Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Indian summer

We now take a brief pause in the political rantings to look at cute pictures of the kids:

Pure joy

Bike girl & her dad


Silly kids

Those are legos clutched in B's hands


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PSA #5: Energy

Barack Obama on energy
John McCain on energy

It's a little harder to do this one point-by-point, because the two candidates' websites don't address exactly the same issues. I'm going to try though.

Gas Prices

He wants to provide short-term relief to American families by:
- enacting a windfall profits tax on the oil & gas industry in order to fund a $1,000 Emergency Energy Rebate for American families
- cracking down on energy speculation
- using oil from the strategic preserves to help bring down prices.

- He supports the current investigation Congress is conducting into energy speculation, and thinks we should punish any abuses that turns up. He also advocates reforming the laws governing the oil futures market so that they have the same degree of clarity and effectiveness as the laws governing stocks, bonds and other financial instruments.
- McCain opposes a windfall tax on oil companies.

Dependence on Foreign Oil

His goal is to save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined within the next 10 years, thus relieving us of the need to import oil from these sources. Obama would:
- increase fuel economy standards
- get 1,000,000 built-in-America plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015
- create a new $7,000 tax credit for purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles
- reduce the level of carbon in our fuel by 10% by 2020, and phase 60 billion gallons of biofuels into our fuel supply by 2030
- require oil companies to develop & use the 68 million acres of land (40 million of these are offshore) that they already hold leases for but do not drill on
- promote responsible domestic oil production strategies, including the identification of obstacles to drilling in the Bakken Shale formation, the Barnett shale formation, and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

McCain is strongly committed to expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration. He specifically advocates:
- maintaining current fuel economy standards, but doing a better job of enforcing them
- encourage the American auto industry to produce more efficient cars by creating a $5,000 tax credit for Americans who buy zero-emissions cars, with lower credits for low-emissions cars
- offering a $300 million prize for developing plug-in hybrid and fully electric cars with batteries that cost 30% of what the batteries for these cars currently cost
- drilling for oil on the Outer Continental Shelf
- he believes alcohol-based fuels (like ethanol) have great promise, and that flex-fuel vehicles should play a great role, but has no specific policies or programs targeted at these on his website. However, he does support the eradication of tariffs and price supports that benefit corn-based ethanol only.

Renewable Energy

Obama wants to create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. He would:
- make sure we get 10% of our energy from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025
- weatherize 1,000,000 low-income homes each year
- develop and use clean coal technology
- prioritize the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline
- implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050
- re-engage the U.S. in global discussions in climate change and establish the U.S. as a world leader on the issue

McCain would:
- invest $2 billion annually in clean coal technology to speed up its commercial availability
- build 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, with the goal of eventually building 100
- he thinks alternative low-carbon fuels like wind and solar are a good idea, but does not present a specific proposal for advocating their development and use.
- establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse emissions with a goal of reducing emissions by 60% of 1990 levels (66% of 2005 levels) by 2050
- establish higher energy standards for new government buildings, and retrofit older buildings to make them more efficient
- improve the national electricity grid

The bottom line:

Both candidates appear to have a serious interest in the issue. Both have quite a lot of detail on their websites about the policies and programs they would support, as well as their philosophical views on the issue.

There is some similarity between the candidates here -- both advocate tax credits for zero- and low-emissions cars, and both would encourage the U.S. auto industry to produce more efficient cars; both want to encourage domestic production of oil and natural gas, although Obama takes a more cautious approach than McCain; both see speculation on oil futures as a problem and would attempt to regulate it; both would invest more in clean coal technology.

There are also some key differences: Obama favors a windfall profits tax on the oil industry, while McCain opposes it; Obama favors raising fuel economy standards while McCain would leave them as-is; and while both favor a cap-and-trade system, Obama's goal is more ambitious.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

B & I try (and fail) to go to an Obama rally

B & I came thiiiiiiis close to going to an Obama rally today. There was one in Denver, but I thought it would be too big (and it was -- over 100,000 people!), so we went to a later one up north. The rally we tried to go to had between 45,000 and 50,000 people at it. That means that about 5% of the population of Colorado attended an Obama rally today -- amazing! We got there two hours before it began, and had to walk half an hour just to get to the end of the line! Then we stood in line for almost two hours, hoping that there would be lots of other speakers before Obama so that we could get there in time. Just as we approached the area where the rally was happening, a giant tsunami of people came toward us -- it had just ended. So close! I was pretty bummed, but at least B & I had a good time. Yes, believe it or not, standing in line was fun. There were lots of people with lots of positive energy around us, and about a dozen kids whose parents were in line near us that B played with the whole time. And it was a beautiful Colorado autumn afternoon.

