Saturday, February 23, 2008

A New Day in Texas

Via the field, a remarkable video showing the Prairie View A&M students in Texas shutting down a highway to march seven miles to the nearest polling station to vote.

You owe it to yourself to watch this one, and share far and wide.

Texas Early Voting Wave as Reaction to Systemic Disenfranchisement

Texas Republicans have worked overtime to make it harder for key Democratic voting groups to vote and be represented fairly. The redistricting games they’ve played are infamous. And for the Prairie View A&M University precincts, they put the early-polling place more than seven miles from the school.
So what did the students in this video do? They shut down the highway as they marched seven miles to cast their votes on the first day of early voting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Moment of Conscience

Today on NPR, I heard an amazing and brave declaration of principle, that was yet another sign that a new day is coming.

Mark McKinnon is the chief media advisor in the John McCain campaign. He was one of the very few staffers that stuck it through with McCain when he had his melt down last summer. He was also the media and advertising director of the 2000 George Bush campaign that systematically and shamelessly destroyed McCain, and part of the 2004 Bush team that went after Kerry.

The moment of courage (and honesty) in the interview was when Mr McKinnon explained why, when he signed on to the McCain campaign, he did so with the caveat that he would resign from the campaign if Obama were to become the nominee of the Democratic party. His words represent a remarkable return to decency:
"I would not work in the general election if Obama were the opponent on the democratic side.

"I will be supporting 100% John McCain...I would be supporting (him) from the sidelines.

"I met Barack Obama, I read his book, I like him a great deal, I disagree with him on very fundamental issues...I would simply be uncomfortable being in a campaign that would be inevitably attacking Barack Obama. It would be uncomfortable for me, and I think it would be bad for the McCain campaign."
When a hard nosed pro like McKinnon decides to sit out a presidential campaign rather than be party to dismantling Obama (and by proxy, what he represents), I am reminded of the freedom marches of the 60s. Sometimes all it takes is a clear voice to remind good people that they have acquired some bad habits.

Thank you Mr McKinnon for your courage and example.

The End of an Era

In watching the election returns for the Potomac Primary last night, I was struck by two things.

First, Obama absolutely SPANKED Clinton in the VA primaries. In looking at the CNN exit polling data Obama simply dominated across all groups. At this point, any niche electability issues or denial of being the front runner are gone.

The MSNBC politico-geek squad have done some great analysis on the delegate situation. Unless Clinton pulls a scorched earth strategy, the VA primary is the first salvo in a national campaign for Obama. Regardless, game over for the Clinton era.

Second, when Senator Clinton was giving her post primary speech in Texas, I was struck at how truly sad she was. Unlike some arguably contrived moments during this campaign, it was clear that she had seen the exit polls and done the math and knew it was over.

For a remarkable woman who has lived worked all her life for this moment, and fought and compromised and made the deals with the devil to get where she is, what a bitter and heart breaking moment. I shared her sadness for the cruel cards fate had dealt her. Against any other candidate from the past 20 years, she would have fulfilled her life purpose and become president.

As sad as I am for Senator Clinton, I am hopeful that the end of the Clinton era and the end of the Bush era will allow Americans of all political stripes to bring closure to the past 20 years of hate filled "anybody but the other guy" politics.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Gamma Curve of Politics

As I've mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of Neil Stephenson. Aside from absolutely wonderful writing and imagery, he is able to see and communicate broad trends and forces better than almost any other writer I've read.

A recent post by Cory Doctorow reminded me that I had not read one of his earliest books from 1994, Interface (co-authored with his uncle, and published under the pseudonym Stephen Bury).

Interface is the story of how a cabal known as the Network works to buy the presidency by hacking the brain of a popular politican that has had a stroke.

As with all Stephenson books, there are many many moments of sheer genius, and given that it was written in 1994, remarkable (and uncomfortable) prescience.

An example is the exchange early in the book between Cy Ogle, a political media consultant, and Aaron Green, an engineer that has invented an "emotional detector" that can monitor the emotional response of the person that is wearing it.

"...Have you ever been on TV, Aaron?"

"Just incidentally."

"How did you think you looked?"

"Not very good. Actually, I was kind of shocked by how strange I looked."

"Your eyes looked as if they were bulging out of your head, did they not?

"Exactly, how did you know?"

"The gamma curve of a video camera determines its response to light," Cy Ogle said. "If the curves were straigh, then dim things would look dim and bright things bright, just as they do in reality, and as they do, more or less, on any decent film stock. But because the gamma curve is not a straight line, dim things tend to look muddy and black, while bright things tend to glare and overload, and the only things that look halfway proper are in the middle. [...] the whites of your eyes are intensely bright. If you knew what I know, you would keep them fixed straight ahead in their sockets when you were on television, exposing as little of the white as possible. But because you are not versed in this subject, you swivel your eyes around as you look at different things, and when you do, the white part predominates and it jumps out of the screen because of the gamma curve; your eyes look like bulging white globes set in a muddy dark background."

"Is this the type of thing you teach to politicians?"

"Just a sample," Ogle said.

"Gee, it's really a shame that --"

"That our political system revolves around such trivial matters. Aaron, please do not waste my time and yours by voicing the obvious."


