Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
A Noble Idea
Maureen Dowd's temporary replacement (thank god - though I agree with her sentiments, I often can't stomach to read her) on the NYT op/ed page, Matt Miller, wrote on Saturday of a plan to attract better teachers to poor public schools by committing to make the best teachers millionaires by the time they retire. He'd do this by starting pay at $60,000, paying the top-performing half $90,000 (he doesn't say how he'd measure performance), and pay the best of those $150,000, thereby enabling them to save enough to retire with $1m.
Could it be done? I don't know. Judging by test scores compels teachers to teach to the test. And if you put the decision in the hands of a couple of administrators, you open up the potential for bias, discrimination, personal relationships, etc. It's also expensive - $30 billion a year, which Miller likens to the amount the government would stop collecting if it repealed the estate tax, as the GOP wants to. He doesn't say, however, where to get this new amount of money from.
A noble idea, but an impossible one too, at least for the time being.
For politicos among my readers, I'm adding TPM Cafe to the links at the bottom right. It's a Daily Kos style group blog and discussion area, with lots of smart people posting (and this week's guest-blogger is John Edwards).
France rejected the EU draft Constitution, by 55%, because they are worried it will open the door to tearing down some of their traditional social programs and workers' rights protections. It's an interesting development when compared to the United States, where Republican leadership is trying to chip away at social welfare programs one by one and usher in as close as pure free-market capitalism as we can. It's nice to know that somewhere in the world people care about protecting the less fortunate.
Update: Just to clarify, because I think the statement above can be read as if written by a left-wing-nut, I'm not anti-capitalist. I just believe that unfettered capitalism leads to the creation of a self-perpetuating aristocratic class, and a huge and inhumane gap between the wealthy and the very poor. Therefore I believe in capitalism with some safeguards protecting lower classes from extreme poverty, from inability to meet basic health needs, etc.
I'm also very pro-EU, as this Nov 17 '04 post shows, and believe that the United States needs a competitor on its scale. I hope the EU can ratify a Constitution at some point, as that Constitution was going to include a ban on the death penalty, and a clear statement of the right to universal healthcare, housing for the poor, and equal treatment for homosexuals.
GOP: - Looks like the filibuster deal gives a small plus to McCain and a minus to Frist. McCain pulled off the compromise and Frist failed to deliver. Then again, in the primary, McCain could be seen by the hard right as abandoning a Republican principle where Frist stood up for it and refused to compromise. So I don't see any major shift in the GOP 2008 landscape coming out of this. - Rice wants it?. Too early for her I think.
Democrats: - HRC is moving in the right direction. For the 1st time a majority of those polled said they would vote for her - 29% "very likely" and 24% "somewhat likely". - Said it once, will say it again... Wes Clark's running
Karen Hicks, who ran Howard Dean's New Hampshire office and recently advised Tony Blair, joined Gifford Miller's mayoral campaign this week to head up field operations. It's a great boost for Miller, who has a lot of momentum in the campaign right now.
I had never heard of this case until today, but it's straight from that Clair Danes movie. Australian Schapelle Corby will be pronounced innocent or guilty, and sentenced tomorrow in Indonesia for alledgedly smuggling 9 lbs of Marijuana into that country. She says Australian baggage handlers must have planted it as part of a failed domestic smuggling operation.
If found guilty tomorrow she will either be sentenced to life in prison or death. And the conditions in the prison she's currently in sound appaling.
It's too late now to do anything. Just hope for a fair verdict.
Now that the filibuster situation has proven that there can be bi-partisan cooperation in the Senate, there's rumor that the next thing the moderate group of 14 Senators will tackle is social security.
Like Kos, I'm dead against compromise on social security. The Democrats have already won this. And I'm not just being political. There are MUCH more serious problems facing the country that need the bi-partisan energy and effort - the most pressing is the healthcare/Medicare/Medicaid crisis, which is like the social security problem but 20 years more advanced (in Medicare we're already passed the 2018 social security point where revenues in are less than expenses out).
What Democrats really need to do is shift their focus to solving the healthcare crisis, and ACTUALLY COME UP WITH A PLAN. If the Democrats for once are seen as proactive rather than reactive, not only will the country finally relate to the fact that we're the party with the right priorities, but maybe we'll actually be able to get something real done to solve the problem.
Another of my occasional personal finance moments...
I'm not a huge fan of Suze Orman, but this article makes some sense of a stipulation that others take for granted, namely that you should save for your child's college education.
