Friday, September 2, 2011

Glory: A Poem

 I dedicate this poem to my incredible and wonderful husband Brent, who is also the father of our two sweet and beautiful daughters.


before our babies
came to us i
cloaked myself in gull feathers, dune grass, and seaweed
the dog and i together guzzling
the scents of the sea.

then, there was that night
all the blood of our little Quinn
went into the toilet and the cat
curled up on my belly,
helping us say goodbye.

after that my cloaks were dust
falling from my shoulders
and the water from the fountain near the pier
became a tonic
for the immeasurable.

then, there was that morning
when unbelievably, again, perhaps.

each day became a prayer, a mantra, a salvation
pruning and weeding all day then
picking up the dog and walking her home
planning our future as three instead of two.

and there she was, my little fish
flipping and flapping out into the world,
filled with the promise of the waves, and the salt, and the stone.

and then later, again.
in the morning instead of the night,
within seconds we would have been five, then we were four again,
and then.

the second joined his brother, leaving us three again.

then the night came in like a tide,
washing away so much
i hardly could imagine
what might not be crushed
under the darkened sky.

then it came,
that one more morning,
so quiet and precious this little treasure
she remained secret until she could no longer

and again there were plans
and mantras
and charms of protection.

then suddenly there she was, our little bird
slipping out so quietly
so perfectly,

and now
i cloak myself again
and there are feathers, and seaweed, and dune grass
but also rocks, little words, and wind
and glory,
oh so much glory
in this sun, this sea, this world
that gives
and yields
and offers

waves turning, rolling, breaking
turning, rolling, breaking.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Oh Goody.

More bigotry as a response to social unrest, as PM Cameron says "... it's not about poverty, it's about culture". But since when is poverty separate from the culture in which it exists? Of course I'm not excusing criminal behavior. However, acting as if cultural violence and disrespect for authority are somehow inexplicably passed down in a vacuum, and pretending that social injustice has no part, or perhaps doesn't even exist, will not help matters in the least.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Thomas Hoenig
The issue of "easy money" is getting some attention from someone within the fed, and he's making his position known.

The issue of the savers subsidizing the borrowers is an important one, and one that I hope will get more and more attention. Thank you, Thomas Hoenig.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Struggle

Over the past few weeks I've been paying closer and closer attention to the debt talks. I voted for Obama in 2008, and expect I will again in 2012. Though I haven't agreed with everything he's done, and would have hoped for him to be less yielding in some negotiations, I've also admired his commitment to bipartisan negotiation and compromise, which I think is a good healthy approach to take over the long haul. The health care overhaul, for example, contains several Republican ideas, despite the current GOP characterization of it. I've also felt that Obama has done an excellent job overall in the face of huge pressures, including, unfortunately, GOP intransigence. Today, he walked out of a meeting, angry and apparently fed up.

America's Debt Ceiling: Finding the Republicans' Golden Ratio
Well, I'm fed up too, and I felt very sad when I heard the President had walked out of the meeting. Not because he abandoned the negotiations, but because I felt for him - felt how deeply upset he must have been to do that, while saying "This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield" on making a short term debt ceiling deal. The GOP has made it abundantly clear that they want Obama to be a one term president, and that they will do whatever they have to, including putting the U.S. economy in even deeper jeopardy than it is already. Even The Economist and David Brooks think the spectacle is crossing a line, and I hope we the people hold them accountable in 2012.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sometimes Twitter... so surreal. Here is a screen shot of my twitter feed as of about 15 minutes ago:

While someone in British Columbia is being threatened with jail for growing vegetables, a mining company is preparing to mine under a school in West Virginia. The mind boggles, truly.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nowhere to Go

A few weeks ago I got an email from a neighborhood listserv I belong to, informing subscribers that a local non-profit has plans of constructing 75 units of permanent housing for currently homeless people right across the street from our house. 47 steps, to be exact. (According to my very logical and exacting husband, who counted earlier today.) Downtown Emergency Service Center, or DESC, is an award winning provider of services to homeless people that follows the "housing first" philosophy, which basically means getting people into homes first and then helping them get their lives together, instead of expecting folks to somehow get their lives together in order to prove themselves worthy of a home.

