Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Yes, the sky-high gasoline prices are getting me down just as much as the next person. I try to be an environmentally conscious individual and erase my "carbon footprint" as much as possible, but I just can't get around that pesky need to have a car. I live in downtown Madison, a calculated move on my part because it puts me close to pretty much everything. I walk to get groceries, to go to the bank, to go to the library, to go to coffee shops, restaurants, bars, etc. But I can't walk to work. I can't even take the damn, complicated bus to work. And even if I could take the bus, I need a car once I get to work. I'm a nanny, so I spend a large portion of the day driving children around. And no matter what I do -- even though I rarely ever use my car outside of work -- I have to fill up once a week. And it sucks. A lot. Not just because it costs me a lot of my hard earned money that I could be putting towards graduate school, but because I know the environmental impact of so much driving.

But yet, even with the ridiculously high gas prices, for me driving is still cheaper than taking mass transit. To that I say, what the hell?! This past weekend I went to the Twin Cities to visit my former roommate/best friend. I took the Greyhound because I was sick of driving. From Madison to St. Paul, a trip on the Greyhound takes about 5 hours and 20 minutes and costs $95 for a round-trip ticket. Driving myself, the trip is pretty much exactly four hours and uses up about a full tank of gas on my Jetta (with current gas prices, that means it costs me a little under $80). And it isn't just the Greyhound that costs more than driving ...

This coming weekend I am planning a trip to my parents' house right outside of Milwaukee. Before I had a car, I always took the Badger Bus between Milwaukee and Madison. Let's compare the cost efficiency of taking the Badger Bus. A ride on the BB takes an hour and a half (not including the extra fifteen minutes required on each side of the journey to get to/from the bus stops) and costs $34 round-trip. Driving from right outside my apartment to right outside my parents' house takes an hour and fifteen minutes and uses a little under a quarter a tank of gas (so round-trip we'll figure about $20). Once more, it is noticeably cheaper and more efficient to just drive myself.

Here is my point: Many of the politicians (ahem, Hillary Clinton and John McCain) are talking about this gas tax vacation as a way of relieving the gas costs. Here's an idea: why don't we actually look at some ways that we can lower gas prices as well as gas usage. I don't know, maybe we could encourage mass transportation? In a country as developed as the U.S., our overall public transportation sucks and is really expensive. Some cities are much better than others. The D.C. area has the Metro System, Chicago has the El, New York has the subways, but there are so many huge cities that have nothing close to good public transportation. And intra-city travel is horrendously expensive, as I have just pointed out. Instead of easing the gas tax, thereby encouraging folks to just go on using as much gas as ever, how about subsidizing public transportation? How about making it so that it is cheaper to take the bus from Madison to St. Paul than it is to drive just yourself?

If it suddenly becomes much less expensive to take the bus or the train or whatnot, more people would want to do it and the bus companies might add more routes and more daily departures. Of course taking the bus or the train still uses gasoline, so we definitely still need to look towards using alternative fuel sources. And granted, a large Greyhound bus is less fuel-efficient than other vehicles. But even so, think how much gas is saved when you load fifty people onto one bus versus those fifty people each driving him or herself.

Naturally, there are many other things that can be done as well. But I find it absurd that in all this talk, the government hasn't tried creating incentives for people to use public transportation more often. No, instead the government talks about how to let people use just as much gas as normal. As Sen. Obama said on the issue, cutting the gas tax would save consumers little, while taking money away from needed things like road improvements. For those who don't know, the gas tax goes into the Highway Trust Fund. As with all tax money, those funds don't just magically disappear. They go towards things that we actually need. I have several friends who live in the Twin Cities and I will never forget that night last summer when the I-35W bridge collapsed during rush hour. We have already diverted enough money away from our basic infrastructure, and I am happy to pay my outrageously high gas tax if that means I will never have to live through a night of worry like that again. Temporarily cutting the gas tax will give short-term gains to consumers in terms of how much money they actually spend on gas, but we need to realize that the $30 we save is going to equal millions of dollars taken away from our infrastructure.

