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Archives for Foreign Affairs and War

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Propose

Jun
17
2008

The motto of the United States Marine Corps is simple and profound: “Semper Fidelis“, Latin for “always faithful.” And, as any Marine can tell you, there is no such thing as being a “former” member of the corp. “Once a Marine,” goes the saying, “always a Marine.”

But the government these men and women serve does not always live up to the promise of loyalty it asks its members to make. That’s a sleeping problem for the thousands of gay and lesbians who have served our nation honorably in the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services. At any time, a recent veteran could risk losing his or her health, education or other benefits, even after years of service and their spouses will never be treated equally under the law.

Even after the California Supreme Court’s historic decision granting marriage equality, not all Californians have the right to marry – and those who don’t are the ones who deserve the right most. With a nervy nonchalance, in it’s Q&A on Gay Marriage, the Los Angeles Times states that, “Marrying or attempting to marry a person of the same sex is grounds for dismissal from the service.”

That just seems just plain wrong particularly since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies let many gays in the military serve with honor and distinction. But the awkward compromise of the Clinton era doesn’t just apply to those on active duty. According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, an organization that fights for equal rights for gays in the military, the injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell extends far beyond one’s enlistment. It covers veterans of all wars and of all ages.

Regardless of when they served, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses are denied equal treatment in life and death. Although my grandfather violated military laws by joining the Army before he was eighteen, the enthusiastic soldier lays buried in the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston. Next to him lay my grandmother, who never served a day in her life but was entitled to be buried next to her husband as a dutiful – and legally recognized – spouse. Such a privilege would not be afforded to a gay draftee from World War II or Vietnam.

It is even worse for the men and women who are just now returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. While nearly three thousand service members have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, tens of thousands more have left the service after their first enlistment. Although they survived in the closet for years and finished their active duty honorably, as they return to civilian life, they must still keep the closet door shut, or risk being discharged and imperiling their veterans’ benefits. Soldiers, sailors or marines who are no longer on active duty are subject to the provisions of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So are veteran members of the National Guard, Reserves or Individual Ready Reserves even after they have left active duty and are allegedly living civilian lifestyles. For all these men and women, that means no statements regarding their sexual orientation, nor sodomy, nor hugging, nor hand-holding…and most certainly no marriage!

The burden on these veteran reservists is already great enough. After putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom in combat, they are returned to civilian life with a years-long noose around their neck: the threat that, one day, they may very likely get called back to duty.

For some, this burden can result in a near paralysis, where the uncertainty of their future keeps them from making any commitments beyond the time that they know they have for certain in civilian life. And for our gay and lesbian veterans, the military is telling them that they must go it alone. Anyone who says they support the troops should find this contradiction morally repugnant.

According to SLDN, not only is gay marriage out of the question, but so are accepting domestic partnership health care benefits, joining a group like the Log Cabin Republicans, or being added to a partner’s USAA policy (or vice versa), if the law is strictly followed. And these are rules governing civilians in strictly civilian settings.

For gay and lesbian veterans, the unfortunate reality is that, until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, they must hope that the ones they love, and those that love them, are more abiding by the spirit of Semper Fi than the government they’ve so loyally served.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:43 AM | Permalink

Open Skies to Save Them

Jun
10
2008

If you think gas prices approaching five dollars a gallon are putting a pinch on your lifestyle, well, be glad you are not trying to run an airline. Only a couple years ago, did America’s air carriers return to profitability after the double-sucker-punches of 9/11 and the fear of jet-fuel – literally – SARS pandemic. Today businesses that were profitable when oil cost $60 or $70 a barrel are facing fuel costs nearly double.

The average American can respond to the rising cost of gasoline in four ways: Cut our gas consumption, cut other costs, find new revenue sources or go further into debt and hope that someday something will happen to sort everything out. That seems to be the approach being taken by America’s air carriers as well.

To conserve fuel, the airlines are flying at slower speeds and grounding inefficient planes. To cut costs, the airlines continue to reduce meals served on board and using fewer flight attendants.