My first reaction, my initial emotional reaction, was a feeling of pride, one of feeling honored to be chosen to host these people, people without a place, people who need to be welcomed into a community. I know this sounds odd, perhaps even unbelievable, that this would be my feeling. Growing up, both my parents instilled in me a deep sense of caring for others, by the example they set in their lives both at work and with friends. My father would drop everything to help a friend; if someone needed an emergency plumber, mechanic, or engineer, my father was one of several men in our neighborhood who would come over and help. He also cooked spaghetti for many a neighborhood fundraising dinner, and when Brent and I along with some friends started a non-profit arts center, both my parents came out from the Midwest to help clean the space for the grand opening.

After leaving teaching, my mother started her career as a real estate agent selling vacant homes to low income people and veterans. Later, after graduating from law school and joining the Minnesota bar, she worked as an advocate with the Children's Defense Fund, lobbying and doing research. After that she worked for the state and in the private sector in structuring child support systems, and then a few years ago was appointed by the Governor of Minnesota to lead the state's initiative to end homelessness. Currently she's doing the same thing she was doing for the state only for a private non-profit called Heading Home Minnesota.

That's not the full story, though. They weren't the only bleeding hearts in the neighborhood. One of our neighbors and close family friends, in fact, once took in a homeless family and allowed them to live in his garage (until the man of the homeless family started telling him what to do, and then, as neighborhood legend has it, the man of the family that took them in said "This is MY castle, and I'M king!" And kicked them out.) We lived in an "inter-racial" (read poor and primarily African-American) neighborhood, minority white home owners with many other Kumbaya white folks on our block and surrounding blocks.

My parents and their friends were on a mission, and though I had some hard times as the "white girl" in my neighborhood, I've come not only to respect that mission but somewhat to share it as well. Now, my family lives in a similar neighborhood in Seattle, though it is more multi-ethnic than where I grew up and we live right on the busy, disreputable street rather than a couple blocks off of it as I did growing up. We moved here because we found a house we liked with affordable rent, and though we've wanted to live other places and sometimes still do, we've grown to love the neighborhood and the people in it, warts and all.

The project that is (probably) going in across the street will be serving mentally ill and/or drug addicted folks who are coming in off the streets. These are the people that most of us pass by in disgust, they are the "untouchables", the repellent pee smelling people who mutter to themselves, or perhaps accost us as we walk past with vile, hate filled words. I won't say "we" - I - have tried not to see these people. I am repulsed, frightened, sometimes even rageful. But, when I'm busing around town with my daughters, we come across many of these forgotten souls. And what I've noticed is, my daughters are not automatically repelled. They see these people as just other people, and engage with them the same way they would with anyone. That recognition brought me to a decision. I would teach my children to see everyone as a person, an individual deserving of respect, dignity, and compassion. But that doesn't mean just being nice all the time to everyone no matter what. Children see clearly, and also have no filters. When my older daughter doesn't like someone she makes it very well known, and I let her take the space she needs if she doesn't want to interact with someone. But she's not picking up on whether a person smells like pee, or has a drug problem, or looks disheveled - she picks up on the energy of the person.

Also, as a Zen Buddhist, I live my life continually reflecting my feelings and thoughts back onto myself. Compassion and non-judgement are my primary spiritual tasks, and I am continually looking for opportunities to exercise and practice these skills. Being presented with 75 people who might disgust or repel me is a great spiritual opportunity.

DESC Website
Last night there was a meeting at the library down the street in which the Executive Director of DESC presented the project. I wasn't there but read this article about the meeting, and Brent did stop by but the space was completely packed and he couldn't hear the proceedings so he left. But apparently it became, in parts, a shouting match between neighbors for and against the project. All day I've been feeling down about this acrimony, even though it isn't a surprise. Perhaps I'm naive, or full of myself, or both, but all the hoopla about property values, possible sexual predators, "bad neighbors", and this neighborhood "not being in a place" to be able to support these people just seems really beside the point to me. To me it is about people. Not an abstract concept of people, but actual people. People who need somewhere to go. But they don't only need a place to live. They need a place in someone's heart. They need to be seen. Perhaps my neighborhood will become that place, and perhaps I and my neighbors can be those people. I hope.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Pull of Gravity: A Short Review

The Pull of GravityThe Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a sweet, wonderful story of friendship, love, and the internal battles of growing up and finding one's center in a difficult and bewildering world. Polisner's prose is modern and easy to read, yet tight and extremely well crafted. There are no excess words or "glazed over" paragraphs here. One of my favorite parts of this book is how Polisner weaves Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" into the story, making it an excellent teaching companion in the classroom. When my daughters first read "Of Mice and Men", I will definitely have them read "The Pull of Gravity" along side it, whether their teacher assigns it or not.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 17, 2011

