My initial thought? How can we be expected to trust them? They have clearly shown that their process is: Idealogy first, Plan second. In Iraq they disseminated wrong or exaggerated evidence to justify a war they'd already decided to wage. With Social Security, they decided it had to be changed because Republicans hate government programs, and then set about instilling a sense of impending crisis in the public. Even with Prescription Drugs in Medicare, they took a solid Democratic idea and turned it into a huge payoff for their drug company CEO friends.
Now, with healthcare, can we really expect them to have the people's best interests in mind? Why should we not believe this is simply part of a larger idealogy to create more Republicans, rather than something that will really be better for the average person.
The problem is when you only interact with rich corporate executives you only hear a single side - that the cost to a company of providing health insurance to its employees is rising. So what do they do - they try to relieve their friends of that cost.
I undestand the idea of rationalizing healthcare costs by giving the consumer some of the burden of decision-making. I just don't trust this administration to do it fairly.
Tom Friedman writes an interesting piece (I know I use that phrase way too often) on his theory of speeding political and economic reform in places like Iran. It's called the "Geo-Green" alternative.
The basic premise is that countries like Iran that have huge oil-dependent revenues making up for poor economies would be forced to open up and create jobs if the world's dependence on their oil was reduced. Thus "Geo-Greens" push for conservation, renewable/alternative energy, in an effort to dramatically reduce the price of oil in the long run.
The concept is old, but the term is new (at least to me). Kerry talked about alternative energy commitments during the campaign. Let's see if Bush mentions it in the SOTU on Weds.
The president is probably going to talk a lot about ownership and individual choice. I think those are great concepts, and I can support those -- but in addition to the current Social Security system, not as a replacement for it.
Look, you may own your home; a lot of Americans do. I bet you have insurance. Ownership and insurance have to go hand in hand.
Social Security is the insurance. Senior citizens in our country can always rely on it to make sure they're not desperately poor in their old age.
Should we have ownership and choice in addition to that? Yes, we should. But we should never do anything to undermine that insurance. That is one of the bedrock principles of our country.
This is one of the most important fights of our generation
The war on terrorism is the most important issue facing America and the world today.
But second to that on a Domestic front is saving Social Security, and by that I mean really saving it, not the way Republicans use that word. Social Security is the most successful federal program ever invented. Before it approximately half of senior citizens lived in poverty. It was created as a safeguard, to ensure that seniors had a minimum level of income in their retirement, in addition to any pension, 401k or private savings they might have, no matter what.
We must save social security, or sooner or later one of the market's swings will impoverish some large generation of people whose retirement was simply unluckily timed. People can invest their other savings in stocks if they choose. It is the government's responsibility to make sure that, no matter what else, they have a minimal level of income to live.
From the early reports, it appears the elections in Iraq went better than many expected. In the safe Shiite areas turnout was higher than expected. In Sunni areas, unfortunately, many polling places never even opened, or not a single person voted at the ones that did. So while the legitimacy of the election will be decided by the Iraqi people themselves over the course of the next few weeks, it is at least a solid step in the right direction. The U.S. must be careful to proceed correctly from here.
Those who know me I hope believe me when I say that I'm rooting for George Bush's plan to succeed and for democracy to take hold in the middle east. I strongly believe that it will not. I strongly believe that he has gone about this process in entirely the wrong fashion. But if it works, I will be happy.
So let's hope that it does. Let's hope for peace to spread, not hatred.
So apparently Bush has a plan for his Social Security plan. Problem with the plan, however:
Yet to be decided are several big questions, including how large the private accounts should be, how much guaranteed benefits would be cut and how to pay as much as $2 trillion needed in the first 10 years to effect the transition to a new system.
Hmm, that should be pretty easy. But congralations, Mr. President, on figuring out that people will have 3-5 fund choices. That's definitely the tough part.
Here's the right thing to do on Social Security:
Gradually raise the cap on taxable income. Currently only earnings up to $90k are taxed for social security (6.2%). That's regressive (ie. Bill Gates pay a much lower % of his income into social security than I do... will he really notice the difference?).
Direct investment in stocks. If it's really all about getting a better rate of return, let's invest the social security "trust fund" in equities, rather than T-bills. But in one large sum, not millions of smaller accounts. It's far more cost efficent, and you get a smoothing pattern because of the pooled risk - ie. you won't be screwed if it's a recession and your private account sucks at the time you want to retire. Republicans want private accounts to push their "ownership society" that they think produces more Republicans; but their plan is clearly economically inferior.
Added Barbara Boxer. I wish the odds were better, but she'd have a tough job in the general.
Added Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius.
Added Phil Bredesen, Gov of TN. See this profile in TNR
Only minimally discussed in the debate about privatization of social security is the Republicans' motives for the change. Here's a major reason I think they're pushing it
Zogby has found evidence that stock ownership significantly alters the way people vote. For example, members of labor unions, traditionally backers of Democrats, were far more likely to vote Republican if they owned stocks. Ditto for low-income voters. Source
With that in mind, check out what Ken Mehlman (BC-04 and now RNC chairman) had to say in a recent Op/Ed in the Washington Times
We are committed to saving Social Security and when we push to save Social Security, we have an historic chance to broaden our party to include more young Americans. [Emphasis mine]
That's really the heart of the "Ownership Society". Republicans think that if people get to invest and have more control over their own finances, they will create a dominant Republican voting block and "cement its position for a generation".
As the first article notes, many disagree with the idea of an "investor class", including Ruy Teixeira of EDM. Even so, we have to hammer away at Republicans and question their motives in the public forum. Nobody likes a bully who just wants to protect their power at the expense of senior citizens.
