Saturday, September 6, 2008

Palin redux

OK, I lied. In my last blog, I really was trying to write as if I were thinking like an independent voter, but in my heart I knew I could not. And after reading what other so-called independent voters were saying to pollsters, I was amazed that actually, I got it about right! Nevertheless, now that the dust has cleared, I have other thoughts, both about Sarah Palin and the whole convention.

First, it just amazes me that voters who have been swayed to the Republican ticket by her are voting for it because she is "just like me." When I heard that people actually make decisions based upon who is most like them, I thought I was witnessing the decline and fall of the Western world, and I still do. I mean, I think I have a healthy dose of self-regard (as does every blogger who deludes him/herself into thinking that people actually want to know what they think), but I don't think someone like me ought to be President, or Vice President, and you shouldn't either! Sheesh! Much has been written about Palin having boundary issues with her family. But really, it is the American electorate with the boundary problem if our vote is driven by our identification with their lives as opposed to their positions on the issues.

Second, as a social worker by profession, I found her belittling of community organizers offensive (and I'm not the only one). But really, it was more telling than that: it revealed her as someone with absolutely no regard for minority and low-income communities, the problems they face, and their resilience. Community organizing efforts have been the last resort of these neighborhoods when their governments fail them. It's an honorable tradition and an honorable profession, especially in Chicago, where Jane Addams' Hull House saved so many new immigrants to this country during the turn of the last century. I hope Obama slams her on this, and that the 36 (out of 2,380 total) African-American RNC delegates figure out where her allegiances lie.

Boy, I could go on and on. But I'm anxious to get to my next blog, about Bush's labelling of his opponents as "the angry left" during his speech. I thought that one was really rich.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin speech

The next time Sarah Palin walks out on a stage, they ought to play Heart's "Barracuda." She certainly lived up to the moniker given to her in high school last night. This morning, the blogs are burning and churning, every which way.

Listening to her, and then seeing her hold her baby after the speech (which even I found touching), all I could think of was that commercial with the song that goes "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan....."

I tried to put myself in the mindset of an undecided voter. It didn't work. I tried to assume the "disaffected Hillary voter" stance. Closer, but still no go. Next I went for the independent voter, who goes back and forth watching the election closely, and has made his/her mind, many times. I've done that before. That was a better fit. And here is what I came up with:

It was a speech that was undoubtedly written for a man. I thought the sarcasm was ugly. If this is who she is, she won't wear well, even if I agree with her about what a great guy John McCain is. But despite this, she gives off a gutsy gal, Annie Oakley persona that I find appealing. That is why I think I could fall in love, maybe for fifteen minutes, maybe long enough to be interested in John McCain's speech tonight. But ultimately, when I thought about who I would rather listen to for the next four years, I would remember why I dislike Bush so much, turn off the TV, and buy me an Obama pin. But not from I mean, what do you take me for?

UPDATE: My fab governor, Kathleen Sebelius, makes an excellent point in Huffington Post today: we have a lot of small towns in Kansas. Not a one of them has hired a lobbyist and gone after earmarks. But Sarah Palin, according to the Washington Post, got almost $27,000,000 in earmarks for a town not much bigger than my sons' high school. I wonder if a debate moderator can ask her about that without being vilified as sexist.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Personal is Political

I feel sorry for the Palin kids, who really have been brought up out of the spotlight. And now it's white-hot and it's shining on them, which means that Governor Palin's oldest teen-aged daughter has to have her pregnancy announced by her mother, and picked up by every newspaper, wire service, and blog.
Credit her mother with putting a positive spin on it--she spoke of her excitement at becoming a grandparent, her pride in her daughter's decision to have the baby (uh, doesn't that make her pro-choice??), and of course mentioned that the prospective parents will be marrying shortly.
Reporters covering the Republican National Convention have found delegates to be largely supportive, noting that it burnishes Palin's anti-choice credentials. "It just makes the Palin family as human as any other family there is in America," said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt. "I think there's a big contrast between how the Obama camp has presented this issue already and the clearly pro-life, consistent message that's coming out of . . . Sarah Palin.
Honestly, the sheer chutzpah of it all is staggering. The daughter of a governor who is loudly and proudly not only anti-choice, but anti-knowledge when it comes to sex education, has managed to make unwed, teen parenthood a virtue to these wingnuts.
But I cannot help but think about what the wingnuttery would have been talking about this week, had Barack Obama had an unwed teen-aged daughter. Can anyone say with a straight face that the subtext would have been no different?
I have been looking on the web for a discussion about this, and all I can find is the faux outrage that conservatives ginned up for Obama when he alluded to abortion (and STD's) as "punishment" for a mistake (see full quote here). But I would be curious to know what other people think. Do you think that the pregnancy of an African-American teen from Chicago (with a parent on the Presidential ticket) would be greeted with the same enthusiasm by conservatives? Would it matter to the election?
Meanwhile, back to teen pregnancy as a social policy issue: As noted above, Governor Palin has been a big fan of abstinence-only sex education. So here is an inconvenient truth about it that she might want to read. It's too late for her daughter, but not for the hundreds of thousands that will be governed by decisions made in a McCain-Palin administration.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Christmas in August

