Friday, February 29, 2008

Petty Water Frustrations

Tap-water is a pretty remarkable thing. We think about it an awful lot in the southwest, or at least we're starting to. I remember water conservation edutainment plays from elementary school, and at summer camp in New Jersey I had a culture shock when the guys in my dorm left the faucet running while brushing their teeth. Scary, I know, but it struck me as something akin to blasphemy

So I'm a big fan of using little water, of using the cheapest water, and of being grateful for that water. If they existed, I'd probably be in favor of a still-suit dress code. Okay, that's a tad extreme, but it's my opposition to dress codes and not conservation that rules it out.

But this whole bottled water thing is frustrating, and I cannot fathom my numerous peers who have crates and crates of bottled water shipped to their dorm rooms, or my peers who will only drink water that has been purchased in gallon jugs from Whole Foods. I will carry my water in jugs when civilization has collapsed, but until then I am perfectly content with tap water, and cannot fathom the need for water that "tastes better".

This all would be an empty rant were it not for the high social costs of bottled water, and the very easy social gains of tap water. Bottled water is an entirely unnecessary product, and tap water is a vital social good. I'm behind the times, but today I found out about pre-paid cards for tap water. Brilliant invention of capitalism, but a terrifying loss of the common good. And, at the same time water is privatized (in such a way that facilitates the spread of water-borne diseases), New York City has had to launch a campaign to say "this tap water you guys have had for a surprisingly long time, you can drink it. It's cool, no really."

Bah. It's unfortunate that it takes the scarcity of the desert to produce some common sense.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Since this is a productive weekend for me, here is the third installment of "Kelsey lists a bunch of links and hopes you like some of them". This time, I'm explaining all the links on my blogroll, which you may have glanced at once or twice. Why I am doing this? Partly it's pure self-indulgence, and partly this is self-indulgence because this is the 100th post I've started to write. If you notice a numerical discrepancy, it's because I have 8 posts (including the fabled Youth Rights post) which are all in various places in development hell. So, empty milestone or not, here are the blogs I read, and reasons why you should like them:

At the top of the list (and breaking alphabetical order) we have UUlogy. This is where the YRUU steering committee posted their video about the death of YRUU, and where lots of righteous UU angst and impassioned outcry is taking place. Besides hosting the articulate and disenfranchised, it has lots of communications with the heads of the UUA, and so is the first stop for biased news on this issue. (Disclaimer: this may be meaningless if you aren't UU. Apologies)

AHS Foliage is Albuquerque High Schools' premier underground newspaper, in its second year of publication. I had more than a little role in its early days, but now it has its own staff. It's continuing the tradition of hyper-relevant social commentary through sarcasm in zines, and is good fun.

Terry Arnold
was my late grandfather's best friend, and he posts intelligent essays that aim at putting reason back into the State Department, and serve as a critique of modern US policies from the perspective of the dignified old school. I have no idea why he posts on Rense, but his stuff merits consideration despite the setting.

Had I been the typical good little AHS-er, I would have probably had Scot Key as my favorite middle school teacher. I had a middle school experience that was not at Jefferson, however, and so instead I know him through his bitter, bitter commentary about Albuquerque Public Schools. He's smart, and there is a certain humor to his posts that I appreciate, but boy does it seem like the current system of schooling just will not do much good. Rather than actively dismantling it, however, he provides snark from the inside. Which, all told, is probably the better thing to do.

Ever read all the comics in the newspaper, get angry, and wonder why you keep putting up with this crap? The answer is Comics Curmudgeon, where like minded people analyze comics all the way through death and back to some form of zombified humor. Great, dorky fun.

No burqueno's internet experience would be complete without the occasional foray to the Fix, and the quality of the site is such that I check it almost daily, even 1,500+ miles from the city. The new social networking version is fun as well.

Nora's blog can be found under the in-joke moniker of Esther de Groot. Her blog is far more bloggy, the best aspects of which are summarized in this post. Or, perhaps, this one.

John Fleck is Albuquerque's local "understands science and explains it sensibly in the newspaper" guy, and for those inclined to seek out even more science-y fun, we have his blog. I comment here sometimes, when I am feeling smart but don't want to just take and repost what he said verbatim.

Fleen is my webcomics review of choice; others prefer websnark.

is a blog about the politics concerning video games, and comes from the standpoint of both consumer advocacy and thinking that people are responsible enough to be trusted with pixels. Biased, but good.

Indexed is so good, it's made me figure out hand gestures so I can quote Venn Diagrams in conversation. A great blog, a great way to interpret information.

iMinister is the blog of Christine Robinson, the minister from First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque. She's very well reasoned and compelling, and works from the sensible premise of gradual, lasting change. This contrasts nicely with the far-reaching "everything is wrong and must be fixed all at once now" attitude common among others whose opinions on social justice I trust. Her blog is far more accessible than some of the other Albuquerque blogs and UU blogs, and I would put this at the top of my list of recommendations, were the list not alphabetical.

Alright, that's it from the blogosphere for me for now. With luck, I'll get those eight posts in limbo fleshed out soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stuff White People Like

This is a well done anthropological perspective on modern white Americans, and as such I found it both entertaining and uncomfortable to read. It's good, it's really good, and it helps to have a perspective analyzing "white" as "other", since assuming white is the default is a fundamental problem in understanding modern racism.