Why? Hasn't anyone heard of grants, scholarships, and loans? There are so many vehicles available to finance a college education. And virtually no schools these days have need-based admission policies... ie. your child can get in anywhere whether or not you have the ability to pay. So it makes so much more sense to save for retirement and other life events that DON'T have a whole industry built around helping you to finance.
Here's Orman's paragraph:
Don’t save (or save less) for your kid’s college education. I know we have discussed this one before, and I know you may hate to hear it, but this is such a crucial point: you cannot afford to save for your kid’s college education if it means you will be shortchanging your retirement investing. Your child can get aid and loans for college. No one is going to be ready to help you in retirement. I have recently had the opportunity to talk to thousands of young adults in their late twenties and early thirties, and I can tell you that one of the biggest financial frustrations they voiced to me was that their parents weren’t straight with them about the money situation. Mom and/or Dad thought they were being Superparents by paying for a big chunk of school, but now the kids are realizing that their well-intentioned parents are in horrendous financial shape and basically can’t afford to retire. Even worse, many of the parents try to deal with their problem by taking out big home equity lines they can’t afford, or charging up frightening balances on their credit cards. Please don’t do this to your kid. If it’s a question of college fund or retirement fund, the most responsible parenting move is to choose the retirement fund.
As expected, the moderate Senators on both sides came together and made deal to avoid the filibuster showdown tomorrow in the Senate. The Democrats will allow 3 to come to a vote, and the Republicans will allow the filibuster to remain on the others.
I'm happy, because while I supported Reid's strength in preserving the filibuster, I think this was the best possible outcome for the Dems.
For some readers (like my mom), this blog seems to be the sole source of information/news/commentary on the detailed politics that doesn't get reported on CNN and the nightly news. So, for those of you in that category (or possibly just you, mom), here's a recap of the filibuster situation:
- The president nominates people to be judges at all levels, including the Supreme Court, the Circuit Courts just below the Supreme Court, and the federal courts below that. The Senate's constitutional role is to provide "advice and consent" on the president's nominees, meaning they have to be confirmed by a committee and then by the full Senate vote. - Bush has made something like 200 judicial nominations in the course of his presidency that have been confirmed with no impediment from Democrats - 7 nominees, however, have been judged by Democrats as being incapable of being impartial, non-partisan, fair judges. The Democrats have "filibustered" these nominees. The filibuster is a provision in the Constitution that allows any senator to stall a vote on legislation or confirmation just by refusing to stop talking. That's right - they talk and talk and talk some more and only a vote of 60 or more Senators can end the filibuster. Since Republicans only have 55 senators, the Democrats have been able to successfully filibuster these 7 nominees. - Republicans, led by majority leader Bill First (a 2008 Republican presidential front-runner), believe it is within their power (due to a bunch of Senate rules) to declare, by simple majority vote, the filibuster illegal specifically for judicial nominees (they want to keep it for legislation). They have threatened to invoke this so-called "nuclear option" if Democrats don't give up on their filibuster. - Democrats have threatened to "shut down" the Senate if Republicans do away with the judicial filibuster, which has been around for 200+ years - The problem is that there are 5 or so senators on each side that aren't 100% into what their party is doing. A few Republicans are wary to be seen as changing the rules of the Senate when it suits their interests. And a few Democrats don't want to be seen as stalling progress and preventing the government from doing real work.
So we're at somewhat of an impasse, and it will all come to a head tomorrow when Frist decides whether or not to invoke the nuclear option, which he would do by asking for a ruling from Dick Cheney as to whether or not filibustering a judicial nomination is a violation of the rules. Cheney would then put it to a majority vote, where the Republicans would be on the line.
Dems: - IL Gov Blagojevich's favorability ratings are dropping hard, in part because of a comment he made about his "testicular virility". That doesn't sound like a president, or even super-long shot. Dropping him to 50:1 - IA Gov Tom Vilsack sure sounds like a man who's running for President. His strategy is probably about right, too. I'll up him slightly to 11:1, tied with Gov. Warner which makes 11:1 my spot for people I like who I think will come up slightly short.
Republicans: - I've got to keep moving George Allen up the list, as more insiders predict he'll be the GOP nominee. Up to 6:1. - Kncoking Santorum down to 22:1. Obviously.
According to a recent poll, Democrats hold a 47%-40% edge when people are asked which party they want to control Congress after the 2006 elections. It's the Democratic Party's best showing since the Journal/NBC survey began asking that question in 1994.
The NY Daily News reports that Mayor Bloomberg has already spent $10m on his re-election campaign, "including $267 on tropical fish, $210 for Mets tickets and $255 on a nifty clock that counts down to Election Day".
