaching out to heal the past.

It is, I suppose, in part a matter of temperament, whether one shouts or weeps at happy transformative moments. But I also think it’s a matter of what has come before. The young people joyfully frolicking in front of the Bush White House never knew the universe whose passing was marked by Obama’s victory and Jackson’s tears.

This moment of triumph marks the end of such a long period of pain, of indignity and injustice for African-Americans. And for so many others of us, of the trampling and debasing of our most basic ideals, beliefs that we cherished every bit as deeply and passionately as those of the “values voters” around whose sensibilities we’ve had to tiptoe for the past 28 years.

The election brought the return of a country we’d lost for so long that it was almost forgotten under the accumulated scar tissue of accommodation and acceptance.

For me, this will be the enduring memory of election night 2008: One generation released its grief. The next looked up confusedly, eager to please and yet unable to comprehend just what the tears were about."

Update: More great thoughts from Bill Moyers on the significance of this election with this TV piece here, followed by some other neat assessments of what the next four years might involve here and here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Yep, that's it, wow.

New York Times photo credit.

Update: I love this picture of Obama and his family on the front of The Washington Post (PDF) as they came out last night for their first appearance after winning:

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Closing, First Principles

*Note: I turned some of this post into a little radio piece you can read about and listen to here.

It's a mixed bag seeing this election finally--we hope--ending tomorrow. It's been neat to feel out my own perceptions of politics and politicians, government in general and the specific issues of import in particular. What an election cycle. I wrote my first post here on December, 3rd, 2007, and appreciate everyone who has taken a chance to read some here and there, as well as those who have offered comments and engaged with me on some critical issues.

Now that things are finally, finally coming to a close (and again, I do hope it ends by at least Wednesday AM), I wanted to offer some final thoughts. Though I may throw up a post here or there over the next few weeks or months, I am looking forward to backing away somewhat from all things political (as much as I can with the vigor that will undoubtedly surround a new president, and the related drive I will have to watch who I hope will be in there as he begins to rebuild our country).

My final thoughts are simple, and thus "first principles," as I noted in my title. One of the first principles in a society, I believe, is for the less vulnerable to help the more vulnerable. Under George W. Bush, the most vulnerable have been preyed on--with unregulated mortgage lending, a war of preemption, an economy and tax system tilted towards the wealthiest among us, and a health care system that multiplies in cost, again and again, year after year. Why??

We can certainly allow it, as we have. But are we not more than animals to fight for what we can get and call it survival of the fittest? Surely we are. But it takes gumption to change this system of greed, of self-interest, of warrior mentalities and individualism.

The reason Barack Obama won out over Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and the other Democrats, is because, in my view, he called more of us out of ourselves than did the others. If he had simply called us out of ourselves without calling us into something, that would have been the end of it. But he called us into something exponentially larger--that is, into interdependence. That's a good thing, it is. Because again, the alternative is some version of survival of the fittest, and I’m not okay with that, because we’re not all operating from an equal playing field.

Our tax code can be fair, taking into account the most vulnerable with deliberate compassion--weighed by sensible understanding of personal responsibility. And you will hear that in Obama, as he said in his 30-minute TV piece this last week, and in his stirring call in Manassas, VA tonight (available here); he's repeated the theme throughout his campaign, saying we have a "crisis in responsibility." He went on to say tonight that we have a crisis in "civility." The speech was probably the most moving I have heard him deliver. Perhaps it was due to the unimaginable timing of the death of his grandmother today (she helped raise him, as he talks about here); in fact, I imagine it is that, in combination with this, the final day of his campaign. The tenor in his voice reaches that of a leader though, even as he spoke more softly at one time or another during the speech. I finished watching it encouraged about what this man can do for our country.

Barack speaks to where we are and where we aren't. And while many of us can quickly name where we aren't, personally or as a country, he doesn't stop there--he talks about where we can be. He did that with his broad look at our country, as he ventured--or fought, perhaps I should say--his way into Republican state after Republican state.

