Living in the Battleground

Did you know Joe the Plumber is running for Congress? He is, and guess what? He’s running in my district.

You remember Joe, aka Samuel Wurzelbacher. He had his 15 or 16 minutes of fame during the last presidential contest in 2008 when he questioned Obama about his tax policy. Back then, like now, Obama was talking about his plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250K a year. Joe didn’t like that. Obama’s opponents, Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin, made “Joe the Plumber” an example of the hard-working Americans Obama wanted to exploit with his tax plan.

Joe has since written a book and gone on to become a conservative activist and is now, like I said, running for Congress in my district. He’s running against Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic incumbent, who is serving her 14th term in the House.

Now, I haven’t been following politics much since our move to Ohio a year ago, but one thing I find interesting is that living in this state, and in our previous state of Iowa, we have been afforded a glimpse into the political machinery of our two-party system. Both states are considered battlegrounds. In Iowa, we had the privilege of caucusing in 2008. That was a memorable and exciting experience. That state is still hotly contested. Media outlets in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, are raking in a lot of money from political ads.

Today, as I drove north from Toledo to Ann Arbor, I saw a billboard that read: “Obama supports Gay Marriage & AbortioGOP billboardn. Do you? Vote Republican” That was the second time in three days I’d seen that billboard. Well, I happen to agree with civil rights and a woman’s right to choose, so I’m not going to vote Republican. But, I liked how it laid out the GOP platform so straightforwardly. It’s so black and white. And so short-sighted.

There is a lot of money being spent in Ohio trying to sway voters to either side. It’s been apparent to me that the Republicans have more money because I’m seeing more ads. During the Olympic coverage on NBC about 3/4 of the ads I saw during the broadcasts I watched were political ads. The Republican ads blasting Obama and trying to unseat Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown were far more numerous than ads against Republican candidates. It was clear to me that the Democrats are being outspent.

All those emails I’m getting from the Obama campaign telling me so were not lying. Democrats are losing the money race. Just like in Wisconsin a few months ago. There, outside Republican money from wealthy donors like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, fueled the effort to defeat the campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker. I have had faith that money could not buy an election. But when Walker retained his seat, I was disheartened. Apparently if voters hear a message often enough, even if the facts are muddled, they will believe the message to be true.

And all that money now — including $10 million from Adelson — is going toward ads, like the billboards I saw around town.

When we lived in San Francisco, we saw a few very interesting political upheavals, including the recall of Gov. Gray Davis that put Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger in the governor’s seat. It was the first successful recall of a California elected official. And it opened up a whole new can of worms for that state. We watched California’s state government take a free fall from dysfunctional to non-functional, and then we packed up and moved to Iowa.

And now, living in the battleground of Ohio, I feel like my vote really counts. My  neighbor, unmoved by neither Obama nor Romney, disclosed she might not vote in this election. I can’t think of a worse outcome than that. And think of all that money wasted!

A Midwest Childhood

A Midwest Childhood

For my two boys (and their friends), living their early lives in the Midwest has given them the opportunity to explore their environments without the hassle of busy streets and shady characters roaming around. They live a relatively happy and carefree existence.

Transporting Myself

As I’ve moved eastward, I’ve become more suburban. Though I still consider myself a city girl, loving the amenities of urban life, I do admit the suburbs have some benefits, especially when kids are in the picture.

Today I came across a blog dedicated to researching and writing about smart transit. It got me thinking about my own progression from living in San Francisco using mostly my feet, bicycle and relatively reliable public transit for getting around to living in a suburb of a post-industrial Midwestern city where the garage doors go up, the cars go in and the garage doors go down. Now I drive every day. I have to make it a point not to drive to run errands, though it is hard to do when surrounded by sprawl. In San Francisco I rarely left my neighborhood except to go to work.

Coming clean, I don’t do a whole lot of blog surfing. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I do to find some real jewels. This blog, called Progressive Transit, is maintained by an electrical engineer who is passionate about the ways we get around.  He posts this:

Cars do not belong in cities.  A standard American sedan can comfortably hold 4+ adults w/ luggage, can travel in excess of 100 miles per hour, and can travel 300+ miles at a time without stopping to refuel.  These are all great things if you are traveling long distances between cities.  If you are going by yourself to pickup your dry cleaning, then cars are insanely over-engineered for the task.  It’s like hammering in a nail with a diesel-powered pile driver.   To achieve all these feats (high capacity, high speed, and long range driving), cars must be large and powered by fossil fuels.  So when you get a few hundred (or thousand) cars squeezed onto narrow city streets, you are left with snarled traffic and stifling smog.

