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Friday, January 23, 2009

So because I lost an early draft of this post Wednesday, yesterday I had to type it up in a "draft" editor that was autosaving but not rendering everything correctly. I had to use regular Blogger to add the strip image.

(From Something Positive. Click for full-sized pie.)

This is going to be a shorter review than some of my other ones.

Something Positive is funny in a way, because for me, it's the opposite of xkcd. When I reviewed xkcd I started out doing a limited archive binge, and because I found myself with little to say, I decided to follow along with the strip at the pace it normally updates before reviewing it. It didn't change my lack of anything to say, but that in itself was something to say. That incident gave me my policy of following along with strips for a spell before reviewing them, which has been taken to the point where I generally don't necessarily archive binge anymore.

So with S*P, I've been spending the past few weeks following along with the strip, and when that left me with very little to say about it, I decided to go back to the beginning of last year and follow along on an archive binge. And at first, that didn't change my lack of anything to say. At first.

Because I'm convinced Something Positive reads better all at once than as it updates.

Honestly, S*P is an odd duck to categorize. On the one hand, it's a gag-a-day comic, and even there it's a bit schitzophrenic. Sometimes it's making commentary on geek culture, and when it does it can be hard to tell whether Randy Milholland hates geek culture with a passion, is in fact sympathetic, is one himself, or a combination of any or all of the above.

The flip side is when it's a chronicle of the ordinary lives of its characters, and here, it oddly takes on elements of a storyline comic. Milholland is not shy about allowing his characters to grow, change, and undergo some form of character evolution. It's tempting to compare it to Seinfeld or the like, but it's different as well. Several characters have several ongoing plots, which move at a snail's pace but still actually move. If there's an appeal to the strip, it's in waiting for all these plots to move while laughing at the geek-culture strips. It's easier to appreciate all these shifts if you can read them in a single archive binge, where all the infinitesimal movements are less annoying, and a host of only marginally funny strips can have their humor add up and rope you into the strip.

Basically, the ongoing plots are the most compelling element of the strip, but they move incredibly slowly, so if you don't have much patience at all that shouldn't be a reason you follow S*P. Conversely, if you find the geek humor funny you might decide to read it for that reason, but because of the plots that humor isn't as common as you might like and isn't always as funny as it should be.

And Milholland has a lot of characters and a lot of plots. It's even more daunting, and potentially confusing, when fairly minor characters get significant screen time and their own plots largely independent of the (nominal) main cast. During my binge I often had a hard time keeping all the characters straight. (How many red-heads does Milholland have in his cast anyway???) Milholland has a fairly prodigious cast page (though it has some gaps, including Aubrey, who you'd think would be first in line to get an actual page considering she's one of the original three cast members) but it leaves me with the impression that Milholland has spent a little more time than you'd expect with characters whose connection with the main cast was always a little thin in the first place. (Mike would fall into this category.) This may have something to do with who the fandom has latched on to, but still. And these are just the ones Milholland maintains plotlines for; there are boatloads of other characters that only show up at "Old Familiar Faces" time.

I also have a little bit of an issue with the art, although I think I have more of an issue than I otherwise would with Milholland's text-laden panels (which Ctrl+Alt+Del is so criticized for) and irrelevant art because recent strips that happened to fall within the time I was following it hammered home the point for me. Two strips in particular, one of which saw a last-minute script swap-out and the other one of which Milholland just couldn't decide between two scripts. In both cases, the art is exactly the same in both versions. Seriously. Milholland basically could take any four panels of Davan and Aubrey talking and plop in whatever dialogue he needed. He could create the new Dinosaur Comics, even! And they'd probably go on and on about whatever their problems were and how to fix them and some snarky remark and... and there are quite a few strips where the dialogue could be swapped out for something else! It's tempting for me to ask "why make a webcomic if the art doesn't matter? Why not go into prose?" but that would disqualify half of webcomicdom, including Dinosaur Comics, which is beloved partly because the art doesn't matter. (On another note, be sure to check out my webcomic!)

I don't think I hate Something Positive nearly as much as I've made it seem in this review. I can certainly imagine it being an enjoyable diversion for someone, and I did have a few laughs and found myself constantly clicking the "next" button wherever I was in the archive, but I'm not sure I can completely endorse it either. I don't want to say it's mediocre at best, but I think I do have some deal-breaker problems with it, or at least a series of smaller problems stacked one on top of another that mixes with just not being quite compelling enough. But I think my state of mind is affecting my judgment here, because of all the stress I've been under recently, and because of that there will be no webcomic post next week so I can recharge my batteries, catch up on past stuff, and allow my next webcomic post to be on Order of the Stick so I can stick to a realm I'm comfortable in and already know what I'm getting coming in.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

After the Golden Bowl...

...Mark Sanchez, seeing how close he came to a national championship, elects to come back to USC for another season.

Think of how acrimonious his real-life decision to jump to the NFL was, how it caused a split with his coach and maybe even his father.

Now suppose that, rather than being the top of the heap, about as high as his career could go with the risk of injury being the main thing looming, the Rose Bowl put him in a real national championship game. And put Sanchez within one game of becoming the true champion of college football... and he lost (and had a mediocre performance that would hurt his standing with NFL scouts).

Don't you think he would be a little more tempted to come back and get over that last hump? Even once Tim Tebow announces he's coming back as well, it's unlikely to change his decision; he wants to get a rematch in next year's Golden Bowl where he thinks the Trojans can come out on top this time. After all, this year's Golden Bowl was in Florida's home state; next year's will be a virtual home game at the Rose Bowl.

I'm going to simulate next year's Golden Bowl Tournament based on the actual results of that season's games, not based on some alternate universe where Sanchez still plays at USC. But this sort of thing is the sort of impact instituting a playoff would have on college football - real, substantive effects that change the course of college football history. And doesn't even simulate injuries (because it's intended to simulate one-game exhibitions).

Keep that in mind while you're debating the merits of a playoff.

Yes, the college football rankings and lineal title are coming! Hold your horses!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Maybe this post is just to maintain my two-today pledge in my own mind.

One thing that, when you think about it, is rather amazing about America is its diversity - not in race or creed or anything like that, but in the places people live. America is a big country - only Russia, China, and depending on who you talk to, China (and I'm not talking about Taiwan) are bigger. But in those other three countries there are pretty wide swaths of the country that are basically unsettled, and #5 on the list, Brazil, is a full million square kilometers smaller - and with the exception of the capital of Brasilia, the vast majority of the population is packed in on the coast. Australia is perhaps the only country that can compare to the US' size and uniformity (all other countries are a third the States' size at best), in that they have at least some major cities on the west coast (Perth, the capital of Western Australia, is fourth-largest), but even they have the Outback. The United States may have a lot of "flyover country", but fairly large cities like St. Louis and Texas' cities dot it, and even the Rocky Mountains have some sizable cities in Denver, Salt Lake, and the like. And on the UN's list of "urban agglomerations", only India has two entries larger than Los Angeles, or three entries larger than Chicago.

