Tuesday, September 30

Bailout Critiques To Go

Rather than write an entry that is a compilation of another, I figured, heck...send 'em there.

Enjoy the ride and be sure to tip the waitstaff, they're working hard for you.

Monday, September 29

Who Bailed on the Bailout: How They Voted

The House voted down the hodge-podge bailout bill by a vote of 228 to 205, with one fence sitter. To see what your Congressperson did, see the Bailout vote

How Iowa Representatives went:
Boswell, Loebsack - Aye
Braley, King, Latham - No

The Debt Ceiling and Me: Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

With the debt ceiling likely to be lifted to $11,315,000,000,000 to make room for the $700 billion bailout of the banking and financial markets, it is doubly painful to note that my wife and I will be declaring personal bankruptcy in the near future because some of the same financial giants who were glad to provide credit to us at 30% interest still managed to lose money by making even riskier loans on home mortgages.

To back up a yard, my wife and I are very much responsible for mismanaging our finances, twenty two years of marriage and many immature decisions we made along the way don’t excuse us—although, in defense of us, for the last year we have worked through a debt management plan to pay back what we owe in a reasonable manner—which involved creditors making financial concessions to us that lowered the interest we pay back to between 6 and 9%. I was earning $65,300 a year and my wife was contributing between $12,000 and $15,000 through her art work and childcare. Over half my take home pay was going toward repaying the over $70,000 we had accrued in debt, not counting our home mortgage.

However, in May, I was laid off from my work and was unemployed until mid-September when I accepted a job at $39,000. I used part of our money to payoff some of our debt and now have about $61,000 to settle. Like a country song, our dog needed an operation, our old van died, and we paid cash for two used cars (because I was interviewing for jobs out of town and looked like we would need two cars, if I was commuting).

When I contacted my creditors during my period of unemployment, one of them offered to enroll us in a “hardship” program which would have cost us more than we were paying through our DMP and, when I said it was likely to create a bankruptcy situation, we were told that it didn’t matter to them because they are insured against such things. It puzzled me that they thought so little of their customers that they were willing to hang them out to dry, rather than work with them to get the amount that was due to them.

I was raised to be responsible for my debts—and to the best of my ability; I have tried to repay them. However, when faced with the possibility of also losing our home, if we continue on the path we are on, what choice did my wife and I have?

Some will look at our situation and feel that we are whining—we got ourselves into the situation, why are we complaining? I can only answer that we feel that we are caught between a rock and a hard place. We cannot afford the DMP given our income drop and we haven’t any other options that are reasonable other than bankruptcy. We don’t live extravagantly, we don’t own items that can reasonably payoff our debts—if we did, we’d have sold them to repay our debts (we are selling our second car because my new job is on a bus line and will likely use that to pay an attorney to process the bankruptcy). We have gone through our life savings—the only other resources we have are our retirement funds and we would be penalized tremendously from accessing them and then what? My wife and I are 50 and 53 respectively—15 and 12 years away from “traditional” retirement. There is no reasonable way we can save what people need to save to survive retirement in this day and age.

Again, what would you do, if you were my wife and I?

Frame this against a whole industry that is asking you to bail them out.

Sunday, September 28

Paying Taxes Worse Than Investing in the Stock Market?

The stock market is predicated by the idea that, for most of us, good investments come from patiently riding out waves of the market and, of course, buying stock at low prices and selling it when the price is high. This is a voluntary activity, though, in fairness, more and more employment retirement programs are being tied to it

Paying taxes, on the other hand, is not a voluntary activity. In fairness, we get a lot of good stuff from our taxes: schools, medical research, streets and highways, mass transit, and, oh, a social safety net, to name a few. However, it also pays for weapons of mass destruction, bailing out corporations, rewarding the richest of us, and more.

The say we have in this is limited to voting for (and cajoling thereafter) candidates who best represent our views. Note that investing in the stock market is participating in a lightly (apparently) regulated free market, while paying taxes is a result of representative democracy. In both cases, the outcomes of choices we make leave no one to blame but ourselves.

If you invest in stock, you are given a prospectus, a document that outlines the background and performance of what you are about to invest in. When choosing a candidate, you are given puffed up ads, platforms, and their word--pretty thin stuff, comparatively.

When you invest, you can pull your money out, if you don't like the direction the stock is going (at some cost, to be sure), in a democracy, you have to wait between 2 and 4 years and continue to pay taxes regardless.

If the stock market gets into trouble, one of two things happens--it "corrects" itself or it gets "bailed out". When the government gets into trouble, we foot the bill.

In the final tally, if the stock market fails, we would be seriously hurting, but the "investor class" more than others. If our government fails us by using our taxes unwisely, we all are cooked.

Saturday, September 27

Open Debate to Debate

With all the drama leading up to the presidential debate last night in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I was looking forward to the discussion of foreign policy. I was surprised to hear so much of the debate focusing on the economy, and happy it was put on the front burner by moderator Jim Lehrer. In my estimation, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama actually addressed what they would carve away from their federal budget proposals to address the money being loaned to the banks, the automakers, AIG, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and so on--in addition to funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is one reason why I hope, in future years, that presidential debates will be open to, at the very least, to any candidate who is on enough state ballots to win the electoral votes needed to be president--this would have allowed the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and independent candidates like Ralph Nader to join in the fun and give the American public a chance to hear from candidates who are not debating so cautiously and, therefore, may present more innovative ideas.

For instance, had Cynthia McKinney have been there, we would have heard about her plans for an immediate withdrawal of troops and contractors from Iraq, no war with Iran. and a cutoff for all war funding.

Additionally, McKinney might reinfoce her proposals that Congress:
1. Enactment of a foreclosure moratorium now before the next phase of ARM interest rate increases take effect;
2. elimination of all ARM mortgages and their renegotiation into 30- or 40-year loans;
3. establishment of new mortgage lending practices to end predatory and discriminatory practices;
4. establishment of criteria and construction goals for affordable housing;
5. redefinition of credit and regulation of the credit industry so that discriminatory practices are completely eliminated;
6. full funding for initiatives that eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in home ownership;
7. recognition of shelter as a right according to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to which the U.S. is a signatory so that no one sleeps on U.S. streets;
8. full funding of a fund designed to cushion the job loss and provide for retraining of those at the bottom of the income scale as the economy transitions;
9. close all tax loopholes and repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% of income earners; and
10. fairly tax corporations, denying federal subsidies to those who relocate jobs overseas repeal NAFTA.
11. Appointment of former Comptroller General David Walker to fully audit all recipients of taxpayer cash infusions, including JP Morgan, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, and to monitor their trading activities into the future;
12. elimination of all derivatives trading;
13. nationalization of the Federal Reserve and the establishment of a federally-owned, public banking system that makes credit available for small businesses, homeowners, manufacturing operations, renewable energy and infrastructure investments; and
14. criminal prosecution of any activities that violated the law, including conflicts of interest that led to the current crisis.

If Ralph Nader had been there he'd have likely added: An end to personhood for corporations. repeal of Taft-Hartley Labor Bill, reduction of the military budget, creating a National Initiative system, (i.e., for issues people feel strongly about—health care, the war in Iraq, election laws—people can force a national vote on a proposal for change.