In order to pick up a few extra bucks, the airlines are raising the costs of some on-board food options, and charging customers to check a bag – following a model of European low-cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair.

But none of these measures will save the industry if crude hits $200 a barrel, as some predict. At that point, the only option will be for the American air carriers to whip out the credit card of corporate debt until they are saved by bankruptcy or a bail out.

When Wall Street faced a credit meltdown earlire this year, a weak dollar meant that foreign cash was able to stabilize the markets. Money from sovereign wealth funds kept the financial services sector afloat amid the violent credit contraction called by the nation’s housing meltdown. For the airlines, however, such a bailout is not an option; foreign investment in American air carriers is limited to a 25 percent.

Unfortunately, it is the foreign air carriers who seem to know how to run an airline these days. Outside the United States, it feels like the golden age of flying as Singapore breaks in the new Airbus A380, Emirates introduces a new level of luxury to premium cabins and Lufthansa controls an network of national air carriers that rivals many empires.

So rather than having to bail out the airlines with taxpayer dollars – yet again – why not let foreign investors bail out our air carriers? Let’s see if the golden age of flying we see abroad can be extended to our shores!

There are a number of myths behind the limits on foreign investment: We need American carriers for national defense to transport our troops in times of war, foreign carriers do not have the same safety or security standards, American workers will lose jobs, only the most profitable routes would be flown, and so on.

Most of these arguments can be addressed either by simply looking at the realities of today’s airline industry. Safety and maintenance are already being outsourced to foreign countries. American workers already are losing their jobs and unprofitable routes are being cut. Minor adjustments to existing regulations would also address concerns.

So why not rid the airline industry of the ban on foreign investment and see what happens? Would Lufthansa add United to Swiss, Austrian and its other affiliated carriers? Would an EmirContinentalates Airline, based in Houston and Dubai become the global superpower linking the USA and the Middle East? What innovations could these successful foreign carriers bring to our failing airline industry?

Until Congress allows foreign investment in American airlines, they can pass all the passenger bills of rights they want, but it won’t improve the bottom line of American air carriers to the point that they can invest in more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly airplanes.

And your rights as a passenger won’t matter if your carrier one day says, “Aloha!”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 2:49 PM | Permalink

The Third Way For Clinton To Win

Jun
3
2008

As Hillary Clinton prepares to bow out of the Democratic race, I cannot help but feel that she is doing the nation, and her party a disservice by leaving the campaign.

She’s clearly got support. And not just from folks like me who began this political year vowing to “vote for a New Yorker.”

Since the media all but declared Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee in February, the voters have tried sending a message: he is not their man. Since March 1st, Obama suffered major losses in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and was trounced at the polls in Rhode Island, Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. Since Obama became the party’s front-runner the actual Democrats going to the polls have rejected his campaign of ideological extremism.

Somehow that message hasn’t made it past the media hype supporting Obama. And given the Democratic National Committee’s resistance to count every vote, maybe it is time for Hillary Clinton to concede the nomination. But she shouldn’t give up on getting to the White House.

Independent campaigns that work apart from established parties often have more impact on day-to-day politics than we – or party historians – like to acknowledge. Lincoln’s support came from abolitionists working outside mainstream politics. Teddy Roosevelt’s ideas about 20th Century governing – encapsulated in his run for the White House as the “Bull Moose” candidate – led to substantive changes in the Republican Party politics. The Clintons themselves benefitted from independent Ross Perot’s messages on fiscal policy – and heeded them once they gained th White House. If Clinton truly believes that the Democratic Party is disenfranchising voters in key swing states, then she should denounce its efforts, just as Obama, eventually, denounced his former pastor and church and launch her own run for the White House.

In doing so, Hillary Clinton can remind Democrats what the party used to stand for, and return to her husband’s roots as a populist centrist. Hillary has an opportunity to wake up the echoes, cheering the names of Hiram Johnson and Susan B. Anthony, to lead a post-partisan, Post-Progressive coalition to victory, whether the odds be great or small.

