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Updated: 2008-03-09T17:10:30-04:00

 



Iraq spending down 5% today

2008-03-09T17:10:30-04:00

by emptypockets In a report today that may signal new promise for the pro-war campaign of Senator John McCain, the State Department has released figures showing a decrease in US spending in Iraq of 1/24th, or nearly 5%, on Sunday...



Exiting the kingdom of reason

2008-02-28T00:13:32-05:00

by emptypockets The right-wing mot du jour seems to be "socialist." Sometimes, confusingly, it is combined with "communist" or with the communistic honorific "comrade," especially to make use of the appealing internal rhyme in "comrade Obama." All this has left... by emptypockets The right-wing mot du jour seems to be "socialist." Sometimes, confusingly, it is combined with "communist" or with the communistic honorific "comrade," especially to make use of the appealing internal rhyme in "comrade Obama." All this has left me, as a notoriously poor student of politics and history, wondering, "What is socialism, why is the word popping up now, and how should I react to it?" This post is something of an experiment, a sort of thinking aloud, where I try to work through (hopefully with readers' assistance) some confusing and ambiguous political labels. First, let me get it out of the way: I know Obama isn't a socialist. If you're here as an Obama rallyist, you can spare me. I got the message. You like Obama. Awesome. I'm with you. Now let's move on, and consider what socialism is, what it isn't, and whether we as progressive Democrats should embrace the label, scorn it, or ignore it. Everything I write here is going to be a summary of things I just googled up. Treat this post as an open thread for thoughts or references on the topic. My approach was to read, in order, a Democracy Now! interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described Socialist holding the highest office in US politics today; a brief AFL-CIO biography of Eugene Debs, a Socialist giant back when such a thing could exist, in the early 20th century; and an essay titled "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" written by Frederick Engels in the late 19th century. Again, I knew close to zilch on this topic when I began, and I now feel like I know zilch + 1. The title of this post comes from a line in Engels's essay, describing earlier Enlightment conceptions of socialism in the late 18th century, particularly around the French Revolution and development of industry. Of these earlier Socialist attempts, Engels wrote: One thing is common to all three ["Utopians" (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen)]. Not one of them appears as a representative of the interests of that proletariat which historical development had, in the meantime, produced. Like the French philosophers, they do not claim to emancipate a particular class to begin with, but all humanity at once. Like them, they wish to bring in the kingdom of reason and eternal justice, but this kingdom, as they see it, is as far as Heaven from Earth, from that of the French philosophers. Engels's underlying beef here, as I read it, is that previous Socialists had attempted to reform society from first principles, using Enlightment ideals of reason conquering all, and basing their plans on their own assumptions about equality, justice, and righteousness. Since few people ever agree on such things, these attempts descended into unresolvable conflicts or else what we would today call watered-down compromises. Hold that thought, and let me jump to modern-day Socialism. Here's what Sanders said about what Socialism means to him, during his 2006 campaign, when he left his House seat to run for the Senate: In terms of socialism, I think there is a lot to be learned from Scandinavia and from some of the work, very good work that people have done in Europe. In countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, poverty has almost been eliminated. All people have healthcare as a right of citizenship. College education is available to all people, regardless of income, virtually free. I have been very aggressive in trying to move to sustainable energy. They have a lot of political participation, high voter turnouts. I think there is a lot to be learned from countries that have created more egalitarian societies than has the United States of America. One might be forgiven for thinking that today's Socialism is more of a health-care policy (or collection of policies) than a fundamental political[...]



Yes, Another Sara Book Review, about Neocon's

2008-02-26T01:53:11-05:00

by Sara, Firedoglake had Jacob Heilbrunn as a guest about two weeks ago, and I wish I had been up with the list -- I was present during most of the discussion, but the book was still in my pile,...

by Sara,

Firedoglake had Jacob Heilbrunn as a guest about two weeks ago, and I wish I had been up with the list -- I was present during most of the discussion, but the book was still in my pile, and I don't like asking questions about unread books.  Heilbraunn's book is "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neo-Cons"  -- for some reason I though the discussion would be a week later. 

Let me be clear here, I was born into this terribly odd corner of politics in the 30's.  My Parents were members of Max Shachtmann's "Worker's Party" in the late 30's, which split from a faction of the Socialist Party, and then eventually became part of the Michael Harrington faction, well maybe yes and maybe no Democratic Socialist group.  But quite unlike how Heilbrunn depicts the neo-con's during and before World War II as not at all concerned with the situation of Jews in Germany and Austria, in fact he is probably wrong, it was not as if they did not know the score.  There was a profound bleed over from political ideology to practical action, and while Heilbrunn tracks quiet rightly the arguments of the CCNY boys in Alcove One right up to today's Neo-con think-tanks and journals, -- all he really does is describe, and leave it at that. 

Heilbrunn leaves his book with an imagined 2016, with the Jeb Bush Restoration.  How did the neo-con's manage to destroy American Foreign Policy, accept no blame, await time, and then later emerge with the prize?  How did the little trot, minority marxist  outfit in alcove one get control of US Foreign Policy?

My own sense is that the neo-cons took advantage of a vacume in serious American Foreign Policy debate.  We need to comprehend what an absence of knowledge of the world and US policy created.   

 




More Sara's Book Reviews.

2008-02-26T00:52:04-05:00

by Sara One reason Sara disappears for days at a time is simple, she reads real books, and when at full speed can do about four a week. She puts new books in piles, sometimes with previously read books on...

by Sara

One reason Sara disappears for days at a time is simple, she reads real books, and when at full speed can do about four a week.  She puts new books in piles, sometimes with previously read books on the same topic, and asserts the right not to do instant analysis, but to re-read and think and all that, and sometimes it is not productive of posts. 

So recent reading -- Matt Bai's book that was rather quickly dismissed in Blogger circles, "The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake the Democratic Party" -- which I found of interest on two levels, both because it does contain useful recent history, but also because from what Bai has to Say, Rob Stein is very proud of being an Antiochian, Class of 66, (Stein being the organizer of the Billionaire part of the title), and is totally open about how a true progressive education matters.  I had fun with just that bit out of Bai's book -- posting Stein's accomplishments raising funds for Democratic Infrastructure on the Alumni site -- and oh dear, someone said it was not a good idea to post what was already in a book, and probably in the Times.  In fact the negotiations appear to be totally stonewalled between the Alumni who have incorporated with some millions behind them, and the University Board which wants, apparently to hold on to the real estate value of a mid 19th century college campus for the sake of a profitable conference center sans college.  We've just told the current students to look elsewhere, and June 30th, the place gets boarded up. 

Anyhow, Bai's book about how to invent or re-invent a progressive infrastructure, with Stein as the star of the show essentially, and Stein telling Bai during coffees in DC how much of what he invisions for the Democratic Party is really a product of his Antioch Education, but then he isn't really a precence in the current conflab -- well what in the hell is going on. 

Of course anyone who looks at reality knows that Progressives need to build institutions, and what bothers me is why they can't see their way to building and preserving one that is now over 150 years old. 

Beyond this connection with the personalities in Bai's book, no one who is vaguely progressive should not read.  The whole culture of not exactly knowing what they are "for" and what they might want to oppose among the Billionaires in the Democratic circle, it needs understanding.  Many were bought up short supporting Kerry without adequate analysis, others are more locally oriented.  Many are specific issue oriented.  Unlike the Republicans who were rallied by a memo from Justice Powell to focus and concentrate their efforts, we need to comprehend why this hasn't happened on our side. 

Many Bloggers have dismissed Bai's book -- I think it worth a good read. 




