Announcement: Taking a break

Posted January 4, 2010 by Aaron
Categories: America

Tags: ,

Update (2012):  I moved from Google to the real world of politics, and still taking a break here.

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Take Back the Flag is taking a break.  I’m fusing my professional career and my passion for politics into one, and will be working on the Google Public Policy team starting in 2010.  See what we’re up to at Google on the Official Google blog, the Google Public Policy Blog (European edition), and the Google Public Sector Blog.

And if you want to see the majority of the stuff I want to share and comment on, go right to the sources:  The Daily Show and the Colbert Report (special note:  see the “Colbert Report Shout Out!” on the best episode yet).

Everything on Take Back the Flag that’s posted online will stay up (Google already archived the content anyways!), but there will be no new content.  Perhaps someday it will come back in some form, but for now my energy and voice will be with Google.

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The amusing CNN polls continue

Posted October 24, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Immigration

Tags: , , , ,

Warning:  I only took one statistics course, and I’m definitely not a survey or polling expert.  But this poll seems ridiculous–of course a majority of Americans are against “illegal” immigration and want to see fewer people here illegally.  Does that tell us anything?  Our brave founders established a unique and incredible foundation for America.  Since then immigrants have too made their mark (see interactive map on TBTF via NYT).  We need to have logical policies to allow people from all over the world to reach the American dream, while reducing the incentive to sneak in illegally.  Hopefully these same respondents who oppose “illegal” immigration don’t also oppose immigration altogether–doing so would be a slap in the face to millions of Americans

CNN Poll: 3 out of 4 want illegal immigration decreased
A new national poll indicates that nearly three-quarters of all Americans would like to see a decrease in the number of illegal immigrants in the country.
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/22/cnn-poll-3-out-of-4-want-illegal-immigration-decreased/

Take Back the Flag Poll: Half of CNN’s polls are pointless

Posted October 22, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Obama, The Obama Administration, Vote

Tags: , , , , ,

What kind of headline is this?  Of course (approximately) half of the country disagrees with Obama on “issues.”  That’s the way it is for most issues and politicians.  In fact, Obama won (approximately) half of the 2008 popular vote, likely because the other half of American disagreed–and still disagree–with him on the issues.  Let’s step it up a notch CNN.

CNN Poll: Half the country disagrees with Obama on issues
For the first time since he took over in the White House, Americans don’t see eye to eye with President Barack Obama on the important issues, according to a new national poll. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey does indicate that a majority approve of how Obama’s handling his duties as president.
http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/20/cnn-poll-half-the-country-disagrees-with-obama-on-issues/

Hypocritical ‘standards’

Posted October 19, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America

Tags: , , , , ,

Rush Limbaugh can spew out the blanket criticism, but can’t take it. On October 16, 2009, Rush complained in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “The Race Card, Football and Me,” “My critics would have you believe no conservative meets NFL ‘standards.'” He whined about players that he’s never met speaking out and saying they wouldn’t play for a team involved he was involved with. He lambasted the head of the NFL players union (who he is sure to point is a Democrat, criminal defense lawyer, and an Obama donor) for sending a publicized email to the commissioner protesting Rush’s investment in the St. Louis Rams.

How can he be blind to the hypocrisy? This is Rush’s modus operandi.

Every day Rush condemns democrats, liberals, and even Republicans who don’t see things his way for their plans, policies, and votes. Anyone who tunes into the Rush Limbaugh show knows Rush would have you believe no Democrat meets American ‘standards.’

And there’s more: Rush complained that the outcry came from players he’s never met, partisan agendas, and people who generally don’t have any business in the issue. Hopefully this sounds familiar, because again, every day Rush–a man with no policy experience and only a golden microphone to spout his views–denounces policy after policy with no expertise, few facts, and an extremely slanted view on the world.

Rush is free to write in the paper, complain, and even invest. But the players, coaches, owners, commentators, fans, and anyone else who cares are also free to skip out on anything involving Rush.

Levi making money

Posted October 17, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America

Tags:

Levi Johnston was never an important political character on Take Back the Flag, but his new foray into anything-that-will-make-him-money is too ridiculous to miss.   I guess it’s a memorable and effective commercial, but now I could never eat these nuts without thinking of Levi, then Bristol, then Sarah, and then getting sad.

