Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dear Democrats and other Thinking Americans

     Let's be crystal clear. Our collective future depends on an understanding of two concepts.
     First: Two factors threaten our survival as a democratic nation. One, a movement now flourishes that calls itself “Christian” and wishes to establish a sharia-like law, based on corrupt interpretation of the Christian Bible. Two, an oligarchy supports the mission of these freaks of the far right because they serve as an effective distraction to the oligarchs' real purpose: To complete their full control over our economy and political process. Second: The only action that can prevent the subjugation of democracy to religious crazies and corporate control are to elect either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
     For all that you hold dear, please realize that the vital debate that must now happen to determine our presidential nominee must never devolve into ugliness, vitriol and name calling. This is just the distraction neo-Republicans need to hide the terrifying reality that all their candidates, even those whose smiles aren't creepy, are far to the right of 90-95 percent of us. Not one GOP candidate holds values common even among most Republicans. But if our political discourse becomes one, loud hate and fear filled shouting match, those really evil guys sound more mainstream. So tone it down. Employ the Golden Rule. Check out what you write before you post it.
     This takeover of all that we hold dear has been happening for decades. But the process is intensifying and nearing completion. This fact puts us simultaneously in the most danger ever to lose our country to the forces of fear, hatred and corruption and in position to grab our greatest opportunity to reclaim it as a powerful tool to achieve common good and a bright future for us all. 
     In the past week, two events starkly demonstrate what is at stake. A strip mall preacher defined some of what “Christian” sharia law might include. The Southern Poverty Law Center did not declare the Republican Party a hate group as some media outlets have. However, it cited in its annual report “Year in Hate and Extremism” racist rants and hate speech aimed at inflaming violent extremists from every remaining Republican presidential candidate. That second point is the more important, but let's start with the the preacher because it demonstrates the set up that blocks us from seeing the stark, immoral behavior of the neo-GOP.
     In Tempe, Arizona, Baptist preacher Steven L. Anderson declared from the pulpit, “What do you think they mean by women’s rights? You know what they mean? The right to divorce your husband is what they mean. ...The right to rebel and disobey your husband, the right to divorce him, the right to go out and get a job and make your own money, the right to tell him what to do, the right to go vote for our leaders as if women should have any say in how our country is run, when the Bible says that “I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”?
This same man has prayed for President Obama's assassination, for the death penalty for all gay people. He's pretty effective, it seems one of his congregation showed up at an Obama rally with an AR-15 and a handgun.
     And of course it's not this one guy. In the same month, similar, softer expressions came from a female panelist on “The View”; a guy in England scheduled a series of events in America aimed at legalizing rape. So when we hear this din, we tend to be less shocked, less inclined to act against news like Gov. Abbott vowing to continue investigating Planned Parenthood. We might miss deeper assaults on access to birth control and health care; the right to vote; renewed attacks on the environments; ability to earn a fair and living wage. That's why we need to stop shouting at each other, so we can hear the deadly plotting whispers uttered daily.
     That's also why the SPLC's condemnation of neo-GOP presidential contenders for their role in escalating violence becomes the most important news of the year. SPLC has, since 1971, studied, reported and fought against extremism and hatred. It worships no sacred cows and will call out any entity of any race or persuasion who threatens another with harm. They are brave, bold and largely unshockable. When SPLC says pay attention, that this is quantitatively and qualitatively different, we better pay attention.
     After remarking on a year of extraordinary violence from domestic extremists and a 14-percent increase in radical, right-wing hate groups, SPLC wrote, “The armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others — incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media.”
     While the most odious culprit was, of course, Donald Trump, SPLC listed each current GOP candidate as either espousing violence and discrimination against ethnic, political or religious entities or promoting others within their own organizations who do so.
     We are faced then with the scariest threats to the safe and peaceful conduct of our lives since at least 1968. And it is into this turmoil that the oligarchs advance to vanquish our remaining ability as a democracy to protect ourselves from their greed and power. Since the 1980s, Congress and presidents have removed almost every protection for individuals, as well as small and mediums sized businesses from corporate overreach. Those, in some cases, have been replaced with new, but much less potent laws (for example, Glass-Steagall with Dodd-Frank). The Supreme Court has defined corporations as persons and money as speech, perverting the basic documents of our democracy. Reaganomics has trickled down to drown our middle and lower income families in debt and poverty. NAFTA and CAFTA and other trade agreements have sent our jobs overseas and strengthened grinding poverty in third world countries leaving our desperately poor neighbors to cross our borders for survival funds. You know the litany.
     The only solution, then, is to win this election. And to win it big. Up and down the ballot, as far as we can go. Every race from State Board of Education and district judges to the Texas Supreme Court, Railroad Commission and every single member of Congress we can eek out. Shock and awe at the ballot box.
     For either Bernie or Hillary to be effective once in office will require us to create the political revolution that Bernie has been talking about since the beginning. WE are the people who still believe we, and not mega-wealthy private interests or corrupt clerics, should control our government and personal destinies. The political revolution means we show up at the polls in amazing numbers. It means we start being involved now with demanding (firmly but politely) the Democratic National Committee stop taking lobbyists' money, as President Obama asked. The political revolution means committing to finding the money to replace that (and volunteering lots and lots of time to make up for any shortfall.) More than all of that, it means saying to our elected officials at all levels, “Have spine. Have the courage of your convictions. Live up to your promises. Listen to me because my voice is what matters. Use my money to make a difference in people's lives; in my life. Invest in the American future.” Political revolution means holding our elected officials responsible every day and supporting them every day.
     Only two candidates can fend off the oligarchs in the short run and the racists, misogynists, hate mongers at our door today. However, only Bernie Sanders offers a way to a long-term solution, a more perfect democracy, because Secretary Clinton is too much a part of the system that holds the oligarchy, the corporatist world in place. If she is nominated, vote for Hillary as a place saver for someone who can truly bring about a political revolution in the years to come. I will advocate ceaselessly for polite and intelligent political dialogue in the nomination process. And I will work like a dog, a yellow dog, to get every Democratic candidate elected in 2016. Please join me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress about gun-related deaths