Lower the voting age to 17

2008-02-25T15:19:36-05:00

by emptypockets I've tossed around this notion twice in passing recently, but let me take a minute to lay it out with a little (very little) more substance. Why is the voting age 18? The voting age was lowered from... by emptypockets I've tossed around this notion twice in passing recently, but let me take a minute to lay it out with a little (very little) more substance. Why is the voting age 18? The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 during the Vietnam War, when individuals too young to vote were being drafted. Although several states had already lowered the voting age, the highest minimum voting age was set nationally by the 26th Amendment, reading "The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age." Note that it doesn't say no one younger than 18 shouldn't be allowed to vote -- just that no one older than 18 can be denied the right to vote. Why lower the voting age now? Ideologically, simply because I think 17 is old enough. The child-adult boundary is increasingly drawn at 16: the federal chld labor laws apply to those 16 and under, the age of sexual consent in most states is 16 or 17, and the military's minimum enlistment age is 17 (though that does require parental consent, and the minimum combat age is 18). In recent years the army has been aggresively recruiting in high schools -- in some cases, VERY aggressively. In fact, No Child Left Behind said that high schools were unable to keep military recruiters away from students without forfeiting federal funds. I think that if you can drive, work, have sex, and join the army, you are grown-up enough to vote. Politically, because it is a win for Democrats across the board. What's more, we are approaching perfect storm conditions for this kind of movement. There are about 4 million 17-year-olds in the US, who are overwhelmingly Democratic. Young people are being drawn into politics like never before through the Obama campaign. We are heading into an election where a major defining contrast is between youth and age. We have a Republican party wrapping itself in "support the troops," who will find themselves taking a stand against the rights of the youngest military personnel. At the state level, Democratic governors are in the majority for the first time since 1992, and half of our Democratic governors control states that Bush won in 2004. Even if we can't reasonably lower the voting age before November -- and, frankly, I don't think we can -- a campaign to do so at the national and at the state level would further energize the youth movement, would underscore the differences between the parties, would put Republicans in an uncomfortable position, and would lay the groundwork for real change in coming years. How would we do it? I can imagine two ways. First, Congress could either pass a Constitutional amendment or a law lowering the voting age to 17. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can't set the voting age for state elections (that's why the current voting age is set by a Constitutional amendment), so if Congress passes a law it would need to be written so that 17-year-olds could vote in federal elections but not on state ballots, a recipe for confusion at the polls. One way around this might be to treat 17-year-olds nationally similar to the way Americans abroad are treated, who can vote in presidential elections but not on state matters. I have no idea how this would work. The second approach is a series of state-level laws or ballot initiatives. This approach has the advantage of keeping the movement local, building local activism, getting young people learning the political system from the bottom-up. And, as noted above, Democrats control the governorships of 14 red states, and swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Lowering the voting age in a few swing states alone could [...]



Obama does best where Kerry did worst

2008-02-23T14:21:08-05:00

or, "Who has won 'the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'?" by emptypockets This post begins with a hypothesis: that Obama's wins have been bigger in red states than in blue states. It was based on the recollection that Clinton... or, "Who has won 'the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party'?" by emptypockets This post begins with a hypothesis: that Obama's wins have been bigger in red states than in blue states. It was based on the recollection that Clinton had fared best in the northeast and California, including the Big Blue threesome (CA, MA, NY) while Obama had been sweeping the south and west. If true, it seemed to challenge the conventional wisdom that one must run left in a Democratic primary to win, and the perception that Clinton is the more centrist candidate. If true, it might also bring interest to how the coin will fall in the remaining Big Blue states, Vermont and Rhode Island, whose March 4 primaries are otherwise overshadowed by the more delegate-rich contests in Texas and Ohio. But, as you'll see, the hypothesis does not hold up well to the data. (Q: "What's the difference between a blogger and a pundit?" A: "One tests their ideas against the data, the other tests the data against their ideas.") That is, it is not entirely true -- Obama's performance in a state is probably explained better by geography, by timing, and by whether it is a caucus or primary state, than it is by how red or blue the state is -- but, as you'll see, it's not entirely false either. Let's start with the data. What you're looking at is a scatter plot in which each state (plus DC) that has already held its primary or caucus is represented by a dot. The dot's position on the X axis ("Bush-Kerry") shows what Kerry's percent margin of victory was in that state, and its position on the Y axis ("Obama-Clinton") shows what Clinton's percent margin of victory was in that state. (Undoubtedly, someone will complain that Kerry should be on the left or Obama should be on the top. Whatever.) So, the reddest of the red states are on the left, and the bluest of the blues are on the right. I expected Clinton and Obama's "home states" -- AR and NY for Clinton, HI and IL for Obama -- to vote strongly for their daughter and son, regardless of national trends, so I put each in a special color and I recommend ignoring them. I've labeled some of the other dots to highlight the states that sometimes have a strong opinion -- the ones that went by large margins for any one of Bush, Kerry, Clinton, or Obama. (The chart data I used came from electoral-vote.com (2004 data, 2008 data from the main page's map). The data I used can be downloaded as a comma-separated list you can open in your favorite spreadsheet program by clicking here.) There are a few ways to read the chart. The first, and easiest, is to imagine a diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right, and ask yourself if you think the dots fall along that line. If they do, it would suggest that Obama's success in a given state can be explained, at least partly, by how red the state is. Next, imagine a line from the top left to the bottom right and ask yourself the same question. If the dots fall along that line, it means that you think Obama's success can be explained, at least partly, by how blue a state is. To my eye, there is a weak trend for the black dots to fall along the lower-left to upper-right line, but it is thrown off quite a bit by OK, TN, UT, and DC. (As an aside, yes, one could use statistics to make this argument more rigorously. Personally, my approach to data is first to ask how it looks and then to try to quantify those perceptions using statistics -- because no matter what arguments I find I can make using statistics, if they don't look qualitatively right to my eye, I don't really believe in them. That said, the black dots in the chart above fit a terrible linear regression with an r-squared of les[...]



100 things Congress could do that would matter more to me than steroids in baseball

2008-02-16T13:11:04-05:00

by emptypockets The House spent some quality time this week with Roger Clemens at hearings that occupied both the attention of Representative Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as a big chunk of my morning paper's... by emptypockets The House spent some quality time this week with Roger Clemens at hearings that occupied both the attention of Representative Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as well as a big chunk of my morning paper's front page. These hearings were, to all extents and purposes, completely useless. Leaving aside the fact that Congress has not seen fit to include baseball under the activities it regulates as interstate commerce (at least to my shaky understanding, as of 1972's Flood v. Kuhn) and therefore has given itself no jurisdiction over the sport, leaving aside that other star entertainers like 50 Cent, Wyclef Jean and Timbaland have also been accused of steroid use but have not been pulled before Congress (and that's not to mention pro wrestling), leaving aside that both Waxman and Clemens now say the hearings were unnecessary -- leaving aside all of that -- whether pro athletes or other entertainers use steroids is simply not something that's at the top of my priority list, and certainly not what I want my Congress to work on. If Congress has run out of ideas for what to do, or finds itself unsure where my priorities lie, here are 100 things Congress could work on that would matter more to me than investigating steroids in baseball. 1. Collect and release the names, locations, and occupants of all secret US prisons 2. Collect and release lists and manifests of all extraordinary rendition flights 3. Collect and release all documents petrtaining to interrogation of suspected terrorists 4. Collect and release the contents of the TSA's no-fly list, with explanations 5. Establish a fast and easy way for passengers to clear themselves from the no-fly list 6. Impose harsh penalties on predatory lenders. People who have declared bankruptcy should not be getting pre-approved credit cards 7. Collect and release lists of all US citizens whose telecommunications have been monitored without a warrant 8. Investigate how every contractor in Iraq used the funds they received 9. Same for New Orleans 10. What was that thing on the President's back in the 2004 debates, anyway? 11. Fix voting - investigate Diebold 12. Legalize federally funded stem cell research 13. Give NIH enough money to keep pace with inflation. A little extra wouldn't hurt, while they're at it 14. Establish federal controls over direct-to-consumer genetic testing, which is now a patchwork of state regulations (where any exist at all) 15. Establish federal science education standards that would remove intelligent design from the curricula of districts that accept federal funds 16. Fix the alternative minimum tax 17. Determine who knew what when during Representative Mark Foley's sex abuse of underage pages 18. Undo the Bush tax cuts 19. Establish a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq 20. Release all documents pertaining to the closed-door investigation of the Utah mine collapse 21. Legalize pot. Or criminalize booze and tobacco. Whatever. Just make it consistent 22. Regulate how many hours in a row a doctor may be required to work 23. Investigate the Pentagon's order for substandard helmets for our troops 24. Close gun law loopholes 25. Convert all federal buildings to compact fluorescent lights (and other energy-efficient practices) 26. Completely scrap the multi-billion dollar missile defense plans 27. Stop horse slaughter once and for all 28. While you're at it, stop the capture and transport of pigeons from NYC to Pennsylvania. I saw a guy net about 30 pigeons and take them into a plain white van yesterday while I was having lunch. I'm not in love with pigeons, but that's just animal cruelty 29. End canned hunt[...]



