Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thoughts on Money, the DuPonts, Delaware...and John Edwards

I'm sitting here in a hotel room in Delware, the state known for a tax-free holiday, any day of the week, any week of the year for any good you need - or want - to consume. Delaware, the state of Joe "let's divide all these folks up in Iraq to solve our problems" Biden (and after driving through downtown Dover today, I can tell ya - dividing folks up by ethnic group is something that struck me as being something organic in this state).

This is the state of the DuPont family, the folks that made their money off of chemicals and death-in-the-form-of-selling-gunpowder. It's the state of the super rich, who own multiple mansions...and the super poor, like Phillip Reid, an 18-year-old walking down the 1400 block of W Forth Street in Wilmington when he was shot dead by a 17-year-old stranger who passed him on the sidewalk and said, "You got a problem?" (In Section B of "The News Journal" today - yes, I'm referencing newsprint!)

Yesterday, my husband and I took our kids to a local Chick-fil-A (they don't have these in New England so whenever we travel to more southernly climes we try to stuff our faces with these heavenly, fatty, fried chicken sandwiches. And sweet tea). Our children are young, and so moving them physically around can generally be somewhat of a challenge. This time an older woman with her teenage daughter saw us struggling between a stroller and a four-year-old, attempting to get both of them going in the same direction, so she took pity on us and opened the door to help us herd the little ones inside.

She briefly smiled at my husband and said, "Don't put your kids in public school. Been there, done that. It was a disaster."

Yes, it was an odd thing to say in front of her own teenage daughter. Yes, it was even odder in that it was a complete nonsequitor, without any lead-in, without any conversation about schools, or kids, or anything.

Here's the even odder thing: when you look at the statistics of public school rankings nationwide, Delaware as a whole isn't that bad. It's ranked #7 in spending per pupil, and average academic achievement is generally above national percentages (with huge disparities between white students and all other minorities, it should be noted - link here: df)

That got me thinking about how we look at money and public institutions. I'm a self-described liberal - progressive, even - and most of us on this side of the political spectrum love the idea of public institutions. Public parks. Public libraries. Public schools. And public - or universal - healthcare. But there are some of us at times (and I don't exclude myself from this assessment) who like the idea of the public institution more than the reality of it. Sure, public parks are great...but sometimes you just want to have the nice, expensive treehouse-slide-swingset-fort playcenter in your own backyard. Yeah, public schools are wonderful long as I live in the right neighborhood. If I'm "pioneering", you know my kid's going to that nice private school down the road.

Public institutions are looked upon in this country too many times as places of last resort. In fairness, more often than not they are. But should they be?

The people who built the original colonial towns in this country built them with greenspace. Either a commons, or a town green, or some area around which the main business of the community could be conducted. People could interact with each other. Sometimes, it was used for a collective place to graze your cattle, or hang people. Sometimes the best and the worst of the community was on display in these areas. But it was a public place that the public used, and it was a vital part of the community...and not just some area that those desperate people utilized because it was their last resort.

All of this leads me to John Edwards and his decision to use public campaign financing. Serious politicians aren't supposed to use public financing now, not if they "really want to win". Only if you're desperate, only if this is a complete area of last resort, is one supposed to use this imperfect public institution as a means to become President and help set an agenda for all of our imperfect public institutions.

And we want to know why our government doesn't work for us. Hmmmmm....

Edwards is a rich guy. Not only that, his campaign has raised some serious dough - more, I might add, than a good number of his Republican counterparts. But all of us on the left, all of us who want to protect and expand our public institutions have been sold the meme of the "money primary", that somehow "most electible" means "person with the most campaign cash". Not best ideas. Not best strategies to move the country forward. Not even best in running against candidates from the other party in the general election. Money. Mulah. The almighty dollar-ino.

Personally, I think we need to change the way we look at this whole thing, if we believe in Martin Luther King's admonition that your ends are in your means. Maybe, just maybe, Edwards - this independently wealthy guy of $400 haircut fame - took a look at this insane methodology we're using to pick our presidents and thought to himself, "You know, I could either run on money or on people and ideas. Let's just go the public campaign financing route." I don't know if this was the thought process - I've never spoken to the man before in my life. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was.

It's never too late to change, and it's never too late to do the right thing. I'm glad Edwards took this step, even if it is somewhat late in the game. I'm not saying that all of the other candidates have to "join him", far from it.

But maybe they - and we - should step back and think about how this process has been corrupted. Maybe we should consider how this affects our country if our ends are in our means.