Daily Show Video: Playing the Race Card

Posted October 14, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Bush, Obama

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m a little behind on the Daily Show and Colbert, but this bit back from last week on the race card is phenomenal.  I always like how the Daily Show can address serious issues with the right kind of humor to share information and make strong arguments, and Larry Wilmore’s magic is creative, effective, and entertaining.  Nice to see these clips get some more air time because I’m still in shock Glenn Beck that called our president a racist and that Rush Limbaugh believes white kids aren’t safe in “Obama’s America.”

We need a great national dialogue on the issues of our time, from health care to stimulus spending to Afghanistan, to climate change.  We don’t need overpaid pompous media hacks segregating the American people with these outlandish statements.  Barack Obama doesn’t “hate” white people, and your kids are as safe on the bus as they ever were (especially in “Bush’s America” where we ignored our roads and bridges), if not more.

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“The last email you’ll ever get?

Posted October 13, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, The Bush Administration, The Obama Administration

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It’s not new to see outlandish emails from the “Campaign for Liberty” (semi-associated with Ron Paul), but this one is a special kind of odd.  At least the campaign is consistent in their alarm:  readings on their site under “Civil Liberties” seem to be equally opposed to Bush “security” invasion-of-privacy policies.

October 8, 2009

Dear Patriot:

Please take your time and read this email carefully.

Because if a bill quietly sneaking its way through Congress passes, an email like this could be the last non-government message to ever hit your inbox.

In fact, someday you may even find yourself unable to log in to your email in the first place!

I know what you’re thinking: Maybe this is just another Internet hoax.

I wish it was.

But Barack Obama and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) want to make this nightmare a reality.  That’s why Rockefeller recently introduced S. 773, “The Cybersecurity Act of 2009.”

Initial cosponsors include Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

You see, Barack Obama is seeking sweeping new powers to “shut down” all private internet in the event of a “cybersecurity emergency” — a vague term that the President can define at his discretion.

And Rockefeller’s bill gives Barack Obama just what he wants.

That’s why this expansive new power grab should really be called “The Internet Takeover Bill.”

As you know, the Internet has developed into an independent sphere where 1st Amendment Rights can still be (fairly) freely exercised.

It’s also become an important outlet for liberty-minded speech, cutting around the Obama-worship and corporate censorship of the mainstream media.

And we’ve already seen the Obama Administration’s reaction to any online speech they deem “fishy.”

In July, the Administration called upon Americans to report their friends’ and neighbors’ emails to help Barack Obama silence the “disinformation” about the Obamacare bills in Congress.

Well now Barack Obama wants to cut out the middle man.

If the Internet Takeover Bill passes, Barack Obama can silence his dissenters directly by ordering a shutdown of the U.S. Internet.

That’s right, under this bill Barack Obama can order all non-government U.S. networks to shutdown from the Internet.

But that’s not all.

Even outside of periods of White House-declared “emergency,” this bill mandates that private-sector networks only be managed by government-licensed “cybersecurity professionals.”

If you think dealing with your office IT department is bad now, just wait until they’re federally-licensed bureaucrats.

And God forbid you like to visit websites that spread “fishy disinformation” like free-market healthcare solutions; passing socialized medicine could soon become enough of an “emergency” for Barack Obama to shut them down.

You know, for the public good.

Well I know I like writing to you, and I hope you like hearing from me.

Or if not me, at least you probably like staying in touch with your family and friends, and having access to uncensored news and current events.

And that’s why I hope you’ll help Campaign for Liberty stop the Internet Takeover Bill by signing our Internet User’s Mandate to Congress.

Today, legislation like this — built on the same statist principles as the infamous Patriot Act — must sneak through Congress quietly.

They know Americans are no longer willing to swallow this swill “for our own good.”

And it’s especially critical that Campaign for Liberty and other fellow R3volutionaries fight this power grab.

Can you imagine how easily those in power could fabricate an “emergency” on a big money bomb day for a strong liberty candidate threatening the establishment?

