Defending Hillary

“In the Senate, I have worked across the aisle to make change. When I was elected, the people of New York took a chance on me and it was a great honor that they did. But I knew that I had to go and get things done. I couldn’t just say, ‘Well I’ve been elected, thank you very much.’ That’s not who I am, that’s not what I do.” – Hillary Clinton-*

Surprise—Hillary announced her candidacy for President! Yeah, I know that’s an enormous yawn because everyone knew she would eventually make it official. By now you have also probably heard about a little scandal having to do with the former secretary of state’s emails. I know that I’m a little behind addressing this situation, but now that Clinton has officially declared her intentions, it is time to offer some perspective on the email issue. If you aren’t aware of this, well, the hypocrisy surrounding the outrage (most of which has died down—at least for now) from both the right and (yes) even the left is enough to make one’s head explode—well, mine anyway.

Let me preface with the fact that I am a huge proponent of transparency and accountability at every level of government and believe that all communication of government business should be conducted on a government server (apologies for the redundancies). However, transparency and accountability are for another discussion and one well worth having, not only in regards to Secretary Clinton, but all elected and appointed government officials.

So what is the hypocrisy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s emails one might ask? Oh, let me count the ways (and this isn’t a comprehensive list):

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s email transparency is a total joke

Jeb Bush had another private email account as Florida Governor

Jeb Bush owned personal email server he used as governor

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo administration begins large-scale email purges

Mitt Romney

Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Scott Walker

John Doe Transcript: Scott Walker must have known of private email, laptop system

Sarah Palin

Palin outraged that Hillary Clinton pulled a Palin

Colin Powell

Colin Powell relied on personal emails while Secretary of State

Congress members

Congress doesn’t have rules for saving emails

5 million missing emails during the GW Bush administration related to the attorneys general firing investigation. That should be truly shocking and outrage-inducing to anyone concerned with transparency and accountability in government.

Madame Secretary as Right-wing Target Practice

Conservatives are attacking Secretary Clinton because she is the Democratic frontrunner, possesses stronger credentials than anyone currently running on the GOP side, and is a Clinton— and you know there is always something “sneaky” about “those” people and the “rules don’t apply to them.” (Well, the rules don’t apply to most powerful, wealthy people so why should she be held to different standards? I’m not saying that’s right, because it’s not, but just posing the question as food for thought.)

Of course, these omitted emails will now be used to perpetuate the Benghazi hysteria, keeping it front and center through 2016, if possible, although most people have moved past that issue because there was no criminality involved—even the GOP-led investigative report confirmed there was no misconduct. This report was issued by the Benghazi Select Committee, which is headed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Mr. Gowdy has requested Clinton turn over to him her personal email server, which she has refused to do. Yet he refuses to release Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails—that she did release—to the public as Democrats in the House of Representative have requested. If Congressman Gowdy were so adamant about transparency and accountability, he’d release them. He has not. My question is why hasn’t he? They must be less than compelling and devoid of any smoking gun. However, it’s a brilliant strategy because to withhold them from the public allows the Republican propaganda machine to continue hyping a conspiracy or possible foul-play surrounding that tragic incident.

Gowdy also prefers the committee to interview Clinton (again) in private. Clinton prefers a public hearing, which most Americans interested in this situation would appreciate. Why is he so adamant about keeping the hearing secret? It all feeds into the way conservatives want to milk this issue through 2016. I guarantee it. Now, that’s not to say the Democrats wouldn’t do the same in this situation because they probably would. Again, it’s politics, which is not for the faint of heart.

Liberal Media Pundits Join In

Liberal media pundits have joined the GOP attackers. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the cable news networks and political blogs. Even liberal MSNBC has denounced her, failing to see that they held her to a different standard than others, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Perhaps his being a man shelters him from this type of scrutiny? Furthermore, the Clintons have a love-hate relationship with the media, so any opportunity the media sees to go after them they do so, and with great fervor.

Yes, she was secretary of state, but so was Colin Powell. In my view, the disappearance of 5 million Bush administration emails related to the attorney general firings investigation is a much more serious matter. I didn’t hear much outrage from the right when that was revealed.