The series is up to 73 posts, ranging from absurd cultural phenomena, detailed popular yet seemingly hypocritical attitudes, and the wonderfully blunt. I recommend reading all of it, but as that's a bit intense, skimming may be advisable.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lessig Roundup

I rarely do short posts full of links, but with this being a blog it seems a shame to not take advantage of the medium. So, here we will have a few links to the best of Lawrence Lessig that I have so far found on the internet.

This was my introduction to Lessig, and clocks in at under eight minutes, so I'd go here first.

In this video, he explains remixing video and music as youth culture, and as the modern way in which youth interact with the media around them. It's good, and is the one I'd recommend to people uncertain about where to stand in the piracy debate.

In this hour-long lecture, Lawrence Lessig discusses his new focus on corruption, as he starts out on day one, and manages to do a fantastic job of examining a fundamental flaw in the current American political system. This is what won me over to his ideas, and I found it to be the most inspiring political statement I heard all of last year.

Lawrence Lessig has shown up in at least two of my posts about Barack Obama, so his endorsement speech makes sense here. It's a very compelling argument for using personal character as a standard, when the candidates positions are very similar, and so it hits upon points that I was unable to make in my analysis of positions.

Lastly, what makes all this relevant, and relevant now, is that Lessig is considering a run for representative from California, and even if that doesn't happen, he's started a movement to change congress.

Lessig is the inspiring academic of the now, and should he decide to run, he will fast become my favorite politician (sorry Heinrich). This is an exciting era, and the chance for a progressive to step out of the ivory tower and into the fray is especially exciting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This is a placeholder post, a stop-gap for my intended Youth Rights post and a needed statement concerning the death of formal YRUU. I'll have more fleshed out opinions on both, which won't be as timely as I'd like, and this will have to be kept short, as school demands insist.

Back to the point, and an explanation - YRUU is "Young Religious Unitarian Universalists", the organization that coordinated (at continental, district, and congregational levels) youth organization with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Yesterday I was informed by a summer camp acquaintance that YRUU will cease to exist and function as it had, primarily because the UUA has withdrawn funding for the continental level. There's a lot to be said about this, and I encourage all those who want to join the discussion to comment here.

As for my say, YRUU was one of those key organizations in both my political coming of age and my coming of age in general, and while I will certainly agree that it had flaws, I think that the good it did, that the unique experience it provided, and that the leadership it helped develop are key to the UU experience, for those who do not find this faith in their 30s church-shopping. Its demise was predictable, and the very nature of an organization whose members may serve for only a year or two (if lucky, 3, and theoretically 4 was possible) means that change will be fast, change will be sweeping, and independence will be easy to lose and move away from. In four years, YRUU will be a distant notion to those who, had they been 4 years older, would have provided the most dynamic leaders.

It's rough, and I can see this as a tremendous alienation of UU-raised young adults for years to come (an alienation that furthers an already-present division in UU Young Adults), and i think it hurts the sustainability and the validity of the church. I've more to say, much much more to say, but for now I will leave this with a question:

What does a future youth organization need to be to validate youth as they are youth, honor youth empowerment, provide for institutional memory and independence, and facilitate a meaningful transition into active young adult status for the many UUs who come from such a strong tradition?

This, I think, is the fundamental YRUU question, and is a key component of the fundamental Young Adult question. Any thoughts?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Technocracy Now!

Technocracy has come up a lot in my classes this semester, and it has a hell of an appeal to it. There are many definitions I could provide, but I'll go with the simplest:

Technocracy = Government of the Competent

Which, you know, just sounds like the exact best kind of government possible. How's the saying go? "... If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary..." (more of that wisdom here). Technocracy aims at creating such rulers, and any such government worth the name will have leaders who are all trained in the art of ruling, have been trained in such an art since childhood, and belong to a group that is destined to rule. This is, in part, the justification for royal lineages and the power of monarchs - they are trained for this their whole life, so of course they should be competent. Usually the training fell through, or the monarchs assumed innate ability, so it's a poor example.

A better example would be France, where one school has graduated all but three prime ministers since 1948, and where a political elite not only exists (as they kind of exist everywhere), but where the political elite derives a large share of their power from technical skill. For someone who places a high value on civil service, this is exciting, and it helps that in such a country the public sector attracts the best and the brightest. Prestige and skill associated with civic duty is something almost alien in the United States, and the idea of guaranteed competent bureaucrats and leaders is enticing.

Certainly, the program has success, and with political elite having all the technical knowledge they could need, their plans will be well-informed and effective. Technical skill, that fundamental guiding force behind Technocracy, is something everyone would want available to their leaders (if not an innate trait of the leaders themselves). The justification, however, that technical skill is all it takes is folly.

Technocrats, especially hereditary or entrenched or class-based, will still be human and hold human values. People without values are nothing we would want, but in the rulers-as-angels scenario we would hope that they would have our values, and be the shining pillars of what we hold dear. The same skill that can beautifully execute every program we can possibly imagine, creating that approaching-utopic vision of society, can just as easily lead to someone else's paradise, and the paradise of entrenched elites tends to be a far different world than that of any regular citizens. It may overlap in areas, but on the whole it is likely to be a vision detached from the populace. If angels ruled men, would they care for what men thought?

Certainly, we like to think they would, and we know that as angels they are our angels, the angels that agree with us on all the finer points. But that's an impossibility in society, and we cannot hope (nor should we) for a world where all values conform to one glorious vision. It is diversity of opinion that makes the world rich, and it is diversity of opinion that allows for compromise at the same time that it threatens stability.