This is It

Now. Now is the time that is so precious. Certainly this is always true no matter the circumstances, but never is it so pronounced as when one watches one's children grow up. Last night Brent and I sat together watching the girls while dinner was cooking... Willow, 4, in her underwear singing made up songs and waving her dress like a flag, Grace, 14 months, practicing her walking and talking. The kitchen still had remnants of breakfast, there were paintings, clothes, and shoes all over the floor. In these times, when the children are so young, chaos reigns. One can't make coffee before it's time to change a diaper, settle a dispute, set up paints, or answer a million questions. Grace will stand and think about walking, then decide (again) to crawl. Willow learns new words constantly. The growth and change literally happens before our eyes. Then there are the milestones: the first word, the first step, the first drop-off at day care or preschool, kindergarten. Graduation from kindergarten. Then from elementary school, then middle, then high school, then college... children become adults, stop changing (at least externally) moment by moment. The heart breaks open, grows, finds a new equilibrium.

I've heard this quote often at our co-op preschool, but I don't know who said it: "The days are long but the years are short." Last night was one of those times when I could see that so clearly, could feel the unfolding of time and the fullness of the moment. Indeed, yes. The days are long, but the years are short.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Philosophy 102

On the Media: Does NPR Have A Liberal Bias?
I find the whole thing about "does NPR have a liberal bias" to be rather funny. The fact is, the search for truth is inherently a liberal pursuit. Conservative thinking is all about knowing the truth. No one knows the truth like FOX News. No one seeks the truth and attempts to give it context like NPR.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Union Banks?

Just read this article at Firedog Lake, and thought it was an interesting idea that probably wouldn't go anywhere. But then I saw this article posted on a friends page. Maybe there really is momentum for union owned banks, the implications of which could be very far reaching.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gutting the EPA

What I'm Reading Right Now
Idaho Representative Mike Simpson has it all backwards, saying that the EPA is "...costing jobs in this country." But this assumes that our economy is working at peak efficiency, which it is not. Millions are out of work, and yet there is plenty of work to be done: bridges need mending, sewers need modernizing, children need teaching. Representative Simpson also said today on NPR that he has not gotten many calls complaining about the GOP plan to cut the EPA budget by 1/3. These budget cuts would have a direct effect on public health, making our water and air dirtier and adding more pollutants such as mercury into the atmosphere.

If you care about your health, the health of your neighbors, or the health of your children, give Mike Simpson a call tomorrow, and tell him you disapprove of his plan to gut the EPA. Remind him there are perhaps billions to be found by reducing or eliminating inefficient, inequitable, and disastrous fossil fuel subsidies. I'm sure he'll be glad to hear from you.

Representative Mike Simpson, 2nd District of Idaho, can be reached at: 202-225-5531

Saturday, February 26, 2011

First, Do No Harm.

C'mon Obama, get with the program. At least instruct your guy Kerlokowski to focus on harm reduction rather than bullying the editorial boards of local newspapers.

Is There a Trojan Horse in Wisconsin?

I'm not much of a fan of conspiracy theories. So the conspiratorial part of this article isn't really the point to me. However, there's a little piece of Wisconsin's contentious budget bill that may be even worse for the people of Wisconsin than busting the unions: the potential sale of state owned power plants, without any public input or oversight:

begins on the bottom of page 23:

44. 16.896 of the statutes is created to read:
16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the
department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may
contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without
solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best
interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or
certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to
purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is
considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification
of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

The fight over Senate Bill 11 is not about the money. It's about who controls the future of Wisconsin, and it seems clear Governor Walker doesn't intend for it to be the people of Wisconsin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Turn It Upside Down

Over the past generation, we've heard over and over again about how people pay too much in taxes, how it cripples the economy and productivity, and how in a free society we ought to be able to spend our money how we want.