I'd like to say this is not about blame. But it is. And the vast portion of that blame lies with the United States Congress, the remainder goes to our state legislatures and the president. Job One is to make us feel secure in our daily lives. Remember the Constitution? Way, way before the Second Amendment, four years before it in the Preamble to be exact, we set out our intentions in creating these United States to “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” At minimum, these promises should mean we can send our loved ones off to school or work, the front porch or their bedrooms confident that they are safer than if we sent them off to war. Congress talks a lot about national security, but the worst threat to our national security is not at the hands of jihadists, but in the hands of our neighbors, friends and relatives.

As horrifying and tragic as it is, I'd like to say it's just about the nine innocents who were shot and killed Thursday or the 20 sweet souls that were lost in Sandy Hook elementary school. Or the 135 school shootings since Sandy Hook, less than three years ago. But it's not. It's about the day-in, day-out carnage by firearms in America: 88 a day; 33,200 in 2013 in the “greatest country on earth.” Drive-by shootings, police shootings; police being shot, domestic violence shootings, crime-related shootings, suicides, accidental shootings. More Americans have died from firearms-related deaths since 1968 (1,516,863) than in all of the wars we have fought since the Revolution (1,396,773).

Why is that? What can we do about it? How do we staunch the epidemic of bloodletting? Is there a member of Congress (or state legislatures, county commissioners courts or city councils) out there willing to say, “America can't fix this.” or “We can fix this, but we won't.”? If not, there simply are no excuses. Fix it. Work hard. Do not commit another official act until you can promise yourself and us that protecting domestic tranquility is more important than getting re-elected. Do not adjourn until you at least gain a consensus that you have the will to commit your best thought, your best cooperation, your most altruistic, ethical, moral leadership, every resource at your disposal to making America safe from gun deaths.
How have we approached other threats to the life and safety of Americans?

In 2014, just eight days after the first of two Ebola deaths in the United States, the U.S Congress convened hearings on how everyone – from private health organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and others in U.S. Government – handled the case and a handful of subsequent cases. They called in experts: Medical doctors and other scientists; disease vector specialists; infection control experts. They looked at protocols that worked well. They held the feet of government agencies to the fire about how they had gone about doing their jobs. They held private companies and individuals accountable for their actions.

