Calling To Service

In his speech on Tuesday night after winning the election President-elect Barack Obama spoke about the need for sacrifice and called us to serve our country.Vodpod videos no longer available.

On a side note, as much as I loved hearing that message I am afraid that we are relying on the office of the President to push us into vounteerism, when there are plenty of great organizations that make it easy to volunteer. Like many volunteer centers throughout the country, the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center (where I live) provides a website and other services to make volunteering for an organization that fits your areas of interest really easy. Even so, hearing these words from the top elected official in our nation made me feel very hopeful. And here is why.

In the days following the election I heard Tavis Smiley speak about the attention mandate. The amount of people paying attention to this election was huge, no matter what political party you belong to. Smiley’s point was that Obama’s mandate was to do something with that attention. Also during the last few days Bill Moyer’s spoke about his experience in the LBJ White House when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He talked about how our democracy has been fundamentally broken by lobbyists, interest groups, and I think most importantly a lack of trust in not only the process but the people as well.

The other day I blogged about how the attention that people were paying to this this election made me feel proud and patriotic. With the economic crisis we have an opportunity that was squandered after 9/11. After 9/11 we were asked to serve our country by going shopping.

So about now you are probably asking how do these random thoughts fit together – calling us to serve, the attention mandate, a broken democracy, the economic crisis. In calling us to service to our country Obama is I think providing an answer to how we can mend our democracy as well as fix our economic crisis. By taking all of the people who are still paying close attention to every step our new President-elect takes and calling them to volunteer, and get involved in government, Obama is asking for our help. I believe that a large part of why our democracy is broken, the lack of trust, has stemmed from people feeling like they have not been heard, from a disconnection between what we do in our everyday lives and what happens in Washington. By bringing us back into participating in civic life we can feel more a part of government, we can feel a greater sense of ownership in our community and our government.

By asking us to go shopping after 9/11 President Bush played to a much lower aspect of our society – mass consumption. As a consumer society we have turned to buying things in times of crisis. Mass consumption has created its own set of problems, destruction of the environment and the tendency to ignore social problems such as poverty and hunger. While the economic crisis has been really hard for a lot of people, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that, maybe in some ways it can be a good thing. In trying to fix the problem we can turn away from a consumer-driven society, band together to provide answers to societal problems, and build trust in our democracy.

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Forgetting vs Remembering – How to Heal A Nation

I think my political hangover is about come to an end. I still can’t help talking nonstop about the election, but it is getting to be less and less. I have wept for joy and relief, laughed, gotten sad about the hatred, bigotry, racism, and homophobia that still exist, but mostly just marveled at the enormity of it. Now it is time for me to put some thoughts down about what all of this has meant to me.

I was born in the late ’60s. For me the world has been tinted by national events that for the most part have been negative – obviously there have been good times and great times, but I am talking about those singular moments when you say “I remember where I was when…” I remember where I was when I heard that we had invaded Iraq the first and second time, where I was when hostage were taken during the Olympics, and of course where I was when I heard about 9/11. The only exception I can think of is the Berlin Wall which was an amazing thing, but to me it was fairly remote and to put it mildly hasn’t effected my life like the other events. Ah yes, another one just came to mind – when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. But, this election is one of the few times where I can say “I remember where I was…” to something that is so powerful and positive that it almost eclipses all else. And more importantly to me my daughter will be able to say it to her grandchildren.

In listening to all the conversations on the radio on race and what this election has meant to black Americans it seems that older generations are still more skeptical about how far we have come in turning the corner. And it is here where I think that forgetting vs remembering enters into the dialog about how we as a nation react to certain events. I have to digress a bit. My boss has been educating me about how the French people are still bitter about losing to the Romans low these many thousands of years later. This has colored their national temperament and made them more pessimistic. I will leave it up to him to comment on the French (he is French after all and I am not). But it has been often pointed out that America is a nation of amnesiacs when it comes to history and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But maybe those who remember history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe it is the very quality of our being able to forget history that has enabled us to move on.

