Archive for September, 2009

My Dinner with George

Dubya, that is.

I scored a ticket to tonight’s Lubbock Christian University scholarship fundraiser event, featuring 43rd President of the United States George W. Bush. (It’s a little bit like winning a free kick in the teeth, but with a nice dinner first.)

Let me begin by saying that I value and support LCU as an institution. They are a great asset to our community. I hope they made a boatload of money from this scholarship fundraiser, and I hope they have success doing it again next year.

That said, this is the Lubbock Left blog, so — as you might guess — I had some problems with what GWB had to say.

Points for style

I will say that GWB’s famous ability to put a crowd at ease was in full effect. It felt like 2000-campaign GWB, not 2008-President GWB, was addressing us. I suppose that without all the stress that comes with being the leader of the free world, he’s more relaxed. Good for him. Seriously.

He also spent a significant part of his speech presenting things that are immune to criticism: valuing family, reading books, walking his dog, the “rainbow speech” in Romania. Good for him.

There was but one new Bushism — “explorationist,” which GWB played up for comedic effect (one of his public speaking secret weapons, along with a decent sense of comedic timing and fratboy charm).

The Decider: Defending an indefensible model

GWB described qualities of leadership: optimism, a vision of the future, and decision-making.

The aspect of leadership that GWB stressed the most was deciding something and sticking to it. I can’t begin to describe how problematic that is. Without the ability to self-correct, you can decide your way right off a cliff. Sound familiar?

Another way of stating this problem is that GWB has always thought like a modern CEO. The financial crisis has made clear some of the problems with that worldview, to say the least.

If only he listened to his own advice…

President Bush did give one piece of good leadership advice in addition to the above. He stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with competent, objective people. I only wish he had listened to that advice while he was in office.

The Bush Administration was known for hyperpartisanship, one-sided policy, and politicizing areas of government that shouldn’t be politicized. With a few exceptions (Colin Powell and Robert Gates, for example), he had advisors that were either competent or objective (one of the two, like Karl Rove) or were neither competent nor objective (like Brownie).

GWB giving advice on “how to select your advisors” is like a fat dude giving diet and exercise tips.

Spreading freedom at the barrel of a gun

A significant portion of GWB’s speech was wrapped up in a defense of American Exceptionalism and armed freedom-spreading. This was predictable, especially given the fact that he’s already decided it as described above.

I believe that Democracy succeeds best when a nation frees itself, like ours did. Revolution, not invasion. Evolution, not imposition. Obama’s handling of Iran (time will tell), not GWB’s handling of Iraq.

Indeed, the Democracy in Romania, celebrated by GWB’s rainbow speech, is the result of revolution within Romania, not U.S. intervention.

Lavish prayer

Near the end of the event, LCU President Ken Jones led the sold-out audience in a prayer for President Bush (who was still sitting right there on stage), and at the end of the prayer, an LCU choral group sang a prayer song for Bush. (The choir performed beautifully, by the way.)

Now, I suppose I don’t have a problem with an auditorium full of people praying over someone who’s there, even though it’s a little awkward. It’s ok to to pray for current and former Presidents too, I think. But something about the closing prayer experience didn’t sit right with me.

Let me put it this way: they didn’t pray or sing like that for Colin Powell, who was the keynote speaker at last year’s event. I suspect that whoever is next year’s speaker (how about Jimmy Carter?) won’t get a similar prayer-and-song treatment either.

It felt like a political prayer.

Coda

One unexpected benefit of this event was witnessing a live-art painting done by Dallas-based artist Rolando Diaz, whose work can be seen at rodiaz.com. I had a chance to chat with him at the dinner before the speech, and he’s a wonderful guy. His art is worth your time regardless of your political persuasion.

And now it’s time for bed, with visions of glowing “W’s” in my head.

This and That

Life gets away from me sometimes, so it’s time to play catch-up on a number of topics.

First, the Lubbock County Democratic Party and Texas Democratic Women of the South Plains are hosting the Democratic Booth at the South Plains Fair! The fair runs through October 3rd, and the booth is up and running in the Merchants’ Building (near the South entrance on Broadway) whenever the Fair is open. I just got home from my volunteer shift there, and it was great. We have free bumper stickers, campaign literature, and balloons, as well as T-Shirts, Buttons, and freedom feet available for a donation. It was great to visit with everyone that stopped by. We even had a surprise visit from a candidate…

Next, Thursday’s DFA Movie Night was a great success! We showed “The Least of These,” (which can be seen for free online — thanks, Big Ronaldo et al for pointing out the link) and had a good discussion afterward. The other Sarah followed up with a great resource for all things Hutto, indicating that the last families have left the T. Don Hutto detention center. What a relief. But, the question of what to do with families of unresolved immigration status still lingers.