Everyone got the message: You are expected to rise to the challenge in whatever piece of the puzzle is yours to figure out. Because of that we have new protocols and resources, not just for handling Ebola, but a huge array of known and even unknown infectious diseases. Dallas is soon to complete both an adult and a pediatric unit capable of treating Ebola or pandemic flu victims without exposing health care workers or other patients to disease.

Because we took intelligent action, all of our communities are safer today.

So the question is, why don't we apply the same information-driven, problem-solving, responsibility- accepting approach to dramatically reducing firearms related deaths in this country? It is a much harder and more complicated issue and we are far advanced into the epidemic. Is our country so paralyzed by partisanship it can no longer solve complex problems?

If we are to prevent more than 32,000 senseless deaths a year, we have to stop being greedy, posturing, simplistic or nonsensical. To solve a problem, we must honestly assess what we know as fact. More people are killed by civilian owned firearms in the U.S. every year than in any other country in the world. In 2013, guns killed twice as many people in the U.S. than terrorists killed worldwide. The U.S. gun murder rate is 20 times the average of the other 31 developed countries of the world. The United States has lax laws governing gun ownership, possession and purchase, and no laws assigning financial responsibility for consequences of gun violence or requiring gun owner insurance to cover such death and mayhem. Although the U.S. crime rate is not much higher than that of other developed countries, the lethality of that crime is much higher. The U.S. system of health care delivery and access, particularly mental health, care lags behind that of most other developed nations.

Figures from gun control advocates and the NRA agree that there are upwards of 310 million civilian owned guns in the U.S., with about 10 million added per year. Thus, getting rid of all guns – whether you're in favor of it or fear it – is no more possible than deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. But there is so much we can do to control what happens with those weapons and the ammunition that feeds them.

Proposals with merit on the gun control side including requiring titles or licenses, user safety training, inspections with periodic renewals, a level of health (criminal and mental health background checks) and liability insurance for each gun. Similar measures of background checks and proof of liability could be applied to ammunition. We should ban sales of handguns, semi-automatic assault weapons, large-capacity magazines, the latter two of which were banned between 1994 and 2004. Other countries require some or all of these measures. Add to that criminal and civil sanctions for giving a gun to someone who can't pass muster on the controls and for parents of minors who allow their children unsupervised access to guns. Repeal the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, that created the gun show loophole in background checks and include all sales from any source, including online.

On the people side of the equation, we need community best practices in how to recognize and help those who show signs of psychological distress. We need states, counties and cities to invest in public mental health, mental health officers and mental health courts; community policing. We need to ensure information sharing among law enforcement on the local level and between federal, state and local agencies. Rather than schools teaching kids how to hide or teachers how to shoot, we can train older kids in peer counseling; how to safely get help for their troubled friends. We can improve options for those in danger of family violence. We can reach out to bullied, marginalized and lonely kids. We can invest in healthy families.

So Congress, get it together. Stop distracting with ridiculous stunts like shutting down the government, holding endless hearings on the deaths of four people in 2012 and votes to give Americans less health care. There are several private groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that are developing reliable information and strategies. Start listening to them as representative of the vast majority of Americans who want sensible gun control. Stop listening to those who have a financial interest in keeping gun and ammo sales high. You are responsible. Stop the bloodshed now.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 elections, acting on political lessons

I am surprised when I hear pundits express surprise about A: The absence of top GOP names like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie in the 2012 primary race; and B: The acute rancor of Republican candidates' attacks on one another.

The answer to both seems pretty obvious to me. Republicans are more interested in keeping and extending their power in Congress and weakening President Obama's influence over policy than in gaining the presidency. They've learned from George H.W. Bush's daunting task of economic recovery post Reaganomics and Barack Obama's unprecedented challenges in cleaning up George W. Bush's legacy of near total economic disaster. The cleaning crew that comes in after a parade of elephants gets little credit for holding down the stink. It doesn't matter whether the uniforms are red or blue.

One key to control of Congressional politics, particularly in the House, is to energize as many mini-constituencies as possible. That's more easily accomplished in a mid-term election with no presidential coattails involved for good or ill. In 2010, when Republicans took control of the House, they did so with two million fewer votes than Obama garnered to win the presidency in 2008. To sustain that success, the GOP needs to ensure the Tea Party as well "moderates" go back to the polls in November. Unified allegiance to a presidential candidate is not as likely to accomplish that as is the rough and tumble Republican candidates are now experiencing. None of this means their big money guns won't be trained on Obama or that the GOP wouldn't take a presidential victory, just that faced with a choice, they'll take Congressional might.