A few words for students researching Black History Month

2008-02-10T14:06:15-05:00

by emptypockets I noticed over the past week that we've had an unusual amount of traffic from people searching for information about Rosa Parks (and, to their good fortune, they were finding this excellent piece by DHinMI, from TNH's glory... by emptypockets I noticed over the past week that we've had an unusual amount of traffic from people searching for information about Rosa Parks (and, to their good fortune, they were finding this excellent piece by DHinMI, from TNH's glory years months). For those still googling, the answer is, no, Rosa Parks didn't have children. But, I began to wonder why the sudden interest in Rosa Parks. Then I realized it's February and, naturally, the shortest month is also Black History Month. Although only fleetingly observed by the general public, there seem to be enough (students?) interested in the topic that it has a measurable impact on search engine traffic. In fact, if civilization came to an end and all that survived were google's search records, you could still figure out when Black History Month had been: Search results for "black history" from Google Trends You can also read the traces of Black History Month in the search patterns of other famous African-Americans: Search results for "Harriet Tubman", "George Washington Carver", "Malcolm X", "Jackie Robinson", and "Sojourner Truth" (The scaling of results for Rosa Parks is skewed by google searches upon her death in 2005. Strangely, google searches for Martin Luther King are perfectly flat in February after having spiked sharply around his January birthday.) I figured that this site is read by enough amateur historians that you might have something interesting to say in the comments to current (or future) students googling up research for projects on Black History Month. For a start, I thought they might like to get off the beaten path a bit and dig up information on some of the country's less-often-remembered but no-less-great African American histories: Obviously there's the first black U.S. Senator (no, it wasn't Barack Obama -- he came 135 years later). If you think modern politics is strange, the history of the Senate during the Civil War looks even stranger. The first black Senator, Hiram Revels, went into the Senate just after the Civil War in the same seat that had been occupied by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, just before the war. Amazing. This article, about a rediscovered slave narrative, stayed with me since I read it three years ago. Although she was one of the very few slaves who wrote their own stories in their own hands -- being one of the very few slaves who could write at all -- Harriet Jacobs and the book she wrote, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," are rarely taught. Several of her letters have been put online here -- for example, this one, in which she writes, while in slavery, "I have not written a single page by daylight Mrs W dont know from my lips that I am writing for a Book and has never seen a line of what I have written". Finally, I doubt it is being taught this way in schools, but the story of the government's (non)response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath -- including the way New Orleans sits today -- is undoubtedly a chapter of modern black history. At the time I wrote a related post on the hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston, TX, and I still think there's a lot to be learned from that story about how a disaster of that scale, in that region, should and shouldn't be dealt with. One of the things that struck me most was how, in 1900, Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, worked around racism of locals to ensure African-Americans got help -- one way she did it was by having blacks form their own relief committees to directly distribute funding. There is a good description of it here (PDF), especially starting around the bottom of page 10.[...]



Participatory budgeting

2008-02-09T10:37:57-05:00

by emptypockets It's hard to believe that Bush's proposed budget is what anyone wants. For example, he suggests cutting half the federal funds for public broadcasting, while he spends the same amount ($200 million) in Iraq every 12 hours. Unfortunately,... by emptypockets It's hard to believe that Bush's proposed budget is what anyone wants. For example, he suggests cutting half the federal funds for public broadcasting, while he spends the same amount ($200 million) in Iraq every 12 hours. Unfortunately, as ordinary taxpayers, we don't have that much influence over the final budget. If we want to see more money put into biomedical research or the arts we can vote every couple years, we can try to lobby Congress, or we can give to charitable groups and bypass the government entirely. Maybe there ought to be a more direct method. Suppose we try something new. Take the budget -- Bush's proposal is over $3 trillion -- and make a 0.1% across-the-board cut, reducing every agency's funding by one penny out of every 10 dollars. Take the resulting $3 billion and put it into a Taxpayer-Directed Spending fund. And let the people decide where that money should go.You could simply have a box you check off on your tax form, where you indicate which departments you want to receive your ~$10 share of that funding. Or, we could adapt the federal matching funds model and have a website where anyone can contribute small-dollar (or large-dollar) tax-deductible donations to an agency, and the government would match those contributions dollar for dollar out of the Taxpayer-Directed Spending fund. The central idea is to give taxpayers a direct voice in how their dime is spent. The amount should be small, so as not to bollix up the entire budget on public whims, but large enough to make a difference. $3 billion is 1/1000th of the budget, but it's 8x what public broadcasting gets, it's 20x what the National Endowment for the Arts gets, and it's enough to increase the NIH by a hefty 10% rather than effectively cut it with sub-inflation increases, as is the current plan. There is some precedent for this kind of direct, taxpayer-driven spending. The federal campaign matching funds operate on a similar principle, for example, using voter-driven fundraising to direct public dollars. Apparently, following the 2004 tsunami, the Canadian government sent matching funds in disaster relief for whatever its citizens raised (helpfully blogged about at this site). As that writer points out, the US government already provides a kind of 30% matching fund for charitable contributions each year by making them tax-deductible. The motivation for this project would not only be to redirect 0.1% of the budget (although that's a start), but to use Taxpayer-Directed Spending as an indicator of where people want their money spent, kind of a national petition, that would help organizations more effectively lobby for funding. It would be the writing on the wall to tell Congress what taxpayers want. (On that note, see also my post a year ago with a proposal for "YouBudget", which I still think is a good idea.) Sara recently wrote about how government can still do good and do it well, from health care to education (or, in her words, from polio vaccines to the GI Bill). She also wrote about how the power of these programs lies partly in the long-lasting infrastructure they create. Those great projects were conceived at a time when Americans had been exposed to undergoing personal calamity and willingly making personal sacrifices, during the Depression and again during WWII, and doing it together as a nation. Compare that experience with today's, when as Bush said, the biggest sacrifice most Americans make for the war is to "sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible image of violence on TV every night." Today, I don't feel [...]



Obama won caucuses, Clinton won primaries

2008-02-06T23:25:40-05:00

by emptypockets Among the most astute next-day analyses of Super Tuesday that I've seen is this one from the Votemaster at electoral-vote.com. He provides the following tables, which speak volumes: The asterisks are caucus states; the non-asterisks are primary states.... by emptypockets Among the most astute next-day analyses of Super Tuesday that I've seen is this one from the Votemaster at electoral-vote.com. He provides the following tables, which speak volumes: The asterisks are caucus states; the non-asterisks are primary states. The Votemaster notes: Obama did extremely well in caucus states and Clinton did very badly in them. How come? Turnout in caucus states is always low, usually about 10-20% of the electorate. Only highly motivated people bother to show up, especially the Democratic caucuses, which go on for hours and people have to publicly defend their choice. Obama has a smaller, but extremely active and loyal following, especially among younger voters. These are precisely the people who can swing a caucus state by showing up in droves and working hard to convince the other voters that Obama would make a great President. In primary states, the media, especially TV ads have a much bigger influence. Now it becomes clear why Obama won North Dakota but Clinton won Oklahoma, a demographically similar state in the same part of the country: North Dakota had a caucus and Oklahoma had a primary. This explanation may be too simple, and I would be surprised if the other analyses I've seen (invoking everything from Hispanics to the Kennedys) have no merit. However, the Votemaster's simple hypothesis has remarkable explanatory power: Every one of Obama's top five wins were in caucus states; and of the seven Super Tuesday caucuses, he won them all. I wanted to bring this note up in light of the extensive discussion we've had recently on the caucus system, chronologically: my post disparaging the Iowa 'crockuses', Sara's rebuttal explaining the history and reason for caucuses, Sara's follow-up Part I on Democratic party rules and delegate selection and Part II on how caucuses build party identity particularly through the platform selection process, which she explains. In a nutshell, Sara's compelling defense of caucuses included: (1) providing an entry point for grassroots control of the party platform These days, for instance my E-Mail includes about twice a week, proposed resolutions from the Progressive Caucus. You can suggest edits, and they are being debated on line. People will then take them to Precinct caucus, introduce them, and start them up the system. (2) requiring open discussion fosters greater activism In fact this is one reason I love the caucus -- you have to actually stand up and state and defend your choices and positions. Because success at Caucus frequently depends (really depends) on pre-caucus debate and organization, it is a totally important party building process. and (3) it requires finding consensus [...T]he point of the process is to find the fulcrum of the party strength, and that isn't done by having a ton of one vote minorities hanging on to the process. So at all levels we give sub-caucuses that don't make the option of joining another caucus. The negotiations to join or not join can be powerful. Sara also put out the idea, in comments on another post, that [...]



Let's Host a Debate

2008-02-06T10:39:42-05:00

by emptypockets I groaned when I heard Clinton had accepted an invitation to a Fox News Channel debate, because it is a huge distraction from what had threatened to become a substantive, engaging primary. I'm not personally among those who...

by emptypockets

I groaned when I heard Clinton had accepted an invitation to a Fox News Channel debate, because it is a huge distraction from what had threatened to become a substantive, engaging primary. I'm not personally among those who really care one way or the other whether a debate is held on Fox -- the discussion, to me, feels like a battle between media interests (and, yes, if you have a blog you're a media interest) and I can't reconcile it with the boasts of how Democrats are poised to put the reddest of red counties into play -- but I do see an opportunity here.

The very simple idea arose when I heard a soundbite from Clinton while flipping among election reports last night. I haven't been able to find it online, but here's my best paraphrase [this is not a quote]: We want to have a debate every week for the next four weeks, and at this point we're accepting all invitations.

