Wednesday, January 20, 2010

365 Days

I have not been this angry about politics in quite a long time, it seems. To think, 365 days ago, I fell asleep on a couch in Washington, DC knowing that the next morning, I would bear witness to a seminal moment in human history, the inauguration of America's first black President, and the first - we thought - truly transformational leader of our time, Barack Obama.

I remember making haste to the West Lawn of the Capitol, desperately pushing my way through the thousands, and with tears in my eyes, listened and cheered one more time at the victory I helped create - not for me, but for my country, for my fellow citizens. Not an electoral victory, or a political victory, but a human victory, as I and the millions gathered at the Capitol on that cold January morning truly believed that we were on the precipice of a new American epoch, of peace and brotherhood, of teamwork and solidarity, of a renewal of the founding principles of this nation. We had come from the four corners and the nation and around the world, and we believed on that day the work truly began, that the hope was alive and well, that our dreams were coming true.

Now, one year later, our dreams lie in shambles, hijacked by the poisonous efforts of a small minority of very boisterous charlatans. Tonight, in Massachusetts, the place in this nation set forth from its creation as a Shining City on a Hill, the place where leaders are born and call home, the place which has given more good to this nation than anywhere else, tonight, in Massachusetts, the American dream is a dream denied. The people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have elected Scott Brown as their next United States Senator. He will take the same seat in the United States Senate as men like Adams, Webster, Lodge and Kennedy. A state senator from Wrentham will carry the legacy of these great men, a legacy to which he has avowed not only to deny justice but to do harm. And in so doing, Scott Brown will put the final nail in the coffin of hopes of those who spearheaded the movement for equitable access to health care as a fundamental right of citizenry in America, indeed the cause of his predecessor's, Edward Moore Kennedy, life. He will provide the necessary vote against any progress the country would wished to have made throughout the coming year. Tonight, progress became a victim of its own success, torn asunder by those few who seek to benefit from the misery of the many.

And so tonight, there are only words plain and clear for the actions of the people of the Commonwealth. Know that these truths are what you have done by your hand, Massachusetts. And that America is weaker for it.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, innocent people in this country will die, victims of a broken health care system built for the powerful and not the people. And their blood shall rest on your hands.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, our country is now set on an unwavering path towards inequity, injustice and strife.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, fringe beliefs held by a small minority of ignorant people will now be given credence, broadcast for all the world to mock as the "true character of America."

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, our daughters, sisters, and mothers will wake up tomorrow second class citizens in the land they helped to build and help to lead.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, the hope of millions of young gay Americans to serve their country or simply live a life of freedom has been deferred yet again.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, we are once again faced with the certainty that the ever deepening divisions in our own society are the paramount markers of that society, rich from poor, black from white, gay from straight, men from women, entitled from those in need.

Because of what you have done, Massachusetts, a nation founded on the intrinsic human values of liberty, service and brotherhood has once and most likely for all lain waste to every one of its ideals for the sake of those divisions.

But, most importantly, because of what you have done, Massachusetts, tonight, you increased the chances that the baby crying out in hunger in the night is your brother, that the girl raped and left to die in an emergency room without quality and appropriate care is your sister, that the gay man beaten for being different is your son, that the immigrant rounded up in the night and sent a land not his own is your friend, that the person without work, left to freeze on a cold New England night without food or shelter, is you.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Here, They Kill By The Handful

NOTE: I wrote this piece last Friday evening, after watching the Current documentary for the first time. In the few days that have passed since then, both the New York Times and 60 Minutes have shed light on the growing Mexican crisis, as well as being mentioned in David Gregory's wide-ranging interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Meet The Press, and in several other mainstream news outlets. Thus, while it may now be a story people are finally reporting, I'm only too glad to add my voice to the chorus, and ask you all to take a closer look at the world on our Southern Border.