Perhaps as a result, we seem to take a lot of pride in our cities and really identify with them, especially since we tend to be further from other cities than in other countries. It also helps that our cities identify themselves more and stand out more. Sure, you might have heard of both Shanghai and Beijing, or even Mumbai and Delhi, but good luck distinguishing between them. But Los Angeles is the movie capital, Las Vegas is the gambling capital, Boston and Chicago are crazy about sports, Philadelphia and Boston are birthplaces of the nation, Miami is a vacation destination, San Francisco is known for the Golden Gate Bridge and liberalism, and so on. (I'm sure people in other nations will tell me the only reason I can't tell the difference between cities in the same country outside the US is because I'm an ignorant American, but bear with me here.)

We all identify with Americans, but in something that may be a holdover from the days when people identified themselves by their state first, the place we live is close behind. There isn't a monolithic culture across the entire country; America's too big for that. One thing Americans take for granted that, from what I hear, is largely unique is that we have one level of news broadcasts for the nation, but also another for each community we live in. Similarly, when it comes to sports teams we identify very tightly with a fairly small set of sports teams that generally associate with one general metro area, and for the most part, we root for the local team by default. I really am fascinated by it. The closest parallel in Europe might not be individual cities like London and Paris, but the whole countries within the European Union.

Anyway, I'm not sure where I was going with this, other than I wanted to talk about ESPN's creating a blog network for local coverage of all 30 NBA teams. There's quite a bit of mileage out there in the "blogosphere" - you have blogs for specific topics, blogs for just about any league, blogs for individual teams, and so on. (Baseball and college basketball are presumably now demanding their own blog networks from ESPN.)

I was wondering if there were blogs out there covering a given city's entire sports scene - one for New York, one for Chicago, one for Philadelphia, and the like. I was shocked to discover that (at least for New York and Seattle) they were few and far between! Blogs covering individual teams, two at most, were FAR more common! I could understand that it might be stressful to cover too many teams in too many sports at once, but it can't be THAT stressful just to be a fan of the teams in your backyard, and certainly the reward of building a tight-knit community of fans would be worth it, don't you think? Even if you're uncomfortable covering two teams in the same sport that are probably bitter rivals, you could easily split the work with a sister blog or second writer, right?

2009 Golden Bowl: USC v. Florida

I introduced the Golden Bowl after the semifinals as Golden Bowl II, but given my shifts in priorities and the new way we got here, not to mention I'm not waiting a year to present the results, I think Golden Bowl I might be more appropriate... prepare for a lot of scrolling...

Golden Bowl I: #9 USC v. #2 Florida
USC gets the ball off the opening kickoff and takes it to the 31. The instant the teams line up at the line of scrimmage, Florida gives them the gift of an encroachment penalty. Stafon Johnson gets nailed behind the line. Mark Sanchez tosses it forward to Patrick Turner who picks up 5, and C.J. Gable picks up 14 yards for the first down. Damian Williams can't quite bring in the pass from Sanchez, but Gable picks up another first down to the 36. Johnson takes it to the 24 for another first down. Gable manages to move the pile for three yards, then Johnson breaks through for 15 to the 6. Joe McKnight's first carry picks up two yards, one of which Gable loses. Sanchez takes the ball and can't find anyone open, ending up tackled at the line, forcing a chip-shot field goal attempt. The kick is good and USC takes the early lead.

The ensuing kickoff is short, caught at the 10, and returned to the 30. Chris Rainey can only get a short gain on his first carry, but picks up a first down on his second. Percy Harvin picks up the ball from there and takes it 9 yards, and Jeffery Demps gets more than enough to pick up the next first down to the 48. But Rainey gets stuffed, Tim Tebow just barely overthrows his receiver, and Tebow himself gets stuffed, and Florida is forced to punt. (Incidentially, the amazing thing about Florida's run in this tournament is that I don't think Whatifsports has much of a concept of the running quarterback, given Tebow's performance!) USC seems to have the early edge, but the Gator punt pins them on the 14.

Gable runs for a little, then Johnson drops the pass from Sanchez. Sanchez has better luck with Turner and Vidal Hazleton, and a couple of 15-or-so yard gains move the Trojans to their own 48. Another Sanchez throw picks up another five from there, but Johnson gets stuffed for a short gain and a defender deflects the pass on third down. USC's punter returns the favor done him by the Gator punter, pinning the Gators at the same spot.

But after Rainey gets stuffed at the line, Tebow hands the ball off to Demps... and he breaks into the open field! No one can catch him! 40, 30, 20, 10... Touchdown! Just like that the Gators take the lead! USC takes the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and to the 29, but Johnson gets stuffed, Brandon Antwine records the first sack of the day, and on third-and-15 Sanchez's pass gets broken up. The instant Florida takes the field, it's clear the momentum has shifted: Demps picks up a yard on a draw, Harvin runs for the marker and just gets it on the measurement, then Rainey gets stuffed and Harvin gets more yardage off the draw, leaving Florida at third and 3 as the quarter ends.

Tebow gets stuffed at the line, but the ball is on the USC 34 and Urban Meyer decides to go for it on 4th down. Emmanuel Moody, however, can only get a yard. No problem for the Gator defense: the Trojans botch a screen on first down, which falls incomplete, and attempts by Johnson and Sanchez to take it further only complete another three-and-out. Florida manages to return the punt almost to midfield.

There, however, is where it ends: Tebow gets stuffed behind the line, Demps is scarsely better, and Harvin gets the pitch but can't take it all the way to the marker. Still, USC is pinned at the 14 again. The toss to Anthony McCoy picks up six yards, and Gable takes the ball for another six and a first down. McKnight gets the ball again but this time loses significant yardage, but Turner catches the pass from Sanchez and makes up for it. Johnson plucks the ball from the air on third down and stretches it out to the 46 for a 16-yard first down. Johnson gets the ball running on the next play and takes it a decent distance again, then picks up the first down through the air again to the Florida 37. Johnson puts up more good yardage on the run, but when Sanchez attempts to throw again, Will Hill picks him off, wasting the drive.

Rainey takes the ball 14 yards, but three Moody runs pick up a total of five yards and Florida is forced to punt. Sanchez hands it off to Johnson again, then sees his pass batted down and finally hands it off to Gable, but gets nowhere, and the ensuing punt gets returned into USC territory. Rainey and Demps have some short runs before Tebow throws to Deonte Thompson, who manages to weave past defenders to the 29. Moody gets a short gain, Harvin a short loss, and Tebow throws it again, this time short of the marker - and his only completed pass of the day to someone not named Deonte Thompson. Jonathan Phillips comes in for a 39-yard field goal attempt, and the kick sails through the uprights to put Florida up by 7 with less than two minutes left in the half.

Johnson picks up a first down, but USC isn't able to take advantage of the clock stoppage and calls timeout. Gable gets halfway to the next marker on a draw, then Sanchez sees another pass broken up and gets sacked on the next play. Florida calls timeout before the punt; after the punt, Tebow picks up a little, then throws to Thompson again to put the Gators just short of the first down. Moody then gets the ball again for a short gain, and the half ends. USC 3, Florida 10, but most observers think the Florida defense has USC bottled up, though they could still break out during the second half.