Well, that sounds open! That sounds lovely! And that sounds like a great idea.

Instead of whetting our knives, why not invite Clinton and Obama to debate on the terms of the progressive blogosphere? The owners of the most-trafficked 3 or 4 sites can moderate. An outstanding list of questions was drafted last week by mcjoan over at dailykos in her What I want to know post. I'm sure we can think of other ways to bring a debate live on-line in a manner that hasn't been seen before. And, if Clinton is indeed accepting invitations from all comers, surely she will not embrace Fox and refuse us?

I've got an auditorium packed full of scientists I could volunteer, and I can make some lemonade or something. Anyone else willing to chip in?




I Never Thought I'd Vote for Hillary Clinton

2008-02-05T08:40:01-05:00

by emptypockets Yesterday I was undecided, and frankly to some extent I remain so. I've read with interest the endorsements of Meteor Blades and DHinMI (both writing elsewhere for some godforsaken reason) on behalf of Barack Obama. Personally, I am... by emptypockets Yesterday I was undecided, and frankly to some extent I remain so. I've read with interest the endorsements of Meteor Blades and DHinMI (both writing elsewhere for some godforsaken reason) on behalf of Barack Obama. Personally, I am not above buying my political opinions wholesale from either of them (and from the latter I've done it repeatedly before). In each post, they sound similar notes, essentially: (1) Obama is a skilled politician, and no more (or less) than that; (2) ultimately change will not come from the White House but from Congress or the populace; and so what matters is that (3) Obama is best suited to evoke the strongest efforts and loftiest dreams from the real change-makers around him and among us. I agree with (1) whole-heartedly. As for (2) and (3), I may be misrepresenting or oversimplifying their arguments. To be accurate, DHinMI wrote "What mattered in 1932, however, was the mandate from the voters, the 13 Senate seats and the 97 House seats that came along with Roosevelt's landslide. ...[T]his is maybe the most important difference between a ticket led by Barack Obama and one headed up by Hillary Clinton." Meteor Blades wrote "If Obama wins come November, it will be up to that grassroots, that congregation, not only to hold his feet to the fire, but also, and more importantly, to press forward the extra-electoral politics [that brought] real hope and real change to America nearly half a century ago." What I read in each of those arguments is that Clinton and Obama are (mostly) equally suited to the policy work of the presidency, but Obama is exceptionally suited to the figurehead, or symbolic, work of that office.I can't disagree. And I certainly don't begrudge either of those two -- or any other Obama voter -- their choice. But, of the 4,727 words in their two posts, the ones that most resonated for me were these 22: "I know for the political cognoscenti like many of us here at Daily Kos, Obama appears to be running a content-free campaign." DHinMI flatters me (and other readers) by including us as political cognoscenti (or possibly denigrates the "real" cognoscenti; it's hard to tell with him sometimes). But while my knowledge of political history is poor and my sense of sound policy falters, I am by profession and temperament an empiricist, and I find in myself a deep and abiding love for the specific, the concrete, the quantifiable. When I hear Clinton speak, I hear those things. When I hear Obama speak, I am moved and impressed -- but when he's done, I'm left with nothing. He may, in the end, be a better leader. But I can only vote my conscience. Clinton has done her homework. I don't agree with her on many policy issues, but I know where she stands, I can recognize it as an informed and reasonable viewpoint although on some issues I happen to differ -- and I can respect her for holding to it. I was listening to some music the other day, and a corny old Johnny Cash piece came on. It's a rambling story of him walking through a small town and talking about the worn-out old flag flying over the county courthouse square, and how every hole and tatter is the mark of a battle braved. The second-to-last verse goes like this: She waved from our ships upon the briny foam and now they've about quit wavin' back here at home. In her own good land here she's been abused, She's been burned, dishonored, denied an' refused, And the government for which she stands Has been scandalized throughout the land. And she's getting th[...]



New Deal Projects that just keep pooping along

2008-02-05T05:35:09-05:00

by Sara Most folk think the New Deal ended with WWII, but actually many of the projects had energy that just kept them going. And while these are not exactly world shattering, I thought I would just review a list... by Sara Most folk think the New Deal ended with WWII, but actually many of the projects had energy that just kept them going.  And while these are not exactly world shattering, I thought I would just review a list of some of the survivors that lots of folk have probably used without knowing their origin.  Let me begin with High School Bands and Orchestras.  The work for Music Copyists and arrangers was rock bottom during the Depression, and one of the more obscure WPA projects employed them to simplify, re-arrange and then copy the work of masters as well as military bands so that limited talent high school level music groups could perform it.  You know, the kid who borrowed his horn from a school collection, and wanted to march with his high school band.  Not someone who had heavy investment in private music lessons.  Not really a candidate for Julliard.  In fact much of the music used today in such organizations was the product of the WPA Music Project.  Between Mozart and Sousa, the project provided full scores and simplified instrumental parts, all free of copyright and royality, and at least initially, all about encouraging the employment of High School Band Directors and Music arrangers, and as a side benefit, the value of music in the schools to the students themselves and to the community for which they played this music.  How many people know about the "American Guide" series, produced and published by the WPA American Writers' Project.  Totally there are about 52 volumes in this series, One for each state, and several for individual cities such as New York and Washington DC.  They are organized as "tours" from a central point in each state, with each point of interest that sustained a historical review, described in full.  The project managed to debunk many "Indian Leaps" -- places where either Indians had lept to avoid capture, or Indian Maidens had chosen to leap off cliffs to their death, but it highlighted the economic development of the country, industry started that failed, industry that bloomed.  It did architecture, arts and design, patterns in home crafts, it dealt with local religion and local commerce.  It researched and dealt with local geography and geology that underscored how and why development had occured as it did.  Over the years, the series has become the secret source for many writers of Fiction, needing a reliable source for setting, and it is still used today.  No author names are associated with the pieces, but many were later famous.  For instance you have Richard Wright (Then working short hours at the Post Office) working on the manuscript for Chicago's South Side -- but also working on Mississippi.  Not enough authors made it clear that the WPA guide series were really their cheat sheet, when they needed local color.  Again -- people who could write were also unemployed, and 22 dollars a week for writing tour guide pieces verified by careful research, was a way to "put food on the family."  (where did that quote come from?  Not a WPA writer I assume.) And while the OSS eventually benefited from it, another small WPA project at Columbia has always intrigued me.  Translations of underground German Opinion survey materials, and German demography (1936- 38) based on and linked with these attitude surveys, crude though they were in the larger picture of what was happening in methods of such social re[...]



Ode to the Undecided Voter

2008-02-04T11:32:18-05:00

by emptypockets Who are you undecided jerks who know not where you stand who in political shadows lurk and never show your hands? Are you so indecisive? Or just uninformed? I mean all due respect, but really, it's no way...

by emptypockets

Who are you undecided jerks
who know not where you stand
who in political shadows lurk
and never show your hands?
Are you so indecisive?
Or just uninformed?
I mean all due respect, but
really, it's no way to live.
Your opinions come pre-warmed
by pundits - stop, and listen to your gut!

What is your demographic?
What issues are you for?
Cut taxes, reduce traffic,
reach out and save the poor?
Are you 24 to 33?
Is your income median?
Who got your vote in '04?
Do you have your GED,
and are you in a union?
So tell me, which one are you for?

Do you like Clinton or Obama?
They each spent a hundred mil
in a mega-campaign-o-rama
so that you could get your fill
of health plans and of timetables
and of hope, pan-anodyne.
Yet here you sit, and say the two
are interchangeable
and either would be fine?
Oh crap... I'm one of you!



Why Study any Detail about the New Deal, or FDR?

