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.