I think it's time, as we enter into serious discussions about the role and scope of government for a new era, that we turn this argument on it's head. Let's get real about what we want government to do, the services we expect it to perform (libraries? public schools? parks? police? firefighters and emergency responders?), and figure out how to pay for it. There are no doubt extras we don't need and efficiencies to be found, but I think most folks would like government's role to be what it has been, for the most part: creating the infrastructure and context in which people of all means and backgrounds can have great opportunity to live fulfilling lives. If we are going to do this, we must realize that it's time to pay for it... and that all of us get much more for our taxes than anyone would care to admit.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Difference a President Makes

Yes, there are contradictions. Yes, there are still many problems to be confronted. But in case you were wondering about the difference between a center-right president and a right-of-right-wing president, here you have a good illustration:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Obama's Tax Cut Position: A Strategic Retreat

This post was begun on December 7, 2010, before the tiff between Obama and some progressives reached its conclusion. Interestingly, we have not heard much yet this year from progressives with regard to tax policy and moving the economy forward. It would seem now is a good time to draw the terms of debate in more progressive terms. Perhaps, though, the progressives in Congress are plumb worn out from their fight last year.

Here we go again, fighting amongst ourselves over which battles to fight. I really don't think this is the right time, although as progressives band together and fight for a better deal, I wonder whether I'm right.

I really agree with President Obama that we need to have a detailed discussion of what our national priorities are going forward, and how we're going to pay for them. We need to update and streamline the tax system and make it more progressive. We need to look at our educational system, from Kindergarten to post graduate, and how to allow access to a decent education and opportunities for everyone. We need to discuss how to approach our looming environmental and energy crises. If we are going to dedicate resources toward our future, one that is just as well as comfortable, we need to delve into a whole host of issues that all our partisan wrangling has served to help us avoid. This cannot be done in a month.

If we spend the next month fighting for a different tax cut deal that includes the extension of unemployment benefits, and win, that's great, but then the really important discussion probably won't happen. The American people will think it's all been settled, and we'll once more have papered over a whole host of problems without discussing the real issues, and no one will have the interest or the energy for a national conversation starting next year.

On the other hand, I'm hearing progressives in congress like Representatives McDermott and Inslee, and Senator Bernie Sanders, say that if we just allow the cuts to expire then we go into the next session with a good negotiating position, since the Republicans have placed a lot of political capital on the idea of keeping the tax cuts for everyone, including the upper income brackets. I think this is a reasonable position, however, by going this route we put the extension of unemployment benefits at risk, which is both unjust and poor economic policy. And as I said, even if we did win that too, if we really pushed it and twisted some arms on both sides of the aisle, all that pushing and arm twisting has a price. We'll all be done by January, congratulating ourselves and glad we got the good deal, but it's still just a band aid.

I realize there won't be as many Democrats, in Congress next year, but it isn't that important. According to Gallup, most people in the U.S. think we ought to end the tax cuts on the top income earners, and some think we need to end all the tax cuts. The group thinking we need to end only the cuts at the top, however, is shrinking. And the reality is, there will need to be both spending cuts and tax increases in the future if we are going to balance the budget. Tax rates at all income levels are lower than they need to be if we want to pay for all the services people demand. We as a nation need to use the next two years to really dialogue and lay out our core values going forward. No one will get everything they want. Democrats and progressives need to get together and decide what is sacrosanct and where we're willing to compromise. This seems to be a weak point for the left in this country: every issue is the most important issue, and no issue can be compromised. We absolutely must look at the big picture right now and decide what three or four things will push us into the future in a way that allows democracy and opportunity to flourish. The first step, I think, is to let this deal go through, even as we hammer out our priorities in preparation for the battles ahead.

Throw the Bums Out: Negative Campaigning and the Deterioration of the Electorate

Of course a few political dramas have already happened since the election, but I've been thinking a lot about it and the dynamics of our political culture. I'm not going to pick apart the campaigns, or analyze the results and say it's a mandate, or it's not a mandate, or what the lessons are to be learned politically from the recent midterm elections. What I'm interested in are the lessons we can learn philosophically from the 2010 midterms, and from that point the practical implications can reveal themselves.

In my reading and listening to some analysis, and talking and thinking about the elections, I've had some revelations that I hope can help move our political culture toward a new place and begin rebuilding our national dialogue into something constructive instead of the fractious mess it's become.

Negative campaign ads have become a major fixture in politics over the past generation. There was a time when national campaign ads were halting, low budget affairs not much more sophisticated than the proverbial high school campaign speech. Those days are long gone, however, and since the advent of cable, the internet, and the 24 hour on demand news cycle, it takes a lot more than a talking head in front of a blue screen to get anyone's attention.

Enter negative campaign ads. They're sensational, attention grabbing, and seem to draw out the differences between candidates. Of course they're often also ludicrous, untruthful, and focused on irrelevancies like the Rand Paul "Aqua Buddha" controversy. Adding fuel to the already enormous fire, the Citizen's United decision handed down earlier this year struck down prohibitions on corporations (either for or non-profit) and unions issuing "electioneering communications", opening the floodgates and resulting in huge increases in political spending and advertising, much of it negative.