A post-partisan, Post-Progressive Clinton would have a chance to win because – unlike other years – the two main parties choices are so stark. And I think many Americans like me are a little turned off by the choice between Republican John McCain and Democrat Obama. With McCain we have a Washington veteran, who claims to be conservative, but is best known for bucking the party of small government to advocate big government programs and regulating our freedoms. The alternative – a partisan ideologue whose oratory is easy on the ears but has shown no ability to accomplish anything other than win the affections of young voters and the popular press – is no more attractive.

Making things worse: At this juncture in the campaign, Obama and McCain have spent so much political capital speaking to their base that they have forgotten to speak for Americans. So who knows what they’ll do once they’re elected? A third-party Hillary Clinton, freed of the shackles of Democratic ideology, could talk to real Americans and address the issues straightforwardly.

On Iraq, she could say that, based on the intelligence given, her vote to authorize the war was the right one, and anyone who voted against the president – given what we thought we knew – would be dangerous to have in the White House. Now that we know that we had faulty intelligence, she can say she regrets the vote, but the U.S. must now focus on how we can keep winning the peace and bring our troops home victorious. That’s straight talk you won’t hear from Obama or McCain.

Clinton could focus on balancing the budget, just as her husband did, by growing the economy and controlling spending. While McCain’s fighting pork-barrel spending sounds nice, it produces but a drop in the bucket when it comes to balancing the budget. Meanwhile Obama’s plans would vastly expand government spending, while his tax hikes would send the economy back into recession.

A third-party Clinton could talk honestly about healthcare, free of the shackles of the nurses unions and other special interests which get in the way of true reform, and could offer a safety-net of care for Americans supplemented by insurance for those who need private healthcare.

And a Post-Progressive Movement for the 21st Century could tackle the 800-pound gorilla in Washington: entitlement reform. Ross Perot scared the bejesus out of voters with charts talking about how Social Security and Medicare would eat up the Federal Budget, helping Bill Clinton gain the White House. The problems Perot outlined in 1992, are about to come to roost and the Clintons owe it to America to be talking about them, now. Understanding that we have no option but to fix these systems, the American people will rally behind a candidate who talks solutions that are not seen as partisan.

By returning to her Democratic Leadership Council roots – the path of moderation that served the Democratic Party well – Hillary Clinton today has the ability to transcend politics and be the post-partisan leader Americans have been seeking. She can choose to fall in line and put party ahead of principle, give in to the will of the media ahead of the will of the voters, and prove correct those who selected a candidate other than the inevitable Clinton. This is an important choice for one other reason: If she cannot stand up for the voters who supported her, then we should not trust her to stand up for America when it counts.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:20 AM | Permalink

Ever the Economic Optimist

May
28
2008

If you ask the average American, their belief in the economy is shaky at best, with consumer confidence in May at its lowest point since October 1992 – when the United States was coming out of recession. But I’m not joining that parade. I see little silver linings on the economic cloud just around every corner.

There’s sound economic theory for my hopefulness. From September to February, the U.S. Federal Reserve engaged in an aggressive series of interest rate cuts in order to fight off a coming economic slowdown. In theory, the liquidity injected into the markets should take about six months to cycle through and result in economic benefits. Meaning, we should start seeing the economy turn over the summer. And I think we are.

My first indication that the economy was improving came a few weeks back when in my email inbox I received an unsolicited job offer from New York City. Apparently the company was looking to expand and could not find enough qualified local employees.

Since then, I have received two similar emails from recruiters trolling the message boards of CareerBuilder.com and contacting me – through a profile that had not been updated in three years. Either my late-20′s skill sets are now in hot demand for jobs ranging from Internet marketing to energy lobbying, or businesses are expanding and desperately seeking skilled workers. Being the humble person that I am, my bet is on the latter.

I see signs of an improving economy when I looked at Los Angeles over the Memorial Day weekend. From what the media told us, high gas prices and a slow economy meant that travel over the holiday was going to slow down. But look around Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards over the Holiday and you’d have thought it was a ghost town – locals packed up and left in large numbers.