Democracy, or stable democracy at the least, is a forum for compromise, for dissent, and for acceptance that though we do not hold all same values, what we do share can be acted upon. Technocracy involves a detached judgment of the "General Will" of the populace, without asking the populace what their general will is. It is a detached government for the betterment of all society made by those who are, primarily, outside of society, and it is inevitable that the technocrats will disagree with the populace at some point to completely void the consent of the governed.

Technocracy is not an ideal system, for the very reason that no system can ever be ideal. A dystopias have a tendency to be well executed, administered by those who know exactly how to use government, and engineered around some purpose that is forwarded as in the interest of the populace. Dystopias are scary stuff. The whole premise that those governed are not responsible enough to have a say in how they are governed assumes tremendous competence on the part of the governing and tremendous incompetence on the part of the governed, and so while it is a common belief among intelligentsias, I cannot help but feel it voids fundamental notions of human dignity.

This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from technocracy, or that leadership by the skilled is a terrible thing. Certainly, skilled leaders are ideal, and technical skill for the running of government is something to be sought out. That doesn't mean that training is the only requirement, and it doesn't mean that we should just trust the opinions of the trained. People change, values change, and without a system to reevaluate consent and remove or restore legitimacy skill becomes meaningless. A perfectly skilled administrator acting against the will of the entire populace should not be left in place just because they are skilled.

The first time that was tried the results were, well, hellish.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The 2008 Democrat Endorsement

When I decided in earnest that I was going to blog about as many democratic presidential candidates as I could, I had intended to refrain from endorsing anyone. After all, this was December, and there were still nine democrats in the race. With so many people running, I felt arrogant saying that one candidate's programs are comprehensive enough that in every arena they are superior enough to grab all the votes that can be swayed by me. Instead, I intended to have a rundown of how voting for a given candidate would influence the final candidate's positions. Primary votes for Mike Gravel would have meant that legalization of marijuana might be something for the final candidate to consider, if they thought the risk was worth it. Primary votes for Kucinich would signal to the democrats that a move to to the left would be good, and with enough of them, the party might generally inch in that direction for good. Primary votes for Richardson (which I had intended to do) would mean that foreign policy, and his foreign policy, would be adopted in part by the final candidate. Having been hesitant in reviewing Dodd, Biden, and Edwards, I cannot say what votes for them would have meant. At this point, however, it is mostly irrelevant. The democrats are in a two candidate race, and I've made my endorsement.

If you didn't catch it, which is perfectly fair given as how it is on the end of the longest post I have ever blogged, I have endorsed Barack Obama.

Why Not Hillary Clinton?

The endorsement comes, as it must, as a preference for him over Hillary Clinton, so I will start by saying that Hillary Clinton is not all bad. She is a tremendously experience politician, and one who
has been working within the system and achieving change for a surprisingly long time. She is also the most serious chance a woman has ever had for the presidency so far. I do not mean to discredit either the idea of a woman president or the positive good Hillary Rodham Clinton has produced. I do, however, believe that Hillary's relative complacency, silence, and ineffectiveness against the policies of the past seven years by the current administration hurt her, and are a disservice to those who believe her to be an independent mind. She has not resisted enough, or made enough of a name decrying the practices of the worst presidential administration since at least Reagan, if not ever. She has been in power and in prominence and remained relatively quiet, refusing to stall or halt or make dissent known in the face of issues as important and vital as the civil rights and constitutional protections voided by the USA PATRIOT ACT. She did not oppose the War in Iraq, a war that has served to alienate vital allies and the spirit of both international cooperation and the rights of sovereignty, and has instead produced a mess of which there is no good way out. Her past inaction or silent consent offends me, and it makes her in my mind that status quo candidate; given the status quo, this is not something I will support.

When I set out to do this, I intended to focus on the candidates plans for positive good, and attack flaws in their plans and not petty assessments. With that said, a few words on gender before I look at her plan versus Obama's. Hillary Clinton is a woman who could win the presidency, and stands a decent chance at it. This is the first chance a woman has really had, and it it tempting, very tempting, to vote for her as an affirmative action towards the centuries where a majority of people in this nation have not had a descriptive candidate in the White House. I think that voting this way ignores many of the important tasks of a concerned and informed electorate, and I think that it is based on a fear of this being a one-shot option and then lost forever. Hillary is the first women to have a real shot at the presidency, but she will in no way be the last, and I can only imagine that by the time I can legally run (2024), we will have seen many more serious female contenders for the office, and an election seems almost inevitable by the time my generation is predominant in national government (2030-2050 or so). This is, to be perfectly honest, a really long way off, but Hillary has shown that a woman can be a serious contender, and others will come, even if she isn't elected.

The reasons one such as myself wouldn't want her elected, of course, have nothing to do with gender, or her religion, or her husband. My reasons, instead, have to do with stated policy aims, and how I tend to disagree with her about most of them. The sum of her domestic policy, "pro-business policy, with no serious changes in education and no real plan addressing immigration", doesn't speak to me, and doesn't really seem like it is addressed at fixing any problems that exist today. Her foreign policy is limp, and I am bothered that she doesn't care enough to make it more meaningful; her "Foreign Affairs" article is more a justification of simple aims than an elaboration of critical thought and policy directives. Her emphasis on a social welfare (universal health care, immigration reform, veterans policy) for those who are ready to be employed and keep the American economy functioning is nothing bad, but it makes welfare her game to play - a person gets the benefits provided they play along, and not from any notions of inherent worth and dignity. Her selling points do not move me.