Sure forgetting has brought about a range of problems with it; you could argue that a number of problems have been brought about by forgetting: from failing to honor promises to Native Americans to not using the lessons from the civil rights struggle in the ’60s to fight the civil rights issue of our time – same sex marriage. And maybe what I am talking about is forgiving rather than forgetting, but it seems like there is an element of both in each. Forgetting has, to a certain extent, allowed us to heal instead of dwell on the pain. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has a greater understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to see what role remembering and forgetting had to play in the healing of South Africa.

Whatever the case, we need to have a little bit of each – remembering and forgetting – in order to not repeat mistakes but not get stuck in a negative feedback loop either. And the understanding of that duality is what has really impressed me about Obama. Our president elect seems to really get the nuances of not just race, but a wide range of other issues such as personal responsibility vs. helping each other.

Hopefully tomorrow I can write some more about asking us to serve.

Are you tired of the election?

I have been seeing this question more and more in the media – are you tired of the election. In one sense yes, in that I am just exhausted from the worrying and the speculation. But in another sense, no. No I am not and I am not afraid to admit it

I do hate to admit exactly how truly geeky I am – but yeah I am going to miss this election. More to the point I am going to miss the fact that people are actually talking about politics – and not just because I now get to have conversations about stuff I care about instead of talking about football;) but i think it is good for us. Yeah there are a lot of riled up people out there saying things that are insensitive. But on the flip side, there is passion. A while back I talked about patriotism and how I have come to define it and what it means to me. And I just realized that this passion to me is the true definition of patriotism. The passion that you have to say what you feel and not be afraid to be called a jackass, because it is important to you.

And yes, the conversations haven’t all been healthy. I think we get lazy and talk, for instance, about big government vs. small government. I am sorry that is just lazy talk. We need a rational starting point. We must all accept that government has a valid role to play in our lives. And I for one and really really happy they exist. Would you want to test all your meat to make sure it was safe for consumption? Well thank the USDA. Would you want to pave your own roads? Thank your local government. There are many roles that government plays that we can agree on are good for society. The more interesting argument from my perspective is – lets talk about the areas we agree where government should be involved, and lets define where they should not be involved.

For me, the government should be involved in helping those of us who really need a hand, who have trouble feeding their family day to day. Government should be involved in keeping us safe, but that means more to me than army and police, it means regulations that protect me from stuff it would be hard for me to protect myself about – lead in paint, chemicals that can really do some harm. I am not a scientist. I can’t spend time doing the research to know which chemicals are going to kill me. The government should be involved in things that affect all of us – the environment

Government should not be involved in my body. Don’t tell me who I can love. Either make marriage legal for all or keep the government out of every aspect of my relationship. I heard fifth hand a quote from an un-named Republican saying “people who can’t get pregnant have no right” voting on anything remotely connected with being pregnant.

So – my little voting plug – Please Vote No on Prop 4 and No on Prop 8.

There are plenty of other areas where the government should be excluded, but that is a longer discussion than I have the energy for tonight. And even more gray areas – how do you balance the need for regulation and protection against the creative flexibility needed by business in order to innovate and stimulate the economy. But like I said – bring on those conversations and stop calling people names like socialist that are meant to scare people.

Why Intellectual Property Doesn’t Make Sense

When I was in college I wrote a paper about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (or was it Trade and Tariffs, I could never get that straight) which became the World Trade Organization. The general thesis of the paper was that Intellectual Property (IP) rights have gone overboard in favor of corporations. You have companies trademarking or putting patents on things like seeds and farming techniques that have been in practice for hundreds if not thousands of years.

I am not saying that all IP rights are bad. But I am really struggling about where to draw the line. On some level I question why it is that someone gets to say “I can make this and nobody else can.” The argument for IP protection is that people put all this time into something and they should be getting compensated for it. On the other hand shouldn’t the value, and therefore the compensation, derive from a combination of continued innovation plus the benefit of being the first to market and the halo of thought leader?

