Dec 30 2008

"Stunningly Superficial"

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

It’s the phrase of the day…

JoeScar sets ’em up, ZBig knocks em down. I love it.

Dec 30 2008

Purity Pledges – A Policy of Ignorance

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

In a new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health the truth about Purity Pledges and Abstinence Only Education is revealed… They don’t work.

Of the individuals studied, a full 82% had reneged on their promise to refrain from sexual activity (this includes the full spectrum of sexual activity). Further, comdom usage by those who made purity pledges is 10% less than those who never made such a pledge. The study attributes this to, “negative views about condoms”, by those who participate in Abstinence only education.

Ever since the first report of the Purity Ball, and the increased reliance of Abstinence Only Sex Ed that has dominated the Bush Administration’s policy, I’ve had a sinking feeling about the fate of teens who are largely being used as political pawns in a game that has their future at stake. The notion that somehow telling a teenager to “Just Say No” when their body is saying just the opposite is mad, but that’s exactly what Abstinence only and these Purity Pledges are unsuccessfully trying to achieve.

To be fair, I haven’t explored the entire curriculum that is employed in Abstinence Only Sex-Ed. Different places likely have different versions of the program, but in polling my family members, nearly all of whom are current or former educators from elementary to secondary schools, they report that abstinence only education is a foul joke being played on the youth of America at the hands of those who are more interested in scoring political points, or bringing back some nostalgic religious fantasy of days gone by, than the health of the teens.

The truth of the matter is that people make better decisions when they are better informed. By giving in to the false notion that abstinence is the only way to protect against teen pregnancy we are effectively arming our teens with a hammer and calling the problem a nail, but it’s not that simple. Arming our teens with as much information as possible, from condoms to other contraception, as well as abstinence, is the best way to prevent teen pregnancy.

Short of locking them up from age 13 until they graduate, nothing is going to stop teenagers from having sex, nothing. The feelings are too complicated, and new. Emotion and “the heat of the moment” will almost always trump any rational decision-making. Abstinence only education ignores this completely, making it a “Good person/Bad person” situation. The long-term consequences of this false choice are detrimental to the individual. The message should be, “You’re not a bad person if you have sex before marriage, but you are putting yourself at risk. Here’s how to better protect yourself.”

Abstinence only presents a problem for those who subscribe to the “Family statement” from the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” There is no doubt that teen couples are not married, but the relationship can mirror “marriage” on an emotional level that complicates the issue. By telling young women that they are to “submit” to their spouses, then telling them to “Just say no” fundamentalist Christians have created a conflict that most teens are ill-equipped to solve.

Finally, abstinence-only proponents should be required to disclose that even abstinence isn’t foolproof, unless they deny the Immaculate Conception. Seriously folks, you have to be consistent.

The truth of the matter is that we, as a people, have to stop relying on ignorance to shape attitudes and drive debate, and work to make the best information possible, available to all our people, including teens. This means not relying on abstinence as the “only way”, but also informing them of the full menu of protections against pregnancy. It has been proven we can’t stop the behavior, so it is our duty to give our teens the tools to protect themselves from the worst consequences of sexual activity. When ignorance fails…educate!

Dec 29 2008

Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated…

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

The Wall Street Journal reports on a Russian foreign policy analyst that predicts the end of the United States sometime in 2010.

Funny thing is, he’s been predicting this for some 10 years.

Further he predicts that the nation will split up into 6 “regional nations”.

Igor Panarin isn’t considered a crackpot in Russia. In fact, he’s the Dean of the Foreign Ministry Academy that trains future diplomats, and a former KGB agent, which is just one of the areas where his theory (aside from the general crackpottiness as a whole) falls apart.

For some reason, the career foreign analyst is looking at the US through a lens skewed by the disintegration of the former USSR. Panarin’s analysis ignores our national identity as a whole. Unlike Russia, the states that make up the US were never nations with hundreds of years of history and unique cultural identities, unlike many of the states that once made up the USSR. As such, most Americans view themselves as Americans first, and natives of their states second. Few people, with the possible exception of Texans, view themselves as Tennessean-Americans, or Illinois-Americans. In fact, state identity rarely comes up when Americans talk about their American-ness. Strike 1.

Strike 2 comes from the “economic and moral collapse” that Panarin describes. Certainly, the current financial crisis is a blow to the nation, but it still hasn’t proven to be anywhere as deep or wide as the “Great Depression” of the 1930’s. Unemployment is nowhere near 25%. Vast wealth has been lost, but by and large, the wealthy are still wealthy, and even though the working class is suffering the bulk of the hurt, there is little chance that enough of them are willing to take up arms and fight a government that they generally identify with. Nationalism in the US is still high, though far lower than in the initial post-911 environment. If no one shows up for the 4th of July, I’ll worry. Until then, not so much.