The Denver rally (photo from the Denver Post)

PSA #4: National security

John McCain on National Security and Iraq
Barack Obama on National Security and Iraq

First off, I wanted to point out that while Obama lists issues in alphabetical order on his website, McCain does not. I presume that they are in order of importance. He lists national security third (after the economy and energy), so I presume that in his eyes, this is one of the most important issues we face.

McCain -- "John McCain believes it is strategically and morally essential for the United States to support the Government of Iraq to become capable of governing itself and safeguarding its people. He strongly disagrees with those who advocate withdrawing American troops before that has occurred." (a direct quote from his website)

Obama -- He believes that we need a new strategy for three reasons: (1) the security and political progress in Iraq have been inadequate; (2) U.S. involvement in Iraq is putting an unacceptable strain on our military that jeopardizes national security; and (3) the diversion of resources from Afghanistan to Iraq has allowed the Taliban to regain strength in Afghanistan, and that al Qaeda has taken advantage of our reduced presence there to begin retraining for a new attack on the U.S. Obama's plan would leave a residual force in Iraq (he doesn't say how many) to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel, conduct counter-insurgency operations against al Qaeda in Iraq, and to support and train the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism. Obama wants to withdraw the remainder of our troops from Iraq in a phased and responsible manner -- he says that military experts believe we can redeploy 1-2 combat brigades per month for 16 months and safely accomplish the withdrawal from Iraq.

The military
-- McCain says we need a larger and more capable military, but offers no specifics on how much larger he thinks it should be, or what he believes would make it more capable. He wants to modernize and adapt training, tactics and doctrine. He thinks we need more emphasis on civil affairs in our military, more special forces, and more forces that are highly mobile. He supports reform of the military contracting process. He is most specific on the topic of military funding. He wants to end the way we currently fund the military through special appropriations, and put it back in the regular appropriations process. He says this would allow Congress to better scrutinize military budgets and make sure we are spending wisely. He also says this would prevent the administration from spending in excess of budget caps, as they now do.

Obama -- Obama thinks our military is caught in the Cold War, and wants to modernize it into a "21st century military." He plans to increase the number of troops (the Army by 65,000 and the Marines by 27,000) and properly training and equipping them. He also wants to make sure we treat our soldiers well, and will end the stop-loss policy implemented by the Bush administration and establish predictable deployment schedules. He seems most focused, however, on changing the bureaucracy within the military, which he sees as too rigid. He wants to strengthen special operations forces, civil affairs and information operations, increase emphasis on foreign language training, cultural awareness, and human intelligence operations. He wants to improve our military's ability to train foreign security forces, so that they can do a better job of protecting themselves without our intervention. Last but not least, he wants to reform military contracting, creating transparency and accountability in the process and clarifying the legal status of contract employees.

National defense
McCain -- McCain wants to fight the war against terrorists intelligently, but does not describe specifically how that should be done. He believes that when the U.S. government impinges upon the rights of U.S. citizens in the process, we hand a victory to terrorists. I presume this is his way of saying that he does not support some aspects of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, but he does not come right out and say that. McCain strongly supports the creation of a missile defense system.

Obama -- Obama thinks that properly equipping our troops is very important to our national defense. He specifically mentions body armor, armored vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. He would review all current major U.S. defense systems in light of current needs as well as future threats like September 11. He believes we need to preserve the strength of our air and naval powers, and invest in new technology in both areas. He supports a missile defenense system, but wants to make sure it's pragmatic and cost-effective.

McCain -- McCain's website mentions "working with friends and partners overseas, from Africa to Southeast Asia, to help them combat terrorism and violent insurgencies in their own countries."

Obama -- Obama wants to renew and strengthen America's traditional alliances like NATO. He also wants to emphasize humanitarian aid operations in order to build friendships and alliances and "win hearts and minds."

Now discuss amongst yourselves...

Friday, October 24, 2008

A glimpse of the future

This is what B will look like in a year or so, when he's 6:

B's dad at age 6, back in 1976

How can I be so sure? Just look at these pictures of B at age 3:

And this one of his daddy at age 3:

See what I mean?! At least we know he'll be handsome.

PSA #3: Education

Oops! I missed a day. Sorry -- things get very busy for me at work this time of year.