As the 2016 presidential campaign progresses, the Clinton email issue will continue to provoke political attacks against her. There are valid issues and policy positions that her opponents can exploit, but until everyone else in government is held to the same standards of transparency and accountability, I’m cutting Hillary a little slack on this email one.

* What did Hillary Clinton accomplish while in the Senate? You can read about it here and here.

 

 

I now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

…Why, you ask? Because a certain story of American gusto has taken the nation by storm. And, well, I am not totally buying the narrative.

By now, we’ve all heard the heart warming story. 56-year-old James Robertson walks over 21 miles to work…5 days a week…for 10 years. Let me repeat that. Mr. Robertson has walked over 21 miles to work for 10 years. After his car gave out on him over a decade ago, this man did what he needed to do in order to remain gainfully employed. In the process, the job became his life.

 

The sheer time and effort of getting to work has ruled Robertson’s life for more than a decade, ever since his car broke down. He didn’t replace it because, he says, “I haven’t had a chance to save for it.” His job pays $10.55 an hour, well above Michigan’s minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not enough for him to buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.

Is this job really worth it? I mean, walking that far every Monday through Friday! Why not just quit?

“I can’t imagine not working,” he says.

Okay, so this man is no taker. He exemplifies the idea that a man who won’t work won’t eat. Right?

Robertson’s 23-mile commute from home takes four hours.

He also seems to understand that anything worth having might be difficult to obtain and keep. The four-hour journey to keep a $10.55/hour job practically yells commitment. Right? And his employers speak very highly of him. His manager speaks of Mr. Robertson as a model employee.

“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”

I know what you’re thinking. What exactly is the issue? What can be said other than the fact that Mr. Robertson’s actions are the embodiment of what we think of as American Spirit? His story is remarkable. I find that there are, indeed, a few remarkable things about this story. (Spoiler Alert: American spirit doesn’t make my list.)

Topping the list, of course, is James Robertson. In my view, this is not a case of American can-do spirit. In fact, America plays little to no role here save setting and nationality. This a case of a remarkably determined man doing remarkable things in order to survive. The triumph or victory (if you call it that) belongs solely to the man himself. His grit, his determination, his perseverance, and his commitment make him a man to be respected and admired.

Secondly, I find it remarkable that so many Americans read his story, recognized his actions, and responded. According to  USA Today, over $230,000 has been raised on behalf of Mr. Robertson. That number is expected to rise.  I was pretty sure that there were still good people in the world, and the response reaffirmed that belief.

Finally, I find it remarkably disheartening that this story, while touching and inspiring, is not unique. My life has allowed me to experience many, many James Robertsons. I grew up in a community where this type of feel-good story was the norm. I have witnessed single mothers walk to work after death, divorce, or abandonment removed fathers from homes. I have witnessed married women walk similarly exhaustive treks in order to supplement the father’s income so that the family could make ends meet. I have witnessed fathers walking from home to Job 1, then Job 2, and sometimes Job 3 before walking home again.

Circumstances of birth, I suppose, make these people good Americans. In my eyes, they are simply good people. And therein lies my issue…this nation is full of good people doing remarkable things on a daily basis. Not in an effort to be labeled “good Americans”, but because they must be done. The stories of James Robertson and countless others make me wonder why Americans can’t see the economic failure embedded within the feel-good.

But… I return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Evergreen Up Late: Welcome Back My Friends!

Welcome back to another exciting season of National Politics! Woohoo!

A whole new year of “funny-“, um, I mean “The American People’s” business awaits, so LET’S GET TO IT, shall we?

The 114th Congress has just completed its first month of work, or as Members call it: 13 days. Wow! A baker’s dozen. Tough Gig! /sarcasm

But the way this January has turned out, Republicans may already wish they could call for a Mulligan. With such an ignoble beginning, the good news is that next month contains only 12 scheduled days in session. So, they’ve got THAT going for them.

To round out the 1st month of 2015, Mitt has pulled his hat OUT of the ring for the 2016 election. Perhaps he just got “Bush-whacked?”

We’re keeping things short this time, but we’ll be back because while Congress may be light on results, it truly IS the show that NEVER ends!

May you always be in tune with The Music of the Spheres.

