Saturday, November 01, 2008

Civic Duties

Last night was busy with public affairs. I attended the weekly vigil for peace downtown. Later in the evening, I exercised my franchise when I walked to the ballot drop box at the fire station around the corner. The evening’s events pretty much summed up my philosophy these days. The 2008 election is over—my vote is cast—but my commitment to economic justice and non-violence will be as active tomorrow as it was yesterday.

Of course, the election isn’t actually over; we still have a few more days of ads, phone calls and media attention yet. And the aftermath could offer some ugly surprises. No one in 2000 expected the Florida clusterfuck and Republican strong-arm tactics (certainly not the first but surely the most public of the schemes that turned them into Rethuglicans). But Florida would have been an interesting sideshow if the election had not been so close, if nearly half of the American electorate had not deluded itself into believing that CheneyBush and his cabal were either compassionate or conservative. Same with Ohio in 2004. Supposedly, this election won’t have that problem because polls show a substantial Democratic win. I hope that’s true but I won’t rest easy or celebrate until I see results on Tuesday.

For the most part, I can ignore the hoopla. I don’t have a TV and listen to mostly to community and internet radio so I don’t bet the barrage of ads I hear people complain about. I get snippets in the news but they are not all that intrusive or and madding. (Turn off the TV, people, and virtually all the noise goes away! Read a book.) Washington votes by mail so I don’t even have to congregate at a public place festooned with signs placed at a pre-marked distance from the voting booths. I’ve already done my serious thinking about candidates and issues. We have an extremely close governor’s race—a grudge re-match between a Democratic incumbent and the Republican she defeated by 133 votes and three court challenges in 2004. My Washington political history is sketchy but I don’t think a Republican has been governor in a couple of decades, which makes me think that a big Obama vote will help the our incumbent. I would like that.

The Friday peace vigil was, as always, fun. Not a lot of folks turn out—maybe 15 altogether--but most of us are regulars and about half are the band. Yes, we have a regular group of musicians who are part of our assembly and give the affair a festive, enthusiastic feel. The line-up varies: last night we had a trumpet, soprano and tenor saxophones, trombone and various percussion, including a good drummer. Their repertoire is limited and they’re not always quite together but they add a lot of sound to our presence. When they are together, they really cook! The rest of us dance and wave signs at the rush hour traffic and generally have a good time.

Across the street is an equally dedicated regular group of,,,I’m not sure what to call them. They call themselves Patriots but I think I have an equal claim to that title. Support the Troops, maybe, but I support the troops by insisting that they not be wasted in ill-thought foreign interventions that do not—I repeat, do not—protect this country in any way commensurate with their sacrifice. Pro-War? Anti-peace? I don’t want to sound snide because I don’t doubt or question their motives. I just don’t know how to reasonably characterize them. They usually number about four or five, mostly regulars. So regular that some evenings we exchange “good nights” as we decamp. Last night they were supplemented by a mother with a McPalin sign and her three small daughters waving pom-poms in rhythm to our music, which at the moment was a version of “Tequila” with the shouted tag line “Impeach him!” I don’t think they heard that part. A couple of Obama signs made their way through the vigil but I think they were just part of mobile hoopla on the last weekend before election day. I also saw a few Jamie Moore for District Judge farther up on the bridge during the vigil. I suspect I’ll see more in the next few days.

In addition to our vigil and the folks directly across the street, Women in Black hold a silent vigil farther down the block at Heritage Park. Usually about seven to ten women standing silent in a single row. Very somber. A few hold signs. One holds a folded American flag in a display box. I’m pretty sure it came from a military or veteran’s coffin. The women are striking enough on their own but the flag gives them even more gravitas.

Standing vigil at a busy corner on Hallowe’en also made for an interesting evening. My favorite part of vigiling (is that a word?) is watching the people drive by in all their diversity and uniqueness. Lots of folks went by in costume last night, including one cyclist dressed as a bee, complete with yellow-black bustle tipped with a stinger. I saw adult vampires and child fairies, the Bride of Frankenstein and Satan himself in a big white pick-up. Half of our band wore masks or costumes and our gathering was graced by Joe the Plumber, complete with pipe wrench. Maybe, too, the occasion mellowed even the Haters—no one gave me the finger last night.

Watching the dogs go by in the cars with their people is also fun. They look at us even if their driver does not. Unless, maybe, they’re sitting in the driver’s lap. No matter what the people do, I consider their dogs to be strong supporters of peace. It seems only right.

The evening’s weather was subtly glorious. Much of Friday was rainy but the rain ended in the early afternoon, giving way to cloudy skies and occasional sunshine. Still, the air had moisture aplenty and as the temperature dropped, the fog began settling in the low areas of Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet. The fog, autumn colors and crisp air were most pleasant. Later, as I walked to the fire station, fog was everywhere. Not thick but pervasive. Just right for the small groups of trick-or-treaters out in the neighborhood. I passed one group of about six older kids all dressed as delivery persons—DHL, FedEx, pizza and Chinese food. It took a minute for me to figure out what I was seeing but once I figured it out, I thought the concept pretty clever.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Candidate to Enthuse About

Charlotte Dennett, a candidate for Vermont attorney general pledges to appoint Vincent Bugliosi as special prosecutor to seek murder charges against George W. Bush, et al.

It is only right and proper to do so. I wish Ms. Dennett well in her endeavor.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blog Notes

Some not entirely random thoughts about what you read in this space.