Hillary Clinton believes in a stronger and more controlling federal government, and while she is slightly on the left in terms of how to use that pattern, the real spectrum that defines her is "Governmental Power <---> Individual Freedom", and she is willing to go towards nanny state policies to a greater degree than I would like.

She does, however, have strong points in a specific piece of education reform and with her proposal for the United States Public Service Academy. These are good things, but these are thing should can accomplish in the Senate, and things she should accomplish in the Senate, in the many years I see her remaining there.

Why Barack Obama

It troubles me that this issue can be debated in terms of white woman/black man, and everything I said about future serious women candidates holds true for African Americans as well (excepting the majority of the population part). The debate over experience versus inexperience/idealism is a marginally better debate, but it simplifies things, and it assumes that sufficient knowledge required for the presidency comes from multiple terms in the legislature. I can point out Abraham Lincoln (one term, representative) or Dwight Eisenhower (no terms; general) as examples of success, but the real problem has to do with the framing of the race in this way by national media, which is irresponsible and over-simplifies.

Justifications for inexperience must still be made, and this shows itself in the language Barack Obama uses on his website, which is full of technocratic jargon and legal notions that I can only just comprehend. He talks as though he is eminently qualified, and I will trust that he is. I have read nothing to disprove me of this notion.

Moving on to policy, I must say that there are serious flaws in some of what Barack Obama proposes. His foreign policy contrasts overly-firm statements to Hillary's inaction. I do not want militancy, but it is preferable to have an opinion, to make a stab at strength, than to pay lip service to a vast segment of presidential policy. I don't like his mentions of the PATRIOT ACT, especially when they concern making it more legal, rather than doing away with it as unconstitutional. Neither candidate speaks out strongly against torture, and that is also frustrating.

Obama's economic reforms are of a different veins than Clintons'. He aims at tax rebates and low income consumers as well as small business; Hillary Clinton aims at tax cuts and targets business and the middle class. Rebates are to me more sensible, and Obama's plans seem to fit in more with protecting consumers and competition than with strengthening American business abroad. His faith in a gently guided free market is reassuring, and his universal healthcare proposal seems to me to be better for both business and consumers, as it offers more than a consolidation of plans, a menu, and a buy-in to a national system.

Likewise, in education Obama hits upon the better points of Clinton's plan and offers more meaningful solution.

A complete blow-by-blow will be terribly redundant, so that last issue worth commenting upon is technology. Hillary Clinton "talks about the internet on her website like she's explaining it to an octogenarian on the campaign trail". Barack Obama incorporates the internet into many of his other plans, has a tremendous and well-written section on technology, and "he gets technology, and he gets the internet, and he would make sane and sensible polices regarding the internet and technology while protecting freedom of speech and the consumer". He incorporates brilliant uses on the internet into his ethics reform, fixes problems others have had (searchable date versus pdfs), and just feels like an appropriate candidate for the year 2008. This section, more than anything else, cements my trust in Barack Obama.

He is not an ideal candidate, and he is not an ideal candidate in my foremost area of concern, but he is a genuinely good candidate, and it is exciting to have the possibility to support and maybe even elect a candidate, backed by a major party, who I want more for his own strengths than for fear of the other guy. It is incredible to have a candidate like this, and to have one who understands the internet, and who trusts the American voter with making government more responsible, provided the information they need is made accessible. He will put up bills on the white house website for 5 days before signing them, giving time for feedback and reaction (and in this internet age, that is an entirely reasonable amount of time). I would trust a government with Barack Obama at its head.

If my opinion means anything to you in determining how you vote, I urge you to support Barack Obama as well.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Barack Obama

Part seven in my 2008 Presidential Election commentary series, I present to you my take on Barack Obama's positions, as stated on the issues page of his website.

Barack Obama through the lens of Kelsey Atherton


Civil Rights - Obama's site reads differently than those of other candidates I've profiled so far. He opens with a quote, has a bullet point list about his priorities with regards to civil rights (each point redirecting further down the list to the section containing a one-two sentence statement), a synthesis of the problem, the previously mentioned short exposition list, and at the end there is a paragraph statement concerning his record, followed by a link to a .pdf of his plan. It's an interesting approach, and a very accessible one. It also means that the bulk of the plan, as stored in an inconvenient file type, is harder for the casual observer to critique; this is not a unique criticism, but it still holds merit.
Pay inequity, hate crimes, vote suppression, and drug policy are all labeled as civil rights concerns, and he is on solid ground with all of them. I am especially impressed by the inclusion of the disparity in crack vs powder cocaine laws as an issue of civil rights - powder cocaine is associated broadly with wealth, and more generally with the white, wealthy, suburban upper middle and upper class, while crack cocaine is a drug of poverty, associated with poor urban areas and minority, especially black communities. Federal law holds the penalties for crack cocaine as 100 times greater than the penalties for powder cocaine usage, and only two states of addressed this disparity as racist. Ohio increased the penalty for powder cocaine to the same as that of crack, and California recently considered (and I believe passed, though I may be wrong) lowering the penalty for crack down to the federal standard for powder cocaine.

