Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 questions, 10 minutes, every 10 years! Do it!

Need more information? http://2010.census.gov/

Get on it! If you don't, you're stealing from your neighbors!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Crazy people and airplanes...

The events of the last day are the inevitable byproduct of a maliciously paranoid undercurrent that is sewn into the fabric of the United States. We are a country founded on the principal of mistrust and the violent throwing off of the oppression of the many by the privileged few. Anthony Joseph Stack was deranged and he perverted what is otherwise the noble underpinnings of our country to fit his selfish and self-centered interests. He was not a martyr. He did not die for a noble cause. He is NOT Samuel Adams!

Every year a study is released that rates the happiest countries in the world. Every year the United States scores disproportionately low based on its relative wealth. Every year my other home country, Denmark, scores at the top. Why? Denmark has an oppressive and ├╝ber-progressive tax system that takes a significantly larger bite out of the ass of entrepreneurial minded people (like Stack purported to being). In their piece on the happiness study 60 Minutes interviewed a Danish college student. They asked him why Danes were so happy. His reply was in essence; low expectations. They asked him why he thought Americans are so unhappy relatively speaking. His reply was fascinating and incredibly astute. The American Dream, he replied. Americans have too much faith in this Dream that we will all and are all entitled to wealth, to a car (preferably two), a house that we own, unlimited natural resources (water, gas, electricity), unlimited credit, and unlimited opportunity. The truth is, the Dream is opportunity, not a promise. We view it as a birth right, taken for granted, not something sought through hard work. It lets most of us down, in the end.

In comparison to the United States, there are very few extremely wealthy people in Denmark, taxes are much higher, but also, no one goes without health care, is left destitute if they lose their job. Danes know that their kids, whether raised in a working class family or an upper class family, have access to quality education and the opportunity to go far and find a career that will enable them to raise their kids in relative comfort. This is, I believe, never taken for granted in Denmark.

I digress from the events in Austin, but I think it is all pertinent. Americans value, above all else, individualism! In America the belief is you can go as far as your individual ability can take you. If you falter, though, you’re on your own. In Denmark there is a genuine sense that the collective good is in the best interests of all.

This isn’t to say that Americans are not generous. We open our hearts and wallets when events happen around the world, like with the earthquake in Haiti. But I think American generosity is also rooted in our individualism. We do not believe that it is our government’s job to act out our generosity. We prefer that come from the individual or the micro-group (such as churches or nonprofits).

I have a couple of favorite quotes that both stem from the progressive movement that started in this country during the Great Depression.

The first is from LBJ: “I know that government cannot resolve all problems. It cannot make them happy or bring them spiritual fulfillment. But it can attempt to remedy the public failures which are at the root of so many human ills.” It is amazing how not in touch with the pulse of America this statement is.

The second is from FDR during a signing ceremony for a piece of New Deal legislation, he said: “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” President Roosevelt was calling for bold experimentation by government to try to address the social ills of the Great Depression.

LBJ came into politics in large measure because of FDRs populist New Deal. The former quote is certainly from the same spirit as the latter. What is amazing is how the progressive movement was born in this country, pulled us back from the brink and then was strangled to death and blamed for all that ills our country.

Stack hated the Internal Revenue Service. He blamed them for his inability to amass wealth. He blamed big business for getting advantages that he as an individual and small business owner never had access to. The harsh truth for us all is that he isn’t wrong. Deeply troubled? Yes. Unjustified? Yes. But not entirely unfounded. Our government is broken. Only 13% of Americans approve of our Congress. Only 17% trust the government. This is information that flows to the people from the media. I wonder, though, if we don’t approve of Congress, why do so few of us vote? Asking people if they trust the government is a form of manipulative “push” polling. I would have to count myself in the group of the 83% of Americans that doesn’t, to one degree or another, trust the government. I never trust the government. As Congressman Barney Frank said at a town hall meeting; “Don’t trust the government. You’re an American, who ever told you to trust the government.” The better question might be: do you actively distrust the government? I would bet the number would be smaller, though not as much as I might like.

The truth is, our political system is broken. Unfortunately we tar “government” with the sins of our elected officials. Most government employees are just hard working people trying to make a difference. Truly noble! Our politicians are, by and large, scoundrels. Congress is a dysfunctional mess and it really doesn’t matter which Party runs it. When the Republicans are in charge they spend all their time drowning government in Grover Norquist’s bathtub. When Democrats are in charge they spend all their time pulling it out again. Nothing ever gets done.

Some might think that this proves the conservative maxim that small and limited government is better. It absolutely doesn’t prove that. This seesaw approach to government was deliberately designed by conservatives to create that impression in the minds of Americans, and it has worked. Unfortunately for conservatives, it hasn’t helped Republicans much. They are more hated than Democrats and it has created a splinter group on their right fringe. The Tea Party hurts Republicans much more than it hurts Democrats, and if the Democrats survive the midterm election intact it will be in large measure because of the Tea Party.