A Tragedy in Three Parts

Part I

My friend had been fighting a heart condition as long as I had known him, and that was a long time.

Most people had no idea. For most of the thirty years I knew him he was under treatment, and it worked just fine and kept him healthy.

My friend was an officer in the US Navy, a computer engineer, an MBA and a PhD economist. An officer in his college fraternity and a huge fan of Florida football. He worked for Procter and Gamble in the US and Europe, and taught at colleges here and there as well. My friend had two young kids, an ex-wife, supportive extended family and friends – real, honest-to-goodness friends – across the globe.

This was no average schmoe.

But that cardiac problem, it kept creeping up on him. Most people don’t know it but that’s what made him leave the Navy. My guess is that it had a (big) hand in his divorce and in several academic positions that didn’t work out as well as they should have.

We like to think modern medicine has a firm grasp on problems like these. But with a condition like his – a constantly ticking bomb – there were things he just couldn’t do.

To make things worse, some of the places he lived didn’t take the condition seriously and he had a hard time finding the right kind of specialists to help him stay safe. Not to make this political, but for the last few months of his life he couldn’t get health insurance and he couldn’t afford private-pay care.

Without regular medical care the ticking got louder. Sometimes when I talked to him or read his emails I could hear it from a thousand miles away.

So if I’m honest with myself, I have to say it wasn’t a complete shock when his sister called to tell me the ticking had stopped and his great big heart had finally burst.
Part II

I haven’t been entirely honest with you.  He didn’t have a heart condition.

It’s true my friend was all of the things I told you. It’s true he had trouble getting the medical care that almost certainly would have saved his life. It’s true we were like brothers for more than three decades. He was the best man at my wedding and godfather to my oldest child.

What killed him wasn’t a heart condition, it was a head condition. His heart didn’t burst, he killed himself. He was alone and afraid and so very sad that he just couldn’t be here any longer.

And now you think of him in an entirely different way than you did when you believed he died of a heart attack.

Of course you do.

Because here in twenty-first century America we still draw a bright line between physical illness and mental illness. A middle-aged man walking around with a heart condition needs care, observation and the best medicine science can provide, right?

But a middle-aged man walking around in a deep-blue funk just needs to cheer up, right? Got the occasional delusion? You just need a good night’s sleep and some perspective. You’ll be fine.

If the electrical impulses that make your heart beat on schedule go haywire everybody knows you need to get to the ER, stat! But if the electrical impulses between your ears skip a beat, well, you’ll need good insurance, several referrals and a fair bit of experimentation with an array of meds before you get even a little relief.

We all – most of us, at least – know intellectually that mental illness, in addition to being a miserable set of ailments, is dangerous. That it kills. We know it ruins lives and families. But insurance companies know it tends to be chronic and hard to treat and is therefore expensive. And because it’s expensive it’s easier to keep it in the same shadows it’s been in for most of human history.

I’d like to think we’re better than that. That the twenty-first century is more progressive and that we’re not so cheap as a society that for all intents and purposes we leave people to tough it out or die trying.

I’d like to believe that, but I know that what killed my friend almost certainly could have been treated if the world thought about severe depression the way it thinks about heart disease.

Part III

In a world full of friends and family who would have done anything to help him, my friend couldn’t be helped when he needed it most.

I’m angry about that. Here it is, the middle of the strangest Florida football season I remember, and I don’t have my friend to commiserate with. His nephews are leaving college and stepping out into the working world and nobody could give them better advice than he could have. His son and daughter, they’re growing up without the funniest, most brilliant and caring dad a kid could have. And I’m angry about that.

I could go on and on about my friend. We were going to be old men sitting on a front porch, solving the world’s problems over a glass of bourbon. Now, we’re not.

This is the part where I tell you that if things are bad for you, if you can’t see a way out, you need to call a friend or a family member. You know the drill, and it’s all true. There are people out there who need you and value you. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Etc.

But that’s not the sermon I’m going to preach today. My friend – and too many other people in my life – have taught me that telling you all the things you have to live for isn’t going to help.

So my message isn’t for you. It’s for those who still think mental and physical illness are different. They aren’t. They can both be treated and they both must be treated.

