Monday, October 31, 2005

Consistency? What's That?

It was less than a week ago when ultra-conservative activists were doing anything they could to prevent the appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. They did not care at all about "up-or-down" votes. Now, less than five days later, we have the Senate majority leader--who's under investigation for sketchy stock trading--calling for fair up-or-down votes:
Frist added, "If it takes a fight on the floor of the United States Senate, people like Chuck Schumer and the Democrats are going to get that. The American people deserve fair up-or-down votes. . . .
I don't mind this statement if it's consistent. I truly wonder how they can go to sleep at night. I'll bet that the media let's them get away with it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What If

What if we actually gave every child the same opportunity to succeed? This is something I ask myself literally every day. I've seen talented young people fall through the cracks many times. Sadly, I believe it's happening every year in the United States. This is unfortunate because it denies everyone of their talent.

Jonathon Kozol picks up on this theme in The Shame of the Nation:
There will, I am afraid, be fewer fascinating mavericks, fewer penetrating questioners, and fewer powerful dissenters coming from our inner-city schools before too long if this agenda cannot be reversed.
What if each of us were born into different circumstances? Would we have lost all hope?

I was questioned today about some of my views. When I think about children losing hope, I don't ask why should we help. I ask how can we not help. If you have't yet read Shame of the Nation pick it up. Or I'll let you borrow my copy.

You Go, Gov. Vilsack

We need more National Democrats to talk about the immorality of cutting medicaid to pay for Katrina like Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack:
It is "morally wrong" to expect low-income Iowans to "sacrifice solely and completely for the poor people of New Orleans" to pay for hurricane relief, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said Tuesday as Democrats took aim at Republican budget policy at a forum.

When Republicans in Congress discuss paying for costs of Hurricane Katrina through cuts in spending on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, "that's essentially what we're asking," said Vilsack, a Democrat and the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Instead, Vilsack — who's thought to be laying groundwork for a presidential bid — said tax cuts signed into law by President Bush and targeted at upper-income taxpayers ought to be revoked.

"When we don't talk about tax cuts, when we don't talk about benefits that are accrued to those who are more fortunate in the same discussion, it seems to me we have our values misplaced," Vilsack said at the forum organized by the council, a 20-year-old centrist organization that gained influence with the rise of President Clinton, a former chairman.
This is essentially what I've been saying for a while. It's the right thing to do. It's the practical thing to do. And it's good politics.

And, yes, we should cut pork, too!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What Moral Values?

I am truly having a hard time being nice in my comments about the proposed GOP budget cuts: "Republicans began targeting key programs for budget cuts yesterday, from student loans and health care to food stamps and foster care." As if that's not bad enough:
The House Ways and Means Committee today will begin drafting legislation that would save about $8 billion over five years, eight times the $1 billion target the panel was given in the spring. To do it, Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) would cut back federal aid to state child-support enforcement programs, limit federal payments to some foster care families, and cut welfare payments to the disabled.
In the words of someone more directly affected than myself:
"I can't believe that some people in Washington think that, after a Category 5 hurricane, the solution is to unleash a Category 5 hurricane on working people," said Michele Baker, a custodian for the Orleans Parish School District, who weathered Katrina in her car, spent the aftermath in the Louisiana Superdome and now has no job.
What kind of human being would cut welfare payments to the disabled?

Yeah, we're in fiscal trouble:
"Listen, we're broke. Let's face it," said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which will try today to complete legislation saving $18.1 billion over five years from pension protection and student loan programs.
So why are the conservative Republicans trying to permanently repeal the estate tax that pretty much only benefits the heirs to the hyper-rich? I am truly embarassed. History is going to judge this time period harshly. And rightly so if some of these cuts happen.

Dem Slogan

It looks like National Dems are looking for a slogan. Something along the lines of "Together, America Can Do Better.". Hmmm. I think that's pretty lame and doesn't address the safety issue.