As I said before, I think there's something wrong with a candidate spending so much of his own money to get elected ($73m in 2001, a record outside of Presidential elections). It has the feel of subverting the will of the people for personal gain, believing that you know better than the people. And I think Bloomberg is clearly in that territory (hence I support Gifford Miller for Mayor).
Beginning in September, the New York Times is going to restrict access to its online op/ed pages to paid print subscribers or people who pay $50 /yr. Sucks for me - as you know, I love Paul Krugman. And David Brooks at least gets me worked up. Don't know if I'll pay it or not.
From Friday's Krugman column: The average worker at Wal-Mart makes $17,000 per year. Last year the CEO, Scott Lee Jr., made $17,500,000. So Mr. CEO makes in two weeks what the average worker will make over their entire lifetime. Is it really possible to argue that this man's skills are that rare and vital that this is deserved? At least a baseball player has a demostrated talent far above and beyond the average person.
Income disparity is either the cause or effect of many of America's problems.
NYTimes has a big series on Class in America, which I'll probably be discussing more in the coming days as I read it all. For now, here's a fascinating interactive feature on people's pursuit of the American Dream and mobility between classes.
- Population growth, combined with aging, immigration, and domestic migration are making for an interesting pattern in American cities... decreasing density (increasing sprawl) in newer, western cities, and majority minority in many U.S. cities - A very noticeable arrangement of three types of U.S. cities: The Sun Belt - attracting significant migration of whites; The Melting Pot - states such as NY, CA, and IL where races mix; and The Heartland States - where population growth is slow and whites still make up the vast majority. - Suburbs are now becoming more diverse, following the pattern in cities - Poverty is increasing in suburbs, and jobs are moving to the suburbs as well
I think my odds on Republicans have been too high as a group. I'm shifting everyone downward a little.
Hagel: From 9:2 to 5:1 Frist: 5:1 to 6:1 McCain: 5:1 to 6:1 Giuliani: 11:2 to 7:1 Allen: 7:1 to 8:1 Gingrich: 7:1 to 9:1 Bush: 8:1 to 10:1
... and the rest all down a point or two. I think that's more realistic. But remember, if Giacomo can win the Derby, we could have Kathleen Sebelius (50:1) facing off with Bill O'Reilly (40:1) in 2008.
"The time has come that the American people know exactly what their Representatives are doing here in Washington. Are they feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people, the American people, have a right to know." - Tom DeLay, 11/16/95
It appears that the Frist Filibuster, the movement of a bunch of Princeton students that started filibustering outside the Frist Campus Center and moved it to Washington late Tuesday (still filibustering on the bus overnight), has come to an end with a press conference with Senators Corzine and Schumer this morning. I was hoping they'd keep going until Frist either pulled the trigger or backed off, but I guess they've got college to attend to. 384 hours straight is not too shabby. Well done.
David Sirota thinks the time is right, given the DeLay lobbying scandals, for Democrats to come out strongly in favor of publicly-financed federal elections, removing once and for all (fine... reducing) the ability of lobbyists and wealthy corporations from influencing governmental policy through campaign donations.
I can't help but agree. I was amazed by reports about the recent British election - how the campaigns are run, and how much money is spent. First of all, paid advertising on tv and radio is illegal; broadcasters are required to provide a limited amount of free airtime for party infomercials (what? no 30 second soundbites? you mean people actually have to listen to full, detailed arguments about policy and values? oh the horror!)
Second, a total of approx $55m (at current FX rate) is estimated to have been spent on this year's British election. With 60m people, that's slightly less than $1 per person. The U.S., on the other hand, spent over $4bn on the 2004 cycle, or roughly $14 per person (14 times as much per person!). And if anyone thinks that extra money created a more informed debate, you're delusional.
Britain doesn't have publicly-financed elections either, but clearly their system has fewer flaws than ours. Should this be a pillar of Democratic party policy?
In a 1954 letter to his brother Edgar, President Dwight Eisenhower wrote the following:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
Arianna Huffington's much-discussed group blog debued on Monday, and I must say I really like it. There are hundreds of contributors, including people like Larry David, Jon Corzine, Harry Shearer, John Zogby, Paul Reickhoff, Walter Cronkite, Quincy Jones, Joe Scarborough, Bill Maher, Rob Reiner, etc. etc. I was skeptical of the idea, but it's on my watch list now and in my Links section on the right of this page.