My message today is for everyone who has someone close to you who is struggling right now. It’s your responsibility to advocate for them in the world. Yes, be there for them, listen, encourage them to stay on their meds if they have them, but you also have a bigger, louder job.

You have to tell their story. You have to break open the doors and lead mental illness out of the shadows. You have to speak up. You have to lobby. You have to work for the people you care about. You have to fight for them. Because they are fighting an entirely different battle that you can’t see.

Fight for them.

Fight for my friend.

Ebola News Round-up for a Fear-Free Weekend

Now that New York City has documented its first case of Ebola, it’s time for Americans to freak out. Okay, I exaggerate. However, I have been completely turned off by the hysteria emanating from the mainstream media looking to increase ratings and elected officials playing politics, knowing there are midterm elections in a few weeks. As we know, politicians and partisans cannot let a good crisis go to waste. I have shunned all cable news these past few weeks. I now prefer to get my information from the cooler heads at NPR (Morning Edition), PBS (The News Hour) and the BBC. Actually, the best source for information about Ebola can be found on the World Health Organization’s web site. (Imagine that!)

This is not to say that people shouldn’t be worried because it is a scary virus and taking precautions, such as washing your hands, is always a good idea. Furthermore, it is obvious from recent events in Dallas, that the United States is ill-prepared to deal with this disease. That should change as experts are called in to educate hospitals and their staff about how to interact with infected patients, dispose of contaminated material and bio-hazard waste, and handle lab specimen properly. Coordinated protocols for health care workers traveling to and from affected regions is a must.

A big part of the fear originates from the lack of trust for those in charge, and some of it is quite warranted. However, fear is overcome by knowledge. You can diminish the anxiety you feel by seeking information from reliable sources, not solely from those whom you align with ideologically – be it on the left or the right. Below are some articles and resources you may find helpful. There will no doubt be more cases of Ebola diagnosed in this country, but you are more likely to be killed by a shark, or by lightning, or in a car crash (that one much more likely), than from Ebola.

 

What’s My Risk of Catching Ebola?

 

There is no better resource about Ebola than the World Health Organization. Information is power. Information reduces fear and anxiety.

Ebola facts from the World Health Organization

FAQs about Ebola

 

Primary focus of response must be to halt spread of Ebola in West Africa – UN

“As the international community mobilizes on all fronts to combat the unfolding Ebola outbreak, the primary emphasis must continue to be on stopping the transmission of the virus within Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three hardest-hit countries, United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) experts said today.”

 

Some examples of needless panic:

The Most Ignorant American Ebola Panic of the Moment

 

However, there are legitimate reasons to be afraid. Below is an interesting study that explains the panic.

One Study to Explain Ebola Panic

“The experiment’s takeaway was this: When the perception of risk increases, the feeling of risk increases. This lesson is instructive in thinking about why some pockets of America are overreacting to the threat of Ebola.

To our collective credit, the American people are thinking pretty calmly about the disease’s threat. Just 24 percent of respondents to a recent Gallup Poll said they were worried about contracting Ebola. But for some communities who see themselves as being just a few degrees of separation away from Ebola, the threat has provoked panic. To extend the metaphor from the Michigan experiment, these communities are being sneezed on or are acting out of fear of being sneezed on.”

 

But there is some good news! Congratulations, Nina!

Nina Pham, Dallas Nurse, Declared Free of Ebola and Released From Hospital

 

And more good news!

Seems all it takes for vaccine research and production to kick into overdrive is for Ebola to impact the developed world. Funny how that works…

Millions of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines will be produced by the end of 2015, the World Health Organization has announced

 

Big Pharma’s race to develop an Ebola vaccine

“Are these companies just profiting off misery? As The New York Times pointed out yesterday, testing and scaling up the production of drugs takes real money, and bringing a new vaccine to market can cost as much as $1.5 billion.

This often pays off for Big Pharma, as patented, brand-name drugs can be worth worth billions, For diseases like Ebola, though, it can take a humanitarian disaster to create the necessary urgency to act.

Sure we can be cynical. But to view the success of stocks like Bavarian Nordic and NewLink Genetics as the profits of doom is to ignore the economic realities that go into discovering and administering a real-world cure”.