Or how about message boards vital to planning and freedom rallies and protests of socialized medicine?

With “right-wing extremists” freely and visibly exercising their 2nd Amendment rights at such events, no doubt the White House could declare “emergency” and shut down all online planning.

I don’t want to see good politicians lose potential millions or demonstrations of liberty extinguished. I hope you don’t either.

That’s why I hope you’ll sign your Internet User’s Mandate and make a donation right now to Campaign for Liberty to make sure that never happens.

We’re going to fight this bill hard, because it’s clear that the Internet is the next frontier for liberty politics, and Campaign for Liberty is right on the forefront.

So please click here to sign your Internet User’s Mandate to Congress in opposition to Barack Obama’s Internet Takeover and Shutdown Bill.

And in addition to signing your mandate, please make a generous contribution of $250, $100 or $50 so we can fight this Internet takeover.

We need to fight to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t disconnect your computer, shut down your favorite websites, or block all your emails.

And frankly with Audit the Fed, Cap and Tax and socialized healthcare debates, Campaign for Liberty is stretched pretty thin.

And unlike the government we don’t print, borrow or take money by force (taxes).  Our only revenue comes from voluntary contributions from liberty activists like you.

We need you to stay educated and active.

We’ve put too much time into building our pro-liberty online networks, websites and email lists.  We simply cannot afford to give Barack Obama the power to dismantle all that at the drop of a hat.

So please, click here to sign your Internet User’s Mandate and if you can make a contribution of $250, $100 or $50 or whatever you want to Campaign for Liberty to stop this power grab…

…to defend our rights…

…and most importantly, to protect this movement.

I trust you’ll join this fight to protect all the progress we’ve made.

In Liberty,


John Tate
President

P.S. The Internet Takeover Bill (S. 773) is threatening to “unplug” private networks from the Internet on the order of the President and dismantle the online army we’ve worked so hard to build.

Click here to sign your Internet User’s Mandate to Congress, and please make a generous contribution of $250, $100 or $50 to Campaign for Liberty so we can lead the fight against this Obama power grab.

AUTOTUNE THE NEWS #7: Texting and race in America

Posted August 6, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America

The best way to watch the news.  Saves time too.

Video of the day: A paranoid Beck

Posted August 5, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Obama, The Economy

Tags: , , , ,

Nothing like a little government-takeover theory.

Barbara Boxer: Is that you?

Posted July 10, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, California

Tags: , , , , , ,

Google does a great job with targeted ads (full disclosure:  they also use the money made from those ads to pay my salary).  Sometimes, they do such a great that I click on the ad.  I’m often curious to see what campaign websites look like, and end up clicking on campaign ads for local campaigns and other random races that show up in my Gmail sponsored section.  Today I clicked on an ad for Barbara Boxer, and found these two perplexing pictures:

www.barbaraboxer.com/splash_google

Barbara Boxer

What’s the deal? I don’t maintain Take Back the Flag to comment on personal appearances, but that looks like two different people.  It’s especially interesting that the “greyer” picture only appears on the special Google splash page (www.barbaraboxer.com/splash_google), and no on the main home page or even normal splash screen (the welcome screen you see asking you to contribute if you don’t get there via a Google ad).  A Google image search does little to clear up this question.  One other indication is the box-around-the-x logo.  On the main home page, it’s a white box, and on the Google splash, it’s a black box, and more simple.  Maybe the Google splash page is an old edition?

Take on Robert Dallek’s An Unfinished Life

Posted July 8, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Civil Rights, Election 2008, Obama, Political Campaign, The Obama Administration

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I finally finished Robert Dallek’s John F. Kennedy biography, An Unfinished Life (on Amazon, or your local bookstore). Took me a number of months to get through the 711 pages, but it was well worth the time.  For faster readers, it’s certainly not a burdensome book to read.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, and Dallek did a marvelous job of taking me from the beginning of JFK’s life, through his early years in government, to the intricate details of his presidency.  I was lucky to read it at this point in history, where obvious parallels jump out between President Kennedy and President Obama, Vietnam and Iraq, and civil rights demands for equality.