Maybe we should really start being the change we want to see.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Edwards campaign opts for public financing

In something of a turnabout, the John Edwards 2008 campaign announced it would accept public financing in the primary campaign. Here are some exerpts from the press release.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Today, Senator John Edwards announced he will be seeking public financing for the 2008 presidential primary campaign. Just as he challenged the Democratic Party to stop accepting contributions from lobbyists, today Edwards is again taking the lead in ending the money game in Washington.

"You can't buy your way to the Democratic nomination—you should have to earn the votes of the American people with bold vision and ideas," said Edwards' campaign manager Congressman David Bonior. "This is the most expensive presidential campaign in history, by far. And the simple fact is that the influence of money in politics—and the focus on raising money in this election—has gotten out of control. It's time to get back to focusing on the issues that matter to the American people. That's why John Edwards has decided to play by the rules that were designed to ensure fairness in the election process by capping his campaign spending and seeking public financing."

Under the public financing system for the presidential primaries, the government will match up to $250 of an individual's contributions to an eligible candidate. To establish credibility, a candidate must show broad-based public support by proving to the FEC that he or she has raised in excess of $5,000 of matchable contributions in each of at least 20 states. This is done through a threshold submission to the FEC. In addition a candidate must also agree to: limit campaign spending for all primary elections; limit campaign spending in each state; and limit spending from personal funds to $50,000.

It's an interesting choice. The Edwards campaign raised over 23 million dollars in the first six months of 2007, so it's clear that they could raise money in excess of the 50 million cap which is effective until August of 2008 - their limit under the public financing rules. On the flip side, the decision is liberating. Maximizing contributions under the limits of public matching can probably be accomplished through online and referral efforts. That means Senator Edwards won't need to court larger money contributions (they won't be matched) directly, or through small group parties. He can spend his time campaigning for votes.

Another intriguing aspect is that he's finessed Clinton and Obama on an issue they claim to support. Both laud the idea of public financing, but have demurred on utiliziing it. They have both received (particularly Senator Clinton) large money contributions and seem bent upon raising as much cash as is possible. Edwards did that in the 2004 primary, but seems to think that's not what matters this time around.

The Campaign To Change America has defied political convention from the start, and seems likely to do it until the end. We'll see if it works.

I, for one, certainly hope so.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Two gorgeous days in New Hampshire

Today and yesterday in New Hampshire have been gorgeous for The Campaign To Change America.

I was contacted early in the week to be involved in a conference call ahead of Wednesday's debate with John Edward's campaign strategists. It wasn't just them and me to be sure - but I gather there were less than 200 of us across the country on this call. How did I rate this special treatment? Not for much, I would say. I am a captain in our local One Corps chapter - along with Dustin Blythe. He and I have certainly put effort into the campaign. But I think we were invited because we identified ourselves as wanting to make a difference. That really seems to be enough.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am a political junkie, and this is the first campaign I have been absolutely fired up about. I now understand evangelism. So...

The call was so cool. We didn't hear from unknown operatives. Instead, the first speaker was none other than David Bonior, the National Campaign Manager. I'm sure most of you know the Hon. David Bonior, former House Majority Whip from Michigan as a tireless supporter of progressive causes for decades. What you may not know is that he holds his position with the Edwards campaign (unpaid), despite his determination to retire from politics. The mood that surrounds this campaign is that it's finally time to do something!

We got a real clear idea of the strategy and our assets in the first four states. A couple things that stood out was that although Senators Clinton and Obama have spent over 4 million dollars on television ads in Iowa recently, our lead in the polls had not diminished. The second thing that caught my attention was that Senator Edwards had quietly accumulated more African American elected official endorsements in South Carolina than Clinton and Obama combined.

So, John Edwards has real strength in three of the four early states - strong union support in Nevada - but New Hampshire seems challenging. Enter two gorgeous days.

In the debate at Dartmouth, he looked like The President. He was calm, clear and unflappable. No analyst I heard claimed anything less than a fantastic outing for him. None.

So, how do you follow that? Today, he was at the University of New Hampshire for a MySpace/MTV dialogue. There was a large audience on site, but many people - including me - watched online. The online viewers were offered the opportunity to rate his responses to individual questions and eventually his overall responses.

He did pretty well. In the end, the overall favorable vote was roughly 93%.

I love the smell of democracy - it smells like victory.

