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Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ken Blackwell, Election Reformer... 

Election reform makes for strange bedfellows.

While for the most part, most advocates of election reform don't quote Kenneth Blackwell, Dan Tynan at the The Witlist has an interesting link on his post about the Bush campaigner (and election official) from Ohio.

In a Washington Times opinion piece Blackwell wrote to defend his administration of the Ohio vote, he advocates multi-day voting and the unrestricted use of absentee ballots. Let's hope he also means it when he says we should look into the reasons for the 7 hour-long waiting times at heavily Democratic voting places under his authority this fall.

Kerik Out 

The withdrawl of Benard Kerik as a candidate for Homeland Security head comes as no surprise to New Yorkers. The stated reason, his "nanny problem" with the immigration status of his housekeeper, was not the prime candidate for those who would bet some ethics problem would derail him, but Kerik's nomination was widely expected to hit stormy waters by those who know his career.

The country is probably spared future crises, given the early stage of consideration of his appointment. Let's hope the President's next Homeland Security (boy I hate that name- doesn't it sound like something out of 1930's Germany?) head has better credentials.

It wouldn't hurt if the next candidate for the job WASN'T a former bodyguard of Rudy's either.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Corn's Insiders 

Check David Corn's blog out for a perspective on getting out the vote, rebuilding the party, Howard Dean's managerial abilities, and the lesson not learned from Tip O'Neill by the current White House.

Maureen Dowd on Rummy's Adventure 

Maureen Dowd has it exactly right about Rummy's dress-down from the troops yesterday, not to mention his boss's little masquerade back home-- where it's safe to play dress-up again.

A Week on the Beach- Soldier's Adventure 

Hey, maybe you get tired of the political views of Iraq and just want to listen to a soldier who's sending back some unfiltered stuff about life there. I just came across Sgt. Ted Hilliard's blog. He's a regular guy doing his job there, so far surviving, though his gunner was hit in a November IED (roadside bomb) attack.

Maybe you'll want to write him to keep his spirits up.

Holiday Reading 

If you can't wait for Paul Krugman's next installment on Bush's Social Security privatization scam, Kevin Drum takes a recommendation from Max Sawicky of MaxSpeak that I'll pass on here.

Social Security: The Phony Crisis, by Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot.

Sawicky says it's, "the best debunking of the entire campaign for privatization of Social Security, as well as the long-run budget austerity advanced by centrist Democrats."

Sounds like good holiday reading to gird up with for a tough New Year with the right.

A Victory for Working People in New York! 

Last week, I ruminated long (some say too long) and hard about what the Democratic Party needs to do to regain the majority. My fondest wish is that Democrats will re-emphasize economic democracy as a basis to bring together the vast independent middle of the country with the Party's core constituencies.

It seems some New Yorkers have been able to win a first battle-- raising the minimum wage in the Empire State as of January 1.

The only wrinkle is that the Democratic Party didn't do it. The Working Families Party, a growing progressive influence here in New York, was the spearhead of the effort, which passed with Republican votes in the state senate to overide Republican Governor George Pataki's veto.

So here's to the WFP! Maybe it's an example the Democrats will follow. If not, there's a growing progressive force out there, so take note. Katrina vanden Heuvel took note on her Nation blog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Spin the Retirement Dial! 

Kevin Drum has noticed that The Onion beat everyone to the punch in describing Bush's Social Security plan.

No Armor, No Help for Troops 

If you wondered about what the troops are complaining about, see the second episode of "Off to War," the documentary story of the 57 National Guardsmen from a small Arkansas town who were deployed to Iraq. They are shown trying to armor their 1950's and 60's era vehicles with found metal and old bulletproof vests-- on their own, with no help and no hardware from the Pentagon .

Guess They DIDN'T Have Armor After All... 

I guess you wish you stayed home this week, Secretary Rumsfeld.

When your troops openly cheer a soldier who criticizes you for sending him into battle without armor-- and gets essentially a dare from you to repeat the question, he repeats and expands upon his comments, gets cheered AGAIN by hundreds of troops, then you have to fall back on bullsh*t about going to war with the Army you have, not the Army you WISH you had (2 years after you've started the war-on your own timetable), you got problems...

...Problems, by the way, the President denied having during the campaign... but no, I'm not bitter. Bet the soldiers are though...

Story and Video

Defense Science Board Iraq Report- Read it Abroad or on Blogs 

The Pentagon's Defense Science Board published a November report that seems to have gotten better circulation in the UK than in the US. Reuters covered it, but I've yet to see a major US news source do so. It's intensely critical of the war effort in Iraq and describes the Muslim world's reaction to it in frank, uncompromising terms.

It's not hard to realize why this report didn't see the light of day until after the election. It should be required reading for Americans who still believe the war in Iraq helps fight Islamic extremism (i.e. Bush voters).

Matthew Yglesias has a fair amount of coverage on the report and some good links as well.

Bosox: Bring the Trophy Tour to NYC! 