 

Stephanie Cutter: Ebola vaccine research was cut in half, and more cuts are coming

Perhaps cuts to Ebola research, due to budget cuts for research at the NIH, should never have been made. It appears more cuts are on the horizon, per the sequester…perhaps Congress should reconsider that one.

 

Big data put to good use:

Big data could help: Mobile-phone records would help combat the Ebola epidemic.

“CDRs can therefore tell epidemiologists where people have been, when—and perhaps also where they are headed, based on their past movements. Analysing the records has proved helpful in tracking the spread of diseases on previous occasions.”

 

Why Ebola won’t go airborne

The video in the above link explains it well. I recommend watching it.

(I tried to embed the video, but I couldn’t get it to show up. Sorry.)

 

Now that you know the odds of catching Ebola, have some facts, are aware of the misinformation out there as well as what is being done/can be done to deal with any future cases, and hearing the news that Nina Pham is Ebola-free, chill a little and enjoy an Ebola-fear-free weekend. Peace!

2014 Gainesville Spirit of Pride Community Awards Dinner Keynote Address

Recently I had the honor of being asked to give the keynote address at the Gainesville Spirit of Pride Community Awards Dinner. The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida is a marvelous organization doing amazing and important work.

A friend asked that I post the speech online, and the Everblog seemed like a perfect venue.

2014 Gainesville Spirit of Pride Community Awards Dinner Keynote Address
Thank you Pegeen. Terry, thank you for inviting me. I’m honored to be a part of this gathering. When Terry called to ask me to do this I turned to my wife Gillian and said, “Terry Fleming needs me to give a speech. Do you think I can talk for ten or fifteen minutes?” She rolled her eyes and said, “The question is, can you ONLY talk for ten or fifteen minutes?” She did later assure me that it was entirely possible I could be moderately entertaining and engaging for a solid ten minutes.

The Gainesville community offers almost as many award dinners and events as there are weekends to host them, but the Pride Awards Dinner is easily and consistently among the most positive, welcoming and fun events on the calendar. I was here last year as a candidate for county commission. Running for office is a remarkable experience. It teaches you things about yourself and the people close to you. It brings you closer to the community.

I would recommend running for office to anyone.

I would not recommend LOSING, but running? Yeah, that’s something you should all experience.

When you run for office people say all sorts of odd things to you. People who are otherwise calm and well-mannered will say the strangest things just to see how you react. A person cornered me one night after I gave a talk about the virtues of progressive politics and said to me, “You people – and you always know it’s going to be fun when the sentence begins with “YOU PEOPLE” – You people talk a lot about being “progressive.” What progress have y’all actually made?”

I mumbled through some unsatisfying response about how being progressive is better than being regressive or something like that.

I WISH my response had been, “Yeah, we DO talk about progress a lot. Let me tell you about the progress we’ve made.”

Since I didn’t think quickly enough that night, let me share my idea of progress with you all here tonight. When you’re standing in the middle of progress it’s hard to see it sometimes. So let’s take a bird’s eye view of what progress looks like right here in Alachua County. Before we start, I want to be clear that in each of the areas I’m going to talk about we have a loooong way to go, but people just like us have made a lot of progress already. It’s important that we celebrate just how far we’ve come in a relatively short time.

First let’s talk about women’s rights. Last year I did some research and read a few old family tax records. A hundred years ago my great grandmother was raising six children as a widowed single mom. For more than a decade she ran a farm out near Orange Heights, brought produce to market here in Gainesville, paid her taxes – she was a classic “job creator.” But you know what she couldn’t do for most of that time? Vote.

The official government signature on all the tax forms and other documents she kept – and she kept a lot of them – was always a man’s signature.

If you’ve heard me speak before, you know I can’t go more than a few minutes without talking about my three sprightly daughters. They’re growing up in an entirely different world than my great grandmother lived in. Not only will they be able to vote in a few years, but the Supervisor of Elections who will register them to vote is a woman. In their short lives they’ve known a woman Mayor. Women on the county commission, women in the legislature, the congress. Their mother chairs a department at UF. Their priest, their doctor, the principal at their school, all women. Almost all their authority figures are women. I’m not entirely sure they see me as an authority figure.

That’s what progress looks like.