Don Wheeler

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My turn to eat a bit of crow

I have recently complained about the conduct of the South Bend Tribune. Among the complaints was that on September 7, 2007 (published here) I had sent a letter to them whose assertions were backed by facts, that I had supplied background information to them and there seemed no prospect of it ever appearing in print. I was more hurt than angry, really. I've often commented to out-of -towners that one of the really cool things about living here is that if you write the local newspaper, it's very likely it will be published. So their failure to print my letter seemed a bit of a betrayal and seriously unfair. I had even come to believe I had been "blacklisted". Well, I was wrong.

When I opened the newspaper this morning, there it was. It was a bit buried and didn't carry a title I'd have picked, but I'm well aware the Trib is under no obligation to print anything I choose to send them. So I can continue to brag to the out of town folk.

It still is puzzling that it took nineteen days to hit print. That's a very long gap in my experience. But I had accused them of burying it. It seems that wasn't true.

I think it is pretty clear they favor Manigault, however. There were three separate pro Manigault pieces in that same edition today. A letter just ahead of mine, yet another page wide top of the page Michiana Point of View and a news story titled "GOP's Manigault opens office for Democrat voters". I'd have to be a hypocrite to complain about publishing the first two items, but the last one is a different story.

Start with the headline. Note the use of Democrat vs. Democratic. This isn't just poor grammar - it's standard issue Republic strategist tactics. But but most importantly, it's pretty much a straight up campaign press release for Manigault. There's no news here.

I also still fault them for not doing their own investigation of the fiscal shenanigans of the Workforce Investment Board.

Here's another mistake I made. Because Juan Manigault was so uniquely unqualified for the office he was campaigning for and because he seemed completely disingenuous to me, I didn't take his candidacy very seriously. His campaign has disabused me of that notion. Loathsome as I find their "perceptions are more important than facts " mantra, they have clearly made inroads that way, and they've backed that up by old fashioned grassroots organizing. Note how many Manigault signs you see on lawns - particularly on main traffic corridors. No, these folks should be taken seriously.

As many of you know, I'm deeply involved in the John Edwards campaign. There are serious limits to parallels one can draw between a local election and a more glamorous, more populated, nation-wide campaign featuring high powered consultants, etc. But there are some.

Left of center folks tend to think good job performance ought to be enough retain one's office. "If I can just make these folks understand what a good job I'm doing, I'll win in a landslide". Many years ago, I lost an election thinking this way and lost very badly.

Back to the Edwards campaign. There is a sizable group of volunteer activists like me who look for unfair attacks on our candidate and respond immediately. Obviously, the formal campaign staff does too.

The Mayor (I assume) has a pretty compact paid campaign group. It becomes very important then, for his supporters to take the lead addressing the nonstop nonsense emanating from Juan Manigault and his group. It also tends to mean more coming from citizens with nothing in particular to gain. Nothing that is, except good governance.

I suspect the Mayor is still in the stronger position. But complacency among his supporters could be his undoing.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

On Congressional Empathy, Or, Can You Feel The War Now?

In a comment on the BlueNC site to one of my postings, Icloud aptly points out that Mr. Bush does not personally suffer the consequences of this war-that is, neither his family or personal fortune are at stake here.

The same can also be said of many of the Members of Congress. Jim Webb is an example of a Member who does feel that personal connection, and the passion he brings to this issue is clearly a result of that experience.

So how might we make the Members and the President more personally engaged in the daily lives of the military community…and more empathetic to the needs of the average military family?

The purpose of today’s discussion is to offer a suggestion that would do exactly that.

We can’t force the children of Members to serve personally in the Services, but we can bring a touch of the experience home fairly easily.

All we have to do is require Members and their families to obtain their medical care exclusively at VA and military facilities, and to encourage-by shame, if need be-those families to shop at military Exchange and Commissary stores.

For those not familiar, the Services operate two chains of official stores that provide the same kinds of things you might expect in a Target store (with a similar atmosphere, although not always as large) on bases and ships worldwide.

There are items unique to the military such as uniforms that are also available, which adds an interesting fashion atmosphere to the place, but that’s another story.

One chain is operated by the Navy (the Navy Exchange Service), the other by the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).

If Members had to see families in the grocery line trying to stretch the money they have; if they saw all the single parents who don’t have partners 15 months at a time…well, that might help to transcend the polics of why something as simple as the Webb amendment makes sense.

But for real impact, we should make it our business to insist that all Members, and their families, from now on, share the same medical care that our Servicemembers and their families receive-no better, no worse.

And to take it one step further, if there are billing disputes or customer care issues related to the health care needs of the Members and their families; send those issues to the same dispute resolution apparatus that serves the military community today.