I'd rather see something like: "Together: Safer, stronger and better." Of course that was going to be my campaign slogan, but I guess it's now out of the question. Actually, I was thinking of "Safer and Stronger Together" Or maybe "Building A Safer and Stronger America Together". (Not that I really intend to run.)

I remember back in grade school having a writing teacher say to "show not tell". How are we going to make things better? By making our country safer--safer from terrorism, economic security, safe from leaking CIA operatives, etc.--and stronger--stronger intelligence and emergency preparedness, stronger education programs, etc. Better is such a vague word and useless, IMO. "Safer" and "stronger" allows for much more specific bullet points than merely saying "better".

P.S. I like "Together" because I sincerely believe that our Nation is best when we're working together: Immediately after 9/11 and immediately after the Tsunami. When Americans or other people are suffering, most Americans go out of their way to help. That's pretty awesome if you ask me. Before getting off my soapbox, together we can crush poverty!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Get A Clue WaPo

I like the Washington Post's reporting and even enjoy their op-ed columnists. The editorials from the editorial board, however, border on absurd. In particular, their second enodrsement of Prop. 77. I've already discussed how bad Prop. 77 is (here, here, here and here amongst other places).

Let's use some of the editorial boards own words:
While neither is perfect or would be a cure-all to the corrosive problem of noncompetitive elections, both initiatives would bring improvement over the status quo.
Prop. 77 is a constitutional amendment. If it is not perfect or a cure-all, why put it into the constitution? That makes no sense and it's embarassing that they advocate something so dangerous. I'd most likely still oppose this proposition if it wasn't a constitutional amendment, but the fact that even most supporters admit it's not perfect forces me to not even consider it a viable option as a constitutional amendment. We could come up with something better--all sides agree on that--and I'd rather put that into the constitution than a partisan amendment. Constitutional changes should require broad consensus amongst legislators as well as people--Schwarzenegger, Poizner and their corporate backers shouldn't be allowed to buy public opinion.

Here is what the editorial board members say about similar programs in states like Arizona or Iowa
States that have such a system, such as Iowa and Arizona, have not in recent years seen dramatically competitive elections.
Did any change hands last time in those races? Did the races become more competetive? No and No. In their own words, they admited it was not that great of a proposal and that states with similar commission style committees has not increase competition. And they are advocating putting such a proposal on our state constitution? Seems like they are holding on to redistricting ideology rather than facts. That's embarassing.

The facts also show that 90% of Senate campaigns over the last decade have not changed hands--something independent of redistricting. Why don't I ever see advocates of redistricting bring up that point? Probably because it makes their premise look unconvincing.

Bring campaign finance to the table and then we can talk. But quit trying to push abstract ideologies with no demonstrable positive effect into our constitutions.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

School Tracking

Several years ago I was on a public bus in downtown Seattle when I overheard a conversation that deeply disturbed me and continues to. In the back of the bus there was a group of four or five African-American boys who were in middle school talking about what they wanted to do after they finished school. I remember one of the boys saying he thought about going to college but that his counselor said he should learn a trade instead. Ironically, I was on my way home from tutoring at a poor, urban middle school. Unfortunately, I didn't tell him--or his counselor--that he or she was full of it. Now I wish I had.

I bring this up because there is a dialogue in Shame of the Nation that caused me to recall this story. A young girl, Mireya, is lamenting the fact that she has had to take hair-dressing as a class in high school:
      Mireya stared hard at this student [who took hair dressing twice] for a moment and then suddenly began to cry. "I don't want to take hair-dressing. I did not need sewing either. I knew how to sew. My mother is a seamstress in a factory. I'm trying to go to college. I don't need to sew to go to college. My mother sews. I hoped for something else."
      "What would you rather take?" I asked.
      "I wanted to take an AP class," she answered.
Mireya's sudden tears elicited a strong reaction from one of the boys who had been silent up to now. A thin and dark-eyed student, named Fortino, with long hair down to his shoulders who was sitting on the left side of the classroom, he turned directly to Mireya.
      "Listen to me," he said. "The owners of the sewing factories need laborers. Correct?"
      "I guess they do," Mireya said.
      "It's not going to be their own kids. Right?"
      "Why not?" another student said.
      "So they can grow beyond themselves," Mireya answered quiety. "But we remain the same."
      "You're ghetto," said Fortino, "so we send you to the factory." He sat low in his desk chair, leaning on one elbow, his voice and dark eyes loaded with a cynical intelligence. "You're ghetto--so you sew!"
      "There are higher positions than these," said a student named Samantha.
      "You're ghetto," said Fortino unrelentingly to her. "So sew!"
I lack the ability to understand how we can allow children to lose all hope. What's going to happen to all those dreams being deferred?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Talking Points, Schmalking Points