In November 2008, fresh off my triumph as a staffer with the Indiana campaign for now-President Obama, I made my way back across the country, seeing the USA in my...well, Toyota Corolla (sorry, GM) and making some interesting pitstops along the way. One night, it was a Monday as I recall, I laid my weary head to rest in El Paso, Texas, along the Rio Grande and the US border with Mexico. It wasn't much of a town, I arrived after dark, having driven from Dallas that day - all day - and didn't get to see much, other than getting turned around off the freeway and nearly making for Juarez, the Mexican city just over the river.

That night, after a fast food dinner in my moderately priced airport hotel room, I threw on the local news. They began with the local news in El Paso, which was inconsequential at best, I seem to remember some kind of bond issue, and maybe some controversy at UTEP, the local college.

Then, the newscasters began the news stories from Juarez, three miles away from my hotel. The fourth and fifth stories that night are ones I'll never forget. First, they had B-roll footage of what looked like a staged scene from a drug movie, like Traffic or something of that ilk. They proceeded to discuss the seven "executions" - they don't go through the pretense of calling them murders, sensing premeditation, or killings, intimating there had been some sense of targeting - that had happened that afternoon, in full view of police, on one of the main streets in the city. I looked up from the newspaper or magazine or whatever it was I was reading with the TV blaring in the background, jaw agape, to learn the details. A police officer had been killed in cold blood, and then, just for good measure, bystanders were shot with assault rifles. They joined the more than six thousand executions in 2008 alone, becoming almost faceless, nameless victims to the internecine battle that is gripping Mexico. The next story detailed a warning for young women of the Borderland, as three women had been kidnapped, again, in broad daylight. They were now among the hundreds who had been taken in the last year, most of whom end up raped, or worse, or sold into slavery or - if they were truly lucky - ransomed to fund the Mexican drug cartels and their all out assault on the world drug market.

These stories were treated as de rigeur by the media. Ho hum, another spate of killings, some more young women kidnapped, just another day in Juarez. And it wasn't that the anchors were trivializing the stories either, it's that they had become all to familiar. This was an ordinary day.

Laura Ling and Current TV recently traveled to Juarez, and other cities throughout Mexico to shine a light on this story. It is a battle of epic proportions, one that threatens to turn America's neighbor to South and one of our largest trading partners into a failed state within the next year. And it is a battle that the American press refuses - either wilfully or, more likely, blindly - to cover. Their full hour documentary is below, and I encourage you all to watch it. It is a gripping hour which should open all of our eyes to the crisis just miles away from our Southern border.

One scene in particular struck me. Laura and her crew travel to Culiacan in Sinaloa state, one of the centers of the drug cartels in Central Mexico, where they grow and distribute marijuana and cocaine. They follow a police brigade to the scene of a fresh killing, one man was dead at the hands of the cartel. And with the sun shining down, and the blood still wet on the ground beneath their feet, the officer Laura interviews says, "At least it's only one person, that's lucky. Here, they kill by the handful."

The cartels kill at will, without fear of retribution. How long until this war spills over the border? How long until these drug lords see fit to kill and rape in the streets of San Antonio? Phoenix? Atlanta? New York? Chicago?

The time has come to shine a light on people who murder at will. The time has come to reevaluate how we fight a "war on drugs" and start targeting murderers and rapists and torturers and work at the source instead of targeting users.

If nothing else, Lara Ling and her team show us that until people in power target these cartels, they will continue to operate at will. President Calderon of Mexico has done well and taken key steps to begin stemming the violence, but it may be time to bring international pressure to bear against the cartels. If nothing else, people must begin to expose this issue and bring it into the light of day, so that "executions" and kidnappings are treated like the crimes they are, not footnotes in the daily news.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Give Me A Lever: John Kitzhaber for HHS Secretary

I got a text message yesterday morning from a friend of mine who is as much a political junkie as I am. It said, simply, "We lost Daschle."

My heart sank. The red-bespectacled wonder had won redemption, something that comes along far too few times in American politics, only to piss it away over a car, a driver and one, admittedly galactically stupid, tax error. Daschle is one of the nation's thought leaders on health care and how to fix our broken system. In fact, he may be THE thought leader on the subject. He basically singlehandedly wrote the new President's health care policy during the campaign. If you ask people high up in the administration, they will tell you when the time came to select a health czar, the President had his man in Daschle.