Many Democrats secretly breathed a sigh of relief when they lost the presidential race in 1988. Someone was going to have to take the fall for the costs of rescuing the economy from the S&L crisis and other "supply side" economic craziness. That someone was "Read My Lips" George H.W. Bush, who was forced to suck up the blame and approve new taxes to counter recession in the early 1990's.

The Democrats' 1988 primary field ranged from Klansman David Duke to solidly liberal Paul Simon and perennial Democratic nut-case candidate Lyndon Larouche with Michael Dukakis as the eventual nominee. Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo, (Sr.), who both gained considerable political coinage after their national convention speeches in 1984, sat out the '88 presidential primary. Notably, so did the party's rising star, Bill Clinton. Thus Clinton avoided a loss to the elder Bush that likely would have significantly weakened the Democrat's chances of claiming victory in 1992. With the fallout of economic decline solidly tagged to a Republican administration, Clinton was able to work with both Democratic and a Republican Congresses to craft an economic recovery complete with tax breaks and eventually, a budget surplus.

Democrats had taken back the Senate in 1986. They already had a significant majority in the House. With such as diverse field of candidates at the top of the ballot, they held, and made small gains in both houses in 1988. And with that power over George H.W. Bush's policy objectives, the Democratic Party was poised to take the whole ball game in 1992.
Defending against a takeover of the Senate and continued GOP power in the House in 2012 will require Democrats to mount a deep, broad and costly campaign in every state. With some of the shine off Obama's message, deserved or not, stimulating the kind of grass-roots, social-media movement for the Democratic message will be much more difficult this time around. Although drawing a well-financed liberal third party opponent could spell disaster for the president, an in-party leftward leaning challenger would help Obama articulate his message. Such a development also would invigorate the national debate over how to proceed with fixing the many things that ail us. Otherwise, we're stuck with a Republican dialog that ranges from radical right to reactionary right vs US.

So, for the time being, the likes of Jeb Bush and Chris Christie are keeping their powder dry, watching the melee, making safe choices and stockpiling their political capital for 2016.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dear Legislature: Great care needed for budget

Dear Texas Legislature,

As Texas music icon Stevie Ray Vaughan laid it out, "It's raining down in Texas and all the telephone lines are down." Heck, it's storming; a hurricane's hit; blizzards and ice storms are raging through. The bridges are down; cities and school districts are sinking. We are at the bottom of so many important indexes of civilized society and global competition we have to reach up to touch Mississippi and maybe even Guatemala. We're $16 billion to $27 billion off the budget mark for 2012-2013.

Even the disparity between those two numbers indicates real emergency. The first number maintains spending at the current level and the second maintains services at the current level. Neither includes about $3.3 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, which must be addressed first, according to Center for Public Policy Priorities' senior fiscal analyst Dick Lavine. He added that the $16 million figure represents spending in 2010 and maintaining that level is just irrelevant in 2012-2013.

It's time to open up the Rainy Day Fund and it's time to raise taxes and fees in addition to making tough decisions on spending. It's time to seek the balanced approach that many organizations, including faith-based groups like Impact Texas and the broad-based coalition Texas Forward are advocating.

It's the economic policy equivalent of lambs lying with lions when F. Scott McCown of CPPP, Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business and State Sen. Florence Shapiro agree we need to open up the Rainy Day Fund. Trying to meet the state's constitutional mandate to balance its budget with cuts alone -- as Gov. Rick Perry and both your houses have proposed -- likely would collapse the economy. It certainly will cripple human services and education. And let us be clear, it is neither melodramatic nor alarmist to state that such severe cuts would cause great suffering and possibly deaths among the sick, children and the elderly.

State government and public education employees make some of the better middle class salaries in the state. Balancing the budget by cuts alone, what the Legislative Budget Board has planned in both houses' preliminary budgets, means lopping off about 25 percent of spending. To cut that much could mean a loss of nearly 9,000 state workers' jobs and nearly 100,000 public education jobs.