Tonight, I became aware of a video of LPD tasering someone at Tour de Tech Terrace, an annual cycling event. I don’t know the circumstances beyond what is described in the video information, but the video is troubling.

Lastly, I find myself reflecting on life in a wet Lubbock. Right now, I’m having a beer that was available at a reasonable price at a store near my house. When I bought the this beer the other day, I remember seeing the smiles of the other shoppers — even those not buying beer. The smiles seem to say, “What a wild and crazy ride it’s been, but we finally have cheap beer.” Prohibition finally ended in Lubbock.

Should be a busy and exciting week this week, with lots to talk about.

The Least of These

This Thursday at 7pm, Lubbock Democracy for America will show “The Least of These,” a brand new 2009 movie about the so-called “family detention center” in Hutto, TX.

From the film’s description:

Detention of immigrant children in a former medium-security prison in Texas leads to controversy when three activist attorneys discover troubling conditions at the facility. This compelling documentary film explores the role - and limits - of community activism, and considers how American rights and values apply to the least powerful among us.

Here are the event details:

Event Date: Sep 24, 2009
Event Time: 7:00 PM
Venue Name: Lubbock County Democratic Party HQ
Address: 2809A 74th St
City: Lubbock
State: TX
Zip Code: 79423
Phone: 806-749-8683
Website: lubbockdemocrats.org

DFA Movie nights are always free and open to the public. Refreshments are provided, and a discussion will follow the film.

See you there!

theleastofthese-film.com
Lubbock DFA site
Lubbock Democrats

Food Activism

A friend of mine is a graduate student (MFA), and his latest project involves making plastic out of milk (like this adorable kid here and these nice ladies here). Related to that, he’s come upon some exciting new developments in the world of food activism that I want to share with y’all tonight.

My friend sent this thorough and fascinating talk by Jeffrey M. Smith:

Expert Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the #1 GMO bestseller Seeds of Deception, and Genetic Roulette, entertains a wildly appreciative audience with shocking facts about how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) entered our lives. Smith links GMO to toxins, allergies, infertility, infant mortality, immune dysfunction, stunted growth, and death. Whistleblowers were fired, threatened, and gagged, and warnings by FDA scientists were ignored. Start today to protect yourself by joining the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America— a plan that gives the consumer the power to end the genetic engineering of our food supply.

We need better food labeling in many ways, including whether a food is genetically modified. We need more research on the effects of GM food — the correlations that are out there suggest all kinds of possible problems with it. We need public scrutiny and appropriate enforcement of food safety laws when it comes to big agra and our industrialized food delivery system.

Foodies (and there are plenty of foodies in Lubbock!) can make a difference too. Of course we need the systematic changes mentioned above, but food activism can be as simple as talking to your friends about healthy eating and making informed choices. As with consumer safety, informed and empowered food buying is an essential part of progress.

Check out this document from the Campaign for Healthy Eating In America for more information.

Toxic Purses?

I found a cool resource yesterday, courtesy of MomsRising.org, an action group focused on issues important to mothers and children.

HealthyStuff.org tests common family items — purses, booster seats, cars/minivans, pet toys, and so forth — for high levels of lead and toxic chemicals. There are a surprising number of items with a high level of concern.

Consumer protection groups are only effective if consumers actually pay attention to the disseminated results of their research. The advantage we have in the internet age is that this research can be outsourced and distributed (”crowdsourced” if you like new words) and then collected and circulated online. The HealthyStuff.org database has a mobile-friendly version too, so you can check to see if the product you are about to purchase is dangerous right there while you are shopping in the store. There’s also a blog widget for it, which I include at the end of this post.

We may be beyond the age of consumer safety giants like Ralph Nader if we all do our part to chip in and get the word out. Distributed activism is more potent than individual activism, because an individual can be silenced while a group cannot.

The other half of effective consumer protection is appropriate government regulation of industry, which Nader and others realized, and which I believe will never disappear as a necessary component for consumer protection. Given the number of dangerous / toxic products that you can search for yourself in the HealthyStuff.org database, I think it’s pretty obvious that our nation’s chemicals policy needs to be reformed so that known, dangerous chemicals will not be found in the products we buy everyday for our families.

Learn more:
www.momsrising.org/page/healthy-stuff
www.healthystuff.org
www.saferchemicals.org

The HealthyStuff.org widget:

Alan Turing Apology

I love it when a plan comes together. Or, in this case, an online petition accomplishes something.

