Saturday, August 08, 2009

America's car-centric short-sightedness clunking along

Now that the US taxpayer's own a good portion of GM, the thought is we should subsidize the purchasing of cars. The justification for this is that handing car owners $4500 to trade in vehicles for those with better mileage is that fewer oil will be consumed. The problem with this is that it perpetuates the belief that "all Americans must own cars." The very notion of not owning a car is still regarded as suspect, and peraps even un-American. Yet more Americans will need to abandon their cars for our nation to transform to a lower energy society.

Oil is at half what it was a year ago ( $71 a barrel ) , but we are also in the worst recession since the 30s. Once the economy begins to pick up again, the price of oil will skyrocket again. Anyone that is car dependent will be whining for even more car-centric subsidies like the cash-for-clunkers program, but for oil.

Yet, the much touted "cash-for-clunkers" program is a measly $7 subsidy per taxpayer. At $4500 per clunker, that comes to one beneficiary per 643 taxpayers. Right now this is very cheap and has received a lot of hype. Unless Congress decides to throw more money at this car-centric program, it will run out again within weeks. And if the majority of taxpayers want a bite at this program, it would take a significant portion of the Federal budget. And how can a car
-subsidizing program end our addiction to oil when none are electric?

Naturally, Republicans are starting to oppose this program. Governor Tim Pawlenty also opposes the clunkers program because it takes many used vehicles out of the market. He believes this will hurt the poor who could have used the cars currently being recycled. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas also opposes because it will further burden future generations with pointless debt. And interestingly, Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy voted against more clunker money because he did not see enough evidence the program was working.

One argument conservatives make against building more transit is that they could just spend the money buying cars for everyone. This argument is pointless for those who are too young/old to drive, cannot afford gas/repairs/insurance, and who care about our environment. Yet, altering their argument, one might say about the clunkers program: why not buy everyone bikes?

A "cash-for-rusters" program. Trade in any working vehicle or rusty bicycle for a shiny new bike. This would greatly reduce oil consumption and cost far less per beneficiary than the clunkers program. It would appease conservatives railing against wasteful spending because it is cheaper. Environmentally bikes clearly use less gasoline to produce than even the most energy efficient vehicle. America needs a pro-bicycle program, not more car-centric subsidies.

( Top image produced by Ken Avidor )

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anti-Choice Democrats

This may come as a surprise, but good number of self-proclaimed Democrats are anti-democratic. Having experienced the wrath and dumbfounded anti-choice logic several times last summer feel it should be known.

My first incident was gathering signatures for candidates on July 4th, 2008 at Powderhorn Park. Those who arrived their early were primarily those who lived outside of Minneapolis and even Minnesota. Still talking about politics was fairly pleasant. Because I was not gathering signatures for Democrats some people of color assumed I was "the enemy" or something. They gave me a lecture about how the Republicans used to represent blacks but now only Democrats did. The Greens were not on their radar and they were mistrustful of why we even wanted to be involved in the electoral process. Clearly, there would be a benefit if people of color had a choice rather than a default vote, and an eternal blank check, for Democrats.

Next at Powderhorn, I found it increasingly difficult to gather signatures for our Congressional District candidate Adri Mehra. Local residents would sign to get Farheen Hakeem on the ballot, but refused to sign for Adri. The comments I heard were "I like Keith Ellison," "No thanks," and "he's doing a good job." Mentioning his unwavering support for sending more money to the Iraq war were met with sympathetic comments for "the troops" or simply blank stares. Mentioning that only America has such strict ballot access laws and if this were any other nation there would be no problem was also met with blank stares. I even asked a woman's parents visiting from Norway if their country had such anti-democratic tactics, which they didn't. I also asked if their nation had more than two political parties, which they laughed and said "of course we do!" Their daughter, a staunch DFLer, refused to lend her signature for the sake of democracy. Partisan Democrats simply do not care about democracy if it isn't "their" democracy.

Staunch partisans take note: Senator Al Franken signed every ballot access sheet for the Green Party's statewide candidates in 2006. If there are other prominent partisans who support democracy like Franken, I would like to hear about them. From my perspective, Democrats and Republicans oppose ballot access and open debates. While Senator Al Franken does not support the Green Party, he at least understands democracy should exist.