When economic development corporations and other entities project the benefit from creating a job, they attach a "multiplier" to each salary dollar. The estimate takes into account taxes paid, meals bought, housing purchased, all the things a person with a job buys. Multipliers range from about 1.5 to 7.

Any economic evaluation includes the point of diminishing return: That point at which cost begins to exceed benefit. What is the point of diminishing return of cutting 109,000 well-paid jobs with great benefits?

Recently Politifact, a non-partisan, economic-policy agnostic, fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times evaluated Gov. Perry's statement that Texas created more jobs last year than all the other 49 states together. They looked at Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's claim that we lost 300,000 more jobs than we created last year. Both claims rang solid green "true" on Politifact's Truthometer.

Texas also is number one among the states in creating minimum wage jobs and 31st in offering jobs requiring bachelor's degrees. So what are the chances that the jobs we created paid salaries better than the ones we lost?

So please, dear legislators, think twice or 10 times before letting go of all those jobs. If Sherman's economic development guidelines were applied, creators of those 109,000 jobs would qualify for about $436 million in local incentives. Of course, Texas' economic development law doesn't allow investment in many 21st century jobs. We're still betting on 20th century manufacturing jobs and "call centers" (strong lobby?) and that's something you could change. If you truly believe that the private sector can handle all the health, education and human services responsibilities of our communities, then let us local folks decide whether to use our sales tax dollars to entice those jobs.

Hammond, although stating a belief that this budget can be balanced without raising taxes and fees, urges you not to be "penny wise and pound foolish."

Texas economist Ray Perryman, the man on whose opinion most Texas cities relied in getting local voters to pass sales taxes, has even stronger words for the legislators of the 82nd Session. He warned you in the Waco Tribune Monday, "Don't eat your seed corn foolishly." He said his firm has studied both Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, mental health and substance abuse services several times.

"Findings from these analyses have consistently shown that adequate funding can yield savings that are multiples of the state's investment," Perryman wrote.

"For Medicaid and CHIP, we found that cuts to the programs were a very inefficient way to achieve fiscal balance. Such reductions lead to loss of federal funds, higher costs to those who purchase insurance, more uncompensated care for hospitals and clinics, and reduced business activity."

In the past two sessions, you've produced all the "blue smoke and mirrors" budget razzle dazzle possible. And in so doing, you've created what Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and others have called a structural deficit. You created most of the structural deficit when you swapped new business franchise tax dollars for property tax dollars in school funding to make good on your promise to lower property taxes by a third. The franchise tax brings in about $5 billion a year less than property taxes did.

You inappropriately appropriated $14.4 billion in federal stimulus money and about $8.2 billion more of stimulus money has come into the state coffers. Most of this you used to disguise the state's budget deficits in 2009, 2010 and 2011 rather than to stimulate the economy as intended.

Not one Texas Republican in Congress voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Yet Republicans skated on that far-smoother budget picture into total control of Texas governance. Texas is at your mercy. I'm begging you: Please raise my taxes, open up my Rainy Day Fund and cut services and jobs with great care.

KATHY WILLIAMS is co-city editor of the Herald Democrat. E-mail:

