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Politics with my Cappuccino

My barista leaned over the counter today.  “What do you think of the MSNBC host who said she hoped it was a Tea Party member rather than a Muslim who set the car bomb in Times Square?”  His colleague at the cappucino maker edged closer to hear what I had to say.  “Well,” I replied, “I wish it was someone from the Tea Party.  It actually kind of makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear it’s a Muslim because I think the large majority of them aren’t radicalized and it just gets more difficult for law abiding Muslims.”  My barista rolled his eyes and got back to work.  My barista and I have been sparring politically for a while now.  It has become a regular occurrence. 

Standby for the great irony here.  My youngish, handsome barista who drives a sporty car (he says he married well) is wildly conservative.  Not what you’d expect.  Consider your barista.  Hip?  Trendy?  Teva Sandals?  Mine is a supporter of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party and is sick of all these bailouts.  Me?  I’m the middle aged suburban mom in an upscale Denver suburb, as liberal as they come, who believes government has a financial obligation to its people and coming to the rescue is necessary now and then.  His eyes light up when he sees me come in for my daily nonfat dry cappuccino fix.  “Vicky, what do you think of this?  Vicky, can’t wait to hear your opinion on this one.  Vicky, how are you going to feel when your taxes go up?  Vicky, come over here.  I need to ask you about something.”  Politics is part of my coffee ritual now. 

At first I was a bit surprised by his forwardness.  I couldn’t imagine our discreet back and forth was good for business or that his company or customers would approve.  After a particularly intense exchange, which lasted about five minutes and had his colleagues calling him back to work, I got downright uncomfortable.  We were discussing President Obama and Congress and health care reform.  He made sure I understood that my taxes were going up and soon my income would be shrinking.  I didn’t articulate my position succinctly.  Race came up.  I walked out of the store replaying the discussion in my head.  I talked to my friends about whether I should say something to him or stop visiting.  After thinking it through, I came to the conclusion that this exchange is good for both of us, but in measured doses.  Kind of like one cup of coffee a day.  After all, discussing politics at the local coffee shop is what we do in America.  Right?    

A while back I was listening to NPR and there was a discussion about Melinda Blau’s book “Consequential Strangers.”  These are the people on the periphery of our lives that matter.  They are not friends or colleagues, but rather the people who we intersect with over the course of our lives that have an impact nonetheless.  They are the lady at the bank who greets me when I come in, the woman I sit and talk to on the airplane, people I’ve never met on Facebook who intrigue me with their posts.  Our interactions make a difference in my life.  My barista is a “consequential stranger” and even though I think his politics are strange, I walk through the world more knowledgeable because we talk out our differences.  He knows what I drink, greets me by name, has my coffee ready before I get to the cashier and now he knows my politics and I know his.  I doubt we’re opening each others minds or mellowing each other out.  Most likely we’re just agreeing to disagree and entertaining the staff.  I’m hearing about the Tea Party with my cup of joe.  He’s hearing what I like about our President.  We’re not shouting each other down or holding up signs.  It’s rather civilized.  Like meeting over coffee.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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Health Care Reform and Leadership

The debate over health care reform is not over.  Even with the House vote and significant legislation approved, the merits and process will be hashed and rehashed for years, and certainly, vociferously, until November when mid-term elections decide the fate of many in Congress who went one way or the other.  We haven’t heard the last of the Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck but I think that when people go to the polls in November they will consider that the Democrats actually got something done in Washington.  I was starting to wonder if it was possible.  The nastiness and fear tactics have been so discouraging.  This was an ugly process and there were many compromises.  It’s not the bill President Obama or anyone really hoped for but we have reform and it’s better than defending the status quo which was leaving so many on the sidelines.  At the 11th hour, with the finish line in sight, we had Republicans saying this is not the time, we should be concentrating on jobs and the economy.  They are right about many other priorities in this country, but why wouldn’t we finish what we started, especially when we were so close?  Why wouldn’t we push through the difficulties and get the job done?  Why wouldn’t we do as Americans do and lead?  It takes courage to make tough decisions.  It takes balls to stare down opposition and try to do the right thing.  Why would the Republicans let themselves be so marginalized while they stood on ideology?  By refusing to collaborate they are standing in the way (or rather being pushed out of the way) when meaningful progress needs to be made.  The health care reform that was passed was not radical and many experts believe it will be embraced by the public as they learn more about it.  Hopefully the electorate will keep this in mind when it’s time for them to vote their conscience.  I’m sure many Democratic legislators lost sleep over their vote but they didn’t cave in and they made important changes in a broken system that were long overdue.  They voted with common sense.  They pushed through the fear.  We can debate the merits of the health care reform bill until we’re blue in the face and gasping for oxygen.  But I’m breathing easier this morning.  Finally, someone is leading in Washington. 

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Wrong Answer to Abortion

When I produced the daily talk show, Kaleidoscope, at KAKE TV in Wichita, Kansas, I learned you could discuss just about any issue but abortion.  It was too polarizing.  People would talk until they were blue in the face, raise their voices and get angry but neither side would budge from their position.  No matter how compelling the arguments for or against, those who were pro-life and pro-choice just dug their heels in deeper.   It was an argument that couldn’t be won.  That was nearly 20 years ago.

Unfortunately we’re still not talking about abortion.  Instead radicals like Scott Roeder pick up guns and shoot people like Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas in church.  I am shocked by the hypocrisy of those who say they are pro-life but will kill someone and feel they are doing God’s work.  No matter how you feel about abortion or the work Dr. Tiller did, there is never any excuse for violence or vigilantes.  It is terrorism.  Even pro-life groups are ashamed and outraged by today’s violence. 

President Obama has his work cut out for him as he tries to bring some civility to this divisive issue.  During his recent speech during commencement at Notre Dame University he said “the question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts?  Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort?  As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”  Can we get there by talking?  I’m not sure but at least Notre Dame had the courage to take on a controversial subject.  We need to dialogue.  Terrorists forcing the abortion debate is the wrong answer.


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Homeless Children

The plight of homeless children was the focus of two articles in the 5/18 edition of USA Today. One is about 11 year old Zach Bonner who is walking from Atlanta, Georgia to Washington, D.C. to raise money and awareness for homeless youngsters. He hopes to meet with President Obama when he arrives in July.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-05-17-wagon-boy_N.htm?csp=34

The other is by CBS anchor, Katie Couric, who draws attention to the rapidly growing “collateral damage” from the economic downturn, children, whose families have lost jobs to layoffs and homes to foreclosure as the recession has worsened.

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/05/the-recessions-tiniest-victims-need-help-too.html

While working on a story about the impact of the economy on public hospitals I had a chance to see for myself the world that children, some formerly middle class, live in when they lose their homes. Besides being on the move many try to keep their shame a secret from friends. Attending school, receiving medical care, transportation, everything is difficult.  Thanks to Zach and Katie for telling the story.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.