The thought process stemmed from reading a bottle of liquid soap and seeing that there was something called honey calendula that was trademarked. Now I have no idea what calendula is, but I have to believe it was some clever way putting together already existing molecules with honey to make something that apparently I shouldn’t be cleaning my hands without. So some company now gets to have a lock on this creation for a very long time. A creation that stems from something that everyone has access to or “owns.”

My wife was a brilliant childcare professional for a very long time. I started thinking – what if she had IP protection? Her creation is a child that has amazing communication skills and is incredibly creative. (Obviously other people, like parents, are involved in the process, but lets leave that out of my absurdist logic). What if she were able to trademark that child. Think of the money she could make off of her/his work throughout their lifetime. Obviously this could never happen, but what is it that gives some industries the right to patent things and others not. And why can some things get patented by people who don’t even own the building blocks for those things to begin with?

My knowledge of IP is not the best, but if memory servers the protection is on the process not the ingredient. But then could my wife have protected the process by which she does childcare? I know it is a lot more complicated than I can really tease out in this little blog entry. But, I guess the bigger question is where does it end – where do you say “ok, the world has enough patents?”

I know there are lots of really talented people who deserve lots of money for the tremendous work they do. And companies invest significant research and development into the things they patent. But it really seems like there has to be a better way. Will people really stop inventing things if there are no more patents?

4th of July and Patriotism

Yesterday for the 4th of July we bbq’d, played games, didn’t really catch any fireworks (this being California, the fires took it out of me), and of course had a great political discussion. As a Democrat I am really torn about the issue of patriotism as it has played out in the political landscape during the election season. Of course the play it has gotten about whether Obama is patriotic or not is way over the top and just doesn’t need to be dignified here by a response. But what I find interesting is the discussion about what it means to be patriotic and whether we as Democrats should be trying to “take back the flag”. The baseline of this argument is that conservatives have hijacked and draped themselves in the flag, and that loving this country is perceived as solely the domain of the right.

As far as loving this country goes – yes, Democrats should stand up and be vocal for what we love about this country, and there is quite a lot. As far as criticizing the country goes – yes we should be vocal about that as well. We love the US warts and all and we want to improve the country not be blind about its imperfections. But let’s get back to patriotism. First of all I think that criticisms against Obama’s patriotism are veiled arguments that “he is not one of us”. Second I believe it is important to understand our patriotism rather than buy into the hype.

The “he is not one of us” argument is an us vs. them mentality. It goes right along side “America love it or leave it” and calls of people being “anti-American”. I remember the alternate version of “This Land Is Your Land” that went – “This land is my land, and it ain’t your land.” It is an exclusivity that brings with it an unquestioning loyalty at a time when we should be questioning more than ever.

When you put up a flag, what does it mean to you? For a long time when I thought of this mentality of America love it or leave it and people putting up flags everywhere you could see it conjured up notions of how Nazi propaganda brought such patriotism to a boiling point that it meant Hitler could get away with… well the Holocaust. Now, before you go and claim that I am comparing the US to Nazi Germany, or Bush to Hitler – I AM NOT DOING THAT. All I am saying is that patriotism taken too far is dangerous. And what I see right now is taking it too far.

Furthermore I don’t get the us vs. them. Aren’t we all a part of this earth? I understand the reality of borders, but in the abstract they are not something I believe in. Countries imposing borders on populations have gotten us into tremendous problems – the Middle East, Yugoslavia, etc. Sure they have their uses, but why is it that an arbitrary line makes me different than the person on the other side. And in the end why am I proud of the fact that I was born on one side of that line vs. the other. For a long time the idea of being proud of, in essence, the luck of where I was born seemed very strange. Yesterday, I thought about it another way. Not as being proud of what America is, but about celebrating the values we hold in America that make it great – liberty, freedom, and as my daughter says hot dogs and lemonade. So by all means I can get behind celebrating those things.

