Friday, September 14, 2007

AmeriCorps*NCCC -- Heroes to the gulf coast, on the chopping block again in DC

I was really sad to hear that AmeriCorps*NCCC, the national service program I served in in 2000 that I would credit as one of the most important experiences in my life, and which I believe passionately is one of the best uses of taxpayer money that exists, is once again in financial peril, with President Bush proposing, and the house agreeing, to slash the budget by 58% (for proper context, that's from $26 million to $11 million).

But this editorial made me very, very happy, though it's not surprising. Since Hurricane Katrina, AmeriCorps*NCCC has, quite correctly, been devoting most of its resources to recovery on the gulf coast. This is exactly the kind of work NCCC, with its small, energetic, mobile teams, is perfectly designed to do.

I also know that everybody who watches an AmeriCorps*NCCC team in action becomes a devoted fan of the program. That was true in my experience, and for every other team I heard about. How could you not love the program when you see 12 or so young people who are devoting a year of their lives to helping improve their country while making virtually no money and living in crappy conditions?

To quote my favorite part of the editorial from the South Mississippi Sun Herald:

Among the many who wear the name "hero" in our book of golden deeds performed here, the Americorps volunteers will forever have a place of honor in our memory - idealistic young people, and seniors also, who came here and lived in Spartan conditions for month after month, in military tents, going out day after day to help the people of South Mississippi pull themselves out of the debris and rebuild.

So there is some amazement, and perhaps a bit of controlled anger, to know that the House would so injudiciously cut this fine organization to the bone.

Perhaps those who control the budgets would fare better in the opinion of their countrymen if they came and served in this zone of extreme need as these fine Americorps volunteers have done. But absent such service, their next best step toward redemption would be to restore the funding.

I was also really thrilled to read that the one person in Congress pushing to expand the program, instead of cut it, is MS senator Thad Cochran. He's a conservative Republican, but it just goes to show that national service is hardly a liberal idea. It's using a very limited amount of federal resources to enable Americans to work together to improve America and, at the same time, develop an ethos of national unity and service. Who in their right mind would want to do anything but make such a program big enough to fit everybody who wants to join?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Huffington Post jumps the shark

I've always avoided the Huffington Post because it seemed, based on my limited reading of it, to be a monument to the indulgence of the pretentious, condescending, simplistic Hollywood liberal. And yes, I realize that in some people could accuse me of being at least the last two words in that phrase, if not more. But there are many far far worse than me. I often meet them at parties, which sometimes leads me to pretend to be a conservative and argue in favor of banning gay marriage or the war in Iraq just because I know I could outargue these people from the right and it infuriates me that everyone is agreeing with each other based on simplistic and fucking stupid arguments. So I try to piss them off and in the process often end up embarrassing Alicia.

But I happened upon this HuffPost post by Matt Littman from a link on another site and I have to say, while there are probably worse ones I haven't see,n this seems like the apogee of embarassingly self-centered elite Hollywood liberalism on the site. The post is titled "Is Los Angeles In Permanent Decay?" a not entirely crazy question. But this is the money quote:

Angelenos have had a moment akin to when the American people saw George Bush flying over New Orleans in his helicopter, completely out of touch with reality.

What is the reason for this obviously preposterous and offensive comparison? Poor Matt Littman's power was out... for two days! And the people from the Department of Water and Power were rude/incompetent on the phone.

That obviously sucks. Especially since we've been suffering through a heat wave here in L.A. But to compare the situation to a city that was literally physically destroyed by a hurricane? And a government response that was so incompetent it left people literally dying from thirst, unsanitary conditions, violence, etc. and stuck in overcrowded shelters when they should have been evacuated? That's insane.

L.A. has more than its share of problems. But our city hasn't been physically destroyed and, while I'm sorry that the operators at DWP were rude to poor Matt Littman, basic services work 99% of the time.

Coming soon in the Huffington Post: "Why the service I received while eating in the Paramount commissary with Brad Grey is worse than the conditions in Darfur."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Biden's book vs. Bradley's book

I haven't read a political book in a long while, but I decided to get back into the genre this summer as two of the men I respect most in recent American politics both released new books. They couldn't have been more different.

Bill Bradley's "The New American Story" is, to put it nicely, an unreadable pile of cr*p. It's a collection of incredibly bland analysis of the current state of American politics -- everybody's too partisan, Republicans are better organized than Democrats, our world is more interconnected than ever -- followed by unoriginal center-left policy ideas on issues like the environment, health care, education, etc. I actually agree with alot of what he has to say, but reading this book, I'm not surprised he got his ass whupped in the 2000 Democratic primary -- his style is so boring he makes Al Gore (circa-2000) look like Huey Long.

The worst are the anecdotes. Bradley's book is full of bile-inducing stories that are supposed to inspire people but would make any right thinking person want to vomit. Here are a couple of my "favorites"

[After taking some foreign visitors to the Jefferson Memorial, he runs into Supreme Court Justice Byron White showing the Memorial to some visitors of his own] The fact of a U.S. senator and a Supreme Court justice meeting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, both proud of our national heritage and anxious to share it, gave me a good feeling about our country. In the presence of the great words spoken by our great leaders, we are reminded that America remains an unfinished and unrealized idea.

And here's Bill Bradley's story to inspire us as to why government needs to help the underprivileged:

A friend of mine told me about a mother and her nine-year old son who went to Washington, DC. They came out of a subway and there sat a homeless man begging for money. The little boy saw the man, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the money he had been saving over the last year to spend during the trip. He looked up at his mother, and she said that what he did was up to him. He gave the man half of what he'd saved. They walked around trhe corner and there sat three more homeless men begging. The boy looked sadly at his mother and said, "I don't have any more money." She said, "Take this as a lesson. There are some things in life that you can't do alone." This is what government is for -- to help us do together what we can't do by ourselves.

By the by, this story is obviously not true. No nine year-old saves money for a year to spend on a trip to Washington, DC and no mother speaks to a little kid that way. The fact that he printed it makes me worry that Bill Bradley is either a) a liar or b) incredibly gullible.

The other book, which I just finished, is Joe Biden's "Promises to Keep." Don't get me wrong -- this isn't Pulitzer Prize material. But it's refreshingly honest and completely readable. I feel like I learned a lot about Biden, a fair amount about the major issues he has been involved in, and even got a few good anecdotes about his life in politics.

While he does lay on the schmaltz about the lessons he learned from his father and grandfather a bit thick, Biden gives some fascinating insights into a number of issues, like the controversies over school busing in the '70s, the Bork Supreme Court hearings, the the U.S. interventions in the former Yugoslavia.

He also admits a lot of his own mistakes, like believing Jimmy Carter would be a great president and voting for the Iraq war (that chapter is titled, succinctly, "my mistake"). His story about running for president in 1988 is particularly compelling. Biden admits that he jumped into the race due to a combination of political consultants pressuring him and his own ego, and that it was a mistake from the start. The chapter about his decision to run is titled, ironically, "this can't hurt us" -- obviously not a good enough reason to run, and obviously not true after his campaign sunk under the weight of largely scurrilous accusations of plagiarism (accusations first made, I wasn't surprised to learn, by Maureen Dowd. Was this the first major triumph of her destructive style=substance form of analysis?).

Biden also weaves in details from his personal life rather well, from the well known death of his first wife and daughter soon after he was elected in '72 to his near-life-ending aneurysm just after he dropped out of the '88 race to the work it takes to raise a family while being a senator.

One other thing that occurred to me as I read it: Joe Biden has had two separate brain surgeries, so people should probably give him a break about the hair plugs. I doubt he would look better bald.