Looking at my Facebook friends, I can tell you that, unscientifically, they’re not hurting economically, either. They are traveling to Minneapolis, New York, London, Chicago, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Florence, Manchester and Cairo – and that is just from the first two pages of their status updates. Maybe that says more about the Facebook “friends” I choose, but it tells me something about the state of the economy, too.

And despite the weak dollar and allegedly weak American economy, I sure saw a lot of Americans as I did a tour of major European airports traveling to and from Paris, France before the holiday weekend. Security lines at London Heathrow, Frankfurt-am-Main and Zurich’s Kloten airports were congesting with octogenarians with fanny packs and white socks – the usual tell-tale signs of the American tourist abroad.

Compared to a 4.20 Euro Caffe Latte at Starbucks in Paris – that’s $6.40 in George Bush Pesos – food inflation in America is de minimus. When American tourists return home to see that gasoline still costs about half of what the Europeans are paying and that food is but a fraction of what it costs abroad, the idea of inflation seems relative.

Sure, the cost of gas and food and airfares are going up. But these prices can only be supported if people are able to pay them. And each time an airline announces a new price hike or fee increase they do so only because they believe people will be willing – and able – to pay. That does not sound like a recession to me.

In a few months time, you can accuse me of wearing rose-colored glasses. But I am betting you won’t. In economic theory, the liquidity injection – that’s extra cash – started when the Federal Reserve began cutting interest rates last fall should be kicking in just about now.

Indeed, everywhere I turn, there’s reason to be an economic optimist.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 7:53 AM | Permalink

Goodbye, Mister Tonight

May
15
2008

Today, the California Supreme Court has decided that, on equal protection grounds, the State cannot discriminate on gender when it comes to marriage. That’s a great victory for equality. While opponents will decry the changes such a decision will have on the institution of marriage, few have pondered what such a decision will mean for gay and lesbian culture.

I think we’ll see two changes, one’s a fad – gays are good at that – the other, a true shift in gay culture.

Between June 15 and November 3, 2008 it will be possible for anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, to get married in California. This summer, gays and lesbians will be coming to California to gain legal recognition of their relationships just as they did on Valentine’s weekend 2004 when San Francisco issued same-sex marriage licenses. And like that romantic weekend get-away, they had better make plans fast.

With a November 3rd Constitutional Amendment looming, the joy felt today will soon be replaced with a sense of urgency. On election day, the state’s voters will consider a ballot measure to rescind that right. Previous rulings in Hawaii and Massachusetts have not fared well once they’re out of the courthouse and in the political discourse.

But what good is a right if you cannot exercise it? The right to marriage on paper is nice, but knowing that that right might be lost may lead people to make decisions they otherwise wouldn’t. “Now we just need someone to marry!” one friend messaged me, pretty much summing up the conundrum facing gays and lesbians over the next six months.

In some respects, gay marriage in California is no different than the George Bush tax cuts. Inherit an estate in 2011, and pay nothing. A year later, your estate tax will go up to 65%, and a $3 million dollar estate becomes a $1 million inheritance. Imitating the Menendez brothers could be the cultural phenomenon of the new decade; worried about inheriting, too many folks may pull the trigger instead of waiting for nature to take its course.

Likewise, a gay or lesbian who may not be quite ready to make a commitment like marriage two weeks ago could feel that the opportunity is too good to pass up. The prospect of wasting the right to marry now must be balanced against the cold reality that the opportunity could be lost forever once the state’s voters have spoken. I see a summer filled with rice-tossing and bouquet-throwing in my future as friends pair up – just for the sake of getting married. Talk about your shotgun weddings!

Still, this rush to the altar may lead to one of the largest shifts in gay culture since the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.

Until today, there has been no archetypical relationship for gays and lesbians across America. Nothing to look at and say “That’s what I want.” Only in tiny Massachusetts could a gay man like me even think about getting married and then consider with whom to form that union. This lack of a model or structure for legal, recognized partnerships created the impression that promiscuity was the norm for the gay community. And, I would argue, contributed to the spread of AIDS and other plagues on the gay community.