Nothing more needs to be said about Barack Obama's performance last night, in front of a live audience of 80,000, and a TV audience that exceeded that of the opening Olympic ceremony. I mean, when Pat Buchanan and Bill Kristol are piling on the encomiums, you know that he had to have been nothing short of spectacular. I can't wait to see the full post-convention bounce (which has already started).

But the real gift going into the Labor Day weekend has to be McCain's vice presidential selection. Sarah Palin is an inexperienced, apparently ethically challenged, creationist and mother of five who McCain thinks will appeal to disaffected Clinton supporters. Honest to God, he (and those Knights of the Roveian Brotherhood who serve as his advisors) thinks that women candidates are so interchangeable that the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pantsuits will switch their allegiances forthwith. HUH?
I mean, I know these women. They are friends of mine. And this choice is going to be seen for what it is: an unbelievable insult to our intelligence.

If you are a Republican, until this morning, you probably thought the biggest impending disaster for the GOP was the terrible prospect of Hurricane Gustav hitting the coast of Louisiana (a prospect that no one hopes comes to pass), causing not only the postponement of your big party in St. Paul, but reminding people of the dazzling ineptitude Republicans displayed the last time a hurricane made landfall in New Orleans. It would now appear that there are two disasters to be managed.

The challenge for Democrats is to manage their behavior. I'm a bit concerned about Joe Biden coming across like a boor in his debate with Governor Palin a la Al Gore in 2000, during his first debate with President Bush. Beyond that, Obama's crack team of managers and strategists have to frame the narrative about Gov. Palin before McCain does (which is eminently doable, since she is such a blank slate to the electorate in the continental US).

But as a friend of mine said today, Michelle Obama should start measuring the windows in the residence quarters of the White House. History is beckoning.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Yes, it distracts us from real issues, and yes a lot of it is silly. But today, finally, Barack Obama brought his A-game to the art of "drawing contrasts" with his opponent. Responding to the comment by John McCain that he was uncertain about the number of houses he had, Obama had a field day. "I guess if you think that being rich means you've got to make $5 million and if you don't know how many houses you have, then it's not surprising that you might think the economy was fundamentally strong. But if you're like me, and you've got one house, or you are like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don't lose their home, you might have a different perspective." He then quickly got a killer ad with a great punchline on the air.

The McCain campaign hit back with the predictable laundry list (e.g. Obama's income last year, his own one million dollar home, his association with Tony Rezko), punctuated, of course with a reference to McCain's POW status during the Viet Nam war, all in what appears to be a futile attempt to turn the gaffe to their advantage.

Of course, what is just nuts about this is the fact that John McCain has proven himself to be the worst on substance-his national security ideas, his health care "policy" proposals, his ignorance about the economy, and his hypocrisy about social issues (that pander-thon that was McCain at Saddleback last week was sickening), and yet this is what is going to stick. Go figure.

It's Thursday, and I'm willing to go out on a pretty long limb and guess that Joe Biden is the guy we're all going to be looking at tomorrow or Saturday at Obama's side. Good thing, too. Even though his behavior as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill hearings was really creepy, my man has no problem going after the jugular, and he can do it on the issues.