This discussion of drug policy isn't a digression - it just shows some of the prior knowledge required for simple yet intelligent statements about how to reform the criminal justice system.
In his policy goals that follow, it makes sense that half of his plans focus on protecting both the suspected and the convicted from civil rights abuses and from unfair policy which is implicitly if not explicitly racist. Understanding the complexity of the issue, and the nature of institutionalized racism in our criminal system, and how fair treatment for criminals is a civil rights issue, is all very impressive and means he'd be an incredible attorney general, at the least. In his treatment of the one matter that seems less a legal issue and more of a standard "can we solve this with money well spent" issue, that is to say, in his treatment of ex-offenders needing support to avoid recidivism, it looks like a keen mind is at work here, and am ind that grasps the full reality of the issue. The only weakness of all this is that every statement is short, and that fuller explanations are going to be found in an elaborate pdf, the kind of material no fun to root through.

Economy - This section is large, and broken into eleven parts. The first part is "Tax Fairness for the Middle Class", and it focuses on a collection of relatively small refunds, aimed at the people least able to pay taxes. Most benefits are geared towards those making $50,000 a year or less, and are aimed a $500 to $3,000 refund or credit, combined with easier forms. It sounds knowledgable, which is a mixed blessing. I would like to think he knows what he's talking about, but I don't have the requisite knowledge to call him on it. Still, the premise I can support, and while I am generally opposed to tax cuts, this is after-tax returns mostly, and its to the people who cumulatively contribute the least of any income bracket, and tend to need government services and their few dollars the most. This is, as far as I can tell, good, but it is very little for the middle class.
Strengthen America's Workforce - this is an overlap with his education plan, so I will detail it there.
Strengthen and Enforce International Trade Agreements - The most interesting part of this plan is getting China to start playing fair in the global economy, which would mean a general cost increase to American consumers (who benefit the most from this) but a boon to American business (who are hurt by this). I'm intrigued, to say the least. His defense of US copyright is less fun, but it is against obvious counterfitters, and so doesn't have fair use implications, which is what I would worry about. Money for retraining is also good.
Support Small Businesses -His health care plan factors in here a bit, but the rest of this section is small measures, aimed at reducing (not eliminating) taxes to small business and making it easier to get loans (but not outright giving them capital). On the whole, this plan aims at lessening the cost of being a small business owner at a minimal cost to government. Sound if unexciting.
Investment in American Innovation - This section offers tax credits for research, words without plans about the need for more money to American scientists, and expansion of broadband, and addresses the digital divide. It's almost as though we have a presidential candidate (besides Ron Paul) who understands the internet - better, we have one who sees the internet as a potential common good.
Address the Subprime Mortgage Issue - This section is filled with a technocrats jargon, and it is simultaneously impressive and rather inaccessible. There's a lot, aimed at hitting many aspects of credit, and it sounds good, but again I don't have the knowledge to evaluate how good it is. It's reasoned out, and logically it makes sense, but gah. So much to look through, so much to go over, and when the summaries are hard to read I can only imagine the actual legislation will be rough.
I'll surmise the rest of this section, without excessive detail. If you feel the need to read a specific section, go for it, but I recommend no more than one section per sitting. It's rather dense.
A crackdown on tax havens is good, as a way to get money that should be paid to the government into the treasury is a good idea, and I have a hard time seeing how that money is better utilized in the hands of its rightful owners. Promotion of a competitive marketplace is good. New ways to protect intellectual property is good, so long as it supports the creative commons, and doesn't criminalize such activity as file sharing. His "help low income workers enter the job market" plan is decent, and includes the knowledge of multiple factors contributing to both un- and em- ployability. A living wage is good.

Disabilities - this section is bare bones, but the sentence it contains is nice, and it is good to include everyone. Community living I hope sounds like a good idea, but I am a bit skeptical.

Education - He likes the goal of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but is upset at the implementation. He finds the dropout rate appalling. There are other qualms, but I like to focus on the many kids who don't make it out of high school, rather than those who have to take remedial classes in college. Not that both aren't problems; one just seems more grave to me.
His head-start plans extend to infancy, making him the second democrat fundraiser to tackle education that young. It includes providing child care for working class families, which is always good. He'll fund NCLB, and make it so that schools that need improvement are granted more funding, rather than punished. It's novel, really. He also has about eight plans aimed at getting kids motivated, the help they need, the idea that they can go to college, and instruction appropriate to the language they know, all geared at reducing the dropout rate. Yay. He proposing a military-academy like teaching system, with paid tuition in return for years in the profession, which is also really good. " He will also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices." Yay again. College tax credits (at around $4,000) for just the first year for most eligible Americans is a nice move, but with too many qualifiers to really stick. Simplified financial aid forms for college also sound good, and I am rather excited about the whole of this plan in general. It has the ring to it of someone who understands how public education works, and has an eye towards fixing flaws instead of abolishing the whole system.

Energy and Environment - He refers to oil consumption as an addictive behavior, and he doesn't question global warming, preferring to list observed changes that are negative. I'll ask John to verify the list, but here they are: "glaciers are melting faster; the polar ice caps are shrinking; trees are blooming earlier; more people are dying in heat waves; species are migrating, and eventually many will become extinct." I know at the least that heat wave death is offset by fewer deaths due to cold, but that doesn't mean more people aren't dying in heat waves. That's critique of his framing, however, and not critique of his knowledge or plan.
The carbon cap market appears again, as is appropriate. There's a good many plans here to fund clean energy programs, train clean energy workers, and help businesses become green, or start out that way. Seems like the sensible thing to do. Less reasonable, as the economy experiences all sorts of problems with food shortages, is the many plans to improve biofuels production. It is nice to know that Obama's plan is aimed at rural investment, though. An increase in fuel economy standards is another blow for sanity and intelligence, and the rest of the post (energy efficiency, US leadership in climate change) is good, good stuff. Excepting biofuels (and thats a large exception to make), this is a good plan. Not great, but certainly decent.