If Bob Barr were invited, he might talk about the National Taxpayer Union study that found his party would be the only one to substantially reduce the federal budget and that the bulk of Barr's spending cuts comes from withdrawing troops from Iraq ($92.4 billion in annual savings) and eliminating the Department of Education ($92.4 billion in annual savings).

Having said this, the debate between McCain and Obama could be seen as a victory for either candidate with Obama benefitting from the lowered expectation based on the perception that foreign policy is McCain's strong suit. Additionally, McCain's energy level was significantly lower than Obama's, giving me the perception that the rigors of the presidency might better be handled by a the younger, more focused Obama.

McCain did have moments of extreme clarity and certainly made his points with the kind of historical knowledge that former US Representative Jim Leach favors. Whether this knowledge was a positive would depend on the age of the voter.

Still, I wondered where was the discussion of foreign aid to areas like Darfur, renewing the commitment to AIDS and malaria aid to Africa, their views on closing Guantanamo, our tenuous relations with governments in Central America, and our conditions for entering into a global climate change reduction compact?

Granted an hour and a half was not much time, but the back and forth on some issues could have been better moderated by Lehrer to allow more time for other important issues.

Wednesday, September 24

Clarion Fund Yelling "Fire" in the Theater?

When I first posted this story, I had no idea the intense reaction that would come from the blogosphere. I do not profess to be a full-tilt (or even half tilt) investigative reporter and this story truly needs at least one serious (does this for a living) journalist (Seymour Hersh, Bob Woodward, hello!) to dig to the bottom of this mess. Still, it is gratifying to hear reactions to it both positive and negative--believe it or not.

Now, for the record, I do not disregard the dangers of "fanatics" of any stripe. I believe there are organized fanatics out there who could/would do people harm--and they may as likely to be Evangelical, Christian, Jewish, or any other group except perhaps, Buddhists and Quakers, as they are to be Muslim. But, just as likely, there are people with hidden agendas that run around like Chicken Little telling us the sky is falling. Respectfully I say, we've already seen what telling a lie over and over can get us-- Good Morning, Iraq!

However, and not to be flippant at all, since we are talking about the biggest fear that people can imagine--terrorists trying to kill us where we live, it doesn't hurt to use mathematical logic to point out the statistical likelihood of this happening.
President Bush likes to point out that there have not been terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11/2001. That is slightly over 7 years ago. Before that, the last terrorist attack in the US was in 1995 (not a Muslim but an ex-U.S. Army private, Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City). Before that, the last organized attack by a radical Muslim was in 1993 (masterminded) by Ramzi Yousef at the WTC. In all three of these episodes, the total number of persons killed was 3390. Of course, on a purely sociological level, this is 3390 people too many.

However statistically, this means that the likelihood of a person being killed by a terrorist in the US for this 15 year period has been .001115% or 1.1 people in 100,000. For comparison, put this side-by-side with dying an accidental death (The Center for Disease Control nomenclature for traffic accidents, poisoning [mainly drug-related], falls, and suffocation) in any state in the US (which varied by state between 1999-2004 between by20 to 68 in 100,000).

I haven't seen a DVD being sent out to warn people of the "terrorism" of bath tubs, garden hoses, or plastic dry cleaning bags. Center for Disease Control, have you no decency?

And what about this group's right to say what they say? Yelling "fire" in a theater when there isn't one has been ruled by the Supreme Court as a reason to limit free speech. The storyline from the film does its best to convince us that the US "theater" is in clear and present danger from radical Islamic "fire". Is it true, is it not true--that is the unknown. But propaganda is allowable free speech, just as beer ads implying the foamy stuff will make you popular or sexy is okey-dokey.

Free speech tends to err on the side of doubt. So while I do appreciate the St. Louis Dispatch and the Greensboro News and Record who have chosen not to distribute the film-- I would rather a modernized Fairness Doctrine that addresses the print media, so that the papers who ran this "advertisement" would be obliged to provide other sides of the story (and I don't mean flaming letters to the editor)-- pro bono. After all, newspapers may try to protect free speech, but they don't feel bad for charging for it either!

And there are people trying to dispell the myth of the movie. Thanks to a comment I received from regarding my earlier blog entry, there is another place to learn more about the Clarion Fund's "Obsession" film. I certainly applaud the efforts of this diverse, mostly religious group to address the fiction and hate that is framed in this "documentary".

Take the Journey

The good people of PEACE Iowa will hold an event that shouldn't be missed no matter what you think, believe, or know about the Israeli/Arab relations.

Susan Nathan to discuss "My Journey Across the Jewish-Arab Divide"
Followed by Q & A and an interfaith panel discussion
Sunday, October 5, 7:00 pm
Old Brick Auditorium - 26 E. Market St., Iowa City

Popular Israeli author, Susan Nathan, was born in England and as a child was deeply affected by visits to her father's native country of South Africa. Nathan moved to Israel as an adult following the Jewish Law of Return. Her book, The Other Side of Israel, has been hailed as a roadmap for crossing a divide created by prejudices and misunderstandings.

"My belief that being Jewish entails certain responsibilities arose from [my] childhood," she writes. "It is precisely because of my personal history that I find myself in conflict with my Jewish/Israeli identity and the politics of my country's government."

After Ms. Nathan speaks, members of an interfaith panel (Jewish, Muslim, Christian) will respond and join Ms. Nathan for a question and answer session.

Ms Nathan's lecture is sponsored by PEACE Iowa, Consultation of Religious Communities, and Soul Friends

Free will donations will be accepted at the door.

Here's an article that might be of interest.

CLEAN Elections in the House!

What do we want? public financed elections! When do we want them? Now!

If we've learned anything from the banking crisis, lobbyists rule in Washington. Thankfully people like Dick Durbin, Arlen Spector, John Larson and Walter Jones Jr. (and I don't agree him on much) are marching down the aisle with the Fair Elections Now Act bill.

Public Campaign Action reports:
Another big day for Fair Elections in Congress. This morning Rep. John Larson (D-CT), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC) introduced the House version of the Fair Elections Now Act (HB 7022). This bill is the counterpart to the Fair Elections Now Act (2 1285) introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA). This bicameral, bipartisan coalition in support of full public financing for congressional races represents a big step forward for our efforts.

We've had bills introduced in the past that would have brought public financing to Congress, but never have we had this united, bipartisan effort that would establish the gold-standard Fair and Clean Elections programs that have been successful in seven states and two cities in Congress.

Monday, September 22

Schmear Campaign? Dirty Tricks Are Underway

According to Utne Reader:

Jews in Pennsylvania and Florida have been receiving deceptive political phone calls asking: Would it affect your voting choice to learn that “Barack Obama called for holding a summit of Muslim nations excluding Israel if elected president?” What if you learned that “the leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yousef, expressed support for Obama and his hope for Obama's victory?”