Barack Obama's Education Plan
John McCain's Education Plan

Early Childhood Education
Obama: "Zero to five" plan places key emphasis on early care and education for infants, and providing support to parents as well. He would create early learning challenge grants to help states move toward voluntary universal preschool. He would quadruple Early Head Start, increase funding for Head Start, and improve the quality of both. He also hopes to provide affordable, high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families (visit his website through the link above for more details on how).
McCain: He believes that current federal funding for early childhood is adequate, and that we should "leverage and better coordinate" existing programs. He wants to make sure that the neediest children have access to federally-funded programs. He believes that many Head Start centers are lacking in quality, and would like to create Centers for Excellence in Head Start. There would be at least one in each state, and each would receive $200,000/year, depending on the availability of funding, to disseminate their best practices and improve coordination of early childhood education in their region.

K-12 Education
- No Child Left Behind (NCLB): He would fully fund it as promised by the Bush administration. He would improve assessments so that teachers don't have to teach to a test all year. He would also improve NCLB's accountability system so that under-performing schools are helped, rather than punished.
- Charter schools: He would double current federal funding for charter schools. The expanded funding would go only to states that improve accountability of charter schools and commit to closing down underperforming charter schools. They would also support expanding the best charter school programs.
- Math & science: Obama wants to recruit math and science graduates into the teaching profession, and would make these curriculum areas a priority in their education policy.
- Dropout crisis: Obama would provide funding to schools to invest in middle school strategies to prevent dropouts, things like teaching teams, parent involvement, and mentoring.
- After-school programs: He'd like to double federal funding to existing programs to serve an additional 1 million children.
McCain: McCain has very little in the way of specifics. He says he will enact "meaningful reform," but does not say what that is.
- Vouchers: While he never uses the word "vouchers," he talks a lot about "equality of choice," which is an often-used buzzword when talking about vouchers. He also wants to increase the funding for Washington D.C.'s voucher program from its current level of $13 million to at least $20 million.
- Tutors: He wants to have the federal government certify tutors, rather than local school districts, and allow tutors to market themselves to parents independently of the school system.
- Homeschooling: $1 billion in current federal funding would be reallocated to home schooling under McCain's plan. He would reallocate $500 million in current federal funding for education to develop online courses for home-schooled children. He would also reallocate an additional $250 million of current federal spending on education to states for the purpose of expanding online educational opportunities. Last but not least, an additional $250 million of current federal funding for education would be made available as scholarships for children to study online. A student could receive up to $4,000 to take courses, study for college entrance exams, or receive tutoring online.

Higher Education
Obama: As mentioned in the tax policy post, Obama wants to create an income tax credit of up to $4,000 per year for college tuition. He believes that this would make community college tuition cost-free, and would cover 2/3 the cost of tuition at the average public college or university. In return for claiming the credit, the recipient would have to perform 100 hours of community service. He also wants to streamline the process for applying for federal financial aid, so that all a family has to do is check a box on its tax return in order to apply.
McCain: He would reduce federal regulation of higher educational institutions (I wish he offered specifics, because I really don't know how the federal government regulates colleges and universities.). He wants to make the information that colleges and universities report to the federal government each year more accessible to parents (again, I'm sorry, but I have no idea what sort of information this is). He wants to simplify existing tax benefits for higher education, without providing any new benefits. He believes we should simplify the federal financial aid program by consolidating many programs into one. He would eliminate earmarks for research.

Obama: Obama has a plan to recruit, prepare, retain and reward teachers. He would offer scholarships for a four-year college education in return for four years of teaching in public schools. He advocates a national performance assessment for teachers. He would expand mentoring programs for new teachers, and provide for common planning time so that teachers can collaborate. In cooperation with teachers, he wants to promote innovative ways to increase teacher pay.
McCain: He would like to invest in alternative methods for new teachers to be licensed. He would devote a small portion of current education funding to recruiting teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class, or who complete alternative teacher recruitment programs like Teach for America. He wants to provide bonuses to high-performing teachers who work in challenging environments. He would focus funding for professional development on technological skills.

So let's talk.
McCain wants to create a lot of new programs for vouchers and homeschooling without increasing federal funding. Is that realistic?

On the other hand, Obama proposes new funding for education at all levels. Is that realistic?

Under whose plan do you think you could achieve the education plans you hope to provide to your children?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

PSA #2: Tax policy

John McCain on taxes
Barack Obama on taxes

I'm going to organize this one a little differently than the last one. It just lends itself to this organization, and I think it will facilitate comparisons. There have been shameful half-truths and outright lies spread by one of the campaigns on this topic. Please pay attention to what both the candidates really say about their own plans, not what they say about each other's. I promise that's what I've put here, the candidates' own words about their own plans.