I think William Saletan's piece from yesterday on Hillary Clinton's Monday speech to a pro-choice group was excellent, and the same praise is due Mrs. Clinton for the content of that speech. She is clearly a VERY gifted politician. She has started the 2008 "campaign" on exactly the right tone - hitting an issue that the base cares about, while showing how a core Democratic issue can logically be framed in a broader, more inclusive, "values-oriented" way.
Of course we would all like abortions to be rare or nonexistant. But while we seek to reduce their number, we don't believe it's right to criminalize them. Why don't more Democrats make this point? Let's attack the root cause, because to a certain extent abortions are going to happen whether they're legal or not.
Admit the goal is zero, and people will rethink birth control. "Seven percent of American women who do not use contraception account for 53 percent of all unintended pregnancies," Clinton said. That number drew gasps from her pro-choice audience. I bet if she translated it to abortions, it would knock folks in Ohio out of their chairs. How many abortions are you willing to endure for the sake of avoiding the word "condom"? Clinton says we can cut the abortion rate through sex education, money for family planning, and requiring health insurers to cover contraceptives.
Dagoberto Sáez, for example, is a 66-year-old laboratory technician here who plans, because of a recent heart attack, to retire in March. He earns just under $950 a month; his pension fund has told him that his nearly 24 years of contributions will finance a 20-year annuity paying only $315 a month.
"Colleagues and friends with the same pay grade who stayed in the old system, people who work right alongside me," he said, "are retiring with pensions of almost $700 a month - good until they die. I have a salary that allows me to live with dignity, and all of a sudden I am going to be plunged into poverty, all because I made the mistake of believing the promises they made to us back in 1981."
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested Democrats are sore losers. Rice had enough votes to win confirmation, as even her Democratic critics acknowledge, McCain said.
"So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion," McCain said. Since Rice is qualified for the job, he said, "I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election."
President Bush carried Florida handily last November. But there was something else on the Florida ballot that got little national attention -- an initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $6.15 an hour.
The initiative was put on the ballot by the community organizing group ACORN and a coalition of unions, MoveOn, and others with 975,000 signatures. The minimum wage initiative was opposed by nearly all Republicans and business groups.
Not only did the initiative win by a stunning 72 to 28 percent; it won in every single Florida county, even rock-ribbed Bush territory.
Perhaps the problem is that Democratic politicians (all politicians in general) forget that people sometimes vote for what is right overall, rather than what most benefits them individually.
Dem pols need to grab this issue and run for the goal line.
Since a fair number of my readers are young lawyers and doctors, here's an interesting article on tort reform, which takes to task people who claim economic growth would be improved by a reduction in lawsuits. The author, Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), says not a single study has been presented correllating tort reform with increased productivity, corporate cost savings, or job creation.
I know the argument about medical malpractice suits limiting doctors' ability to appropriately use their judgment is a different one, not addressed in this article.
I like what I see out of top Democrats lately. It seems like they're being a little fiestier than they've been in the past. Perhaps they learned something about being the opposition party. Among the good actions recently:
Barbara Boxer standing up against 99 other Senators to support an investigation into election abnormalities in Ohio
Barbara Boxer and John Kerry holding Condi Rice accountable for the Bush Administration's reprehensible foreign policy, and voting against her
Hillary Clinton making sensible noises on finding common ground with abortion opponents
I haven't been reading Times editorials as long as some, but I am somewhat sad to see William Safire depart today. While I disagree with him on practically every issue, I find him a fascinating, well though-out, and well-researched writer for the most part, and a valuable read as far as understanding the thought-process of the intellectual right (as opposed to the anti-intellectual musings of the other conservative columnist David Brooks).
I was also amazed to see his current picture, as it's so different from the one atop his recent columns:
I'm introducing a new feature on the site today: my 2008 Presidential Nomination Odds.
Explanation: This is not a list of who I'm rooting for, but rather this list reflects the likelihood that these people win their party's nomination for President in 2008. Some are fairly obvious choices and rankings, others are me going out on a limb a little bit. Factored in are statements the people have made about whether they will or will not run (Colin Powell would be much higher except he's said he won't run), and other factors, including whether or not they are legally allowed to be president (hence Arnold's 25:1 that could drop quickly if the Amendment gains traction).
The odds will appear permanently in the column on the right. I will update them on a semi-regular basis, as well as when any news or rumor comes out that compels me to make an adjustment. Anytime I post an update I will make a blog entry highlighting the change - that way you readers and I will be able to track these all the way through the next 3.7 years to see how accurate I am.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Note: Presidential Odds are purely for speculative enjoyment. The Jaker is not soliciting or accepting any wagers based on these odds.
President Bush is like a financial adviser who tells you that at the rate you're going, you won't be able to afford retirement - but that you shouldn't do anything mundane like trying to save more. Instead, you should take out a huge loan, put the money in a mutual fund run by his friends (with management fees to be determined later) and place your faith in capital gains.
Privatization, er i mean, personal savings accounts
Josh Marshall at TPM has this great exchange between the Washington Post and GWB, that touches on how Republicans are now trying not to use the word "privatization" because the public doesn't like it:
The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?
The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --
THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.
The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes?
The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.
THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?
The Post: You used partial privatization.
THE PRESIDENT: I did, personally?
The Post: Right.
THE PRESIDENT: When?
The Post: To describe it.
THE PRESIDENT: When, when was it?
The Post: Mike said it was right around the election.
THE PRESIDENT: Seriously?
The Post: It was right around the election. We'll send it over.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm surprised. Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're tired. Anyway, your question was? I'm sorry for interrupting.