2008-02-04T08:07:31-05:00

By Sara One thing that is quite clear -- Americans don't know a whole lot about their own History. And in many cases, what they do know, is distorted in very interesting ways. FDR is an interesting case in point.... By Sara One thing that is quite clear -- Americans don't know a whole lot about their own History.  And in many cases, what they do know, is distorted in very interesting ways. FDR is an interesting case in point.  In recent years much about him and his 11 plus year Presidency, has focused on the fact that he could not walk on his own, and when photographers and observers were not about, (well hush hush) he used a wheel chair.  In the popular mind what he did to deal with the Great Depression has been replaced by the idea he hid his disability, and maybe even his polio.  For the sake of PC, Eleanor had to shed her Fox & Mink Furs on her memorial statue, and Franklin needed to have a chair with real wheels.  I consider both issues and advocacy moves distractions from the core history.  No one who supported FDR in his four campaigns did not comprehend that he could not walk alone, and that he had been paralysed.  Myth has it that because Secret Service lifted him out of cars, and no one took pictures, it was secret.  Hell no.  You didn't have events such as FDR's Birthday in January every year, where collections in every movie theatre in the land were organized for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis -- The March of Dimes -- and not know what it was about.  You knew that part of that money was for local institutions that offered all who needed it rehabilitation therapy, some of it was for research, and some for Rehab research.  And while the vaccines came nearly ten years after he died -- both were funded by the FDR Birthday Bashes we had back in those days -- and there is not a disease specific organization out there that does not borrow from the March of Dimes model.  Moreover the current Federally Funded disease models borrow from it.  In FDR's days the only medical research money was in the Military, and that was small change, but he changed all that, the Feds now respond to the Polio model.  FDR died in 45, I think it was 1954 when I got a polio shot, and now except for a few isolated places, the disease is gone.  And so the pressure to represent this man in his Wheel Chair -- Why?  Of course it is how he lived, but it was not what he did.  What he did was rehab, research best practices in rehab, and finance the research necessary to a cheap universal vaccine.  So why over the last several decades have our eyes been diverted to a wheel chair?  Wrong Icon in my mind.  Over the past several decades we have been told that Government can't actually accomplish all that much, particularly big Government.  Everything needs to be under private contracts -- business models and all the rest.  Not for Profit Public Model very Bad, and For Profit Business Excellent.  I ask -- would the private sector have created a polio vaccine that cost pennies, and was denied no one on account of price, and quickly became universally available through Public Health Officials?  I think a better way to represent FDR would be an injection needle, or a sugar cube with a drop of vaccine on it.  FDR was always curious as to what actually caused the Great Depression, and during his early years in office, while inventing programs right and left to deal with the consequences, he kept asking for research.  He got one answer in 1941 from the Conant who made plain that the US Population was profoundly underskilled an[...]



The Only Issue is (Still) Iraq

2008-02-02T14:52:56-05:00

by emptypockets A month ago there was a spate of "sky is green" articles claiming that Iraq is no longer an important issue for voters: Iraq War Fades as an Election Issue (NPR, Dec 6) "...concerns about Iraq remain, but... by emptypockets A month ago there was a spate of "sky is green" articles claiming that Iraq is no longer an important issue for voters: Iraq War Fades as an Election Issue (NPR, Dec 6) "...concerns about Iraq remain, but the war is not the only top-tier issue among voters. Many have turned their focus to domestic issues such as health care, energy, the mortgage crisis and immigration." Pocketbook issues push past Iraq in poll (USA Today, Dec 28) "More than half the voters in an ongoing survey for The Associated Press and Yahoo News say the economy and health care are extremely important to them personally. They fear they will face unexpected medical expenses, their homes will lose value or mortgage and credit card payments will overwhelm them." Domestic issues now outweigh Iraq (NY Times, Jan 3) "...the war is becoming a less defining issue among Democrats nationally, and it has moved to the back of the stage in the rush of campaign rallies, town hall meetings and speeches that are bringing the caucus competition to an end. Instead, candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes." The funny thing is, when this voter sees "health care," "mortgage crisis," "rising gas costs," "the environment," and "taxes" I read them all as a single four-letter word: Iraq.The cost of the Iraq war has been around a half-trillion dollars. That figure is from the National Priorities cost of war site, which pulled data largely from the Congressional Research Service (more info on their sources). They note that it is enough to give almost 40 million people health care, to hire over 2 million grade school teachers, to build over a million units of affordable housing -- in 2007 alone! Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor, came out with slightly different figures. Writing in the Washington Post, he put the cost of the Iraq war at over a trillion dollars, based on data from Congressional Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee. That's enough for 28 Departments of Homeland Security. How does this relate to the current campaigns? Health care Obama's health care plan is supposed to cost $50-65 billion per year (PDF); Clinton's plan costs about twice that. Get us out of Iraq, and you can pay for Obama's plan in six months, with another $50 billion left over as pocket change. Clinton's plan would be an even swap -- get us out of Iraq, and every American gets health insurance. By comparison, to accelerate the basics of health care -- to fund the NIH, which in turn funds most of the biomedical research in the country -- is much, much cheaper. Congress just gave the NIH yet another sub-inflation increase (effectively a budget cut). But by January 6 of this year we'd already spent in Iraq the same amount that we'd need to give NIH the 5% increase it needs to keep growing. By the time you read this, we'll have thrown away enough on Iraq this year alone to increase the NIH by 30%. The economy The subprime mortgage problems have pulled the rug out from under the banking industry (or, like Wile E Coyote after having run off a cliff, has forced them to look down) and sent the stock market into a downward trend that's forced the Federal Reserve to aggressively cut interest rates, which will further decrease the value of the dollar, further harming our global power and e[...]



Yet More Democratic Party Rules you need to know.

2008-02-02T06:06:54-05:00

By Sara As we move toward Super Duper Tuesday, and many who hope things will be decided that day, need is to know some additional obscure rules of the Democratic Party, that most years make little difference. This year they... By Sara As we move toward Super Duper Tuesday, and many who hope things will be decided that day, need is to know some additional obscure rules of the Democratic Party, that most years make little difference.  This year they might.  Unlike our Republican opposition, we Democrats have rules about proportional representation, meaning that state by state delegates must be elected so as to reflect degree of support in every state.  We don't do winner take all.  For the most part, we do it congressional district by district, and reflect proportinate support in each, and then we select some delegates later at the State Wide Level, again divided by degrees of overall state support.  Yes, it is a complex system, and yes, it is the response to LBJ throwing the nomination to Hubert in 1968, and the follow on McGovern-Fraser Commission rules, but unless you understand the rules, and how all this plays -- it will be hard to deal with Tuesday and what it might mean.  Right now I am just thinking over what Jim Oberstar's endorsement of Obama today really means.  (Oberstar chairs the House Transportation Committee,) represents Duluth and the Iron Range, the 8th District, and that district usually returns about 80% of its votes for the DFL.  It is an ethnic mix of various Yugoslav tribes, Cornish Miners, Polish and Hungarians, and lots of Finns plus a supply of Norwegian Loggers.  Not many African Americans in the 8th -- in fact they had one of the few Northern Lynchings in 1919. (We have since put up a memorial to the victims).   Back in the 60's, when the Air Force Base was active, the State Civil Rights Commission was always dealing with one or another serious discrimination case.  But, they are going Obama this year.  In addition, it is the only Congressional District that ever actually elected a Communist to Congress.  Old Johnny Bernard (FL-1938-40) has that distinction.  Anyhow Oberstar is apparently leading the 8th to Obama.  But that does not get us to Rules that now have meaning.  Once the full state delegations are selected through primary, caucus & Convention or because of Superdelegate Status, each State delegation forms up and selects delegates to serve on the Rules, Credentials and Platform committees, with the numerical support for either Clinton or Obama in each State being in control of the selection process.  They select two for each committee, one M and one F.  Then shortly before the Denver Convention, these committees assemble, and if there are disputes, this is where they get their first hearing.  Now in the case of Florida and Michigan Delegations, the decision to strip them of delegates was made by the DNC at the recommendation of the ongoing Rules or Credentials Commission.  Such Commissions do party business between conventions, but when we are on the eve of a national convention, the 120 or so member committees delegated by the states (add in DC and the territories), become the authorative bodies, and an appeal from a DNC ruling is rightly brought before these committees.  If they receive such an appeal, they will hold hearings, and eventually issue a "majority report" -- and if 25% or more of the committee do not agree with that report, they can write a "minority report" and that will send the decision on seating Flo[...]