What do we have now? An electrified country, where I can hear stories, as I did last week, of a 57-year old from Arlington, Virginia who had never voted before, but was planning to do so for Obama on Tuesday. Wow. We have a presidential candidate who dared to trek into areas like central Virginia, where no presidential candidate had gone since Nixon in '68--forty years ago; no Democrat had gone there since Abraham Lincoln's challenger, Stephen Douglas, a hundred years earlier, in 1860. This is vision--but not just vision of how to win an election, but how to mobilize people for something bigger than themselves.

You see, Obama doesn't have some delusions of grandeur, in my view, but rather simple, even modest ideas of returning the country to the many hands of our people--prodding us to get our hands dirty as we build and develop, calling us to reach down for those most vulnerable and balance out the playing field. He's brought many people along in the ways he's reasoned through how we need health care within financial reach of all Americans, bridges and roads rebuilt, alternative energies pursued and conservation championed. Everyone would be deceived, including Obama, if they thought he could do it himself. No, this is a world he has helped paint before the eyes of Americans, offering the chance to grab it if we would. And no doubt, he is standing on the shoulders of many who have come before him, echoing their calls--yet he has brought so many into the game that he stands unique among political leaders. And so the choice is ours to hope, as it were, in that more just, more communal world that he has helped so many believe is possible.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Woe is McCain: Bad Temper, Bad Foreign Policy

I couldn't help but be disturbed by this recent ten-page article in Rolling Stone called "Make Believe Maverick." It goes into John McCain's policy stances, but also his character, tracing forward from when he was young. It highlights the ways he has skated by because of his family name, from getting into college to keeping his Navy "wings" after multiple crashes. I'd encourage anyone who's thinking of voting his way Tuesday to read the entire article (you can also view a short video Rolling Stone did in conjunction with the article here). I wanted to paste the section on his foreign policy from the article below, but before I do, here are a few quick lines on his infamous temper:

"Over the years, John McCain has demonstrated a streak of anger so nasty that even his former flacks make no effort to spin it away. 'If I tried to convince you he does not have a temper, you should hang up on me and ridicule me in print,' says Dan Schnur, who served as McCain's press man during the 2000 campaign. Even McCain admits to an 'immature and unprofessional reaction to slights' that is 'little changed from the reactions to such provocations I had as a schoolboy.'...

At least three of McCain's GOP colleagues have gone on record to say that they consider him temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief. Smith, the former senator from New Hampshire, has said that McCain's 'temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him.' Sen. Domenici of New Mexico has said he doesn't 'want this guy anywhere near a trigger.' And Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi weighed in that 'the thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded.' "

Now, here's the pretty damning section on McCain's foreign policy stances over the years, though I believe it fairly discusses how he was more moderate in the past:

"The myth of John McCain hinges on two transformations — from pampered flyboy to selfless patriot, and from Keating crony to incorruptible reformer — that simply never happened. But there is one serious conversion that has taken root in McCain: his transformation from a cautious realist on foreign policy into a reckless cheerleader of neoconservatism.

'He's going to be Bush on steroids,' says Johns, the retired brigadier general who has known McCain since their days at the National War College. 'His hawkish views now are very dangerous. He puts military at the top of foreign policy rather than diplomacy, just like George Bush does. He and other neoconservatives are dedicated to converting the world to democracy and free markets, and they want to do it through the barrel of a gun.'

McCain used to believe passionately in the limits of American military power. In 1993, he railed against Clinton's involvement in Somalia, sponsoring an amendment to cut off funds for the troops. The following year he blasted the idealistic aims of sending U.S. troops to Haiti, taking to the Senate floor to propose an immediate withdrawal. He even started out a fierce opponent of NATO air strikes on Serbia during the war in the Balkans.

But such concerns went out the window when McCain began gearing up to run for president. In 1998, he formed a political alliance with William Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, who became one of his closest advisers. Randy Scheunemann — a hard-right lobbyist who was promoting Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi — came aboard as McCain's top foreign-policy adviser. Before long, the senator who once cautioned against 'trading American blood for Iraqi blood' had been reborn as a fire-breathing neoconservative who believes in using American military might to spread American ideals — a belief he describes as a 'sacred duty to suffer hardship and risk danger to protect the values of our civilization and impart them to humanity.' By 1999, McCain was championing what he called 'rogue state rollback.' First on the hit list: Iraq.

