Monday, May 26, 2008
Oh Gasoline, why cain't you be cheap?
I have mixed feelings about the price of gas. On the one hand, it's certainly hurting me personally, as I've chosen to live my life far enough out of town that I need to drive quite a bit. On the other hand, gasoline causes huge harms to the environment, and only high prices will change the way we use it.

As gas edges up to $4 a gallon, people have finally started making these changes. And of course, some leap into unwise purchases (you know how we americans are--any excuse to buy something new!)

We actually can, without making major purchases or selling our houses (yeah, I've even been thinking of that, much as it pains me) change the way we use energy--like our driving habits. I've been avoiding unnecessary trips (in addition, my teeth-jarringly-warped brake rotors mean I avoid using the brakes as much as possible, which causes me to drive a lot more gently--using less gas, thereby).

What's outrageous, though, is that big oil is sitting fatter than ever on its pile of profits, forcing out gas-station owners by greedily grasping for more. Why is it that so few people are paying attention to this? (Or maybe they are, and that's contributing to Bush's free-falling approval rating? Oh, I hope so!) And what's most outrageous about this situation is that the forces of supply and demand are not determining retail gasoline prices. Beyond the market fluctuations affecting crude prices, Big oil is completely in control of the price we pay at the pump. And, don't get me started on the proposed "gas tax holiday" which will accomplish exactly nothing other than increasing our national debt.

The manipulation of prices at the pump became obvious a couple of years ago--the morning news would announce the price of crude, and that afternoon the price of gas at the pump immediately increased. I made the incorrect assumption that gas-station owners were opportunistically cashing in. But as it turns out, Big Oil is fine-tuning its "wholesale" price (that is, what it charges station owners) and controlling the stations' retail prices in a truly Machiavellian way. NPR has done a good job of analyzing all the factors that go into gas prices.

I have a bunch of friends who are into the concept of "peak oil." This is all very well, but nevertheless (IMHO) irrelevant, because we need to make changes in our oil use now, for the sake of the environment, regardless of whether or not we're about to run dry. And despite the fact that I'm feeling the pinch, and am pissed at how Bush & Co. have set the oil companies up for megaprofits and control of our economy, I'm hopeful that perhaps at last we have the incentive to change our ways. Time will tell, I reckon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The Fifth District Race is On!

On Saturday Tom Perriello officially became the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia.

People have been asserting for a long time that Virgil Goode, the incumbent republican, can't be beaten. But, to quote my favorite movie: "nonsense! You're only saying that because no one ever has!" [extra points if you get the reference].

Actually, while he certainly has a very "safe" gerrymandered district, and a sort of legacy seat (his dad, Virgil Goode, Sr. was a popular politician from the region) Virgil has made himself vulnerable on a number of fronts: voting against the GI Bill (I mean, how dumb can ya get?) and against mother's day . He also has been caught up in a campaign-finance scandal.

The received wisdom is that no one from outside Virgil's home territory (the southern part of the district) can win it. But not everyone in the southern part of the district is in love with Virgil, as was noted in this article from 1995. The fact is that the world is changing and Virgil's not changing with it. He's still trying to appeal to his base, and only to his base--which may be a good short-term strategy, but it's a loser in the long run. For instance, look at one of his hallmarks--his unabashed bigotry. This may still play well with a certain constituency in that part of the district. But George Allen found out the hard way that it's not a sure-fire strategy for winning in a modern, demographically-diverse state (which Virginia is rapidly becoming).

Goode's recent press release justifying the Iraq war by (falsely) asserting that more Americans die as a result of illegal immigrants than in Iraq show that he's still trying to play this losing hand. Aside from the clearly spurious math (which right-wing wack groups have been calculating on their skewed-statistics calculators for quite a while now), it completely misses the point, which common-sense voters can see for themselves (and which street preacher/singer/voice of conscience/Charlottesville character Uriah J Fields articulates in a recent letter to the editor): that our country should aspire to a higher standard than that of drunk drivers and murderers. The great thing about this response is that it removes the debate out of the realm of numbers (which most people pretty much ignore) and puts it on moral ground--where Tom Perriello clearly wins.