Florida takes the second-half kickoff to the 29. Kestahn Moore picks up five yards, and Rainey loses one before Florida gets flagged for a false start on third down. Moore is pinned behind the line and the Gators punt. USC doesn't do much better; McKnight is stuffed at the line, Gable gets nailed for a loss, and Sanchez flips it up to Damian Williams, who makes it back to the original line of scrimmage. Florida, though, gets a great punt return, with USC only getting the stop at the 2. Rainey and Demps don't get anywhere with a pair of runs, but Harvin finally pushes into the end zone. Florida takes a 17-3 lead.

USC takes the kickoff to the 26, but after Johnson takes it past the 30, two McKnight runs prove that the master of the previous rounds is not his normal self today, bottled up by the fantastic Gator defense. Florida gets the ball back at the 43, but runs by Moody, Rainey, and Moore only bring the ball to midfield, and they punt it back.

McKnight gets a short gain on a draw, then has his biggest play so far, going for 14 yards and a first down on a pass from Sanchez. Johnson gets a big gain for a first down on a draw, while Gable is less successful, but Sanchez connects with Williams for a big play to the Gator 25. But that's it: McKnight gets nailed for a big loss, and Brandon Spikes picks off Sanchez for the Gators' second interception.

Moore quickly breaks off a big run into Trojan territory, and now the Gators are threatening to score. Three straight Tebow running attempts go nowhere, however, the last one resulting in a substantial loss. This time, the loss, moving them back to the 38, is sufficient to bring in the punt unit, which ends up putting the ball on the 14. McKnight seems to continue his resurgence with runs of 4 and 11 yards - hardly the numbers he was putting up against Utah, Oklahoma and Penn State, but certainly decent - and Sanchez throws to McCoy to take the ball to the USC 46 for another first down. Johnson gets the ball and runs all the way to the sidelines for a short gain. The quarter ends on that note.

If Sanchez can keep from getting intercepted USC can still make a game out of it. Gable passes midfield and McKnight finds the first down marker before getting the pass from Sanchez. Running the ball, however, gets nowhere. Two Sanchez passes end up getting tackled for losses, stuffing the drive and forcing another punt. Demps gets a short gain on a draw, with Rainey picking up a first down on another one. Demps and Moody make further contributions, gaining a total of 5, and Tebow can't carry it further, forcing another punt.

USC starts on their own 27. Johnson takes it to the 30 but a false-start penalty wipes it out. Two Sanchez scrambles go nowhere and USC punts, with some wondering if Pete Carroll should go for it, especially when Florida gets good field position. 8:06 left. Harvin is stuffed on first down, but Moore gets a good run on a draw, and one last pass from Tebow to Thompson is good for a first down and takes it to the 40. Tebow takes it himself on a draw, then hands it off to Rainey and Harvin, taking the ball to the 31, just short of the marker. Phillips comes in to try a 48 yard field goal attempt, which manages to make it through the uprights. Now Florida has a 17-point lead, three scores, with 5:10 left. If USC is going to come back, now is the time.

USC takes the kickoff to the 29, but lets the play clock run out before running their first play. Sanchez overthrows Williams but manages to get the ball to Turner for 18 yards, despite Florida pass interference. Pete Carroll calls timeout with 4:46 to play. Sanchez hits Williams and makes it into Florida territory and marginal field goal range. Sanchez takes it himself and runs around out of bounds, then hits McCoy to make it to the 19. 4:07 left. Then the Gator secondary locks down. Sanchez is forced to tuck it in and run for a yard, then gets the pass off and sees it batted down. On third down Sanchez overthrows Johnson. Even though they only need two touchdowns and a field goal, Carroll elects to go for it on fourth down rather than take the points, and Sanchez overthrows McCoy. 3:26 left.

Short gains by Moody and Demps bracket a 14-yard run by Rainey. Tebow just barely overthrows Harvin on second down, stopping the clock, and Demps only gains four on third-and-nine, so USC gets the ball back. But the drive has achieved its aim: over two minutes were run off the clock, and 1:14 now remains with the Trojans on the 20.

Sanchez overthrows his first pass again, and this time takes it in and runs for yardage... only to see one of his linemen flagged for holding. Sanchez throws another incompletion, and another holding call is declined this time to set up third down. This time Sanchez comes through, hitting Williams for a monster gain to the 35, but then he overthrows McCoy, botches another screen, and overthrows another receiver. Oddly, on fourth down Sanchez hands it off to Johnson, who gets out of bounds... after gaining three yards. Florida gets the ball back with 24 seconds left, and one Tim Tebow knee later, Florida is your Golden Bowl Champion, completing the Grand Slam on Da Blog. Demps is named the Golden Bowl MVP, mostly because of his great touchdown run, though also because he managed to be Florida's leading rusher, 100 yards, despite fewer carries than Rainey (Demps had 10; Rainey picked up 61 on 13).
Final score: USC 3, Florida 20

Another reason why I might sometimes be slower than I'd like...

Sometimes Internet Explorer will just freeze up for basically no reason at all and I have to wait for it to finish doing a bunch of shit on the hard drive. I just lost the webcomic post to this. I hadn't done much work on it but I HAD done some... it doesn't help that Blogger's "draft" post editor STILL doesn't have auto-saving drafts...

(Is there something wrong with the New York Times site or something? Because after struggling on a page there for a while, slowing the computer down to worse than a crawl, IE just up and quit, without giving me a warning message from Blogger or even an error screen from Windows. Might be an IE issue...)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The post time on this post is on Tuesday PT, just before midnight. I say that counts. Even if it actually goes up at 2 AM.

So I don't have the results of the Golden Bowl, or the final college football rankings, and the NFL Lineal Title hasn't been updated, neither has the college title really, and the webcomic post is going to be delayed until at LEAST tomorrow (Wednesday), and I should come clean and figure out the reason all these things, plus myriad schoolwork and my job hunting, are late.

I've long figured, in my own mind, that checking all my myriad RSS feeds shouldn't take too long. I mention my RSS reader from time to time on my webcomic posts, and I am of the position that having an RSS feed will greatly accelerate the day I review your comic. I may well be reviewing Sluggy Freelance this week if it had an RSS feed; instead it could take a month or more.

Well, webcomics aren't the only thing on my RSS feed - I have eight or nine feeds on sports alone and those are just the ones still updating. (One of them has an odd little problem; it seems IE7 can detect the items on there, but isn't detecting new items, not even slotting them in the old items' slots.) I have plenty of other feeds as well, covering more topics than you can shake a stick at, and many of them are blogs. Ideally not only would most of them be short, I could read at least some of them at home, and not waste time I could be spending doing stuff that actually requires an Internet connection.

Commonly, however, they often link to longer articles. Or I could get stuck reading a bunch of stuff I'm not interested in, or doing a lot of scrolling through the feed. And on both the posts and the longer articles, I'm often moved to comment, or at least look at the comments, and that can involve as much effort as writing a blog post.