Of course, he was so busy figuring out how to fix health care, he kinda sorta forgot to pay his taxes. A lot of them.


The truth is, Daschle could have weathered the storm, but - and I actually believe this when I say it - Daschle so intimately knew the fight he and the President were going to have to wage on fixing our health care system that any distraction - a la the HillaryCare debacle in 1993 - would give the entrenched interests an opportunity to distract, delay and defuse the forces of Good and defeat any bill that would move us to a progressive health system.

We need real movement on this issue and we need it today. No distractions, no sideshows, no BS. People die every day because of lack of access to health care in this country, which is a fact that drives straight through cruelty before arriving at being a sin, a stain on all of us.

So, with this early setback, where do we go from here? Why not try the Pacific Northwest?

Allow me to introduce you to Governor John Kitzhaber. I am lucky enough to have a friend and political mentor in Joe Trippi, my former boss on the Dean campaign. To Joe's credit, he has been out in front on Twitter since the Daschle retraction went down yesterday, introducing his legions of followers to the work Kitzhaber's Archimedes Project has been doing. And as I've read more about Kitzhaber, himself a medical doctor, and his project, I have been thoroughly impressed with his chops.

The Archimedes Project has been working since 2006 under three key notions on how to reshape the health care debate in this country. Instead of working to fix medicare or other barely functional existing institutions, we must ask ourselves a simple question: What would the optimal system look like that could improve population health, reduce per capita cost and improve the patient's experience regardless of their category, how care is financed, a person's age, income, race or gender? It is a more holistic look back at where we've been with health care, where we've succeeded, more notably where we have failed, and, most importantly a look forward to what American inginuity on this idea can bring us.

Kitzhaber understands, as well, that change like this does not come swiftly, but rather with the steady drumbeat of leadership and forward thinking coupled with legislative initiatives to back it up. And, more importantly, the Project understands that being a thought leader on such an important topic is great, but without the support of the grassroots, the people who will benefit directly from these ideas, the Project won't go anywhere.

John Kitzhaber is a perfect intermediary to work between the President and the Congress and the People on this issue. He and the Archimedes Project leaders understand the need to work collectively on an issue that will mean greater prosperity for us all. And, though I haven't checked his tax returns as yet, Kitzhaber showed leadership as a two-term Governor in Oregon, expanding access to health care and building economic prosperity throughout the state. I encourage you to read more about and get involved with Kitzhaber's current work with the Archimedes Project at, and join in the growing chorus of support, reminding President Obama that real change comes from the people, and that leadership on this issue means working across all boundaries to get the job done for the American people.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Coalition for Change: The Real Team of Rivals?

Amidst the media-driven furore surrounding the rollout of Pres.-Elect Obama's cabinet, and the "One President at a Time" message that has become a press meme over the last weeks of economic consternation in this country, there is a real, no-foolin', honest-to-goodness street fight for the governmental leadership of a major Western power: Canada.

Yup, America's Hat decided that what's good for those of us below the 49th Parallel might make sense for them too.

You might remember (though no one would blame you if you didn't) that Canada held a federal election less than 45 days ago. That election, despite some close polling just days before the election spurred on by the horrendous economic news that hit in October, was won handily by the Conservative Party, and the incumbent Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. There has been, however, no honeymoon period for the new government. As you've no doubt seen from the news in this country, the economic news has gone from "Holy Crap" to "Stockbroker Suicide Watch" to its current state, "China's Redheaded Stepchild" in a matter of what seemed like hours. Leading the charge to ignominy has been the automotive industry, especially General Motors, which has very quietly become one of the most unfathomably awfully run companies in the history of modern economics. Adam Smith himself, were he to come back from the dead, would take a look at GM's books and "future plans" and quietly cry himself to sleep reading a copy of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.

Would care to hazard a guess as to what one of Canada's largest employers is?