Privately, McCain brags that he was the 'original neocon.' And after 9/11, he took the lead in agitating for war with Iraq, outpacing even Dick Cheney in the dissemination of bogus intelligence about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. 'There's other organizations besides Mr. bin Laden who are bent on the destruction of the United States,' he warned in an appearance on Hardball on September 12th. 'It isn't just Afghanistan. We're talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, perhaps North Korea, Libya and others.' A few days later, he told Jay Leno's audience that 'some other countries' — possibly Iraq, Iran and Syria — had aided bin Laden.

A month after 9/11, with the U.S. bombing Kabul and reeling from the anthrax scare, McCain assured David Letterman that 'we'll do fine' in Afghanistan. He then added, unbidden, 'The second phase is Iraq. Some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.'

Later that month on Larry King, McCain raised the specter of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction before he peddled what became Dick Cheney's favorite lie: 'The Czech government has revealed meetings, contacts between Iraqi intelligence and Mohamed Atta. The evidence is very clear. . . . So we will have to act.' On Nightline, he again flogged the Czech story and cited Iraqi defectors to claim that 'there is no doubt as to [Saddam's] avid pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. That, coupled with his relations with terrorist organizations, I think, is a case that the administration will be making as we move step by step down this road.'

That December, just as U.S. forces were bearing down on Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, McCain joined with five senators in an open letter to the White House. 'In the interest of our own national security, Saddam Hussein must be removed from power,' they insisted, claiming that there was 'no doubt' that Hussein intended to use weapons of mass destruction 'against the United States and its allies.'

In January 2002, McCain made a fact-finding mission to the Middle East. While he was there, he dropped by a supercarrier stationed in the Arabian Sea that was dear to his heart: the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the giant floating pork project that he had driven through over President Carter's veto. On board the carrier, McCain called Iraq a 'clear and present danger to the security of the United States of America.' Standing on the flight bridge, he watched as fighter planes roared off, en route to Afghanistan — where Osama bin Laden had already slipped away. 'Next up, Baghdad!' McCain whooped.

Over the next 15 months leading up to the invasion, McCain continued to lead the rush to war. In November 2002, Scheunemann set up a group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq at the same address as Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. The groups worked in such close concert that at one point they got their Websites crossed. The CLI was established with explicit White House backing to sell the public on the war. The honorary co-chair of the committee: John Sidney McCain III.

In September 2002, McCain assured Americans that the war would be 'fairly easy' with an 'overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.' On the eve of the invasion, Hardball host Chris Matthews asked McCain, 'Are you one of those who holds up an optimistic view of the postwar scene? Do you believe that the people of Iraq, or at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators?'

McCain was emphatic: 'Absolutely. Absolutely.'

Today, however, McCain insists that he predicted a protracted struggle from the outset. 'The American people were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach,' he said in August 2006, 'which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking.' McCain also claims he urged Bush to dump Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 'I'm the only one that said that Rumsfeld had to go,' he said in a January primary debate. Except that he didn't. Not once. As late as May 2004, in fact, McCain praised Rumsfeld for doing 'a fine job.'

Indeed, McCain's neocon makeover is so extreme that Republican generals like Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft have refused to endorse their party's nominee [After this article was written, Powell endorsed Obama]. 'The fact of the matter is his judgment about what to do in Iraq was wrong,' says Richard Clarke, who served as Bush's counterterrorism czar until 2003. 'He hung out with people like Ahmad Chalabi. He said Iraq was going to be easy, and he said we were going to war because of terrorism. We should have been fighting in Afghanistan with more troops to go after Al Qaeda. Instead we're at risk because of the mistaken judgment of people like John McCain.' "
Again, the full ten-page article can be read here.

Pro-Life and Pro-Obama?

That's right, some folks fall into the pro-life, pro-Obama category, and rightly so in my view. I have been pro-choice for the most part, though I can't say that I've thought about it as comprehensively as I would like to--it's a tough issue. As many say, in an ideal world, there would not be any unintended pregnancies. But given that our world is far from ideal, I can understand the circumstances that lead to abortions--indeed, I can see how I could end up choosing an abortion if I were in similar circumstances.