One thing I like about Irregular Webcomic! that's almost as novel - maybe more, for its impact outside webcomics - as its structure is its RSS feeds. Yes, I said feeds, plural. One feed contains just a link to the comic, with a list of themes it's in. Another feed contains the comic itself, and a third feed contains the comic and its complete annotation. I don't have much use of the lesser feeds for a webcomic, but imagine if Blogger allowed readers all these options.

Blogger allows you two choices of feed, "short" (first paragraph or 255 characters, though I suspect strictly the latter, with no paragraph breaks or images) and "full" (entire posts). The choice of feed is a philosophical choice: you could be on the side of making sure people trigger your hit counters and see your ads, or you could make it more convenient for them to read your blog as long as you're giving them a feed. But believe it or not, some people may prefer a short feed, if they have less interest in the topic and don't want to commit too much time to reading a bunch of crap they're not terribly interested in, and scrolling past all of it.

If I had to quibble with any feed's decision on how much info to put in their feed, it would probably be Sports Media Watch's short feeds. I always click on anything SMW puts up, even if it's something I read already in a place like Awful Announcing and I don't need to know anything more. But I can imagine how the topic might be just a little too geeky for other people and they don't want to dwell on it too much. If something doesn't interest them in the title and first sentence, skip it. (And Paulsen has pretty short posts. AA would benefit from a short feed, for that matter, even though I wouldn't use it.) Conversely, there are some things I'd rather see in short-feed form that publish as long feeds, yet I can see how people would be interested enough in the topic to want a long feed.

So anyway, that's been my chief distraction: too many feeds to check. I haven't been able to follow webcomics without feeds, and I haven't bothered to fix feeds that aren't working, and I dread it when I add a new feed, which I do sparingly. And it all monopolizes time from other stuff. Even the semi-frivolous business of Da Blog has fallen by the wayside to the almost completely frivolous business of checking stuff.

I may re-prioritize some of my feeds and re-organize my folders to clear out some of the cruft and most frustrating stuff, and I'm going to try to focus more on more important stuff... but I've told myself that before. The problem is that checking feeds is relatively low-intensity, so it marks good rest time, but I just need to reduce the time it takes somehow.

So. If you want to stick it to Microsoft with the exception of your operating system, click here for the Random Internet Discovery, which I may have more to say about later. And I guarantee at least two posts on Wednesday. Of course, that's contingent on me getting enough sleep now...

(And I have a serious beef with Buzzcomix. It's one thing to have your site suspended twice in a little over two weeks, but to not even have a channel to let people know what's going on, especially when the old site had a forum...)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VIII: “Renewing the American Community” Part II: Micro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VII of my examination of the Democratic Platform.

"Firearms": Ah, now this is a touchstone issue: is the Second Amendment unassailable, or can we restrict firearm purchases to help keep them out of the hands of criminals and children?
We recognize that the right to bear arms is an important part of the American tradition, and we will preserve Americans' Second Amendment right to own and use firearms. We believe that the right to own firearms is subject to reasonable regulation, but we know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact and enforce common-sense laws and improvements – like closing the gun show loophole, improving our background check system, and reinstating the assault weapons ban, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Acting responsibly and with respect for differing views on this issue, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe.
The platform may have been written (in August) before a Supreme Court ruling that was a big victory for the "unassailable" position. Being a city slicker, I've never quite understood why some people cling so tightly to their guns, bitterly or otherwise. It's not like you're likely to be in a situation where you'll both need to and be able to shoot someone trying to break in or something. That, combined with my exposure to the "militia-only" interpretation of the Second Amendment, makes me think I might not be in the best position to comment on this, pending more clarification of what I think about the Second Amendment. More on this when we return to the Republicans.

"Faith": Is it a coincidence that both halves of the infamous "bitter" comment come back to back here? "We honor the central place of faith in our lives. Like our Founders, we believe that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires." Some people might be a bit confused at the depiction of the Founders as faith freaks.
We believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and that few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. To face today's challenges–from saving our planet to ending poverty—we need all hands on deck. Faith-based groups are not a replacement for government or secular non-profit programs; rather, they are yet another sector working to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
So... would you attempt to influence the direction the churches would attempt to lead the flock? To say that "faith-based groups are not a replacement for government" might outrage some on the Right who think we should dial down on government as much as possible, and "that which governs best governs least", but it also works the other way around, and it's saying we need everything and can't just dial down government to zero.
We will empower grassroots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy. At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections – because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate. We will also ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work.
The line about how "there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and...our Constitution" sounds like the Democrats taking a stand; if you just parachuted in from a distant planet you might be surprised to learn that this is actually a concession to the Republicans. It only violates the First Amendment if those groups use public funds to only serve their own faith or try to convert others, which begs the question of how you ensure that doesn't happen, especially considering they probably don't want to be interfered with. And how can we trust the Democrats to "ensure that taxpayer dollars are only used on programs that actually work"? The Republicans have lambasted the Democrats left and right for wasting money on programs that don't work.

"The Arts":
Investment in the arts is an investment in our creativity and cultural heritage, in our diversity, in our communities, and in our humanity. We support art in schools and increased public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We support the cultural exchange of artists around the world, spreading democracy and renewing America's status as a cultural and artistic center.
So you do assure us you won't reduce school to preparing for the test with nothing but rote learning, but how will art fit in? Is more funding for the arts throwing money away? The "cultural exchange of artists" certainly sounds... okay.

"Americans with Disabilities": "We will once again reclaim our role as world leaders in protecting the rights of people with disabilities" and will sign the UN convention on the topic. "We will ensure there is sufficient funding to empower Americans with disabilities to succeed in school and beyond." Sounds good. "We will fully fund and increase staffing for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." Better make sure it works. "We will restore dignity for Americans with disabilities by signing the Community Choice Act into law, which will allow them the choice of living in their communities rather than being warehoused in nursing homes or other institutions." This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what's keeping them from "living in their communities" now, and would that mean an unfair burden being placed on those communities?

"Children and Families": "If we are to renew America, we must do a better job of investing in the next generation of Americans. For parents, the first and most sacred responsibility is to support our children: setting an example of excellence, turning off the TV, and helping with the homework." Once again, trying to tell parents how to raise their families; I've still yet to hear much of an assurance one way or the other on whether the Democrats would actually meddle in home life. "But we must also support parents as they strive to raise their children in a new era. We must make it easier for working parents to spend time with their families when they need to." The phrase "must also support" seems to imply the previous sentence is somewhat antagonistic to parents... How do you intend to help working parents in this way? "We will make an unprecedented national investment to guarantee that every child has access to high-quality early education, including investments in Pre-K, Head Start, and Early Head Start, and we will help pay for child care." Covered already.