The Post: So have you talked to Senate Democrats about this?
On the day of the inauguration, which I have many thoughts about but not enough time to go into (yes, I do work occasionally), I received emails from Schumer and Pelosi asking for donations for the DSCC and DCCC, respectively.
While I think both organizations are important, and both deserve our money (and if any of you donated, I thank you), these emails are starting to frustrate me somewhat. I gave money to a lot of political causes and groups in 2003 and 2004, including Presidential candidates, parties, groups, and candidates for state and local races. Not a lot of money to any of them, but it was a decent amount of money to me. I hoped it would make a difference, and perhaps it did, but not an immediately tangible one given the results of Nov 2. So now these emails annoy me. I know the issues, I know the stakes - I don't have to be reminded of them.
What I wish was that there was a way to give to these organizations and others on an automatic withdrawal system. For example, I'd be perfectly happy to have the DSCC and DCCC take $10 each out of every paycheck of mine. That way I wouldn't see it, or have to go through the hassle of filling out their form every time I wanted to donate. And if a few thousand (or imagine a few million people) did that, those committees would be outrageously well-funded to take on Republicans at all levels.
Are any of you law-savvy and tech-savvy people aware of any way to accomplish this? If so, please add comment below.
Here's a question for any readers that support(ed) the war in Iraq (I know of at least one): Do you also support a draft?
I don't want to get bogged down in the political scare tactic that even John Kerry used to some degree during the campaign, but the former Secretary of the Army, Thomas Whitein this fascinating interview makes the point that we probably cannot conduct an operation like this one with an all-volunteer army:
Q: Is the Army broken?
A: Yeah, I think so. We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force, with a force that we have to compete in the job market to hire every year. Every other force that we've ever done this with, going back to the Vietnam period to something comparable, has been a draftee conscript force.
So what we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... The Army is people; it's not weapons or platforms. Somebody once said, "A soldier's not in the Army; they are the Army." And the quality of the soldiers [has] been the enormous advantage we've had since the volunteer force was put in place, and the quality of the noncommissioned officers corps.
Well, that is a married Army, among other things. You may recruit soldiers, but you retain families. And I think we're all concerned that we are teetering on the brink here and that if we can't get to a lower operational tempo, or at least have some point in the future that we can set our sails against where it might occur, that the Army on the manpower side's going to come unglued.
The key thing to remember when you hear the Administration's side of the Social Security debate is that they are not being honest about their motivations. They will say they want to earn a better return for workers' investments, but in reality they are just pushing right-wing idealogical principles such as Bush's "ownership society", which basically means they think poor people should just be fucked.
This is clear because Republicans say what they want is the power of the stock market, but they aren't okay with just having the government invest the pooled money in the market (which would enable everyone to benefit and no one to suffer if they invested poorly). See this passage in the NYT Magazine article:
In any case, Social Security could capture the return on stocks, without putting individuals at risk, by investing in equities directly. This would also achieve another frequently stated objective: keeping the government's hands off the Social Security trust fund. That option would be far more efficient, in economic terms, than separating the money into 150 million disparate accounts. Costs are much lower for one big investor. And more important, in a system of individual accounts, benefits will vary with individual choices, and some people will make poor ones. In Sweden, where the retirement system has included private accounts since 2000, the majority of Swedes made excessively risky investment choices by putting money into stocks at the market top, according to Richard Thaler, a University of Chicago behavioral economist. Finally, pooling the investment pools the risk, and thus reduces the danger of retiring at the wrong time. In a system of personal accounts, someone who retired after a market crash would be out of luck.
So it is notable that all the current proposals to privatize involve the economically inferior option of individual accounts. But privatization advocates aren't motivated solely, and perhaps not even primarily, by economics. Glenn Hubbard, Bush's former top economic adviser, wrote in Newsweek that an ''obvious objective'' of privatization is ''to advance the president's ownership society agenda.'' Such pro-free-market sentiment has a long lineage. Remember Senator Vandenberg, who fretted in the 30's that public ownership of private securities would amount to socialism? Even though state pension funds and some U.S. agencies, including the Federal Reserve, put some pension money in stock-index funds, conservatives still react as if such a solution for Social Security were akin to turning it over to the Kremlin. Peter Ferrara, a former White House staff member under Reagan and now senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Innovation, who has been proposing Social Security privatization plans since the late 1970's, told me that economics ''was not my primary motivation. It was ideological. We don't want the government controlling that much investment.''
I'm still working through the NYT magazine article on Social Security from Sunday (the three day weekend meant yesterday was especially brutal for me in terms of article catch-up), but in the meantime here's a link to a great new website designed to counter the Bush Administration's dishonest "searing into the public consciousness" the fabricated crisis of social security.
I've added a semi-permanent link to the sidebar on the right, because this is absolutely the most important political fight of this year, possibly this administration. Social Security is meant as security. Americans should also be encouraged to invest more privately, but Social Security is meant to protect those who cannot do that.
We hear... that it could get crowded for the Democrats in 2008. John Kerry has said he won't rule out running again, and now comes word Tipper Gore is telling friends that Al is eyeing another race himself.
2020 Democrats has a unique and compelling new project: The Principles Project. They are drafting a platform or vision for the Democratic party - a succinct, accessible statement of what progressives believe in and seek. The website is great - you can read the draft then go directly into discussions for what to add/subtract/improve, and then supposedly the moderators will change the draft to reflect the best ideas. Check it out.
At the moment I think it reads a little too much like the Bill of Rights, but hopefully that improves.