Dynasty

2008-02-01T15:29:07-05:00

by emptypockets Hillary Clinton made an interesting statement in the debate last night. She was asked how, as a member of one of the two families who have led the country the last 20 years, she could call herself an... by emptypockets Hillary Clinton made an interesting statement in the debate last night. She was asked how, as a member of one of the two families who have led the country the last 20 years, she could call herself an "agent of change". [Side note for word watchers: "agent of change" brings up 25,000 google hits with "Clinton" and "Obama" together; 17,000 with "Clinton" alone; and only 9,000 with "Obama" alone. On the other hand, it brings up 22,000 with "Bush" and without the other two, a warning not to read google's tea leaves too quickly.] I've been thinking a bit about the dynastic objections that are often raised around Clinton's candidacy. They come wrapped in some interesting packaging. One wrapper, as noted above, is the idea that Clinton is a Washington insider and cannot embody the change that Americans deeply desire. This objection makes very little sense, because the change we're seeking is change from eight years of tax-cut-and-spend deficits, treating the military as a doormat, and a failure to use public money for the public good. The fact that she's part of a family who has a record of fixing exactly those problems is not really a drawback. Another wrapper, most vocally espoused by Chris Matthews, is that she didn't make it here on her own. This attack is sometimes bundled with a critique of her experience, such as Blitzer made last night when he asked why she considers herself more experienced than Obama considering she has been a senator for about the same period and was not in an elected position as First Lady. This critique is also garbage, because obviously nobody makes it on their own -- we have all enjoyed the help of family, mentors, and colleagues to get where we are. Even Bush, as much as it pains me to say it, did not get to be president by being born into it. If that were the case, then surely first in line to the throne would not have been the children of a one-term wonder like Bush Sr (and even among his spawn Junior is not the sharpest tack). If nepotism were that powerful, the Clinton currently in office would as likely be Roger as Hillary. Surely, all these people have had advantages (though 90% of opportunity is recognizing it when it arrives) -- but even the most-privileged 1% of the country are still 3 million strong. And there are only two people left in the race. But this attack comes closest to the real reason I think people are rubbed the wrong way by American political dynasty. It hews close to what it means to be an American -- the rejection of royalty or aristocracy or any privilege by birthright, of being born into one's class. That is the root of the great national fairy tale called the American Dream, that anyone can grow up to be president. And its fairy-tale nature is struck at quite directly by the cold reality that someone who's a Bush or a Clinton has got better odds at the big time than someone who's just a Schmoe, or a Suarez, or a Saad. Obama obviously embodies the American Dream in a fairly straightforward way (as does Edwards, who reminded audiences he was the son of a millworker so often as to diminish its power). He plays on it often and successfully when he refers to the younger version of himself as just "a skinny kid with a funny name." Clinton embodies it no less. Her father was a conservative Republican curtain-maker. Born a Rodham, and having become a Clinton[...]



FDR, Some Cultural History, and the Sub-Prime Crisis

2008-02-01T03:01:31-05:00

by Sara -- a reconstruction Sadly, the last version of this disappeared into Typepad Heaven. Way back when I was teaching, I used to give students zerox copies of the forclosure and bank sale notices from the local papers from... by Sara -- a reconstruction Sadly, the last version of this disappeared into Typepad Heaven.  Way back when I was teaching, I used to give students zerox copies of the forclosure and bank sale notices from the local papers from the early 1930's, and send them out to map and describe what they could actually see as the indications (in an almost anthropological sense) about the impact of the Great Depression of the late 20's and early 30's.  What I wanted them to comprehend was less the arguments about what was done about those times, but more about what really went wrong, and ultimately how things were fixed.  In essence, I wanted them to have good pictures in their heads as we evaluated what FDR actually did, and the results, and how we should evaluate those results.  Virtually every city in the US has an architectual line between late 1920's domestic construction, and what was built in the late 1930's.  Most of the lines are mixed constructions -- you will find 2 story houses with gables and creative lines, mixed in with small, well-built, what we today call starter homes, single story, cape cod or ranch styles, rather simple in design.  This is where the speculative builders of the 20's left lots in between their offerings, and then in the late 30's, with land released by the banks, those who were following the modest income and credit codes of FDR's FHA Mortgage program, built the next generation of houses.  Between the houses of the 20's, and the late 30's is a revolution in Housing Finance as well as ultimately, a considerable cause of the Great Depression.  Prior to the Depression, the majority of homes were purchased on a short term note.  You got a note for 5 years, with a balloon payment at the end, and then one negotiated with the bank for a new note covering the balloon.  Of course the rate of interest would be adjusted with the new note.  But what happened in the 1920's, at a time when commercial and investment banking were not seperate, was that Banks moved assets into the attractive stock market which was zooming, and then, after 1929, when they went bust in the market, the liquid cash available to re-finance the balloons simply disappeared, and the Banks took back the housing where owners could not meet the balloon or had cash to cover.  It was not at all unusual after 1929 for Banks to repossess homes that were nearly 2/3rds paid up, with all owner-equity being lost.  So families doubled up, tripled up, and tried to keep one note paid up.  None the less the Banks, repossessing acres of property, mostly failed by the dawn of the FDR Administeration.   As an example, the Bank of Akron President Wendell Willkie, eventually, after reorganization, paid .07 cents on the dollar for savings accounts when it became Second National.  The New Deal contained three elements of a solution to this problem.  First, the division of Banking into two segments, Commercial and Investment, with only small accounts in the commercial segment insured. In addition, the Savings and Loan segment was created, which advantaged small savers with insured accounts, and a small advantage in savings interest rates, but a clear restriction on lending -- limited to local housing that met FHA standards. What FHA offered was pretty simp[...]



A Political Culture approach to Obama v Clinton

2008-02-01T00:33:01-05:00

by Sara The decision by some in the Kennedy Clan to endorse Obama after the SC Primary last week may have surprised many, but it shouldn't. For in a very interesting way it represents the unification of two wings of... by Sara The decision by some in the Kennedy Clan to endorse Obama after the SC Primary last week may have surprised many, but it shouldn't.  For in a very interesting way it represents the unification of two wings of the 1960 power center that elected John Kennedy.  What should surprise is that so many of our pundits have missed the call.  Barack Obama is, without question, the candidate of the Daley Family wing of the Democratic Party.  Democrats from Illinois simply do not move into a position to be elected Senator without the blessing of what remains of the Chicago Machine -- and much remains and is led by the current Richard M. Daley.  But if you dig back into your Daley Family Political History -- all the way back into the 1950's you find the relationship with the Kennedy Family.  Old Joe owned a significant part of what counted in Chicago, beginning with the Merchandise Mart managed by his son-in-law, Sarge Shriver, and if you dig into the other high gross commerce, you find the liquor trade, supermarkets, and much else in obscure Kennedy Family holdings.  In the days before reporting of campaign funding -- the Kennedy Family was able to generate much of what Jack needed out of Chicago, and one of the principle players in this was Mayor Daley, then and now perhaps know as Hizzhonor.  On election day in 1960, Daley was able to hold the vote in the River Wards out of the report long enough to make certain it covered the excess Republicans from downstate.  When Daley controlled his city and its institutions, he made certain that Chicago never had enough old lever voting machines to cover all the precincts.  When the number the city owned reached about 66%, he would surplus some.  Voting machines went into Republican Wards.  Paper Ballots went to the River Wards.  And on election night, 1960, his services in making certain those wards covered the excess Downstate Republican vote, may have played a role.  The last call Robert Kennedy took at the Ambassador Hotel before he went to the Victory Party downstairs, back in May of 1968, was from Mayor Daley, who called to tell Kennedy that he would be holding a press conference the next day to pledge the whole Illinois Delegation to Bobby's campaign for President.  As we know, that didn't happen, but those were the days when a Machine Boss could make such promises.  Most people think the days of the old machines are dead and gone -- I beg to differ.  I simply think some have been smart enough to adapt to a new environment, and learn how to survive.  Thus the attraction as a candidate to the Illinois State Senate of a Harvard Honors Grad Lawyer -- not part of the Black Establishment in Chicago, but at the same time a skilled organizer able to work with all sides, the Business Community, the Daley Machine, and yes, if Larry Johnson's material holds water, even some elements of "the Outfit" which is what the mob is called in Chicago.  So when Obama had proved his skills in Iowa and South Carolina, why would anyone be surprised if the Daley Family did not call in a few chit's from the Kennedy Family?  Now my point here is not what I believe to be a marginal relationship to "the Outfit" and all -- rather it is to focus on a very lo[...]



Unity Pledge

2008-01-31T21:57:21-05:00

by emptypockets Watching the Democratic debate, what strikes me most is how hard Clinton and Obama need to work to find a difference between them. And when they finally do differ, their views are more often complementary than dissonant --...

by emptypockets

Watching the Democratic debate, what strikes me most is how hard Clinton and Obama need to work to find a difference between them. And when they finally do differ, their views are more often complementary than dissonant -- they agree on the problems, and just have different ideas about how best to implement a solution. What's more, I feel like there's a genuine rapport between them that's developed over the campaign.

Compare that with the fire and the fury of the Republican debates, where from the first question candidates couldn't agree on as basic a question as whether Americans are better off now than they were 8 years ago, and often came to verbal blows personally. They're a mess.

The power of the Democratic ticket is clear not only in the debates, but in the fund-raising and turnout data for the campaigns and primaries so far. Americans are excited about getting rid of Bush/Cheney and getting one of these two into office. The point I'm building up to is that I'm wondering what the effect on the campaign would be if Obama and Clinton pledged to pick the runner-up as their vice-president.

Now, as I write this post, Blitzer just asked the same question, which is enough to make me think it's a terrible idea. And the candidates of course said they wouldn't rule it out (what else could they say?). But I still want to open it for discussion. Its effect on who would continue to vote in the primaries and who the eventual nominee is are one side of it. I'm more interested in how it will effect the tone of the remaining debates and the media messages in the months leading up to the convention.