1. Top individual income tax bracket
McCain: keep it at 35% (I thought it was 36%? What do I know though -- I certainly don't pay taxes in the top income bracket!)
Obama: increase it to 39% for any income above $250,000; keep it the same for income up to $250,000 (so if you earn $260,000, you pay 35/36% on the first $250K, then 39% on the additional $10K)

2. Other individual income tax brackets
a) for a family with two children, a $125 tax cut, through an increase in the dependent exemption
b) a new tax imposed on your employer-sponsored health benefits (the rate is not specified)
c) a $5,000 tax credit for health care (not sure how the new health benefits tax and health tax credit would interact, whether families would come out paying more or less, due to the fact that the new tax on health benefits is not specified)
a) a tax credit of $500 for individuals or $1,000 for couples for working families that earn less than $250,000/year
b) in addition, for families earning less than $75,000/year: a $500 mortgage credit, and a credit of up to $4,000 for college tuition
c) eliminate all income taxes for senior citizens earning less than $50,000/year
d) increase child tax care credit from $5,000 to $6,000
e) expand eligibility for the earned income tax credit
f) $7,000 tax credit for alternative energy vehicles

3. Taxes on capital gains
McCain: keep the tax on dividends and capital gains at 15%
a) get rid of the capital gains tax for investors in small businesses
b) keep the current capital gains rate for families earning less than $250,000
c) establish a new capital gains rate of 20% for families earning more than $250,000 (currently it's 15%, but is due to go back up to 20% automatically in 2010 unless Congress changes it)

4. Corporate income taxes
a) cut the rate from 35% to 25%.
b) establish a corporate tax credit equal to 10% of wages for money spent on research and development
a) repeal tax breaks and loopholes (no further specifics on which) that reward corporations for taking jobs overseas
b) use the savings from (a) above to lower the corporate income tax rate for companies that operate in the U.S.
c) tax credit for up to 50% of health care expenses for small businesses to help them provide health insurance to employees
d) make the research and development tax credit permanent

5. Estate taxes
McCain: no info on his website
Obama: get rid of them except for estates worth over $7 million per couple, and for those, retain the current rate of 45%

6. The tax code
Both candidates say they would like to simplify the tax code, and make it easier to file taxes.

So what do you think?
Which candidate's plan will help your family's taxes?

I loved this book

I picked up a copy of this book at the kids' preschool. The director wants to do a Pennies for Peace fundraiser, and thought that we parents would be more motivated to help out if we had read the book. I, for one, am most definitely motivated now that I've read it.

It's about an American climber, Greg Mortenson, who gets lost on his way down from a failed attempt to climb K2. He wanders into a tiny village in northern Pakistan, and ends up being more or less adopted as the "American son" of the village leader. Before he leaves to return home, the villagers show him the children's school. It's a field. Basically, the kids kneel on the ground (keep in mind that this is at high altitude, where it's always very cold and windy) and scratch out sums in the dirt. He is stunned, and vows to build them a school.

The book goes on to describe his experience raising the money and building the school, and then doing it over and over again for other villages all over northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. The story itself is amazing and beautifully told, and Mortenson should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize someday for the work he does. He is a true American hero.

But beyond the story of Mortenson's humanitarian efforts is the story of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, of Muslim families and our fundamental ignorance about this part of the world. You will be amazed and delighted by what you read about these regions. I think this is so important for our country and the world. Eradicating ignorance -- our own as well as that found in poor parts of the Muslim world -- is the ONLY way we will end terrorism. Children without hope grow up to be terrorists. Providing them with a balanced education, as opposed to an Islamic fundamentalist worldview taught in a madrassa, which is the only other educational opportunity for many children in this part of the world, will give them not only the tools to find jobs to feed their families, but it will give them hope. They will not need to seek refuge in the purpose and support that organizations like al Qaeda provide.

We need to do a better job in that part of the world. We should support efforts like Mortenson's, and we should keep the promises we have made to help rebuild Afghanistan to repair the damage we've done. At a bare minimum, we need to try harder to understand these people and places. Our own ignorance about the Muslim world is a danger to ourselves. If we fail, ignorance succeeds and resentment burns.

Please, read this book.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

PSA #1: The candidates on health care

Barack Obama goes first this time; John McCain will go first in the next one.