As my father pointed out to me the other day as I was complaining to him about the Democratic Party, they have always been more a governing coalition of more than one party. That is why it is so hard to control them and get bills passed. To be a Democrat is to accept that our Party includes, liberals, social democrats, fiscal conservatives, hawks and others. Like it or not, Democrats have decided that it is better to have Barney Frank and Ben Nelson seeking compromise together than have multiple parties pushed aside by the lock step Republicans.

Now we see the solid coalition in the GOP is fracturing too. I think ultimately the GOP will end up as a party of the Center-Right, but I wouldn’t bet against them veering too the right.

Either way, until we find a way to grow together regardless of ideology and all believe that we are one community, one society full of diversity; the Stacks of the world will regrettably always exist.

Friday, February 12, 2010

And the Chronicle responds...

Because I am a firm believer in presenting responses to my occasional incoherent ranting, here is a response from Michael King, the News Editor of the Austin Chronicle, which was posted on the Chronicle website 90 minutes after my comments.


"P*** E***, who modestly neglects to identify himself as a policy aide to a county commissioner, couldn't possibly have any 'political' reasons (horrors!) for supporting Daniel Bradford. As for the Chronicle, since we didn't endorse E's choice, the only possible explanations are ignorance, recklessness, or ill motives. It couldn't possibly be that we simply disagree. This line of argument may be emotionally satisfying to E, but it hardly serves his candidate, 'Daniel.'"


I find several things of note in this reply. First, it was very fast and very defensive! Second, he refers to me as modest and those of you that know me I think would agree that modest isn't a word that describes me very well. I did not hide my identity. My username on the Chronicle is "peinhorn" after all (it doesn't take Robert Langdon to unlock that secret code). I did not state my occupation because I was not speaking in an official capacity. I, like most Americans, would like to believe that I am capable and allowed to form opinions of my own that I can, when not at work, contribute to the body politic.

I don't ever speak for Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt on politics (or anything else) to the press. This is because, first, she speaks forcefully and capably for herself. In addition, as her Policy Director I don't work on politics, but rather on issues (something Mr. King scorns as "pompous" in his explanation of how the Chronicle decides who to endorse). I am not naive. I concede that there is politics involved in what I do, but it absolutely never includes electoral politics. Never. A journalist worth their paycheck would probably know that about me, since he bothered to determine who I am (investigative reporting at its most crafty, since I gave my name and phone number when I submitted my comments).

No, my comments weren't some super secret way of communicating Commissioner Eckhardt's support for Daniel Bradford, or mine really (since I live in JP Precinct 3). My comments were more focused on a badly written and badly justified endorsement. If those comments offended Mr. King, I certainly do apologize. If they stung, then there must be some level of truth in them.

My comments, bitchy in their own right, were me sticking up for a friend. A friend that I believe ought to win, but I believe that determination should be made by the men and women of Precinct 1 based on issues, not cynical rhetoric. I did it and I would never hesitate to do it again!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Letter to the Editor of the Austin Chronicle on their endorsements

It seems that the Chronicle is not fully informed on the issues that Justices of the Peace face. In your endorsement of Ms. Williams (JP 1) you reference her experience in civil litigation and her experience as an associate municipal judge, but make no reference to whether she has a grasp of the issues facing the office for which she is running.

Meanwhile Daniel’s experience is belittled, but he is the only candidate who actually works for Travis County, knows the idiosyncratic inner workings of the odd beast which is county government, knows how the county budget process works, and understands (as a former Commissioners Court staffer) how to foster cooperation between the counties many players. Your endorsement references a statement from his website where he refers to “being a young lawyer among ‘entrenched bureaucrats.’” It is unfortunate that this quote is left dangling there. The point, which is completed in the next sentence is: “I have made a place for myself as someone who gets things done, success that I owe to being able to think outside the box, by having a solid knowledge of the law and the good humor to overcome old-school beliefs to get my ideas heard.”

On the campaign trail Daniel routinely discusses the need for technological innovation in an office that is regarded as the least technologically savvy of the JP offices. The case management system used by the JPs, called FACTS, faces massive challenges. Perhaps it would have been worth considering which candidate was better placed to oversee the updates and upgrades to this vital system.

I never hear Yvonne Williams discussing any original ideas for innovation and thus find your statement that both represent “some of the best young energy of Austin…” to be doubly odd when Daniel Bradford (35) is visibly more at ease discussing technological solutions than Yvonne Williams (55).

I think that when endorsing for more political offices it might be acceptable to rate candidates on intangibles, but when one is dealing with a judicial office like JPs (because it is very much an administrative position), I believe it is important to understand the issues fully or you risk being reckless in your endorsements. You wield immense influence over a segment of the voting population. Instead of pretending that you understand the issues or endorsing based on politics, you should simply not endorse.