Regardless though, I can come down on the side of Obama as he talks about ideas such as "strengthening of support for prenatal care, health care, maternity leave, and adoption," which "will make help drastically reduce the numbers of abortions [according to studies]" (that quote is taken from, a site dedicated to this whole issue). There's more info about Obama's stance on these issues on his website, and there's more on the views of conservative supporters of Obama on this and other issues at

What the above websites suggest is, not to rule out abortion stances as a consideration, but to view it as one issue among many. Why? Because issues of "life" deal with many areas beyond simply abortion. How about war? Or health care, or poverty, or destitute, third-world countries without the basic opportunities so many of us take for granted? Many of those who we pass by on the street, or hear about in the news, are losing their lives or tragically suffering in life because of the stances taken by politicians--and yes, most recently and most prominently, in my view, the stances by so-called "conservative" politicians.

As is noted in the article I'll paste below:

"Regardless of the official position of the Supreme Court on abortion, a country in which all Americans are offered some sort of dignity and hopeful future would be a place conducive to the kind of optimism each of us must hold in our hearts if we are to welcome children into this world. But if our highest aspiration is to be a consumer with no thought or care for our neighbor, we will remain a culture in which abortion is not only inevitable but logical."

That sort of ethical, empathetic view of the world around us is one that I embrace, above and beyond any religious affiliation or political viewpoint; it is the type of perspective that really guided my thinking throughout the last year-and-a-half or so as I wrote this blog and sifted through candidates' stances (as I particularly attempted to highlight with the series I put together on Obama's ethics, titled "The Value, and Values, of Barack").

As a sidenote, this naturally goes into the realm of faith-related considerations for some; as I've previously mentioned, having come from a religious background, I can relate. (I don't consider myself religious now, though I intend to come full-circle and consider questions of faith again at some point.) Because of that background of mine though, I naturally have friends and family who still consider themselves religious or spiritual, and I fully respect that; I would say though, that it is devastating to me how much of the Christian camp specifically has been convinced to vote unquestioningly for the Republican party from one election to the next. Much of that has to do with folks being convinced that their vote is no more complicated than one or two issues--a perspective I would respectfully take issue with, for the reasons I mentioned above.

Additionally, I would encourage any people of faith out there to take a look at Obama's stances on the full spectrum of issues. Most, if not all, are governed by the simple principle he has repeated in one capacity or another throughout his campaign: "We have an individual responsibility to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper" (that line is taken from here (PDF), which provides an overview of his stance on many faith-related issues; more details are also available on his website). He and John McCain both talked about faith and values at a recent forum in September; you can read my quick thoughts on that and watch videos of it here. I would also strongly urge any interested in his faith perspective to listen to the below, in-depth speech he gave two years ago; it's on faith across religions, though Christianity receives a good part of the focus (it was given at a "Call to Renewal" conference):

Lastly, here is the first part of an article from Huffington Post called "Why I'm Pro-Life and Pro-Obama":

"I am an Obama supporter. I am also pro-life. In fact, without my family's involvement in the pro-life movement it would not exist as we know it. Evangelicals weren't politicized until after my late father and evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer, Dr. Koop (Reagan's soon-to-be Surgeon General) and I stirred them up over the issue of abortion in the mid-1970s. Our Whatever Happened to the Human Race? book, movie series and seminars brought the evangelicals into the pro-life movement.

(Dad's political influence persists. Last week one of my father's followers -- Mike Huckabee -- was interviewed by Katie Couric, along with all the other presidential candidates. Couric asked the candidates if they were to be sent to a desert island and could only take one book besides the Bible, what would that that book be? Huckabee answered that he'd take my father's book Whatever Happened To The Human Race?)

Fast forward...

In 2000, we elected a president who claimed he believed God created the earth and who, as president, put car manufacturers and oil company's interests ahead of caring for that creation. We elected a pro-life Republican Congress that did nothing to actually care for pregnant women and babies. And they took their sincere evangelical followers for granted, and played them for suckers.

The so-called evangelical leadership -- Dobson, Robertson et al. also played the pro-life community for suckers. While thousands of men and women in the crisis pregnancy movement gave of themselves to help women and babies, their evangelical "leaders" did little more than cash in on fundraising opportunities and represent themselves as power-brokers to the craven politicians willing to kowtow to them.

