I tried my best.

Yesterday, I tried to do my civic duty to teach my kids about Martin Luther King Day and about the historic event of this Tuesday’s inauguration.

Or, rather, I showed Will a clip of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Response: “Mommy, it looks… old.”  There was another comment, something related to the word “bored” but I’ve blocked it from memory.  We’re focusing on the positive in the Cold Spaghetti household.

Later, after a short description of what will happen tomorrow, I read the kids a book about the Office of President of the United States.

Okay.  What ACTUALLY happened was that I prepared to read them a book about being President.  Then I  waited on Kate while she went through the book herself, refused to share, and spent 2 minutes in time out after she ran away with the book shouting “WILL CAN’T SEE MY BOOK!”   Eventually we all sat down together to read it.

Little Betty Lou from Sesame Street sees the Big Black Car of the President go by and she dreams about all the things she would do if she were President.

Like give speeches to the United Nations.

And fly in Air Force One.

And work in the Oval Office.

And attend the Easter Egg Rolling on the White House Lawn.

And have a penis.

You think I’m joking, but I’m pretty sure I added that last part in, just to make sure they were listening.  And also because we’re all about honesty in this household.

But you know, maybe I’m wrong.  Granted, I’ve felt strongly that we would see an African American man as President before we’d see a woman in the same role.  But it happened so soon, and for a man who is approaching the Presidency from a rational perspective.  It’s wonderful and overwhelming and unbelievable. So unbelievable that everyone seems to believe that this IS a point of change, and that tomorrow, anything is possible.

I wanted my kids to understand that.

Instead, Will asks, “Mommy, is tomorrow a school day?”

“Yes, it is.  But when you come home, we’ll watch the new President speak on the computer.”

“Okay.  But can we play Lego Star Wars first?”


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In support of the S word

The election has much of our attention these days.  The disbelief over the undecided (really, people, grow a pair), the shock over those who think Palin is just the best thing since sliced bread (wow, just… wow).  And now, after all the ‘Obama pals around with terrorists’ and ‘Obama hates white people’ and blahblahblah ridiculousness, the McCain campaign keeps throwing around socialism as if it’s some sort of anti-American voodoo.  Watch out for those socialists, folks.  They spit on apple pie, stomp on the American flag, and really, really hate baseball.

As a socialist, or at least a libertarian socialist, I admit that my feelings are a little bit hurt.  What in the world is so un-American about socialism?

Maybe my left-leanings come from the fact that I grew up in a socialist system: that of the US military.  You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of functional socialism: housing, universal health care, even shopping controlled outside of the ‘civilian’ system (no tax on military bases).   Still, the US military is a bit too authoritative for me; I am more of a fan of respecting individual liberties… which, doggone it, seems pretty much like pro-American values to me.

Of course this house is a pro-Obama house.  (I’m working very hard to hold any further snide comments on that issue.)  But it doesn’t mean that he’s my dream politician.  I am fascinated and excited that he has been able to bring people together, excite youth, and make a jaded grump like me feel that maybe there is a way out of this authoritative tunnel of doom we’ve been on for 8 years (I’d argue we’ve been on it since 1980, but that’s another story.)  The hope I have for the Obama mission of change is that he can slowly turn us around, so that our politics can find middle ground in a place that is truly center.  Then maybe us voodoo-welding anti-American socialists can come out and play.


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Blog Action Day (After)

Yesterday was Blog Action Day AND Love Your Body Day.

Augh!  Both things I wanted to blog about.  If this were back to the excuse letter, I’d say that I was at a Board Meeting last night for a nonprofit serving the under- and un-insured, and well, doesn’t that give me a little slack?  “No,” says the calendar.  Well, I’m not so good with following rules anyway, so here goes.

The theme for Blog Action Day was POVERTY and one of the reasons I felt compelled to write about it today is because of my great disappointment that no one spoke about it during the debate last night.  The issue of poverty is so dear, so important to me that I’ve thrown myself at three degrees, two schools, a hand-full of countries and a ton of work so that I could understand it better.  Here are two posts I’ve written in the past about poverty.  Global poverty — the fact that 1 in every 6 people on the planet lives on less than $1 a day — is one of the most important issues for us to discuss.  It impacts all of the other issues, things like terrorism, health, economics, and environment, that we are so concerned about in this election.

One thing that was discussed in last night’s debate that has A LOT to do with poverty are free trade agreements.  In particular, the candidate’s discussed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which McCain supported and Obama (rightly) did not.  Obama very nicely summed up his reasons for not supporting the agreement: there were no environmental and labor protections in it.  The topic of free trade offers great entree to a discussion on poverty.

A Question: how do the free trade agreements supported and promoted by G8, IMF, WB, and most importantly the U.S. impact global poverty?

Answer: one heck of a lot, and not in a good way.

This article sums up the complex issues, ideologies, and major players very well.  It is an important read, because when summed up quickly and succinctly the bottom line goes something like this: The current form of free trade agreements are structured so that the wealthiest maintain solid advantage and the poorest are forced deeper into poverty.  Patricio Aylwin, former President of the Republic of Chile, said the following at the opening ceremony of the Thirty-first session of the FAO Conference where he was delivering the McDougall Memorial Lecture, in honor of Frank McDougall, one of the founders of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Only poverty has been truly globalized in our age. … The over-praised neo-liberalism and the omnipotent market is a mistaken vision and it is the root cause of some of the most serious problems that afflict us.