Obama's Health Care Plan
McCain's Health Care Plan


Obama believes that the characterization of health care as private health care run by unregulated, or minimally regulated, insurance companies vs. government-run health care funded by taxpayers is a false dichotomy. He intends his plan to be something in the middle of the two. The important points in his health care views are:

1. Health care should be accessible to all Americans.
2. We should build on the existing health care system, using existing providers, doctors and plans.
3. Insurance companies should be required to cover pre-existing conditions so that all Americans can get insurance, regardless of their health status or history.
4. Obama would push for the creation of a Small Business Health Tax Credit to help small businesses afford to provide health coverage for their employees.
5. Government should help lower insurance premiums for businesses by paying a portion of catastrophic health costs.
6. Insurance companies should be prohibited from overcharging doctors for malpractice insurance, and we should invest in proven strategies for reducing instances of malpractice.
7. Large employers should be required to contribute to the costs of health care by paying a percentage of their payroll toward employees' health care costs.
8. He would establish a new National Health Insurance Exchange with a variety of private insurance plans, as well as a public plan modeled on the health insurance that members of Congress receive, that will help individuals and small businesses purchase affordable health insurance.

Now, about the money:

- Obama says the average family will save $2,500/year under his plan, primarily through reduced prescription drug costs and reducing the costs of catastrophic illnesses.
- He also says his plan will cost the government between $50-$65 billion. He will pay for it by increasing income taxes on Americans earning more than $250,000/year. If you currently earn over $250,000/year, you pay a 36% income tax. Under the Obama plan, you would pay 39% on any amount over $250,000.


McCain's health plan centers on his "Four Pillars of Reform:"

1. Affordability - we can make health care more affordable by ensuring competition in the health industry, rewarding quality, promoting prevention, and being more effective and efficient.
2. Access & Choice - American families should make health care choices, not the government or insurance companies.
3. Portability & Security - you should be able to keep your health insurance if you switch jobs, and you should have more options to save in case of an "unforeseen health event"
4. Quality - should be strengthened by promoting research and development of new treatments, promoting wellness, investing in technology, and empowering Americans with better information.

About the money:

McCain's website does not offer much information about *specific* changes he would make (he seems to be more philsophical, looking at the big picture policy rather than discrete policies and laws), so there is understandably no information about what his health care plan might cost to implement.

If you currently have health insurance through your employer, you don't pay any taxes on the value of that insurance. Under McCain's plan, you would start paying taxes on that, although he does not specify at what rate he would tax those benefits. His website also does not specify what he would use that new money for.

You would also receive a tax credit of $2,500 for an individual, or $5,000 for a family under McCain's plan. This is intended to help families who do not currently have insurance purchase it. McCain's website does not offer any information on what the cost of a health insurance policy for an individual or a family might be, or whether $2,500/$5,000 would be enough to cover it.


Whose plan do you think makes the most sense?
Who's thought it through the most?
Which plan most benefits you and your family?
Is it true that Obama wants to take away your right to choose your own doctor?
Would McCain's tax credit give you enough money to buy health insurance?
Do you think Obama's claim that families would save $2,500/year is accurate?
Is McCain right in saying that encourage competition will reduce health care costs?

Taking it to a higher level

I have an idea. I'm tired of hearing about whether or not Obama is a Muslim (or an Arab!), and what his association with William Ayers might be. I'm also tired of hearing about whether Sarah Palin can really see Russia from her house, and all the nefarious financial dealings McCain's campaign advisers may have been involved in. These aren't the things that really matter. They are red herrings. They are arguments thrown out there with little regard to the truth, intended to distract us all from talking and thinking about the things that matter in this presidential election.

What matters? Education. Health care. National security. Energy independence. Tax policy. Faith. Values. Our country is in crisis, on the brink of disaster. The policies of the past eight years have brought not only the American economy to its knees, but the world's along with us. Terrorism remains a serious threat, here and in many other parts of the world. This is the most important election in my life so far. We need to stop arguing about the peripheral stuff and focus on the big stuff. And we need to be sure we understand where both candidates stand on these issues, and what the fundamentals of their values really are, before we decide.

I'm not saying the peripheral stuff doesn't matter at all. If Obama did in fact hate America and "pal around with terrorists," who in their right mind would vote for him? And McCain's character is forever ruined to me (and I used to respect him) after I've seen how he has conducted his campaign this time around. These things matter, of course, but there are many, many things that matter much more.

So here's what I'm going to do. Call it my Public Service Announcement Series. I'm going to devote a post a day to the candidates' views on the issues that we should be talking and thinking about. I think people are interested in this stuff, since my hits go way up on the days I do political posts. Perhaps you don't care to hear about it from me, and that's fine. There are plenty of other sources you can go to. I do encourage you to go straight to the candidates themselves though. Don't let either Fox News or the New York Times tell you who to vote for.