When I door-knocked for Farheen Hakeem, who ran for state representative, many were very excited with her candidacy. One woman in particular told me in a very upbeat manner "Oh, I think Farheen is great! I saw her on May Day and at Pride. Of course I will vote for her and all the other DFL candidates!" I did have to mention that on the ballot she would be listed as a Green, not a Democrat. "Oh," She said rather surprised. Her facial expression morphed to that of shock and utter disapproval "Well, now I am not so sure then..."

Not so sure? One second she was an enthusiastic supporter, the next all energy had dissipated into thin air. Is this the heart of the Democrat party? Discussing issues with her did not matter, because she only supported "DFL" issues. Those issues are less political and more social in nature. In Bill Bishop's book "The Big Sort" a theory is put forth that America is politically sorting itself. Democrats only consider moving and living in Democrat controlled areas. The same goes with Republicans. Red and blue regions are becoming more and more concentrated. It's like the Libertarian Free State Project except on a national scale.

So in regions like Minneapolis, the one political party control the majority of all politics. The other major national party does not exist, supplanted partially by a third party ( in Minneapolis, it is the Green Party). According to Bill Bishop, in areas with only one powerful political party, voting for that party becomes an "affirmation of your community." To vote DFL in Minneapolis is equated to being a good neighbor and citizen of the city. But if you don't like the candidate, you might be able to vote for a Green.

This does not mean this will happen. Not all cities have an active Green Party, and find the idea of an opposing political party to Democrats scary. I had a new neighbors last year from Chicago. I told them about my volunteering for Green campaigns and they were very skeptical. They thought we were Republicans in disguise and were stealing votes from Democrats. In fact, these thoughts are echoed on the Minneapolis Issues list where Greens are attacked for being extremists of the far right and left. Greens were either "too hot" or "too cold" but never "just right" simply because Greens are not Democrats.

One interesting phenomena in Minneapolis is that the local Republicans are becoming more active, having been revived by Ron Paul supporters. Their mayoral candidate is a former Green Party candidate for Attorney General Papa John Kolstad. In addition, he has the endorsement of the Independence Party and is seeking Green support also. While his candidacy is late in the game, viable strategy for change at this point. Whether self-proclaimed Democrats go against their afirmation of community remains to be seen. Even with Ranked Choice Voting, such social coercion is difficult to undo.

Further, the Republicans only have three actual candidates listed on the ballot with 95 total filing. The Green Party has five endorsed candidates and three more are seeking endorsement. Three who previously sought endorsement decided to run independently or as DFL.

An idea I have to improve the chances of Green candidates coming forward in the future and support is through voter education. Many do not know we exist and clearly do not know what Greens stand for. Gossip, rumors, and blatant partisan lies frequently fill the void. The national Green Party does not have the necessary literature, yet there should be a handout to explain the party's history and our Ten Key Values. Locals could create their own and start an outreach campaign to inform voters. I also think asurvey with key questions could allow for a more open-minded electorate. Mindless partisanship need not be inevitable in Minnesota, even if so in other parts of the country.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Blogger Disclosure for 2008

Another fun year has gone by. And one where Americans are beginning to come to turns that everything is indeed "changing" economically. A world without cheap oil is changing everything, and politics has yet to adjust.

In 2008, this blog had 3970 visits.

I have personally been involved in a few campaigns during 2008. Those I donated money to:

Bicking for City Council $22
Neighbors for Cam Gordon $22
Green Party of Minnesota $50
Cynthia McKinney for President - $35
Dean Barkley for US Senate - $50
Green Party of the United States $225
Neighbors United for Farheen Hakeem $65

Campaigns I have volunteered on in 2008:

Farheen Hakeem for Minnesota House 61B
Colin Lee for Minnesota House 36A
Adri Mehra for US Congress 5th District
Michael Cavlan for US Senate
Cynthia McKinney for President of the United States

I also distributed lawn signs to Minneapolis residents for the Dean Barkley for US Senate campaign and Cynthia McKinney for President.

2009 appears be an active year in local Green politics. Look forward to the new year!