Before moving to the Midwest in 2006, I walked or rode to the grocery store, local restaurants, bars and coffee shops and even took walks around the neighborhoods I lived in for exercise. I loved being mobile by foot or bike, not dependent on our single car other than for long trips.

When we moved to Iowa I continued to try to walk and ride my bike to run errands as much as possible, but it became more difficult on roads with heavy traffic, no bike lanes or poor or no sidewalks. Car transportation was so dominant, I regularly was the only pedestrian or bicyclist out and about. I tried to commute by bike to work a few times a week and walk to the grocery store when the weather permitted.

Now in Ohio, time transporting myself on my feet or by bike has sharply decreased. My neighborhood is safe, and the neighbors keep to themselves. The schools are good and though most everything we need is within a 10-mile radius, ditching the car has been harder than ever.

Destinations are so spread out here, and the roads aren’t very friendly to non-vehicle traffic. I often felt safer riding through the chaotic streets of San Francisco on my bike than navigating through the suburban sprawl of my town.

But, with everything, one needs balance and compromise. We traded a smaller carbon footprint for good schools, a safe neighborhood and plenty more time in the car. Still, we can work to reduce our impact on the environment, but it’s good to be reminded that I can still try harder to live a life less tied to my car.

Remembering the Caucus

In two days, the Iowa caucuses will convene once more. This time around, voters will come together to stand for their choice in the Republican presidential primary contest and I will remember the thrill of caucusing for my first and only time on a chilly January evening in Des Moines four years ago.

I wrote about it then, in a more personal forum than this blog–an email to friends and family mostly still voting the conventional way of filling in ovals or tapping a touch screen back in California. And, I pulled that old email out to remind myself how exhilarating that process had been for me as I stood with my neighbors in an elementary school gym standing up for my support of Obama. Here it is: democracy in action.

OK, I know you all (ok maybe not all of you, but at least three of you) are chomping at the bit to know all about caucusing in Iowa (Ok maybe not so much chomping as didn’t even think about it), so here’s a little rundown of how it all worked for this first-timer.

First off, I have to say that if you’re gonna be in Iowa, this is hands down the best time to be in Iowa–once every four years during a presidential primary race (or if you just can’t get enough of pork chops on a stick then it’s the Iowa State Fair, also a good reason to be here). The media spectacle in itself is a wonderment.

Since this summer every candidate (some more than others) has made a temporary nest here in central Iowa. Probably every town on the map got at least one visit from a candidate. So that was exciting, mostly that for a change Iowa and Iowans were being paid attention to. I don’t consider myself an Iowan if that’s what you’re thinking, but it was nice to see them getting their shoulders
rubbed by national media and important political people. Anyhoo, the buildup to last night’s caucuses was palpable. I have never physically witnessed so much political activity among normal people. On my street alone, which is a very normal, working class neighborhood, people displayed their political preferences via lawnsigns and bumper stickers for Hillary Clinton, Richardson, Obama and Edwards. And as I drove around town during the last few months I saw every single Dem and GOP candidate
represented on lawns, in windows on bumpers. It was very invigorating for me who enjoys the political process so much to see a community outside the Bay Area come alive with such fervor and diversity of opinion. Not only were people very interested in what was going on, they proudly shared their opinion on candidates with the rest of us. This dialogueing, even if in just the form of a lawn sign, was such a great thing for me to witness here because I’ve been so used to people either not talking about politics
because it’s such a touchy subject or because of a little media theory called the spiral of silence (which I won’t get into, and you can
thank me for that later).

Caucus night capitalized on the people’s ability to share their opinions on candidates in a public forum. At 6 p.m. Kurt and I walked the several blocks to the local elementary school where our precinct was to caucus. After a bit of uncoordinated rigmarole, we were cattle herded with our Democratic precinct mates into this little room where we were supposed to stand with people who are also voting (caucusing) for the same candidate. However, our small room was too small for the 425 Democrats from precinct 46 who showed up (they only expected 300). And the Republicans had a very large room for their 30 or so caucusgoers so we negotiated with them to switch. Look the bipartisanship in action in Iowa!