A post of note today is from Cory Booker, Democratic candidate for Mayor of Newark. Cory, a Stanford All-American football player, Rhodes Scholar, Yaw Law grad, fomer Newark councilman, and currently lawyer, tells the remarkable story of how he moved into a project in Newark (where he still lives) and came to understand the necessity for brave local people to invest their energy in their neighborhood. It's a great read.
Cory is a remarkable politician. I first wrote about him back in November. I've also met with one of his campaign directors, an incredibly bright woman and a superb fundraiser. Cory will undoubtedly win the mayoral election in Newark in May 2006. He had a campaign kickoff event on Monday, one year before the election. Booker will make a much better mayor than Sharpe James has been in Newark in the last 20 years. Then from there it's on to bigger and brighter things for Cory.
George Mitchell, former Senate Majority Leader, reminds us that filibusters of judicial nonimees have happened many times before, including 1968 when Republicans filibustered an LBJ Supreme Court nominee, and in 2000 when Republicans filibustered 2 Clinton circuit court nominees.
As Mitchell says:
So much for the assertion that filibustering to prevent votes on judicial nominees is a new tactic invented by Senate Democrats.
Have Republicans gone mad? Are they really this drunk with power?
A NYT article on how Gifford Miller, as a white Protestant, lacks a natural base in the New York City Democratic primary, where traditionally ethnicity matters, and few white Protestants have been successful.
It's unfortunate that people vote based on race, because the white Protestant happens to be, IMO, the most capable in the race.
Texas to balance the scales for capital punishment juries?
A Salon article discusses the movement in Texas to allow for life sentences without the possibility of parole. Texas is currently 1 of 2 states that have capital punishment but do not offer the alternative of sentencing the convict to life without parole. Therefore Texas prosecutors can tell juries that if they don't sentence to death, there is a possibility that the murderer might be set free in 40 years. Hence, it's easy to see why Texas is the execution capital of the U.S.
But now they're thinking about adding the life without parole option, which could significantly cut down on death sentences in Texas. In my mind that's an admirable goal. With the explosion of modern technology in criminology, and the exoneration (through DNA etc.) of many people waiting for execution on death row, it's hard in this day and age to argue that in cases involving even the slightest sliver of uncertainty that death without parole is a worse choice that the death penalty, especially if your primary concern is not killing innocent people.
I haven't addressed social security too much lately in this space, but today's Krugman column is too good to pass up. He boils it down to this:
...Let me deal with a fundamental misconception: the idea that President Bush's plan would somehow protect future Social Security benefits.
If the plan really would do that, it would be worth discussing. It's possible - not certain, but possible - that 40 or 50 years from now Social Security won't have enough money coming in to pay full benefits. (If the economy grows as fast over the next 50 years as it did over the past half-century, Social Security will do just fine.) So there's a case for making small sacrifices now to avoid bigger sacrifices later.
But Mr. Bush isn't calling for small sacrifices now. Instead, he's calling for zero sacrifice now, but big benefit cuts decades from now - which is exactly what he says will happen if we do nothing. Let me repeat that: to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.
I reported the top-line findings in my post on Friday, but the most interesting thing I saw in the details of the poll is that while Hillary leads the Democratic nomination polling, John Edwards does somewhat better than her in the one-on-ones against the Republicans.
Somewhat of a slow week for 2008 machinations, with Senate not in session and Social Security debate back to the fore.
Two quick updates:
Today's Marist Poll shows Hillary with 40% to Kerry 18% and Edwards 14% for the Democrats. 25% Giuliani, 20% McCain, 10% J. Bush for the Republicans. Nothing surprising here - I'm not changing my rankings.
GOP: - My current frontrunner for the nomination, Nebraska Sen Chuck Hagel, is being very honest about his plans to run for President. He says he'll wait 'til after Nov 2006 to decide, but "I hope to be in position to have the option of entertaining the possibility of running for president."
No changings to the rankings today. Still predicting Hillary vs. Hagel.
The election is over in England, with Tony Blair's Labour party elected to an historic third term, though with a substantially reduced majority in members of Parliament. England has a very user-friendly election system - each constituency elects an MP, the party with >50% of the MPs gets to install their leader as prime minister and fill the rest of the cabinet. It was very enjoyable to watch last night on the BBC - their reporting was so much better than in the U.S. Here are the results.
What's also interesting about the UK elections is that the results are formally announced in each constituency, with all the candidates in the same room on the stage when the announcement is made. So while many safe seats are not surprising, it's interesting to see opposing candidates' reactions in close races.
The Iraq war weighed heavily - many Labour voters swung to the Liberal Democrats, who had a fairly good night as third-parties go... moving from 52 seats to 62 seats in Parliament (out of 646). If I was British LibDem would probably be my party, though I also love the fact that Labour, the majority party, is Center-Left not Center-Right.