"That's how it is, and how it will be until high-definition television becomes the norm."

"Then what will happen?"

"All the politicians currently in power will be voted out of office and we will have a completely new power structure. Because high-definition television has a flat gamma curve an higher resolution, and people who look good on today's television look bad on HDTV and voters will respond accordingly. Their oversized pores will be visible, the red veins in their noses from drinking too much, the artificiality of their TV-friendly hairdos will make them all look, on HDTV, like country-and-western singers. A new generation of politicians will take over and they will all look like movie stars, because HDTV will be a great deal like film, and movie stars know how to look good on film."

Here we are 14 years later, and the gamma curve of politics is starting to straighten in the HDTV age. A highly recommended (and quick) read during this election season.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"We Are The People We Have Been Waiting For"

Super Tuesday night, I participated in the Minnesota caucuses at a local middle school. The scene was breathtaking. Cars were lined up for blocks. Old and young were walking up and down the snowy and icy roads, bundled against the Minnesota winter.

I was forced to park ~1/2 mile away. As I walked towards the school, I passed excited college students texting their friends, elderly shuffling as best they could, and parents with their children. Given the importance of the evening, I was immensely proud of my neighbors, and caught up in the sense that the long night may in fact be coming to an end.

All through the school, neighbors were packed into classrooms and hallways, talking about issues and candidates. The combination of engaged people, political signs, and children's drawings were a powerful reminder of why I was there.

As I moved through the line to receive my ballot, I was shocked to be handed a 2x3" piece of plain paper with ripped edges, and asked to write my preference for President and put it in an envelope. Once I realized that they must have run out of printed ballots 30 minutes into the caucus, I was overcome with the emotion of knowing that something much larger had begun.

"We The People of the United States of America, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union..."

It was my privilege to write the name "Barack Obama" on that piece of paper.

Many others have written much better than I about their rationale for supporting Senator Obama. In particular, the author Michael Chabon makes the emotional case for the intellectual issues and noted law professor Lawrence Lessig makes a very strong intellectual case for the emotional issues. Both are well worth your time. Their analysis has both beauty and integrity.

In my case, I have a commitment to (and belief in) the American Dream (or more precisely, the Dream that is America) that is so profound, that it is difficult for me to talk of it without getting choked up.

Not the dream of a chicken in every pot, nor the dream of two cars in the driveway.

Rather the Dream of many peoples coming together to achieve something larger, and leave something better for those that follow. This is the true soul of America, and embodied in our Nation's Motto: E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many One.

We may celebrate the Declaration of Independence, but our true character and what we should aspire to live by is best captured in the preamble to our Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We the People does not refer to the 51% of the 64% who vote that agree with us, but it refers to all that we are and all that we will be. Not Red States or Blue States, but the United States. Not the welfare of those that vote for us or give us donations, but the general Welfare. Not a southern strategy or swift boating a military hero, but to form a more perfect Union.

The past 20 years have been a long dark night for those of us that believe in We the People. The lessons and successes of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove (shamefully applied by both parties) have put our nation on a path to Balkanization, and manipulated the American Dream into a micro-targeted nightmare. More frighteningly, over the past decade the tactics of division have moved beyond partisan politics to an Orwellian exploitation of fear, and set the last great superpower on a path that could easily spiral to neo-facism.

While we face many challenges and dangers in this world, I believe the greatest threat to what we are is to forget who we are. When we fracture ourselves and "win" by causing someone else to "lose", we spiral ever deeper into the zero-sum night.

We stepped back from the same precipice in the 1890s (greed) and 1950s (fear). Each time, the moment was right to elevate a leader and a voice that rejected the politics of division and the policy of the ends justify the means, and reminded us that we are at our best when we grow the pie, not when we fight over the scraps; that our manifest destiny is born of our shared values and dreams, not conflicting fears and greed.

I have been waiting for that leader and that voice for the past 20 years. While I have done my best to live the example of the greater good — of people coming together to accomplish more than they thought possible — I had nearly lost hope.

Although I still suffer from what Chabon called the "pitiable...fear of disappointment", I believe that leader is Barack Obama.

Even if he falls, or falls short of the ideals he has set forth, there is a glow on the horizon, waking those who believe more in the Dream than they fear the darkness. As that glow grows into full light, we are indeed the people we have been waiting for.

As Seneator Obama said Tuesday night (emphasis mine):
You see, the challenges we face will not be solved with one meeting in one night. It will not be resolved on even a Super Duper Tuesday. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have so little, who've been told that they cannot have what they dream, that they cannot be what they imagine. Yes, they can.

We are the hope of the father who goes to work before dawn and lies awake with doubt that tells him he cannot give his children the same opportunities that someone gave him. Yes, he can.

We are the hope of the woman who hears that her city will not be rebuilt, that she cannot somehow claim the life that was swept away in a terrible storm. Yes, she can.

We are the hope of the future, the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided, that we cannot come together, that we cannot remake this world as it should be.

We know that we have seen something happen over the last several weeks, over the past several months. We know that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored — that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation — repair this world, make this time different than all the rest. Yes, we can.

Let's go to work.