It should be a great moment - one day after celebrating the life (unfortunately on the day of the death) of a trailblazing African-American civil rights leader, a black woman begins her confirmation hearing to become Secretary of State. Indeed, Dr. Rice embodies the potential for great success that lies in everyone, even if you grow up poor and discriminated-against in Birmingham, AL.
Unfortunately, I feel like I can't be totally excited about this, because Rice has heretofore hewed to Bush's neo-conservative, idealogical crusade. What is needed in the State Dept. is not a hawkish freedom-fighter, but a moderate voice that recognizes the long-term danger radical militarism creates.
As we celebrate the life and work of a brave leader today, American Prospect reminds us that King also had things to say on the politics of his day, and were he alive today he would truly lament the self-riteousness with which George Bush clearly places the worth of American lives far beyond those of the rest of God's children.
All these religious conservatives in the middle of the country - do they skip the parts of the Bible that say God loves all his people equally, and that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves? Dr. King would remind us that this view does not square with pre-emptive war.
And in his own words:
a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death
A conservative government sweeps to power for a second term. It views its victory as a mandate to slash the role of the state. In its ﬁrst term, this policy objective was met by cutting taxes for the wealthy. Its top priority for its second term is tackling what it views as an enduring vestige of socialism: its system of social insurance for the elderly. Declaring the current program unaffordable in 50 years’ time, the administration proposes the privatization of a portion of old-age beneﬁts. In exchange for giving up some future beneﬁts, workers would get a tax rebate to put into an investment account to save for their own retirement.
George W. Bush’s America in 2005? Think again. The year was 1984, the nation was Britain, the government was that of Margaret Thatcher -- and the results have been a disaster that America is about to emulate.
So starts the wonderful TAP article by Norma Cohen on Britain's privatization of retirement savings. If you are at all interested in the debate on social security, I highly recommend this piece. The gist is that they faced a very simililar situation to ours currently, made similar changes to those Bush is proposing, and have drove the system into a crisis wherein Conservatives in England now think it should be scrapped in favor of... you guessed it.... a system like Social Security in the U.S.
If you don't feel like reading the 5 pages (you should), Paul Krugman offers a summary version in today's Times. And thank God for him for keeping this issue front and center in his columns over the last few months.
I wish I'd found this website years ago. Their articles read like a much more intelligent and well-stated version of my thoughts on virtually every issue. Take this one on partisan gridlock. The subtitle says it all:
We don’t have two parties at loggerheads. We have one party of moderates and one of extremists.
I've added a permanent link to TAP in the section on the lower right.
On another note, his Contract with America, which was such a successful branding exercise for Republicans, of which they are still reaping the benefits, is now 10 years old. The Dems need something like this to jump start the rebranding of the party.
You see, the problem is this President has proven time and again that he is willing to lie and deceive to accomplish something that he thinks is idealogically right. He thinks Americans need to be told what to think, rather than being given arguments and evidence and being allowed to judge for themselves. [Update: See this excellent article in TAP on this subject.] Hence he fabricated reasons to justify a war he'd decided long before was necessary. And he's ordered efforts to convince the public that Social Security is in crisis so as to do away with the most successful government program in history. And now he's cutting anti-poverty programs that he says are redundant, but honestly... why should we believe him? Why shouldn't we think he's just doing this
to gut federal programs for the poorest Americans to make way for tax cuts, a mission to Mars and other presidential priorities.
It's sad when a President depends so much on dishonesty and manipulation.
Post date: 01.13.05
Issue date: 01.24.05
Calling Arnold Schwarzenegger the most interesting politician in the United States has become a cliché. But every cliché contains a kernel of truth. And California's governor proved that last week when he unveiled a proposal that could do more to improve U.S. politics than any government reform in a long, long time.
It hasn't garnered much national attention, but, in last week's State of the State address, Schwarzenegger proposed taking responsibility for congressional (and state legislative) redistricting away from California's state legislature and giving it to a panel of retired judges. Viewed cynically, Schwarzenegger's initiative looks like yet another Republican effort to guarantee the GOP more House seats. In 2003, in one of the most disgraceful episodes of President Bush's first term, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay got his Republican cronies in the Texas state legislature to draw new, ridiculously partisan congressional districts. (When Texas Democrats fled the state to deny the Republicans a legislative quorum, DeLay's office called the Federal Aviation Administration--prompting a reprimand from the House Ethics Committee.) The move overturned a redistricting plan enacted in 2001 and thus violated what Brookings Institution political scientist Thomas Mann has called "a century-long norm"--the principle that states only redistrict once every ten years, after a new census. The Houston Chronicle, which endorsed Bush in 2000 and again in 2004, said DeLay's move "would set a precedent for redistricting any time a Washington bully wanted to impose it."
In Colorado, the state GOP tried to do much the same thing in 2003 but was blocked by the courts. And, since the GOP wants Schwarzenegger's new system to take effect immediately--thus overturning a 2001 redistricting plan favorable to Democrats and further shredding the once-a-decade rule--many California Democrats seem to view his proposal as just another Republican power grab.
But Schwarzenegger's proposal is actually radically different. In Texas, DeLay clearly set out to destroy political competition. His Republican allies in the state legislature crammed African American and Latino Texans into their own heavily Democratic districts while making the surrounding ones overwhelmingly white, thus handing the Republicans five new House seats. The move made a mockery of the GOP's supposed opposition to racial separatism. And it blanketed the Lone Star State with one-party congressional districts and incumbents who will probably never face a real challenge.