The First. Looking at my past few weeks' posts, it's pretty clear to me that I am far more enthralled by local color than the presidential election. That's good as far as I'm concerned. Election Day 2008 is much more of a local affair for me. Washington is an entirely new, seemingly very compatible, political culture for me. We have a dead- even-grudge-rematch governor's race, a whole raft of candidates running for offices I've never had the opportunity to vote for and three serious initiatives. Parsing my way through all this is far more interesting than Obama-McCain but it's not something I feel particularly comfortable writing about just yet. Not that I'm not paying attention to the presidential election; it's just that I have nothing much to say that I've not said already. Check out my posts from October 2004 (yes, I've been doing this for over four years)and you won't see any real difference in the underlying ideas and thought, just different names and circumstances. I guess I could just recast those thoughts in current terms on a more regular basis like the columnists do but then they get paid for their output. I get eight readers.

The Second. My previous post used the terms National Security State and Owning Class more than once and if you read this space regularly, you will certainly have seen the terms before. They are not my own invention, although they clearly summarize my worldview. I found both ideas in Gore Vidal's essays, which I've read in The Nation, other publications and various collections of his work. Most recently, I read Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia, a collection of essays from the 1980's published in 2004 with some added commentary. Pretty much everything Vidal said about America 20 years ago holds true today (except the numbers of showing America's economic decline are much much larger; the 1980's figures sound so quaint). If you want further evidence of the National Security State and its consequences for America's economy, then read James Carroll's House of War

End of Blog Notes.

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I miss Dennis and George

Eleven days out from the election and all the polls are showing an electoral blowout for Obama. This is a first in my life. I cannot ever remember my candidate in any presidential election having this kind of lead, or any lead at all for that matter. Not that I take any comfort in the fact. Polls are not infallible and Rethuglicans are capable of all sorts of mayhem and chicanery in the few days left before the close of voting. I’ve been on the losing end of most presidential elections since I began voting so I long ago abandoned premature hope for a favorable result. I wanted very much to hope for Al Gore and John Kerry. Had I allowed myself that illusion I would have been even more disappointed than I actually was at the result. The best I will ever feel before Election Day is apprehension. 2008 will be no different.

2008 will be no different for another reason. I don’t expect anything to change. Even a President Obama will govern on behalf of the National Security State where America’s energy and resources build arms and project power throughout the world at the expense of most Americans and the world at large. A President Obama will indulge the public’s belief that America has the right and duty to continue a vastly wasteful and consumptive economy on our own terms, deploying our military to secure that right now that we no longer have the economic muscle to purchase that right (at least as long as China continues to fund our adventures). A President McCain will be little different, just far more belligerent.

If Obama wins I will entertain a vague hope that he will appoint some decent judges at all levels of the federal courts, demonstrate some empathy toward the majority of Americans on the wrong end of the wealth divide and be marginally less aggressive in his intercourse with foreign nations but I certainly won’t bank on those results. I know he will be better than John McCain, who has been the handmaiden of the National Security State his entire career. His only claim to iconoclasm was that he did not care what the Rethuglican base thought; his wealth and POW experience gave him the option not to care. Until it wasn’t enough and he caved to them in his desperate campaign for an office that he considers his by divine right.

Maybe I’ve just seen so many elections and no visible change in this nation’s trajectory. I missed voting in the 1968 election but it was a time when I believed we could actually create a popular mass movement to de-militarize America and the world. Eventhe disastrous consequences of that election (seven more years of war, Cambodia, my own personal ass under fire) didn’t destroy that hope. George McGovern’s radical challenge to the war machine four years later is still the high water mark of my youthful optimism. Certainly, no candidate since has offered me the same sense of possibility. His landslide defeat gave me pause but within two years Richard Nixon was driven from office by a wave of public anger and indignation. Jimmy Carter’s victory in 1976 further encouraged my hopes but his presidency did nothing to fulfill them. No candidate since has offered me anything and I’ve come to expect nothing.

Even if I were to suspend my beliefs and indulge in hopeful illusions, the prospects for real change do not survive a close look at the people advising Obama. Alexander Cockburn chronicled Obama’s surrender to the Owning Class in The Nation*. Listen to Obama’s foreign policy advisors and you will hear little that is different from the aggressively militaristic policies that have kept America in a state of perpetual war for six decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much want Obama to win—and win big. I would love to see a landslide that buries the Rethuglican fundamentalists once and for all. But I don’t see much coming of it. Maybe I am completely wrong; Obama will be the change agent this nation so desperately needs and will bring some sanity, restraint and responsibility to our national polity. I would welcome the opportunity to say I was wrong.

Back when the nomination was still up for grabs, Dennis Kucinich asked many of the right questions about economics and foreign policy and was roundly dismissed as far left. His questions and radical ideas (“radical” is not an epithet to me; it’s derived from the Latin word for root; a radical proposal addresses root causes, not mere symptoms) gave the campaign the only dose of alternate thinking I ever saw. I don’t know if he would make a good president—his previous executive experience did not go too well. He saved Cleveland’s public electric utility which in these days of high energy costs is a welcome bargain. But his refusal to sell off the utility at the demand of the city’s creditors (read: Owning Class) he ensured municipal bankruptcy and his own defeat. At least he was asking the right questions, then and now.

Lord knows, Americans need to be asking all kinds of hard questions. Kucinich was on the right track even if it took him nowhere. Of course, if you honestly look where conventional wisdom is taking this nation, you will see it is also headed nowhere.

* Subscription only. Or so they say. I am a subscriber to the dead tree version but their website registration process will not recognize me. If I ever get in, I'll see if I can link to the entire article. In the meantime, you can probably find it at a library.