Rep. Zoe Lofgren's website has an interesting report on proposition 77. There is a point that even further supports my argument that incumbency is more important than districting:
An understanding of the level of competitiveness absent redistricting is helpful in attributing fault for the lack of competitiveness. In the US Senate, 90% of incumbents nationwide were reelected from 1990-2000.

...Thus, in an inherently competitive battleground unaffected by redistricting, incumbents are elected 90% of the time. This suggests that the natural state of affairs is that incumbents are reelected according to the will of the people. This understanding explains why redistricting commissions have generally failed to produce reform.
And there is the fact that the 75 congressional districts that were produced by so-called independent commissions resulted in exactly zero incumbent defeats. Not quite as good a talking point as 153, but not a whole lot better.

There is a critic who claimed that it was "nonsensical" to think districts could become less competetive than they currently are. I'll be nice and just point out what's happened in Arizona:
Arizona is emblematic of that failure in that it actually reduced competition. The chart below analyzes elections for the US House of Representatives and the Arizona State Senate over the course of the three biannual elections from 2000, the last year with the legislatively drawn maps, to 2004.
So, yeah, I do think Prop. 77 will make races less competetive and there is even precedent for that outcome. And I'm being asked to put this plan into the constitution? It's ironic that I'm actually more conservative on this than Republicans.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Competition and Incumbency

Let's take a look at the last several ballot results for the AD21 races. (NOTE: The address is not mine--for obvious reasons--but is in my precinct.) In 2000, Joe Simitian won with 54.9% of the vote. Two years later, in 2002, with the benefit of incumbency, Simitian wins with 60.6% of the vote.

OK, so that can be attributed to redistricting. (Of course, I'd ask any critic and supporter of that idea to check the results of the redistricting and post them before sending a comment, but I doubt that will happen because of arrogance or laziness. I'll do it below) If the redistricting argument is to be taken as the sole cause, one would expect the Democrat to have won big in '04, right? Well, in the '04 open seat race, the Democrat won with a whopping 51.6%. Same district as '02 but no Democratic incumbent.

Voter registration for AD21 in 2000 :

Dem GOP
101,577 66,754
47.00% 30.89%
Voter registration for AD21 in 2002:

Dem GOP
102,361 74,433
44.99% 32.71%
To me these numbers suggest that the incumbent performed in a manner contrary to what a redistricting is the only cause argument would predict. But hey, 153 is the only important number right?

Schwarzenegger 's Virtues...

If you think Arnold really cares about good government (with his initiatives), don't forget to ponder this LA Times article:
"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is putting the brakes on efforts to give state investigators more tools to hunt tax evaders, following a period of aggressive enforcement that has generated billions of dollars for California coffers.

The governor has vetoed several bills that would allow agents to go after more businesses and individuals who cost the state millions by cheating on their returns, or not filing at all. He said the measures were flawed and would have unfairly burdened employers."
He sold himself in '03 as being for reform and now he's doing it again. Our state got exactly what we voted for. I found this to be worth thinking about as we ponder the governor's/Norquist's/Bush's/Rove's "reform" initiatives.

I, personally, like to learn from history. "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

"California, where tax-cutting initiatives have driven down per-pupil spending and schools are crowded with immigrants, registered the nation's second-lowest reading scores."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/20/national/20exam.html

Monday, October 17, 2005

Redistricting Again...