Fast forward...

Today when I listen to Obama speak (and to his remarkable wife, Michelle) what I hear is a world view that actually nurtures life. Obama is trying to lead this country to a place where the intrinsic worth of each individual is celebrated. A leader who believes in hope, the future, trying to save our planet and providing a just and good life for everyone is someone who is actually pro-life.

Conversely the "pro-life" ethic of George W. Bush manifested itself in a series of squandered opportunities to call us to our better natures. After 9/11, Bush told most Americans to go shopping while saddling the few who volunteered for military service with endless tours of duty (something I know a little about since my son was a Marine and deployed several times). The Bush doctrine of life was expressed by starting an unnecessary war in Iraq that has killed thousands of Americans and wounded tens of thousands more.

The society that Obama is calling us to sacrifice 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..."

Read the rest of the article here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Call to Do Anything You Can

Hi all,

I just felt compelled to write a brief note to encourage anyone out there to do what you can with this election. Since i'm posting this email on my blog too, i have to say that folks supporting McCain have just as tall of an order to actually support him through sound arguments, volunteering, etc., as certainly that's what democracy is about--basic citizen-to-citizen discussion of what our country needs, how those needs can be met, and by whom.

So with that said, i'd just urge those on the side of Obama particularly to realize that the issues are not going to change for the better unless we vote him in, and no one can say they know it will happen; so, in thinking about doing something, anything in these last days (whether you're in a battleground state or not, you can still talk to battleground voters), i'd just say that it's important to remember what i had come back to mind this morning--all of those issues that NEED to change in our country, if it's to be fair, equitable, and a sensible force in the world, really hang in the balance with this election (in my opinion).

The issues that i think of most are as follows--may they help put a jump in your step, as they do for me, in making something happen with this election (and i list some ideas farther down of how), opposed to just hoping something will. Here's a quick list of things that matter and are pushing me to push as much as i can these last few days:

-the basic idea that the 35 million or so Americans who can't afford health insurance should be able to through a fair, balanced system that covers exactly what should be covered, health--whether it's pre-existing problems with health or not, those problems need addressing no less; and simply put, i don't think McCain's plan is well thought out or the thorough reform that we need;
-the fact that Iraq was a huge mistake that McCain supported and Obama, as recalled (and expanded upon) in speeches like this one, showed such judgement in opposing;
-that McCain's single most-trumpeted strength in foreign policy is undercut not only by his misjudgement on our invasion of Iraq, but by his jokes about bombing Iran, his bellicose perspectives on Russia, the numerous times he mistakingly said the central group in this so-called war on terrorism (al Qaeda) was in Iran, and his overall proclivity towards war;
-and of course on top of all of that, the economy's in shambles and McCain will continue to favor the wealthiest at the expense of the most vulnerable, and will likely circle back to the deregulation that played such a hand in the economic problems we've now run into;
-lastly, in a too-short list of the very real reasons we need a different country, Obama will have a healing effect for us in so many ways, whether in the ways hinted at in his speech on racism, or the drive he plans for national civic engagement through expanded volunteering opportunities for people of all ages.

It's hard to know how our country could get much more unfair or bent towards injustice without reaching some tipping point, quite honestly. So those are the reasons that immediately come to mind for me in why everyone should push these last days to make something happen, and they're also the main reasons i bring up when talking to voters.

SO, the thrust of this note is that i hope anyone out there will deliberately plan to talk to voters in one way or another. If you're not in a battleground state, then go to Obama's website and you can call people who are (check here and here on his website, and you can likely find groups getting together to call in your area). You can go door-to-door in important areas, and if you're not in one you can drive to battleground locations too (info here on his site for both), as some of us are doing this afternoon at 3 and tomorrow at 3 if anyone in the area's interested (we're meeting at Murky Coffee in Arlington to drive to some more Republican-leaning parts of Northern VA). And i'll tell you, you may be reticent about talking to people because you don't think you have what it takes to be that frank with people, but if you can agree to issues like the above, then you do. All you have to do is talk from your perspective, and what you'll find, in my honest opinion, is that the issues are on our side. Many, understandably, are open to considering the fact that many simply can't afford health care, or that this Iraq war was a disaster, or that the economic approaches of the Republicans is at fault for much of what has happened, and is tilted towards the wealthy at the expense of the lower/middle class.