Monday, February 9, 2009

No more pork calling

OK, I've had it up to here (hand extended over head.) No more calling, "Pork!" No more simple-minded characterizations of what various economic recovery proposals will and won't do. No more false distinctions between “jobs” and “work.” If it pays a salary, it’s work. We are way past that now; way, way over the cliff. We're at the point where the balloon above the coyote says, "Uh Oh!" And we all know that's just seconds before a long plunge toward a barely visible point of dirt below. Unlike Wiley, of course, we will not be OK in the next frame, dusting ourselves off and looking for new boxes marked "Acme Economic Disaster Preventer."
It's time to admit A. No one knows exactly what to do or exactly how bad it is or will become. B. Almost any spending has the potential to create jobs in the short run and that's we need: Jobs. C. Delay means disaster. D. There are no good solutions, so anyone who sits back, throws stones and says no, eventually be able to say, "I told you so." We need jobs and guts and patriotism. We need leaders with enough gumption to serve one term and get fileted by the other side for the effort.
No matter what caused it: "It was the derivatives; it was the housing market; it was greed; it was de-regulation," we need jobs. And while all the criticisms of how we got here probably hold some truth, we will have decades to unravel that. But we have days, seriously, days, to begin to dig out of this hole. We have an economy based on consumerism. Jobs, preferably jobs that pay a living wage, but jobs are what we need. People who have jobs buy things. And for there to be things for people to buy, there have to be people working to make things. And, because so many people have lost their jobs, 4 million in a year, we need to help them before we work on all the other stuff so they can afford to stay in their homes, buy food, buy clothes, be consumers. In essence, we need to help those who have most recently lost jobs because they are yet to lose their entire life's provision. We need to help them so we can avoid the enormous costs of rebuilding lives from the ground up. It just costs us less collectively, in money and in pain.
I'm weary of the GOP party line about spending. Why are "Democratic Party Wish List" spending items not stimulative? Building solar batteries is one often cited. What could be a better kind of spending? It would create jobs up and down the educational line. We need some brainiacs to invent and perfect their design. We need even brainier folks to take those ideas and designs and turn them into plans and working models and others, with technical skills to translate the models into actual products. We need people to make all the little parts and put all those together into the finished product. We need people to make the equipment to make the parts and we need people to clean up the shop. All of those people will be making money. They will need to order parts from other people who will then have jobs. See how it works? Jobs are jobs, even government jobs, which actually are a little better because they pay a little better, so they bring about recovery faster.
Take the argument about Pell Grants, if I had a day or two, I could get you precise figures on this one, but we don't have the time to get these precise figures. Austin College is a big employer in a small city. Its payroll "rolls over" in the economy to produce a dollar benefit to other businesses much greater than the size of that payroll. Professors, clerks, janitors, professional staff members, adjuncts, all must buy food, and gasoline and clothes, etc., etc. Some go out to eat; some have pets. All this means dollars helping keep grocery stores, department stores, pet stores, restuarants, etc., in business. Those businesses in turn will be able to keep their doors open and employ people who buy food and clothes and television services. This keeps other people in business and it keeps sales tax dollars flowing to keep city and state services going.
This year, Austin College experienced a shortage of new students and failed to retain as many upperclassmen as it had hoped. Why? I don't know for sure, but part of that has to be that Pell grants top out at a figure much lower than AC's tuition and student loan aid has all but dried up. This year, AC has frozen hiring, cut some jobs and lowered or cut raises. If there's not some serious relief in the form of more Pell Grant money and unfrozen credit, what will get cut next? And how many other Sherman and Grayson County jobs will that affect. Just as the roll over of jobs created at AC is a plus, so the roll back when they lose jobs is a minus.
Ditto the argument about the "socialism" involved in giving income tax money to "those people who don't make enough to pay taxes." I'm betting that those 4 million people who have lost their jobs and the other millions who have either given up, taken low paying jobs, or work part time because of the economy, aren't going to make enough to pay taxes. I'm also betting that any money given to them will be used to buy things, and yes, to pay mortgages and bills. So some of it might not be as stimulative as say a grant to create a solar panel construction business, but it certainly helps.
The upshot of all this is we should not care whether the plan contains pet projects, or "madeup work," what we should care about is that it creates jobs, and by the way, it must create a lot of government jobs, an ahem, bureaucracy, to make sure that we know where every dime goes, and wherever that is, it is used properly. Otherwise it could evaporate as the $350 billion bailout during president #43, the Freddie Mac and Fannin Mae funds, the Iraq war money, the Iraq reconstruction funding has.
What we need are leaders with the intestinal fortitude to take a leap of faith to avoid falling off the cliff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For the first time, Pride

Pride. I'm beginning to understand what it means to be truly proud of my nation. Michelle Obama drew the wrath of million when she said — at the time when historic numbers of voters turned out to send the momentum of the presidential election in her husband Barack's direction — for the first time in her life she was really proud of her country.

I defended her at the time because, I thought I understood, that it's hard when you live in a nation that is really two nations, that people of her background have fewer opportunities. I empathized with the notion that too few people exercise their rights and responsibilities to fully realize the vigorous ideal and in peril of Lincoln's warning, "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

But there's more to the realization of a full measure of pride in my country. To perfect our union we must work consistently toward the notion that all human beings are created equal. This is larger and grander than the simple fact that today a man of African American descent takes the oath of office. Barack Obama is, after all, exactly as much white Kansan as he is black African. His life past birth place and genetics has gathered knowledge and sensitivities of cultures distant and exotic from most of ours.