Like many issues in global health, poverty, and development, there is no quick soundbite that can completely and accurately sum up the issue without sounding extreme.  In a take-my-word-for-it manner, I can sum it up in this way: free trade agreements offer opportunities and protections for multi-lateral corporations that extend far beyond issues of ‘trade’ (here is a video that discusses some of the non-trade issues involved — transcript); free trade agreements disproportionally impact women; free trade agreements further impoverish the rural poor; free trade is often tied to structural adjustment programs, which push countries deeper into neoliberal economic policies that further cripple their poor populations; and finally, that the economic ideologies that dominate World Bank, IMF, and G8 policies are misguided and misreported.  I included a few links that I felt offered relatively short and concise insight into those issues, although the true reading list into these issues is much greater in both length and density.

Instead of offering an economic debate (I spent a good 10 pages of my doctoral comprehensive exams on this, if you are really desperate on my own words), I thought I’d offer a personal account.

When I was working in Honduras in 2003 and 2004, I spent a lot of time traveling to remote villages in the mountains to talk to parteras (traditional birth attendants).  Many of these meetings were pre-arranged, with parteras coming from even more remote areas to gather supplies and attend the trainings and focus groups we conducted.  It was common for us to bring bags of USAID grain along for the ride to be distributed in these areas… bags of USAID grain, which had been grown and processed in the United States, and then shipped to remote farming communities in Honduras which were surrounded by fields of grain and legumes.  What was happening???  Well, the value of the food those farmers were producing had dropped considerably.  Families were forced to sell all that they could grow into order to survive… which meant that they had less food than they needed to live on.  So although they were growing food, they had to sell more and more of what they grew in order to survive — and in very real terms, one season of drought could literally destroy their family.  Their poverty wasn’t just a hard life, it was a live-or-die situation.  The economic forces of structural adjustment and free trade amounted to growth in the country’s export, yes — because families had to produce more in order to compete.  But at the cost of their own health and well-being.  International trade advocates and financial institutions would call this situation a success because of the increase in export goods. The cost to the poor is not part of their equation.

Delivering those bags was a huge reason I decided to go for the PhD in International Health and Development.  I realized in a very real and personal way that the ways in which we approached Global health and issues of poverty were skewed unfairly, and as a citizen of the United States, I felt obligated to at least try and do something about it.

Here are some pictures of us at a clinic delivering those bags in the mountains of north central Honduras (note the “USA” visable on the bags).

Following the lead of Alejna, who got it from Magpie, I will donate $2 to the International Forum on Globalization for every comment made on this post in the next 3 days (until Sunday at midnight — just in case others are late on this, too).

A day late, but better late than never.


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Obama the Plagiarizer.

All those rumors about Obama plagiarizing are true. He has most certainly been plagiarizing. His catchy phrase, “Yes We Can,” is lifted directly from Bob the Builder. No word on whether Bob is pressing charges, although Lofty threated a suit if Obama used, “Uh… yeah, I think so!


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Vote Obama

Though I arrived shortly after 8am, had a friend in line not spotted me, I may not have made it in. As it was, we got in on the tail end and were rewarded with fabulous seats opposite from the speaker’s podium and high enough above the media throng to take it all in.

Boy, that man can talk. I was impressed.

I’m too cynical to be an Apostle, but have no doubt that he’s been my choice since Edwards dropped out of the race. After hearing him speak, I may have even been swayed to his camp even if Edwards had stayed in. Maybe. He’s not my vision of the perfect candidate, but of the playing field he’s the best candidate hands down. I only hope he can do even a piece of what he promises.

He promised a lot: 100-year storm protection starting in 2011*; restoration of wetlands and barrier islands; no cronyism in Federal Government positions; FEMA director a nonpolitical position (similar to the Director of the Federal Reserve); tax incentives for businesses opening in rebuilding areas; a six month turn-around for Road Home applicants; a new city hospital and new Vets hospital; loan forgiveness for MDs willing to serve here; speeding up $58m approved in Congress to rebuild schools; $250m for teacher programs to give bonuses and incentives for teachers to come here for 3-year positions; college tuition tax credits each year of college; and educational systems that embrace all learning (arts, music, dance, poetry). Phew!

The stump speech was strong; followed with his contract — “we will invest in you, and you will invest in us.” It was stirring, motivational, and exciting. He made me forget how much optimism has been beaten out of me and for a minute, really think that the world he envisions is maybe, possibly… possible?

Some may have thought I’d be on the Clinton bandwagon, since she’s the female in the race. Not so. For one, she’s a Republican. She votes for war, she stood by her husband’s disastrous “reform” of welfare, and she went soft on universal health care. Second, I am constitutionally adverse to supporting the continued control of the Executive Branch of our government by two families into a third decade. Third, black men voted, served in the U.S. Senate, and were elected in the House of Representatives before women, so I figure electing a black man into the White House before a woman just falls in line with our traditions (okay, this is glib, but it’s still sort of an interesting bit of history). If I needed another reason, Ann Coulter may be endorsing Clinton and while I am all for the Kumbuyah mentality, I can not ever see a day when supporting anything Coulter endorses is a good thing. For other reasons to vote Obama and not Clinton, read this.

*I swear I heard him say 2011, following his saying that we “can’t gamble” the protection of New Orleans, but I’m not sure my ears can be trusted. For a minute, I heard the crowd shout “Let’s Pretend” and then “Let’s Begin” before figuring out that the clamor was actually the words “Yes We Can,” the official Obama fan shout.

UPDATE: Read Obama’s speech HERE. Really, read it. It’s worth it.


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