Today it was Obama taking it to McCain. If, as I predict, Biden is elevated tomorrow, we can rest assured that the team will not only be able to deliver a good one-two punch, but they'll be able to go the whole ten rounds.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

...and don't let the door hit you on your way out!

I've been away for awhile, in our nation's capitol, but I'm back on the prairie now, and going over old newspapers. The big news 'round here this week is that the Johnson County District Attorney, Phill Kline, has lost the Republican primary, and will be leaving that office.

This is not mere parochial chit-chat. Phill Kline was the darling of the national anti-choice movement, so relentlessly monomaniacal in his pursuit of abortion providers that he even turned off the majority of Republicans in Kansas City. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The bare-bones backstory is as follows:

In 2002, Kline ran for (and won) election to office as the state's Attorney General. It was a very close race, and his opponent, a county district attorney who spent only $150,000, likely would have beaten him had he campaigned across the state (he was too busy prosecuting cases). It was another example of how wingnuts have perfected the art of winning by flying under the political radar while sending out dog whistles to the faithful. We all braced ourselves for what was to come.

It didn't take long. Almost immediately, he began pursuing Dr. George Tiller, one of the few abortion providers in the nation who performs late-term procedures.

Kline's focus on Tiller made Inspector Javert look like an adolescent with Attention Deficit Disorder. He began by charging the doctor with 30 misdemeanors for allegedly performing 15 illegal late-term abortions on women ages 10 to 22 without properly reporting the details to the state. The crimes in question would concern failing to report sexual abuse (which is defined, ipso facto as underage sex), as well as late-term abortions administered without following state-mandated procedures. To bolster his case, he demanded the records of 30 young women, ostensibly to determine if these particular abortions had been done illegally, but he was really on a fishing expedition to see what he could find.

He was stymied at almost every turn (ultimately a judge dismissed the charges against Tiller), and in 2006 lost his re-election bid by a wide margin. Undeterred, he got himself appointed to the post of Johnson County district attorney (his opponent in the state race had been the county DA, necessitating the appointment of a new one), home to a Planned Parenthood. He then began this new job by filing 107 charges against the organization, for (again) failing to report the sexual abuse of children, the performance of so-called "partial-birth" abortions, and the creation of false information in the medical records. Planned Parenthood adamantly denies all charges and believes them to be politically motivated. No kidding.

The person who beat Kline in the Republican primary, Steve Howe, is also anti-choice, but considered to be moderate. He was a prosecutor in the DA's office for eighteen years before being fired by Kline upon his appointment to the office in 2006. Although it remains to be seen, most political watchers think it's unlikely that, if Howe is elected, the case against Planned Parenthood would proceed. Howe made his bones in white-collar criminal prosecutions and consumer protection, and has said that public safety would be his priority, should he emerge victorious over his Democratic opponent in the general election (his opponent, Democrat Rick Guinn, was also a prosecutor in the DA's office before being fired by Kline).

However this election goes, let us give thanks that Mr. Kline, who so cavalierly made the lives and health of women his very own political football, has himself finally been kicked where it counts: out the door.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is coming to the prairie today, to discuss his energy plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil. This is a good thing, insofar as we are now talking about a deeply intractable problem and, as a proud funder of the slimy, misnomered Swift Veterans for Truth (to the tune of about three million dollars), there will be a lot of interest in what he has to say in our capital city (where the Positive Voter Index stands at Republicans +7).

If you read the Pickens Plan, as he exhorts us to do in numerous commercials, you might think that he's had some kind of deathbed conversion. He calls the United States "the Saudi Arabia of wind power," and cites a 2005 study by Stanford University, which revealed that there is enough wind power worldwide to satisfy global demand seven times over (I'm stuck on the fact that Pickens-one of the largest donors to conservative causes-is actually citing a study from a University he would probably otherwise dismiss as a liberal hotbed). It's certainly striking to see someone who has spent a lifetime in the oil business become such a champion for alternative energy sources, but he seems to be one zealous convert.

Of course, there's always a catch and in his case, it's significant. For Pickens, the operative idea is not as much a reduction in reliance on oil in toto as a reduction in reliance on FOREIGN oil. As it turns out, he's all for drilling anywhere and everywhere in this country: "I say east, west coast and ANWR—get it all! To get off of foreign oil, that is the enemy...You’re drilling and whatever you are able to find and put into the domestic system will help us.”