As I wrote this I thought about pride in America in another way as well. One of the reasons why I don’t feel the pride is because the justice system, the governmental system, all of those things were created before I was born and therefore I didn’t really play a part in them. Because of the way politics has worked recently I haven’t felt like I had a voice in that either. So, because it wasn’t something I was a part of how could I feel proud about it. I guess there are two sides of that I need to work on. One being more active, that would certainly help me feel more a part of the process of democracy that I think is amazing about the US. Two not feeding into this notion that America, and the stuff I admire about it, is something separate from what we do in our daily lives. The act of raising a caring daughter, of having political discussions with my neighbors (even if we agree 99.9% of the time), of supporting other members of my community, these are all acts that feed into the system that I love. And that is something we can all be proud of.

So what is your vision of patriotism?

Is There a Road Back for Sen. Clinton

If so I don’t see it.

She would need a 2 minute drill along the lines of what Brady pulled off in the Superbowl. Let’s do the math (fuzzy as it is). With 370 delegates at stake on March 4, and 604 in the remaining months (RealClearPolitics) mathmatically the race may not be decided Tuesday after next. But, if Clinton doesn’t stem the tide she could be in big trouble. Right now (again according to RealClearPolitics) Obama has 1363 delegates to Clinton’s 1271. To draw even with Obama on March 4 Clinton would need 92 more delegates than him, in other words Clinton 231 to Obama 139. Even a 60%/40% split would probably be enough to get her back in contention (222 to 148). Let’s look at states where Clinton has had a better than 60% finish:

Oklahoma
Arkansas

No idea why Oklahoma went the way it did, but Arkansas is obvious home field advantage for the Clintons. She didn’t even pick up New York with over 60% (alright she came close at 59.91% but she is the Senator there for crying out loud.

Now let’s see the states Obama has picked up with over 60%

Hawaii
Virginia
Maryland
DC
Maine
Washington
Louisiana
Nebraska
Virgin Islands
Illinois
Georgia
Minnesota
Kansas
Utah
Delaware
North Dakota
Idaho
Alaska

18 States in all.

Ok, let’s switch to the way everyone is saying for Clinton to win. Attack attack attack. I don’t understand the reasoning here. It plays right into why people don’t like her. And it allows Obama to come back at her claiming that this is typical politics as usual that people don’t want to be a part of, like he did in last night’s debate.

And for her to come at Obama with the whole plagiarism thing just smacks of desperation.

Clinton is on the ropes and March 4 will be the knockout punch.

Campaign Finance Reform and Free Speech

Last night I got into another discussion about Campaign Finance Reform, we were debating the merits of John McCain and the McCain-Feingold bill came up. I was talking to a Republican and when he said he wasn’t a fan of McCain I wondered why, which is where the bill came into the conversation. Leaving aside the merits of whether it has worked on not (obviously it hasn’t) we got into a debate about the financing of public elections and whether it constitutes free speech.

My belief is that we need public financing of elections. There have been three main arguments I have heard against this, namely: it is too expensive, it won’t work, and it violates the freedom of speech clause of the first amendment. Research has shown how the money needed to pay for elections would be more than made up for in decreases in special earmarks that are essentially repaying campaign donations. And yes it won’t entirely solve the problem, but combined with more openness in the election process I think we can substantially reduce the harm that money causes in the political process.

But the main obstacle has always been the Supreme Court’s interpretation of free speech in terms of allowing people to contribute and therefore have a voice in the process. My view is that this isn’t free speech it is pretty damned expensive speech if you ask me. Where else can you think of that you have to buy free speech? If you really want to have a voice in the process their are other fora for doing so. You could volunteer for a campaign, write letters to the editor, etc. That’s free speech. The current system inherently favors those with money and people with power, something freedom of speech was trying to go against. By creating publicly financed campaigns you are freeing the system up so that people’s voices can be heard equally no matter how much money they have.

Another crazy thought I had was, what about taxing campaign contributions? We have sales tax right? Why not put a tax on buying votes? If it is high enough maybe we can cripple the high return on investment corporations are seeing from their investments in politicians.

And now for some questions for you. Do you feel like money is really a problem in politics? Do you feel like there are better ways to solve the problem? What do you think of taxing campaign donations.