Saturday, December 04, 2004

"My War" blog 

Thought people who haven’t heard about Spc. Colby Buzzell's My War blog might like to see it. He stopped posting once military officers became aware of it and disapproved, but it still exists and provides a glimpse of what it’s like to be on the ground in Iraq with the US Army.

Democratic Principles 

I’m ticked off about the ‘values’ debate—and not just the Republican side of it. The Democratic Party needs to refocus on economic issues and on its longstanding ties to working people and the middle class. The inane ongoing debate about ‘Red v. Blue’ culture is killing the Party.

Hold on a minute, I’m not saying we should backtrack on supporting individual rights and privacy rights, just let’s remember that our core beliefs are about economic justice. Progressives don’t need to back down from our stands on personal rights issues, but let’s not get distracted from following the money—that distraction helps the Republicans to paint us into a corner.

Let’s review what Karl Rove did to John Kerry during the campaign of 2004. The first order of Republican business was to paint Kerry as a radical-liberal with long hair as if it were 1971, with Kerry throwing medals away and lying about his Vietnam service. Never mind how unfair it was. The smear wasn’t intended to stick on factual grounds, it was intended to create an image that Kerry had to work against and that would soften him up for a later work-over on character and social issues. As long as a drumbeat could be kept up on issues like Vietnam, gay marriage, abortion, and a continuing portrayal made of Kerry as a rich, French speaking flip-flopper, married to a foreigner, and having no core religious values, it kept him from making more impact on the real issues of the campaign, foreign and domestic.

My point is that the job that was done on Kerry would never be possible if the Democratic nominee had previously developed serious bona fides on economic democracy. It’s not as if the Administration had an economic record worth warm spit. Joblessness was up and the economy had been down for years under their elitist stewardship. Yet they were able to make it seem that there was NOTHING they could’ve done about it. It was all because of the terrorists. Enron, the MCI Worldcom scandal, the lies on Wall Street, all the lost manufacturing jobs, the simultaneous cuts in benefits to the poor and average person and in taxes for the super wealthy, none of it was the responsibility of the Republicans… or it was less important than fighting terror (and somehow one requires the other, right?).

Kerry tried to be heard out on economic issues by Midwest voters over the drumbeat of character assassination and fear. But he didn’t get through on economic issues to an extent that would’ve forced Bush to defend his Administration’s poor stewardship of the average person’s well-being. Let’s examine why that didn’t happen. First, Kerry didn’t come into the campaign as a political figure with a reputation of fighting for the little guy’s economic stake. There wasn’t a longstanding personal history to back up his charges against Bush’s elitism. Quite frankly, none of the top vote-getting tier of the Democratic Presidential field had much background in fighting for labor or for the consumer against corporate interests. So it wasn’t Kerry’s problem; it was the Party’s problem. Twelve years of Democratic Leadership Council stewardship of the Democratic Party had left all the candidates looking very much like moderate-to-center-left Republicans on the economy, so their complaints about Bush screwing it up seemed kind of lame to people who didn’t see the big difference and were distracted by fear.

It won’t be easy for the Democratic Party to re-grow a backbone on economic issues. The mainstream media, all paid by multinational corporations, don’t want to discuss any alternatives to acceptance of corporate power and goals. When candidates talk about the abuse of power by corporations and the corruption of regulators who depend on corporate funding of their political benefactors, those candidates are said to represent ‘special interests,’ like labor unions or environmental groups. It's not made clear that they’re representing people— wage workers and users of air and water. The voting public isn’t accustomed to being represented broadly on economic issues, so there’s a sense that each campaign for economic rights is unrelated to all others. Protecting the food supply by putting more agriculture inspectors in the field doesn’t seem to be related to protecting our air and water, or protecting workers health and safety, or their jobs. Discussion of an equitable tax structure is easily interrupted as long as these and other issues are seen as unrelated. It’s easy to keep dividing people and defeating them one issue at a time.

So it’ll take time, folks, and won’t be simple.