But this is not written into the text of the Pickens Plan. And there is probably a good reason for this: he knows that not one ounce of oil, taken from these places, is ever going to result in bringing down the price of gas at the pump in any significant way. It is disingenuous at best, and a ridiculous lie at worst, to imply that failure to exploit these resources is the reason for high gas prices, as he does. According to the Energy Information Administration, there MIGHT be a tiny decline in pump prices by 2030, should such drilling take place. So the question is, would such drilling be worth the environmental impact?

I hope Pickens means what he says about wind. Here in Kansas, where our governor wisely put her foot down on the construction of two coal plants on the grounds that they would have negative environmental impacts, wind seems like a great alternative. But we should all read his fine print (so fine it's non-existent) before signing up.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Barack Chalk Jayhawk

Unless you're a prairie dweller or a die-hard sports fan, you probably don't know the meaning of this post title, and why would you? But my employer is the University of Kansas, whose mascot is the Jayhawk (a mythical bird that cannot fly), and "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" is a chant, intoned slowly, at sporting events here (by the way, we're called "KU," not "UK"). In the last 25 years, this phrase, as well as the words "Kansas," "Jayhawks" "Crimson and Blue," and other such words and phrases have been trademarked by the University, and they have made millions in t-shirts, ballcaps, hoodies, stadium chairs, etc. purchased by the faithful from licensed vendors, who pay the University a premium for the use of those words on said items.

This week, a jury decided that the University can demand that vendors cease and desist the production of such paraphernalia when those trademarked words, in combination with certain colors and certain other words, either infringe on the right of the University to make money, or dilute the trademarks themselves. Apparently, KU is the canary in the trademark infringement coal mine: other universities were watching the outcome of this case closely.

They should not have bothered. Because you could not make case law out of this verdict if you tried. What did the jury have in mind when, for example, after viewing over 200 t-shirt designs, they found in favor of the University as regards a t-shirt design that says "Kansas Swim Team" (with little sperm swimming underneath), but in favor of the the t-shirt purveyor-defendant regarding t-shirts that say, "Kansas Drinking Team," and "Kansas Co-ed Naked Beer Pong?" Furthermore, there were hundreds of other designs, all related to the University, but which were idiosyncratic to individual players, coaches, or administrators. Why were some of these deemed off-limits while others were not, even though all were equally offensive, or equal in their use of trademarked words? For example, the coach of the football team is quite obese. The jury ruled in favor of the University regarding the phrase, "Our Coach Can Eat Your Coach," but in favor of the vendor on the phrase, "Our Coach Beat Anorexia."

This t-shirt conundrum also has a political side story: for the last several years, I have been the faculty advisor to the Kansas University Young Democrats, a sanctioned University student group who pay tuition to this University, and work their collective tail off for the party locally and statewide. This year, as with a lot of college students, the group became Obama supporters, and asked the University's trademark office for permission to sell t-shirts that said "Barack Chalk Jayhawk," with the Obama campaign logo. Clever, no? They were given permission to sell fifty.

The point is, they could have sold several thousand, and made a considerable amount of money for their University-sanctioned group. I had people calling me from all over the country who wanted those shirts, after our governor, a big Obama supporter, was spotted on TV wearing hers. Yet, they were enjoined from making more, because this would have "infringed upon" and "diluted" the University's marks.
So this is what it's come to. These kids go to this university for four years, and build up an affinity for the place. They pay tuition, they purchase tickets to the sporting events, they buy their books through the bookstore, and when they graduate, the Endowment Association comes calling for a donation to their alma mater. In other words, they are encouraged to have pride of ownership in this place, to be "loyal," because it is this loyalty that the University hopes to capitalize on long after they have graduated. But, as students, they are not allowed to participate in commerce that involves the symbols of their University, even if the entity that profits is a University-sanctioned group.