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic received one of these misleading calls and tried to dig up who was behind the smear. The supervisor gave the name Central Marketing Research Inc., but would give little information beyond that. Ben Smith of the Politico got reports that the phone calls came from "Research Strategies" and were directed at people in the traditionally Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and in Key West, Florida.

The phone calls have been called “push polling” by a number of news organizations. Some have pointed out the similarities between the phone calls against Obama and the smears that hurt John McCain campaign in the 2000 election. David Kurtz, writing for Talking Points Memo, points out that the polls seem to be part of a real opinion poll “testing the effect of fear-mongering about Obama on Jewish voters,” rather than a traditional push poll. In either case, the smear seems to indicate that as distasteful as things have gotten in this election, they’re probably going to get worse.

UPDATE: The Politico’s Ben Smith reports that the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group behind other Obama attack ads, has taken responsibility for the poll.

No Bailout Without Equity and Oversight!

Credo Action has a deal for you:

Can you take two minutes to call Senator Reid and ask him to oppose the bailout unless it includes equity and oversight?

This process is short, easy, and makes a big difference. Here's how it works:

Call 1-888-426-0462. That's CREDO's toll-free action line — we'll connect you to Senator Reid's office.
When you get connected to Senator Reid's office, you'll have the option to leave him a voice message right away. Please leave him a message asking him to reject the Wall Street bailout unless it includes an equity stake for taxpayers, opposes golden parachutes for CEOs, imposes a moratorium on all Wall Street campaign contributions and PAC activity, strengthens regulations and oversights for the banking industry, and helps Americans in danger of losing their homes. A bailout without these sensible provisions is just plain irresponsible. We can't afford to give the Bush Administration another blank check.
If you don't want to leave a message, you'll also have the option to wait on the line to speak to a staff member. Your hold time may be several minutes, but if you have the time to wait, we encourage you to do so. (See talking points below for live conversations — or longer messages!)

And that's the whole process! We want to flood Senator Reid's office with messages to make sure he knows that if he caves on this issue, we will hold him accountable.

Call 1-888-426-0462 right now to be connected to Senator Reid.

Then, when you're done, can you get five friends involved?

Sunday, September 21

Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen Readers React to "Obsession"

Letter writers who were appalled by the DVD, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" submitted letter to both the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen. One writer, Ken Gayley said, "was appalled that my local newspaper, which I expect to supply balanced reporting, included a propaganda DVD, "Obsession," with the obvious intention of fanning the flames of hatred and fear, with zero effort to be balanced (not a single dissenting view was presented anywhere in the film, so the purpose was obviously not truth seeking -- which requires considering expert opinions from multiple sides of the question)."

James L. Fritz of Decorah wrote to the Des Moines Register "This DVD connects modern Jihadi to Nazi Germany ideologues. It attempts to scare us into a paranoiac approach to our place in the world.

While I do not deny that terrorism is a real threat, and feel strongly that we must all prepare to deal with it, this is a blatant attempt to frighten us into our own brand of Western militancy. The last eight years of the Bush doctrine have taught us the consequences of stirring the hornets' nest of militant Islam in the Middle East. Saber rattling, "shock and awe" and cowboy diplomacy have only fueled hatred of the United States in the Islamic world and threatened our long-term security here at home."

Mark Kane of Des Moines asks a great question in his letter to the Register, "What did the Register ask to know about the Clarion Fund Inc. before agreeing to insert the DVD?"

Wal-Mart Group to Hold Press Conference and Hope for the Best

Gary Sanders, leader of Iowa City Stop Wal-Mart is holding a press conference on Tuesday. Sanders has been a leading advocate against the labor and business practices of Wal-Mart since the 1980's.

The Iowa City Council has had two readings of the ordinance that would allow Wal-Mart to expand in its current location by purchasing other existing business properties and expanding their store to encompass 190,000 square feet. Planning and Zoning commissioners worked diligently within their limitations and caused Wal-Mart to upgrade their construction plans to meet community standards. Iowa City does not have a Big Box Ordinance that limits the size of stores, but does have design standards which the Planning and Zoning Commission enforced. However, now the City Council has to approve the plan and Planning and Zoning recommendations are just one criteria.

At issue for the Iowa City Council is whether allowing this plan to go through is in the "best interest" of the community. Wake Up Wal-Mart, a group that is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, claims it is not. For instance, Chinese products which make up 70% of Wal-Marts products have had so many safety issues that on several occasions, Wal-Mart and other chains have had to remove them from their shelves. Also, Wal-Mart's treatment of employees has led to many lawsuits, a prominent one was in Minnesota and involved Wal-Mart not paying workers for work breaks.

On Tuesday, Nancy Braun, a lead plaintiff in a $2 billion lawsuit against Wal-Mart for denying work breaks on a massive scale will hold a press conference at the Iowa City Rec Center in meeting room A at 1 pm. According to Sanders, "Ms. Braun will talk about her experiences in her 7 year struggle for justice since the lawsuit was filed".

Later that night the Iowa City city council will be voting for a 3d and final time on approval of Wal-Mart's request for a change in a conditional zoning agreement that would allow Wal-Mart to construct a SuperCenter where their present store is located on Highway 1 West.

In past votes, six of the council members have voted to approve the project, while only one, Mike Wright, opposed it saying he had doubts that Wal-Mart would be a good corporate citizen.

Saturday, September 20

Be a Clarion for the Environment - Recycle your "Obsession"

If you are environmentally-conscious, send the Clarion Fund "Obsession" DVD's to:

The Compact Disc Recycling Center of America
68H Stiles Road
Salem, NH 03079

or learn more about recycling CD's, DVD's, etc. go to: http://epa.gov/osw/education/pdfs/finalposter.pdf

Bailing Out Businesses or Burying the Rest of Us?

The shoring up of mortgage mastodons Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the $85 billion loan to insurance giant AIG, along with the new "plan" to bail out the banks in the spirit of the Resolution Savings and Trust scheme to the tune of $500 billion to $1 trillion has got me sick to my stomach. The price tag alone should make every taxpayer wretch, as we are the one's paying the bill (and our children, and their children, and their childrens' children). This is a time when we should really question the relevancy of a two party system, when both the Republicans and Democrats decide that banks are more important than the folks who'll end up paying the bill.

To personalize it a little bit, before I was laid-off in May, I entered a Debt Management Plan to payoff old credit card debts. I ran through my severance pay and most of our liquid savings to continue making our payments. When I tried to renegotiate the sum, I was told by a representative of one our esteemed large banks that they would not help, and one of our credit counselors told me "they don't care if you go into bankruptcy, they are insured".

I grant you that the financial markets are in a much bigger jam than I am, but ask yourself how they got there? Did you ask them to take the money you pay in interest on your homes, turn it around, and encourage people to buy houses who couldn't realistically afford them? Did you ask them to charge interest rates in the lower 30% range. Bad management practices should be rewarded with $34.4 million in compensation for Lehman Brothers CEO, Richie Fuld (with the top five officers making a jawdropping $81 million), or AIG's Bob Willumstad who will leave with $7 million for three month's work?