Here are my promises to you, my readers and friends:

1. I will not post any second-hand information. I will rely primarily on the candidates' own websites, and will use as secondary sources direct quotes from them in interviews and the debates. I will not post anything a journalist, pundit, blogger, or any other third party says about either candidate's views and plans.

2. I will be unbiased. You all know I'm an Obama supporter, but I will do my very best not to let that show in my reporting on the issues. If you spot any bias in my PSA posts, feel free to call me on it.

3. I will document my sources. I will link to everything I use, so that you can check the facts I post. Again, if you think I'm wrong, please call me on it.

The issues I'm thinking of covering are those I mentioned above, plus whatever else I can think of -- feel free to suggest anything you think is important. Off the top of my head, in no particular order, I want to write about:

a) education
b) health care
c) national security
d) energy policy
e) taxes
f) abortion (even though I personally don't believe this should be a big issue in a presidential race, I know a lot of other people do, so I will post about what both candidates have said about their views on this topic)

So who's in? Who wants to have a civilized, thoughtful, and informed debate about the real issues America faces, and where both candidates stand on them?

Stay tuned, the first one is coming later today.

We now interrupt this rant

For cute pictures of and by my kids:

B's interpretation of Luke Skywalker

Photos by B:

The nerve center, where it all happens (note the glass of wine on top of the computer armoire)

I am particularly impressed by the composition of this one. I like the tomato and the crystal candlestick in the foreground. That's a picture of M wearing B in the Baby Bjorn back when he was a baby.

Thank you baby sister

Monday, October 20, 2008

Politics and race

There is a controversy brewing over on Hayley's blog. She's drawn a new regular commenter who likes McCain because he's anti-choice. This woman's latest gem is a new argument for McCain: there exists a photo of Obama taken during the singing of the national anthem, and he (gasp!) doesn't have his hand over his heart. Never mind that the Snopes page this woman offers as evidence to support this incident also goes on to explain that this custom is outdated, and then shows two photos of him with his hand over his heart during the anthem, as well as two videos of him reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on the Senate floor. This is the only thing that matters to this woman in choosing a president. Not education, not health care, not tax cuts for us instead of big corporations, not national security, not honor, honesty and ethics. It's all about putting your hand on your heart during the national anthem, and making sure women are taken back a half-century in terms of the rights they have to make their own health decisions.

But the part of this woman's post that really chaps my hide is this: she says that people who support Obama are racists, and that we're supporting him only because he's black. How dare she! If she wants to make a logical, intelligent argument about why McCain's tax policy or education plan are better than Obama's, I'll listen, and I'll respect her opinion (although I'll disagree with it). But to base her vote on one issue (abortion) and ignore the things that really matter, then throw in this facile hand-over-the-heart argument, then call white support for a black candidate nothing more than "reverse racism," well, that's stupid, and it's just plain racist. Not to mention insulting.

I don't support Obama because he's black, but hell yeah, it matters. I think it's incredibly important that America might elect a black president. Know why? Because it will mean that FINALLY, racists like this woman are a minority in our country. It would be better if they weren't here at all (or at the very least weren't allowed to vote), but the fact that their ignorance can now be drowned out by a non-racist majority will be something to celebrate indeed.

BTW, does that mean this guy is a racist too? Because I hear he's an Obama supporter:

(Thanks Hayley -- I borrowed the picture from you!)

Can you tell I'm started to get mad? Really, really mad? Presidential elections always do this to me, but this year, my blood pressure is through the roof. I wish Election Day were tomorrow, because I'm not sure I can take two more weeks of this crap.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

8 months

October 17, 2008 (photo by B, photoshopped only to hide the horribly runny nose)

February 17, 2008

To me, the difference is astounding. She's chubbier, and her hair and skin are so much healthier. She's grown tremendously. But the biggest difference by far is the life in her face. She looks so flat, so shut-down in the February picture, and she just sparkles in the October picture. You've come a long way, my little sweet sparkly girl!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Catching up

We had a big party for Z on Saturday afternoon last weekend. There were all kinds of kids, a great big cake with Tinkerbell on top, and of course, lots of presents. We were lucky to have some extra-special guests -- friends from the lounge! Maia and QiuQiu are local, so we see them every now & then, but not nearly often enough. But also in attendance were Mike & Piper, all the way from Minnesota (they didn't come just for the party; Mike was here for business & to visit his folks). We were really excited to meet Mike & Piper, and only sorry that Hayley & Paisley couldn't be here too. Next summer, Hayley! Party pix from the big birthday bash:

Z opening gifts, with lots of help from Piper (that's the back of her head in the foreground)

Friends from the Lounge (left to right: Maia & QiuQiu, Mike & Piper, me with my two monkeys)

A very happy & very silly B

Jelly Belly & the Poodle earlier today, on a spectacular Colorado fall morning:

Z sporting her new winter hat:

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Muslim argument

The whole argument that you shouldn't trust or vote for Obama "because he's a Muslim" embarrasses me. It makes me ashamed of the ignorance and hatred of my countrymen. When I hear Democrats make the counter-argument "No he's not! He's a Christian!" it makes me cringe. The appropriate response to the statement "I won't vote for Obama because he's a Muslim" is "So what if he's a Muslim?"