As Sen. Obama also said, a summer gas-tax holiday ignores the long-term issues. We need to move out of the current frame of thinking -- i.e., how to lower gas prices. That line of thinking will not sustain us. We need to start thinking about how we can make fundamental changes in the way that we live our lives. Few people want to do that because it requires energy and sacrifices on the individual level. I know that it just sucks to give up that big SUV in favor of a fuel-efficient car and it is probably a HUGE hassle to walk four blocks to get your morning latte rather than drive and an extra hour tacked onto a long trip is downright annoying, but these are sacrifices that we can live through. These are sacrifices that the government should start asking people to make. If Bush can stand up and say that it is patriotic to support an unjust and horrible war, then government officials can stand up and say that it is patriotic to support the survival of the planet.

So that was a sort of random, stream of consciousness on the issue (dammit, I said I wasn't going to do those!) I apologize and promise that I will try to be more coherent the next time I write. Maybe I'll stay away from political issues for a while, they bring out the "ranter" in me :)

Thursday, April 24, 2008


The other day when I was listening to Air America (or, actually, Madison's local version -- The Mic 92.1) I heard a staggering statistic: apparently more than a quarter of Hillary Clinton supporters say that if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee, they will not vote for him. The number of Obama supporters that allegedly will not vote for Clinton is a bit smaller. But still, the fact remains that a huge percentage of people are so stubbornly committed to their candidate of choice that they would apparently rather see another four years of Republican rule than concede defeat. What the hell is the matter with these people??

Do Hillary Clinton supporters really think that John McCain would be a better choice for president than Barack Obama (and vice-versa)? If that's true then they are completely deluded. Because McCain is the darling of the media, he has wrongfully been painted as some type of maverick, Independent when the reality is that in the past year his Senate votes supported the Bush Administration nearly 90% of the time. The same is true for his voting record since he took office. On most of the key issues that Democrats care about he is consistently conservative. He supports the repeal of Roe v. Wade (he was given a 0% rating by NARAL -- National Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League), he has a strong anti-union voting record (he has a score of only 15% by the AFL-CIO), he has voted to continue the Patriot Act, to repeal habeas corpus for Guantanamo Bay detainees, he has no type of universal health care plan, he opposes restrictions on assault weapons, he supports NAFTA and all types of free-trade agreements that essentially support
shipping American jobs overseas, he does not support the Kyoto Protocol and thinks we should re-invest oil profits in nuclear power, his solution to public education problems is more charter schools, homeschooling and school vouchers, he thinks that we need more of the death penalty and more prisons and believes in prosecuting youth as adults, he thinks the solution for keeping jobs in America is to further cut corporate income taxes yet he voted against repealing a tax subsidy for corporations that move jobs overseas, he voted against adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes, he was given a rating of 0% by the ACLU (ZERO PERCENT!), 33% by the Human Rights Campaign, and 7% by the NAACP, he voted against outlawing job discrimination based on sexual orientation and finally he believes that the Ten Commandments would bring "virtue to our schools." Not to mention there are many other things generally wrong with him (like that he doesn't seem to really understand that Al-Qaeda is Sunni and not Shiite).

Do I need to say more to convince people that John McCain is not a friend to the Democrats??! Look, I voted for Barack Obama in the Wisconsin primary. It was a really difficult decision, as I have been a huge Hillary Clinton fan for years and years. (In fact, if only I had a scanner available I would post a picture of me gleefully standing outside her Senate office on my senior AP Government trip to D.C.!) However, I found myself feeling disgusted by some of her campaign strategies, such as the 3 AM phone call ad which I felt essentially said, "If you vote for Obama, terrorists will kill you." Some people think that Obama's lack of negativity shows weakness on his part, and maybe he should fight back sometimes and that
the "I'm a lover, not a fighter" thing won't do us any good in the general election. But for some reason I am really turned off by negativity, and so in the end it was Obama's positive energy that brought me to his side. That and the years he spent working as a community organizer. As someone with a degree in social work, I got really excited by that. But despite my current support of Obama, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, I will vote for her. If it ends up that she gets the nomination through some type of back room deal with the super delegates, I may have to hold my breath as I mark her name on my ballot, but I will still do it. Why? Because I am not interested in another four years of the Bush legacy.

So even if you are an Independent that has gone Democrat this year because you like Obama or you like Clinton, let me remind you that these two candidates are much more alike than they are different. If you are willing to support Obama's policies, then remember that Clinton's policies are not so different from his. McCain's on the other hand are a world away. If you are a Democrat and think you would be better off voting Republican than voting for the Democrat that you didn't support: SHAME ON YOU. You will be responsible for the Democrats losing what should have been a guaranteed victory in November. And when you discover that the next four years are just as bad as the past eight, you will have no right to complain.