And I am not wholly unsympathetic to the thousands of financial industry workers, particularly those who served to support the bigwigs, who came up with the lunkhead schemes, and then were kicked to the curb. It must be very difficult to live in communities where so many have been hurt by your firms and to find yourself in the same boat-- and having to pay for it!

The curious thing is now the federal government "owns" majority shares in Freddie and Fannie and AIG--what is it going to do with all these bad investments?

Now I am working to pay off my debts in full. I was raised to honor your commitments and debts. It is sad to me that while I'm paying off my debts, I'll have to pay off those of the CEO's too. Maybe we need to file a class action lawsuit against the government,as "investors," to get our money back.

Thursday, September 18

Taxing Our Patience

FactCheck demystifies another of John McCain's erroneous campaign ads.

There He Goes Again
September 18, 2008
McCain ad misrepresents Obama's tax plan. Again.
The McCain-Palin campaign has released a new ad that once again distorts Obama's tax plans.

* The ad claims Obama will raise taxes on electricity. He hasn't proposed any such tax. Obama does support a cap-and-trade policy that would raise the costs of electricity, but so does McCain.

* It falsely claims he would tax home heating oil. Actually, Obama proposed a rebate of up to $1,000 per family to defray increased heating oil costs, funded by what he calls a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

* The ad claims that Obama will tax "life savings." In fact, he would increase capital gains and dividends taxes only for couples earning more than $250,000 per year, or singles making $200,000. For the rest, taxes on investments would remain unchanged.

The McCain campaign argues in its documentation for this ad that, whatever Obama says he would do, he will eventually be forced to break his promise and raise taxes more broadly to pay for his promised spending programs. That's an opinion they are certainly entitled to express, and to argue for. But their ad doesn't do that. Instead, it simply presents the McCain camp's opinion as a fact, and it fails to alert viewers that its claims are based on what the campaign thinks might happen in the future.

More at FactCheck.

Can You Believe It? Women Against Sarah Palin

As you might imagine, not ALL women are supporting the assent of Sarah Palin purely because she is, as Samantha Bee of the Daily Show put it, a "Vagina-American." Thanks to a friend, I've learned about a new blog site called "Women Against Sarah Palin" started by Quinn Latimer and Lyra Kilston, who by day, are editors of the magazine Modern Painters and they have a petition that states:

Sarah Palin's record is anti-woman. Feminism is not simply about achieving the power and status typically held by men. It's about protecting and supporting the rights of women of all classes, races, cultures, and beliefs. Palin's record and beliefs do not align with this. She was chosen by John McCain specifically because he believes that American women will vote for any female candidate regardless of their qualifications. He is wrong.

There is more about them and the site at ABC's Political Radar.

This is not to be confused with the website Women Against Sarah Palin which had some interesting facts about Palin, but it is not clear who is behind the site.

Media Parroting Unbearable for Nader

This is why Ralph Nader continues to be relevant regarding electoral politics even as he runs as an Independent in 45 states. From CNN:

Watch Nader's actual ad:

Seeing Green

With the passing of Peter Camejo, one of the Green Party (in California) founders and perennial candidate, a moment of reflection is due. I wonder why the Green Party isn't getting any press in this election cycle? After all, it is the only party running a ticket headed by two women (of color, no less), For Georgia U.S. Rep. Cynthia Mckinney and Rosa Clemente.

Here is a video produced by one of their supporters:

Here is McKinney at her tenacious best:

Whether or not people vote Green, Independent, Republican or Democrat, it would be great for McKinney, Nader, Barr, McCain, and Obama to debate together or at least have town hall meetings--then the electorate would have the best opportunity to be informed to decide what is in our best interest.

Wednesday, September 17

Top 10 Campaign Viral Videos

I have to admit that I don't keep up with all the "YouTube" like videos out there. Fortunately Alternet does. Here's a sample of a couple of them.

Here's the rest.

Economists Favor Obama

Dilbert creator Scott Adams, who claims to "lean Libertarian, minus the crazy stuff" commissioned an independent study by The OSR Group, "a respected national public opinion and marketing research company." of the American Economics Association and learned that economists in this esteemed group, on the whole, tended to favor Barack Obama's policies over those of John McCain's on issues most of importance to them. Most economists are male and registered as either Democrats or Independents. The survey sample was made up of:

48% Democrats
17% Republicans
27% Independents
3% Libertarian
5% Other or not registered

According to the report summary:

By a margin of 60-32%, economists believe Barack Obama would be better than John McCain at making progress on the issues that are most important to the economy. (The remaining 8% see no difference between the candidates on this measure.)

By an almost identical margin (59-31%), economists think Obama would be best for the economy overall, over the long term. (Ten percent say there would be no difference between the candidates.)

If the election were held today, 66% of the economists would favor Obama and 28% would favor McCain. (Six percent would favor someone else.)

The economists surveyed ranked these issues as most important (The percentages indicate how many rated each issue eight or higher on a scale of 1-10.):

71 percent -- Education
67 percent -- Health care
62 percent -- International trade
60 percent -- Energy
58 percent -- Encouraging technology and innovation
58 percent -- Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and homeland security
52 percent -- Mortgage and housing crisis
49 percent -- Social Security
45 percent -- Environmental policy
39 percent -- Reducing the deficit
37 percent -- Immigration
29 percent -- Increasing the proportion of taxes paid by the wealthy
28 percent -- Reducing waste in government
16 percent -- Tax relief for the middle class
15 percent -- Reducing capital gains tax
14 percent -- Extending unemployment insurance
13 percent -- Extending and strengthening the unemployment insurance system
13 percent -- Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation
11 percent -- Reforming bankruptcy laws
9 percent -- Eliminating the estate tax

This is who they felt would do a better job with the highest ranked issues:

Here is the whole report which is in a Dibert-worthy PowerPoint presentation.

Real Dangerous Obsession: Religious Fundamentalism or Politics of Fear

Thanks to hundreds of people who have found and commented on my blog entries about the Clarion Fund and the DVD they have sent to 28 million households, this has led to thinking about points that have been raised about the film.

Is there a danger in Muslim "radical extremism"? You bet. Any group that calls for the death of other people is a threat to be taken seriously. The same can be said for extremists of any religion (The KKK was, and presumably still is, a extreme "christian" group, as are the followers of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church). The inherent danger though is to lump all Muslims (or any religion)together, as happened in my community when a Muslim group tried to start-up a youth camp a couple of years ago and were treated as if they were trying to open an Al Qaeda training camp.

There is also a danger in declaring that the sky is falling which this documentary clearly wants us to believe is true. I grant you that there is often a fine line between being vigilant and being Chicken Little. Still, the goal of this group is to instill knee-knocking fear about radical extremists and affecting the upcoming election.

Then is it a political football that is being kicked around? Most assuredly. By targeting voters in key electoral areas, the Clarion Fund is, by proxy, pushing an agenda that is partisan. Republicans love surrogates to remind voters that they are the one's to trust when it comes to fighting terrorism (certainly polls reflect this belief). This group, though, is a special interest group--they are clearly concerned that if the US takes it's eyes off the Middle East that Israel will be imperiled, that Muslim extremism, like the so-called Domino Effect in Indochina during the post-WW II years, will roll from nation to nation in the Middle East.