An Unfinished Life is teeming with masterful use of the English language, by JFK, JFK quoting others, and Dallek himself.

Quoting Daniel Webster, Kennedy concluded, “Our aim should not be ‘States dissevered, discordant [or] belligerent’; but ‘one country, one constitution, one destiny’.”

First is a JFK quote of an earlier American politician, Daniel Webster.  Kennedy’s point is an important one:  even though the states are separate, we all share a destiny.  And that destiny is important to the strength of the United States.  In practical matters, the “powers not delegates to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  States can do things differently, but should still consider the interest of the country.

One critical journalist wrote:  “This man seeks the highest elective office in the world not primarily as a politician, but as a celebrity.  He’s the only politician a woman would read about while sitting under the hair dryer, the subject of more human-interest articles than all his rivals combined.”

This “critical” journalist’s comment is the first of many timely remarks with the 2008 presidential campaign and election just months ago.  As we all know, President Obama and his family were a sensation in the popular media.  He was the only candidate this time around to match JFK’s popular appeal.  In the end, his celebrity status probably helped more than it hurt (those few celebrity ads didn’t seem to inflict any damage).  Without debating Kennedy’s success as president, let’s accept that JFK inspired a nation and, at a minimum, governed and maintained order in the midst of many difficult situations and unexpected crisis, and set the nation on a path to important changes.  JFK used his celebrity status to win an election, and to maintain public support for his administration.  President Obama seems to be on the same path, and hopefully in the future we’ll see his celebrity status as an additional excitement factor to his presidency, and not the only thing to remember of the Obama Administration.

Chicago Daily News reporter Peter Lisagor and other journalists met with Jack in 1958:  They “looked at him walking out of the room, thin, slender, almost boyish really,” and one of them said, “‘Can you imagine that young fellow thinking he could be President of the United States any time soon?’  I must say the thought occurred to me, too,” Lisagor recalled.

Lisagor and his fellow journalists were, for JFK, in doubt of Kennedy’s abilities because of his “lack of experience.”  Again,  I hope President Obama can too prove early critics wrong, perhaps even more forcefully than JFK.

The Berlin Crisis as it evolved during the summer of 1961 was arguably the most dangerous moment for a nuclear conflict since the onset of the Cold War.  It tested Kennedy an effective balance between intimidating the Soviets and giving them a way out of their dilemma.

I found Dallek’s statement here quite powerful.  Of course this was important at the time because Kennedy’s struck the balance on the issue of nuclear conflict, a key issue for the continuation of the human race.  And more broadly, Kennedy’s mastery of maintaining a strong negotiation position without ceding ground while giving the Soviet’s a chance to change course without a shattered ego as a consequence is a lesson for all of us when facing any important issue.  Kennedy’s model demonstrates the effectiveness of giving your opponent an easy way out when accepting defeat.  It makes it more likely your opponent will concede.

All the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyways  – Harry S Truman

Not JFK, or even quoted by JFK.  Dallek included this quote at the beginning of a chapter about called “The Limits of Power,” in which he addressed Kennedy’s trouble areas of health, womanizing, foreign relations, civil rights, “taxing and spending” accusations, among others.  As an avid outside observer interested in political and government communications, I find this quote exceptionally amusing.

“Civilization,” Kennedy said, quoting H. G. Wells, “is a race between education and catastrophe.  It is up to you in this Congress to determine the winner of that race.”

The argument for education couldn’t be stronger than to avert catastrophe.  One appropriate example for our time is global warming, and our need to better understand which of our actions cause the most damage and what we can do to repair current problems and reduce destruction in the future.

“The mere absence of recession is not growth.”

Again, timely for JKF and timely for us in 2009.  When we emerge on the economic charts from this technical resecession, we must be careful with policies and actions to ensure continued growth.  Obama’s choices to invest in new, green technologies are a great example of investing now with immediate returns of new jobs and more money flowing in the economy and later returns as higher efficiency and renewable sources save energy costs and the planet.