Tom has been raising an extraordinary amount of money, making him a highly viable candidate, and bringing national attention and dollars to the race. He has a long row to hoe (and he needs to learn a more dynamic speaking style), but I think he has a real chance. And, the previous challengers (Meredith Richards and Al Weed) did much to revitalize the moribund Democratic party in the southside. Tom can build on those gains, and win the District!

Axes of Oppressions

George Will's column this past sunday brought some issues to the fore for me that have been percolating around for a while. As usual, Will gets some things right, but most things wrong.

Some of Obama's supporters (as well as non-supporters, like Will) are making a big deal about Clinton's supporters' (and Clinton's) supposed sense of "entitlement" to the presidency because of her gender. Although I think there's a stronger case to be made that misogyny is playing a large role in this race, there are some old-school feminists who feel that it's time for a woman to be president and that should be of overarching importance. I don't happen to share that view. Mostly because, as a yellow-dog Democrat, I want, first: the most electable candidate, and second: the best candidate (one hopes these are the same, but unfortunately, not always). But, what's most fascinating to me is how we as a society perceive/respond to oppressed groups, as manifested by this primary race.

We seem to have developed a sort of "heirarchy of oppressions," with different groups claiming to be more oppressed than another. Put another way, if you could create a graph of marginal group status (race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, social class, etc) you'd have to have multiple axes. In this instance, Barack is up fairly high on the "race" axis, while Hillary is all the way out on the "gender" axis. If this is really how we measure things, then Hillary is more "oppressed" than Barack, and therefore more "owed the prize" (to borrow from Will) than Barack. And if a candidate was a black woman, she'd score even higher on both axes--for critics like Will, and those he tries to denounce, this candidate would be "extra entitled."

(A funny aside: in the competition and clamor to score high up on the graph, that most oppressive group, white right-wing christians [so-called--I prefer to call these christianists, actually, a usage that's been gaining currency], are now claiming to be the most oppressed group.)

Within the context of our various [skewed] perceptions though, is another issue: how does a person's race, gender or other "differentness" affect our response to them when we are frequently unconscious of the effect these factors have on us? So, for instance, if the shoe was on the other foot, would people be demanding that Barack concede? What if Hillary was black and her opponent a white man? How would that play into the equation? Would we be saying different things? Expecting different things?

The truth is, we don't know, can't know, because our perceptions are so subtly shaded and so unconscious that we can't separate them out from all the other feelings, perceptions and opinions we hold. Which is why I think we should give both candidates the benefit of the doubt, and hold ourselves as accountable as we can for our own opinions, when we notice ourselves responding to a candidate in a negative way, or call for a candidate to take a particular action (ie, drop out of the race).

Of course, white males, though as a group at zero on the oppression scale, have their own problems. Members of the default class (white males, in our society--and really, that's a better term than oppressor, since few of them are consciously engaged in oppressing), for all their advantages, suffer in their own ways--and the rest of us suffer along with them. The harms of our system to members of any group are experienced both on an individual basis and in the aggregate--and generalized to society as a whole (eg: repressed pain leads to rage, lack of empathy and a need to control, causing harm to the individual and to those around him). We're seeing that play out in this primary race [Exhibit A: Rev. Wright, member of both oppressed (black) and oppressor (male) classes].

However, there are also benefits to being a member of a marginalized group, and these benefits may similarly generalize to the rest of society. Which means that if either of the Democratic candidates in this race wins the general election, we could end up with a whole new paradigm that could end oppression for everyone, no matter who or on which axis they locate on, oppressed or oppressor (this is not a high probability, but, you know, just a glimmer of possibility.)

Bringing this all back to Hillary and Barack: Hillary and some women may feel a sense of entitlement ("this is our time") and Barack may benefit from being a Black man who is non-threatening to whites (so they can assuage their guilt by supporting his candidacy without conflict) and these facts are both diminishing to them and to us, and empowering as well. In the process, regardless of the outcome, both candidates are normalizing the concept that a woman and a person of color can be president--while continuing to suffer from the weight of our collective burden of oppressions, stereotypes, and cross-communication. As do we all.

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