The thing that most troubles me is that key folks in this group are foreign nationals. These folks are telling us to beware of other foreigners--curiouser and curiouser, don't you think? If interests outside the U.S. are allowed through fear tactics to influence the outcome of an election in this manner, what does it say about our "national security"?

I hope that the same newspapers that accepted this DVD/advertising supplement will use their resources to investigate this group and find out who's behind it and to what end. Failing to do this would, I'm afraid, say that they are more beholden to advertisers than to the public interest.

Ehrenreich Book a Pre-Election "Must Read"

For people who dispair that there is no one filling Molly Ivins Texas-sized boots, Barbara Ehrenreich's latest "This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation", a collection of essays, combines the wit of Ivins and facts and statistics to make a compelling case for why change is so essential in this election.

Ehrenreich, a frequent contributor to The Progressive and author of "Nickeled and Dimed" carves a needed niche between a pure frothing left and a pandering right in talking about issues that matter to many Americans. Each essay is a gem and Ehrenreich uses humor and facts to convey that the feces has seriously hit the fan for many in the working classes.

At under 250 pages, this should be required reading for voters as they weigh what's at stakes in November.

Taxes of Evil?

This is the graphic I've been waiting to see, a side-by-side comparison of the income tax plans proposed by camps McCain and Obama (Thanks to Sheila O.K. for sending this my way from the Washington Post). As you can see, the McCain plan provides tax "relief" to all Americans, but the Obama plan provides the most relief to the middle and low income brackets. In essence, the Obama plan creates parity for those who have been shouldering the Bush (and presumably continued by McCain) induced tax-cuts.

Truthout says:

According to the recent Tax Policy Center study, both candidates' plans would increase the national debt. However, Obama wins here on the fiscal conservation front: McCain's proposal would cost the Treasury $3.7 trillion, while Obama's would cash in at $2.7 trillion.

The power of the purse ultimately rests with Congress, and neither candidate would be able to singlehandedly change the course of economic policy upon taking office. Still, when it comes to taxes, Obama and McCain would guide the country in sharply different directions.

Tuesday, September 16

Women in Politics: 51% of the Population, 16% Elected

In one of those silly season, you-gotta-be-kidding-me moments, some of Hillary Clinton's primary supporters are convinced that they need to send a message to the Democratic party because they feel dissed for Clinton neither being the party's choice and for a raw deal for women in the party generally.

I have a hard time imagining what the message will be if these dissidents help elect the person who is likely to replace up to three Supreme Court justices with strict "Constitutionalists", who will likely make reproductive choice even more difficult to maintain, who has no record of supporting worker's rights (women or men) and whose running mate made rape victims pay for their own investigations.

If this is the road to parity you seek, Sisters, you can have it.

But, if the argument is that there should be more women in elected office past the state level, I support this. After all, Iowa is one of three states (Mississippi and Vermont being the others), that has never sent a qualified woman to Congress--though the same can be said for African-Americans and Native-Americans too. But, if you want to look at party politics, in 2008, there are 75 women (out of 315)holding statewide elective office: 45 are Democrats, 27 are Republicans and 3 are non-partisan. There are 5 women Democrats and 3 Republicans who are governors.

In the bigger picture, women are highly under-represented. Women hold 87, or 16.3%, of the 535 seats in the 110th US Congress
— 16, or 16.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate
- 71, or 16.3%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
In addition, three women serve as Delegates to the House from Guam, the Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.

Among the parties, women outnumber men in the Democratic party and men outnumber women in the Republican party. In 2004, D's were 39% women and 31% men, R's were 28% omen and 30% men--the source doesn't say what the other odd percentage were

If people want something constructive to do, organize and support women running for public office--although you might want to support the one's that will support you.

Monday, September 15

A Modern Peaceable Kingdom

My mother-in-law sent me this one. I definitely like the message it sends.

Patty Judgemental?

Check out these comparisons by Lt. Governor Patty Judge of herself and Gov. Sarah Palin at the Harkin Steak Fry last night (as reported by Iowa Politics)

Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge spent the most time talking about Palin. She began by joking that she’s heard people try to draw parallels between the female governor and herself and said she wanted to highlight the distinctions in their public service record.

“I’ve been elected twice to the Iowa state Senate, I’ve been elected twice as the first woman in the state to serve as secretary of agriculture, and two years ago I was elected lieutenant governor to serve with my great friend Chet Culver,” Judge said. “So count ‘em up: Sarah, less than two years; Patty, 16 years.”

She went on to highlight the differences in their policy stances.

“Sarah and I are both girls. We both wear glasses. We both have families that we’re very proud of. But Sarah does not believe in a woman’s right to reproductive choice and I do. Sarah doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work and I do. Sarah doesn’t believe in a solid science-based education as the foundation of truth and learning and I do,” Judge said. “Sarah is taking a job that will put her within a heartbeat of the presidency of my country, and that scares me to death.”

Judge also poked fun at the details that have become widely noted and reported about the array of outdoor activities Palin enjoys in rural Alaska.

“Sarah knows how to field-dress a moose. I know how to castrate a calf. Neither of those things has anything at all to do with this election. But since we know so much about Sarah’s special skills, I wanted to make sure you knew about mine too,” she said.

Floyd Co-Founder Becomes a Them

As rock music is the people's music, it is always sad to report another entry into Rock 'n Roll Heaven, but Richard Wright, keyboardist extraordinaire and founding member of Pink Floyd has left the planet at age 65. He may be best remembered for "Us and Them" and the great keyboard textures behind such tunes as "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

By the way, which one is "Pink"?

Energy Insecurity in South America

Not that we need more energy insecure issues to think about, but with recent pipeline sabotage in Bolivia impacting the natural gas production there, leaders in South America are scrambling to find diplomatic solutions to worsening conditions within this energy rich nation. Despite a highly popular leader (leftist/populist leader Evo Morales recently was given a confidence vote by 67% of Bolivians), Evo Morales has been treading thin water with leaders of the natural gas rich eastern region of the country, who are afraid that they will have to contribute to a social security program for workers over the age of 60 and more afraid that their stranglehold on production land will be endangered by the left-leaning government.

Evo Morales is locked in a bitter standoff with right-wing opposition governors who are pushing for autonomy. This has led to insurrection in parts of Bolivia leaving at least 30 protesters on both sides of the conflict dead.

Brazil, the most populous nation in South America, is dependent on Bolivia to supply about half of its natural gas needs and has had that supply cut in half by Bolivia's decision to close crucial pipelines last week.

More from the NY Times.

More Links to the Clarion Fund

Since posting about the Clarion Fund and the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West”, I have received more comments about this story than any other single posting I've made. As I appreciate the work that other bloggers do (and take the time to point out), I will point out some other places to learn more:

Pupaganda opines about the Clarion Fund, "Indeed, although this lack of information, apparently deliberate, does not hide the obvious fact the neocons are behind the Clarion Fund. As the video clip above reveals, the unmistakable neocon imprimatur is all over this propaganda DVD."