If the two jointly announced a "Unity Pledge" before Super Tuesday -- a guarantee they will both be on the ticket in some order -- would they be more effective at distancing themselves as a pair from the other side? If they don't, will they necessarily devolve into more pettiness as the convention draws nearer (assuming their delegate counts stay neck-and-neck), or can the collegial tone they've (mostly) set so far survive on its own?







Could President Bush Become a U.S. Citizen?

2008-01-19T12:30:06-05:00

by emptypockets As Republican politicians continue to focus on immigration, with DHS Secretary Chertoff imposing new requirements for border crossing (although about 5 million of the country's 12 million illegal immigrants crossed the border legally and then simply overstayed their... by emptypockets As Republican politicians continue to focus on immigration, with DHS Secretary Chertoff imposing new requirements for border crossing (although about 5 million of the country's 12 million illegal immigrants crossed the border legally and then simply overstayed their visas), and Governor Mike Huckabee reversing positions to appeal to extremist nativist groups, I began to wonder: if he weren't born here, could President Bush have become a U.S. citizen? Just imagine his visa form: Question 1: Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty or other similar legal action? Have you ever unlawfully distributed or sold a controlled substance (drug), or been a prostitute or procurer for prostitutes? Let's see. Arrested twice in college, for stealing a Christmas wreath and for conduct at a football game. Arrested for drunk driving. Possibly arrested for cocaine. We don't know if he was directly involved in hiring male prostitute Jeff Gannon/James Guckert to pose as a reporter and issuing him a White House press credential -- so let's skip that one. Question 3: Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State? Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide? Hm. Another tough one. Does unlawful purpose include ordering illegal wiretaps? Does it count as a subversive activity if you intend to bypass anti-torture laws? Is it subversive to overthrow the Constitution and ignore Congress -- and to say so in dozens of signing statements like this one (chosen at random)? Well, let's not get bogged down in details. Just one more question though: are 80,000 Iraqi civilian deaths a genocide? Question 6: Have you ever been afflicted with a communicable disease of public health significance or a dangerous physical or mental disorder, or ever been a drug abuser or addict? I'll take the last part first. Cocaine again. As to "a dangerous... mental disorder" -- do you really have to ask? While a YES answer does not automatically signify ineligibility for a visa, if you answered YES you may be required to personally appear before a consular officer. If only Congress held him to the same standards! [...]



My Hypocrisy about Early Primaries

2008-01-18T19:20:50-05:00

by emptypockets Iowa is overblown. And people like me are to blame. Consider three things: One, we don't know who got more votes in the Iowa Democratic caucus; we only know delegate percentages that don't directly reflect the popular vote....

by emptypockets

Iowa is overblown. And people like me are to blame.

Consider three things: One, we don't know who got more votes in the Iowa Democratic caucus; we only know delegate percentages that don't directly reflect the popular vote. Two, Clinton came in third in delegate count by less than a third of a percent. Finally, recall that Clinton currently has ten percent more delegates than all other candidates put together. Yet, because of Iowa, she is considered to have lost her clear front-runner status and she was able to talk with a straight face in New Hampshire about her "comeback." This idea is ridiculous.

Yet it's not. Because politics is perception, and if it's perceived that she's stumbling then she will have stumbled. The expectation fulfills itself as people like me go to the polls and vote based on the way we think the results will turn out. If I think the race is down to Clinton and Obama -- and judging by every media report, it is -- then I surely will vote for one of those two. And, because Edwards failed to capture any of the earlier states, I will perceive him to be out of the running, and my perception will make it true.

And that's exactly the spot I find myself in. And it's exactly the spot that, apparently about 2,000 other progressive Edwards-leaning blog readers have found themselves in. Many of them, like me, have whined stridently about the disproportionate power of Iowa and New Hampshire -- yet, hypocritically, I would certainly consider changing my Feb. 5 vote based on the narrative that those two states created.

Short version: A vote that changes after Jan. 3 is a vote against the power of one's own state primary.




Newfound Transparency in Iowa [...someday]

2008-01-13T20:41:57-05:00

by emptypockets I'm a little slow out of the starting gate with this one, but it seems that one of the major criticisms of the Iowa Democratic caucuses -- that the actual vote totals are kept secret -- has quietly... by emptypockets I'm a little slow out of the starting gate with this one, but it seems that one of the major criticisms of the Iowa Democratic caucuses -- that the actual vote totals are kept secret -- has quietly disappeared into the cornfields. The purpose of this post is to bring attention to that change, and raise the questions of how and why it came about. [Update 1/14/08, 8 am: In fact, it seems that this problem has not yet been addressed. See update at the end. Can one be slow out of the starting gate and jump the gun??] Let me first define three terms I'll need to talk about this topic clearly: RAW VOTE The number of caucusgoers who cast a vote for each candidate at the beginning of the caucus (in the first round of voting). REALIGNED VOTE The number of caucusgoers who cast a vote for each candidate at the end of the caucus (after eliminating non-viable candidates, and when all is said and done). DELEGATE COUNT The number of delegates to the state convention each candidate has earned at the end of caucus night. Previously, the Iowa Democratic Party released only the last of these three numbers to the media. So, if you look at the CNN caucus results page for 2004, you'll see that Kerry won 1,128 State Delegates, or 38%, compared to Edwards's 957, or 32%. There's a note attached to those figures, reading "Instead of releasing caucus vote totals, the Iowa Democratic Party releases a total indicating the number of delegates to the state convention each candidate will receive." Why would that matter? Well, since the number of delegates per precinct is not determined by population (but by a formula involving turnout in the last two elections), it means that a candidate could, in principle, come in first in the delegate count without getting the most realigned votes. You could basically win the caucuses but lose the popular vote... and no one would ever know. The Iowa Democratic Party has been criticized harshly for this lack of transparency. For instance, Saletan and Schiller wrote in Slate, under the header "Why you'll never know who won Iowa": On caucus night, the Iowa Democratic Party will release the delegate count. Here's when the party will release the raw vote count and the realigned vote count: Never. The party won't compile or even record them, except as a temporary step in most precincts so that the caucus chair can determine how many delegates each candidate gets. The party doesn't want raw votes compiled and released, because it wants the caucuses to be a collaborative activity [...] but if you want to know how many voters stood up for John Edwards, you're out of luck. That was four years ago. Just four weeks ago, the same complaint was filed by Cranberg, Strentz and Roberts in the NY Times op-ed "Iowa's Undemocratic Caucuses": The percentage broadcast on the networks and reported in the newspapers is the candidate’s share of the 2,500 delegates the party apportions across Iowa’s 99 counties, based on Democratic voter turnout in each of the 1,784 precincts in the two most recent general elections. So, the turnout for a candidate in a precinct caucus could be huge, yet the candidate’s share of the delegate pie could be q[...]



Platform Committee -- Where the Issue Lovers do Battle

2008-01-12T14:53:24-05:00

by Sara Again, fair warning, what I will describe is the way the DFL in Minnesota does things. Other states have different rules. None the Less every state has a Platform Committee and a Platform Commission, and some sort of... by Sara Again, fair warning, what I will describe is the way the DFL in Minnesota does things.  Other states have different rules.  None the Less every state has a Platform Committee and a Platform Commission, and some sort of process to recommend policy to the National Convention.  But let's start at the top -- the Platform Committee for the 2008 Race -- how will it be done.  First of all, the Convention Platform will be written by a committee of over 100 persons, 2 from each state and territory, one male, one female.  The  Platform Committee delegates are selected by vote from among the elected and super delegates by state.  In most cases this will reflect the outcome of the primary and caucus system, with the eventual nominee holding the majority of Platform Committee members.  Thus the nominee usually controls the content of the Platform, but outside alliances are possible.  I'll get to the complex system we have for building our state platform later, but that said, if the state platform is adopted by the time the Platform Committee meets, they get a copy of each state's work, which is a recommendation and not something they are obliged to adopt.  All states must classify their resolutions within one of fourteen areas, things like Labor Policy, Agriculture and Food Policy, World and Foreign Affairs, Veterans Issues, Environment and Conservation -- and someone at the staff level re-organizes the state's work, highlighting areas of agreement and disagreement.  All Committee members get this product.  Ideas that come from many states have more weight than single state matters. Then the Platform Committee holds hearings, in recent years they have traveled to various parts of the country, breaking down into sub-committees.  This is where our party interest groups get involved, they are invited to make presentations at hearings, agree or disagree with state proposals, point to legislative efforts, push priorities, and otherwise lobby the Committee to accept their language on critical issues.  For groups that want to be heard it is important to know how to lobby the committee for real hearing time.  Eventually the Committee votes, plank by plank on language and then the whole intent of the plank.  What's agreed to becomes the Majority Report to the Convention.  To have a floor fight over a plank, you have to establish strength for a minority report in the committee (I think it is 1/3rd disagreement with the plank as worded), and then to get a minority report to the floor, you have to get delegate signatures to support the minority report at a fairly high level -- in recent conventions it has been about 1500 delegates out of 4000 total.  In otherwords, our current rules predicate against minority reports and floor fights.  If a coalition exists that appears to be reaching the point where a floor fight might happen -- usually a compromise is negotiated.  Television and print reporters usually interpret a floor fight as party disorganization -- and these days, candidates try to avoid this.  But in most years, C-Span covers [...]