Of course we can expect the usual objections:
“It will be inconvenient…”
“We would have to mingle with ordinary citizens…”
“Our time is too valuable to be spent waiting in lines like veterans have to…”

Guess what?
That’s the idea.

If it’s inconvenient enough to irritate the Members, it should become much more convenient for the military community in very short order.

If it's perceived by the public as another example of how Rs disrespect the troops while Ds support them, so much the better.

Now admittedly, none of this goes to the core of Iclouds original point; but by forcing every single Member to deal with this on a most personal level, it should force Congress to deal with a whole series of issues-or face the personal consequences.

How can this be accomplished?

Through the public choice of accepting the challenge, for the good of the troops-or accepting the shame of refusing.

Force Members to publicly answer the question of whether they feel they are too important to accept the same kind of care America’s troops volunteer for.

Force them to publicly admit they find the care our troops get is inadequate for their families.

Congressional Democrats-want to force the Republicans back on the defensive? Walter Reed, the issues of how Republicans take care of our troops, and the inadequate case management they receive when they return left the Rs rocking on their heels.

This is a tremendous issue for us-why not run with it and force the Rs to either agree or threaten a filibuster to fight you.

Candidates-why not now challenge the R candidates by coming out with the statement that as you run for President you will make every effort you can to devote yourself to this cause-and ask them why they won’t take a stand on what should be a bi-partisan issue?

Now I know this is an unlikely, long shot proposal, but long shots do happen.
Consider that today the Seattle Mariners are playing a game in Seattle, at Safeco Field, their own stadium-and they are the visiting team.

If that can happen, why not this?
Jim Webb, Harry Reid, John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi…whaddaya think?
Want to try a different tack?
I promise the public will support you-and it will raise public approval of Democratic Members.

Helping Servicemembers, helping vets, helping raise Congressional approval…and it’ll scare the hell out of Congressional Republicans.

What’s not to love?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Here's a real contrast in contests

I just received an invitation to contribute to the Hillary campaign. I received a similar offer from the Edwards campaign awhile back. Each offers a contest to contributors. (Three winners for Clinton, five winners for Edwards).

Here's how the contests play out:

If I'm the lucky winner of the Clinton event, I will sit with former President Bill Clinton as he oohs and ahs his wife's performance in an upcoming debate. I'm promised he'll share a bowl of chips with me.

Should I be a winner in the Edwards event, I'll work next to Senator Edwards, helping to rebuild someone's home, offering a victim of Hurricane Katrina a bit of hope for some normalcy in his/ her life.

So...Chips and gab? Or good works?

Tough call.

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Don Wheeler

On Mr. Bush, Or, Does "Stay The Course" Work In Baseball?

Mr. Bush has officially informed us that recent success in Al-Anbar Province should convince us to “stay the course” in Iraq, despite the failure of every other aspect of his Iraq/Afghanistan/foreign policy initiatives-and the shifting nature of the definition of success.

Even more ironically, Mr. Bush now plans to become a crusader for fiscal responsibility, despite his failure to take this issue seriously in the past.

All of this has lead to a huge back and forth between those who claim this bit of recent overseas success and the current “strong economy” justify more of the same, as success is finally “just around the corner”, and those who see this President’s Iraq policy as essentially passing the problem on to the next President.

It’s always tough to judge a President during his term, considering the lack of a peer group to use for comparison. But what if Mr. Bush had the same won/loss record in a different job?

That question is the point of today’s conversation.

"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."
--Yogi Berra, former baseball manager

The crunching of the leaves below your feet tells us that the baseball playoffs have arrived-so let’s talk managers.

Not unlike a President, baseball managers are required to endure the blame and accept the credit for the fortunes of the teams they lead, making them an excellent subject for comparison.

Imagine a manager after a run of seasons in which his team was accused of being unprepared and undermanaged. Imagine if season after season they posted a mediocre to poor record.

Now imagine the press conference in which that manager told the team’s owners and fans to “stay the course”.

How might the upper management of such a team react?

Coincidentally, Mr. Bush was himself an owner and managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball club; which means we can actually perform a direct examination of how Mr. Bush himself would react when faced with the same issues of judging success and failure.

So in a question which will sound familiar to my Texas friends-what would the Rangers do if a 6-13 Mr. Bush was their manager?

They would have fired him, that’s what.

Look at the history of the Rangers’ managers:

The Ranger’s first manager, Ted Williams, retired following his first season after posting a 54-100 record.

There was Frank Lucchesi; who was fired after a 4th place finish in 1976, and a .500 record in ’77; and having his second baseman arrested after he was physically attacked by the player.

