Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Chicago Tribune's Crystal Ball
circa January 2005

On January 20, 2005, Chicago Tribune writer Eric Zorn penned a blog post entitled '08 reasons why Obama will run for president in 2008.

Looking ahead almost 4 years, Zorn observes:

  • "Sure, Obama is a huge celebrity now" but his star might fade
  • Democrats would not choose Clinton due to her status as a "poisonously polarizing figure"
  • Senator John McCain will be too old to run for President in 2008
  • "Obama is the Midas of fundraisers" because he had $600k in his campaign fund (Obama's campaign raised $150 million September 2008 alone)
He ends the article with the following:
[Then Obama spokesman Robert] Gibbs denied again Wednesday that Obama will run in 2008.
Don't you believe it.
Thanks, Ryan!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Voting in North Carolina

Today, thanks to the wonder that is early voting, I voted in my first presidential election since moving South.

I have to say, it was a simply wonderful experience. Though the electoral equivalent of the Battle of Gettysburg may be raging in the state as a whole, the contest here in Durham is more like Picacho Pass. There's some blustering, and burning of hay, but the casualties are minor. Durham, simply put, is as blue as it gets. Still, it has been an interesting electoral experience for a number of reasons.

1) The battle-fury of the state has inspired people here. Each time a new voter cast his or her ballot into the electronic-era's version of a marble jar, the room erupted into a huge cheer. It was wonderful, this feeling that our votes matter. Most of these new voters were African American or hispanic. The election volunteers were almost exclusively white and over 65, and it was these volunteers that cheered louder than anyone. If that doesn't stand as an example of just how far we've come as a city in mending the terrible legacy of race relations in North Carolina, I don't know what does.

2) As I stood in line, car after car arrived driven by volunteers working to take those with limited transportation to the polls. One of my favorite moments was the Prius that arrived decked out in Obama stickers to deliver an elderly woman in a wheel-chair wearing a McCain-Palin button. The line of voters (mostly wearing Obama t-shirts) moved her right to the front of the line.

These were my favorite things. But I noticed something else too, something that made me thankful that, for all the partisan bickering of the last few weeks/months/years, it really is nice to have a 2 party system, and it'd be even better to have a few more parties in the dance hall. In local elections here, many candidates run unopposed. Pragmatically, this is a wise move for the state GOP. Republicans have a snow-ball's chance in hell of getting elected in Durham, and it's better to spend what funds haven't been allocated to Nieman-Marcus to run candidates in Raleigh. But in more than a few races for local attorney and judge positions, the unopposed candidates are, well, douche-bags, a fact I was made aware of not by local news coverage (reporters pretty much leave uncontested offices alone in their endorsements and review) but by bar-room chat with the progressive lawyers I drink with. It gives me a sense of understanding about why people in Kansas vote the way they do. When everyone you interact with and every local media outlet you have access to has the same political view you do, its just about impossible even for an educated voter to have a grasp of just how weak their party's position may be on some issues.

For now, I'll give these local candidates the benefit of the doubt, but one need look no farther than our former DA to see what happens when candidates are allowed to pander only to their base. Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled with the very real possibility that my state will elect a Democrat for president and that the long reign of Libby Dole may at last come to an end. But it is worth remembering that a little bit of The olde Venice Treacle, while bad for fevers, is good medicine for politics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alden Clarke — Painting Samsara

Alden Clarke is a friend, a co-conspirator, a physicist and an artist. Some of his painted work is now available online and I find it stunning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

When did Welfare Become a Dirty Word?

[This post is a part of Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty.]

wel•fare. n. The good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.

The title of this post is a bit misleading—I’m pretty sure I know when welfare became a dirty word: ending welfare was a plank of the Reagan platform (“Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.”). But it got really dirty in the 1990s, when President Clinton promised in his 1993 State of the Union address to “end welfare as we know it”:

Later this year, we will offer a plan to end welfare as we know it. I have worked on this issue for the better part of a decade. And I know from personal conversations with many people that no one, no one wants to change the welfare system as badly as those who are trapped in it. I want to offer the people on welfare the education, the training, the child care, the health care they need to get back on their feet, but say after 2 years they must get back to work, too, in private business if possible, in public service if necessary. We have to end welfare as a way of life and make it a path to independence and dignity.
A year later, House Republicans and Republican candidates signed the “Contract with America,” the third tenet of which was:
3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.
Finally, in 1996, Congress passed Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program that had been in place since 1935. (PRWORA actually expired in 2002, but Congress has continued to fund it in the absence of a replacement program.)

The question really is, then, should welfare be a dirty word? Current events provide decent context for answering the question.

Welfare in the United States began with the Aid to Dependent Children program as a part of the original Social Security Act of 1935 (it was later renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children for obvious political reasons). It helped fund state programs that, in essence, provided financial assistance to single mothers (later revised to cover any single parent). The general idea, it seems to me, was that children should not suffer because their remaining parent cannot bring in sufficient income to support them. This was obviously a serious concern during the Great Depression, but, in fact, many of the state programs were started much earlier in the century.

In this context, it makes sense that the 1990s saw the culmination of the backlash against welfare. Reagan Republicanism created the belief that welfare was a “reward” for not working. The flush economy of the 1990s reinforced the impression that not working was a “choice.” And, of course, the characterizations of “welfare queens” by the media had become the image of welfare.

But, of course, single parenthood didn’t go anywhere. Just the opposite. Divorce rates continue to climb at the same time that most states have eliminated alimony (child support remains, but is notoriously insufficient). The drug war has broken up millions of families, particularly those of color. And abortion has become a scarce commodity in many communities.

And now the economy, for lack of a better word, sucks. Commercial paper is the foundation for most large companies’ payrolls. The lack of credit will make it increasingly difficult for parents to house and clothe their children during gaps in employment. And, god forbid, should the equity injection prove insufficient or overseas investors start calling in debts, the federal government will have little choice but to print more money—read, inflation—making it next to impossible to pay for everyday goods.

In 1929, our generation’s grandparents were teenagers. Most came out the other side of the Great Depression able to house, feed, and educate our parents, making them most prosperous generation in history.

Don’t we want good fortune, health, happiness, and prosperity for the children of 2008?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Smart Folks Talk Economics

Periodically, among friends and occasional blog readers, I have expressed some reservations about the motives of the Southern Institute of Higher Learning at which I am employed, but yesterday it did good. Real good.

Duke for all its odd politics and the occasional "southern charm" of its administrators, is one of the most open places I have ever been to. I mean that literally. There are no locks on the library (open 24 hours a day), and the pianos in the music department are for use by anyone in the community. The parking still sucks, the public transit is non-existent, and we have an honest-to-goodness coal plant in the middle of campus, but I will forgive them all that for today for putting together such an interesting panel of experts to discuss the recent financial crisis.

Now I don't agree with everything these folks say, but this is the first time I've had access to a real candid discussion about what the recent proposals on the Hill are supposed to do. If you're at all curious about the details that have been left out the stories politicians have been telling us of late, I encourage you to take a look/listen. The video is a little long, and gets dull at times, but its a good way to pass an evening paying bills or folding laundry or what not.

That is unless you are playing Palin-Biden debate Bingo tonight. That should take priority.