Ethics - The section opens with jabs at the Bush Administartion, and the segues into good statements, like this one: "Obama will create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format." Searchable is key here, and that is all kinds of exciting. This is something Creative Commons founder and now anti-corruption worker Lawrence Lessig has called for, in such brilliant speeches as this one. This reform takes precedence for me, though independent watchdogs and campaign finance reform are fine too. The searchability of databases is mentioned in several other places in this section, and that's great. He understands the power of the internet to check on the government, and then he drops this little slice of awesome "Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days." Wow. There's lots of gems here, and the whole thing reads as though someone watched every problem with lobbyists for the past seven years, maybe twenty, and then sat down and wrote out how to prevent every single one. Not that the methods will be terribly effective at first, but my god, they will be there. This is fantastic, and on this alone, he'd make a great attorney general. This is an incredible chunk of solutions. Simply incredible.

Faith - I'll start by saying the idea of this section scares me. The section is small, contains a video of a speech, and allays my fears with this quote "Senator Obama also laid down principles for how to discuss faith in a pluralistic society, including the need for religious people to translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values during public debate". I like the discussion of the role of faith with moral imperialism, so this is good.

Family - This overlaps with a lot of sections, notably economy, education, civil rights (where absent fathers are concerned), and healthcare. I'll start with unique mentions, like universal seven sick days a year, for every employed person. A new automatic workplace pension program is proposed, which seems like it should be different than Social Security, but functions on the same government mechanism of pay removed from wages (only this time, moved to accounts that are different in a way I don't understand), and is coupled with more tax credits. The overall family plan is good, and it is good that the effect these many programs have on the family is recognized, but the section feels largely redundant.

Fiscal - The problem is simply stated here, as tax cuts and increasing debt both leaving an awful lot of money out of the national treasury. Combined, they make a nice $8 trillion. Unsurprisingly, the Bush tax cuts are gone. More surprisingly, the public accountability and watchdog proposed in ethics are both expected to reduce pork barrel spending to 2001 levels. Competitively bid on contracts are mentioned, and so efficiency must be the money saver here. Wasteful Medicare spending, wasteful oil and natural gas subsidies, and wasteful subsidies to the private student loan industry are all marked for elimination. Wasteful is a good word to put in front of a program to justify cutting it. Ending tax havens is addressed again. It's too bare a program for those who really want to see a stab at fiscal conservatism, though the flaw has no plans. I'd expect this section to change the most by the time the election cycle is over, to accommodate moderate voters motivated by fiscal responsibility.

Foreign Policy - This page has a militancy to it, and a moral purpose behind it, which is great for those who idealize political theorists that are not Machiavelli. His "Ending the war in Iraq" plan shares one caveat with Hillary Clinton's, and that is the shift from ending the war as a senator to ending the war as a president. It leaves a year to campaign, where valid action should be taken towards this end, and where it hasn't been and won't be, because the president will fix this, and not the senate. Otherwise, his record on Iraq in fantastic, and I'm all for having a candidate that didn't support the war. His withdrawal plan takes 16 months, leaving it slower than Kucinich, Gravel, and especially Richardson, but unlike Hillary, his plan has a determined end. Sort of. Some troops kept to protect the embassy and US personnel, and some troops so that "if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda." That quote sounds a bit absurd, as al Qaeda is only barely paramilitary, and its actions lend itself to hideouts and not headquarters. Leaving troops just doesn't strike me as good, and expecting those troops to find a nice enemy barracks strikes me as silly. Moving on, he calls for an Iraqi constitutional convention, under the guidance of the United Nations. Bragging about the aggressiveness of his plan for involving Syria and Iran in Iraq's border security strikes me as silly again, but having such a plan is good. Money for reconstruction is good, and $2 billion sure is a lot of money, and the aim of humanitarian aid to Iraqis in bordering countries is good, but I am wary of money sent into chaotic political environments.
Iran - While he condemns Iran for denying the Holocaust and having sought out nuclear weapons (both of which are easy to condemn, and one of which affects political realities in dealing with Iran), he says "but Obama believes that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them", which is a good point. He favors tough diplomacy, which is a rather blunt instrument and an unsavory approach. It's offering a child the choice between a toy and a beating, and while it means the choice is obvious, it doesn't really allow the country much dignity in making the choice. Hopefully, Iran would begrudgingly play along.
He favors actual diplomacy and engagement with world leaders instead of refusing to talk to belligerent states, which is a "well, duh" sort of a thing for me, and so good to see in place. Several multinational groups and programs are mentioned and supported (the section is long, so you'll have to go there for more details). An important note is working with East Asian nations to check China.
Nuclear Weapons - Keeping nukes away from terrorists is a good start. A global ban on the production of nuclear materials is interesting, but may feed the black market more than controlled production would. Hopefully, nukes are such a good that can be permanently secured away, but people are really good at getting around restraints. Good objective, though. Sanctions against North Korea and Iran for break the non-proliferation treaty seem a bit late and a bit useless. Working with Russia to reduce stockpiles, halt production, and move away from cold war readiness is a decent move, and made politically viable by his refusal to eliminate a US stockpile so long as nuclear weapons exist.
Building a 21st Century Military - More guys in boots for the Army and the Marines is good. Expanding the National Guard to serve overseas is something I'm opposed to. Adapting the military to new capabilities only makes sense, and restoring trust to soldiers who were sent into battle ill-equipped and untrained (perhaps by equipping and training them?) is sensible.
He makes more good points, the most interesting of which is a Director of National Intelligence insulated from political pressure by having a fixed term. Technocratic but smart.
Oh, and in his last bit about standing by Israel, he mentions missile defense. Gah!