Democratic Party Rules -- Market Interest

2008-01-12T11:37:39-05:00

by Sara It seems there is a growing market for an understanding of Party Rules among those carefully watching our Democratic Party Processes -- so I thought I would take up two areas of interest, the selection of Super Delegates,... by Sara It seems there is a growing market for an understanding of Party Rules among those carefully watching our Democratic Party Processes -- so I thought I would take up two areas of interest, the selection of Super Delegates, and our Platform Processes.  A Caution, what I know is derived from party experience in Minnesota's DFL, and while the DNC sets overall rules and guidelines, (with the ultimate sanction being having your delegates not seated at the National Convention, as Florida and Michigan face this year) rules and processes differ state by state.  In fact one should always keep in mind that there is really no such thing as a National Democratic Party -- there are 50 plus state and territorial parties that have the franchise for their state, and in turn the DNC, Democratic National Committee is a representative body elected by the State Parties.  People came to understand this in 2005 when Howard Dean was elected Chair of the DNC on the platform of strengthening the State Parties by investing in assets and skilled staff, something those who have problems with State Parties having influence have had a bit of difficulty with over the past couple of years.  Last year we all witnessed Rahm Emanual calling out Dean for not sending his DCCC committee more funds, while Dean kept putting assets and staff into states.  Understanding such power jousts is just one element in seeing the picture of our party as it currently exists.  Dean solved the problem by borrowing money that he shared with Rahm, but the assets Dean put at the State Level ended up electing more Congresspersons than Rahm's committee did.  For now, Dean 1, Rahm 0.  But one thing is sure, there will be another tournament, for power centers are always contested.  Back in the bad old days before 1972, Party Bosses played a much more powerful role in Democratic Parties than they do today.  The elections for the ongoing officers in the party were closed systems -- old Mayor Daley would sit down with his best buddies and decide endorsements for office, state and national committee people, state and local party officers, and it would all be put on one slate, and offered as a package, with little opposition.  The McGovern-Fraser reforms ended all that, State Parties must have elections for these positions, and the process must be open to opposition, and in any sort of delegate selection, awards must be based on rules of proportionality, gender balance and affirmative action with respect to racial, religious and ethnic groups.  It was a huge change -- and one result of it was that the old Powers-that-Were actually let a number of State Parties go into Bankruptcy rather than conform to the new Rules.  A number of State Parties in the South took this route rather than allow Black elected Party Officers control the parties.  They declared bankruptcy, local courts took them into receivership, and the same good-ole boys continued to control things.  When Dean was elected one of the first things he had to do was pull the parties out of receivership, in many cases di[...]



Article III folds. But wait! Is that a sign of life in Article I?

2008-01-10T16:36:32-05:00

by Kagro X The story so far: CIA tortures terror suspects, videotapes it, tells 9/11 Commission tapes don't exist, tells courts tapes don't exist, tapes do exist, court orders government not to destroy tapes, government destroys tapes. And now? Judge...



Questions about a Caucus: More than you ever wanted to know.

2008-01-08T09:22:04-05:00

by Sara We've had lots of questions about how a caucus works, mostly based on what various reporters in the MSM have published. I've responded to some points in EP's earlier post and various E-Mails. Time is to up front... by Sara We've had lots of questions about how a caucus works, mostly based on what various reporters in the MSM have published.  I've responded to some points in EP's earlier post and various E-Mails.  Time is to up front deal with what this "thing" is, and my speciality -- the History of Democratic Party Caucuses.  Believe me, History explains much.  Minnesota uses essentially the same caucus system that Iowa uses, and my understanding of our process dates back to the summer of 1970, when I was doing chemotherapy for Cancer, and had a "little job" writing up summaries of written testimony sent in to what was then the McGovern Commission of the DNC, but was morphing to the McGovern-Fraser Commission, because George was going to explore running for President, and the Commission to reform the delegate selection rules had been handed off to then Congressman Don Fraser.  Most people know that the Democratic Convention of 1968 was Hell, in large measure because the Robert Kennedy candidacy and the Gene McCarthy Campaign had indicated a huge division of opinion as to where the party should stand on Vietnam -- but the rules allowed the then Party Bosses to control the delegate selection process, and thus dim if not totally still the voice of a huge constituency that wanted to be heard.  So while the convention in 1968 gave Hubert the Nomination, they gave George McGovern the booby prize -- come up with new rules to reform the delegate selection process for the Party.  George Accepted, held hearing across the country, and then handed off to Don Fraser.  Don Fraser finished the process, the DNC adopted temporary rules in line with the new ones for the Call for the 1972 Convention, delegations were selected accordingly, and the 1972 convention adopted the new rules as the Reform Rules.  Today, with just fairly minor changes, they are the rules of the Democratic Party for Delegate Selection.  The real drama at the 1972 convention was not the adoption of the rules, rather it was a floor vote on the Credentials Report on the Illinois Delegation.  Hiz Honor Richard Daley had arrived at convention with his machine selected delegation, but another delegation, elected according to McGovern-Fraser Rules demanded the credentials -- there was a hearing, a majority and minority report, and a floor vote.  When the Daley delegation lost, and the Convention Chair told the Sergeant at Arms to escort Chicago's Mayor and his delegates off the floor, and seat the properly elected one, Reform was real.   If video were honest -- that scene is how they would date Democratic Party Reform.  Now what were these McGovern-Fraser Reforms all about?  They authorize two modes for selecting delegates -- the caucus and the primary.  Both have the same intent.  One must understand that both are not elections, they are ways of doing party business, one of the businesses of the party is to select a delegation to the National Convention that reflects the judgment of party members a[...]



Why is Hillary Crashing?

2008-01-08T06:19:45-05:00

by Sara Again, in a sense, this is a book review, the book in question being one I gave to five friends for Xmas this year. "She's No Lady: Politics, Family and International Feminism" by Arvonne Fraser, Nodin Press, 2007.... by Sara Again, in a sense, this is a book review, the book in question being one I gave to five friends for Xmas this year.  "She's No Lady: Politics, Family and International Feminism" by Arvonne Fraser, Nodin Press, 2007.  There is a part of it I believe may help us understand how and why the plus 100 million Hillary Clinton Campaign is on the verge of Crash and Burn.  Garrison Keillor wrote the introduction, and has done a couple of hour long interviews with Arvonne on Public Radio as part of the "virtual book tour."  So who is the Author of this political biography?  Garrison calls her "Saint Arvonne of the Church of Perpetual Responsibility" and it is a pretty good characterization.  Post College, she went to work as the Office Manager for Hubert Humphrey's Senate Campaign in 1948, from there to Office Manager of the DFL, and then she married one of HHH's staffers, Don Fraser, and quickly had six children.  Between taking care of kids, sewing all her own clothes and those of her kids, (no, she hates to cook), she mastered the art of campaign management, eventually getting Freeman elected Governor, helped elect Gene McCarthy, Organized JFK's 1960 Campaign, and got her Husband elected first to the State Senate, and in 1962, to the House of Rep.  Moved to DC, she took over managing the office on the Hill, but quickly got interested in the emerging Feminist Movement, and after organizing Hill Staffers, she moved on to help birth NOW, the National and Minnesota Womens' Political Caucus, the Women's Equity Action League, and many other key feminist groups.  In 1977, Carter appointed her Assistant Secretary of State for Women's Affairs.  In between she wrote the language for Title IX, and got it through Congress.  When Reagan eliminated the position in State in 1981, she brought many of the programs back to Minnesota, put them into the Humphrey Institute where she was appointed, raised the money to run them over the next 12 years.  In 1993, after Clinton's election, considerable lobbying went into getting the new administration to appoint her as the US Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women -- and she was appointed.  But after about three years, Hillary had Arvonne fired just before the Beijing UN Conference.  According to Arvonne, Hillary did not want to bother with all the linked up Feminist Organizations that had carried this effort over the bad years of Reagan and Bush I, and thus decided Arvonne had to leave.  She did.  Arvonne did not exactly appreciate the fact that Hillary had one of Arvonne's best friends do the honors, and in addition have other Clinton people in State see too it that the US lost its seat on the UN Commission by not attending the meeting where nominations were done. So Arvonne came home, ran a few more campaigns, kept her hand in, and decided to write her political biography.  Came out last fall -- got much local attention given that any DFL'er who has ever managed [...]