Yup. General Motors. Ford too, for that matter. Windsor, Ontario - just a Sarah Palin glance away from the rusting former automotive capital of Detroit - became a hub for car production over the last few decades thanks to Canada's national health care scheme, which helped (wait for it...wait for it) shave overhead costs while getting essentially the same quality of work.

Now, back to today's issues for our neighbours to the, uh, Nourth. As Pres.-Elect Obama has already begun tackling the severe economic crisis that he will face as President beginning the 20th of next January by touting his new team of advisers, promoting economic stimulus and infrastructural redevelopment across sectors, so too has Mr. Harper, the Canadian Premier set to work on a new budget that will drastically and directly affect the lives of ordinary Canadians who seek assurances that their government, as ever a world leader in the welfare of its citizens, will once again provide the safety net they need to survive this deep, globally interconnected recession.

So, as Mr. Harper presented his budget to the Parliament last week, what schemes might his Conservative government concoct to see Canada through rough seas? Increased unemployment benefits? Job retraining programs to keep workers at pace with global trends? An Obamaesque commitment to reinvestment in infrastructure?

The answer they got was very simple. Nothing.

The Harper government provided no economic stimulus in the new budget, not even one of his good buddy George W. Bush's ridiculous tax rebate debacles.

And that brings us to the extraordinary situation we see unfolding right above us as we speak. Almost immediately, the opposition parties saw their moment, and thus was born one of the oddest political marriages in Western political history. The three major players in this new arrangement - Canada has never had a formal coalition government since the end of the Dominion - come from very distinct political paths. First, the leader of the opposition, Stephane Dion, leader of the Liberal Party. Quebecois, and with a political mindset forged from the rule of his predecessor, Jean Chretien, Dion led his Liberal Party since defeat in the 2006 election, after the disgraced Paul Martin was forced out by a Conservative non-confidence vote, through this latest round of voting, which saw the worst Liberal defeats in the history of the Party. He was so reviled within his own party that he began the leadership fight to succeed him even before ballots were cast. At this moment, three men are lined up behind him, fighting it out for the position of Liberal leader from May 2009. His political obituary was written, in stone, over the last month, as he seemed bound and determined to leave his party in disarray.

And now, Stephane Dion is the clubhouse leader for Prime Minister in a new government that could be formed within days. Talk about zero to hero...

Also in the mix is the man who has very quietly risen to prominence as one of the most Progressive political leaders in the Western world, Jack Layton. Layton, an Ontarioan and leader of the New Democratic Party has very quickly made himself into a kingmaker of sorts in federal politics. By providing the roadmap back to governance for the Liberal Party, Layton was able to secure six cabinet positions in the proposed new government, as well as a number of lower-level bureaucratic positions of importance for his party. Layton, and the NDP's, influence will thus have much more of a broad impact under this arrangement, particularly given the leadership struggle in what would be the ruling party. Thus, while Layton's gamble does not necessarily cement the NDP as a force to be reckoned with on the federal stage, it does better serve his constituency than Ed Broadbent's fool's errand during the Trudeau period in the 1970s. This, then, is truly the exciting part of the story for progressives on both sides of the border, as Canada looks towards a more progressive stance as America's staunchest ally. Now, that's change you can believe in!

But here's where the story gets really, really (are you even still reading), and I mean, really interesting. Given the disastrous results for the Liberals in the October poll, the combined NDP/Liberal Alliance would represent only 44% of Canadian support and only 114 seats in the Parliament, as opposed to the Conservatives 37% and 143 seats, respectively. So, how do we get this idea off the ground? Mais oui! Le Bloc!

The Bloc Quebecois' 50 seats, and 10% of federal support would push the coalition government to a majority government, of sorts. So, done deal, right? Well...geh...okay, does anyone know the Bloc's single, solitary issue?

Health care? No. The economy? No.

Reinstituting the Quebec Nordiques' hockey franchise? No...well, okay, maybe that too?