Schwarzenegger's proposal, by contrast, could dramatically increase political competition. When it redistricted in 2001, California's state legislature drew congressional lines that virtually guaranteed reelection for every incumbent, Republican and Democrat. As a result, in 2002, only one of the state's 53 districts witnessed a contested race (and that district wouldn't have been competitive either had Representative Gary Condit not gotten embroiled in the scandal over murdered intern Chandra Levy). Two years later, in 2004, not a single California House seat changed party hands.
New technology, which lets state legislators use precinct-level data about partisan identification to draw exquisitely uncompetitive districts, virtually guarantees that incumbents win reelection. That makes them less accountable to their constituents and more accountable to lobbyists and party bosses. And the problem keeps getting worse. Amy Walter and Jennifer Duffy of The Cook Political Report note that, in 1992, there were 151 competitive House races. By 2004, the number was down to 57. In close to 90 percent of congressional districts, in other words, the outcomes were foregone conclusions.
Schwarzenegger's proposal could change all this. If his panel of retired judges actually drew congressional lines based on factors like contiguity and compactness, and tried to keep communities in the same district (something that rarely happens anymore), it could produce an explosion of contested House races. (If the panel actually made party competitiveness one of its criteria, the effects would be even more dramatic.) In Iowa, where statutes require that congressional lines be drawn according to nonpartisan, commonsense principles, four of the state's five House seats were competitive in 2002. In 2004, it was two out of five. Apply those percentages to California's 53 seats, and you have a political earthquake, which would make the House more responsive to swings in public opinion than it has been in years.
California Democrats are rightly skeptical of Schwarzenegger's demand for a second redistricting this decade. But they should enthusiastically agree to implement his proposed change after the next census, in 2011. Given that Democrats will likely still control California's state legislature then, the switch could still cost them seats. But that's a price worth paying to try to build momentum for a national change in the way redistricting is done.
And the response shouldn't be limited to the Golden State. Democrats across the country should jump on the Schwarzenegger bandwagon, demanding that their states also take redistricting away from the state legislatures that deny voters a real choice over who represents them. In a state like Florida, where the GOP has absurdly gerrymandered to ensure a mass of safe Republican seats, such a change could bring real Democratic gains and perhaps even help put control of the House back in play. More importantly, it would reinvigorate American democracy. Nothing would make our politics more responsive, more dynamic, and more fun than hundreds of contested congressional elections, all over the country.
Since last fall's election, some Democratic strategists have urged the party to seize on the congressional GOP's efforts to repeal the very ethics rules it once championed. Such abuses, they suggest, give Democrats a chance to reclaim the mantle of political reform (see Michael Crowley, "Learning from Newt," page 18). Now Schwarzenegger has given them a perfect opportunity and an unexpected ally. Openings like this don't come along very often. If Democrats don't seize it, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
Thanks to friend Jared for sending this article from the Economist, on increasing economic disparity between rich and poor, and more interestingly, the increasing difficulty to better one's class or economic standing over previous generations. The author cites a number of studies showing that social mobility has declined in recent decades, harkening back to the "Gilded Age" when an aristocratic class dominated and ensured generational continuity of the aristocracy. Policies like Teddy Roosevelt's inheritance tax were what brought us out of such a system, but that is the exact tax that the wealthy Republican elite is currently trying to do away with (thanks to their marketing machine that has successfully rebranded it "the death tax").
Additionally (see Thomas Frank) Republicans have actually succeeded in getting poor "values" conservatives to push policies such as tax cuts for the rich and this estate tax elimination, even though by doing so these folks will be ensuring their economic hardship for generations to come.
Last night I went to a Young Professionals for Spitzer event in Manhattan that I "hosted". I put that in quotations because I was among ~30 "hosts". It was a pretty good event, with great attendance, and a nice concise, funny, engaging, and honest speech from Eliot Spitzer, who's running to be NY governor in 2006. Check out the info here: http://spitzer2006.com
I'd never seen Eliot speak live before, and I have to say that he's a better politician than I would have guessed. He gave a good stump speech without notes (somewhat impressive for ~2 yrs before the election date) and hit on just the right points for the audience. The key theme was that he is fighting for fairness, honesty and integrity in business, so the consumer is protected. And though a "stump speech", his style was very conversational. For example, people often say/write that Spitzer is bad for business (he hurts stock prices, which forces layoffs, etc.). Rather than skipping this criticism, Eliot actually said the phrase "Some people say I'm bad for business", and then proceeded to lay out why he disagrees. He did this on two or three different topics. It came across as very honest and forthright. He doesn't want to spoon-feed talking points, but rather make a coherent argument for his side of things.
Anyway, I'm happy to be volunteering for the campaign, and hope to see him elected in 2006.
Amy Sullivan wrote the article of the week, "Fire the Consultants", about the culture of entrenched political consultants in Washington, who continue to run the important Democratic races nationwide even as they continue to rack up a losing record. It's a must-read.
Emergining Democratic Majority cites this problem and two others, Clintonism and Character as hot-button issues that Democrats need to tackle.
It seems clear that people like Bob Schrum, who granted has the valuable experience of 7 presidential campaigns, but unfortunately has lost exactly 7 of them, need to step aside for a new generation of Democratic strategists who understand the need for a unified Democratic message. Frankly, though some will say I'm biased, I think a bunch of Dean's people are qualified in this regard... first they were led by a man that clearly has a vision of reform starting at the grassroots. Among those I'd tap are Joe Trippi, Tom McMahon, and others.
I was fascinated by Nicholas Kristof's column on DDT and malaria in Saturday's NY Times. I knew nothing about this subject. Of course, in the wake of the tsunami, I'd heard about how malaria kills millions of people a year in poor countries, and how an outpouring of aid, like the one of the tsunami, that purchased mosquito nets would save countless lives.