The speech was one of the great state papers of any twentieth-century American presidency.  Kennedy’s topic was the “most important…on earth:  world peace.  What kind of peace do I mean?  What kind of peace do we seek?  Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war,” he said, with the Soviets and China particular in mind.  “Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave.”  In that one brief sentence, he dismissed both the kind of peace that would follow a cataclysmic nuclear war, which “hard-liners” in Moscow, Peking, and Washington seemed ready to fight, and the sort of peace a generation reared on memores of appeasement feared might come out of negotiations limiting American armaments.  This was to be “not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time”–the realization of Woodrow Wilson’s ideal, announced in response to the century’s first great war.

We’re not fighting Moscow like we were in JFK’s time, but we’re still concerned with Russian, China, and newer issues in North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and much of the middle east region.  And Washington “hard-liners” still seem keen on more American fighting power across the world on some type of crusade (even if the hard-liners don’t do the fighting, or even send their own children, spouses, or friends).  From this, I see the importance of earning peace, not bashing it in.

“When the possibilities of reconciliations appear, we in the West will make it clear that we are not hostile to any people or system providing they choose their own destiny without interfering with the free choice of others.”

In describing Moscow and Peking, JFK might as well be describing Iran, China, and others in 2009.  While I generally agree with Obama’s response so far to the sham elections in Iran (I consider them a sham because some cities had more votes than voters…), I think JFK’s thought below must be our guiding principles.  So far, it doesn’t appear that the people of Iran chose their own destiny, but more information is needed.  (The fact that the Iranian government doesn’t allow journalists in or reports out doesn’t bode well for the regime.)

Of all the quotes, this is the last one I flagged in the book, and the one I think is the most timeless and important.

It was not that Kennedy was without larger hopes and goals–better race relations and less poverty in America and improved East-West relations, with diminished likelihood of nuclear war, were never far from his mind.  But it was the practical daily challenges standing in the way of larger designs that held his attention and seemed to him the principal stuff of being president.

This is an important lesson, that applies every step of the way.  From an animated entreprenour starting a new small business, to the President of the United States of America, one must have the knowledge in place, ability to learn, and the right supporting staff to even start to consider significant reforms.  Our most successful leaders in the next two centuries of America, like Kennedy, keep everything moving, but more than JFK, they will fully master the daily challenges and free their mind for the epic task of meaningful changes where they are most needed.

Political offseason desperation means anything for a dollar

Posted June 16, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Clinton, Obama, Political Campaign

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Lot’s of important issues out there, but perhaps America is a bit tired of fundraising and poFenway Seats Emaillitics.  I can’t get enough of this stuff, but judging by the tactics of both political parties, it’s a different game than during the presidential election.

The Democrats offered dinner with Hillary Clinton, dinner with President Obama, and even a trip to the American Idol finale!  Mitt Romney sent an email requesting submissions to his “mini-essay” contest on “what a free and strong American means to you.”  Oh, and be sure to send a contribution to his Free and Strong America PAC with your 250 word essay submission (don’t bother counting:  it’s about the length of this post).

Is the need to fundraise so strong that it can’t wait just a few months?    Clearly our politics and money are wound too closely together if we can’t take sometime to focus on governing after an election before funding the next round.  This is a subtle but important reason why we need some changes in the way we fund our campaigns.  The best solution is still to be determined.  Balancing fairness in elections for an impartial government (the telecoms don’t just happen to donate to the members of congress who sit on the committees with FCC jurisdiction) with our first amendment rights to free speech, including the use of our money.

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Daily Show TV Thrash

Posted June 11, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Conservatives, Liberty

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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The Daily Show on Monday was an equal-opportunity-media-thrasher.

First, Stewart went after Fox News and Sean Hannity for literally playing a clip of President Obama‘s recent speech in Cairo and cutting off the president in mid-sentence.  Hannity tried to show what only he could have possibly perceived as Obama giving “a voice to 9/11 sympathizers a voice on the world stage.”  The Daily Show simply ran the the rest of the clip to show the President’s true intentions.

This is the worst of the worst when it comes to biased and fear-driven reporting.  It’s not Hannity taking an action or a policy and offering his opinion.  Instead, it’s one man blatantly lying to the American people.  It’s a free country, and Fox News can play any clips it likes.  But we should demand better, and Fox should do better.

