A Discourse on Bernie with my Brother

Wow…it’s been a while.

I have to say that I have missed blogging, but after the 9/11 anniversary event, the course of this blog seemed to change, and I with it. It was moving in a direction toward which I didn’t entirely know how to charter, and so I backed off.

Stories from the Heartland has gathered a lot of dust. It’s been more than three years since my last post–a missive about the Midwestern winters I suffered through each year, trying to tame my San Diego blood in sub-freezing temperatures.

But when my brother emailed me after Bernie’s primary loss in New York saying we should write a blog post about it, I perked up. I love sharing writing space with people, and he doesn’t have a blog. So I agreed.

And since his win in Indiana last night and his march toward our home state of California, it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Here’s what he wrote:

Optimism in the Afterglow

Post-New York primary, the delegate count is probably insurmountable for Bernie. But, wow, who would have thought someone with such uncompromising dedication to taking on the power structure of this country would come so far?! I am optimistic about the future.

Younger people broke heavily for Bernie and I’m not so sure this is because you become more “pragmatic” or conservative when you age. I think the most important factor driving the generational divide is the difference in where people get their information.

My mom and other good friends of her generation, who generally hold the same values and ideals as I do, were suspicious of Bernie because of things they had heard watching the news or listening to NPR. A limited set of sources. I get a lot of my news from Huffington Post or Common Dreams or my Facebook feed, all of which synthesize news from a broad array of sources. And those younger than me who spend more time on the internets have an even greater and more diverse set of sources from which to get their information and read opinion. Remember that poll showing that the word capitalism has stronger negative connotations than socialism for millennials?

So I’m optimistic that this movement will grow and that we will continue to fight for economic and social justice. For real equality of opportunity. I’m optimistic that the younger generation more clearly understands the degree to which large corporations control our economy and environment. And they’re looking for alternative models.

Bernie represents a manifestation of an alternative, and it has encouraged many. If Hillary indeed becomes the Democratic nominee, we must make sure she feels the pressure to fight against old friends. This article by Naomi Klein shows just how hard that might be.

But the Republican alternative at this point is either corporo-fascism (Trump) or theologo-fascism (Cruz). And I’m optimistic that not only will we reject those divisive alternatives in November, but we will continue to build on the progressive movement that Bernie, a socialist (well, democratic socialist) invigorated.

Thanks bro!

aaronHere’s a quick background on my brother. He’s always smiling, and he has a great smile. People are always commenting on his great smile. He’s optimistic and passionate about his beliefs, and he’s had some brushes with activism. But he also lives in San Diego, a hotbed of content, of sunshine and glistening ocean views. I’m not quite so optimistic.

Here’s my response:

I’ll Believe It When I See It

All the momentum and excitement Bernie has generated among the young people, the progressives, the decline-to-states and the I’ve-had-enough-of-the-status-quos is wonderful. But it’s no more wonderful than Occupy Wall Street, Save the CSU, Black Lives Matter and the 2000 Nader campaign.
All of those occurred in my conscious lifetime, and I have been marginally or deeply involved in them. They have all had great surges, and then the bottoms fell out and the momentum fell with it.
I’m not hopeful that once Clinton gets the nomination, much to my chagrin, that she will keep talking about the many points that Bernie raised—equal pay, universal health care, affordable/free college, a ban to fracking. These issues are not just pressing, they are dire.
We face a very real catastrophe on our hands in the form of climate change. Humans are quite adaptable for sure, but geez. What is the next 10, 20, 30 years going to look like? Bernie’s chutzpah to not take corporate money, to fund a national, high-profile campaign at a truly grassroots level, made me think that I could trust him to not kowtow to corporate interests when it came to the environment. Clinton? Is she going to say what needs to be said? Do what needs to be done?
That’s just one issue.
I’m glad he was able to direct the conversation toward progressive values, but that conversation has not been picked up by the mainstream media in any substantial form. Most voters don’t read alternative media like you, dear brother. Bernie doesn’t have the name recognition that Hillary has. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bernie’s disdain for the establishment (media included) has been the major obstacle of this campaign. And it’s a main reason he hasn’t topped Hillary in the delegate count. People don’t know who he is, and the media’s not about to tell them.
So where do we go from here?
For real, on-the-ground change to actually happen there needs to be continuing agitation on very local levels that translates to elected leaders in city council, county seats and state government. Even school boards!!
This is what the Tea Party did, then they were able to get people into the House, into the Senate…and they have hijacked the GOP. This is what the Christian Coalition did before them, moving conservative social values into the GOP platform.
Progressives need to think in that broad, long-term vein, where we can steer the Democratic Party and force it to address some of these intensely needed and crucial policies Bernie has been relentlessly stumping. We need enough candidates running on all levels of government that it doesn’t seem so strange to have a true progressive on the ticket.
 Birdie
The optimist in me hopes that Bernie’s movement doesn’t wither away like the others I’ve witnessed. I hope he can continue to encourage his supporters to stay active in the political process, to get involved on their local levels. And I hope he doesn’t go away. I just put a “Birdie” bumper sticker on my Prius (ha ha, shut up), and I don’t wanna take it off.

And then my bro wrote back…

I do agree that the tea party movement was quite successful at creating a Republican party with strong and cohesive values. But remember how this originated – a consortium of big-money think tanks funded by the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Real Populist movements throughout our history have originated in the streets. We shouldn’t seek to emulate the tea party approach because we’ll never be, and never should be, top-down led. Top-down inspired, sure, as what Bernie has done. But remember, the reason Bernie has done so well is because of the aforementioned movements that have infiltrated our psyche.

Occupy and the 99% vs. 1%? That completely changed the dialogue. Black-lives Matter? That is not fizzling out any time soon, and will be here in one form or another until “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.”

The movement to stem Climate Change continues to strengthen. You’re right, not fast enough. But as Dad would say, that means we just have to push harder because the alternative is giving in. We change the conversation and the politicians will follow. Keep bringing it up at dinner parties, chatting with your friends and acquaintances. Keep posting on your blog.

Because the young people are reading this stuff…

 

 

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Too good not to share

Too good not to share

Got this from a friend on Facebook. Happy MLK Day + Inauguration Day, and a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go.

Obama and Civil Liberties

Obama in Toledo

President Obama speaks to a crowd gathered at Scott High School in Toledo on Labor Day. Photo/The Toledo Blade.

President Obama was in town today to deliver a stump speech at a Toledo high school. I found out about it this morning on Twitter. I find out a lot of things on Twitter.

Most of me wanted to go hear the president speak, but after doing some searching I discovered there had been 3,000 tickets available for his talk and they were all taken. I wanted to take the kids, show them the motorcade, talk to them about doing our civic duty by voting and encouraging our political leaders to do what’s best for the people of this country. But they didn’t want to go. They didn’t want to drive downtown, and I didn’t want to push them into it. I figured he’d be back again before November. That’s one of the side-effects of living in a battleground state during a national election.

So, I turned back to Twitter, hoping to get some photos or personal stories from the scene downtown. I found a few posts—fewer than I thought I’d find. And then I came across a post that really caught my eye.TwitterCivil Liberties and Obama: a topic I’ve been curious about since he inserted language in the 2012 defense bill giving him executive power to interrogate and hold any person suspected of terrorism, even U.S. citizens, without due process.

I also like John Cusack. What could he have to say about this topic?

I clicked the link and was taken to a blog written by Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar who teaches at George Washington University and is really into constitutional law. He’s also really good friends with John Cusack.

The blog post was a Q&A, with Cusack asking Turley his thoughts about Obama’s poor record on preserving Americans’ civil liberties and how easily he has gotten away with their erosion.  I’ll highlight some interesting points.

TURLEY: … President Obama has not only maintained the position of George W. Bush in the area of national securities and in civil liberties, he’s actually expanded on those positions. He is actually worse than George Bush in some areas.

CUSACK: Can you speak to which ones?

TURLEY: Well, a good example of it is that President Bush ordered the killing of an American citizen when he approved a drone strike on a car in Yemen that he knew contained an American citizen as a passenger. Many of us at the time said, “You just effectively ordered the death of an American citizen in order to kill someone else, and where exactly do you have that authority?” But they made an argument that because the citizen wasn’t the primary target, he was just collateral damage. And there are many that believe that that is a plausible argument.