"We will ensure that every child has health insurance, invest in playgrounds to promote healthy and active lifestyles, and protect children from lead poisoning in their homes and toys." The investment in playgrounds is the only thing new here. "Improving maternal health also improves children's health, so we will provide access to home visits by medical professionals to low-income expectant first-time mothers." Certainly sounds good, but how good will the pros be? "We must protect our most vulnerable children, by supporting and supplementing our struggling foster care system, enhancing adoption programs for all caring parents, and protecting children from violence and neglect." Sounds good but short on details – of what the problems are. "Online and on TV, we will give parents tools to block content they find objectionable." Parents already have quite a few tools of this nature, but no one uses the V-chip and successor technologies. Besides, it can breed what seems to be a wild goose chase, especially online. "We also must recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work." That's it. Nothing on what follows from that. Perhaps some sort of tax credit for stay-at-home parents? Certainly no mention of that or any other possible reward or load-lightening.

"Fatherhood Too many fathers are missing–missing from too many lives and too many homes. Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and are more likely to commit crime, drop out of school, abuse drugs, and end up in prison." Um, maybe that's because they're more likely to be in poverty? "We need more fathers to
realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to understand that what
makes a man is not the ability to have a child–it's the courage to raise one." Sounds like more meddling in people's lives. "You'll believe what we want you to believe!"
We will support fathers by providing transitional training to get jobs, removing tax penalties on married families, and expanding maternity and paternity leave. We will reward those who are responsibly supporting their children by giving them a tax credit and we will crack down on men who avoid child support payments and ensure those payments go directly to families instead of bureaucracies.
"Removing tax penalties on married families"? That serves as reassurance to people who read the part of the Republican platform in my Part III that warned that rolling back the Bush tax cuts would mean "[t]he 'marriage penalty' would return for two-earner couples" – but it may be false reassurance. Expanding paternity leave is reasonable, but I'd like to make sure you aren't just expanding maternity leave to allow more people to escape work. I'm not sure lack of a job is entirely the problem for fathers who leave their kids, but maybe it's part of it (and covered earlier I believe). What form would the tax credit for "those who are responsibly supporting their children" take? Would it put more money in the pockets of the rich who are more likely to be able to be responsible fathers? Keeping bureaucracies out seems like a paean to people who've been reading the Republican platform.

"Seniors": Compare this to a section late in Part VI of my examination of the Republican platform. "We will protect and strengthen Medicare by cutting costs, protecting seniors from fraud, and fixing Medicare's prescription drug program." The Republicans expand on Medicare's susceptibility to fraud, but neither party provides specifics of their respective plans to fix it. The Democrats described one way they would cut costs in their Part I.

"We will repeal the prohibition on negotiating prescription drug prices, ban drug companies from paying generic producers to refrain from entering drug markets, and eliminate drug company interference with generic competition–and we will dedicate all of the savings from these measures towards closing the donut hole." Many of these things were covered earlier in the Democrats' discussion of health care, way back in Part I, although I'm not sure what the "donut hole" is. I presume it probably has something to do with being "in the center"... Other than "the benefits of competition" the Republicans don't talk about this.

"We will end special preferences for insurance companies and private plans like Medicare Advantage to force them to compete on a level playing field." Awkward grammar in this sentence. It almost suggests an ulterior motive for the Democrats' health care reform proposal, perhaps accidentally suggesting a move to get rid of private insurance. Speaking of which, the paragraph ends by calling back to the health care reform plan in relation to "older Americans who are not yet eligible for Medicare".

The parties have different priorities with regard to Medicare. The Democrats talk about lowering prescription drug prices for seniors and creating "a level playing field" for insurance. The Republicans want to encourage doctors to "coordinate care", increasing "choice" in doctors, and allowing people in Medicare to add their own funds. Although I'm skeptical of that last one, I think it's worthy to pick some from column A and some from column B.

"We will take steps to ensure that our seniors have meaningful long-term care options that are consistent with their individual needs, including the option of home care." Sounds good; might have been mentioned already. "We believe that we must pay caregivers a fair wage and train more nurses and health care workers so as to improve the availability and quality of long-term care." SGWTM. What wages are caregivers being paid now? "We must reform the financing of long-term care to ease the burden on seniors and their families." Sounds reasonable... The Republicans don't seem to have touched on this so far at all. "We will safeguard Social Security. We will develop new retirement plans and pension protections that will give Americans a secure, portable way to save for retirement. We will ensure a safe and dignified retirement." The Democrats discussed Social Security in my Part II, which this refers to. "We will work to end abuse of the elderly." But you give that cause a single sentence that's shorter than this one. "We will safeguard from discrimination those who choose to work past the age of 65." Good thinking, both to help save Social Security from bankrupting the government as the baby boomers retire and to help keep our economy moving, but will that mean companies won't be able to kick out employees who legitimately aren't able to work anymore?

"Choice": The Republicans will cover this in their section on "values", which I'm no longer sure I'm going to get to; the Democrats touched on it in (surprise!) their discussion of health care. "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." This is such a strong position it suggests you support it in all circumstances regardless of moral sketchiness. I generally don't like abortion except in the first three months, in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives." The Republicans earlier called for ending "'family planning' programs for teens" in order to back abstinence-only sex ed. The Democrats claim that "such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions." "The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs." Mostly covered already. I'd be interested in seeing what forms the "programs for... parenting skills [and] income support" take.

This is about where the work I did before dropping off right before the election ends, and the work I ended up doing right before posting this begins. So if my positions start evolving, now you know.

"Criminal Justice": The Republican position on this will be examined in my Republican Part VIII (which I've done no work on, and assuming I get to that), so for now, we're covering the Democrats alone. "As Democrats, we are committed to being smart on crime. That means being tough on violent crime, funding strategic, and effective community policing, and holding offenders accountable, and it means getting tough on the root causes of crime by investing in successful crime prevention, including proven initiatives that get youth and nonviolent offenders back on track. " Let's see if the rest of the section tells us what all this is.

We will reverse the policy of cutting resources for the brave men and women who protect our communities every day. At a time when our nation's officers are being asked both to provide traditional law enforcement services and to help protect the homeland, taking police off of the street is neither tough nor smart; we reject this disastrous approach. We support and will restore funding to our courageous police officers and will ensure that they are equipped with the best technology, equipment, and innovative strategies to prevent and fight crimes.
This all sounds good, but the way the Democrats so vigorously defend this position, I'm curious to find out how the Republicans could possibly justify the position it implies. With their get-tough stance to everything, how do they not properly fund the "First Responders"? What's really going on here? On the flip side, this is also a SGWTM situation. Really, how do the Democrats intend to be fiscally responsible with all the stuff they want to "increase funding" to?

"We will end the dangerous cycle of violence, especially youth violence, with proven community-based law enforcement programs such as the Community Oriented Policing Services." You mentioned COPS already. When I saw "the cycle of violence" I thought it had something to do with poverty, and wondering how "community-based law enforcement", no matter how laudable, had anything to do with that other than providing jobs, but this certainly sounds good. "We will reduce recidivism in our neighborhoods by supporting local prison-to-work programs." Do those work, or do they just increase joblessness among the law-abiding citizens? "We believe that the death penalty must not be arbitrary. DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, defendants should have effective assistance of counsel. In all death row cases, and thorough post-conviction reviews should be available." Some people would argue the death penalty itself is immoral, and certainly we're on a shrinking list with some bad company of countries that still use it, and while all of these are good and add up to something formidable I'm not completely certain they're going to be enough.