But today, all that has changed.

There is something higher to aspire to in gay relationships, and it is real, accessible, and free to all. The discussion about partnership shifts from “Mister Tonight” to “Mister Right.” It’s a change that can only be good for society, gay or otherwise. At least, for another six months.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:37 AM | Permalink

The China Election

May
14
2008

Last September 26, I broke with conventional wisdom and predicted that the economy, not the war in Iraq, would be the deciding issue in the 2008 election. I was wrong. Ironically, the issue that President Bush heralded as the most important challenge facing America before 9/11 will be the issue that determines his successor: China.

Regardless of what happens with the economy – whether we slip into a recession or narrowly avoid one – the issue will be an afterthought by August 2008. Either things will be getting better – as recent activity on Wall Street seems to indicate – or the issue will have lost its political currency as the drumbeat of recession fade to provide little more than the background rhythm to the campaign march.

Much to this political junkie’s regret, it looks more and more like the two parties’ conventions will provide no more drama than usual. Instead, the conventions and the campaign will be framed by what happens in the two weeks prior: the Beijing Olympics.

How we relate to China is perhaps the critical question facing America today. When he came to office, President Bush made it his top priority, engaging China in a dialectical competition of superpowers old and new. But then 9/11 happened and the world’s most populous country fell our of America’s consciousness, as the U.S. slowly developed a relationship with China that was more codependent than competitive.

The China Question is about much more than foreign policy and the basic question of whether we should have a competitive or a cooperative relationship with the country. Each approach is a dual-edged sword.

The chief argument for why we need a cooperative approach with China is economic. China is beginning to rival oil in its importance to America’s well-being. America’s ability to have growth without inflation depends on our ability to outsource manufacturing to China, while growing our science and service sectors here at home.

This trade benefits everyday Americans by keeping the products we buy affordable, and it benefits China by giving working-class jobs to millions of its inhabitants. Ours is a symbiotic relationship that, if broken, could have disastrous geopolitical consequences.

At the same time, China’s economic growth comes at a cost to the environment that can be seen on our shores. As much as a quarter of the air pollution in Los Angeles comes from China, and with its smoke-belching ships coming in to port in San Pedro and Long Beach, the Chinese can probably be considered the single-largest source of pollution in California.

China can no longer get a pass on the environment like it got in the Kyoto Treaty. Unless China joins in the fight against climate change, no regulation or cap-and-trade system here at home will make a dent. If we restrict our economic activity with environmental regulation while allowing China to pollute at will, the sun will set on the American empire faster than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Morally, pursuing a cooperative relationship with China is dubious as well. Beijing’s human rights record is notorious and while its subjects are beginning to enjoy economic liberties, the concept of universal human rights is foreign to them. How can we claim to be defenders of freedom, whilst turning a blind eye on the world’s great oppressors?

Pulling out of China, economically, would be exponentially worse than pulling out of Iraq militarily, but maintaining the relationship without action on the environmental and human rights front will also place us in peril.

The China Question has everything: the economy, the environment, human rights and geopolitics. But it does not have partisanship, yet. Neither ideology espoused by John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton provides a logically consistent answer to the many issues it raises.

This voter wants to know how our would-be Presidents would approach this tangled web with China, and after the world focuses on Beijing this summer, many others will be asking the same question: Is China friend or foe, or is our relationship status summed up with, “It’s Complicated”?

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:33 AM | Permalink

Searching for “Hilary”

May
7
2008

Although I am a registered Republican, I am first and foremost a capitalist. So much of the last ten weeks of my life has been developing and managing an online outreach campaign on behalf of one of the Democratic presidential candidates.

While I have learned a lot about the internal divides within the Democratic Party – and at times wondered how we Republicans ever lose elections to these people – I have also gotten an insight into the American voter on a state-by-state basis. I’ve come to one conclusion: a good number of Americans still don’t know who Hillary Clinton is.