As a last push here, i'll tell you that some people just need someone to talk to about this decision. I've talked to, just to name a few:

-a woman who works at a local jail in Staunton, VA who had a pre-existing condition that wasn't covered by her last employer and wanted to know the basics of Obama's health care plan (which you can quickly few here);
-a Chinese-American in Arlington, VA who was voting Republican simply because her family would hold it against her if she didn't, in her own words; but particularly since she said she though Obama was right in so many ways, i put an argument to her about the issues at stake, and believe she may have been moved by it;
-a woman who was voting for McCain in Manassas, VA simply because of abortion, so i was able to talk to her for 20 minutes or so about the other issues, particularly emphasizing the fact that SO many other issues out there having to do with "life" are neglected by the Republicans--the loss of life of Americans, Iraqis and Afghans because of war; the way in which basic health in life is compromised by the lack of health care for many (or through unfair health insurance practices); the lack of basic necessities in life because our economic and tax systems are tilted towards the wealthy; etc.
-a young 20-something middle school teacher in Manassas, VA who was undecided and thinking most specifically about national security in his vote; i talked to him about the things mentioned above and why a sensible, informed, and judicious approach to foreign policy is a lot safer and more humane than McCain's impulsive decision-making, inhumane joking of bombing a country, and insistence on winning wars in a world where stabilizing countries should be more of the focus.

Those are just a handful of those i've talked to, but so many of those i talked to are similar, bringing up this or that point that they heard along the way, with a real willingness to hear someone speak with conviction about the overall picture of the issues out there--especially in these, the last few days before the election, where people feel compelled to honestly think about things (on a whole). We're all capable of sharing our opinion of why we're supporting someone, and that's what i always emphasize. I basically say to people, just to give any uncertain folks out there a sense of what exactly can be said (in person or via phone, though they also provide scripts if people want to go by those):

"Hi, i'm Brendan O'Connor, a local volunteer with the Obama campaign. We're going around talking to potential voters, seeing if they have any questions about Obama, if they're definitely planning to vote on Nov. 4th, and if they've made up their mind between McCain and Obama."

Usually they interject here and answer one or more of those questions. If they don't, then i usually ask more forthrightly if they've decided between one of the candidates; then, if you sense they're undecided, i usually ask "Is there a particular issue you want to look into that will likely determine your vote, or a couple of issues?" Of course you dialogue with them about what any of those issues might be, and go from there (honestly admitting if you don't know much about one). If you sense they want to hear more, or if they don't name any particular issues, i usually go into: "Well i know it's helpful for me to hear an individual's perspective on why they're supporting one candidate or another, so for me there are a few particular issues." Then i usually talk about three things: health care, foreign policy, and the above point about how Obama can be a healing force in our country through his ethics and expansion of things like national service. But those are just a few reasons that i support Obama, the punch comes when someone talks about things that matter most to them, as those are the issues anyone can usually talk more passionately and honestly about. But it can be helpful to think ahead of three reasons you support him before talking to voters, and then even practice a few times going over what you'd say--just be open to making your three reasons a quick list or slightly more in-depth if the person seems willing to hear a little more detail.

All that said, i think it's just about what i heard Joe Biden mentioning on the radio the other day--and no, i don't drink the kool-aid and hear or believe everything these guys say, but this was good; he said, basically, that what allows us to help people is the basic reality that we can make change happen if the current set up of things is not allowing for things to work as they should or could. So here's hoping that this note on my personal perspectives offers some encouragement to go push for affordable health care, fair taxes, sensible, rational foreign policy, and overall, a deliberately more humane, ethical, and reason-based approach to governance and life in general.

All the best,


PS--If anyone wants to see some fun pictures of VA election activities around my way, and get a sense of election stuff in VA, check out these shots i have up on Facebook:

Update: I couldn't make up a better example than this video of someone making something happen for Obama:

Update 2: Handy video pushing the same points about VA, while showing people getting out all over the state: