Friday, October 31, 2008

Beyond Tuesday...

Make it happen!
Let me start this post by saying, right off the bat, that progressives and responsible persons who care about the future of this country (and, indeed, of humanity) must not for an instant relent in our efforts to win this election. That goes for the presidential race, for all the "down ticket" races, and for the various initiatives and petitions on the ballot. Ignorance, bigotry, and gut-level fundamentalism will never rest. They will continue to pollute and poison until they have suffocated everything, including their own adherents in revolting death. So, while we've got them on the run, keep making phone calls, canvassing, persuading. And above all, make sure to vote!
Note to Oregon voters: Today, Friday, October 31st, is the last day you can drop your ballot in a mailbox and be assured that it will reach the elections office by Election Day. If you can't get it in a mailbox today, after you've completed it, take it to an official drop-off site. Public libraries are one such. For Portland Metro area residents, there is a list of sites here.
With that (rather lengthy) caveat behind me, I'll proceed to the gist of this post.

If, as polls indicate, the Democrats from Barack Obama on down, rout the Republicans and come into power with an unequivocal mandate, there will be a tendency among "lefties" like me to relax, to breathe a sigh of relief. And, I think it is only to be expected. The emotional and psychological strain of the last 8 years has been enormous. If we win on Tuesday, by all means, let's take a day or two to savor the victory.

But, only a day or two...

I know that the Democrats, though they are far superior to the corrupt and hypocritical Republicans, are still a long way from perfect. Obama has already uttered placations to right-wingers; and a Democratic coalition in Congress will be hampered by the backward-thinking "Blue Dogs." So, it won't be long before progressives and liberals will have to be out there advocating, promoting, lobbying if we are to see the changes that we want, that this country needs.

This was brought home for me the other night. Maty and I had gone to dinner at a local eatery after a trip to the Food 4 Less. As we sat at our table, I noticed a large family nearby speaking a language I didn't recognize. The man and woman looked to be in their forties and there were 5 or 6 kids ranging from a beautiful girl in her late teens to two toddlers that I suspect were twins. By the look of them, I thought they might be Armenian or Turkish. So, when I happened to catch the eye of the woman I asked her which language they were speaking.

"Arabic," she replied, with a smile.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Jerusalem," the man said.

Maty, who still has trouble with English pronunciations, looked at me quizzically. "Je-ru-sa-lem?" she asked.

"Jerusalem," I said. "You know....Israel."

The man (I later learned his name was "Rick") frowned slightly, wagging his finger at me. "Not Israel," he said. "Palestine."

Chagrined, I apologized.

A few minutes later, when another opportunity arose, I spoke to Rick again. I told him that not all Americans agreed with US policy toward the Israel-Palestine issue, and that I, personally, was appalled by the bias and injustice of it.

Rick said that he spoke with many Americans, and he knew that there were a lot of them that disagreed with the policy. "But when I look at your two presidential candidates, I don't see that anything will change."

And I had to agree with him. There is not a whit of difference between the policies of Obama and McCain with regard to the Israel-Palestine issue. Both candidates have paid obeisance to AIPAC. Both have been full-throated in their "complete support" of Israel.

For those of us that want a more equitable policy toward Palestine, there is a lot of work to do.

And that applies, as well, to many other policies: international trade, immigration, environmental policies, corporate power.

The advantage to having Obama as president is that, at least, liberals and progressives will have a man in the White House that will give us audience, that will have a degree of sympathy toward our views. With McCain, as with Junior before him, we wouldn't even make it within earshot where we could, at least, shout curses.

So, let's get this election won. Let's crush the Republicans. Let's shame them, revile them, humiliate them. And then, let's take a day or two to enjoy our victory.

But after that, let's get to work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain aide spills the beans: Protect Junior!

"Don't worry, sir. I got your back."
John McCain has spent a lot of time and effort trying to distance himself from President Junior, and even the most stalwart Republican troglodyte can hardly blame him. Junior has the all the appeal of a weeping canker sore and the gravitas of a clown-suited monkey at a black-tie dinner.

But, behind the scenes, apparently, a deal has been cut. If McCain is elected, he will protect Junior.

In an interview with the German publication Der Spiegel, McCain aide Robert Kagan revealed the planned agenda for a McCain administration: Extend the Bush cover-up of the lies used to initiate the invasion of Iraq. As reported by ThinkProgress:
SPIEGEL: Isn’t it true that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld took advantage of the outrage over the 9/11 terrorist attacks to strike Iraq? Is it even possible anymore to deny that the war was based on manipulation, exaggeration and flat-out lies? […]
KAGAN: In retrospect, we have to admit that Washington could have waited a while longer. That’s a different question. But I think it’s about time we moved beyond this silly conversation and these absurd conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories? There are 935 documented lies, uttered by Big Dick, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Junior and others related to the Iraq war, both pre- and post-invasion. The administration, with its lapdog Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, has stone-walled all inquiries into the matter.

Kagan reveals the McCain agenda
Well, Kagan revealed that a McCain administration would continue the stone-walling. McCain may whine that he's not George W. Bush, but he knows which side his bread is buttered on, as the saying goes. McCain is a Republican to the bone. If and when the public ever gets a real look at the manipulation and lies that the Bush administration used to sell their filthy war, it could very well mean the death of the Republican party. McCain won't have that. As Kagan indicates, McCain will even protect a man whom he despises, Junior Bush, who slandered McCain's wife and child in the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary, rather than let his party be destroyed.

I've got news for Mr. Kagan, and for John McCain: I'm not willing to just "move on." Hundreds of thousands of people have died or been maimed or driven to despair by this war. I voted for Barack Obama for many reasons, but chief among them was the possibility that an Obama administration might someday bring these filthy liars to justice.

The Constitution of the United States either means something, or it doesn't. Junior Bush, with his flagrant disrespect for that cherished document has shown how he feels about it. Apparently, the McCain campaign agrees with him.

"Country First," John? Don't make me wretch!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trouble in Paradise? Sarah and Johnny in a tiff!

Well.... it looks like Mad Johnny's campaign meltdown is accelerating as we head in to the final seven days(!) of the campaign. As if it wasn't bad enough that the longest serving Republican Senator, Ted Stevens from Sarah Palin's home state of Alaska, was convicted on 7 felony corruption charges, Sarah Palin seems to have gone rogue.

Reports have been surfacing in the media news outlets about Palin straying "off-message" in her public statements, and saying things that are out-and-out detrimental to the message that the McCain campaign is trying to cobble together.

After it came to light that Palin's Republican National Committee handlers spent $150K on her campaign wardrobe, the media spent much air time speculating on the impact that this unfortunate disclosure would have on the public at large. This was especially embarrassing for McCain, because the revelation occurred at the very time that McCain was trying to manufacture some kind of blue-collar empathy via his "Joe the Plumber" meme.

The McCain campaign did its best to put the story behind it and sent instructions to Palin not to say anything more about the wardrobe controversy. But Palin ignored those instructions and seemed to defend herself by making the following statement in Tampa, Florida:
"Those clothes, they are not my property. Just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased, I'm not taking them with me."
(Taking them with you, Sarah? Why? Wherever would you be going?) A Palin aide later said that she felt compelled to defend herself, because "that's really not who she is."

Of course, all along Palin has had trouble sticking with the official McCain campaign line (to the extent that such exists). Remember earlier in the month, when McCain criticized Junior's decision to remove North Korea from the list of "state sponsors of terrorism?" Palin, apparently unaware of the campaign's statement, said of the decision "I have faith... that [Bush officials] are making this wise decision."

But Palin's most recent comments, the comments defending her wardrobe, seem a bit less ignorant and a bit more calculating, yes? It's as if she's decided that she needs to do something to salvage her own career from the electoral disaster that many believe will occur next Tuesday. And the McCain people, in keeping with the example set by their mad-with-rage leader, have reacted with nastiness. According to a McCain adviser:
"[Palin] is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."
(But, doesn't that just make her a "maverick?")

This rift between Johnny and Sarah has been brewing for a while. Last week, MSNBC's Chuck Todd commented that, during a joint interview with McCain and Palin, there seemed to be no cohesion or chemistry between the two of them. Todd hinted that there was some resentment between the two candidates, as if each blamed the other for their mutual predicament.

As we approach Election Day it will be simply delicious to watch as the finger-pointing and every-[wo]man-for-himself behavior increases. The list of Republican mucky-mucks that have already jumped ship is long indeed: David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Colin Powell, Chuck Hagel, David Frum... Look for this list to grow longer as we approach Judgment Day.

It seems that Republicans, at least, are convinced that Obama will be swept into the White House on a Democratic tidal wave that decimates the ranks of the Republican caucuses in both Congressional houses. Palin and Mitt Romney are already angling for position in the post-election struggle to lead the party.

But, if the looming disaster is as bad as I imagine it might be, the struggle for succession in the post-Bush GOP will be akin to a fight between rats over the last scrap of food on a sinking ship.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Racists and Republicans

"There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." --Representative John Murtha (D-PA), October 15, 2008.
Congressman Murtha's statement, which he uttered to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been mentioned a lot in the media, lately. Republicans have been pointing to it as yet another indication that Obama supporters have a low opinion of the "pro-America" parts of the country (as Sarah Palin calls them). Their apparent outrage, however, carries a whiff of desperation as polls and speculative electoral maps seem to indicate that John McCain is a drowning man.

Republicans excel at faking outrage; false piety and moral hypocrisy are their stock-in-trade. They beat their breasts, and roll their eyes to the heavens, bemoaning how they have been slandered when anyone accuses them of racism, while at the same time, they do everything they can to suppress voter turnout in minority areas, impugn and alienate undocumented workers, and foment anti-Islamic sentiments. No one expects any less from them.

Going back to Murtha's comment, though, and myself being unconstrained by the decorum of electoral politics, I'll say this: Murtha was right on the money. If rural, western Pennsylvania is anything at all like rural, eastern Oregon, where I spent half of my life, racism is rampant there; a good share of the people that live there could easily be described as "rednecks;" might in fact embrace that moniker with pride.

A week ago, some acquaintances of mine, an interracial couple, recounted some of the experiences they had had on a recent trip to eastern Ohio, just across the state line from the area about which Murtha was speaking. They said that they encountered hostile stares, and under-the-breath mutterings, and that they were even followed by a truck full of local yokels. They attributed all of it to their being interracial.

When I was a freshman at Redmond High School, in Redmond, Oregon, I arrived at school one morning to a hubbub occurring on the front steps of the building. Three or four boys, wearing their ubiquitous cowboy hats and cowboy boots and their ridiculous Western style belts, were gathered around a black girl who was coming to school for the first day. There had been no black kids in school previously. These boys, these ugly cowards were jeering at this girl, calling her "nigger," pushing her, hitting her. She tried to stand up to them, saying "My name is not nigger, do you hear me?" But they were pitiless and unrelenting. To this day, thirty-years later, it is a point of deep shame to me that I walked past the whole scene without doing or saying something to defend that girl, or to offer my hand in friendship. She eventually ran home, crying, and never returned to our school. I will carry my guilt for the rest of my life.

Times may have changed in the 30 years since then, and it is unfair to paint entire regions as racist because of the actions of a few. But racism does live in all of our hearts. And no one, not one person in that crowd of people, came to the defense of that poor girl.

And, now, I suppose, I've arrived at the source of my deep-seated revulsion toward Republicans and conservatives. I despise them for the things that they reveal in me... my lack of courage at a crucial moment, my indecision and fear in the face of evil. But that's my issue.

The point I started out trying to make is this: Republicans solicit the racist vote, then use fake outrage to provide the racists with a cover, with a pretense that their views aren't really racist. The people that pretend to be offended by Congressman Murtha's statement would never have voted for a Democrat anyway, let alone a black man. So, while it gives the Republicans something to get their panties into a bunch over, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference toward the outcome of this election.

(For a deep examination of racial issues, I refer you to the blog of my friend Ridwan Laher.)

In eight days, if, as all signs seem to indicate, the Republicans go down in flames, I'll be thinking of that girl, 30 years ago, that had the misfortune of trying to attend high school in one of Sarah Palin's "pro-America" parts of the country. I can never completely atone for my sin against her, just as this country can never truly atone for the sins of institutionalized slavery, or genocide, or the other ugly manifestations of racism.

But, by God, we can elect Barack Obama.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Obama for Oregon

While nationally, the pundits and campaign advocates caution that the US Presidential race is not over, one is not likely to hear the term "battleground" to describe the state of Oregon. A clear majority of Oregonians stand with Barack Obama.

The big question for Oregon, this time around, at least as far as electoral representation, is whether Oregonians will return Gordon Smith to his seat in the US Senate, or replace him with the Speaker of the Oregon State House, Jeff Merkley.

As I've pointed out at different times over the last year, Smith has proven himself to be a weak-willed back-bencher in the Republican caucus, who runs back to the political middle when he comes up for reelection.

This year, with the Republican brand in the toilet, Smith has been frantic in his efforts to obscure his record, to seem moderate. His campaign ads make no mention of his party affiliation, mention Junior Bush only as an adversary, and highlight Smith's supposed willingness to work with Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry.

Of course, it's a ruse.

Oregonians who want to end the Republican malaise that has sickened our country, who want to crush the spirit of the neo-conservatives and plutocrats and right-wing religious freaks, who want progressive, populist representation in the US Senate have an excellent candidate in Jeff Merkley.

Barack Obama thinks so too.

Jeff showed his chops while debating Smith earlier this month. By sending Jeff Merkley to the US Senate, Oregonians can show that we're ready to do our part to start repairing the damage that has been done to this country by Gordon Smith's puppet-masters.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Republicans: Behold the void!

Come! Take your reward! Yea, I bid ye take it with both hands!
I'm speaking to you, Republicans. I'm speaking to David Reinhard at the Oregonian; I'm speaking to Lars Larsen, the loud-mouthed boor; I'm speaking to the insufferable termagant Ann Coulter, and to Rush Limbaugh and that blow-hard Sean Hannity. And I'm speaking to you, too, nameless, faceless Republican who so eagerly fell in behind your bungling, half-witted leader, Junior Bush; you who saw him as a prophet and a noble leader and a man who could finally make everyone else out there suffer for the sin of being happy even though they weren't like you, didn't think the way you thought, didn't dress like you or act like you, and, worst of all, didn't care what you thought about them.

You are about to reap what you have sown. You are about to inherit the wind. The American people are about to stuff your collective foot into your collective mouth, where you can gag on the stink of your gangrenous creed.

GOP leaders and apologists are despondent and frightened. Some of them are predicting the loss of as many as 34 seats in the House of Representatives. There is talk of the Democrats having 60 seats in the US Senate. That's a filibuster-proof majority, you pigs! Eat it! Poor Mad Johnny is the sap who gets stuck holding the bag of s**t that you left for him.

The American people recognize that it was the Republicans' behind-the-scenes sucking up to banking and insurance industry lobbyists that brought us to this financial crisis. The American people know that it was Dick Cheney's insatiable greed that brought about the criminal and unnecessary war in Iraq. They know that it was all a filthy lie! They have seen the corruption that rots your souls, morally and ethically.

And it's all coming apart for you, isn't it? All that insane logic, that twisted Bizarro-world crap that was so f**king ridiculous it was offensive, it's not working any more, is it? All the Karl Rove hatred and division just isn't playing like it used to. Between the morass of the war and the evaporation of everyone's life savings, no one seems to be listening when you bleat about the threat posed by gays or Mexicans or terrorists.

So, drink deeply from your cup of woe, Republicans. Drink it to its dregs. Taste despair and savor it.

Sail on, sailors!
You can't possibly know how good it feels to write this post. For those of us who have suffered fools like you for that last 8 years, now is our time of vindication. The price, economic catastrophe, unending war, ecological disaster, is high... so high that the small satisfaction we gain from seeing you humiliated and ridiculed cannot come close to assuaging our anger. But, one takes what one can get.

Reap your reward, Republicans. Reap it, damn you. Reap it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Scotty and I: Burning down Berlin

A dome somewhere in Berlin
Back in 1999, while I was taking my Grand European Tour, I met up with an Australian named Scotty in Stockholm, Sweden. Scotty was doing his "walkabout" through Europe before returning home to Melbourne to get married and start his job as a chef.

He and I quickly became friends in that way that travelers do, and after a couple of days of partying in Stockholm, we set out for Berlin and points south, taking the train from Stockholm to Malmö, then catching a ferry over the North Sea, to Sassnitz and thence to Berlin.

Scotty and I on our way to Berlin
We arrived in Berlin and had to scramble to find a room. Our arrival coincided with the Berlin Marathon and rooms in the central part of the city were scarce. After some frantic dialing and some help from a hotel clerk that took pity on us, we managed to land a room in what was formerly East Berlin, unloaded our gear, and hopped on the U-Bahn for downtown looking to party.

Let me tell you, Scotty knew how to party. That evening was a blur of loud bars, blaring music and lots and lots of booze. As we wandered around that fast-paced city, its streets alive with young people, cars, trains, and bicycles, we encountered many different people, all of whom are, I'm afraid, little more than blurry memories.

Dade (quite drunk) and Cristina, the Brazilian bartender
At one point in the evening, I remember sitting at the counter of a small bar, having a conversation with a very drunk local. Scotty spoke only English, I spoke English and Spanish, the bartender, a beautiful young woman named Cristina from Brazil, spoke Spanish and German, and the drunken local spoke only German. The conversation worked like this: The German said something to the bartender, who translated to me in Spanish, which I then translated to English for Scotty. The process was then reversed when Scotty replied. Whether or not the original thought that was uttered on one end of the chain even remotely related to what was translated on the other is probably a question for the ages. But, as so often happens with conversations between drunks, voices grew louder and more boisterous, and the entire scene ended with the German local being asked to leave by Cristina.

Much later, around four in the morning, I told Scotty, "I've had enough. I'm going back to the room."

Scotty was deep in conversation with an Australian woman, a fellow traveler whom we had met somewhere along the line in our drunken procession. He tilted his glass in my direction and gave me a wink and a nod. "Cheers, mate," he said. I stumbled back to U-Bahn, somehow found my way to our room and crashed.

Some enchanted evening...
I awoke around noon the next day to find that Scotty had, in fact, made it back. He was sleeping soundly in his bed. Even though he was asleep, he looked hung-over. God knows I was.

I showered, then went out to mail some postcards and get some breakfast. I returned to the room a couple hours later. Scotty had not yet risen, but when he heard me come in, he threw his feet over the side of the bed, blindly groped for his cigarettes and lighter on the bed stand, got one in his mouth, lit it, and took a deep drag. Only then did he open his eyes and blearily look over at me. "Let's go get a beer," he rasped.

As I said, Scotty knew how to party.

Checkpoint Charlie
That day, we went on a walking tour of Berlin. We went through the Checkpoint Charlie museum, climbed to the top of the new Reichstag, and saw the bullet-scarred colonnades, still marked from the apocalyptic battle for Berlin in 1945. The Red Army suffered some 5000 casualties in the quarter mile advance from the Spree River to the Reichstag as the Third Reich convulsed in its final death throes.

At the time of our visit, Berlin was a city very much in a state of reconstruction. As I looked out from the top of the Reichstag, the cityscape was a veritable forest of construction cranes. One of the results of the reunification was that the seat of government was now this mighty city, the center of a nation of some 80 million people. It was an impressive sight.

Bullet-scarred collonades
As we made our way around Berlin, I was struck by a certain incongruity. It seemed to me that Berlin, during the daytime, is a very different place than Berlin at night. In contrast to the crowds of partying youngsters and the loud, boisterous characters that roamed the street at night, the diurnal Berliners were an unsmiling, down-to-business lot.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall in the Checkpoint Charlie museum
Scotty and I caught a glimpse of that legendary Prussian discipline and conformity as we wandered around the streets that day. One thing we noticed early on, was that the locals would stand patiently on the sidewalk, waiting for the signal to change before crossing, regardless of whether the street was clear. Scotty and I had no such inhibitions. If there was no traffic, we crossed regardless of the signal.

Well, no one ever said a word to us, but the pressure to conform was palpable. By the end of the day, Scotty and I found ourselves waiting on the sidewalk, just like two regular Germans. And here's the rub: we waited even if there was no one there to observe!

The wee, wee hours...
Well, of course, nighttime came again, and things loosened up. That night, Scotty and I went to a free concert by a Japanese rock band underneath the Brandenburg Tor. More drunken revelry ensued.

We spent another day in Berlin. It was a great time. But my travels with Scotty weren't over by a long shot. We eventually decided we'd had enough of Berlin and hopped the train to Prague. But that's another story...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ballots are here! Time to say your piece!

The general election is finally upon us. Now is the time, people. Whatever it is that drives you-- anger, hope, fear, love, hatred, or something else entirely-- now is the time for you to get it off your chest. Good luck!

My ballot was in the mail on Monday afternoon. Here's how I went.


President: Barack Obama, Democrat. See here, here, here, here, here, and here.

US Senate: Jeff Merkley, Democrat. See here, aquí, here, here, and here. I've met Merkley, and I like him. But my vote is as much a vote against Gordie Smith as it is for Merkley.

US Representative, 3rd Congressional District: Earl Blumenauer, Democrat. When Maty and I were at the Oregon State Fair, I met Earl's opponent from the Pacific Green party, Michael Meo. We talked for a bit, and he pointed out that, by voting for him (Meo) I would be putting pressure on Earl to adopt a more progressive stance. I had to agree and I told Mr. Meo that I would consider voting for him because of that. Well, Mr. Meo, I did consider it, but in the end I voted for Earl. There are plenty of Democrats to target for being fake progressives. Earl's not one of them.

Attorney General: J Ashlee Albies, Working Families Party. I don't really care for the Democratic candidate, John Kroger. He sounds too much like "Dirty Harry" with his tough-on-criminals rhetoric. I had to decide between Ms. Albies and her Pacific Green Party opponent, but ended up going with Ms. Albies in order to support a new party on the Oregon political scene.

Secretary of State: Kate Brown, Democrat. I've met Kate, and she is also an impressive individual. My sister, Mia, and her husband know her Republican opponent, Rick Dancer, and they say he's a good, honest man. Well, that may be, but I'll be damned if I vote for any Republican this year. In fact, after the obscene stink of the Bush administration, I may never vote for a Republican again.

State Rep. 42nd, District: Jules Kopel-Bailey, Democrat. Jules faces a minor party candidate, but he'll win handily. The 42nd district is so "blue" that the Republicans didn't even field a candidate.

Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries: Brad Avakian, Democrat. Neither of Mr. Avakian's two opponents is a serious candidate. I'm convinced that he will be a fair arbiter in disputes between labor and industry.

Multnomah County Sheriff: Andre Danielson (no web site available). I don't care for Bob Skipper, and might have voted for Muhammad Ra'oof if he had enunciated any kind of message. But he didn't; his entry in the voter's pamphlet had nothing beyond his basic information. So my vote goes to my old friend, Andre Danielson. It's a write-in vote, but if Andre wins, I'm on Easy Street, baby!

East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District , Director at Large #1: Rick Till. I liked Rick's message in the voter's pamphlet. He's a Friend of Columbia Gorge and he had a strong message of conservation and protecting Oregon wetlands.

East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District , Director at Large #2: Ron McCarty. Mr. McCarty has lived in Portland for a long time and I liked his message in the voter's pamphlet. Besides, his opponent is a registered lobbyist for Ron Tonkin Auto dealerships. I don't feel inclined to trust lobbyists much at this point.

City of Portland, Commissioner No. 1: Amanda Fritz. I've met her. She's competent and I like her positions.

State Measures

  • 54: Standardizes voting eligibility for school board with other state and local elections.

    Yes. This is a house-keeping measure to make elections run more efficiently.

  • 55: Changes operative date of redistricting plans; allows affected legislators to finish term in orignial district.

    Yes. Another house-keeping measure.

  • 56: Provides that May and November property tax elections are decided by majority of voters voting.

    Yes. This removes the requirement that there be a 50% turnout for an election to be valid. It's not fair to reward one side for voter apathy.

  • 57: Increases sentences for drug trafficking, theft against elderly and specified repeat property and identity theft crimes; requires addiction treatment for certain offenders.

    Yes. A good balanced approach of prevention and punishment. Allows for judicial discretion.

  • 65: Changes general election nomination processes for major/minor party, independent candidates for most partisan offices.

    No. Will extend the campaign season, as candidates will have to tailor messages to people outside respective parties. Means more money in politics.
Sizemore Measures

Bill Sizemore has long been an agent of regression in Oregon. He seems to make his living by finding Fat Cat sponsors to fund his mean-spirited initiatives which he words in innocuous terms. His measures always favor corporations over workers, resource-extractors over environmentalists, and laissez-faire capitalists over middle- and lower-income people. His organizations have been convicted of racketeering. In short, he's a pig.

Ever since his ill-fated run for Governor of Oregon in 1998, Sizemore's star has dimmed somewhat. Last general election, 3 out of 4 Sizemore-sponsored initiatives were rejected by Oregon voters. If Sizemore gets his ass kicked again this year, his Fat Cat backers might just decide that his horse has played out.

This year, he has four measures up for voter consideration.
  • 58: Prohibits teaching public school student in language other than English for more than two years.

    No. Sizemore playing the xenophobe. Stirring up fear of Mexicans in typical Republican fashion.

  • 59: Creates an unlimited deduction for federal income taxes on individual taxpayers' Oregon income-tax returns.

    No. Sizemore's "double taxation" doublespeak aimed at reducing tax responsibilities for upper income Oregonians. It's just another tax evasion scheme. Estimates are that $2.4 billion would go from Oregon's tax revenues straight to Sizemore's buddies.

  • 60: Teacher "classroom performance," not seniority, determines pay raises; "most qualified" teachers retained, regardless of seniority.

    No. Apart from the simple fact that this initiative has Sizemore's name attached to it (which, as far as I'm concerned, is reason enough to vote no), I dislike the idea of some unnamed entity evaluating teacher performance. Were this initiative to pass, how long would it be before things like a teacher's political views or religion be considered when evaluating teacher performance? Besides, my parents were both teachers, I have at least one good friend that is a teacher, and I've dated a teacher; I can tell you they work hard.

  • 63: Exempts specified property owners from building permit requirements for improvements valued at/under 35,000 dollars.

    No. This is Sizemore's attempt to seem like an everyman. Even as he works to starve government for revenue, making it harder to fund fire departments and other services, he would make the need for these services greater by disposing of safety inspections of new construction. What an ass!

  • 64: Penalizes person, entity for using funds collected with "public resource" (defined) for "political purpose" (defined).

    No. This is Sizemore's union-busting measure. He puts one out every election cycle.
Mannix measures

Like Sizemore, Kevin Mannix is one of those unsavory political figures in Oregon that most people wish would just go away. Mannix has more of an ideological bent to him: he's an authoritarian, fixated on punishing people. (One wonders what his childhood was like, eh? Was Daddy mean to you, Kevin?)

Anything Mannix puts up gets a "no" vote from me, simply because it is from Mannix. But the measures are usually so odious that they stink even without that repulsive association.
  • 61: Creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain theft, identity theft, forgery, drug, and burglary crimes.

    No. This measure follows in the not-so-grand tradition of "3 strikes and you're out" legislation: it ties judges' hands, and focuses exclusively on punishment; nothing for prevention. With more than 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States, hadn't we ought to try to figure out some alternative to putting people in prison?

  • 62: Allocates 15% of lottery proceeds to public safety fund for crime prevention, investigation, prosecution.

    No. Tax the poor, via the lottery, then use the money to prosecute them. When the lottery was first introduced to Oregon, its revenues were to be specifically used to fund public education. Now, greedy pigs like Mannix see a big pot of money that they are just dying to get their hands on.
  • 26-96 Bonds to protect animal health and safety; conserve, recycle water.

    Yes. This measure provides funds for much needed renovations at the Oregon Zoo, and will save an estimated 11 million gallons of water every year by upgrading Portland's levy system.

Portland Community College
  • 26-95 Portland Community College bonds to update, expand local educational facilities.

    Yes. This is the kind of thing we should be spending money on.
City of Portland
  • 26-94 Renew Five-year levy for Children's Investment Fund.

    Yes. Again, I'll spend money to invest in programs to make kids ready for school any day. Beats the hell out of bailing out Wall Street.
Two weeks until the Big Day...let's see what happens...

Monday, October 20, 2008

What kind of a bone did they throw you, Mukasey?

Attorney General Michael Mukasey: Jamming the gears of justice
In August, 2007, when Junior's shamefully pliant consigliere, Alberto Gonzales, stepped down as Attorney General, beating feet amid calls for a special prosecutor and a long period of public humiliation, the Bush administration found itself in dire need of a sandbagger. The by-then-incessant howls from Congress for investigations into the hiring practices at the Justice Department and about the origination of executive orders allowing for the torture of detainees, questions about White House involvement in the politicization of various governmental departments (everything from Procurement to Justice, itself) --all of it proved to be more than Gonzo could countenance. He melted under the heat.

Junior and Big Dick had problems: Congress was threatening to subpoena high level White House aides, including Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten, and even Karl Rove! The American public was (finally) wising up to the administration's stinky practices after seeing Scooter Libby be convicted of perjury while protecting Big Dick's cadaverous ass in the Valerie Plame affair.

Well, not to fear, neo-cons! The newly-elected Democratic Congress' stones still hadn't "dropped," as the saying goes. Junior found himself someone he could trust to keep the lid on things in Michael Mukasey, who's nomination sailed right on through the Senate confirmation hearings with nary a peep from anybody, even though Mukasey couldn't say for sure whether or not water-boarding is torture.

Eventually, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers did pull the trigger on dragging White House aides in front of his committee. The White House aides refused to appear, and contempt citations soon followed.

Then came Mukasey's moment to shine. One after the other, as calls for investigations and/or prosecutions came forward, Mukasey shot them down like so many midway carnival ducks:
  • No prosecutions in the Justice Department hiring scandal;
  • No special prosecutor in the CIA coverup of evidence related to the potentially illegal interrogations of "terror suspects;"
  • No investigations into the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique;
  • No investigations into whether Miers or Bolton should be prosecuted for Contempt of Congress;
  • No grand jury to determine if Alberto Gonzales broke the law.
All of this, of course, makes apparent the reason that Mukasey was Junior's pick to head up the Justice Department.

Residents of Washington, DC, can probably expect "brown outs" as the White House paper shredders go in to overdrive for the last three months of this criminal enterprise called the Bush administration. And Junior will undoubtedly level a dozen acres of rain forest with a flurry of presidential pardons on his way out the door.

Meanwhile, Michael Mukasey will faithfully shield all that scurrilous activity by sitting on his ass, and making sure that nothing happens. That's what they pay him for. Justice? Justice, be damned!

My question is this, though: what did they promise you, Mukasey? What gold-plated bauble? What ignominious, fraudulent honorarium?

What kind of a bone did they throw you, Mukasey?

"That's a good doggie!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Calee Cariaga: 30 years already!

Tomorrow is my brother Calee's (kuh-LEE) 30th birthday. He was born in Klamath Falls, Oregon and is the fifth of my father's seven children.

I remember the first time I saw Calee. I was a junior in high school and I was on my way to the home-coming bonfire when I stopped by the hospital to see my new brother. He was asleep on his stomach, with only his wrinkled pink face and his considerable mop of dark hair showing from beneath a yellow blanket. He was in the hospital's new-born ward, and I peered at him from behind the glass. My father, I remember, was ecstatic. "Isn't that neat?" he kept saying, over and over. "Isn't that neat?"

Well, if I had known then what a good and true friend and loyal companion had just come into my life, I would have rejoiced.

When he was a boy, my brother Eric and I took Calee along with us everywhere. He was always a good-natured kid: generous, kind, helpful, and sweet. And, besides, whenever I had Calee with me, young women were sure to flock around us, to coo at him. I sometimes catch myself, even today, still thinking of him as the little boy who held my hand as we walked across the street, or who fell asleep in my arms at the football game.

Calee and I in 1997
But, of course, old Father Time just keeps plodding along and that little boy is now a man grown, with a beautiful and successful wife and a home in the Portland suburbs. He's migrated up and down the Pacific coast, from Klamath Falls, to Eugene, Oregon, to San Fransisco, to San Diego, before finally settling here.

Calee and his lovely wife, Sarah
Calee loves to hunt and fish. I suppose the Klamath Basin, with its beautiful and expansive wetlands, full of ducks and geese and rainbow trout, has imprinted itself on his core being. In the end, he's a mountain boy: rugged, ingenious, unconventional.

His nephews and nieces all adore him. His sisters and mother can find no fault in him. And his brothers, I especially, respect and admire him.

There's so much more to say about Calee, about his loyalty, his intellect, his conscientiousness, his humility... about his fears, his sadness, his self-doubts... but I'll leave off. I'm afraid I've embarrassed him enough.

Calee and his ever-faithful, lifelong friend, Kris Ross
Happy Birthday, Calee!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama scores, McCain whiffs

The final face-off between Barack Obama and Mad (and I do mean mad!) Johnny has just concluded. The debate took place in Hempstead, New York, and was moderated by Bob Scheiffer.

Honestly, I thought McCain came out strong. He was confident, sharp, and combative. Obama came out cautious, as if he knew he were ahead (which, of course, he is) and didn't want to take any risks. In short, he seemed tentative.

That lasted through the first two questions which dealt with taxes and the budget deficit. But then Scheiffer threw out the hot potato:
"Sen. Obama, your campaign has used words like 'erratic,' 'out of touch,' 'lie,' 'angry,' 'losing his bearings' to describe Sen. McCain.
Sen. McCain, your commercials have included words like 'disrespectful,' 'dangerous,' 'dishonorable,' 'he lied.' Your running mate said he 'palled around with terrorists.'
Are each of you tonight willing to sit at this table and say to each other's face what your campaigns and the people in your campaigns have said about each other?"
This is where McCain's combativeness became aggressiveness, where his desperation showed itself. He started by bringing up the comments made by Congressman John Lewis, comparing the tactics the McCain campaign has used to the rhetoric of that grand old segregationist, George Wallace. That, of course, was a dodge. It didn't address Scheiffer's question.

But, if you keep dangling bait in front of a hungry bass, eventually it will bite, hook or no hook.

And that's what happened. Obama pointed out that John Lewis is not part of his campaign, and then brought the ugly truth right out in the open, saying:
"...what [Lewis] was hearing at some of the rallies that your running mate was holding, in which all the Republican reports indicated were shouting, when my name came up, things like 'terrorist' and 'kill him,' and that you're running mate didn't mention, didn't stop, didn't say 'Hold on a second, that's kind of out of line.'"
That, my friends, is "saying it to your face."

McCain responded. He spouted some fake indignation about the "people that come to our rallies," about how he is proud of them, and that the nuts who shouted those things were "fringe peoples." (Here's the problem, John: those "fringe peoples" are your base!)

McCain then tried to regain the initiative by bringing up William Ayers and the ACORN pseudo-controversy. It didn't work. Obama calmly stated the facts on both of these non-issues.

From that point on, McCain's performance degraded. He appeared flustered and impatient, rolling his eyes, sighing loudly, shaking his head angrily.

Obama, on the other hand, seemed to loosen up. He has a gift for eloquence, of course, and he used it to great effect. He remained calm throughout and spoke in even and measured tones.

Regarding policy, in general, Obama advocated public investment in energy policy, education, infrastructure. McCain advocated less government spending, and warned that Obama wants to "spread the wealth around," invoking that age old Republican bogey-man of "class warfare." In short, each man's policies are more or less the typical and traditional solutions that his respective party has been offering for the last century. Here's the difference: the Republicans are now thoroughly discredited.

It is impossible for me to assess the debate objectively, but I think McCain's game fell apart in the long middle period where he tried to tie Obama to peripheral issues (Ayers, ACORN) that don't carry much weight with voters; voters who are watching their retirement accounts vanish, who are worried about deep economic recession if not outright depression, about the costs of health care and education, about global warming.

The tried-and-true Republican playbook of smear and distract isn't working this time around.

Two and a half weeks to go, Johnny... two and a half weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comes the thunder...

Stark strobe, flash of light, an instant etched in memory;
Fearful faces at odds with thin smiles,
Tall towers of quivering glass;
Swiftly swallow the vision, comforting darkness;

Boiling, blackened sky, augury of a thunderclap,
Humanity's heavy bones to shake;
Again a silent lightning flash,
Revealing raw features... counting... bracing... counting;

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Movie review: Lakeview Terrace

Lest anyone doubt my highfalutin snobbery when it comes to what I consider to be a good flick, let me state right off the bat that my expectations for Lakeview Terrace, the latest effort of director Neil LaBute, were fairly low. I learned long ago that having a respected actor like Samuel L. Jackson at the top of the bill is no indication of quality. And the flick's vacuous title and ridiculous tag line ("What could be safer than living next to a cop?") just scream "Yuppie date movie!" I fully expected to forget this movie by the time we got our hors d'oeuvres at the post-viewing dinner.

And so indeed, it was.

Gasp! But...but...she's black!
Lakeview Terrace is the story of Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson, an interracial couple that has just purchased a home in Lakeview Terrace, a development outside Los Angeles. The Mattsons are excited about their new "starter" home, fully equipped with patio hot tub and swimming pool, and overlooking a beautiful arroyo. (Starter home? In LA County? Yeah, right!)

Their next-door neighbor is Abel Turner (Jackson), an LAPD officer, a widower, and a single parent to two teenagers. Turner, it seems, is vaguely offended at the Mattson's deviation from racial integrity and sets about making their lives miserable. As the Mattsons contend with Turner, they must also face issues about starting a family, disapproving parents, and finding common goals... in short, the same issues that couples everywhere must face.

The story progresses predictably enough, starting with the tit-for-tat exchanges typical between feuding neighbors and escalating to the contrived and highly improbable climax. A little gun play, a little melodrama, everything turns out fine in the end.


By portraying an interracial couple, the flick had the opportunity to examine an important facet of our societal mores. But Lakeview Terrace only flirts with controversy. It never deals with racism or the challenges faced by mixed-race couples in a substantive way. It is as if LaBute approaches the subject, then loses his nerve and pulls back before anything too heavy taxes the collective intellect of his audience.

For example, the male element of the interracial marriage is white. This diminishes the gravity of the situation, does it not? After all, say what one will, a black man marrying a white woman raises a lot more eyebrows, even in today's society, than does the inverse.

Further, the antagonist, the closed-minded throwback to the age of connubial segregation, is black. That just doesn't carry the same menace as a gun-toting redneck trying to resurrect the spirit of Dixie, does it?

LaBute's film is further diminished by the Utopian constructs with which he seeds the film: The Mattson's new neighborhood, Lakeview Terrace, is racially-integrated and well-to-do. Apart from Abel Turner, its denizens are open-minded, educated, upwardly mobile. In short, it is a vision of the ideal suburban America, where the most serious problems one faces are brush fires and irksome neighbors.

The characters are thinly developed, requiring the viewers to fill in the blanks themselves. The script certainly doesn't manage it. The cinematography and the acting are competent, but unspectacular.

I suppose LaBute's film is fine, when you consider its intended audience. It's a date movie. A 110-minute diversion. No heavy stuff. Just a mildly entertaining flick.

Maty and I decided to go view this barker largely because the story revolved around an interracial couple. (After all, we're an interracial couple.) There were at least two other such couples in the sparse audience at the showing we attended.

I can't recommend the film if you're looking for something to chew on, to mull over, to challenge you. But, you know, if the wife will like it... sometimes that's good enough.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The ugly death throes of the Republican coalition

As the economic consequences of the laissez-faire philosophy known as "Reaganomics" crash down upon us all, as the tough-guy unilateralism of President Junior continues to pulverize the last vestiges of American respect and credibility abroad, as the demented masses of ignorant religious fanatics begin to sense that their leaders have been lying to them, the Republican coalition lashes out like a tormented, dying beast in the ugliest and most horrifyingly piteous manner.

The modern day Republican coalition consists of three basic factions:
  1. Plutocrats: This faction, the so-called "fiscal conservatives," includes corporate titans and financial moguls like Steve Forbes, Ben Stein, Larry Kudlow and the like who advocate a regressive tax system and spurn regulation of any kind that might restrain them from accruing wealth by any convenient means. They rail against government spending (by which they mean spending on programs like health care or education), until their greed becomes so egregious that they must overtly raid the federal treasury to rescue their corrupt financial structure. These are the people that cross themselves and make revoltingly pious faces whenever they utter the name "Ronald Reagan." With the current financial crisis exposing the fallacies of their regressive philosophy, they have become discredited and even vilified by the majority of the American public.

  2. Neo-conservatives: This faction consists of foreign policy imperialists that couldn't resist the mirage of imperial opportunity that appeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This group is represented by Big Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Junior himself. This is the gang that, even today with our military in a shambles, our adventure in Iraq a morass of danger, and our efforts in Afghanistan collapsing, continues to push for confrontation with Iran and Russia. Their only real success has been the unintentional demonstration of the limits of American military power. They have weakened and imperiled the security of the United States by squandering our strength. With Junior's poll numbers in the tank, it seems that their credibility is shot both inside and outside the United States.

  3. Religious fanatics: This is the largest faction of the modern Republican party. This is the hoi polloi, the "rabble" of the party; the mass of people that Chris Hedges describes in American Fascists, that Karl Rove manipulated with his wedge issue politics, that he sneered at secretly even as he lied to them. This is the faceless mob that eats out of the hands of demagogues like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and religious charlatans. They cast their votes based on identity; that is, they vote for the person they deem to be most like them. (Sarah Palin, anyone?)
Not just ignorant...stupid!
It is this last faction that is now thrashing hideously as they watch the Republican party headed for a humiliating defeat in a mere three weeks. The religious fanatics suddenly find themselves leaderless and adrift as Junior does his best to stay out of the limelight, and the muddled and confused messages that the plutocrats and the neo-cons broadcast to them make no sense. They've never really trusted McCain; and Palin, bless her heart, is their only hope to fill the void they instinctively feel whenever they don't have a "strong leader" to trust.

Their antics at McCain rallies have become increasingly ugly and desperate. Racist and xenophobic statements against Obama, shouts of "terrorist" and "kill him" at the mention of his name, and accusations of "treason" abound. But don't take my word for it. Take a look at these videos:
McCain himself seems to now be trying to dampen the flames that he and Sarah stoked up with accusations about Obama "pallin' around with terrorists." But, the flames were lit long ago by the plutocrats and the neoconservatives who used that fear-induced zeal to impose their agenda on the country.
The Republican coalition is breaking apart. If the trends hold and they are crushed at the ballot box this November 4th, the rabid religious zealots will be looking for someone to blame for their humiliation. And, most likely, the targets of their hatred will be the very people that stoked it in the first place: the plutocrats and the neo-cons.