As for the moral collapse, well, that ends on 1/20/09 when we replace our despotic President through a peaceful Presidential transition. Russia, on the other hand, can’t even seem to get rid of their despot (Putin).

Strike 3 comes when the actual purpose of the whole theory is revealed. From the article:

He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country’s top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S.

Does any of this sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like US characterizations of the USSR throughout my childhood.

During the Cold War the US used characterizations similar to this (long bread lines, etc.) to instill a level of national pride as a hedge against anyone who would seek to nationalize anything, and as a propaganda tactic for those living behind the “Iron Curtain” that had access to western media. I was too young to know if any of these reports were true at the time, or if the scope of the food shortages in the USSR were as widespread as they were reported to be, but it doesn’t really matter. This was a tool in the execution of the Cold War, just as it is a tool in the execution of Russian nationalism right now.

Since the ascension of Putin, the Russian Federation has sought to reclaim the “glory” of its former incarnation. Once the oligarchs in Russia had divvied up all they could for themselves, leaving many ordinary Russians in the lurch, they faced a great deal of internal challenges. Building nationalism is one way to distract a population that has largely been poorly served from the problems they face. That is all this theory is about.

Enjoy your fame Mr. Panarin. I imagine in 18 months, when your theory doesn’t come to pass, that the crow you eat will be might tasty. Hopefully by then you’ll be relegated to the sidelines like all those apocalypse predictors from times past.

Dec 15 2008

Bredesen’s Bone to Pick

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized
Tags: | 1 Comment

Apparently, there was some action on the race for the TNDP while I was in a full-scale internet blackout late last week.

Over at Post Politics, we saw our Governor exhibit his traditional “no position taken” position in endorsing Charles Robert Bone. Another post, quoting a Democratic insider with a very lively comments thread, and a litany of other posts about and around the subject.

At this point, I’m not ready to come out swinging for anyone. Forrester is saying the right things, but without a solid action plan, I’m still not sold. Mr. Bone, on the other hand, sufferers from the support of our Governor, whose Democratic credentials become more questionable every time he opens his mouth. Further, Mr. Bone hasn’t released ANYTHING to my knowledge detailing anything he intends to do at the TNDP, so that isn’t very reassuring.

One comment from this post really stands out in my mind

Frankly, I don’t think any of you people have a clue. Campaigns and caucuses run elections, not freaking parties. I have friends that are Democratic political operatives in North Carolina. They told me that the campaigns in that state are completely separate from the state party because the state party is run by a bunch of worthless crazies.

First, the commenter is generally correct, state parties cannot “work” every campaign. It’s just impossible. The state party can help tie campaigns together, or provide an overarching framework for campaigns to piggy back on. Secondly, I’m not sure what he means by “crazies”, but if “crazies” means minimizing your role to somehow create success, well, that sounds like crazy to me. Has the TNDP been run by crazies all this time? Maybe. And didn’t North Carolina get a new Democratic Senator and go for Obama? Well maybe a state party being run by crazies isn’t so bad after all!

I don’t think anyone is calling for the TNDP to work like the Politburo, expelling, or otherwise disciplining those who veer from its vision. I do think most Tennessee Democrats would like a party that seems outwardly engaged, something that was not evident in the last election cycle. Selecting an insider for the chair of the TNDP would seem to be a contrary position to that circumstance.

The reality is that no one will get the chair of the TNDP without being an insider. Insiders run politics at all levels. Even newcomers have to have some inside support to be successful. So the question for the TNDP may be, “What kind of insider do we want?” In order to answer that question, it may be helpful to determine what kind of insider we don’t want.

I don’t want a whiner who spends the bulk of their time blaming the top of the ticket, or tossing around straw men to somehow strengthen their diminishing position, I want a fighter. I don’t want a person that relies solely on their inside ties to run the party, I want someone with a broad vision willing to include people from all walks of life in innovative ways. I don’t want someone who views the role of the TNDP as that of a fiscal parasite, leeching off the national party for existence, I want someone who will make the party strong and sustainable.

Of the two announced candidates, I don’t know if either are the right choice for the party, but I do know that the party is not in a strong enough position to provide the support necessary to bring a Democratic majority back to the state ledge.

Another comment that I thought was interesting came from Nate de Salvo

By the logic you people throw around, Howard Dean and the DNC won the presidency, not Barack Obama. And I guess the RNC and whoever their chairman is lost.

How ignorant is that?