We are herded into the bigger room and fill it up as well, but not as much and there’s no where to go. So we’re about an hour past caucus starting time and finally the guy in charge (who is wearing an Edwards shirt and getting negative comments from the mutterings of Kurt) tells us we have to get ourselves in order. Kurt and I stand with the Obama folks and the Obama precinct
leaders instruct us to make single file lines and then the first person in each line (that’s me) count the rest and report to a guy walking by with a clipboard. So we did that. Our first count, Obama had 167 people (40 percent of the 425 in the room!) It was already a huge upset victory for the Obama campaign. We didn’t know yet that Obama by this time had already been
declared the winner in Iowa so the energy was still electric in that room. Edwards came in second with 77 or so and Clinton
in third, just barely viable, with 67 or so. (Huge surprise to us). In caucusing for the Democrats, a candidate has to receive I think
about 15 percent of the vote to get anything out of it. The Richardson campaign came just shy of the magic number of viability and Dodd, Biden and Kucinich had much fewer votes. Since those candidates weren’t viable, those who were standing in favor of them and others who were undecided were instructed to move to the groups of other candidates for a final tally of votes.

Some came to Richardson, making him viable, and some came to Edwards, Obama and Clinton. The final count was something like Obama: 175; Edwards 88; Clinton 77; Richardson 65. It was such an exciting process. You could feel the energy in the room. People were truly engaged and excited to be participating. Seeing your vote in this tangible format is incredible because you
can see who is with you and who is not. You can also persuade others to join your team. So instead of going to the polls and wondering who all those people are who voted with you or for an opposing candidate, you can actually see them, and see who is winning and losing. And you can talk to them, shake their hands, call them a sucker, yell at them for making a bad choice,
whatever. It’s a democratic thing and it’s fun!

Another interesting aspect to caucusing was seeing the people who came out to support certain candidates. Obama’s supporters were incredibly diverse. There were people of all colors and ages, many of whom had never caucused before or who had just registered to vote in order to caucus for Obama. It was clear he really had touched a marginalized population, and that was
great to see. Edwards seemed to draw mostly middle aged and older white men, though there were some middle aged white women standing for him. Hillary’s people seemed to be mostly middle aged and older white women, and some men. My grad
school friend who caucused in Ames where Iowa State is said that Hillary attracted a lot of gay men at her precinct. Richardson’s people, like Obama’s, were a pretty diverse set, and I didn’t get to see the Biden, Dodd and Kucinich people (one of the downfalls of being a short person in a crowded auditorium).

Now that the caucus is over and all the candidates and their entourages have left Des Moines, it feels a little empty. No more
political ads to entertain us on TV, no more tank-like media trucks taking up valuable parking spaces and making us feel important. I’m definitely feeling a little abandoned!!

It will be interesting to see how Obama’s momentum continues from his big win in Iowa next week in New Hampshire and then on Feb. 5 and how Hillary’s upset will affect her campaign.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope those of you who are in and around the Bay Area/Sacramento
area are doing OK. For a change the weather there is worse than here! It’s supposed to get up to 40
degrees today, I can’t wait. I’ve got to go get my bathing suit 😉

NDAA 2012: ‘Military detention authority on steroids’

I guess I was lucky that I was pulled off a plane by armed men, frisked, hands and feet splayed on the side of a police car and taken to a police building where I was held, strip searched and interrogated for four hours without really knowing why I was there. I was lucky in that it was before a bill like the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 was passed.

If I was held under the NDAA’s proposed guidelines, I could have been shipped off to Guantánamo and held indefinitely without trial.

A Michigan Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin, wrote the language that would allow the military to hold anyone — U.S. citizens and non —  suspected of terrorism for as long as it wants without the constitutional promise of a trial. Not only does the NDAA violate the constitution, but it would be another step toward a xenophobic police state where suspicious behavior is just as good as hard evidence.

It’s scary to think that in my case, I could be suspected of terrorism just for sitting next to two Indian men who needed to use the bathroom on an airplane and remained indisposed a little too long. That means anyone who “looks” threatening or “acts” threatening, to which there are no clear guidelines, could be shipped off to a military prison with a reputation for torturing its prisoners and stripped of their civil liberties, including due process . No, it’s not just scary, it’s unjust and corrupt.