Call me crazy. But I've seen t-shirts with the Jayhawk wearing a dangling cross on a chain. I've seen "Jewhawk" t-shirts. I've seen "Gayhawk" t-shirts. I have no idea if any were sold by licensed vendors or not. Either way, none of these logo modifications seem to have done any damage to the University's reputation. In fact, I'm guessing that they help the wearer further identify with the University, which is what donor-dependent institutions (e.g.all universities) want. But this is the sort of nonsense we get when we privatize those portions of the institution that make money. The forest is lost as the focus is placed on those lucrative trees.
So Barack Chalk Jayhawk! Go Nebraska-O(b)mah(m)a! And USC, I hope you will print silkscreens of Obama dressed as a Trojan. You get the picture. The big picture. The rest is nonsense.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fourth amendment: 12/15/1791--07/09/2008

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures , shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue , but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Say adios to the Fourth Amendment today. Recite kaddish, have a viewing, put it in the ground before sundown, sit shiva, send it to the place that God has prepared, whatever your religious or spiritual predilictions may be. It was killed today, at the ripe old age of 216, by a Congress so predatory, so shortsighted, so craven, that they passed a law that, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley says, has "not an ounce of principle, not an ounce of public interest." Briefly, this law expands the power of the president to wiretap American citizens. In doing so, it enables Bush to cover up his crimes by granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies that did his dirty work for him.

According to Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), seventy senators, all of whom voted today, had never been briefed on the wiretapping program, and didn't even know what they were voting for. I'm guessing that one of those was another constitutional law professor, my candidate Barack Obama, who voted in favor of this bill. This just boggles the mind.

But what is worse is that Bush's criminal behavior, past, present, and future, has been enabled by a Democratic senate. This is the point at which I need to be reminded why I, along with so many others, gave my money and time to the cause of Democrats taking back the Senate in 2006. Seriously, this is important.

I think there are probably more than a few of us reconsidering the depth of our support for Senator Obama. We'll never vote for the other guy. He's much, much worse. But we're a lot more jaded, and maybe not as willing to spend our money (which we need for gas anyway--it just hit $4/gallon on the prairie today) or our time on someone who has, along with other Democratic colleagues, sold the American people out and contributed to the gutting of the Bill of Rights in one fell swoop.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Uniting for Change

Today I attended one of the 4,000 Unite for Change meetings, held across the country and engendered by the Obama campaign through their website. Unite for Change is the name of the grassroots project that the the Senator's camp is betting can produce the winning ticket for Dems up and down ballot, in every state across the country. For that reason alone, I was curious as to how many would show up, who they would be (young or old? the usual suspects in my community, or new people?), and what we would accomplish. The meeting was held at the home of a prominent Democrat and known Obama supporter, advertised only through the Obama website.

Since this person is a friend of mine, I heard about the meeting from him. I don't go on the Obama website, and I wondered if this method of notification was going to be sufficient.

Quantitatively, I need not have worried. About 35-40 people showed up at this particular meeting, and its a safe bet that other such meetings in the vicinity, also posted on the Obama website, were attracting people too.

Upon our arrival, we were asked to sign in, and given the option of taking some literature. Dan (our host) then spoke about his own enthusiasm for Obama, and the importance of using the website to make phone contact with our neighbors (the Obama website will generate those lists, in batches of 25). He also spoke about other ways to volunteer. Then a paid staffer of the Coordinated Campaign committee instructed the crowd in the importance of voter registration, and absentee and early voting.

Perhaps the most interesting, exciting thing about the meeting, and also maybe the scariest, was the crowd. It consisted largely of people around my age (I'm a Baby Boomer), most of whom I have never met. And yet, it was the younger folks (many first-time voters) who, six months ago, had all the enthusiasm. They were the ones who flooded the caucuses. Where were they now? This is a college town, and it is summer vacation, but it gave me pause that so few of them were there. Nevertheless, this was an enthusiastic group, "fired up, ready to go," as the Obama rally chant goes.

We all went around the room introducing ourselves, and giving our reasons for coming. One woman, who is Caucasian and married to a West African man, noted that the candidate looks like her children. Another said that her husband was on his third deployment, and that she had had enough. Another said that she was just very afraid of what would happen if Senator Obama did NOT win. And more than a few were drawn in by his speeches, starting with the barn-burner given on the floor of the 2004 Democratic convention.