I would submit that the RNC, NRCC, and NRSC DID lose over the past two cycles. They had a President that was relatively popular until he proved himself utterly incompetent to the rest of the nation (most Democrats were painfully aware of this long before) in 2005. The result was losing the majority of the Congress, as well as the White House. That seems like a failure on a party level to me.

I would also argue that, while Howard Dean may not deserve all the credit for the gains that Democrats have made nationally, he does deserve some credit for setting up a system that works to involve as many people as possible in the process. Dean’s 50 state strategy laid the groundwork for Obama’s fundraising and organizing bonanza. I credit Dean for opening our eyes to a new potential that doesn’t deny the effectiveness of old campaign methods, but incorporates new ways of communicating into them.

Ultimately, that’s the same type of role the TNDP should work toward; laying the groundwork for campaigns to be successful.

Finally, I want to talk about our Governor. I don’t blame him for the losses in 2008 any more than I credit him for anything in 2006. He’s the Governor. I understand the impact top of ticket races can have on down ticket contests, but unlike the Governor, I don’t blame the top of the ticket for the problems at the bottom of the ticket. Every race is unique, with unique opportunities and challenges. Still, as the head of state, and the highest elected Democratic politician in the state, he has a leadership role. Being an effective leader requires a lot of skills, accountability is one of them. Blaming the top of the ticket for problems down the ballot is childish. Each contest stands on its own, and the individual campaigns, including the coordinating campaigns of the Democratic Party and Caucus apparatus should be nimble enough to provide support in this challenging year for the state.

Perhaps the top of the ticket created additional challenges for down ballot contests, but we knew who the Democratic Presidential nominee was going to be by state primary day here in Tennessee, and some of the challenges that had to be overcome. That left plenty of time for the individual candidates, and the Democratic leadership to adjust their strategy. Blaming Obama for the losses in the state is like blaming Toyota for the broken car you never maintained. Had the powers that be spent as much time building the party as they have taken credit or passed blame, depending on the situation, the party would be in a position to weather these storms.

Unfortunately, the Governor chose to focus on “sage advise” to the President-elect, like visiting a Waffle House, or Wal-Mart. In doing so, Bredesen “accidentally” reinforced right wing talking points that Obama was somehow an elitist. Now, I’m no strategy guru, but it seems like if someone is calling you an “elitist” the last thing you want is your “friends” saying anything that might reinforce that message, particularly if that “friend” is freelancing a message on a level that’s just way out of this world.

Maybe the Governor should have followed his own advise with State candidates, showing up at Wal-Marts and Waffle Houses in hotly contested areas instead of providing material for Bill Hobbs. Just a thought.

Dec 10 2008

Chip’s Vision

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized
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Kleinheider posts on a letter from TNDP candidate for Chair, and current Treasurer, Chip Forrester.

The letter gives scant new details on how Forrester plans to turn the party around, but does give just enough to make one want more, an appetizer or general vision, if you will, giving Democrats a tantalizing taste of what Chip wants to do for the Party.

Last week while I was out of town, Forrester met with several Memphis Democrats, and let some of his plans be known, though still in a very general way, for the party. All in all, I think most people came away from it with a pretty good feeling.

Since I couldn’t attend, much to my displeasure, I didn’t benefit from this “feel good”. In fact, just moments before Kleinheider posted his report I was wondering just what was going on with our current Treasurer’s campaign for TNDP Chair. I’m glad to see he’s making inroads with several constituencies.

Unfortunately, as is my nature, I’m still not convinced. At this point, I may be the only one in the state, but I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of party politics both here and in Arkansas for some 20 years and I’m skeptical. To be fair, I’m a perpetual skeptic, and I’m unrealistically hard on everyone, including myself. That said, I’m one of the most optimistic skeptics you’ll ever find anywhere. I want to believe that things will get better, but have lived through the reality that it rarely does.

We can talk about broad ideas and gimmicks to turn the party around, and some, hell many, of them may work. But the devil’s in the details. Many of us want to know specifics.

I don’t have a vote in this thing. I’m not a state Execom member. I am a stakeholder, as is everyone in Tennessee. As much as conventional wisdom would like to say that nothing happens in Nashville, really quite a bit happens there that affects our daily lives. Who our representatives will be, will shape unseen details of life in Tennessee for years, perhaps decades to come. Ultimately, that’s why this is important, that’s why we need more than a vision.

I hope that whoever becomes the chair of the TNDP, most likely Mr. Forrester, can turn that vision into a plan, and coordinate that plan with the county parties throughout the state. Still, I’d like to see a detailed plan, and soon. I don’t think I’m being melodramatic in saying that the position is of great importance to the future of the state of Tennessee, and the TNDP.

As for Mr. Forrester, should you be selected Chair, remember, we are your soldiers and we are ready to fight. Let us know your plan.