Trying to wring one last river trip out of our summer here in the region known affectionately as "The State of Jefferson," a few days ago our family decided to head south from Ashland through the rugged Siskiyou Mountains to explore McCloud Falls in Northern California. We've excitedly explored many mountains, trails, rivers, and swimming holes since moving to Oregon seven years ago, but this particular trip, instead of excitement about the adventure, I felt guilty about all the obligations I was neglecting in the process: unpacking boxes following a recent move, organizing, cleaning, painting, weeding, writing, paying attention to politics....
Actually, I've been fairly diligent in all those departments lately save one: paying attention to politics. And it's a bit of a concern. For all the obvious reasons of course.
I thought I'd be all over election politics this year, like a turkey vulture on dead highway meat or something. But sitting at a soccer game the day McCain announced his choice of Sarah Palin as running mate, several people who know how much I've followed politics through the years asked me what I thought and I had to admit, embarrassed, that I didn't know anything about it. Or Sarah Palin. Yet, I continued on for several more weeks with my head buried in the sand, distracted by all manner of other things. Not necessarily bad things, but distracted nevertheless. However, this particular Sunday, driving to the McCloud River, the guilt suddenly hit the fan. Running loops through my mind--while accidentally driving over dead squirrels in my distracted state--was, "What's wrong with me? How come I'm not paying attention to the political scene? What's wrong with me?..."
But being a fan of Eckhart Tolle and Ram Dass, their voices chimed in as well, whispering, "Be here now."
"Okay, I'm here now, frustrated by my inattention, flummoxed by my lack of knowledge about current political happenings, driving over dead squirrels (which usually I go out of my way to avoid doing), on my way to a beautiful river (according to online reviews), and not at home weeding, harvesting, putting up food, organizing, paying attention to politics, or doing my part to get involved. Okay....now what?"
And so I lay on a hot rock in the middle of the McCloud River. And it felt good. And as the McCloud River flowed around me, I tried to let it wash away my guilt, and monkey-mindedness, and fear, and worry, and doubt, and inattention.... I tried to just empty my mind so that the answer I was seeking would have the space it needed to enter, and be noticed.
Clarity is a wonderful byproduct of being present. In the course of paying attention to the fact that...I hadn't been paying attention, the answer to my question came in the form of realizing that the honest, and perhaps most creative and valuable response would be to first own my inattention, and then to write about it and my journey back to attention. I considered a long list of things I felt dreadfully out of the loop on: the world financial crisis, the escalating and catastrophic effects of climate change, the energy crisis, Russia's incursion into Georgia, the world food crisis...(crisis, crisis, crisis). But the one thing I kept coming back to with the most curiosity was the election, and most specifically, Sarah Palin.
I see a lot of similarities between myself and Sarah. I'm 43. She's 44. I'm a soccer mom. She's a hockey mom. I think it'd be neat to be president someday. She thinks it'd be neat to be president someday. I have no qualifying experience in the matter. She has pretty much no qualifying experience in the matter. And so on. I like getting personal with my writing, and she seemed like the perfect "candidate" for my re-entry into paying attention.
I imagined inviting Sarah over for lunch, and then writing an essay about our visit. (If someone as inexperienced and unknown as Sarah Palin can be named as McCain's running mate, then someone as inexperienced and unknown as me can invite her over for lunch and write about it!)
We could enjoy a nice lunch prepared from fresh, organic food from my new garden, talk mom to mom and woman to woman, and find all the ways we are similar...all while I was coming to a better understanding of her as a human being, and of her worthiness (or not) as a potential vice president (or president).
Naturally, I'd ask Sarah about her family, and what it's like to be jogging the campaign trail after giving birth to her youngest son just five months ago. Most likely I'd tell her I could never do that. That I'd just want to be home 24/7--nursing, nurturing, being with my newborn. Especially a special needs newborn. I wouldn't intend to suggest she's an insensitive mother or anything, and while I might not have a special needs child myself, my husband and I did have to contemplate the idea while waiting two weeks for test results on Down's syndrome regarding our own son, and can imagine what it's like. And isn't it ever difficult to be away? And how does she fit in time with her other children still at home--another one under age ten, and two teenagers (one pregnant)--with such a busy schedule? I'll likely acknowledge that I think it's fine when fathers take on the role of stay at home parent, but doesn't her husband work for BP (formerly British Petroleum) and as a commercial fisherman?