In purchasing Google Adwords, I have gotten a behind-the-scenes look at what people are searching for, and the numbers are staggering. In Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, more than two-thousand people per day misspelled Hillary Clinton’s name; In Indiana and North Carolina, one out of six searches for Hillary Clinton have just one “L” in her first name. Another five percent are looking for Hillary Rodman Clinton, who apparently served eight years First Lady of the NBA Bad Boys Club.

It’s not as if Hillary Rodham Clinton weren’t First Lady of the United States for eight years, or that her first name were not printed on her campaign materials – the signs and placards at all her events let you know which Clinton is running: Hillary! Yet people who own computers and are researching the candidates still don’t seem to know her yet.

Unfortunately for those people who do not yet know who Hillary Clinton is, Googling her isn’t going to tell you much. The first page of results yields her official campaign website, her Senate website, the White House website and her MySpace profile, all of which will tell you what she wants you to hear. The rest of the links – CNN, Washington Post and the New York Times, for example – only give information on the candidate from a media-filtered perspective. The only “independent” source is Wikipedia, and I imagine the Kossacks will get to that page at some point.

Perhaps more interesting from my perspective is who advertises to the Googling masses for each candidate. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made a point of “owning” their search pages. Search for either candidate and their own website is the sponsored link that returns – at a cost of somewhere near $3 each time someone clicks on the link, a fortune in click-through ad rates. Go try it and come back, while the folks in Mountain View ring the cash register. Somewhere there is GOP experiment that might be called “Spend Obama’s Money Experiment” waiting to happen.

When I Google Clinton, an ad for Time Magazine shows up, and when I Google Obama, I get the Chicago Tribune, along with an ad saying Obama gets an “A+” on Middle Class Issues, but when I click on it, he really has an 80% rating, with 50% absences. That website must be grading on a curve!

The role of the Internet in politics continues to evolve. While the blogs were all the rage back in the 2004 campaign, segmentation and specialization in readership and editorial has made them little more than an echo-chamber for preaching to the choir.

With contextual advertising – buying ad depending on what the reader has called up on the page – it is possible to do some very elegant micro-targeting. Look up the MySpace profile of a veteran of the Marine Corps, as I did a few weeks back, and see an ad from John McCain, targeted directly towards service members and vets. But this is also a risky strategy because such ads could also end up on less-than desirable websites using similar keywords – “service” and “men” in their contexts. For my editor’s sake I won’t link to them here, you will have to use your imagination.

With search marketing, there is the prospect of reaching persuadable voters, who for whatever reasons are going online to look for information about the candidates. And right now, a well placed search-marketing ad campaign can be done efficiently if targeted to the right search terms and geography.

But as more political consultants and interest groups realize that they, too, can end up on Hillary Clinton’s search results – and get a decent click-through rate – it may be that the real winner in this primary and future elections is neither Clinton nor Obama. It’s Google.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:27 AM | Permalink

Cobwebs on My Car

Apr
30
2008

Friday morning, short on time, I decided to take my car down to the post office to check the company’s mailbox. As I turned on to Santa Monica Boulevard and looked in the mirror, I got something of a surprise. On my car, between the drivers’-side mirror and the door there were cobwebs!

Since returning from Washington, D.C., more than a week before, I had not touched my automobile. I either walked wherever I needed to go, took a taxi, or relied on the good graces of good friends to get me home for bedtime.

So when I hear President Bush say there is no magic want to control fuel costs, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the mainstream media moaning over the cost of gasoline, I find it difficult to have sympathy. If I can reduce my need for buying gasoline to practically zero – living in Los Angeles – so can most Americans. And, I’ve found, you don’t need to buy a Prius or Smart Car!

In 2000, when gas was less than $2 a gallon, I drove more than 24,000 miles a year. Commuting across the San Fernando Valley to work, going to the gym in Santa Monica and visiting my brother in the Fairfax district added miles quickly.

Today, with gas prices well above $4 a gallon in my neighborhood, I fill up my tank less than once a month. Here’s how I did it.