Fox News isn’t alone in biased coverage, and I’m the first to admit that there is a dearth of objective news coverage out there.  If anything, MSNBC is on the other side of the political spectrum, with equally ludicrous news coverage, and Stewart pummels Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed, and the rest of the MSNBC news crew for their incessant coverage of Rush Limbaugh (and his own ludicrous antics).

Let’s get the rest of the facts out there.  TV like this can be entertaining.  I watch MSNBC often during the week because I get to know some of the important issues out there.  But I realize that shows, especially those like “Countdown” are political entertainment–a show meant to inform and entertain–and not purely factually based.  The clips are meticulously selected to push an agenda, and the guests are treated based on their views.  And Jon Stewart is no middle-of-the-road journalist dedicated to the facts alone, but this clip is must see Internet TV.  It’s slightly ironic that a great reminder that Fox “News” and MSNBC often show entertainment rather than objective news comes in the form of a Comedy Central TV show billed as “fake news” that doesn’t dispute for a second that it’s main purpose is entertainment.  That said, it’s an important reminder, and a fun bit to watch.

Please enjoy the video below (apologies for the ads, but it’s free, and embedded–I’ll take what I can get).  If the embedded Hulu doesn’t work, click here for the dailyshow.com direct link.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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“If God intended for us to eat creatures of the land, he would have made it bigger than the sea.”

Posted June 10, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, California, Obama

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

“If God intended for us to eat creatures of the land, he would have made it bigger than the sea.”

The quote above was the first of many theories shared by a nameless gentleman I met today at the St. Anthony’s dining room in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco.  The Tenderloin gets it’s name from the extra pay San Francisco police officers used to receive to take the patrol routes in the ever-dangerous neighborhood, which let them eat great cuts of meat for dinner every night.  The Tenderloin has a storied history of immigrant waves to the United States, rich with culture, but it’s also been the regular home of the under-class and the poorest of the poor in the city.

I followed the idea about the sea, but it got obscure after that.  The theories to follow today at lunch went from the “the time of female rule is now after 13,000 years of masculine rule” to “it’s the time of lightness as the head and tail of the earth coincide.”  The mind behind these theories belonged to an individual you might expect to find in free lunch dining hall in a charitable church in the middle of a neighborhood abounding with homelessness.  And this man was what you might expect:  kind, aware of his surroundings, but keenly focused on his astrological theories.

Needless to say, it was an eye opening experience to eat (free) lunch with him.  As the St. Anthony’s staff member explained, my generation is used to homeless individuals in cities across the country.  (To the staff member in his sixties, this was something still relatively new.)  But it’s obviously a different perspective when you wait in line with the folks carrying all of their possessions, and then dine with them in the middle of a basement dining room in a neighborhood you usually avoid.

What was most striking was not the astrological believer, or the men who grabbed food, quickly sat down at our table, and silently and quickly ate their meal without a word to the rest of us, or the elderly individuals who rolled in by wheelchair, but the men who made up the rest of our table for the entirety of our stay.  One man attended college in San Jose and used to work in technology before he retired recently.  Now he dines with the “poorest of the poor” in St. Anthony’s.  Who knows where he lives?  Another came from Boston to San Francisco years ago when his company relocated, and yet another college attendee (never mentioned whether or not he graduated) joined our conversation to swap San Jose stories with us.

These men had no theories from astrology books.  My conversations with them were like those I have with my family and friends.  We talked politics, sports, and San Francisco.  I expected nothing different from these men, but seeing and living it in person was a completely different experience.  I knew that not all homeless people in America were drunk or high all the time (especially in a time of recession), but the real conversations still changed my perspective.

Talk about the budget problems for California with both the guests and staff of St. Anthony’s strongly reminded me of our moral responsibility to our brothers and sisters, and of the awesome potential for their more direct involvement in their own larger community, from neighborhood, to city, to state, to country.  President Obama‘s incredible life story from his childhood through his experience in low-income areas of Chicago to the presidency brought community organizing to the forefront.  (It even got play at the Republican National Convention, when Rudy Giuliani foolishly made fun of his work.)