(Honestly, I don’t want to see statistics on what percentage of online petitions result in action… I bet it’s a low number.)

Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the British Government’s treatment of science hero Alan Turing in the 1950s. From Gordon Brown’s statement:

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

AlanTuringThis news is exciting not only because a war hero and scientific giant (you’ve probably heard of the “Turing Test,” for example) has finally been exonerated, but also because of the manner in which it was done. The British government maintains an online petition system as part of its website, and 10,000+ British citizens signed this one, moving it up the list quite rapidly. I first found out about it via Facebook last week.

Online activism is still evolving a great deal, but I believe that this is a successful form of it. It used social networking sites in conjunction with an established infrastructure for online petitions that someone somewhere with some amount of authority or influence looked at. It’s great that the UK government has embraced online petitions in this way. Given the overture toward online openness for which the Obama administration is already known, maybe we’ll see something like this soon in the States.

For now, as someone who spent a significant amount of undergraduate classroom time proving that this-or-that algorithm is reducible to a Turing machine, and as someone who wants to see an end to homophobia, I call today a good day.

Liveblogging Obama’s Speech to Congress

I’m going to try something new for me and do a live blog of the President’s speech to Congress. Feel free to join me in the comments section.

This post will be updated as the show progresses. Right now I have to suffer through a few more minutes of “Entertainment Tonight.”

7:00 Ooooh… to blog the Republican response or not? Hmm…

7:02 First Lady looking great!

7:06 ABC announcers talking about why Massachusetts reform didn’t work, and I am prone to agree.

7:10 If I hear the word “trigger” one more time, I’m gonna scream.

7:13 45 minutes estimated… hmm. More pot roast is called for (thanks, Sarah!).

7:16 Oooh yeah let’s do this!

7:18 “back from the brink.” I sure hope so.

7:19 “I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” Hell yeah!

7:21 Hitting all salient points of the problem, and reminding us that we are the ONLY modern democracy / wealthy nation without national health care.

7:24 “Our healthcare problem IS our deficit problem.” YES.

7:25 President Obama is going for the gradual, measured approach rather than a huge shift. Interesting.

7:27 It sure doesn’t FEEL like we’re “closer to reform than we have ever been,” but I suppose that’s correct.

7:28 3 goals: Security and Stability
Insurance for those who don’t
slow the growth of health care costs

7:30 No more preexisting condition denials of coverage. Right on.

7:32 Through security and stability. Keep your insurance. Individual insurance. “Insurance exchange” makes a market-based approach sound good, but I am suspicious.

7:35 Uh oh.  Individuals required to carry basic health insurance.  But without a public option…?

7:37 Were those few clapping FOR or AGAINST misinformation?

7:38 Still gotta confront the lie of death panels, even at this late stage in the debate.  So sad.

7:39 A fascinating little interchange starting when someone yelled out…

7:41 Holding insurance companies accountable is going to be a daunting task without a public option!

7:42 Oh finally, he brought up the public option.  The meat of the issue.  The analogy with public universities is a good one.

7:45 At least he’s insisting on a choice of insurance, whether it’s a “strong” public option or a weak one.  Hmm.

7:46 No deficit spending to make health reform happen.  Good.  Not like that last guy.

7:48 Careful seniors, he might be brainwashing you through the teevee!  (((((.))))) (((((.)))))

7:49 Hell yeah, those claiming that medicare is going away were the same ones trying to kill it all along!

7:51 Tort reform.  Here we go.

7:53 An initiative to study tort reform.  Hmm.

7:53 Putting the cost of health care in perspective — less than tax cuts for the wealthy OR the Iraq War!  And, mostly paid for by money we are already spending.

7:54 So basically, Obama and Michelle Bachmann won’t be talking any more. :P

7:56 Health reform is both an individual and a social issue.  And here comes the Ted Kennedy letter.

7:58 Health care IS a moral issue.  Thank you, ghost of Ted Kennedy.

7:59 Empathy 101.  Pay attention, America.  Empathy and liberty are NOT mutually exclusive!

8:00 Oh yeah, we’ve been through this ideological argument before with Medicare, and we made the right choice.

8:01 This is the meat of the speech right here.

8:02 “We did not come here to fear the future; we came here to shape it.”

8:04 All done.  ABC commentators calling it his most emotional speech, and I think there’s something to that.

8:06 Oh boy, here comes the Republican response.

8:07 Huh, where do you think our increased spending and economic woes came from?  Hmm…

8:08 OK, is the official GOP response really going to be to misrepresent the CBO estimate again?  He may as well show that crazy GOP health care chart.

8:09 So, it sounds like they’re down with 50% of the 80% that is consensus.  Yippie.