The ACLU had this to say about the bill:

“This bill puts military detention authority on steroids and makes it permanent. If it becomes law, American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial.”

and

“Based on suspicion alone, no place and no person are off-limits to military detention without charge or trial.”

President Obama has threatened to veto it, saying:

“Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the President’s senior advisers to recommend a veto.”

Retired four-star Marine generals wrote an op-ed in the New York Times saying:

“…some in Congress are all too willing to undermine our ideals in the name of fighting terrorism.”

Let’s hope for all our sakes that Obama vetoes the bill—even if he’s doing it for the wrong reasons.

Read more:

The touch, the feel of newspaper

A few years after graduating college, as newspapers were coming to grips with having an online presence, and I found myself as a newspaper reporter wondering about the future of print journalism, a copy editor friend of mine said she will never stop reading newspapers in their paper form.

newspaper

Is print media going the way of the dodo bird?

She loved the feel of holding the paper in her hands, flipping through its big, broad pages and getting newsprint smudged on her fingertips. It truly was a tactile experience for her.

She has since left journalism and is living abroad. And other than being Facebook friends, we have lost touch. I wonder if she still holds true to those statements. Because, even as I agreed with her that evening sitting on the steps to her apartment in Southern California, it has been a long time since I held a newspaper in my own hands.

Indeed, while I have not given up my hearty news diet, I consume my news through online sources on my laptop and on my smartphone (sorry, no iPad yet). Until we moved to Ohio, I subscribed to the Des Moines Register’s Sunday edition, which landed on our doorstep and was generally ignored for at least a day. I found the process of unwrapping the paper, shuffling through the mounds of advertisements and trying to find a few stories that captured my interest tedious.

So when we moved to Ohio this summer, I decided not to subscribe to the local Toledo Blade. It wasn’t has tough a decision as I thought it would have been—to actively stop receiving a print edition of the local news. I had acquired a taste for news from various sources around the web: The New York Times online, which recently started charging for online subscriptions; SFGate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online site, Democracy Now! and the Huffington Post. Since Occupy Wall Street surfaced, however, I’ve been getting a lot of my news from a lot of sites I am pointed to through my Twitter stream.

Now, it seems my news digestion model has shifted from what the newspapers put in front of me to the stories from across the world those who share my interest place in front of me. In a sense, I am the new editorial director–the editor in chief of my personal news stream.

This is not a new concept, by any means. Individual tailoring to a person’s news interest has been going on for years. In college, I even wrote a paper about the variety of the British media’s ability to cater to certain niches, which at the time, American newspapers did not do. For me, the shift has been gradual but rewarding. I don’t miss holding a paper, folding it over to get at the story, flipping pages to get to the jump buried on A23. I don’t miss getting newsprint on my fingers.

While paper seems to be falling by the wayside–hopefully saving a few trees in the process–I hope the practice of journalism will stand strong. With shrinking editorial staffs and a move toward more entertainment-driven news, I do hope that even though we’re not holding the newspaper in our hands anymore, honest, independent journalism is still something to uphold as we strive for democracy.

Occupy the Kids?

Should I or shouldn’t I get the kids involved with the Occupy movement?

We visited Occupy Detroit in early November with the kids and mother-in-law.

This is a question I have been grappling with since the Occupy Toledo encampment set up shop downtown. My immediate reaction was, of course I’ll take the twins down there to see what it’s all about. But this was before the movement sparked police violence and protesters in larger cities were getting pepper sprayed, cracked on the head and dragged off to jail.

I grew up in a politically active family. My dad was a labor union organizer for 25 years and spent a lot of his time on picket lines in candlelight vigils. He marched against the Gulf War in the early 1990s and brought my brother and me along. In San Diego, where buildings were wrapped in yellow ribbons to support the troops, protesting the war was not a popular act. As a girl coming of age there, I just wanted to fit in, and I did not appreciate the exposure he was giving to me.

Until I grew up.

I feel such solidarity with the Occupiers across the country and the world, though I have not physically participated in much of the goings on. Most of my decision to refrain from joining the movement with my presence at the camp in downtown Toledo has to do with my kids. While I would like to expose them to the issues Occupy raise and show them first-hand this amazing show of democracy, kinship and protest against the raging inequities among the classes, I don’t want to inadvertently expose them to any voilence that could erupt.