Yeah, Le Bloc is the separatist party of Quebec. So now, this coalition Canadian government will be held up by a party whose sole purpose is to work for the "rightful" independence of one of its provinces. However, of all three men who entered into this compact in Ottawa this morning, Gilles Duceppe may be the one who made the critical misstep. First of all, he is now going to have problems at home with the hardcore separatists who will only see him ganging up with a Federalist Quebecois and the Anti-Conservative (BQ voters tend to be issue matched with the Conservative Party) Layton. And second, perhaps more critically, Duceppe has promised to not push a non-confidence motion of his own for eighteen months, effectively declawing Duceppe to hold his former rivals to the fire on issues of import to Quebecois voters. At the first sign of trouble, he should expect a leadership fight bubbling up from the PQ (the provincial wing of the party), especially given Duceppe's own inability to secure more seats in the Federal Parliament or push a referendum on independence in his nearly ten years as party leader.

Now, these three men sit at the same table, a partnership forged from practicality, not politics, putting country before party. This team of rivals can look forward only to uncharted waters and stormy seas, but, if they can make this almost farcical arrangement work, it may cement prosperity for Canadians for decades to come. And, hey, it's fun to watch for us Americans. (Okay, maybe just us political geeks...)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wall Street to Main Street: The Financial Crisis in Context

Hello again.

Most of you know where I'm at, but for those who don't. 8 days ago, I quit my job in San Francisco, pulled up stakes (if only briefly) to work with Senator Obama's campaign in Columbus, Indiana. A bit of a seismic shift to be sure, but one which I welcomed with open arms. To spend 50 days to get a man with the character and leadership abilities of Barack Obama is a charge I am honored to take up.

That said, I've been spending a lot of time out on the streets of Columbus (population 40,000), speaking with voters door-to-door, mostly undecided, trying to get them out to vote for Barack. In the last 48 hours, the conversations I've been having have definitely taken a different tack, focusing largely on the economy.

I must say, maybe I'm witnessing an outlier, but for the most part, these independent voters I've been getting to know have been particularly savvy on the issues. They understand that the failures of Lehman, Merrill and AIG have a direct impact in their daily lives. They understand companies like Cummins, the major employer here, do not exist in a vacuum, and that the Wall Street firms provide the capital necessary to keep good paying jobs here in Indiana. And they understand that it is the failed policies of the last eight years of financial mismanagement from George Bush (and, yes, his Congressional henchman - Mr. 90% - John McCain) that have led us to the precipice. Some of the voters I talk to - I tend to go out during the weekdays a lot - are seniors, and they remember Herbert Hoover and the Depression. One woman even told me she thinks McCain's economic outlook reminds her of Hoover (she was pretty feisty!) and it scares.

For God's sake, he uses the same the terminology - the fundamentals of our economy are strong - that Hoover did!

America couldn't afford Herbert Hoover then, and they can't John McHoover now. And these people know it.


I'll try to update as much as I can, especially as we help turn Indiana Blue!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

McAfee Coliseum: A Thoroughly Adequate Baseball Experience

Realistically, I was ready to hate McAfee Coliseum. But when I traveled over there this morning for Dave Stewart Retro Jersey day (I was too late to get a jersey. I am still angry about this.) something happened. Something changed. I didn't hate it, and it didn't suck.

Look, the atmosphere is middling to poor at best. They have made some drastic improvements to the place that had miles of foul territory up until recently, but it is still not a great place to watch a game. You are fundamentally disconnected from the action, even in the best seats in the house (not that Mark and I were sitting in them...). But in that way, it reminded me a lot of Yankee Stadium.

Now I know you'll all scream bias when I dump on the Toilet (pun firmly intended), but Yankee Stadium is a fundamentally awful place to watch baseball for the very reason that makes Fenway or AT&T here in San Francisco or Jacobs Field in Cleveland great places to watch baseball. At McAfee, like Yankee Stadium and - actually - like Nationals Park in DC oddly enough, you are so far away from the players and action happening on the field, that it is easy to get distracted, forget about the product on the field, get wrapped up into something else. That kind of thing cannot happen at Fenway or AT&T or Camden Yards, because as a fan in those arenas, you are part of the action. It consumes you. You and your fellow fans rise up and breathe and scream and cheer and boo together. It's the places like those that make baseball special.