What I wasn't aware of was the issue of DDT - that it was banned many places because of its supposed effect on the environment. Kristof asserts that relaxing that ban and reducing the stigma against its use would save hundreds of thousands of people from malaria, and actually wouldn't do much harm to the environment, especially if we restricted its use to places where the malaria problem is most serious, while maintaining the ban in places like the U.S.
I'd be curious to know what environmentalists (in addition to those in the article) think about this.
This is amazing. If it turns out Bush is paying journalists to spin his policies positively, it will be a big deal.
Includes this excerpt:
In addition to the illegality of these actions taken by your Administration, we believe that the act of bribing journalists to bias their news in favor of government policies undermines the integrity of our democracy. Actions like this were common in the Soviet Union, but until now, thought to be long extinguished in our country.
These revelations regarding Mr. Williams are the latest – and most disturbing – in a series of actions by your Administration to manipulate public opinion through covert propaganda. On May 19, 2004, the GAO found that your Administration illegally spent taxpayer funds on covert propaganda by paying Ketchum Incorporated to produce fake news stories promoting the image of the new Medicare law.
Fellow Amherst grad and friend Steve Ruckman has written a very interesting piece on a subject that interests him greatly, and that he is very qualified (and becoming moreso at Yale) to speak on: Faith and Politics.
Steve is brilliant, so read this and keep an eye out for him in years to come. You heard it here first (most of you).
Both arrive, not coincidentally, at the same conclusion: that both faith-based and secular-based understandings of morality should be welcomed, and people with common goals and values should come together regardless of why they have those values.
So the challenge to the Ohio electors has come and gone. In the debate, many Dem Senators and Representatives praised Tubbs/Conyers and Barbara Boxer for signing, stated clearly their intentions to spur debate for election reform (not change Nov 2's outcome), and spoke eloquently on why fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy.
Somewhat disappointing was the resultant votes - though Clinton, Obama, Reid, Harkin et al. all spoke of supporting Boxer, in the end, not unexpectedly, she was the lone vote to investigate the election.
Hopefully the media reports the right story, that Dems were trying to stick up for fair elections for EVERYONE, and the public rallies in support of legislative action on this topic. Rich districts with no lines and poor districts with long lines is just not right.
Today I find yet another reason to like the Governator. He just keeps taking up my pet issues. First he gets Californians to agree to fund basically the largest stem cell research initiative on the planet. And today he announces a sensible plan to reform the redistricting process that solidifies support of incumbents and makes it difficult to challenge someone for office.
Yes, it's going to hurt Democrats who are in power in legislature, but you know what... it's the right thing to do. It should be non-partisan people who decide on election districts, and Arnold's idea of a panel of 3 retired judges is as good as any I've heard.
If we had this nationwide, Tom DeLay would not have been able to kick out 6 Reps from Texas by drawing discounts like the one that is a couple miles wide, and 200-miles long from the Mexican border up through Austin.
Wow, this is big news. The F9/11 scene will indeed NOT be repeated this year... Boxer has signed the challenge to the election certification. I believe it happens at 1pm today... if you're near CSPAN, watch... this will be historic (2nd time in 130 years).
What it means: the House and Senate will each have to debate the election results for 2 hours. Nothing will change, Bush will still be president, but if we create enough noise and this event gets press, hopefully Senators will realize that voter disenfranchisement and partisan administration of elections are serious problems that we demand be dealt with before the next election.
Remember the scene near the beginning of Farenheit 9/11, where House representatives repeatedly object to the certification of the 2000 election results, and plead, to no avail, for a Senator to join them, which would require a Congressional discussion of the vote?
Well, that's about to be played out again tomorrow, and there's a chance, though slim, that a Senator might join in the objections. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has said he will object from the House. Among the senators potentially "considering" objecting are Barbara Boxer, and Hillary Clinton. Others speculate that Byrd (retiring) or Obama (beginning) could surprise and object. (Read here for a recap of the situation). The obvious possibility, Sen. John Kerry, is in Iraq, and wrote an email to supporters today that he is "protesting" the count by not participating. So he's out. (Email in the link below)
No one really thinks the outcome of the election will change, but I definitely agree that somehow or other we need to have a discussion of electoral reform/standards, and this might be a good way to jump start it.
Jesse Jackson also sent a letter today through MoveOn calling on Harry Reid and all Dems to object. I'll post that email in the link below as well.
No American citizen should wake up the morning after the election and worry their vote wasn't counted. No citizen should be denied at the polls if they are eligible to vote. And, as the greatest, wealthiest nation on earth, our citizens should never be forced to vote on old, unaccountable and non transparent voting machines from companies controlled by partisan activists.
Tomorrow, members of Congress will meet to certify the results of the 2004 presidential election. I will not be taking part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors.
Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.
But, that does not mean we should abandon our commitment to addressing those problems that happened in Ohio. We must act today to make sure they never happen again.
I urge you to join me in using this occasion to highlight our demand that Congress commit itself this year to reforming the electoral system. A Presidential election is a national federal election but we have different standards in different states for casting and counting votes. We need a national federal standard to solve the problems that occurred in the 2004 election. I will propose legislation to help achieve this.
Florida 2000 was a wake up call. But the Republicans who control Congress ignored it. Will they now ignore what happened in 2004?
There are nearly 3,000,000 of you receiving this email. We accomplished so much together during the campaign. Now let's use our power to make sure that at least one good thing comes from the voting rights problems of the 2004 election. If we want to force real action on election reform, we've got to demand that congressional leaders hold full hearings. Make sure they hear from you and help hold them accountable.