Budget shortfalls in California are likely to close four senior drop in medical clinics and the only walk-in pharmacy in the Tenderloin.  If these closures go through, we all lose.  Morally and economically, these loses are dangerous.  But they hurt the people in that neighborhood the most.  And it seems like these people have many barriers to break through to get exert their influence on policy at all levels of government.

Most important, they don’t have the money that big corporations and even rich individuals have to support candidates and causes, and then request favors down the line.  Money is a tricky issue because of the conflict of our first amendment right to share our opinions, even if it means using our money, and the obvious perverse incentives that campaign contributions bring (see the relationship between donations and committee positions, but all of this is a topic for another day in the near future).

Furthermore, the individuals with the most to lose, are likely to be homeless and have difficulty even registering to vote.  Even working class Americans who have a home and are registered voters are hampered by the need to work long hours with no chance to stand in line.  Herein lies the potential for community organizing.  In his time in Chicago, Obama addressed important issues, such as low-income housing and job training in the neediest neighborhoods.  A similar approach in San Francisco, and other cities, could give a first-person, passionate voice to a cause that, even with strong advocates, is lacking influence.

I don’t know much about community organizing in the Tenderloin or San Francisco.  And I don’t think I’ll be leaving my job tomorrow to take up the cause directly.  From my six hour experience, and many hours of thought afterward, I have been reminded of the plight of homelessness in many of our great cities, and learned first hand, for the first time in a long time, that I can make a positive difference in the lives of many–including my own–with a small contribution of time, energy, and care.  I plan on going back to St. Anthony’s, and I encourage you to seek out a similar place to help.  Clearly, as you can see, a thought-provoking day.

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It’s torture!

Posted May 24, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Democrats, Republicans, The Bush Administration, The Obama Administration

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Republicans went on the offense with Nancy Pelosi’s flap over briefings on CIA interrogation techniques.  Her explanation is certainly suspect, and it seems like she may not have acted in the optimal manner at the time to oppose torture as it was presented.  The Republican attacks on her are justified, and instead of denying, distributing specific talking points to make her case, and shifting the blame to the CIA, going as far as calling them liars, Speaker Pelosi should simply apologize for missing the opportunity to oppose torture, relay her thoughts at the time surrounding the classified nature of the briefing, and refocus the debate on the need to investigate torture and prosecute those involved.

But why the sudden interest from Karl Rove and others?  Rove wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and stated “Nancy Pelosi was an accomplice to ‘torture.'”  I can’t quite tell, are the single quotes around the word “torture” supposed to suggest a level of sarcasm?  Or is Rove serious in his accusation that Pelosi is an “accomplice to torture”?

I think Rove and the GOP’s plan is to connect Pelosi to “enhanced interrogation techniques” or torture so that if Democrats continue to press for prosecutions and strict limits on torture in the future, then Nancy Pelosi goes down with the Bush Administration.  Sounds like a trap so Democrats can’t win either way.  And given the Congressional Democrats’ devotion to their Speaker, the logic of the plan makes sense.

Hopefully we can keep the focus on the actual forces behind American torture, and skip the petty arguments over who-knew-what-when, or at least figure them out after we decide how high the torture authorization went with Bush and his team.  More important, it sounds like Rove and the GOP are ready to sacrifice their “ideals” for political expediency.  They seem ready to admit that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are torture, as soon as they can be sure Pelosi is at fault (in addition to themselves).

Republicans played a risky hand.  If it works, we might slowly see torture discussions fade into the background.  But if Democrats don’t back down, as they shouldn’t, torture-supporters lost credibility.  The debate about “enhanced interrogation techniques” just ended.  Seems like we all now agree that inflicting pain on an individual where the pain isn’t punishment but rather designed to coerce cooperation–whether by water-boarding, forced standing, or pulling fingernails–is torture, to the “t”.

Bike to work, then zip around

Posted May 23, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Environment, Health

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Nice NYT article to follow-up the last entry here about cycling and other sustainable transportation options.  This article specifically focuses on car sharing at work, which allows employees to take public transportation, shuttles, bike, or carpool to work, and still travel the area with the flexibility of an individual car.  This works great for doctors appointments, last-minute trips, and errands in the area.