I've posted on this before, but it's worth posting again. Via Donkey Rising, there is a paper by Abramowitz, Alexander and Gunning on redistricting and incumbency. Their conclusion:
However, this shift has not been caused by redistricting but by demographic change and ideological realignment within the electorate. Moreover, even in the remaining marginal districts only a small minority of House races are competitive. The main explanation for the lack of competition even in marginal districts appears to be the inability of challengers to compete financially with incumbents.
I've also previously pointed to Steven Hill's Mother Jones article that brings up this important point:
It turns out that there is a fundamental anti-urban (and thus anti-Democratic) bias with single-seat districts. The urban vote is more concentrated, and so it's easier to pack Democratic voters into fewer districts. As Democratic redistricting strategist Sam Hirsch has noted, nice square districts are in effect a Republican gerrymander because they "combine a decade-old (but previously unnoticed) Republican bias" that along with a newly heightened degree of incumbent protection "has brought us one step closer to government under a United States House of Unrepresentatives."
And let's not forget that the 2000 census data--which Prop. 77 will use for redistricting mid-decade--omits the large amount of new Californians. Redistricting at will is not a good thing, even on principle. Voters will be deliberately ignored in any mid decade redistricting effort. Plus, having to continually vote

Prop. 77

Do I want a more responsible government? Yes. Then why don't I like Prop. 77? All one has to do is take a look at the financial backers of prop. 77 to find out several good reasons why. Of course, that isn't always a good reason. I'm more worried about the particulars of proposal. As Brad Plummer points out, since the prop calls for "compact" and whole city districts,
the judges drawing the boundaries will end up packing the majority of urban voters into a few concentrated, ultra-Democratic districts. Under any decent theory of political representation, this makes no sense at all. Schwarzenegger's plan wouldn't necessarily lead to more competitive districts either, as is widely hoped. Since "[j]udges must maximize the number of whole cities in each district," you'd have a handful of ultra-safe single-city seats that would vote overwhelmingly Democratic. If you wanted more electoral competition, then you'd try to create a bunch of districts that, say, combined parts of "blue" urban areas with parts of "red" suburbs. But Schwarzenegger's plan does the exact opposite.
I think that prop. 77 will probably result in less competitive districts and only serve to pack the highly concentrated Democratic voters into a smaller number of districts. If that's the ultimate goal, then it's a great proposition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why To Support the CA Initiatives

Because Andrew Sullivan says so:
Michael Barone finds some new polling momentum behind Arnold's important initiatives attempting to break the back of Democratic Party special interests and gerrymandering in California. I'm with Arnold on this, even if he has capitulated on equality for gay couples.
While your at it, check out Hacker and Pierson's discussion on the power of incumbancy. Complaining about Gerrymandering is a convenient way to overlook the obvious: Incumbents can raise boatloads of cash and have a name recognition advantage. The results of the '04 AD21 assembly race is evidence against many of the gerrymandering arguments.

Additionally, I can point you to several congressional races where the incumbent congress person won while the presidential candidate for the other party won. In particular, Heather Wilson (NM-1) won with about 55% of the vote in her district, while Kerry took 55%. Down south in NM-2, Steve Pearce received abut 70% of the vote while Bush didn't get 60%. Gerrymandering schmerrymandering. The power of incumbency seems to play a larger role to me. If you want to truly make races competetive, let's do something about campaign financing.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Robert Reich On Judges

When it comes to the judges, I've been most concerned with worker's rights, civil rights (pertaining to women and minorities), environmental deregulation and executive power. Robert Reich has an article in The American Prospect where he primarily discusses worker and property rights at stake. He brings up sobering facts as an introduction:
A central moral problem for the American economy today is that, although it has been growing at a good clip, with corporate profits rising nicely, most American paychecks have been going nowhere. Last year, the Census Bureau tells us, the U.S. economy grew a solid 3.8 percent. Yet median household income barely grew at all. That’s the fifth straight year of stagnant household earnings, the longest on record. Meanwhile, another 1.1 million Americans fell into poverty, bringing the ranks of the poor to 37 million. And an additional 800,000 workers found themselves without health insurance. Only the top 5 percent of households enjoyed real income gains. These trends are not new. They began 30 years ago, but are now reaching the point where they threaten the social fabric. Not since the Gilded Age of the 1890s has this nation experienced anything like the inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity we are witnessing today.
While everyone focuses on Roe, it's important to note that there are other important issues at stake on these judges.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dream Deferred