But let me tell you another way my daughters are not like my great grandmother: If any of my daughters has six children, it will be because she CHOOSES to have six children. Their lives belong to them. THAT is what progress looks like.

Let’s talk about the rights of African Americans. My generation is the first in Alachua County that did not experience segregation. The first. Ever. In history. We gloss over that too easily and too often.

Have you ever tried to explain segregation? I’ve had those conversations with my kids, and it’s nothing less than surreal. Segregation doesn’t just mean you go to a different school on different bus than the kid who lives on the other side of Waldo Road. It means the law says he can’t sit down at a table with you in a restaurant. It means you get to use the good restroom – the one inside the gas station – and he has to use the outhouse. It means your family gets to stop at a motel – any motel – on your vacation – but his family had better plan to drive all night, straight through.

It’s nearly impossible to explain that or to wrap your head around it today, but it wasn’t that long ago. How did we – AMERICANS – ever think this was “normal” or any sort of “OK?”

But you know what? In the Gainesville Sun this morning I saw a picture of the president of the United States. Turns out, he’s black. The congressional representative and the state representative for the districts where we had dinner tonight? they’re black.

Again, we’re just a few years removed from a time when black children and white children had to attend different schools … but the guy in the big office across the street, the new superintendent of Alachua County schools? He’s black.

That, my friends, is what progress looks like.

Now let’s talk about the kind of progress that brings us together tonight. Stop for a moment and try to imagine an event like this one tonight happening in the 1970’s.

Good luck with that.

There’s no one in this room tonight who doesn’t understand that progress for LGBT rights is just getting started. The painful thing about the struggle faced by this community is that it is at once the least obvious and the most basic of all human rights struggles. The idea that anyone could be penalized for being themselves and for finding someone to love seems like the most un-American thing I can imagine. After all, our founding document talks about “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

How was it possible that the American people and our government could turn a blind eye to a modern plague for so long only because it was a “gay disease?” How is it possible that it was alright for police in so many cities to regularly beat and abuse men and women for having the audacity to be themselves?

The history of abuse of the LGBT community is only now becoming a part of our national dialogue. Most of America has no idea of this history at all.

But that’s changing.

Forty-five years ago if you said “Stonewall” in Gainesville people would assume you were talking about the Civil War. Twenty years ago if you used the phrase “LGBT” in regular conversation someone might have assumed you had some sort of speech impediment.

But here we are together this evening, gay and straight, enjoying dinner and conversation. Publicly. Proudly. That’s what progress looks like.

You know, I love weddings. I almost always tear up a little. I really like being married and I heartily endorse the institution. And I can’t WAIT to start getting wedding invitations from a whole lot of people in this room. THAT is what I mean when I talk about “progress.”

Now. As I said earlier, I fully realize that while we have all made progress, we are a long way from any mountaintop:

Women still only earn about three-quarters as much as men who do the same work;

Young black men are targeted and threatened more often than they are protected and served;

My LGBT sisters and brothers can still be fired and denied housing in many places just for being themselves.

Here’s the thing about progress: Frederick Douglass said more than a century and a half ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Power. Concedes. Nothing.

And that’s what progress is. It is the methodical removal of power, inch by bloody inch, from a small old guard and the redistribution of that power to We The People.

All the progress I’ve talked about happened because people who came before us – and some of us – demanded concessions. Any progress we will make together in the future will only happen as we DEMAND concessions.

And make no mistake, that “old guard” is working hard to take its power back. Most of the progress we take for granted can disappear in only a few election cycles. There are people right now fighting – and in many cases succeeding – to drastically reduce access to abortion and contraception. There are people making it harder for African Americans to vote. We have an attorney general in this state who loves the sanctity of marriage so much that she’s tried it three times, and she’s doing everything she can to keep people in this room from trying it once.

I know this is not a political event. I’m not going to make anyone uncomfortable by suggesting who you should or should not vote for.

I WANT TO REMIND YOU THAT THIS GUY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE YOUR GOVERNOR! 1779669_745011048903573_8363399820649633166_n

I want to remind you that progress depends on YOU taking great care with YOUR ballot. I want to remind you that you have options, from the governor’s mansion to the county commission chambers. You can choose progress or you can choose to empower the old guard to take back everything progressives have been sweating and bleeding for your whole life.