Car sharing systems at work also include two of the most important elements of all car sharing:  environmentally friendly options, such as the Prius or Ford Escape Hybrid, and many vehicle options, including vans, trucks, and fun cars.  Car sharing at work is a big step towards changing the paradigm of a society where a personal car for every person is the only way to go.

Awesome global cycling progress

Posted May 12, 2009 by Aaron
Categories: America, Environment, Health

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Looking first overseas, the New York Times today covered an interesting “niche” community, and their car-free suburb. Vauban, Germany, is a new model community for those looking to live healthy lives for their bodies, their families, and our earth.  Cities cannot simply banish cars.  Rather, Vauban built it’s community around the concept, locating stores, schools, community centers, and other popular destinations within residential areas.  Read the full article for all the details about living in a car-free zone, and all of the relevant environmental impact issues, including global warming from our automobile emissions.

The article mentions a trial run of this concept in America.  One settlement in California might work well, but I’m not optimistic about wide-spread adoption in the near future.  But we can still learn something from the car-free philosophy and borrow some workable elements to integrate into our society.

For example, many cities, San Francisco included, hold car-free days on main roadways.  In San Francisco, “Sunday Streets” happens about once a month in the summer months, and rotates through numerous locations in the city.  In our world where most take cars for granted, streets full of bikes, joggers, walkers, skate boarders, roller bladers, kids playing, and people from all walks of life enjoying the outdoors together on our roads is a beautiful and welcomed site.  Other cities hold similar events, and we should work to expand the distance, time, and frequency across the country.

City living has many benefits, including public transportation and walkable distances that don’t need a car.  In fact, in many cities such as San Francisco, traffic and parking costs are strong disincentives to vehicle ownership.  Many people, including myself, get by easily with membership in car sharing programs, like Zipcar.  I miss having a car to call my own, one that I’m used to.  But the benefits far outweigh the costs.  My transportation budget for cabs, buses, and the occasional Zipcar is tiny fraction of what it would be to own a car.  On top of that, I rarely worry about parking, and when I do drive, I drive a Mini Cooper or BMW 325i.  To take my bike into the shop or pickup furniture I zip around in a CRV or pickup truck.  The flexibility for less money can’t be beat.

Again, Zipcar and other companies serve many cities, and we can expand the availability.  Government at the local, state, and federal level should encourage use by designating more reserved spots nad providing some level of financial incentives.  In smaller towns, where it’s difficult to place cars near mass living areas, cities should work with car sharing companies to locate fleets near universities, downtown areas, and transit hubs.

Closer to home, Colorado seems poised to enact new legislation that puts cyclists rights in the law books.  The Colordao Springs Gazette reported yesterday that Governor Bill Ritter plans to sign Senate Bill 148, aimed at “protecting cyclists.”  Specifically, the law drivers give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing or risk a $110 ticket.  Anyone who throws an object at a cyclist could be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. That carries a fine of between $250 and $1,000 and a possible sentence of three to 12 months in jail.” (Colorado Springs Gazette)

It’s sad that we need new laws like this, because we should treat cyclists with the same respect we treat other car drivers, and laws like this should already be enacted nation-wide.  But, every step forward helps.  Sharing the road is something no one wants.  When driving, I don’t want to watch for cyclists shooting out in front of me or out of driveways, and more important, when cycling, I don’t want to deal with cars.  While on the street, I always ride with some level of fear that diminishes the fun of the bike.

Nevertheless, sharing is something we have to do.  We can build more bike paths and bike lanes on existing roads, but in many cases, the best practical improvement is sharing.  To get better sharing, we will need better signage and better laws.  The Colorado law is essential because it explicitly states that cyclists have rights on the road, and infringements of those rights are not taken lightly.  And they shouldn’t be; following another car too close can certainly cause damage, but it’s nothing compared to an Escalade-cyclist crash.

Improving cycling around the world is great progress towards a more healthy, sustainable, and safer world.  And a reminder:  Thursday is “Bike to Work Day.”  Dust off the bike, fill up the tires, and enjoy the beautiful outdoors on your normal commute.  No complaining; I doubt you have to ride father than I do.