The first thing I did to reduce my commute. I moved closer to work, then got a job closer to home. Eventually, I worked it out so I could have a home office. That has the best commute of all: the walk home from Starbucks at which point the “home” becomes the “office”. The hill is pretty steep, but I can make it.

Step two for me, was to learn to love walking. Sure it doesn’t burn as many calories as running, and it is not as fast as taking the car, but most of the places I need or want to go can be found within walking distance. Gym, dry cleaners, grocery stores, pharmacies, and countless forms of evening entertainment, are within a mile radius of my house, which are but a leisurely twenty-minute walk.

My biggest challenge was to learn that the bus doesn’t bite. Sure a subway would be nice, but this is L.A., so subways really aren’t an option, yet. There should no longer be a social stigma to taking the bus for trips of a mile or more, and at a buck-twenty-five, it is cheaper than the gas and parking fees it would require to take a car for a similar trip. I just wish Los Angeles’ bus system were more reliable. Some days I can wait for a half hour only to see three busses stacked up one behind the other!

The final thing I have learned from this eight year journey is the value of friendships! Yes, sometimes that mile-long walk be fine on the outbound, but getting home, it can seem daunting. My liberal friends, supportive of my car-free lifestyle, have no qualms giving me a ride when I want one, and the conservative ones who offer, well they’re just heaven-sent.

So my challenge to America is to stop complaining about the cost of gasoline and start making better personal decisions. At some point you will no longer care if gas cost $4 or $14 a gallon!

In the meantime, anybody interested in a low-mileage 2006 BMW 325i? I’ll brush off the cobwebs.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 6:40 AM | Permalink

Democrats’ Denver Double-Down

Apr
23
2008

Although Pennsylvania’s “decisive” primary decided absolutely nothing, Democratic Party leaders should learn a few things from the past seven weeks. Senator Hillary Clinton is not backing down and is finally willing to fight for the nomination. Barack Obama can outspend his opponents 3-to-1 and still not shift enough voters to win an election. And, most importantly, if Clinton can win in Indiana and Puerto Rico, the party’s leaders will face a tough decision in August not between two candidates but about the future direction of the Democratic Party.

Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton can win their party’s nomination on pledged delegates alone. The decision will come down to two groups of party leaders – the infamous super-delegates and the much-less scrutinized Democratic Party Credentials Committee, which will decide whether to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan.

Led by Alexis Herman, James Roosevelt, Jr. and Eliseo Roques-Arroyo, the Committee is made up of three representatives from each state’s slate of delegates, and they will end up deciding whether Florida and Michigan’s delegates and each state’s superdelegates will get a vote in Denver. Whether or not Florida and Michigan count could well be the deciding factor between whether Clinton or Obama has a lead in pledged delegates, the popular “vote”, or in both.

Obama supporters have their talking points at the ready for this fight: their candidate is a once-in-a-generation leader who has brought new voters into the Democratic Primary. Turn them away with what might be seen as backroom manipulation of the “popular” vote – a decision to count Michigan and Florida after all – and they may never come back.

For any political operative, that is a seductive logic: rather than dividing the existing political pie between Democrats and Republicans, make it larger by bringing in new voters. But it’s doesn’t really hold up.

Here in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought new voters into the California electoral process when he ran for Governor in 2003 and again in 2006 when he ran for re-election. The Republican governor carried 57 of 80 Assembly Districts in 2006. 22 of these were seats held by Democrats. Since 2002, Republicans have not picked up any state Legislative seats in California; as far as California Republican candidates are concerned, Schwarzenegger has no coattails.

The Democratic Party’s last once-in-a-generation transformational leader, John F. Kennedy, remains a great inspiration to his party and to this nation. But how well have Democrats done since the Kennedy Administration?

Conversely, the risk to the Democratic Party of not seating the Florida and Michigan delegations is much greater. For starters, both Florida and Michigan are swing states, which if either is lost, could swing the Electoral College to Republicans.