As an expat New Englander and New Yorker Red Sox fan, I'm amused by the steady drumbeat of good news about the hometown team in the grey lady of journalism, the New York Times. Today, Tyler Kepner's article talks about the Sox' winning ways...

I do hope they hang onto Orlando Cabrera. He plays with heart and was, I feel, the good-luck charm this year for the second-half comeback to a Series win.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Ohio Post-Mortem 

Steve Rosenthal's column in today’s Washington Post has some element of C.Y.A. regarding how America Coming Together couldn’t have done any better in Ohio than it did turning out the Kerry vote (there were, after all, lower turnout numbers in seriously pro-Kerry counties than in seriously pro-Bush counties— I did the numbers). Rove did his homework on getting out his vote and while ACT/Kerry hit their targets, Rove's targets were just that much higher.

The real news in ACT's Ohio post-election polling is, however, that it should put to bed the religion-did-it theory once and for all.

ACT's polling showed again that the big bump in the Bush vote was about terror. That's what the campaign was about-- softening Kerry up to look weak on defense and equating Iraq with bin Laden.

The Social Security Privatization Shell Game 

For everyone who thinks the dizzying figures and “on-budget v. off-budget” versions of the new Social Security plans are over our heads, Paul Krugman has interrupted his vacation to make Social Security privatization easy to understand in today’s Times.

Turns out the simple version is, “Bush is lying.”

Not hard to get, really, and so consistent with the President’s stands on other issues.

Krugman puts the lie to the rationale, “We must save Social Security so it’ll be there for our children.”

The main deceit, as Krugman describes it, is this: the crisis doesn’t exist. Social Security, as it stands now, is basically sound until 2052 and needs only modest tweaking after that. However, the administration would like to kill it in the guise of kindness.

Read his piece and never be taken in again by the artfulness of the campaign to ‘give ownership’ to older citizens.

Beyond Krugman’s article, my advice to anyone young enough to wonder whether Social Security will be there for you is this: Keep in mind that Social Security was intended to be exactly that—a security net. It was never intended to be a substitute for a pension, but a way to keep older Americans from becoming destitute after their earning years were over. We all should plan to put money away for retirement, but that plan shouldn’t require us to forego a reliable base income like the one Social Security provides for all. Once the right wing has begun to convince you that Social Security will crumble before you retire, then they’ve got you ready to fight generation against generation to protect your own interests. It’s a mean game.

Anyone who suggests taking Social Security away from everyone because most people will do better on their own is simply looking for a way to take advantage of folks who don’t understand investments (most of us). Most people actually don’t do better on their individual 401k investments than pension plans do. Hardly anyone really knows how well their retirement plan does by comparison to any other plan, either, and you can bet that’s the way Wall St. wants to keep it.

Privatization is a sucker’s shell game. Let’s watch for Krugman’s next installments in January to stay ahead of it.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Transforming New York's Schools 

The recent court order to dramatically increase funding to New York City Public Schools brings up a larger and more difficult question; how should the system spend the money to make it count in educating kids? The hardest problem may be getting the school system aligned with the goal of making a difference for the kids it serves. Even with the additional $5+ billion the system will have each year, is it clear that the money will be well spent?

There’s certainly a great opportunity to show the state and the nation what New York teachers, students, and administrators can do to improve education across a broad swath of backgrounds, cultural heritages, and economic classes. Success in New York’s schools would be an inspiration to parents and educators across the country. But what will make them work?

Urban schools in New York State have taken a beating over the years and the city is no exception. With the comparatively low salaries the city offers, fully 14% of it’s teachers are uncertified to teach and one third of them have failed the Liberal Arts and Sciences certification test at least once. That’s sad for New York City kids, who deserve better.

Added to the low levels of achievement among New York City teachers is the large size of NYC classes. Even if a student has a great teacher, he or she stands little chance of spending much time with that teacher. More than half of the kids in Grades K-3 are in classes of 26 or more students. Already large elementary class sizes increase over the years, moving up to over 30 students in half of the Grade 6-8 classrooms. We can hope the help for NYC kids will arrive soon and will take the form of more qualified teachers in smaller classes. These two factors are crucial in the eyes of experts.

Will this happen? The State of New York seems determined to fight on against the orders of Judge DeGrasse in this case. Even if the money is freed up soon, it will take the public’s determination and pressure to see it's used wisely. Let’s hope the money—and the pressure— is forthcoming.

I’ve added a Link to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity at the right for readers to track the progress of the campaign for better education in the nation’s most visible urban public schools. Despite the empty promise from the federal government's underfunded efforts, here in New York, we have the opportunity to REALLY leave no child behind.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Any Questions? 

You might want to think about what you'd ask the President if you ever had a chance to pose a question. In an effort to help you out, I'm linking to this story by Mike Allen that my friend Greg clipped from the Washington Post. You gotta be ready, since President Bush has given less opportunities to reporters than any US President in memory. Please send your suggestions via comments below...

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