Since Nov. 4, I've noticed that I can take a deeper patriotic and human breath. Suddenly I can dare to believe that my children and grandchildren can inherit a world community that has evolved spiritually. In the past few years we've heard over and over that this might be the first generation of Americans that won't hand a better world to their children. Mostly that is meant in the material sense. And that might be the case. But, for the first time in decades I believe that we will be able to pass to them a better world: One in which we believe we share a destiny with other lands; one in which we believe all of our fates are intertwined; one in which we believe that democracy will not continue to exist without each of us working to perfect our union.

What Michelle was expressing, as I understand it now, is that up until this moment, every hope of African Americans had an asterisk by it. Either ascendancy to an office or activity or recognition happened because they were black or didn't happen because they were black. African Americans have lived in a kind of suspension: Their responsibility was to chip away at barriers of thought and spirit: Next time, be patient, work hard, work harder. Today Obama raises his hand, and the asterisk is gone.

I am so proud of this nation. Not because we have conquered racism or partisanship in any sense. (We have yet to elect a woman or a non-Christian.) I'm proud because people of every color, age, creed, party identity, gender, gender identity, religion and philosophy came together under Barack Obama's banner. We each worked hard, then harder. We each invested according to what we had to make this moment possible: Talent and time, money, even begrudging respect. In the end it had less to do with race and party than it did to intelligence, ideas and inspiration.

I am so proud of this nation because what is taking place at this moment in Washington, D.C.: A peaceful transfer of power, the nature of which proves that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was aspiration not fantasy.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My post on

I have yet to see articulated the notion that developing, updating and improving alternative transportation modes are essential to energy independence, slowing global climate change, reinvigorating the economy and enhancing independence for elders.

If we are working on the puzzle of energy independence in transportation focusing on more fuel efficient or alternative fuel passenger and freight vehicles, then we're merely postponing real change. Moving people and goods around in individual pods, even big ones, perpetuates poor practices and planning. It continues the need for ever more miles and lanes of concrete. That requires huge amounts of polluting manufacturing, eats land that could revive the environment and only shifts the discussion of sustainability. It also concentrates economic recovery in one industry, making prospects for sustainable recovery unnecessarily narrow.

The Obama Administration is proposing a huge investment in putting people back to work, establishing energy independence, creating jobs, healing the environment. I believe that those tremendous goals, plus creating more livable communities, can be achieved through investing in building high speed passenger and freight rail. We must build new lines, increase capacity and separate rail and passenger lines for safety and efficiency. We have a 19th century rail system and a 20th century highway system. We should think differently and holistically about this. Highly urbanized cities in the north and east have some, antiquated rail systems and some southern cities like Dallas have limited light rail. We should keep, improve and expand what is working. We should create new solutions to what is not working.

I have a parallel but almost reverse suggestion for alternative energy. Although we, of course, need an updated electrical grid and renewable source generating plants, (not including poisonous and wildly expensive nuclear power) we also must help individual power users and small groups be able to afford home and neighborhood power creation. And we should help more individuals with energy efficiencies and savings. This means direct subsidies or tax credits that don't require income tax itemization, so they are available to those at the bottom end of the income scale. Again, reliance on huge systems that only get larger brings a wealth of problems. It also increases the incidence of unintended consequences. For example, T. Boone Pickens wind energy farms make a lot of sense, but the other side of that: Converting freight vehicle fleets to natural gas use brings some major problems.

To develop the huge natural gas fields in the Burnet Shale in Texas, which I believe is what he has in mind, requires fracturing. Fracturing uses huge quantities of water, which he most likely plans to get from the Trinity and Woodbine aquifers. Many North Texas communities depend on the aquifers for drinking water. So we will, at some point, suffer unreasonably high water prices. To save water in the fracturing process, the water is mixed with chemicals to bulk it up. This polluted water must then be stored in underground spaces that keep them separate from other ground water.

Thank you for your time in considering these suggestion. I am hopeful of a reply.

Sincerely, Kathy Williams