Speaker Dennis Hastert: 1-202-225-0600
Leader Bill Frist: 1-202-224-3135
And please report that you've made your call right here:
I want every vote counted because Americans have to know that the votes they stood in line for, fought for, and strived so hard to cast in an election, are counted. We must make sure there are no questions or doubts in future elections. It's critical to our democracy that we investigate and act to prevent voting irregularities and voter intimidation across the country. We can't stand still as Congressional leaders seek to sweep well-founded voter concerns under the rug.
Please join with me in calling Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist and telling them that you want action on election reform now.
A recent report from Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) reveals very troubling questions that have not yet been answered by Ohio election officials. I commend the Democratic National Committee for its announcement this week that the DNC will be investing resources and reaching out to non-partisan academics in a long term study of Ohio voting irregularities. I am only sorry that we haven't seen the same from Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell and GOP officials.
Congress must play a positive, proactive role on this issue. That's why I will soon introduce legislation to reform our election system, ensuring transparency and accountability in our voting system and that all Americans have an opportunity to vote and have their vote counted.
Please remember to let us know that you made your call when you're done. We're hoping to ensure House and Senate leaders' offices hear our demand for action on election reform in meaningful way. Please take a moment to let us know you have made your call here: http://www.johnkerry.com/signup/electoral_reform.php
Jesse Jackson's email: Senators should object to Ohio vote
January 4, 2005
BY REV. JESSE JACKSON
This Thursday in Washington Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the senior minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will formally object to the counting of the Ohio electoral vote in the 2004 presidential election. If any senator joins him, the counting of the vote is suspended and the House and the Senate must convene separately to hear the objections filed, and to vote on whether to accept them.
The grounds for the objections are clear: The irregularities in the Ohio vote and vote count are widespread and blatant. If the Ohio election were held in the Ukraine, it would not have been certified by the international community.
In Ohio, the gulf between exit polls and counted votes is vast and glaring. Blatant discrimination in the distribution of voting machines ensured long lines in inner-city and working-class precincts that favored John Kerry, while the exurban districts that favored President Bush had no similar problems.
Systematic efforts were made to suppress and challenge the new voters in Kerry precincts, whether students or African Americans. Some precincts were certified with more votes than the number registered; others were certified with preposterously low turnouts. Voting machines, produced by a company headed by a vowed Bush supporter, provide no paper record. Ohio's secretary of state, the inappropriately partisan head of the state's Bush campaign, has resisted any systematic recount of the ballots.
The systematic bias and potential for fraud is unmistakable. An in-depth investigation is vital -- and the partisan secretary of state has opposed it every step of the way. In this context, Conyers and his colleagues in the House are serving the nation's best interests in demanding an investigation of the irregularities in Ohio, and objecting to business as usual in counting the vote.
If Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, has any sense, he will lead members of the caucus to support their colleagues from the House and demand a debate that will expose the irregularities in Ohio. If Kerry wants to establish his continued leadership, he will stand first to join with Conyers and demand a debate.
Will the debate overturn the outcome of the election? That is doubtful, although the irregularities in Ohio suggest that Kerry may well have won if a true count could be had. But the debate is vital anyway. This country's elections, each run with different standards by different states, with partisan tricks, racial bias, and too often widespread incompetence, are an open scandal.
We need national standards to ensure that we get an honest count across the country. National standards, accompanied by a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans, will be passed only if leaders in the Congress refuse to close their eyes to the scandal, and instead stop business as usual.
Conyers, Reid and Kerry will face harsh criticism for violating what might be called the Nixon precedent. When Kennedy beat Nixon by a few thousand votes in an election marked by irregularities in Illinois and Texas, Nixon chose not to challenge the result. Gore essentially followed that rule after the gang of five in the Supreme Court disgraced themselves by stopping the vote count in Florida. But the effect of the Nixon precedent is to provide those who would cheat with essentially a free pass. Particularly when the state officials are partisans, they can put in the fix with little fear of exposure so long as they win.
So Conyers will step up, accompanied by other courageous members of the House. They will object to the count and demand a debate. To force that debate, they need only one member of the Senate to join them. Reid should lead the entire caucus to join them. Kerry should stand alone if necessary to demand clean elections in America.
If America is to be a champion of democracy abroad, it must clean up its elections at home. If it is to complain of fraudulent and dishonest election practices abroad, it cannot condone them at home. But more important, if our own elections are to be legitimate, then they must be honest, open, with high national standards.
The time has come to stand up for clean elections, and to let it be known that massive irregularities will not go unchallenged.
There are moments in history when civilisation redefines itself. Times when momentum builds to bring down a status quo that people are no longer willing to
accept. The abolition of slavery was one. So were the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid.
When it comes to the wanton loss of lives to extreme poverty and disease, 2005 might be such a moment. Right now it seems unthinkable: the year has begun on an incomprehensibly tragic note in Asia. Yet momentum has been building to make this the year when the world finally gets serious about changing the future for its poorest people. The coming 12 months are a test for us all - especially the leaders of G8 nations, whose vision and resolve have never been more on the line.
History's judgment will be harsh if we fail, precisely because we are the first generation with the power to succeed. New tools and ideas are creating opportunities that were, very recently, unthinkable. Conventional wisdom used to be that foreign aid could not buy measurable results. That attitude -with its ally, indifference - is erodingin the face of dramatic progress, particularly in health.
Click on the link below for the rest of the statement.
Diseases that have wiped out generations of poor people are now, themselves, on the brink of extinction. Fifteen years ago, polio afflicted 350,000; today, that number is 800, and could soon be zero. In the past five years, increased immunisation has saved the lives of half a million children, a number that could triple over the next decade.