I hope my questions wouldn't offend her. As a mother myself, I'm just curious how she does it, that's all.
Perhaps, while finishing up our cucumber salad, we'll talk about how she hunts elk and how I have a four-point black-tailed deer buck who lives behind my house (who, luckily, is away for the day). Maybe we'll giggle about the whole "hockey mom", "soccer mom" thing. Which might lead to an interesting discussion about how much things have changed for women in the past 100 years, mostly for the better. We'll probably talk about our own mothers, and our mother-in-laws, and what kind of an influence they've had on us. I'll just have to ask her what her relationship is like with her mother-in-law, Faye Palin, who is pro-choice, and a registered Democrat. And I thought my mother-in-law and I had differences! Of course, this might encourage Sarah to talk about her passionate beliefs regarding abortion. This could get touchy. I wonder if I should mention that most people who know me would probably label me a liberal and feminist on many counts (though I've never labeled myself that way, and tend to disparage labeling) but that I actually happen to have questions about abortion (because I had one when I was young and later regretted it). Maybe admitting this would help her feel more comfortable. But I'll also mention that despite my concerns, I am for a woman's right to choose. And that my main issue with abortion is that getting one seems to be, well, just about as easy as going to get your lip waxed (which I've only done once, and also regretted), and that I've long wanted to suggest that, just maybe, there should be more to it than that.
At this point, I'll likely be anxious to get to my more difficult questions for Sarah, but maybe she'll be more open to answering me honestly later if I first establish how much common ground there is between us (and, I'd assert, all human beings).
Maybe we'd enjoy discussing the whole evolution vs. creation thing. I might tell her how my religion of birth taught me to believe that evolution was evil, that man has only been around for 6000 years, and that it'd be easier if we just didn't discuss dinosaurs. And I might admit, that while I'm no longer of that religion, or any other, that I nevertheless always cringe, just a bit, at the certainty of scientists' carbon dating methods. Especially since so many other scientific "certainties" have...um...evolved over time. I might tell her that I now believe (as per science) that the universe is made up of an energy which permeates and interacts with everything everywhere, and that I suspect the omnipresent creator we were created in the image of (as per the bible), is this energy, and so are we. That maybe there is such a thing as intelligent design AND evolution. And I might agree (though I haven't given it a ton of deliberation) that both evolution and creation could be taught. Why not? Why can't we show all sides, anyway? What exactly are we afraid of? A r-evolution of learning and ideas? Do we really need to compartmentalize learning, and our youth, by denying them the ability to debate the issue fully and openly (without undo influence or coercion from either camp)? And who knows, maybe by opening it all up, we'd evolve more quickly towards comprehending the grand theory of everything scientists are searching for (and which just might prove the existence of intelligent design and evolution). I'd tell her that I talk about these things with my own kids. That I suggest they always keep an open mind, even though one side or the other, all too often, would prefer they close it.
At this point in our lunch date, I'd refill our tall glasses of lemonade, and still talking about our kids, I might tell Sarah about my 15-year-old daughter's growing interest in the election, especially where the environment is concerned, and about a paper she recently wrote that referenced a recent Thomas L. Friedman New York Times op-ed that quoted Sarah as saying she does not believe man is playing any role in climate change. I'd probably tell Sarah this sort of stance was rather surprising in this day and age, considering all the comprehensive and convincing data suggesting otherwise. But I'd tell her--knowing one can't just believe everything they read--that I'd done a little research into her stance and record on the issue to see if maybe she was being mischaracterized, but that what I found made it sorta appear that she was actually a flip-flopper. I'd give her a chance to address that observation of course. After all, maybe she has learned some things that caused her to change her stance. That would be a good thing, right? But then again, maybe she is just pandering? I hope she'd feel comfortable enough with me by now to tell me which.