So, during the heat of a campaign, the electorate is treated to a non-stop onslaught of ads which basically say "do anything in the world except vote for that guy." There is less and less substance, less and less of "vote for me because", and more and more "not that guy". Such intense negativity prevents the development of constructive ideas about how we might address our myriad problems (deteriorating environment, high and persistent unemployment, stagnant wages, outdated infrastructure, poor public schools, mushrooming debt), and "we the people" are left with lots of resentful energy but very little actual information about which candidate would most reflect our values. This kind of climate not only breaks down our ability to discuss and decide issues thoughtfully, but it leads to a high level of dissatisfaction and distrust in government itself. Thus, in every election we "throw the bums out", and when those bums don't seem to be doing their job, we throw them out to make room for the next round.

At the same time, something interesting has happened with political strategy. The Republicans, playing to what they saw as their base, energized that "base" so well that a whole new group of folks has gotten involved in politics, blossoming into the Tea Party movement. Meanwhile (New) Democrats have been busy courting "swing" voters, trying to win over those elusive centrists who can never seem to make up their minds. Both strategies have led to electoral victories, leaving the pundits to argue endlessly over which strategy is better for a particular campaign. However, both strategies have also resulted in the two major parties losing their way philosophically, and neither party any longer seems to stand for anything much. This apparent lack of a strong belief system, a set of values which will not be compromised, has not only eroded the public's confidence but also damaged the ability of elected officials to govern and make policy.

This should, perhaps, come as no surprise. We have recently entered not only into a new century but a new millennium, which is often heralded by chaos and unrest. With the economic system having come dangerously close to collapse, and the long term survival of the natural environment as we know it in question, everything seems to be up for grabs. All these thoughts were roiling in my head when my mother sent me this article, about the drama of the baby boomers and how they visit it upon the rest of us. This sense of everything being up for grabs is not new: the peace and justice movements of the 60s and 70s, led by some of the same people now battling in the halls of Congress, led to things like Roe v. Wade, the Civil Rights Act and the desegregation of schools. But one person's hard won victory is another person's devastating loss, and though many of us have thought of those battles as over and done, some of the folks who lost back then are back on the political stage demanding a do-over. The baby boomers argued bitterly over the meaning and direction of our United States of America back in their college days not only with their parents, but with each other, and now I believe we're witnessing those college arguments come back to life. Since the baby boom generation has come of age, though instead of playing out in the streets they're playing out on the radio waves, on television, and in the halls of Congress

So what's the answer to ending this absurd drama? I believe there is a very simple, yet difficult solution. Be principled, but kind. Stop reacting instantly to everything we see and hear. Take a step back. Each of us needs to think clearly about our own principles, to research the issues and find our own way through the muck, and to know and stand in our own values. Don't worry so much about the other guy, and quit working on layers and layers of assumptions. Instead, be clear about what's important for you and work to make your own vision a reality. Join groups doing work you admire, and bring your individual influence to bear with your elected officials. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that things will just automatically change because we as individuals begin to talk clearly with each other and search for solutions instead of endlessly dramatizing the problems. But I am suggesting that a democracy is only as strong as its citizenry; we are the ones who will find lasting and peaceful solutions to our problems. This is the path toward  the "more perfect union" we seek.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Extending the Moment of Silence

On Saturday, Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were shot. Six people died, including a 9 year old girl. Today, Monday, two days later, there has already been much talk about who is to blame, given the apparent politically charged nature of these acts allegedly committed by Jared Loughner. People on the left are blaming Palin, her crosshairs, and other pundits such as Limbaugh for their angry and violent rhetoric. People on the right are saying Mr. Loughner is the only one to blame, his actions have nothing to do with anyone's rhetoric, and that the left has been just as angry and violent in their rhetoric.

Today President Obama announced a moment of silence at 11am EST. I am calling on all the pundits across the political spectrum to turn this moment of silence into a day of peace and perhaps some real soul searching. In a time when even the smallest private action or statement can be magnified and broadcast across the world, each of us needs to think a little harder about the things we say and do. We have been tearing ourselves and each other apart, and this tragedy seems to me a wake up call. Let's not make this one more battle ground for our personal vendettas and viewpoints. Let's extend this moment of silence into a day of peace and reflection instead; across the airwaves and in our own lives.