Literal Mayhem
points out that the attorney of record for the group, Eli D. Greenberg via Open Secrets gave a donation of $2,000 to John Edwards in 2003 (of course, it is not unheard of attorneys to donate to other attorneys). But he raises the specter that this is reverse "dirty tricks"--giving the appearance that it is one side that is doing it and funding it from the other side--a long reach, but worth looking into.

eaazi has more about the Clarion Fund "team".

Richard Silverstein
has an interesting take as well.

Saturday, September 13

McCain-Palin's Oil Slick

According to non-partisan group FactCheck, Sarah Palin inflated the energy contribution of her state when she was interviewed by ABC.

In the exchange, the Alaska governor misstated a basic fact about her state's energy production:

Palin: Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that's with the energy independence that I've been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy, that I worked on as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, overseeing the oil and gas development in our state to produce more for the United States.

It's simply untrue that Alaska produces anything close to 20 percent of the U.S. "energy supply," a term that is generally defined as energy consumed. That category includes power produced in the U.S. by nuclear, coal, hydroelectric dams and other means – as well as all the oil imported into the country.

Palin would have been correct to say that Alaska produces just over 14 percent of all the oil produced in the U.S., leaving out imports and leaving out other forms of power. According to the federal government's Energy Information Administration, Alaskan wells produced 263.6 million barrels of oil in 2007, or 14.3 percent of the total U.S. production of 1.8 billion barrels.

But Alaskan production accounts for only 4.8 percent of all the crude oil and petroleum products supplied to the U.S. in 2007, counting both domestic production and imports from other nations. According to EIA, the total supply was just over 5.5 billion barrels in 2007.

Furthermore, Palin said "energy," not "oil," so she was actually much further off the mark. According to EIA, Alaska actually produced 2,417.1 trillion BTUs [British Thermal Units] of energy in 2005, the last year for which full state numbers are available. That's equal to just 3.5 percent of the country's domestic energy production.

And according to EIA analyst Paul Hess, that would calculate to only "2.4 percent of the 100,368.6 trillion BTUs the U.S. consumes."

Palin didn't make clear whether she was talking about Alaska's share of all the energy produced in the U.S. or all the energy consumed here. Either way, she was wrong.

And John McCain was off the mark too.

Sen. John McCain has also has used this inflated, incorrect figure. On Sept. 3, McCain told ABC News' Gibson:

McCain: Well, I think Americans are going to be very, very, very pleased. This is a very dynamic person. [Palin's] been governor of our largest state, in charge of 20 percent of America's energy supply.

McCain repeated the false figure more recently, in a September 11 interview with Portland, Maine, news station WCSH6.

Footnote: When we asked the McCain campaign where the 20 percent figure came from, we were referred to the Web site of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc, a group that says it promotes development of Alaska's natural resources. It states:

Alaska Resource Development Council: Alaska's oil and gas industry has produced more than 16 billion barrels of oil and 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas, accounting for an average of 20 percent of the entire nation's domestic production.

Rape Victims Billed for Treatment Under Palin

In a state that, according to the AP, "routinely has the nation's highest rate of sexual assault," (2.2 times higher than the national average)one city charged rape victims to cover the cost of rape kits and forensic investigations to the tune of $300 to $1200.

When Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, the city billed sexual assault victims and their insurance companies for the cost of rape kits and forensic examinations.

Palin had been in office for four years when the practice of charging rape victims got the attention of state lawmakers in 2000, who passed a bill to stop the practice.

Former Democratic Rep. Eric Croft, who sponsored that bill, said he was disappointed that simply asking the Wasilla police department to stop didn't work. Croft said he doubts she was unaware of the practice.

Lawmakers became involved in 2000 when reports began coming in that police departments were charging sexual assault victims for the kits and the forensic exams, which cost from $300 to $1,200 at the time. The kit, a package of sample containers, swabs and other medical supplies, is used to collect evidence from women after they are attacked.

Then-Gov. Tony Knowles said Thursday that Wasilla was unique in the state in charging rape victims for the cost of doing the law enforcement necessary for solving the crime.

And there's more from the Huffington Post

Clarion Fund Puts Lipstick on Terrorism Pig Documentary

Who is the "Clarion Fund" and why is it paying for placing 28 million copies of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" DVD's in swing state newspapers?

The Clarion Fund, who's website only identifies the group as "a 501(c)(3) organization. We are independent and do not accept funding from the U.S. Government, political institutions, or foreign organizations." It does not identify who it's board of directors are, but says it's "mission is to educate Americans about issues of national security." Their focus "is on the most urgent threat of radical Islam. By utilizing the following three mediums, Clarion Fund is helping Americans understand that the mainstream media is not adequately conveying the reality of radical Islam."

Through some web digging, I was able to identify three players, Raphael Shore who is a Canadian citizen who is the producer/co-writer of the film and founder of the Clarion Fund, Wayne Kopping, a South African national, the director and co-writer and Gregory Ross, who is the communications director of this New York based non-profit group. Ross was "originally from Los Angeles and have lived overseas for many years. I moved back to LA from New York after 9-11, and a stint on Wall Street, and started working in the Hollywood Entertainment community." Ross does not disclose how the film was produced, but is quoted as saying "The film was financed by a concerned citizen who has a long standing relationship with our organization. The cost was under $500k and it took over a year to complete." Something about this group doesn't pass the smell test, particularly when no information is available about its donors and board of directors.

Maybe most concerning about this film is that, according to Ross "I know that the U.S. Department of the Navy uses the film and that it has also been shown on Capitol Hill on many occasions in order to education politicians. We have also screened it at countless universities and colleges. However we are unsure as to if it is being used in their curriculums – we certainly hope it is." A film that

By law, 501(c)(3) organizations are not permitted to engage in political activity, endorse or oppose political candidates, or donate money or time to political campaigns, so it was surprising to learn that there was an article on the group's new Web site, www.radicalislam.org, that backed Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The article discussed both candidates and concludes:

"McCain's policies seek to confront radical Islamic extremism and terrorism and roll it back while [Barack] Obama's, although intending to do the same, could in fact make the situation facing the West even worse."

According to Clarion Fund director of communications Gregory Ross, the article "crossed the line" and was removed.

Gregory Ross also said in an interview with Frontpage magazine, a right-wing online publication, "we are just a few weeks from completely our next documentary, “The Third Jihad” - though it is not a sequel. This new film will take a look at radical Islam’s activities here in the U.S. We should be releasing the film in early October. So stay tuned."

Stay tuned indeed, as this group tries to scare voters with their own form of psychological terrorism.

Why Not Town Hall Meetings in All 50 States?

To bring a higher tone back to the presidential race and to give the electorate the best chance to inform themselves about where candidates stand on the issues that matter to them as voters, why don't Barack Obama, John McCain, Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, and Ralph Nader visit all the states where they are on the ballot and have a townhall meeting in each one? It would give every voter up to 50 opportunities to learn where each candidate stands and gives each candidate up to 50 opportunities a chance to state their case.

In exchange for this commitment, each campaign would agree to not run any negative ads or allow their campaigns to engage in push polling or viral campaigns and would voice their opposition to 527 groups running negative ads, push polling, or engaging in viral campaigns.