Anyway, an interesting result in England, not altogether unexpected. It will be interesting to see what happens between the Conservatives and the LibDems from here on out... can the LibDems continue to drag the country leftward to a point where they are equal in stature with the Tories. Let's hope.
I'm not going to pretend I hate Mayor Bloomberg. I love the smoking ban. I love that he supports gay marriage. I love the plan to build a direct train to JFK. And I like the fact that he hasn't cut taxes stupidly or done some other things Republicans tend to do.
But there are some definite areas of deficiency that I think could be improved with a Democratic NYC mayor: 1. Bloomberg wants to build a stadium on the west side, with at least $600m of city funds that could be used to improve the many poor schools, partly in an effort to please one of his billionaire friends, and partly to attract an Olympics that no city residents I've talked to actually want (do we really need more terrorist threats?) 2. Bloomberg has befriended Bush and Pataki, and has not lobbied hard enough for Homeland Security or Education funds that NYC should be getting from the state and federal governments. A court ruled that NYC schools are being underfunded by Albany, but Bloomberg hasn't done anything about it. 3. Bloomberg spent $76million of his own money on the last race. On principal, I really can't support anyone who does that - it becomes clear that their purpose is winning/notoriety rather than ensuring that the people's choice is elected. [I also hate it when Democrats like Corzine do it]. 4. He does nothing to build the base or the bench of the Democratic party. NYC major is a high-profile position that can be leveraged to attain higher office. It's important for us to elect Democrats who have the chance to not only do great things in NYC, but to prepare themselves to be great candidates on a higher level.
For those reasons, I'm going to vote for a Democrat, and my choice is Gifford Miller, Speaker of the City Council, who is the current longest-serving elected official in New York City. Miller has focused on improving the quality of education, including smaller class size and more appropriate funding from Albany and Washington. He has led 21 overrides of Bloomberg vetoes, on things like emergency contraception for rape victims. A few weeks ago he forced Bloomberg to include an extra $1.3bn for school improvement in the city budget. He has the endorsement of former speaker Peter Vallone, and a number of unions - the UAW local just called him "the candidate to lead our City into the future".
Most of you probably know about the study that came out a week or two ago saying people that are slightly overweight generally live a little longer than thin people. Seems like some have taken that one study as a green light to eat in excess.
What's important is to remember that this study talks about a grey area - where people are normal weight to slightly overweight. That's going to be an issue in any society, and of course not a huge deal 10-15 lbs one way or the other. And weight itself is not the driver of health - if you exercise a lot and still are slightly overweight, you're probably fine. If you're sedentary and skinny, you're probably not-so-fine.
The problem in America is of a culture that creates astounding rates of obesity - ie. not just 20 lbs overweight but 50+. That is what is truly unhealthy, and that is what is created by the TGI Fridays mega-plate / all-you-can-eat buffet / "must finish your plate" culture in the U.S.
A bill is being reintroduced to give the District of Columbia a seat in the House of Representatives. Currently DC residents have absolutely no representation on a national level. That's 563,000 people - just 56,000 people less than Vermont (which has 2 senators and 1 rep), and 62,000 more than Wyoming.
Isn't this a no-brainer? Can anyone give a reason why these people shouldn't be represented?
New York mayoral races are always so strange. First, the fact that one of the most liberal cities in the country has had a Republican mayor for the last 11 years, and looks ready to re-elect the current GOP'er, is astounding. Next, the Democratic front-runner makes a boneheaded comment and his campaign totally unravels, including the defection of two major aides over the weekend.
Everyone is complaining that the Democratic Party isn't putting up any good candidates for mayor - which would also be incredibly surprising in a city filled with incredibly smart people, many of whom are Democrats.
The race will change a hundred times between now and primary day (Sept. 13). These things are impossible to predict.
Which is why I'm hoping that Gifford Miller can gain some traction in the coming weeks and months. He's be totally overlooked so far, lumped into a category of "not good enough" Democrats (with Ferrer, Fields, and Weiner), when in fact if people looked hard enough, they'd find someone that is indeed plenty capable.
Gifford graduated Princeton in 1992 and got himself elected to City Council in 1996. I'm now four years out of college, and my sense of accomplishment takes a serious hit when I give that some thought. Six years later (at 32) his colleagues were so impressed with him that they elected him their Speaker.
It's important to build our Democratic party base. If you're interested in learning more about Gifford, come to one of the upcoming Generation G events: May 11th at SoHo House; or May 19th at Suede.