Healthcare - The first part of his program can be boiled down to a "National minimum Healthcare Standard", similar to a minimum wage. This standard will be part of a plan all Americans are welcome to partake of (a plan provided by the government, and will be enforced by a government agency that monitors all health insurance plans and makes sure they hold up to the minimum standard. Employers will have to make meaningful contributions to private insurance plans that exceed the national minimum standard, or they will have to pay into the national plan. Portability (from job to job or to unemployment) will be facilitated by the new agency. Two other important points from the first part of this section: all children have to be covered, by this plan or another, as a matter of law; states are allowed to experiment with healthcare programs, provided the guarantee the federal minimum standard in their coverage.

The second section is focused on modernizing healthcare. Lots of emphasis is placed on the cost-cutting use of information technology, coupled with more complete coverage that can result with everyone operating from the safe information about a patient. There's a piece about reimbursement of insurance companies to help them deal with the costs of a catastrophic illness, provided that the reimbursement is used to make insurance still affordable. The section ends with two statements, one about wanting to break up insurance trusts to foster free-market competition, and one about generic drug accessibility to US consumers, including safe drugs from other countries. The statements about transparency help place trust in the power of consumer choice, and the rest of this section aims to let the free market function so as to greater benefit the consumer while still making the business a viable one. It's a very center-left approach, using government to keep capitalism viable, and making sure that government power, even in guaranteeing such a right as healthcare, serves primarily to regulate and promote competition; that the government provides a standard of healthcare functions more to raise the bare minimum than to substitute government provided goods for privately provided goods.

The last section of his healthcare page is devoted to a series of diverse issues. He covers lots of ground, supporting biomedical research as well as fighting AIDS worldwide, and protecting children from lead and mercury poisoning. What is remarkable about this bit here, though, is the way he addresses disabilities and autism. He mentions his background as a civil rights lawyer, and he connects that to advocacy work for these people, understanding how different things need to be so that these people can "have equal rights and opportunities", and in doing all of this, he treats these people with human dignity.

Homeland Security - While the section could be terrifying, it was instead rather mundane, arguing for protecting chemical plants against terrorist attack, tracking spent nuclear fuel, protecting drinking water, and protecting against radioactive seepage. Run of the mill "yes, lets protect ourselves sensibly" stuff. It also calls for evacuation plans for special needs evacuees (elderly, low-income, disabled, homeless), and for centralized databases to be formed after an emergency so that separated families can reconnect. Simple, sensible, a tad dull.

Immigration - His plan summary is too brief for my tastes. His mention of "additional infrastructure" could be read as fence (which is what I think is intended) but is too vague to know for certain. His notions of making legal immigration easier, faster, and allowing for large families seems sensible. Crackdowns on those who employ illegals will further drive the practice underground, but doesn't seem to me to be a sufficient way to remove the appeal of immigrating illegally. Provisions for "undocumented immigrants who are in good standing" to legally become US citizens are good; the fine, mandatory learning English, and movement to the back of the line for legal immigration are okay, but nothing spectacular, and is probably a move towards moderates and centrists. Promoting economic development in Mexico is a good move, though it ignores the large percentage of illegal immigrants from the rest of Latin America (unless it aims to employ them in Mexico). It's an okay plan, and I'm sure the .pdf fleshes it out more, but on the whole it is more towards the center than I would like. It fits in with a legalistic mindset, although it fails to address those in the nation illegally and in good standing for the duration of becoming a citizen, and it fails to address those in the nation illegally who are not in good standing.

Iraq - What is said here overlaps with the first section I've discussed under "Foreign Policy", so my analysis of his Iraq plan can be found there.

Poverty - This section overlaps (as one would expect) with Economy, Civil Rights, Education, and Energy and the Environment, leading a sensible observer to believe that Obama understands that seemingly simple problems are complex and have complex solutions. Since there is a lot of ground to cover, I'll hit upon the notable points and aim at avoiding redundancy. Federal oversight in urban planning and dollars towards public transportation for low income areas is good. A "Green Jobs Corp" aimed at disadvantaged youth that employs them in energy efficiency fields and features job training is very cool, provided it actually happens. "Promise Neighborhoods", modeled after a program from Harlem, and aimed at providing community support networks for youth in high-crime/high-violence/low academic performance neighborhoods is interesting; like all small model programs proposed by candidates, I am skeptical of its effectiveness and of its genuine benefit to that nation, but the proposal seems solid. No new drawbacks are presented in this section; programs I fin fault with her I have found fault with in sections prior to this one.

Rural - This is another surprising place to find programs for yeoman farmers (Richardson's site being the first), but Obama has a plan to help make being a small farmer more economically viable and competitive. The gist of that is requiring nation of origin labeling on food, allowing for organic certification, promotion of local food networks, and breaking up of farmer-meat packer trusts, which discriminate against independent farmers. Seemingly hypocritically, he is also willing to make it easier for farmers to own meat packing operations. There are also lots of environmental protections included, incentives to make the rural life better (internet, doctors, teachers), and support for biofuels, that latter of which I discuss above in his "green energy" section.