Granted, Occupy Toledo has been small and peaceful, and the police presence minimal–especially compared with what is going on elsewhere where police have donned riot gear and clashed with protesters with grisly outcomes. But mostly, I have preferred to stay on the sidelines of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, sharing information and keeping up with the news.

I have friends in Oakland, where we once lived, who took their kids to the Occupy encampment, and they had no problem with violence. We also visited the Occupy Detroit encampment earlier in the month and enjoyed talking with people and feeling the good energy there.

I have driven past the Occupy Toledo space a few times with the kids. They tell me they don’t want to “go to the protest.” I won’t push them. But I do want to expose them somehow.

I read this article today asking readers if they would take their kids to any Occupy protests. It raises some good points about indoctrinating kids on the parents’ principles.

So, I’ll do what I can, and expose where I can, but I also know that pushing the kids too far in one direction can often backfire.

 

Green Friday

The chaos of Black Friday. Source: DJTechTools.com

Yesterday, someone I follow on Twitter sent out a tweet saying: “Don’t give Black Friday your Black Dollars!” It resonated with me because I’ve always witnessed Christmas, as an outsider non-Christian, as a time when Americans go a little bit crazy about buying stuff.

Now as it seems people are waking up from a 30-plus-year sleep believing that unregulated capitalism can keep us safe and happy, it is a perfect opportunity to take action and change the status quo.

Maybe instead of shopping on Black Friday and giving our hard-earned cash to the multinational corporations and institutions that are appealing to our American instinct to buy more stuff, we can savor the meaning of the prior day’s Thanksgiving and really feel thanks and blessings for all the richness we have in our lives.

By staying in and not giving in to the marketing machine and mobs and mayhem of Black Friday, we will also be giving Mother Nature a break. So this year, I’m calling the day after Thanksgiving “Green Friday.”

If we protest shopping and stay in to spend time with family and friends or just spend time reading a book, walking in the woods or around the neighborhood, if we protest spending any money unless absolutely necessary, we will be burning less fuel, sitting in fewer traffic jams, using less electricity and reducing our stress.

Green Friday will be a way for me to sit back, continue to digest the copious amount of food ingested the night before, relax, visit with friends, enjoy my family and — if the weather’s good enough– take a walk outside in the fresh air away from crowds, away from big box stores, and away from the consumeristic ideal that has swallowed the holiday of Christmas.

Will you join me?

P.S. Naomi Klein recently wrote about how those who deny climate change’s existence or, rather, humans’ contribution to climate change, believe that anti-capitalists have drummed up the science to promote socialism and squash American freedom. Read on here.

Occupy Detroit

The more I visit Detroit, now that I’m living in northwest Ohio, the more I fall in love with it. It would take pages for me to explain the details of what I see when I visit, but in a nutshell Detroit tells me the story of humanity born and gone and trying to be born again.

One of the highlights of present-day Detroit is the Occupy Detroit encampment at Grand Circus Park at the gateway to downtown. Yesterday, I dragged my twins and my mother-in-law from California to visit the encampment and join in on a march. We were, of course, late to the march, but we caught up with the occupiers at the Park and met some neat folks.

Here are some of my favorite photos from our brief visit:

One of the many signs posted on the outside barrier of the encampment at Occupy Detroit.

Occupy Detroit's calendar for November.

On a wall just outside the encampment...something I strive for every day.

In the encampment, one of the many things the 99 percent are protesting.

This wall is across the street from the encampment.

 

Update on the Cats

Thanks to everyone who shared their advice and comments and voted in the poll about our newest members of the family–our two cats.

The bolder one of the two has been spotted at night and during quiet times of the day (when the children are not around) exploring the house, eating food and hiding under the bed. The shyer cat has yet to be seen, but there was a tell-tale sign of its existence: its fur was stuck to a vertical scratching post we bought. They are alive, and they are watching us.

It was three full days after they came to us that the bolder cat was first spotted. Now it has been nine days. We are all patiently waiting for our new friends to emerge. The kids are especially being patient and are very interested in the rare spotting of the bold cat.

We will be in this house for almost three more year, so they have plenty of time to adjust. I just  hope that when it is time to move to our next–and hopefully final–home, that the cats will have fully integrated into our family.

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