Know what people? This kind of ignorance is the very thing that makes the radical, hateful nutjobs like Osama bin Laden and his followers hate us. Many of the people in Al Qaeda are poor, uneducated, unworldly men. Most never travel outside their hometown, much less outside their country or to Europe or the U.S. before they join Al Qaeda. All they know about America is what they're told by people like bin Laden, and what they may see on their satellite TV. And when they see people like the woman described below, well, no wonder they hate us.

I saw this clip on CNN this morning and it made me feel physically ill. At a McCain rally last week, an older woman told McCain she didn't trust Obama because "I have read about him and he's an Arab." Uh, hello? First of all, "Arab" does not equal "Muslim." "Arab" is an ethnicity. It refers to people who are from the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and just off the coast, Bahrain) and speak Arabic. Barack Obama is an American (if you must talk about ethnicity, he's half-Caucasian and half-African American, but again, who cares?), and he speaks English. Someone please find this woman and take away her voter registration card!

A lot of talking heads are calling McCain's response honorable. I beg to differ. Here's what he said "No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man ... that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues." OK, it was honorable to defend Obama instead of using it as an opportunity to stoke the fires of anger and hate (ask yourself: what would Palin have done in this situation? hmmmm...). But his response implies that "Arab" and "decent family man" are mutually exclusive. What a horrible thing to say.

This exchange is playing all over the world now. I saw it on BBC this afternoon. I am SO EMBARRASSED. First, it makes Americans look like ignorant fools, not to mention racists. But even more importantly, it makes one of the two men who want to be president look like an ignorant racist.

Now let's talk about what makes someone a Muslim. I am not a Muslim, nor do I claim to be an expert on Islam. However, I like to read about the Middle East, I enjoy learning about religions, and I have picked up a bit here and there about Islam that contradicts the common knowledge as held by many Americans. Contrary to what some idiots in this country seem to think, Islam has nothing to do with turbans, beards or machine guns. There are five pillars to Islam:
1. Declaration of faith -- you have to say you believe in God
2. Prayer -- five times a day
3. Charity -- people have a responsibility to care for the less fortunate
4. Fasting during Ramadan (a month meant for practicing patience, sacrifice and humility, and for extending forgiveness)
5. Pilgrimage to Mecca

Some of these sound a little familiar, don't they? Take this into consideration too: family is central to the Muslim faith. Education and travel are encouraged and highly valued. Muslims believe in Jesus. What?! Yep. They consider him one of the prophets of Muhammed, they believe he is in heaven, and they believe there will be a second coming.

In short, Islam bears many similarities to Christianity and Judaism. It is a peaceful, family-centric religion that values education and charity. Human life is sacred, and violence is abhorred. The people who attacked our country on September 11 were not Muslims. They claimed to be, but they did not practice the tenets of that faith. Many Muslims around the world have spoken out against the September 11 attacks, and against violence in general. There are ignorant morons in the Muslim world too though, and unfortunately they are the people who too often end up on U.S. TV, burning flags and shouting "death to America." They are not the majority. Osama bin Laden is a Muslim in the same way that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian. Both believe perverted versions of their religion, views that are not shared by the majority.

So, for the record, here's what I think about this stupid argument: Obama is not a Muslim. But if he were, why would it matter?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy birthday to Z!

Z is two today! Happy birthday, big girl!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Attachment baby steps

It's been almost eight months since we brought Z home. Several weeks ago, our social worker was here to do our six-month post-placement report. She asked M & me to evaluate how far along Z was in the attachment process, with 100% being completely attached. I said 75%, and M said 70%. At least we're on pretty much the same page!

Some of the positive signs we've seen recently:

Separation Anxiety
She started at a new childcare about a month ago. She had been in childcare for three months before that, at the same center where B had gone since he was six months old. Her initial adjustment to childcare was very smooth. After all, she'd been visiting twice a day, four days a week, for three months before she started -- when I was home on maternity leave for three months, she'd always go with me when I dropped off B and picked him up. We visited her future classroom often, so it was familiar to her, as were the teachers, administrators, and other kids. On her first day, she didn't really even cry. It was easy.