"We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities. We will restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and expand the use of drug courts and rehabilitation programs for first-time, non-violent drug offenders." Some people would say "drug crime" isn't really crime and we should stop treating it like one. But the second half of the second sentence sounds good, though I don't know what the BJAG program is. "We support the rights of victims to be respected, to be heard, and to be compensated." Sounds good, but who would disagree with it, and why a single-sentence paragraph on that? Truth be told, the Democrats' education program will have as much of an effect on crime as anything in this section.

"Ending violence against women must be a top priority. We will create a special advisor to the president regarding violence against women." Really? You're going that far? "We will increase funding to domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs." SGWTM. "We will strengthen sexual assault and domestic violence laws, support the Violence Against Women Act, and provide job security to survivors." This is more no-brainer stuff. On the flip side, you can't keep strengthening the laws forever, because you reach a point where the remaining abusers are driven by things more powerful than concern for the law. No, I do not know this from personal experience. "Our foreign policy will be sensitive to issues of aggression against women around the world." No details, of course.

"A More Perfect Union": This is part summation of the entire part, part miscellaneous section, part section on discrimination in general.

We believe in the essential American ideal that we are not constrained by the circumstances of birth but can make of our lives what we will. Unfortunately, for too many, that ideal is not a reality. We have more work to do. Democrats will fight to end discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and disability in every corner of our country, because that's the America we believe in.
All an agreeable sentiment, although the forces discriminating on the basis of "sexual orientation [or] gender identity" remain disturbingly strong. "We all have to do our part to lift up this country, and that means changing hearts and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law." "Changing hearts and changing minds" sounds disturbingly like something the Republicans would say, not to mention something people in an Orwellian government would say. "We will restore professionalism over partisanship at the Department of Justice, and staff the civil rights division with civil rights lawyers, not ideologues." Some people may have heard the stories about DoJ being used for political purposes under Bush. I'm wondering what the Democrats are talking about regarding the civil rights division, however. Will they be fair, or will they give alleged victims the benefit of the doubt too much? "We will restore vigorous federal enforcement of civil rights laws in order to provide every American an equal chance at employment, housing, health, contracts, and pay. We are committed to banning racial, ethnic, and religious profiling and requiring federal, state, and local enforcement agencies to take steps to eliminate the practice." All sounds good, though money may be a concern.

"We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, and will urge passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women." The ERA is still around??? The Republicans objected to the convention because it dared to mention abortion, as I talked about in my Republican Part II. I'm ambivalent about most of this pending knowing some of what they contain; I know at least a little about Title IX and I am concerned that it may have some negative side effects that no one really sees as necessary or desirable. "We will pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act." What does that involve?

We will restore and support the White House Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, including enforcement on disaggregation of Census data. We will make the Census more culturally sensitive, including outreach, language assistance, and increased confidentiality protections to ensure accurate counting of the growing Latino and Asian American, and Pacific Islander populations, and continue working on efforts to be more inclusive.
I have no idea what the Initiative involves. Why do these ethnic groups in particular need more "confidentiality protections"? What's the problem with how the Census deals with them now? "We will sign the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That is the America we believe in." I'm very curious how the Democrats would "restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act." Has it been strengthened to the point of absurdity, or weakened too much? The former would be something you'd expect the Democrats to carry out, and the Republicans to fix, yet that's the one I've actually heard a little about...

"We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us." No mention of gay marriage, however. Incidentally, why all the outrage over Prop 8 now, after the election? Where was the outrage when it could have actually influenced the outcome?

"But it is no good to be able to ride the bus when you can't afford the bus fare. We will work to provide real opportunities for all Americans suffering from disadvantage; we will pioneer new policies and remedies against poverty and violence that address real human needs and we will close the achievement gap in education and provide every child a world-class education." This all sounds good, if begging for details, especially in the middle part of the second sentence. But: "We support affirmative action, including in federal contracting and higher education, to make sure that those locked out of the doors of opportunity will be able to walk through those doors in the future." If there's one thing I unequivocally disagree with the Democrats over, it's affirmative action, AKA "reverse racism". I have grown convinced it may be useful if applied solely to the basis of economic standing (poor over rich), because really, all the self-perpetuating differences caused by past discrimination really come down to the advantages rich people have over poor people. Otherwise discriminating on the basis of ethnicity is wrong one way or the other.

We've cleared out Part III, and if we get around to Part IV, it could well close out the series for the Dems in one part!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Examining the Democratic Platform Part VII: “Renewing the American Community” Part I: Macro-Level Issues

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Democratic Platform. It's been a long time since the last part in this series, hasn't it?

For anyone wondering what to expect from the new Administration, on the eve of the Inauguration. To see the rest of the series, click on the Democratic Platform Review label. Part VIII tomorrow, which combine to knock out the Democrats' Part III. My heading for each part is somewhat arbitrary and a generalization, especially this one, but I think it works.

The platform itself – not just my rendering of the headings – changes format for Part III, "Renewing the American Community". The section headings I had placed in bold earlier in the platform? They're gone. Part III cuts straight down two levels of headings to the individual topics without grouping them. The introductory paragraph talks "of the need for compassion, empathy, a commitment to our values, and the importance of being united in order to take on the challenges and opportunities of the new century."

They said that they valued Barack Obama's message that alongside Americans' famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected to each other. We could all choose to focus on our own concerns and live our lives in a way that tries to keep our individual stories separate from the larger story of America. But that is not who we are. That is not our American story. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to us, even if it's not our child. Similarly, if there's a senior citizen in Elko, Nevada who has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes our lives poorer, even if it's not our grandmother. Because it is only when we join together in something larger than ourselves that we can write the next great chapter in America's story.
Those examples don't appear, at least, to give this part much of a distinction from Part I. It expresses an agreeable attitude rather than a policy position: "we're all in this together". But we'll press on anyway. "Service":

The future of our country will be determined not only by our government and our policies but through the efforts of the American people. That is why we will ask all Americans to be actively involved in meeting the challenges of the new century. In this young century, our military has answered the call to serve, even as that call has come too often. We must now make it possible for all citizens to serve. We will expand AmeriCorps, double the size of the Peace Corps, enable more to serve in the military, create new opportunities for international service, integrate service into primary education, and create new opportunities for experienced and retired persons to serve.
Expanding AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and "opportunities for experienced and retired persons" sounds good; hopefully it's not burning money. By "enable more to serve in the military", are you referring to increasing the military's size or just loosening requirements for people to serve? What are these "opportunities for international service" and are they welcomed in those countries or seen as unneeded meddling? Are you really trying to get children to serve their communities somehow?

"And if you invest in America, America will invest in you: we will increase support for service-learning, establish tax incentives for college students who serve, and create scholarships for students who pledge to become teachers." Some of this you mentioned already. "We will use the Internet to better match volunteers to service opportunities." What form will this take, a search engine, or would you ask people who want to serve to join a service and be matched? All this will "meet America's challenges in a uniquely American way."