Monday, April 21, 2008


When I was reading through my initial entry on this topic, I realized that I desperately need to work on being more concise. So rather than regale you with my description of a lovely spring day at the Dane County Farmers' Market, I will jump right to the point. When I was at the Market on the Capitol Square this past Sunday, I noticed a large rally on the Capitol steps. Using my excellent detective skills, I determined that it was a Human Rights Torch Relay rally. There were hundreds of individuals there, many of them Tibetan refugees and Tibetan-Americans, protesting China's human rights abuses and occupation of Tibet. Speeches were given and statements by people such as Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Senator Russ Feingold were read. Some Tibetan children performed a dance.

There were also protests organized by the local Chinese embassy and Chinese student groups. One of these Chinese protesters gave me a pamphlet, which upon reading turned out to be straight-up propaganda about Tibet. A protester standing next to her was holding a board with photos, captioned "Smiles of Tibetans." According to the pamphlet I received, Tibet has flourished under Chinese occupation. Basically, Tibetans should be really grateful to the Chinese for bringing them into the 21st century. The last page shows a photo of a Tibetan protester attacking the torch bearer of the Olympic relay in Paris. Across the page it states, "Violence is NEVER a solution."

I don't even want to get into the laughable hypocrisy involved in that statement, but I can't help from noting a few points. First of all, human rights organizations around the world and the U.S. Department of State have condemned China's human rights record. In a measure by the U.S. House of Representatives, it was cited that China has killed, tortured, imprisoned, raped and savagely beaten thousands of individuals for their spiritual practices. China has no right to claim the moral high ground on issues of non-violence, especially when the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, strongly opposes all forms of violence and has spoken out publicly against any violence perpetrated by Tibetan protesters.

To claim that China's occupation of Tibet is acceptable because the country has been modernized is ludicrous. Who's to say that the country couldn't have modernized on its own? The propaganda sheet that I received invited foreigners to come and see for themselves the "real truth" about Tibet by visiting the country. Well, unfortunately that is currently impossible since China has banned tourism to Tibet -- including entry by foreign journalists. But as a matter of fact, I happen to know some people who have visited Tibet and they left the country with an intense hatred for what the Chinese have done. According to them (and this has been corroborated by real news sources), the number of ethnic Tibetans will soon be smaller than the numbers of Han Chinese who have infiltrated the country. The Chinese have moved millions of their own citizens into Tibet, and the basic infrastructure of the country has slowly been changed to cater to the Chinese. The woman that I know who visited the country said that she won't be surprised if pretty soon signs written in Tibetan will be removed, leaving up only the ones in Chinese. Tibetans are not allowed to openly practice their religion -- even photographs of the Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet. Most recently, China has ordered Tibetans to undergo "patriotic education" (i.e. brainwashing) in regards to the Dalai Lama an the Tibetan community in exile.

"Genocide" might seem like a heavy word for what China has done in Tibet, but it is accurate. According to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is,
"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Genocide does not have to involve actual killing (although thousands of Tibetans have lost their lives thanks to the Chinese), it is simply the systematic destruction of a culture. China has without a doubt spent the past fifty years trying to wipe out Tibetan culture and replace it with its own.

And people within China don't see anything wrong with it, because as far as they are concerned nothing bad is going on in Tibet. Thanks to the Chinese government's fabulous propaganda campaign. My best friend's cousin was in China and he did an internet search of the keyword "Tibet" and all that came up were government websites spewing pro
paganda. Many of us in the U.S. (myself included) complain about the Bush administration and the propaganda on the Iraq war, etc. But we really have no idea what it is like to live in a country where the press is truly censored; where citizens only have access to what the government decides is appropriate; where the types of rallies and open demonstrations and dialogue that we engage in all the time in the United States would land us in jail in China.

I know people who are Chinese. When I was living in Portugal, some of my fellow foreign students were from China and they were some of the nicest people imaginable. I have nothing against the people of China. It's not their fault that they have grown up in a country where the government tells them what to think about things like Tibet. When they come to the United States and to other countries, I can understand why they have a hard time accepting what we have to say about it. They have been told something else for their whole lives.

And that is why propaganda sucks!

And that is also why I will not be watching the Olympics this year.