CUSACK: By the way, we’re forgetting to kill even a foreign citizen is against the law. I hate to be so quaint…

TURLEY: Well, President Obama outdid President Bush. He ordered the killing of two US citizens as the primary targets and has then gone forward and put out a policy that allows him to kill any American citizen when he unilaterally determines them to be a terrorist threat. Where President Bush had a citizen killed as collateral damage, President Obama has actually a formal policy allowing him to kill any US citizen.

I hate to think of Obama as outdoing former President Bush, but Turley makes the point that Obama bends the law for convenience’s sake, and Attorney General goes along with it. And, Turley, adds, just because Obama was a constitutional lawyer does not mean that Obama upholds the constitution.

TURLEY: Well, there’s a misconception about Barack Obama as a former constitutional law professor. First of all, there are plenty of professors who are “legal relativists.” They tend to view legal principles as relative to whatever they’re trying to achieve. I would certainly put President Obama in the relativist category. Ironically, he shares that distinction with George W. Bush. They both tended to view the law as a means to a particular end — as opposed to the end itself. That’s the fundamental distinction among law professors. Law professors like Obama tend to view the law as one means to an end, and others, like myself, tend to view it as the end itself.

And, Turley goes on to say that while Obama has tampered with our constitutional rights since being in office, it ultimately is up to the voters to hold him accountable. However, in our two-party, red-state/blue-state system, there are not a lot of options.

The Republican and Democratic parties have accomplished an amazing feat with the red state/blue state paradigm. They’ve convinced everyone that regardless of how bad they are, the other guy is worse. So even with 11 percent of the public supporting Congress most incumbents will be returned to Congress. They have so structured and defined the question that people no longer look at the actual principles and instead vote on this false dichotomy.

Now, belief in human rights law and civil liberties leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that President Obama has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution. But that’s not the primary question for voters. It is less about him than it is them. They have an obligation to cast their vote in a principled fashion. It is, in my opinion, no excuse to vote for someone who has violated core constitutional rights and civil liberties simply because you believe the other side is no better. You cannot pretend that your vote does not constitute at least a tacit approval of the policies of the candidate.

Yes, Houston, we have a problem.

Read the entire Q&A on Turley’s blog here.

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!

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 😉

Stay away Terminator

Today, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said out loud what many Californians (and probably a lot of other people around the world) have thought, or maybe didn’t think because why would they: “No matter where you go in the world, people still want to come to California,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s no one screaming like, ‘I can’t wait to get to Iowa.’ That I can guarantee you. They want to come here to California.”

I had to laugh when I read this because, being from California I would have never considered Iowa a destination. In fact, Iowa never entered my thoughts except when I watched “Field of Dreams.

But now that I live in Iowa, I thought Schwarzenegger’s comment to be offensive and misplaced. There are far worse places than Iowa that get far less tourism and far fewer mentions in national media coverage. He had one thing right: California does attract more tourism. People think of it as a destination. And I, too, would rather spend time sunning on the beach in San Diego or running through Golden Gate Park than battling through another Iowa winter (or summer for that matter).

Iowa has some good things to offer, though. It has the Iowa State Fair, as pointed out in a rather snarky comment by a Des Moines Register reader. It has lots of open space and blue skies most of the time. It has Iowans, who have this remarkable ability to stay in Iowa and survive the winters, and it has lots of pork, if you’re into that.

One thing it does have that California doesn’t, and Schwarzenegger can read this as a direct, in-your-face stab at his policies during his tenure as governor, is a functioning state government. While this year has seen a steep budget cut for Iowa, its legislature and governor are working more or less in union to address the problem. There will be no IOUs. There will be no late budget.

No, the pragmatic and earnest Iowa politicians are aiming to push through the legislative session in record time–just to save the state a bit more money after it reorganizes government and trims the budget. I can’t imagine Schwarzenegger or any of the California state legislators making fixing the state a common goal and actually getting something accomplished.

And that is one good reason to come to Iowa.

Revisiting the Ole Health Care Conundrum

When Obama addresses the nation tomorrow night I hope he comes at them in full force without compromise.