I wonder if the youth presence was suppressed by the fact that Obama has lately come to be perceived, to some extent, as more of an old pol than a change agent icon. Over the past few weeks, he has tacked to the center faster than you can say Florida-Ohio-Michigan, reversing his position on the FISA Bill (and infuriating the netroots, see here and here), moderating his vehemence about a speedy ending to the war in Iraq, and foregoing public funding for his campaign ( a position with which I agree). As the Huffington Post noted today, his actions demoralize the activist base, and open him to charges of taking stands out of convenience, not conviction.

I don't think the Senator can win without strong youth enthusiasm and support, and I'm talking about the kind that, for example, produced the much-viewed musical testimony by Will I. Am. I guess time will tell.

But if all those committed people at our meeting actually end up calling their neighbors, or registering voters, or working at headquarters, and if the kids come back from summer vacation with renewed energy for this campaign, then not only will there will be no stopping the ascension of a President Obama, but we just might get a filibuster-proof Senate.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jim Slattery, our candidate for US Senate

I went to a reception (read: fundraiser) for the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Jim Slattery. From the time I moved here, until 1994, Slattery was my congressman. That year, he decided to run for governor against Bill Graves, a Republican who held a statewide office (Secretary of State) and was thus better known. Graves was a moderate, and better on reproductive rights than Slattery was or is, so, dear reader, I voted for him. When all else is equal (and it pretty much was), I'm always going to go with the guy who doesn't want to tell women what they can do with their bodies.

That was then. Now, after a 14 year hiatus from politics, Slattery is back and running against the incumbent Pat Roberts, best known for his star turn as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during the run-up to the war. Ol' Pat's outrageous behavior on that committee--he stalled production of the report on pre-war intelligence in 2003-4 because he knew it would hurt Bush's re-election effort; called Phase II of that report a "monumental waste of time"; supports every law allowing domestic wiretapping; let committee member Senator Richard Shelby off the hook for leaking classified docs, (all of this is documented at Think Progress)--is making the prairie people take a second look. Republicans VASTLY outnumber Democrats in the state, but they completely understand the kind of malevolence and hypocrisy exhibited by Pat as he sought to keep his constituents in the dark in order to re-elect his President.

The reception was CROWDED. I'm sure this is, in part, because we were at the hands-down most beautiful home in town. But there were a lot of Republicans there too, including Slattery's campaign manager, Nelson Krueger, and his wife Judy, who was Bill Graves' campaign manager in 1994, when he ran AGAINST SLATTERY!

After a little chit-chat and chablis, Slattery spoke and took a few questions. He's no Obama, and I'm not in love. But he's smart, funny, works hard, congenial--and sincerely pissed about Pat Roberts' conduct. Check Jim out at Jim Slattery for Senate.

Guns 'n' Wingnuts

The Supreme Court has spoken this morning, and I'm seriously reconsidering my line of work. The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms restrictions intact.

It's no surprise that a majority-this majority-viewed the handgun ban as unconstitutional. But some of the reasoning seems breathtaking in its utter stupidity. Justice Scalia, in a comment ripe for riposte on the Daily Show, wrote that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense because (in part) "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police." And you can also use your foot at the same time to kick the intruder in the groin! While plunking a ukelele with the other one!

Of course, now that the door has been opened and the red carpet laid out for the NRA, all sorts of challenges to state regulations will introduced, and some will surely be thrown out on the constitutionality grounds that this ruling invites. Here in Kansas, we have almost no restrictions on handguns anyway: we have conceal-carry, we don't have to report lost or stolen guns, there are no limits on the bulk purchase of guns, and no assault weapons ban. One of the few sensible ideas that we haven't gotten around to messing with is that there is no law forcing the Universities to allow guns on campuses. This means that we can (and do) post signs on doors that note a prohibition on handguns in University buildings. But I'm betting that, with this decision today, someone will introduce a bill in the next legislative session that will reverse even that.

As someone who works in a University, I've spoken with colleagues who have students about whom they have serious qualms. In speaking to administrators here, I've learned about the surprising number of restraining orders taken out by students against other students, faculty against students, etc. There is already no restriction on the selling of handguns to juveniles here. I'm waiting to see what happens, with utter disbelief that the Court knowingly opened the door to bringing the wild west back to the prairie.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kansas and the Enron Loophole

Last Saturday, I went to a great Kansas event, Symphony on the Prairie. It is exactly that: the Kansas City Symphony takes its concert show to the Flint Hills of Kansas, and sets up outdoors, against a backdrop of rolling, lush, green ranchland, populated by cowboys on horseback, and roaming cattle against a Kansas blue sky. Unless you've been there, you cannot imagine how sweet, beautiful, and trippy this whole scene is. The evening ends with you and six thousand of your closest friends singing Home on The Range. Even the most citified transplants were in tears by this point. And you can bet that everyone who was there will vote to save the Tall Grass Prairie from anyone even thinking about destroying it.