Baseball is not special at McAfee. Even just walking through the gigantic concrete behemoth, you understand that the A's are a baseball team playing in a football stadium. The sightlines are wrong. Whole portions of the stadium lie dormant. Your focus is more on the myriad of - just god awful - food and beverage options than on the game. Maybe that's the way they want it, they sell more goods and services and I buy them for lack of anything else to really do. Maybe I'm too much of a purist. Maybe that is just the business of mid-market baseball.

But the stadium - and my ass poor $5 "hot dog" aside - the experience, on balance, was enjoyable. Hell, if you let me go to a baseball game for $9 and not sit behind a pole or look through a peephole or something, I'm taking that deal every day of the week. It was even a good game, Duchscherererererer was dealing, we had two 9th inning rallies, one that won the game, one that fell short, and I got to see K-Rod up close and personal (ok, not THAT close) in the amazing season he's having. It was a thoroughly adequate day out to be sure.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting Settled

The tumult of the last month has been such that I haven't been able to properly sit and think and update the way I wanted to, and told you all that I would. However, I am forced to stay at work until 6 tonight, and all my work is done, so you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my efficiency yet again.

I have, at long last, and through great pain, suffering, joy and wonder, arrived and settled in the City by the Bay. The last month has seen me on both coasts, in innumerable airports, bars, offices, apartments, and baseball parks, all in a great quest to get out here, once and for all.

The odyssey began in New York, where I received word, as most of you know, that I would be transitioning into a new role as an Associate with the Innovation and Operations Practice of the Corporate Executive Board. Less than 80 hours after making my acceptance, standing in a suit in Union Square, New York, I was in Waterview, Rosslyn, Virginia, getting oriented to my new position.

The three weeks that followed are largely a blur, thanks to my fellow colleagues who started the same day, and whom I quickly dubbed "The Channel 4 News Team." I assumed the role, of course, of Ron Burgundy, and was helped in my efforts to drink, carouse and generally enjoy life by a merry band of characters, including Champ (Peter), Brian Fantana (Jenny), and Alycia, our very own Brick Tamland. They helped fill three weeks of desperate boredom and hostility, stuck in Rosslyn, with stories that, while not fit for such an austere venue as this, will be shared around watercoolers and campfires for years to come.

My introduction to CEB was a whirlwind of acronyms, scripting, mission statements and goal setting. Trying corporate America on for size has been a relatively smooth transition from the world I had been in; almost as if it were far away, so close. Many of my fears of joining the work-a-day world have been allayed. I don't feel soulless and disgusting, or like a snake-oil salesman, or like a complete failure and sellout. In all honesty, the work we do here has real merit for this economy, and for companies to succeed by working together instead of ripping each other apart. It is not quite the socialist, communitarian utopia, but it's a start.

Much of my wariness of the corporate world has been stopped short by the fact that I am living in an incredibly beautiful and vibrant place. San Francisco is a world city, unparalleled in the opportunities it presents and the culture embodied within it. In the same way that the Obama campaign is the Dean campaign perfected (more on that another time), San Francisco is like Boston perfected. Beautiful weather, wonderful people, laid-back attitude, kickass food and wine, all within reach. And yet with the charm and decency of a insular microculture that no city can match. It rivals Cape Town for me in that. Doesn't beat it, but it does rival it.

I am living in Pacific Heights, just off the quiet bustle of Fillmore Street for the month. I am going to find it tough to leave. Between the burger special at Harry's (hands down best in the city), shopping at Mollie Stone's, or just taking in the views from my window, looking over Alta Plaza Park, I have become enchanted with it already. My checkbook on the other hand...oh well, we won't get into that. I literally found the place at the very last minute. I was 6 hours away from being homeless and I pulled through. What luck. A studio, all to myself, for a month, in the best neighborhood in the city. I can't complain.

All in all, the last month has been completely crazy, but I am looking forward to what's next.

Recent Listenings By The Pink Polo