Service - This involves a lot of jobs for youth (and some for retirees). More than tripling the size of AmeriCorps, doubling the PeaceCorp, and creating new service organizations are a large part of his plan here. Also important are 50 mandatory hours of community service/year for middle and high school students, as well as 100 mandatory hours for college students accepting a $4,000 scholarship (mentioned in "Education), and a requirement that at least 25% of college workstudy jobs become service-study. Being someone who chose workstudy tutoring as a job because it was meaningful, and someone annoyed at the lack of civic duty generally found in the population, this stuff is great. Also, it hearkens back to "ask what you can do for your country", and the notion of willing sacrifice to promote change, and these are good things. The approach may be a bit heavy-handed, but given that there seems to be lots of freedom of choice as to what community service is done, it doesn't seem an excessive imposition to me. People won't like it, and its moral imperialism to assume that they should suck it up and do it, but I have to admit, I like the idea.

Seniors and Social Security - He doesn't want to privatize Social Security or raise the retirement age, and he instead wants to increase the maximum amount of income that can be taxed into social security, raising it up from the current, just under 100,000 limit. I'd say abolish the maximum entirely, but certainly raising the limit is a step in the right direction. Reforming corporate bankruptcy law contains gems like "telling companies that they cannot issue executive bonuses while cutting worker pensions", and seems a fairly comprehensive way to place the burden of a companies failure (cost foremost among that burden) on the executives and not the workers. Automatic workplace pensions (that employees can opt-out of) are another good move, and all tax credits offered seem reasonable. Affordable healthcare is key to this segment of the population, so lots of his healthcare reform aims are stated here. Improving the Senior Corps also sounds neat.

Technology - His defense of the internet as free and open and as a democratizing entity is incredible; needless to say, he support net neutrality. He also support net neutrality without saying "net neutrality", and instead explains the debate and why he doesn't support internet providers being allowed to charge sites for faster load times. He genuinely understands the internet, and he likes it, and he wants it to remain as it is. Yay is an understatement.
Encouraging diversity in broadcast media is another good point, though he doesn't say he will break up media conglomerates. Sure would be nice if he did.
Public broadcasting online? Realizing that kids may be on the internet and that it can be beneficial to them? This is fantastic. Optional safety controls, and ratings instead of automatic censorship, put the parenting back in the hands of parents (and not the government), and give parents the tools needed to effectively parent is very good. His whole emphasis on safety without violating the first amendment is all kinds of sensible, and attacking the people who "abuse the internet to exploit children" through increased law enforcement resources is again the sensible way to go.
His protection of privacy is good; his support of "updating surveillance laws and ensuring that law enforcement investigations and intelligence-gathering relating to U.S. citizens are done only under the rule of law" leads me to believe he favors legalizing more forms of surveillance, which is a bit scary.
There's a lot of redundancy with his ethics reform here, as the internet is key in that, but it's more fleshed out, and it's almost tasty.
A person (and, presumably, the appropriate number of underlings) responsible for technology is very good. This office will also allow for both the communication network recommended by the 9/11 commission report and the capacities necessary to avoid many of the Katrina aftermath problems.
Expanded broadband and wireless is good.
The section is gigantic, and lots of it is elaborations of uses of technology touched upon in other sections. The overwhelming point is that he gets technology, and he gets the internet, and he would make sane and sensible polices regarding the internet and technology while protecting freedom of speech and the consumer against abuses by business.

Veterans - Veterans deserve healthcare, and everything our government can offer them to honor them for their service. Special attention paid to mental health and to integration back into civilian life are good. The section is a bit thin on detail, but that's where the .pdf can come in handy.



Barack Obama is a knowledgable individual, whose technocratic vocabulary seems geared to overriding fears about his inexperience. This is a double-edged thing, as it means that he sounds like he knows more than I do (and, to be fair, he almost certainly does), but it also means that I can't adequately analyze a lot, especially in the earlier sections. My impression is that he knows his stuff, and that he is fully capable of drafting and initiating legislation that will be effective; this is the role of a Senator, not a President, but it is valuable knowledge to have, especially when a lot of what a president promises has to be handed to someone else to introduce as a law.

There are some tough sells for me hear, notably on Iraq and Iran, and on security (as mentioned in background statements) and Immigration. I think these polices are too militant, too hard-line and dismissive of the humanity of the people being dealt with. I am, however, won over by the overwhelmingly brilliant ethics reform, and the generally agreeable policies everywhere else. The transparency offered by ethics reform provides for a new check and balance, of voter awareness on corporate campaign donation, and also generally allows for a better government, more responsible to voters. Not everything is as comprehensive as I would like, which probably means that it is doable and even in its present form would have a possible if hard fight through Congress.

Barack Obama is a gifted senator, and in that office would do our nation a great good for as many years as he served. He'd make a keen Attorney General, as his legal mind is sharp. Other offices suit him less, with the exception (as is most relevant here) of the Presidency, where he'd be a principled person with noble ideas and the sense to not expand his own power. Indeed, a lot of what he proposes limits the benefits to elected officials, and it is reassuring to see that politicians exist who are still willing to do that.

For Democratic candidate to the Presidency of the United States of America in 2008, I endorse Barack Obama.