No matter how she responded to that particular inquiry, I'd have to ask about her January 5, 2008 New York Times op-ed where she said: "This month, the secretary of the interior is expected to rule on whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. I strongly believe that adding them to the list is the wrong move at this time. My decision is based on a comprehensive review by state wildlife officials of scientific information from a broad range of climate, ice and polar bear experts." [emphasis added]
I'd suggest to Sarah that it appears she'd lied in her op-ed about the state's scientific data proving her stance regarding the polar bears not being endangered. I'd point out that Rick Steiner--a professor with the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program--endeavored to get copies of the scientific data which she claimed proved her viewpoint, and when he was told by her administration that it'd cost him $468,000, he ended up, via the Freedom of Information Act, obtaining the data he wanted directly from the Department of Fish and Game. And furthermore, that the data actually proved the reverse of her stance, thereby making her op-ed, well...at the very least...deceptive. I might even mention that I'd emailed Rick Steiner before her visit to ask for links to this information, and that he promptly emailed the following reply, and in a subsequent email, said that I was more than welcome to discuss it with her:
Hi Debi - thanks for the note. Attached here are a couple of the things you need:
1. a 6/08 Anchorage Daily News story containing one of the e-mails (4/07) from the state of Alaska marine mammal scientists, and this shows their agreement with the 9 USGS studies released in Sept. 07 that predicted that 2/3 of the world's polar bears would be gone by mid-century, including all of those off Alaska; 2. the 4/07 state marine mammal scientist's (in the DWC - Division of Wildlife Conservation, ADFG) comments on the federal proposed rule to list, the take home sentence is the very last, showing their agreement with the science behind the listing decision - this is one of the documents I wanted from the state, they refused to release it, and I ultimately got it from the USFWS through a FOIA; and 3. a Daily News oped on the state refusal to release the info to me
It is perfectly clear that the State of Alaska's only marine mammal scientists agree with the federal science behind the threatened listing...and the Governor made her decision to oppose listing based on politics - not science; misrepresented the basis of her decision to the public; and then tried to conceal all of this (by not releasing the documents I wanted).
So, hope this helps...get in touch if you need more or need clarification.
Good luck....Rick Steiner
In an aside to Sarah, I'll probably mention how much I love the Internet and how quickly one can access information these days. Perhaps she enjoys it as much as I?
And then I'll read Sarah a portion of her state's own marine mammal scientists' assessment of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's report that Steiner sent me via PDF, the assessment which she claimed supported her belief that polar bears are not endangered. In its introduction, it states, "The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed rule indicates that the polar bear will become an endangered species throughout all or a significant portion of its range within 45 years (the 'foreseeable future') based primarily on the loss of habitat caused by sea ice recession." I will tell her that her scientists explain their methodology in assessing the report by saying they, "focused on whether the finding in the proposed rule was supported by scientific literature, and specifically whether the literature supports the major inferences and assumptions concerning polar bear ecology." And that while they acknowledged there are many variables to consider, they nevertheless concluded their assessment of the Service's findings with the take home sentence Steiner mentions: "...the finding that the polar bear will decline significantly across much of its range is supported." [emphasis added] An assessment and conclusion which is the polar ("pardon the pun," I will say) opposite of her "scientific based" assertion.
And further, I will mention that in a subsequent email, Steiner asked that I emphasize to her that when the state marine mammal scientists reviewed the additional 9 federal (USGS) studies released later in 2007, which predicted the loss of 2/3 of the world's polar bears and all those off Alaska by mid-century, her scientists agreed completely with the dire conclusions.