We, I hope this isn’t the royal “we,” don’t want to see him crash and burn, ala Hillary Clinton circa 1991,  or fail to see a golden opportunity right in front of him, like Sen. Ted Kennedy.

When expressing the need for real health care reform to skeptics (of which I know few it seems), I like to tell the story about how when my twin boys were born 9 weeks early and had to spend that time getting “well” and growing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the bill when we checked out of the hospital was $1.5 million. We paid $5 for each child, took them home and never faced a doctor bill from that long, intense stay.

We were the lucky ones. Had we not had a stellar insurance plan through my work we would probably have had to sell all our possessions, move in with a parent, take out a major loan and hope that we would win the Lottery.

When a child is sick and needs care, they should not be denied. On the flip side, if a child is sick and is not denied care, they or their parents should not wind up buried alive in debt.

We are slaves to a system that bleeds us dry. We live unhealthy lives that make us prone to sedentary diseases, like diabetes and heart failure. Yet, we don’t want to go to the doctor because he or she may tell us to lose weight or stop smoking, and that is uncomfortable. So we wait until the situation becomes dire, and we end up in the emergency room—a more expensive and traumatic situation.

Affordable, accessible, quality health care should not be a luxury for the wealthy. Like in most other countries, it is considered a basic human need, like food, clothing and shelter. Why not in this country?

We are at a historical crossroads, now. And, I hope tomorrow we will see a leader come forth and explain a plan that would effect real change, not just shop talk that gets us one baby step closer to change.

When you are standing at the edge of a cliff, with your toes hanging over the edge and a bully running up behind you looking to push you off, do you step aside and let the bully fall off the cliff or do you sustain the blow and try to cling to whatever you have left?

On Health Care, Sarah Palin and Socialism

A New York Times article quoted former Alaska Gov. and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as saying that Obama’s health-care reform plan is “downright evil.”Palin

There she goes again with her caterwauling about the misdirection and malevolence of policy that would actually help people rather than march them toward a meeting with Satan. This particular mouthful of ignorance she uttered refers to a purported “death panel” American citizens would confront when they became unproductive members of society. This so-called death panel of “bureaucrats” would make a decision on that person’s need for medical coverage.

Now, I’m a firm believer that health care is a basic human right, along the lines of food and shelter.

When people go hungry, we have a call-to-action to send food aid or donate to the local food bank or the government provides food stamps and other aid.

When people go homeless, there are shelters set up or the government comes to their aid, providing financial assistance like Section 8 housing.

But when someone needs medical care and does not have insurance, their only option is going to an emergency room or a rare free clinic, and often it is the last resort. In a country with the best medical facilities and training arguably in the world, why have we, as a society, neglected to provide adequate access to quality health care?

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who also has run for president, has been a vocal proponent of universal health care—that is health care that would be available to everyone,  like the systems in Canada, England, Australia, and most other developed nations. Here’s what Kucinich says:

“The underlying problem is that we treat health care like a market commodity instead of a social service. Health care is targeted not to medical need, but to the ability to pay. Markets are good for many things, but they are not a good way to distribute health care.”

There has been a lot of talk in the media about socialized medicine and that Obama is turning this country into a socialist nation. This is far from true, but even if it were true, would it be so bad? Socialism has gotten a bad rap from proponents of capitalism because it takes direct market competition out of the picture. In some cases, competition in the market is good. But for health care, something that is so basic and necessary for a healthy and productive populace, the market competition has only pushed it out of reach for a growing majority of Americans.

The state of the union cannot continue. It is not sustainable. If Obama’s plan—which I would criticize as not going far enough to control costs and predatory insurance companies—gets shot down because of the crazy spewings of the like of Sarah Palin and her lunatic cohorts like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter, this country is going to be looking down the twin-barrel shotgun with no safety net to catch it after they pull the trigger.

Locally Grown

It hit me today as I was wandering through a small town in southern Minnesota. With the clarity of a cloudless day I understood the economic reality of the Midwest.