I trust the people in this room to make good choices.

It’s always a pleasure to be with you all, and it’s been my honor to speak to you this evening.

The prepared comments above are pretty close to what actually happened. Here’s an iPhone record of the events as they transpired.  It’s not a professional recording, so don’t expect it to be :)

Thanks for reading, as always!

The ISIS Crisis

The Middle East is a complex, complicated area mired in sectarian power struggles—struggles of which most Americans have absolutely no concept or understanding, and that includes many of our policymakers, past and present. Furthermore, many of our past interventions there have done little more than create more chaos in the region. President Obama is right to take his time figuring out a strategy. America cannot and should not go it alone; we need our NATO allies. But more than the involvement of NATO and other European allies, we need that of Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, yes, even Iran who is no friend of ISIS (now going by IS) and has already been involved in the fight against them. All of these countries have a stake in the outcome of these regional crises, and there are many—ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to unrest in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.

To place American soldiers on the ground in Syria or Iraq, without a clear strategy or end game (e.g. – How do we define a “win”?) is irresponsible and short-sighted. Furthermore, who do we trust? Within the various militia and rebel groups fighting in the region and against ISIS, there are numerous “bad guys,” fighters who hate the West but would align with us to advance their cause. However, once that alliance has ended, they would turn on us with the weapons we supplied them. If we intervene in Syria, we are essentially assisting the brutal Bashar Al-Assad regime (whom we’ve been railing against and trying to force out of power) as well as aligning with Iran and Hezbollah, both Syrian allies. See? It’s complicated.

There is no easy, quick, or cheap solution–military engagement is expensive. (It is striking that somehow this cash-strapped nation always has money for war; for education, healthcare, and infrastructure—meh, not so much.) Dropping bombs and placing more American soldiers on the ground in harm’s way should not be the only solutions. Remember, our soldiers represent about 1% of the U.S. population so once again, very few Americans will bear the burden of these armed interventions. Military personnel deserve to have their Commander-in-Chief and congresspersons deliberate and discuss strategy with cool heads, not the hysterical “bomb, bomb, bomb” mantra that so often spews mindlessly from the mouths of seemingly war-hungry legislators.

Perhaps, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests in his article below, Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS, the U.S. should put greater effort into helping solve the pervasive problems of “poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment” in the region. This would do more to heal and strengthen these countries and create goodwill towards the United States than dropping bombs on them ever will.

Below are some related articles with brief excerpts from each.

The Way We Were

In short, some of the problems that dominate today’s headlines are partly due to local forces for which neither Clinton, Bush, nor Obama are directly responsible. But many of them also reflect specific foreign-policy blunders made by one or more U.S. leaders, and the travails of 2014 are in many ways a delayed reaction to two decades of bad policy choices.

Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS

If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action. We would team up not with NATO, but with the UN Security Council, and put others (for once!) into the lead. We would actually mobilize to solve the real problems facing the region: poverty, hunger, drought, and unemployment. Those are the crises that at the end of the day cause men and boys to fling their lives into useless and suicidal slaughter. If just once in our times US politicians had the bravery to build coalitions to improve the lives of the people through development rather than through bombs, the US public would be amazed to see how much agreement and goodwill could quickly generate. Instead we head to war.

Obama’s Speech on ISIS, in Plain English

And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.

The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”

That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.

ISIS threat to U.S. mostly hype

ISIS has Americans worried. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a recent Pew Research poll said they consider the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to be a “major threat” to this country. But are such fears really justified?

Despite the impression you may have had from listening to U.S. officials in recent weeks, the answer is probably not really.

Yes, Americans should always be mindful of the threats posed by extremists. But as the case of U.S. citizens in Somalia suggests, Syria could very well end up being a graveyard for Americans fighting there rather than a launch pad for attacks on the United States

Obama’s Illegal War

The United States has used unlawful force persistently since 9/11. Rather than stem terrorism, it exacerbates it. In February, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) asked the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Is al Qaeda on the run and on the path to defeat?” The answer: “No, it is morphing and — and franchising itself and not only here but other areas of the world.”