Things were not quite so smooth with the change. She was very unhappy being left at the new childcare. My routine is to drop her off first, then take B to his class. For the first three weeks, Z would cry and cling when I dropped her off, but would generally have quieted down & would be playing happily by the time I left B's class and walked by her door on my way out. And she has always been delighted to see me at the end of the day.

As heart-breaking as it was to hand her to a teacher when she was crying for me, I knew it was mostly a good thing. It meant that she would prefer to be with me, that she has begun to recognize M & me as two people who are more important in her life than other adults. That's a really good sign of attachment.

Moving Past Separation Anxiety: "Mommy back"
As good a sign as that was, the new phase we're in is even better. For the past two weeks, I've been repeatedly saying "Mommy always comes back" on our drive to childcare, as we walk up the sidewalk, and as I put on her sunscreen, wash her hands, and hug her good-bye. They play a song in her classroom called "Mommy comes back" too, and say it's the kids' favorite song. Well, she's getting it! One day last week, when I stepped out the door onto the playground at the end of the day, Z flung herself into my arms, shouting "Mommy back!" Since then, it's become her mantra. She says it constantly, day and night. Sometimes she whispers it. I always respond, "Yep Z, Mommy always comes back."

Then last Wednesday, a huge morning: she didn't cry when I dropped her off! Not a single tear. She just said "Mommy back!" and went off to play. Thursday she gave a half-hearted whimper, but it ended before I even left her classroom. Today, no crying again. I feel like we've reached a major milestone!

Yes, She's 2
Another good sign is also a bad sign. She is feeling more and more free to show us her two year-old side. The hissy fits are getting louder and more frequent, and her two favorite words are "No!" and "Mine!" As aggravating as this stuff is to deal with, it's a good sign. It shows that she feels comfortable enough to express herself around us, even when her feelings are negative. At school, they say she still doesn't really throw fits or show any sort of negative behavior. She's still getting used to them and staying on her best behavior to make sure they like her. We still adore her, hissies and all, but I have to admit I'm looking forward to the sweet 3s!

Signs that we're not all the way there quite yet:

The Witching Hour
The evenings are very difficult in our house these days. On work days, I typically get home with the kids shortly before 6:00, and have just a few minutes to throw together something for dinner and get it on the table. M doesn't usually get home until right about when we're sitting down to eat. Well, little Z's tank is clearly empty at this time of day. She's been away from us all day, and all she wants is "Up!" Unfortunately, I can't hold her and make dinner at the same time, and M isn't here to do it while I cook. The end result is often Z literally hanging on my legs, whining and shrieking "up!"

As soon as everyone's fed, we try to spend the hour before bed holding her, playing, dancing, whatever, as long as it's solid one-on-one interaction. Then she's happy. But that half-hour between getting home and eating dinner is hard. She just doesn't have the skills to soothe herself, or to keep herself entertained until I can give her my full attention. Sometimes I try putting her at the table with a cup of milk and a little snack, but that sometimes makes her even madder. She's hungry, and she doesn't want a little snack -- she wants dinner NOW! And if she can't have dinner, she wants Mommy to hold her. If anyone's got a suggestion for getting through this half-hour without all the screaming, my ears are open.

Stranger Danger
Z is still way too friendly to strangers. She'll let anyone pick her up. This is not uncommon among adopted kids. Until they really grasp the nature of the parent-child relationship, they don't understand that not all adults are equal. They will look to any adult for affection and comfort, and sometimes will even turn on the charm for adults in an effort to make sure they're liked. It's parent-shopping.

I don't think Z is that bad -- she seems to understand fairly well that we're her parents & different from other adults -- but she doesn't have the instinct to be more reserved with strangers yet. A friend of M's that she'd met only once or twice before several months ago came by last week, and Z went right up to him with her arms out, asking to be held. M stepped in and took her, explaining to our friend why we didn't want him to hold her. Fortunately, he was understanding.

And at parent-teacher conferences two weeks ago, I learned that Z does this to many parents when they enter the room, and that the staff has been letting other parents pick her up. I asked that this stop, that they allow only the teachers and staff at the school to pick her up, and that they explain to other parents why we don't want them to hold her.

So that's where we are. After sixteen months in an orphanage and eight months with her family, Z is really doing well. Many children have very serious problems with attachment, and we've been very lucky on that front. That said, there's still progress to be made. We'll get there. Baby steps.