If this would happen, it is likely we would see the largest turnout of voters in the history of the US.

John McCain has pushed to have such meetings and it is the right thing to do.

Friday, September 12

To Serve With Love

Watching both Senators McCain and Obama discuss national service yesterday demonstrated that there are things that people can agree on that defy party lines. Certainly service that meets needs of those who can't do it all for themselves betters us all. As a community activist, I value what a small group of people can do to educate, raise awareness, and affect public policy. As a volunteer to organizations that provide food to those who are food insecure and shelter to those who wouldn't otherwise have a place to go, I have seen how people who may disagree wildly about the role of government can effectively work together for the greater good.

Service to others taps into the best nature of human kind, not only in times of disaster, but also in the times of political lethargy or where there is ongoing need. The delicate nature of social support systems is tried time and again by shifts in political policies and is only laced together by people seeing there is a problem and working together to fix it. Having public policy and private largess come together is in the best interest of all of us.

I applaud the idea that service is imparted to children and that we use resources to allow our citizens to reach out to others in need both in our country and elsewhere. As Americans, we can be proud of our willingness to be of help and sacrifice.

Having said all this, I support national service that leads to peaceful outcomes. I value the service of those who choose to become soldiers, but I hope that foreign service can lead to better understanding among people and eventually lessen the need for military interventions.

Sunday, September 7

Look What Got Slipped in the New Energy Reform Act

Congress will come back from summer recess, and immediately consider energy legislation. These bills, which would allow offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf as a supposed response to high gasoline prices, also contain massive taxpayer subsidies for the nuclear power industry.

Introduced a month ago, the “New Energy Reform Act of 2008” has not yet been put in legislative form and still lacks a bill number. The plan is sponsored by such bipartisan pro-nuclear Senators as Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

The subsidies – ranging between $87 billion and $166 billion would pay for: increasing the number of Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff to expedite new reactor licensing; authorizing “risk insurance” for nuclear utilities if the startup of their new reactors is delayed for any reason; training nuclear workers; supporting the re-establishment of a U.S. industrial infrastructure for manufacturing large nuclear components such as reactor pressure vessels; and building a demonstration radioactive waste reprocessing facility. An expansion of federal loan guarantees for new reactors would leave taxpayers on the hook for up to $160 billion if nuclear utilities default on loan repayments.

A ironically named companion bill led by Republicans in the House, the “Americans for American Energy Act of 2008” (HR 6384), would: subsidize radioactive waste reprocessing; fast-track the opening of a reprocessing facility; remove congressional oversight on Yucca Mountain dumpsite spending; block consideration of radioactive waste from new reactor license proceedings; grant tax breaks to nuclear component manufacturers; fund nuclear engineering scholarships; support nuclear workforce expansion; and award cash prizes for new ideas on how to store radioactive wastes. This bill could give $120 billion of taxpayer money to the nuclear industry.

Our View: It’s ironic that massive subsidies for nuclear energy – which claims a place among climate change solutions – have been slipped into a bill promoting off-shore oil drilling. It is clear that the nuclear power industry – the most subsidized in the energy sector over the past 50 years – is less interested in climate change than in using that real crisis to carve out for itself another giant slice of the federal funding pie. This money is wasted on nuclear energy when micro-power and nega-watts are dramatically outcompeting nuclear power in the marketplace according to the Rocky Mountain Institute analysis, “The Nuclear Illusion.”

What You Can Do: Call your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative right away: call (202) 224-3121 to be patched through to your Congress Members. Urge them to block any legislation that would further subsidize the nuclear power industry, and to support renewable and efficiency solutions to our energy and climate crises. Organize your friends, families and co-workers. We must light up the Capitol switchboard.

(Source: Web: www.beyondnuclear.org Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.)

Fields and Shaw Offer Most Progressive Voices for School Board

For the typical 4% of voters who typically make it to the polls to determine who will represent their interests (and their tax dollars--which are far more than the budgets for the local communities), Patti Fields and Michael Shaw offer the most populist/progressive view of how our schools should be run.

As Iowa City Community schools continue to become more diverse, supports are needed to help students who did not start their schooling here to be successful, as well as keeping the standards of education high for all. Patti Fields and Michael Shaw understand the importance of both these goals.

Patti Fields is the incumbent in the race and serves on the board's legislative and communication committees. She is the director of community impact at the United Way of Johnson County and was appointed by Gov. Culver on July 1 to the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. Patti and her husband Jeffrey, also have two children in the district. She grew up in Solon and has lived in Iowa City for 16 years.

Michael Shaw has worked in the school system as a coordinator of the Family Resource Center at Grant Wood elementary school and has children in the schools as well. His work as a social worker has prepared him to address the whole child need that has become the charge of schools today. He is running on a platform of responsible school growth, safe and healthy schools, and school/family connections. From having worked with Michael in the past, I know he will be a strong advocate for families on the school board.

Under the leadership of Toni Cilek, the school board managed to have a bond issue passed that the state was able to turn into a permanent sales tax. No one can disagree that more funding for the schools is important, but the purpose of the SILO was to improve structures. With the funding going to the general fund, who knows where it will go?

We need thoughful elected representatives on the board, particularly with the terms sent to increase to four years in the 2009 election cycle.

Saturday, September 6

Overcoming The Cult(ure) of Personality

A favorite group of mine in the 80's was Living Colour and their song "Cult of Personality" had these lyrics:

"Look into my eyes, what do you see?
Cult of personality
I know your anger, I know your dreams
I've been everything you want to be
I'm the cult of personality."

This election is shaping up into a clash of American cultures and this does not bode well for what we end up with after the election.

On the one hand we have John McCain who represents the old guard Republican of strong military/small government and his running mate who represents the new guard which is more fundamentalist and libertarian. In the Democrats' corner, there is Barack Obama who represents a shifting Democratic party who holds fast to core democratic values like strengthening the economy through jobs with decent wages and benefits, but also recognizes the need to reach across the divide and address issues that all Americans value, including health care, aid for children, and education that has both accountability and quality for all schools. Joe Biden represents older guard Democrats who believe that America's greatness comes from using our power in the world in cooperation with other countries.

If this contest comes down to young versus old or soccer moms versus NASCAR dads or black versus white, we all lose. Elections should not be personal popularity contests. They should be about three basic things:

1) Leadership ability/experience: communication ability, negotiation ability, judgment, and charisma (which I define as: does the candidate inspire confidence and earn your respect/trust)
2) Plans: their "Contact with America" about what they will attempt to accomplish in their term as president and how they will pay for what they bite off.
3) Support team: who will help them accomplish their objectives.

As we all decide who to vote for, pay attention to these three items. The mass media doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time presenting information about them, but magazines, small press, and some web journalists do.

As a consumer society, we are used to choosing "sizzle" over "steak" and the same ad people that sell beer often sell our presidential candidates to us. Unfortunately, while we may be seduced into buying a beer that tastes like the back end of a skunk, it is not life altering. Who we choose to vote for, unfortunately, may well be. We must look past the "Country First" and "Change" brands and look at what we are really being sold. Too often, it is a bill of goods.