This might be a good time to scoot off to the kitchen for dessert. But when I come back in and offer her a piece of homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, I'll have to ask how, as a self-proclaimed "bible believing Christian", she could have been so deceitful in her op-ed, and in her current lawsuit regarding the listing. Does she justify it because, as Steiner suggested in a recent Democracy Now interview regarding the subject: "Anybody who runs for office in Alaska has to embrace totally the oil and gas business in order to have a chance of getting [and staying] elected"? And if so, does that mean she believes there are times when it's okay for a bible loving Christian to lie and justify? I'm just curious, seeing how she's running for the second highest office in the land and all.
I hope this wouldn't be the cause for our nice lunch taking a nasty turn, because I have so much more I'd like to talk with her about.
Maybe I should try to turn the conversation back to more pleasant topics for a bit. Travel for instance. I could ask her where she's been in the world. Oh, maybe that's not so good, considering that 2007 was the first time she'd ever ventured outside North America. My bad. But perhaps she would enjoy talking about her trip to Iraq and Germany and Ireland. Of course the visit to Iraq was actually more a visit to Kuwait, as she only went one quarter of a mile into Iraq. I've been to Ireland though, and would love to hear her observations on its special land, people, and culture... Oh, wait, that was just a refueling stop for her. Germany maybe? You know, on second thought, maybe I'll just skip the travel question entirely.
But speaking of Iraq, maybe I'll ask if her 19 year old son chose to enlist in the army on September 11, 2007 because he thinks that 9/11 and Iraq are connected? And, connecting the dots of course, I'll want to ask if she believes Iraq was behind the events of 9/11? I mean, she pretty much said so at Fort Wainwright a few weeks ago, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11 when her son deployed for Iraq. And then she appears to have reaffirmed that this is her opinion with her comments at a press conference last week while visiting 9/11's ground zero, when she said:
I agree with the Bush administration that we take the fight to them. We never again let them come onto our soil and try to destroy not only our democracy, but communities like the community of New York. Never again. So yes, I do agree with taking the fight to the terrorists and stopping them over there. I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security of our nation, again, because the mission is to take the fight over there. Do not let them come over here and attempt again what they accomplished here, and that was some destruction-terrible destruction on that day. But, since September 11th, Americans uniting and rebuilding and committing to never letting that happen again.--Fox News, 9/25/08
Of course, now I'll have to ask her if she knows where most of the 9/11 terrorists actually came from. I'd even offer her a clue, along with a smile and more lemonade, by adding, "...and it wasn't Afghanistan or Iraq."
The legal and moral implications of our invasion of Iraq aside for a moment, I'd be curious what her general opinion has been about how the war has been waged. I'll probably have to ask about that Alaska Business Monthly interview in early 2007, the one where they told Sarah, "We've lost a lot of Alaska's military members to the war in Iraq," and then asked her, "How do you feel about sending more troops into battle, as President Bush is suggesting?" To which she replied: "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq." Granted, she went on to say that she supported the idea for an exit plan, and that she wanted the troops to be safe. And granted, she was busy figuring out how to be a governor. But here is McCain's pick for vice president, and as of last year...she wasn't paying attention to the war in Iraq?
I might actually be emboldened enough at this point to ask her, "If you had trouble paying attention to Iraq while figuring out how to be a governor, what will it be like when you're figuring out how to be a vice president?"
I'm just curious.
Which reminds me about my curiosity regarding her aspirations. I don't know how long McCain and his Rovian team were looking at her as a potential running mate, but her aspirations for the job go back farther than a month ago when McCain unexpectedly (by some accounts) tapped her as his choice for vice president, and farther back than March of 2007 when she said she didn't have time to pay attention to the Iraq war. According to a recent New York Times exposé , Laura Chase, Sarah's campaign manager during her first run for mayor of Wasilla in 1996, learned of Sarah's aspirations twelve years ago when she said, "You know, Sarah, within 10 years you could be governor." Sarah's reply? "I want to be president."
And yet, in March of last year, she wasn't even paying attention to the war in Iraq? Even though it's become one of the central themes (if not debacles) of the decade, and is one of the central themes of McCain's campaign? I mean no disrespect, and I do hope she's enjoying our visit, but I am curious after all.