Since I moved here three years ago (35 months ago, to be exact) I have been struck by the vast number of American cars that populate the roads. Being from metropolitan California, I was used to seeing mostly foreign cars—Toyotas, Hondas, VWs, BMWs and the like. Noticing the majority of drivers behind the wheels of Chevys, Fords, Pontiacs and Chryslers made me wonder a) if Midwesterners were aware that American cars were inferior and b) if they knew American cars were inferior did they just buy them to support the American auto industry. It also made me wonder if they would sneer at me driving my Toyota (imported from Oakland, Calif.). I watched “Roger & Me.” I knew the history. But it still seemed so backward knowing that most American cars were so inferior.

As time passed I did much less wondering about this topic, as others became more pressing—like what do those tornado sirens mean anyway, or what will happen if I go outside when the windchill is -30?.

But the recent catastrophes of The Big Three recirculated this topic into my consciousness.

Back to this small Minnesota town. Lake Crystal, population 2,502 (the 2 being my two friends who just moved there two weeks ago). Not a foreign car in sight. Except for mine, and my friend’s—also a Toyota. And that’s when it hit me: the powerful importance of buying local.

Midwesterners are keenly aware, so much more so than their West Coast counterparts, how much the economy depends on the American auto industry. The people who live here work for them. In some way, shape or form, the Midwest is tied to General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler. I recently heard a statistic that every GM job directly or indirectly supports three other jobs. So a loss of 10,000 GM jobs would result in the loss of 30,000 jobs.

So what if the American auto industry had been supported by the West Coasters and the East Coasters and the Southerners with as much enthusiasm as the Midwesterners? Would the companies’ profits be large enough to offset plant closures, outsourcing jobs overseas, a federal bailout? It’s tough to say. Especially when their product has been inferior for so many years. Seems like a flawed business plan to me. But we, the taxpayers and unemployed, are the ones to ultimately suffer the consequences.

In California there is a great push to buy locally grown produce. Farmers’ markets are numerous and well attended, as well as well stocked with locally grown fruits and vegetables, and local crafts and eats. There is an awareness that supporting local farmers through these markets directly effects the California economy. It is not so unlike the mentality of the Midwestern affinity for the American car, though it is on a much smaller scale.

Yet, while the local produce market is expanding and gaining popularity in California, the local auto market is shrinking and plummeting into bankruptcy. Buying local is important. But when an industry becomes so massive it loses touch with its customers, loses its ability to innovate and compete do we continue to support it just because it is local? Or do we cut our losses and move on?

It seems the American auto industry should have held its own farmer’s market long ago, bringing its goods and pleasantries to its customer base, a touch back so to speak. It’s sad to think that the failure of these behemoth companies will have a trickle-down effect on places like Lake Crystal, MN that don’t appear sturdy enough to weather the changing landscape of industrial America. We can only brace ourselves and hope to withstand the coming storm.

June Gloom

It happened to be a glorious day in Iowa. Not just for me. I heard the word “glorious” spoken several times out of several mouths. It was a “glorious” day.june-gloom-explained

And a rare one. While some of my cohorts in San Francisco are suffering from June Gloom, I had a remarkably fanastic day in Iowa. I even went so far as to encourage fellow Californians (yes, I still consider myself a Californian) to move here to escape the destruction a certain political Hummer (read: Arnold) is having on the Golden State. Closing parks and beaches? What sort of message is that supposed to send? Aren’t we all doing our part.

Well, not me, obviously. I’m in Iowa. But isn’t it the political obstacle course set up in Sacramento’s gilded halls that has caused this meltdown? Read about proposed park and beach closings here.

It’s interesting to write about California’s problems from abroad. Having lived there all my life, save for the last three years, I feel somewhat distanced from the place. I feel I can view it a bit more objectively. But I want it to land on its feet. It has so much to offer. On the other hand, the fickle California voters have shot themselves in the foot. By voting in stodgy Arnold the Governator and then re-electing him, they did themselves in. I proudly say I did not vote for him–even fought against his election and re-election. But, California is a complicated place with complicated people and complicated problems. It’s not all Arnold’s fault. But at least he’s not planning on running for president.

So I am sorry for the gloomy June in California, not so much for the fog rolling in from the Pacific or the thick marine layer hovering over beach towns, but because the state has managed to dig itself into a canyon. And, any life lines that are extended end up frayed and broken.

Remember: in a democracy, your government is what you make it. There are lessons to be learned from our mistakes.

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