I've been a fan of Langston Hughes ever since I first read Dream Deferred back in high school a long time ago:
What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
I bring this up because I'm reviewing Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol and will be brainstorming my thoughts on education and race here. While you're waiting, you can check out this Newsweek article. If anyone wants to help fact check this book, let me know--I'm lazy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dems Beating Schwarzenegger

Schwarzenegger is probably less popular in California than Bush as evidenced by the latest WSJ/Zogby poll showing Angelides leading the governor by nearly 8 points. Even Westly is beating Schwarzenegger (by 5.5%).

Thank God For Immigrants

So we can do this to them:
Three people have been charged with murder in the deaths of six Mexican immigrants who were killed during robberies in south Georgia.

...Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan has said there have been about 20 home invasions targeting Hispanics in adjoining Tift, Colquitt and Cook counties within the past three months.
For more on the influx of Hispanic immigrants and reactions I recommend the movie Farmingville.

Too bad Bush hasn't put a little effort into his stated immigration policy. I actually think it's a good idea. It would be a great opportunity for our country to have a discussion on this important issue.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Remember Social Security?

The numerous indictments and investigations, supreme court nominations, a poorly planned war and natural disaters surely deserve attention. But we shouldn't forget Bush's top domestic policy priority: Social Security. Bush and co. is still trying to privatize this safety net. Excuse me, I mean "fix it with personal savings accounts". A recent Newsweek poll has some important information for those of us 18-34:
The only age group that believes the potential returns outweigh the risk is 18- to 34-year-olds, and even they are divided (48 percent says it’s a necessary risk, 46 percent says it’s too big a risk.) More mature Americans betray no such uncertainty: Of those 55 years old and older, 65 percent say investing in the market is too risky; only 25 percent say it’s a necessary risk. Fifty-eight percent of those 35 to 44 believe the risk is too great, while 56 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds think so (can you say tech-bubble investors?). And while a majority of young people believe it’s a necessary risk, they are also the age group most likely to believe that if retirees’ investments in the proposed individual retirement accounts perform poorly, or lose money, the government should be responsible for making up the loss. A whopping 73 percent say so, vs. just 50 percent of those 55 and older.
I've highlighted two parts. First, the fact that 18-34 year olds are so worried about Social Security is interesting. The truth is, Social Security may be in jeopardy about 40 years from now, but Medicare will be a bigger problem in less than a decade. Not that we shouldn't be thinking about Social Security, but there are several more urgent and definite problems we need to be talking about (can you say debts and deficits?).

Secondly, if 18-34 year olds believe the government should "be responsible for making up the loss", why remove the safety net in the first place? Social Security has been extremely effective at reducing elderly poverty. If there is a big economic downturn, not only would we have to deal with that, but we would also have to deal with the people who are devestated by the risky endeavor of privatization. Our country will not want to leave our elderly impoverished so we will have to fix the situation all over again. To me, that's pretty bad policy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What Happened to the GOP?

I've long admired Lincoln and his way with words::
I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crises. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
If you turned back the clock about 140 years, I'd no doubt have been a staunch Republican. I bring this up because of the latest Tome DeLay indictment. That's two indictments on DeLay. I'm really at a loss. We'll see if either indictment will stick.

The latest GOP scandals and Bush's falling approval ratings reminds me of another of Lincoln's quotes:
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
If you haven't already seen DCCC Chair Rham Emanuel stomp his GOP counter part, it's worth knowing where the Dems are headed and knowing that Democrats have a vision for America.