The other dirty little secret of American political life is that in really representing Americans at the short end of the economic stick, Democratic politicians would be actively representing lots of people of color— and aside from asking for their votes at election-time, national Democrats have become way too accustomed to ignoring African-American and Latino interests on a day-to-day basis. One way of changing this would be to support candidates of color at a national level, instead of treating them solely as power brokers for delivering the vote of their constituency, as Democrats have treated Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Perhaps with a new generation of African-American and Latino politicians like Barack Obama, this will become more likely. But it can’t be left to one charismatic leader to do all the heavy lifting. The Democratic Party is going to have to be a true friend in order to have friends at the polls. African-American voters need good reasons to stand out in the cold rain for 8 hours in Ohio, while their opponents try to wrest their power away, and those reasons can’t merely be that the other guy is so bad they’d better do it. Nobody is particularly motivated to support those by whom they’re being taken for granted.

Democrats need to really fight against redlining, for poor people rights, not just for welfare ‘reform.’ We need to fight for jobs programs, for housing assistance money and for funding for a solid, integrated, public education for all children who want one. None of these priorities is even on the map right now. However, to build one America, these issues need to be raised up above the horizon. Democrats need to remember not just that civil rights has given the South to the Republicans, but that respecting civil rights and fighting for all our rights can bolster Democrats to victory in states like Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida— if voters of color are truly energized to vote in record numbers. God knows, if a real populist vote turned out in states like Louisiana or Mississippi, Democrats could make a run for statewide offices and have a prayer against the all-prayer all-the-time crowd.

While we’re on the subject of prayer, one of the reasons that voters are swayed by the religious arguments Republicans like to employ is that they don’t see a set of values, secular or religious, in American political life generally. When someone puts out even an obviously appropriated set of religious values and claims them as their own, that has some appeal. If the Democrats show that we value the lives and communities of average people, middle class and working class, black, white, brown, red, and yellow, we exemplify that we have strong values. Many of us come to our public values through a religious tradition, many don’t. The important part of the politics of values is that we stand for a set of principles, not simply in opposition to another set. By strongly representing Americans and their aspirations for a better life for their families and their communities, we set forth principles and values.

It’s not likely that the Republicans won’t try to play distraction games again or that it won’t get ugly over social issues and ‘values’ again. They will and it will get ugly. Its just that it won’t WORK if the Democrats have a serious and legitimate argument that we are the party of the middle class, working people, single mothers, people of color, poor people, immigrants, small business, labor, and students. The ‘values’ argument becomes tougher for the Rove types to make if we aren’t seen as the party of Hollywood, latte, urban elites, and super rich snobs. Hey, if that vote comes our way, fine, but Rove and Co are making it sound like that’s what the Democratic Party is all about, and it’s easy to do when it’s not till the waning days of the campaign that our party reminds its base that it stands for them.

The ‘values’ issues of inspecting the private lives of others are only of primary importance to voters who aren’t wondering why the Republicans aren’t helping to make their economic lives more manageable and their communities more livable. It’s totally insulting that George Bush managed to appear to people like an honest man with ‘values’ when he’s sold the average person down the river. Even on the privacy issues, the Administration knows it can’t be openly strident. The President pretends to take the high road, mouthing weak support for ‘tolerance’ of gays while leaving the dirty work to others to spread homophobia and then Bush uses debate references to a ‘culture of life,’ while his grassroots minions promise to overturn Roe v. Wade and make women’s ability to decide about their bodies illegal.

The answer to attacks on Democrats for supporting choice or gay rights or separation of church and state needs to be prefaced by warning that the Republicans are attempting to divide and conquer voters by distracting them from the main issues, namely around the Republicans’ redistribution of wealth—upward. It’s in the voters’ best interests not to allow themselves to be peeled off into narrow issue groups over social mores and issues of individual privacy while their pockets are being picked.

The problem is not that ‘values’ voters need to be educated about social issues, but that their economic issues are being obscured by those who’d rather use ‘values’ as a smokescreen. To break through the smoke and light a fire, Democrats have to fight hard for the same middle class and working class people who’ve been snookered into supporting Bush and his cronies.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pinochet... Up for Murder? 

Will Augosto Pinochet ever face trial for crimes against thousands of ‘disappeared’ Chileans during his brutal military rule? For decades, it appeared not, but now there is another chink in his armor of impunity. A Chilean court has stripped Pinochet of his immunity to prosecution in the killing of his predecessor as Army Chief of Staff, General Carlos Prats. It remains to be seen whether the Chilean Supreme Court will uphold the removal of the former strongman’s immunity and if he’ll be deemed physically fit for trial.