"Immigration": This touches on a topic the Republicans covered all the way back in Part I. It starts with some expected platitudes: we're a nation of immigrants, you can make it here, immigrants contribute to who we are, and so on. "Like the immigrants that came before them, today's immigrants will shape their own destinies and enrich our country."

Nonetheless, our current immigration system has been broken for far too long. We need comprehensive immigration reform, not just piecemeal efforts. We must work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears. We are committed to pursuing tough, practical, and humane immigration reform in the first year of the next administration.
We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. The American people are a welcoming and generous people, but those who enter our country's borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law. We need to secure our borders, and support additional personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.
I'm a bit surprised to see the Democrats be as high on trying to secure the border as the Republicans were, albeit much later in the platform in a way that makes this seem like a "miscellaneous" part. Still, if I gave you the above last three sentences, you might think they came from the Republican platform. They even say that "those who employ [illegal immigrants] disrespect the rule of the law", which I was concerned about when it came up in the Republican platform. Compare the Republicans' call for "more effective enforcement, giving our agents the tools and resources they need to protect our sovereignty, completing the border fence quickly and securing the borders, and employing complementary strategies to secure our ports of entry." No call to add "personnel", but the Democrats don't directly say what "infrastructure[] and technology" are referring to. Yet. Of course, that's arguably more specific than "tools and resources".

"We need additional Customs and Border Protection agents equipped with better technology and real-time intelligence." That's basically a slightly more specific version of the last sentence replacing "infrastructure" with "intelligence". "We need to dismantle human smuggling organizations, combating the crime associated with this trade." The Republicans want to "impos[e] maximum penalties on those who smuggle illegal aliens into the U.S., both for their lawbreaking and for their cruel exploitation." But now comes something that looks to be a bit of a break with the Republicans: "We also need to do more to promote economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally." That pretty much took the words right out of my mouth – from my Republican platform examination, when I suggested that perhaps the best long-term solution to illegal immigration was to help rise Mexico out of abject poverty.
And we need to crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. It's a problem when we only enforce our laws against the immigrants themselves, with raids that are ineffective, tear apart families, and leave people detained without adequate access to counsel. We realize that employers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States, and we will ensure that our system is accurate, fair to legal workers, safeguards people's privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers.
"[E]mployers need a method to verify whether their employees are legally eligible to work in the United States" could be considered a backing of the Republicans' E-Verify system or could be saying that system is flawed enough not to count. Possibly pointing to the latter, the Democrats naturally proceed to throw in a bunch of caveats: it needs to be "fair to legal workers, safeguard[] people's privacy, and cannot be used to discriminate against workers." Would that result in making the system ineffective, especially the last two parts? I'm all for privacy and ending discrimination, but...

We must also improve the legal immigration system, and make our nation's naturalization process fair and accessible to the thousands of legal permanent residents who are eager to become full Americans. We should fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy that hampers family reunification, the cornerstone of our immigration policy for years. Given the importance of both keeping families together and supporting American businesses, we will increase the number of immigration visas for family members of people living here and for immigrants who meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill, as long as appropriate labor market protections and standards are in place. We will fight discrimination against Americans who have always played by our immigration rules but are sometimes treated as if they had not.
The idea of easing access for the many people who become illegal immigrants despite not flouting the law otherwise is one of my touchstones on this issue. Both parties use the exact phrase "dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy", which by this point is, in the case of the Republicans, part of a larger campaign against Big Bad Gov'ment Bur'cracy that needs to be "simplified", but the Republicans don't seem to put much of an emphasis on "family reunification". Hopefully the Democrats won't allow family members to be used as a Trojan horse to sneak in lawbreakers.

For the millions living here illegally but otherwise playing by the rules, we must require them to come out of the shadows and get right with the law. We support a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens. They are our neighbors, and we can help them become full tax-paying, law-abiding, productive members of society.
What's the size of the fine? Is this enough penalty for breaking the law (a sore point for Republicans)? If not, is this a one-time deal to deal with the current crisis (similar to the bailout)? How will you make sure those people that aren't "otherwise playing by the rules" (or trying to avoid crimes committed in Mexico) don't sneak into the legal immigration system this way? (Actually, the "back of the line to become citizens" part may be crucial here, because presumably anyone who continued to break the law here could still be deported if they're still not citizens, and if they stayed law-abiding in this country for long enough they're probably reformed anyway.) On the plus side, this is the biggest assurance the Democrats have yet given that they won't let America turn into Quebec, and it's not quite "en masse legalizations" like the Republicans tried to paint it. I have a number of concerns with both sides' policies here.

"Hurricane Katrina": I don't think the Republicans have touched on Katrina, but I'm not sure what section it would be in – possibly the "Values" section I haven't gotten to yet. I'm going to cover this paragraph from the perspective of thinking we need to stand by Americans in times of need, and make sure New Orleans can thrive again, and then offer my actual, alternative, opinions.

"The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are heroes for returning and rebuilding, and they shouldn't face these challenges alone. We will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and restore the region economically." Sounds good. "We will create jobs and training opportunities for returning and displaced workers as well as contracting opportunities for local businesses to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities." That's especially important, that part about offering "opportunities for local businesses". Hopefully it won't be Iraq 2.0.

"We will increase funding for affordable housing and home ownership opportunities for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe trailers." On top of everything else you want to fund? "We will reinvest in infrastructure in New Orleans: we will construct levees that work, fight crime by rebuilding local police departments and courthouses, invest in hospitals, and rebuild the public school system." That's important and it can help create jobs, which also helps with the recovery. The matter of levees will be covered in my alternative opinion below. "We also commit to the rebuilding and restoration of the Iowa communities affected by the floods of 2008." Kind of a token gesture sentence.

But honestly, I think this is a case where it is possible that the best approach may well be something that no politician – no one, period – in a million years would ever get away with. It would seem too cold, too inhumane. But practically, when you consider how much of New Orleans sits below sea level, and especially global warming potentially melting the ice caps and raising sea levels, it may well be that keeping building bigger and bigger levees is a waste of money and it's an open question whether or not the city is much worth saving. In the same vein, we need to assess how much our levees on our rivers are helping or hurting. Levees don't lower the amount of water flowing, just hold it back, and eventually all that water has to go somewhere and it results in megafloods instead of just plain floods. Certainly we need to reconsider using levees to protect agricultural lands, where floodwaters could actually help in some ways, as long as the farmhouses are properly protected and the rivers aren't being used to dump waste that's toxic to crops.

"Preventing and Responding to Future Catastrophes":

We will also work to prevent future catastrophic response failures, whether the emergency comes from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wild fires, drought, bridge collapses, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Maintaining our levees and dams is not pork barrel spending—it is an urgent priority. We will fix governmental agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensure that they are staffed with professionals, and create integrated communication and response plans. We will reform the Small Business Administration bureaucracy, and develop a real National Response Plan.
All important points; "levees and dams" are only "pork barrel spending" if the money is being spent inequitably, so the levees are being maintained in places where powerful politicians come from and not in places where they aren't. I notice the Democrats are again saying a "bureaucracy" needs to be fixed, and are returning to gimmicks like a "National Response Plan". "We will develop a National Catastrophic Insurance Fund to offer an affordable insurance mechanism for high-risk catastrophes that no single private insurer can cover by itself for fear of bankruptcy. This will allow states and territories to deal comprehensively with the economic dislocation of natural disasters." Sounds reasonable and important enough, but where will the money for it come from?