But getting to this event required a three hour round trip, and about sixty dollars worth of gas. So if you haven't already contemplated the high price of gas (a luxury afforded only to cave-dwellers ), now would be a good time to do so. We can start with the Enron loophole.

From the Tampa Tribune, June 13th:
"In December 2000, Congress passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton just before he left office in January 2001.

Few people realized at the time that a loophole had been tucked into this 262-page bill at the last minute by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. It came to be known as the "Enron Loophole," and it allowed Enron and other large energy traders to be exempt from federal oversight of over-the-counter transactions in energy markets. . . . . . .It has allowed massive growth of unregulated trading on energy futures markets, where investors essentially "bet" on the price of oil at a certain date in the future. . . . . in the unregulated environment spawned by the Enron Loophole, speculators increasingly treat commodities as if they were stocks. These investors don't want to take delivery of the oil after they "buy" it; they just want the price to rise so they can make a huge profit. As the dollar weakens, oil becomes an even more attractive investment. . . . "

Experts in the field argue that the Enron loophole is responsible for about fifty percent of the rise in gas prices that we are now seeing. Its perpetrator, former Senator Gramm, is now John McCain's energy advisor. So it should come as no big surprise when McCain himself rallies to the defense of said loophole.

For the record, Obama voted for the farm bill that closes the Enron loophole, as did our right-wing Senators Brownback and Roberts. So what happened to Mr. Independent/ Maverick/ Straight Talk Express?

There he goes, riding off into the sunset, never to return. Cue the music.

Monday, June 9, 2008

It's lights out, unless.....

Here on the Plains, we've had quite a few MAJOR storms in the last month. More than once, my fellow prairie dwellers have had to curse the darkness AND light a candle, since whole neighborhoods have lost electricity--along with their trees and cars--in the heavy rain and winds.
Every time that familiar flicker before the dark hits at my house, my baby-boomer mind thinks of that old Peter Wolf song, Lights Out. It starts out, "Lights out, uh huh, blast, blast, blast!"

So where the hell is this free association going? was lights out last Saturday for Hillary Clinton. And even though I supported Obama, I did not think that watching her concede was a blast. To the contrary, it bummed me out. She's a smart, gifted politician who was in the right place at the wrong time. We don't talk about it much, but I think one reason why Democratic prairie people were more supportive of Obama than Clinton (by 3-1) is because we know Obama's ascension does not herald a post-racial era (as a lot of giddy people say it does), but he certainly moves us forward. It would have been great to have a woman president. But Clinton's vote on the war made her, in this particular year, an imperfect vessel for those dreams.

Which brings me to my central thesis: there is a lot of talk, by the pundits, and more than a few female Clinton supporters, that with Clinton out, their allegiances will switch to McCain. To anyone contemplating that: please DON'T. If you do, it really will be lights out, for the women of this country. We will fall further and further backward as he kowtows to the wingnuts and appoints extremists to the Supreme Court (the next president will probably have the opportunity to nominate three people).

It already is lights out for Lily Ledbetter, the plaintiff in the Title VII sex discrimination suit against Goodyear Tire. You can read for yourself
about Ledbetter's egregious treatment at Goodyear--about the huge pay gap between her salary and other managers' salaries, for 20 YEARS, despite her excellent performance reviews. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against her, with Bush appointees Roberts and Alito in the majority. McCain has already signalled his enthusiasm for judges in that mold.

And, of course, with McCain we can all kiss a woman's right to choose goodbye, as the judges he appoints will join the Bush appointees in overturning Roe v. Wade. This will place decisions about abortion not with women and their doctors but with state legislatures.

These sorts of scorched earth tactics never work. Ask all those Nader supporters in Florida if they STILL think there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between Bush and Gore.