Think he’ll call Henry Kissinger as a defense witness?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Skipper, There's Rocks Off to Starboard 

I know that in government dollars, a couple million is pocket change, but when we’re running a deficit that is projected to be $363 billion in 2005 alone, it might be time to cut back on expenditures like repurchasing the presidential yacht. Just a thought…

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Education Litigation Chronology 

Court orders (like the one in CFE v. State of New York) usually get media attention only when the court finally forces compliance...so...

In the interest of providing some context, here’s a little history of the case prior to the judicial panel findings on funding public school education in New York City:

A lawsuit was brought in 1993 on behalf of New York City students by The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of parent organizations, community school boards, concerned citizens and advocacy groups. The Campaign sought to reform New York State's school finance system to ensure adequate resources and the “opportunity for a sound basic education” for all students in New York City. To accomplish this, their suit challenged the constitutionality of the state’s school financing system.

After years of litigation and failed settlement talks, the court found for the plaintiffs in 2001. The decision was promptly appealed and was finally upheld at New York’s highest court level in 2003.

The New York State Court of Appeals gave the state a July 30, 2004 deadline to come up with a figure for what it will take to provide a “sound basic education” and to implement remedial measures. The state failed to meet the deadline, taking neither of the two steps it was ordered to accomplish. A judicial panel was appointed to take up the work the state failed to do under the court’s orders.

Since the state’s leadership has preferred not to be a part of shaping the decision, the public wrangling will really begin now— over how—and who—pays to implement the decision.

A Huge Boost for City Kids 

A NY State court-appointed panel has decided an additional $5.6 billion must be spent on the city's schoolchildren every year to provide the opportunity for a sound, basic education that they are guaranteed by the State Constitution.

The panel also decided $9.2 billion worth of new classrooms, labs, libraries and infrastructure are needed to relieve overcrowding and upgrade facilities for the city's 1.1 million public school students.

This finding, sure to be ordered in state aid to the city under a lawsuit being overseen by Justice Leland DeGrasse, could transform the distribution of funds for education in New York State. The unequal funding of schools throughout the state has been a longstanding problem for children in urban public schools.

The amount will provide a huge boost to the education children in New York City receive. The finding should also have an indirect effect on other urban school disricts in New York State. More later on this. Anyone supporting solid educational opportunities for kids in poor and working class districts will be celebrating this finding.

Monday, November 29, 2004

What Counting in Ohio Can't...and Can Do 

Just to clarify a couple of things while I adjust my tinfoil hat for better reception...

I don't expect any major drama to come of an Ohio recount. The facts are clear and they are cold. There will be no magic bullet that overturns the election. Even if there was abuse or worse of the process, a recount won't change it. However, a close examination of Ohio's administration of the election should help to chasten anyone from attempting future abuses and keep the focus on how far we really are from fully democratizing our electoral process. This is, after all, the second consecutive election in which the Bush /Cheney campaign was chaired or co-chaired by the state official running the actual election process in the biggest battleground state.

Let's examine what happened in the Buckeye State. Ohio is the state which (this year) most clearly displays the ways in which election and registration administration can be warped from place to place in an effort to set ground rules favoring the incumbents. When 30,000 registration forms are tossed because of the paper stock they're on or for other meaningless incompletions, something really needs to change. Ohio should be a case study for why we need to reform our electoral system generally. Rules and standards for a national election need to be codified and apparent conflicts of interest by election officials need to discouraged. We need to encourage more participation by the truly dispossessed, not find ways to prevent it.

Let's also examine the electronic voting issues in Ohio as a way to encourage an open source code system that is transparent, so there need not be serious numbers of people who wonder about the results of future elections. Ohio and New Hampshire recounts that have already been legally requested can highlight the need for paper trails being integrated into future electronic voting systems, so there's never a serious question that hackers could hijack the process or create havoc in our voting booths.

Also, the Ohio recount underscores the closeness of the election and the strangeness of the Electoral College system, which disenfranchises a huge number of voters and makes for a conservatively skewed election battleground. A truly democratic voting process, which might be a generation or more down the road, would mean real one-man one-vote equality, no matter where one lives, giving many more people a reason to participate. Figures in battleground states show how much higher participation levels are in the states where citizens know their vote really matters.

In political terms, a true count reminds the public that there was no 'mandate' for sweeping changes in the Social Security system or for radical changes to the tax code, no lanslide for extreme right wing judges to populate the Supreme Court over the next term or for the dismissal of all moderate voices in the Bush Administration. Counting every vote clarifies the narrowness of George W. Bush's margin and his obligation to pay more than lip service to reaching out across the divide to find middle ground.

There are lots of reasons to keep pressure up for counting and most of them have nothing to do with the tinfoil hat. It is rather stylish though, don't you think?

Jackson Calls for Ohio Investigation 

In the context of Jesse Jackson’s call for an investigation of the Ohio vote on November 2, the Cincinnati Post published a good thumbnail synopsis today of the various issues and allegations that have been lodged regarding the administration of the election in the Buckeye State. Jackson appeared yesterday in Cincinnati to call for a continuing airing of Ohio voters’ experiences with irregularities on November 2. Voter's stories range from extraordinary waiting lines to bad voter lists to inadaquate staffing of polls to electronic glitches in counting.

Jackson also called for Ohio Secretary of State and Bush/Cheney Ohio Co-Chair Ken Blackwell to recuse himself from the recount, saying, “"You don't have an owner of a team be the umpire of the seventh game of the World Series.”

In answer to the question of whether a recount and audit of the Ohio vote would change anything in the result of the Presidential balloting, Jackson replied, “"This is about the integrity of the vote. This is not about the Kerry campaign…We can live with winning and losing. We cannot live with fraud and stealing."

Republicans in Lockstep? DeLay hopes so... 

With all the loose talk of a 1000-year Republican Reich floating around these last few weeks, I'd like to put up a hand to ask a question. If these guys are as drunk with power as they seem to be (with a 51% 'mandate'), how soon do you think they're going to step over the cliff's edge with the American public? Katrina vanden Heuvel points out how the first three weeks of the new Republican millennium have already seemed long to moderates left in the party.

Let's not forget that when the Republican majority changed the rules last week to protect Tom DeLay from having to forfeit his leadership position if indicted, they reversed one of the first ethical changes their own majority enacted after they were elected a majority in 1994. While the lack of such a rule hadn't previously been specifically about protecting Democratic Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski in '94, this reverse rule change IS specifically about insulating Majority Leader Republican DeLay from the ongoing investigation into his fundraising practices.

I guess covering your backside is one of the moral values the majority stands for...

Thanks for Hot Gravy-- and a Ladle to Throw it With... 

Hey, speaking of keeping the peace at family dinners, check out Maureen Dowd's post-Thanksgiving family recap from yesterday's Times. The e-mail her brother Kevin sends out to family and friends should keep you blue- as well as, well, red-hot, I guess.

So much for letting the healing begin.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Thanksgiving in Ohio 

Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving holiday. Apparently the GOP in Ohio had a lot to be thankful for while we were all busy trying to keep family peace around divided red and blue tables nationwide.

Ohio Election Law is very clear. A recount is mandatory if called for by a candidate within 5 days of the results being declared as long as a $10 fee per precinct is paid by the candidate. Both the Green and Libertarian Presidential candidates have raised the needed cash from contributors nationwide to carry out the statewide recount. The Ohio Democratic Party announced first that it would join and then that it would 'participate' in the recount and asked for volunteers to assist. The Greens asked in vain for Ohio to gear up immediately for the recount to begin.

While the Wednesday ruling from Federal District Court Judge James Carr backs Ohio's decision to stop the recount from beginning until the Secretary of State finally finishes certification of the results (now estimated to be on December 7), the timing of the recount should not affect it taking place.

Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell has been accused of deliberately slowing his office's work to declare the state's Presidential results. The political strategy behind the slow count is thought to be making a later recount seemingly an untimely rehash of the election and to be an impediment to electors who will have to officially cast Ohio’s electoral votes. Look for a lot of political smoke on this soon.

In addition to the speed of the count, late changes in the rules for counting provisional ballots in Cuyahoga County have been taken under Blackwell’s direction. The People for the American Way have filed suit against Blackwell in state court to expand the criteria for counting those provisional ballots in the county where voter waits of up to eight hours slowed and impeded voting on November 2. Cuyahoga is the state's largest county, including Cleveland and is a heavily Democratic county.

The political calculus is that the questions surrounding the administration of the Ohio election and counting provisional ballots will recede over the weeks ahead. This bet depends on your willingness to let go of questions and no one insisting on a full accounting of the way the Secretary of State (and Bush/Cheney state co-chair) conducted the election. The glare of the bright lights on the practices employed in Ohio is apparently too much to ask, according to Mr. Blackwell's minions.

We're not ready to turn out the lights here. Keep counting Ken. That's what Secretaries of State do.

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