"Stewardship of Our Planet and Natural Resources": Ah, it's back to the well of global warming again, back in my wheelhouse! "Global climate change is the planet's greatest threat, and our response will determine the very future of life on this earth. Despite the efforts of our current Administration to deny the science of climate change and the need to act, we still believe that America can be earth's best hope." Once again, the sentiment I like to hear!

"We will implement a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change and we will set interim targets along the way to ensure that we meet our goal." I mentioned last time we talked about climate change that I was a little less skeptical about cap-and-trade than the time before. Why "the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid climate change"? I know you might want to hide from businesses how much you expect them to reduce their carbon emissions, but you could just as easily be hiding from me that you're not really going to be as aggressive as "scientists say". Hey, when you consider the lack of aggressiveness in the targets you actually have given, you can't blame me for feeling this is a bit uncharacteristic.

"We will invest in advanced energy technologies, to build the clean energy economy and create millions of new, good "Green Collar" American jobs. Because the environment is a truly global concern, the United States must be a leader in combating climate change around the world, including exporting climate-friendly technologies to developing countries." This all repeats stuff talked about in previous global-warming sections. "We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings, including establishing a grant program for early adopters and providing incentives for energy conservation." Those certainly sound like more good ideas. "We will encourage local initiatives, sustainable communities, personal responsibility, and environmental stewardship and education nationwide." More good ideas, especially for the long term.

The rest of the section deals mostly with non-global warming environmental issues, by and large not touched on by the Republicans. "We will help local communities in the American West preserve water to meet their fast growing needs." Some of those are pretty big "communities", and how are you going to do that? "We support a comprehensive solution for restoring our national treasures—such as the Great Lakes, Everglades, and Chesapeake Bay—including expanded scientific research and protections for species and habitats there." Not quite sure what the problems are in those places, what those "protections" would involve, or what.

"We will reinvigorate the Environmental Protection Agency so that we can work with communities to reduce air and water pollution and protect our children from environmental toxins, and never sacrifice science to politics." All sounds good; have you noticed how often the Democrats harp on focusing on "sound science" or the like? "We will protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which has not been proven to be safe by sound science." Normally I'd be all over this statement, loving every minute of it, but since you already backed nuclear power earlier in the platform as a way of combating global warming, how do you intend to deal with the waste instead? "We will restore the "polluter pays" principle to fund the cleanup of the most polluted sites, so that those who cause environmental problems pay to fix them." Certainly a reasonable way to do things – you broke it, you clean it up.

Federal Lands
We will create a new vision for conservation that works with local communities to conserve our existing publicly-owned lands while dramatically expanding investments in conserving and restoring forests, grasslands, and wetlands across America for generations to come. Unlike the current Administration, we will reinvest in our nation's forests by providing federal agencies with resources to reduce the threat of wildland fires, promote sustainable forest product industries for rural economic development and ensure that national resources are in place to respond to catastrophic wildland fires.
Do you intend to put more lands under federal control? Is this a SGWTM situation? And while the second sentence sounds good, it's important to remember that wildfires are often natural and should be let burn to reduce the impact of future wildfires and improve the overall ecosystem. Federal authorities should only protect humans living in or near the wilderness and any other important investments. "We will treat our national parks with the same respect that millions of families show each year when they visit. We will recognize that our parks are national treasures, and will ensure that they are protected as part of the overall natural system so they are here for generations to come." Certainly sounds reasonable. "We are committed to conserving the lands used by hunters and anglers, and we will open millions of new acres of land to public hunting and fishing." I wouldn't have expected the Democrats to expand hunting and fishing, which would put them at odds with environmentalists – certainly vegetarians.

"Metropolitan and Urban Policy": "We believe that strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America." The Democrats want "equitable development strategies that create opportunities for those traditionally left behind by economic development efforts." As long as it doesn't take away most of the motivation to work. "For the past eight years, the current Administration has ignored urban areas. We look forward to greater partnership with urban America. We will strengthen federal commitment to cities, including by creating a new White House Office on Urban Policy and fully funding the Community Development Block Grant." You notice I haven't even been pointing out the shots at the Bush Administration. What sort of role will the "Office of Urban Policy" take? Will it be a Cabinet-level position, or more similar to the federal drug commission? Would this mean more bureaucracy? Funding the CDBG was mentioned much earlier, in my Part III.

"We support community-based initiatives, such as micro-loans, business assistance centers, community economic development corporations, and community development financial institutions." All sound nice, but are they more government meddling? Ideally, when the lower classes start investing in themselves it can help the whole economy, but hopefully these really are "community-based". "To help regional business development we will double federal funding for basic research, expand the deployment of broadband technology, increase access to capital for businesses in underserved areas, create a national network of public-private business incubators, and provide grants to support regional innovation clusters." Many of these were mentioned earlier – more broadband and "incubators", for example. Pretty much all of these are SGWTM, but ideally they can all result in more money for the government as a result of economic advancement. Expanding research, especially, helps all levels of the economy. Not sure what "regional innovation clusters" would be.

"Since businesses can only function when workers can get to their place of employment, we will invest in public transportation including rail, expand transportation options for low-income communities, and strengthen core infrastructure like our roads and bridges." Ding ding ding! The Democrats just mentioned the "p-t" word! Once again, though, it's part of a larger clause that also includes "roads and bridges". Between the first and last items, especially the first, the middle item seems somewhat superfluous, and what does it actually mean? "We will provide cities the support they need to perform public safety and national security functions, reinvest in Community Oriented Policing Services, and keep children off the streets by supporting expanded after-school and summer opportunities." Helping cities perform vital functions certainly seems important, and for all their "national security" emphasis the Republicans didn't really hint at anything like helping cities invest in national security. (They probably would have wanted to privatize it.) Everything sounds good from here, as long as it doesn't invite more government waste and throwing money away.

"Finally, we will work to make cities greener and more livable by training employees to work in skilled clean technologies industries, improving the environmental efficiency of city buildings, and taking smart growth principles into account when designing transportation." And tying this all back into my own personal big issue! This all sounds good – I wouldn't quite consider myself a "smart growth" backer but it's possible I am without knowing it. I hinted at it with my discussion of "transit-oriented development" back when I was on a mass transit kick. There are a couple other things that are rolled up into "smart growth" but one of the things most of them have in common is the idea that the car has ruined things, so this may well be hinting at more emphasis on "public transportation" over "roads and bridges" than the Democrats have so far let on. More on this in a later post (maybe).

Yes, we are splitting the Democrats' Part III into two parts even though both parts barely top 4,000 words, and this part requires me to write a long concluding paragraph (this one) to carry it over 4,000, but the combined examination topped 8,000 and the split is in an odd place, almost smack-dab in the middle of the discussion of "Firearms". Be sure to come back tomorrow!