8:10 NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT RATIONING CARE.  Ughhh.  And he’s done.  And here come ridiculous stats about who applauded and when and how many times.  Thank you TV media for ruining our national discourse.
Next up on the teevee: Australians falling into mud. (((((.))))) (((((.)))))

See you in the comments section

From the folks that brought us the weekend…

This afternoon’s Labor Day picnic was a blast! Great food and great remarks from candidates, as expected.

FOX Lubbock covered the event in their evening news tonight.

Here are a few pictures of mine, mostly vanity.

ian_efca_sign
Ian with the great Employee Free Choice Act sign that he made at our Lubbock DFA meeting last week. DFA members made and brought signs for Gilbert and White too.

kenny_joe_heflin
Yours truly with House District 85 Representative Joe Heflin. I expect that his 2010 Republican challenger will be even less qualified than the previous one…

kenny_bill_white
Me again with Houston Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Bill White. Incidentally, the Bill White campaign has hired many of the good Texas Obama campaign folks — should be a well-run campaign!

I didn’t get a picture with TX Governor candidate Hank Gilbert this time around, but I did shake his hand and wish him luck. Maybe next time!

Video from the Labor Day event will be up later this week.

In the meantime, here is more video of Randy Neugebauer’s Lubbock Town Hall on August 25 from my friend Daniel. It’s properly edited and annotated. The series begins here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kmTUrFkbVA

and each subsequent video is a set up as a video response.

Here’s too a good, short work week, courtesy of the Labor movement!

Labor Day Picnic!

I hope you can attend the Lubbock Central Labor Council’s Labor Day Picnic:

What: Labor Day Picnic
Where: MacKenzie Park (use the Broadway Ave entrance and look for the party with hundreds of people)
When: Monday, September 7th 4pm-7pm
Who: Sponsored by the Lubbock Central Labor Council and open to the public.
Why: Because it’s Labor Day!

At least three high-profile Democratic Party candidates will be speaking at the picnic:

Bill White, current Mayor of Houston and candidate for U.S. Senate
Hank Gilbert, candidate for Texas Governor
Joe Heflin, incumbent candidate for Texas House District 85

Typically, the Lubbock Central Labor Council invites all local elected officials to speak, so there should be a great variety of remarks at the mic. The food is always terrific, and you’re guaranteed to meet interesting people and have a great time!

See you there!

Recycling in Lubbock

The Texas Tech student-run newspaper is back in the swing of things with the start of the Fall semester, and yesterday’s Daily Toreador featured an excellent article about recycling on the TTU campus. (The Daily Toreador is actually a wonderful paper and often has some great reporting on local issues.) This year, on-site recycling was available to students and their families moving into the dorms. The article points out:

Last fall, thousands of students moved into campus housing and produced almost 50 tons of trash in a single weekend.

This fall, University Student Housing partnered with two local companies to make use of the waste produced by students living on campus.

“About 12 tons of cardboard was hauled off,” said University Student Housing unit manager, Melanie Tatum concerning the waste recycled during move-in weekend.
The cardboard was removed from campus by Green Queens and taken to Hurley Packaging, where it will be made into egg crates.

recycleWay to go, Texas Tech and Green Queens! (One of the Lubbock skirt! bloggers covered Green Queens back in May, actually.) This is the kind of public-private partnership that I want to see more of. Another good example of public-private cooperation for recycling in Lubbock is the recycling drop-off available at some Lubbock United Supermarkets and at Lowe’s on 26th & Boston.

However, as the Green Queens website points out, Lubbock is one of the worst cities when it comes to recycling according to an article in Men’s Health magazine (click on the interactive map link — Lubbock is ranked #96). We should study Texas cities that recycle well, like San Antonio (ranked #3 on the list) which offers curbside recycling pickup. Even with excellent private sector initiatives, it’s up to local government to make recycling ubiquitous and convenient enough that people actually do it.

The DT article also points out that Lubbock is home to the largest landfill in Texas in addition to the City of Lubbock dump. This new, large landfill is supposed to last us 100 years, but may only last 50 if Lubbock continues to throw stuff away at our current rate.

The way I see it, Lubbock has 2 big obstacles when it comes to scaling up our recycling (well, 3 big obstacles if you count the prevailing conservative “wisdom” that keeps city services minimal). 1) We are so spread out that recycling collection takes a lot of time and fuel, and 2) if Lubbock citizens all started recycling, we may not have enough recycling centers to keep up with processing the recyclables.

But, if we’re going to drown in our own filth in 50 to 100 years, I think it’s time we started looking at city-wide recycling solutions more seriously.


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