McCain Playing Loose With Truth

John McCain is getting himself into trouble by trying to pass a myth off as a truth where his new VP designate is concerned.

"How many saw her speech a couple of nights ago? Wasn't it fabulous?" McCain said Friday during a campaign stop in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. "You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was purchased by her predecessor and sold it on eBay — and made a profit."

CNN reported on The Ticker that "it turns out the twin-engine Westwind II was a tough sell on the Web — and the state eventually pulled it offline and sold it through an ordinary brick-and-mortar brokerage, for a loss, a spokeswoman said Friday."

"Governor Palin has been correct in saying that she put the plane on eBay," McCain campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella told CNN. "They did end up selling it for $2.1 million. but not on eBay."

it was sold to Valdez, Alaska businessman (who moved there from Texas) Larry Reynolds who learned about the plane from the Republican Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives. Reynolds started up a charter business to fly up to 5 hunters between Alaska and eastern Russia for a cool $8000 a person.

The Daily Kos has more.

Wednesday, September 3

How Many Mavericks Does It Take?

The word "maverick" gets tossed freely about by the media as applied to John McCain and now his running mate (hmm, perhaps a better term is needed, lest bigamy charges be rumored), Sarah Palin. Google points to 413,000 references to the two of them and the "M" word.

But going old school for a moment, a maverick was an unbranded animal found on the open range. It is believed that the term originated with a Texas lawyer named Colonel Samuel Maverick. He purchased a herd of cattle but failed to ensure that they were branded. As a result these unbranded cattle in Texas became known as mavericks. Later this term spread to other parts of America. Cattleman in the American West took the view that they had the right to take possession of mavericks they found on the open range. Said differently, these cattle were made into someone's property.

Using the current "modern" meaning, a maverick is someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action. Other synonyms for that are loose cannon, dissident, dissenter, bohemian, loner, rebel, heretic, radical, iconoclast, and irregular.

Why does the press insist on berating the poor man this way--damn "maverick" media.

Monday, September 1

Palin By Comparison?

It has been about 72 hours since Sarah Palin has been the VP candidate for the McCain ticket and already there are multitudes of questions (or myths and falsehoods as Media Matters put out)about her and her loved ones:

1) Her 17 year old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant (but is planning to marry the baby's father).
2) Her husband has had a DWI (albeit in 1986 at the age of 22).
3) As mayor of Wassila, she hired the lobbying firm run by the former chief of staff of beleaguered Senator Ted Stevens and supported the "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it (get out your flip-flops people). "We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge, and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative," Palin said in August 2006, according to the Ketchikan Daily News. (see USA Today for more)
4) There are accusations of her firing Alaska public safety commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan had refused to fire a state trooper who had divorced Palin's sister.
5) Someone has tinkered with her Wikipedia page to make her look "better."
6) Rumors are flying that her daughter is the real mother of Trig, their youngest child and that Sarah Palin was covering it up. The Daily Kos thinks it is much ado about nothing.

After reading Stephan Marks' "Confessions of a Political Hitman", I am severely concerned about "oppo research" that is done by all candidates and the toll it takes on the real issues that face the nation. How many of these issues really matter when deciding whether she is a deserving candidate for the office she seeks? Still, until the game changes, what is good for the gander is good for the goose.

To his credit, Barack Obama has publically stated that "our people are not involved in any way on this [rumors about Bristol Palin's pregnancy]." He added that if he discovered any involvement by a member of his campaign "they'd be fired."

According to the Swamp:

Obama used the moment to retiterate his beleif that "people's families are off-limits and children are especially off-limits."This shouldn't be part of our politics, it has no relevance to governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president," he said. "And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18. And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits."

Not To Belabor Labor Day, But...

Here we are on the first Monday in September and it is Labor Day, which, according to the Department of Labor web site, "is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a "workingmen's holiday" on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

The History Channel says this:

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of the nation, the average American in the late 1800s worked 12-hour days, seven days a week in order to make a basic living. Children were also working, as they provided cheap labor to employers and laws against child labor were not strongly enforced.

With the long hours and terrible working conditions, American unions became more prominent and voiced their demands for a better way of life. On Tuesday September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers marched from city hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first-ever Labor Day parade. Participants took an upaid day-off to honor the workers of America, as well as vocalize issues they had with employers. As years passed, more states began to hold these parades, but Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later.

On May 11, 1894, workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago struck to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. They sought support from their union led by Eugene V. Debs and on June 26 the American Railroad Union called a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. Within days, 50,000 rail workers complied and railroad traffic out of Chicago came to a halt. On July 4, President Grover Cleveland dispatched troops to Chicago. Much rioting and bloodshed ensued, but the government's actions broke the strike and the boycott soon collapsed. Debs and three other union officials were jailed for disobeying the injunction. The strike brought worker's rights to the public eye and Congress declared, in 1894, that the first Monday in September would be the holiday for workers, known as Labor Day.

In the 1886 there was an estimated 1 million trade union members (1886 was also the year that Congress voted to legally approve trade unions and Corporations received some of the rights or status of "individuals").

According to Truthout, "For the first time in the past quarter of a century, in 2007 US unions increased their share of membership among workers, according to the annual union membership report released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unions added about 310,000 members last year, raising the unionized share of the workforce to 12.1 percent from 12 percent in 2006.

The increase is small, and may well reflect statistical variation rather than an actual increase in the union membership share, but the uptick is striking because it is the first time the union share has increased since the bureau began collecting annual union membership rates in 1983.

The small national rise reflected a large increase in union membership in California, partially offset by substantial declines in the Midwest."

It is estimated that there are 2.4 union members in California alone and that total union membership sits at 12.1 percent of the U.S. work force (the AFL-CIO has a reported 10.5 million members and the fast growing SEIU has about 2 million members). The BLS puts total union membership at 15.7 million workers.

Interestingly, as the economy is tanking, interest in unions is increasing and unions are pushing hard to have Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act which "would force employers to recognize the union as the workers' bargaining agent if 50 percent sign the authorization cards -- streamlining the process from six weeks to what could be a matter of days and doing away with the ballots. For decades, the process of a work force becoming unionized has been based on a secret-ballot election. First, workers with interest in a union sign authorization cards. If 30 percent sign, the National Labor Relations Board schedules an election that the government agency supervises. A majority vote allows in a union."

The Kansas City Star reports:
Opponents of the bill are focusing on the provision of replacing secret elections with card signing, calling it anti-democratic.

“Most people sign those (election authorization) cards just to get the union toughs off their back,” said Greg Mourad, director of legislation for the National Right to Work Committee. “In the current process, the unions get to have their say, and the companies get to have their say. Then the workers decided in the privacy of a secret-ballot election process. Whether or not the current process works, card check is not the solution to the perceived problem.”

Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said the bill would help level the playing field.

“Given the reign of terror employers are allowed to exercise during what’s commonly called the union-election process, the Employee Free Choice Act would help restore democracy to the workplace,” Ancel said.