Another old, unjust idea is fading: the notion that poor countries, shackled by old Cold War debts to the richest countries, have to pay us back, no matter the cost in human suffering. Now that wealthy nations are writing off some of that debt, the poorest countries have been able to boost their spending on other urgent priorities such as health and education. Uganda, for example, has used its savings to double the number of children in primary school.
More than ever, the world knows what works. Five years ago, world leaders vowed to make it work even better, in more places, for more people. A set of Millennium Development Goals pledged to the world's poor that, in this new century, basic human needs would finally be met. Food, clean water, health services and education would be the birthright of every child.
Heads of state are talking seriously not just about fighting disease and deprivation, but about ending them. After a decade of declining aid flows, some wealthy countries are stepping up to their pledges to do more, including Britain. In 2005, Britain's role in the chair of the G8 group of nations and as president of the EU means that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are ideally placed to broker a much better deal from other countries.
The temptation to trim or cut back is a strong force in nations facing budget pressures. This has to be weighed against the costs of inaction. In Africa today, 10 million Aids orphans need care because their parents could not get access to anti-retroviral drugs. There may be 20 million more by 2010. Surely it's cheaper, smarter and easier to prevent fires like these from starting than to stop them once they're raging.
Only one of us is known for crunching numbers. But we both believe that investments in human potential pay off many times over. They have the power to end extreme poverty. But only if we learn to think big again.
The Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after the Second World War and became a bulwark against Soviet expansion, cost the United States two per cent of its GDP over four years. Today, in tense, nervous times, an investment of less could not only transform more people's lives, but also transform the way those people see us.
Our momentum, then, is real but fragile. This year brings a unique convergence of global summits, progress reports, and negotiations on debt, trade and effective aid. The acronyms - G8, UN MDGs, WTO, IMF - cause eyes to glaze, but they amount to the best chance yet for the world to learn from its successes and to keep moving forward.
For a start, we hope that the leaders of every developed nation will resolve to take four crucial steps in 2005. The wealthy world has already committed itself to some of these ideas. Promises made must be promises kept. First: double the amount of effective foreign assistance - possibly through the International Finance Facility, a UK proposal to frontload aid and get it flowing immediately.
A British- and French-backed initiative using the same principles is ready to roll now and could save five million lives by increasing child immunisation. Second: finish the job on poor countries' debts. They need more than relief - they need full debt cancellation. Third: change unfair trade rules, creating a pathway for poor countries to reach self-reliance. Fourth: provide funding for the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, a more aggressive and coordinated approach to developing an HIV vaccine.
In these and other ways, our governments can make history - and we must demand that they do so. That is why, three days into the year, "2005" movements have already taken root, bringing unlikely allies - CEOs and NGOs, pop stars and priests, mothers' unions and student unions - together in a global campaign for justice.
The story of 2005 will have its leaders and laggards, and in a year's time it will be clear to all of us who was which. In the meantime, it is up to us how we want our generation to be remembered. For the internet? Or the war on terror? Or for finally deciding that where a child happens to live will no longer determine whether that child gets to go on living?
Lines of latitude and longitude are stronger than any Iron Curtain and divide us more than apartheid. The world has the resources and the technology to change all this. The question to be answered in 2005 is whether we can summon the will.
Bill Gates is chairman of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bono is lead singer of the pop group U2 and co-founder of DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa)
On a topic that I believe I have not yet addressed on this site, there is news today that stem cells may indeed fulfill the promise that doctors have been boasting about. Specifically, a Japanese study has come out showing that stem cells reverse some of the effects of Parkinson's in monkeys. Clearly, one study proves little and much more work is to be done, but wouldn't it be great if 20 years from now we used cells that were going to be discarded anyway to cure debilitating diseases in not just the elderly, but in children, babies, and middle-aged people as well?
It just makes so much sense. Luckily, we have states like California, which passed a referendum granting $3bn to stem cell research efforts (led by an unlikely source - Republican gov Arnold Schartzenegger... this is the main thing I cite when I try to explain to Democrats why I think he's doing a decent job). The money is great, but we still need some sense in the federal government to open up more useful cell lines for study.
Iraqi elections supposed to happen on the 30th, a new Congress starts today (which always makes for some interesting stories), the war continues (mayor of Baghdad killed today), and Bush seeks to change social security (see Krugman's column in today's NYT).
Among other interesting developments today is the House Republicans going back on their earlier decision to change existing rules and allow DeLay to stay in his leadership post if he's indicted. He would now have to step down. Apparently DeLay himself pushed the move to reverse course. A great quote came from Rep. Zach Wamp:
It allows the Republicans to focus on the issues, the agenda that is before us, and not to have Tom DeLay be the issue. I feel like we have just taken a shower.
ps. If anyone is interested in reading an in-depth report on challenges of fraud/voter-irregularities in Ohio, and I mean 56 pages in-depth, this link is for you. Written by a DailyKos diarist.
Here are the 3 things I hope to see from President Bush this year:
1. An honest admission of the challenge faced in Iraq, an acceptance of responsibility for mistakes that have been made to date, and a promise to listen to world opinion for how to remake the country.
2. Straight talk about social security. Don't try to trick us by describing the situation as a crisis, when you and your experts know well that it is not. If you want to change the system then argue your side fair and square; don't use your pulpit to spread disinformation.
3. Acknowledge the staggering nature of the national debt and realize you must give up on further tax cuts for now because you are running a war, rich people are doing just fine, and domestic programs helping the voiceless is a far better use of the money.