More important is who actually voted in the Florida and Michigan primaries: people who took the time to go to the polls and cast a ballot they weren’t even sure would count. Those are a die-hard voters.

In grassroots politics, these folks would be called “fours” or “fives” – meaning that they had voted in four or five of the last elections. As opposed to the “zeros” or “ones” who joined the Democratic Party primary process only to cast a ballot for Barack Obama, you can bet your money that these “fours” and “fives” will be casting votes regardless of who is on the ballot.

To deny the votes of the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters in two critical swing states is a risky gambit. To deny their voice solely to appease “Obama voters” who have shown no previous support for the Party, nor evidence that they would were his name not on the ballot, is a sucker’s bet – one that even as a Republican, I could not in good conscience recommend they make.

Editor’s Note: Scott Olin Schmidt holds a significant financial interest in a corporation which is advising an independent expenditure committee on marketing of pro-Clinton websites. But that still doesn’t mean he’ll vote for her.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:28 AM | Permalink

California’s Gay Marriage Conundrum

Apr
16
2008

Last Friday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shocked a ballroom full of gay Republicans – and perhaps an entire state – when he announced that he would oppose a constitutional amendment to ban equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians in California. The religious right screamed “betrayal” from a governor who twice vetoed legislation to make marriage equality the law, and liberal Democrats were befuddled by what they saw as a shift of position.

Outside of California, the announcement to the Log Cabin Republicans was seen as a change of position, making the California Governor seem like the enigmatic maverick he has endorsed for president. But in reality, Schwarzenegger has never changed his position on gay marriage and gay rights; indeed he’s signed into law more pieces of gay rights legislation – 19 in all – than any other governor. Instead, he has but slowly revealed how he feels about an issue mired in the complexities of California lawmaking.

Schwarzenegger’s position on gay marriage comes from a wholly California perspective. As he sees it, there is a difference between marriage equality as a constitutional amendment versus a legislative statute or an initiative statute. That’s why he twice vetoed legislative statutes granting marriage rights. But it’s also why he said he would support an initiative statute if the people decided the issue at the polls.

Of course, given his record, it came as a shock when Schwarzenegger announced in 2005 that he would veto a bill from the legislature designed to grant gay couples the holy grail of civil rights: the right to marry. During the month that followed that announcement and his actual veto of the bill, gay rights groups led by Democrats thought they could win him over by comparing him to Governor George Wallace–an attempted scare tactics that in the end proved only to get the door to Sacramento’s Horseshoe slammed in their face. He is, after all, The Terminator.

When he vetoed the marriage rights bill, Schwarzenegger was very forthright in his reasoning. Because the voters had passed Proposition 22, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, the legislature could not, constitutionally, override the will of the people. Only the courts, or the people themselves with another ballot initiative, could do that.

Schwarzenegger subsequently said that if the people decided to make marriage equality the law, he would be for it.

So let’s review the Governator’s positions on marriage equality. He is against a legislative statute allowing it, acknowledges the fact that there is an initiative statute banning it on the books, would support a court decision or initiative statute making it law, and is against a Constitutional ban on gay marriage.

But until Friday, Schwarzenegger had not taken a position on whether gays and lesbians should have equal marriage rights. This is why there has been so much confusion. Early statements outlined the governor’s positions on how the legal means used to grant such rights, not on their merits.

On California’s November ballot, there may will be a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage which would make the debate over legislative versus initiative statutes irrelevant. Governor Schwarzenegger said that he thought that such a measure would not only be “a waste of time” but that he would fight against it – creating room for a solution to the procedural problems that give gays the right to marry – and drawing rancorous applause from the Log Cabin audience.

It’s not as easy as saying Schwarzenegger is “for it” or he is “against it” when it comes to same-sex marriage. And if Democrats weren’t trying to score political points in their attacks, they might even call his positions “nuanced.” The reality is that Schwarzenegger’s position is as complex as California’s government itself. A telling statement on the the governance of the state as a whole and why it can be so difficult to get anything done in Sacramento.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 1:40 AM | Permalink

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