And this, in turn, raises my curiosity about her staunchly rigid "pro-life" stance. Yep, back to that. But it is high on her platform, after all. And I wonder how it informs her opinion of war.
In addition to the more than 4,000 American lives sacrificed following our invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, what does she think--especially when she's listening to the Sunday sermon at Wasilla Bible Church--about the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians we have murdered? I really want to know. Does she think that this kind of carnage is God's Will? And if so, can she explain that to me? And if not, then why isn't she paying attention? And as vice president or president, would she try to overturn Roe v. Wade, while at the same time sanctioning war and murder, for oil and profits?
I think I'm starting to get a little irritated with my lunch guest. Maybe it's time for some herbal tea or something. But we're talking murder on a very large scale here. And she is supposedly so very much "pro-life." I just don't get it. And I want to. So I'll continue, sans the herbal tea.
I will acknowledge to her that it's difficult to arrive at an accurate number regarding the Iraqi civilian death toll (especially when "we don't do body counts"), with figures ranging from 87,643 (Iraq Body Count) to 1,267,401 (Just Foreign Policy) since the invasion of March 2003. I'd have to point out that in last year alone, according to AP reports (other reports are even higher), 18,610 Iraqi civilians were killed. 18,610 people in one year. And I'd want to ask Sarah, I'd have to ask Sarah, "Is even one of these casualties acceptable? Especially considering that the invasion was based on the deliberate manipulation of known facts? And...as a bible loving, pro-life, Christian...aren't you outraged and horrified by this colossal waste of life? Murder and carnage on a scale that begs belief, and which occurred because of, at the very least--the misguided leadership of President Bush, and at the very worst--because of an insatiable military-industrial complex hell bent on profit, and an oligarchy's (some might say oiligarchy's) stubborn dependence on non-renewable and dwindling oil reserves? Do you really believe that murdering 80,000 people, or one million people...or even one person, is the way to, as you told Katie Couric last week, 'usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world'? Don't you ever wonder what Jesus would say about that? Does it ever occur to you that people who support such a thing--whether on purpose or through ignorance--are...well...pro-death?"
And speaking of that interview with Katie Couric, I'm gonna have to ask Sarah if she's found any of those examples of McCain's supposed conservative leadership regarding the way Wall Street does business that she told Katie she'd get. What a scoop that'd be if she has them with her.
I imagine Sarah fidgeting about right now. Perhaps I've made her uncomfortable with all my questions. But there's so much more I need to ask her about and pay attention to. Like what about those earmarks she was for and then against--which included the "Bridge to Nowhere" project? Like what about when, six days before a very controversial ballot measure and nine days before McCain tapped her as his running mate, she called a press conference and said, "Let me take my governor's hat off for just a minute here," and then, most likely breaking the state law against advocacy on ballot measures in the process, told reporters she was a no vote on the measure--a measure that six days later failed, and which might lead to the development of a gigantic open-pit mine on the shore of Bristol Bay, home of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery? Like what about that whole "troopergate" affair? And why are members of her family and staff refusing to respond to the subpoenas regarding the investigation?
Let's see. What else should I ask her about? Certainly, in my rush to begin paying attention, I'm missing some important things that should be addressed. And how, exactly, do I gracefully exit this lunch date anyway? How do I let her know that while she might well be a decent person and mother (and perhaps mayor and governor), I nevertheless have come to the conclusion that she has nowhere near (not by a longshot) what it takes to be the Vice President of the United States, or worse, should it become necessary, President of the United States?
Perhaps I can offer Sarah that herbal tea now, while I say gently, "Let me put on my Concerned and Attentive American hat for just a minute here. I have to tell you that on November 4th, I'm voting NO on McCain/Palin." And then I might add, with a bit of a giggle, "And one never knows these days, maybe Senator Biden will back out of the race for one reason or another and Senator Obama will give me a call. And then we can go over all this again. And I'll have to be polite and mind the clock, and you'll have to answer the questions! But seriously, I do wish all the best to you and your family, and have really enjoyed our visit."