All it takes is a relative few of you to do the unthinkable. Go ahead. And that blast you'll be hearing will be the sound of our civil rights, gone up in flames.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Washington University and anti-intellectualism

Back in the late '70's, I went to Washington University in St. Louis for a year. Seeing that campus for the first time, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was a kid from Texas, from a family with its share of problems. Now I was going to be a student at one of the finest schools in the country. Had it not been for a generous financial package, I would have missed a peak educational experience, and I remain grateful to them for giving me an opportunity to splash in the pool of Big Ideas.

Now comes the announcement that they are giving an honorary degree to Phyllis Schafly. PHYLLIS SCHAFLY?! This is a travesty. And it makes about as much sense as Columbia giving one to Ahmadinejad.

I'm more than just disgusted. I really feel stabbed in the heart. Wash U used to repudiate anti-intellectualism. Now they want to give one of its most vigorous, vicious proponents its highest honor. It cannot be the school I thought it was.

Update: Cathy G. at Crooked Timber has a great blog on the subject here.

Today, the St. Louis Post reported that hundreds protested Schlafly's award by turning their backs. Just like most of those Wash U graduates will when they get those fundraising calls.

Equality under the law

The California courts today ruled that the current ban on same-sex marriage in that state was discriminatory, and that such couples had the right to marry. We're hearing gloom and doom from all the obvious quarters (Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, blah, blah, blah), but it's really a good news-bad news deal. The good news is obvious: gay people should have the right to marry, period. The bad news is likely to come in states like mine, where the wingers will gin up the troops and demand passage of a statewide ban on civil unions and domestic partnerships (there's already a marriage ban).

Here in sweet Larryville, we have a domestic partnership registry, and ordinances that ban discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. But the wingers have tried to pass state laws that supercede our local ordinances in the past, and this is just going to get their shorts in a knot again. I'm really worried.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This is what passes for news these days

So John Edwards endorses Barack Obama. In other news, water still wet. I mean, why is this worth a big ol' headline? I loved John Edwards as a presidential candidate, but this looks pretty craven, especially since it appeared that his position on universal health care was closer to Hillary's, and that Obama blew it in their initial talks about an endorsement by being glib, aloof, and dismissive. He seems to be coming in at the last minute, when it's obvious that Obama can win-has won!- the nomination without him. What gives?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jon Stewart interview with Douglas Feith

Poor Douglas Feith. The eyes in my village were on him last night, and not in a good way. The former undersecretary of Defense under Rumsfeld has written a book (War and Decision, Harper Collins, 2008). And he obviously wanted to sell a few, badly, because he made one of the best book tour stops in the country last night: The Daily Show.

I wonder if he ever watched The Daily Show before going on. I wonder if he thought Jon Stewart would be polite and cordial (which he is with just about every guest he has on, except those who support the war).* I wonder if he fired his publicist this morning. Because Jon Stewart is everything Tim Russert ought to be, but isn't. The guy just had no place to hide: on the rationale for the war, on the underselling of the risks by this miserable administration, on the war's execution, Feith just could not stop it from coming. See for yourself, here and here.

*According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Daily Show is very balanced in its guest bookings, with equal numbers of conservatives and liberals. John McCain has been the most frequent guest. See:,8599,1738670,00.html

Happy Birthday, Governor Sebelius!

This blog starts, appropriately enough, on the 60th birthday of our governor, Kathleen Sebelius. Here's what Kansas would be like without her: We would have (1) two coal-fired power plants sending carbon dioxide and mercury emissions throughout the state; (2) an Attorney General who spent ALL HIS TIME trying to shut down two facilities in the state where abortions are performed, and zero time on issues like consumer protection, domestic violence, etc.; (3) a school board that thinks we should be teaching our kids "intelligent design" theory; (4) a billion dollar deficit, or more; (5) no one, but NO ONE, trying to implement a health care plan that covers all of the state's citizens.

Lots of people talk about her as a possible VP candidate on the Obama ticket. Put me in the doubtful column, because she has no foreign policy experience. On the other hand, she was an early supporter, and with her exec experience, she's likely in line for a cabinet post.

She's spending her birthday in Kansas City, boogying to the tunes of Long Tall Marcia Ball, the Queen of the Mardi Gras. Boogy on, Kathleen!