Billy Martin was fired even though he led the team to its best record until that point in Ranger history. (Of course, the Yankees were also unwilling to “stay the course” with Martin despite his exceptional success there.)

Buck Showalter; fired last year after 4 years with a .492 average winning percentage. (Ironically, the photo in the link shows Showalter losing to the Cleveland Indians. Here’s a link suggesting Showalter could have actually ended up working for the Indians.)

Then there’s Bobby Valentine and Kevin Kennedy-the two managers who led the team at the time Mr. Bush was the managing general partner.

So how tolerant was Mr. Bush of the failure of leaders under his baseball watch?

Valentine spent seven years with the team-and his exactly mediocre .501 average winning percentage got him canned.

So Kennedy was brought in (after a 76 game Toby Harrah era)-and he led the team to a second place finish in the Division (with an 86-76 record), which he followed with a 1st place Divisional finish the next year.

Mr. Bush oversaw his firing, too.

But my favorite managerial example: Johnny Oates. After amassing a 495-459 record with the Rangers over six years, he resigned in 2001 after beginning the season with an 11-17 record-and the most expensive player contract in baseball history, in the form of Alex Rodriguez.

And maybe that’s our real story for today: a leader who understood that failure upon expensive failure can lead you to no other decision but the right one-resigning for the good of the team.

Mr. Bush, if you really care as much about America as you do a Johnny Oates. Admit to your losing record, accept some accountability for the first time in your life, and then we can make the moves that can get this team back on track to win the World Series.

Don’t drag it out until the end of a losing season-resign now.
Take Cheney, your general manager, with you.

And maybe for the first time since Green Bay’s residents bought the Packers, the fans will again control the game-at least for a moment.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Survey USA with some interesting "head to heads"

Survey USA has been studying some states in play for the upcoming Presidential cycle. They discovered that in many cases the "third place" Dem fares best against any of the top three Pubs and especially Romney.

Many thanks to Bruin Kid of the Daily KOs for this rundown.

SurveyUSA finally came out with a new batch of state polls where they didn't just ask about Hillary Clinton, but about all three Democratic frontrunners, matched up against Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney. They did not test John McCain, and given his Q3 numbers so far, that may have been for a reason. Finally, we can do a candidate comparison. The national comparison jamess did earlier this month was useful, but since the election is decided state by state, and not by national vote, these are much more informative.

The states surveyed were Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, and Alabama. Other than Ohio, these are all very deep red states when it came to electing Bush. What happens in 2008?

Follow me below the fold for the amazing general election match-up numbers.

BruinKid's diary :: ::
For each GOP candidate, in the margin column I've bolded the race that would give us the best margin of victory, or at least the closest race when all our candidates would lose. Remember, Democrats aren't even supposed to be competitive in some of these states.



Democrat Republican Margin

Clinton 47% Giuliani 48% Lose by 1%
Obama 39% Giuliani 52% Lose by 13%
Edwards 47% Giuliani 48% Lose by 1%

Clinton 48% Thompson 47% Win by 1%
Obama 42% Thompson 50% Lose by 8%
Edwards 52% Thompson 43% Win by 9%

Clinton 52% Romney 42% Win by 10%
Obama 45% Romney 46% Lose by 1%
Edwards 56% Romney 36% Win by 20%

While everyone would lose to Rudy, the margins for Edwards against Thompson and Romney are amazing. He's well outside the margin of error in victory in those match-ups. Interesting that both he and Hillary would barely lose to Rudy 48%-47% here, but when matched up against Thompson or Romney, Edwards' leads over them are significantly greater than Hillary's leads over them.



Democrat Republican Margin

Clinton 40% Giuliani 52% Lose by 12%
Obama 40% Giuliani 51% Lose by 11%
Edwards 40% Giuliani 50% Lose by 10%

Clinton 40% Thompson 53% Lose by 13%
Obama 40% Thompson 50% Lose by 10%
Edwards 39% Thompson 46% Lose by 7%

Clinton 46% Romney 45% Win by 1%
Obama 47% Romney 41% Win by 6%
Edwards 48% Romney 34% Win by 14%

Democrats all have a very rough time in Kansas. Unless Mitt Romney is the candidate. Again, Edwards would crush Romney by double digits, when usually it's the Democrat that would lose by double digits here.



Democrat Republican Margin

Clinton 41% Giuliani 51% Lose by 10%
Obama 36% Giuliani 54% Lose by 18%
Edwards 43% Giuliani 50% Lose by 7%

Clinton 45% Thompson 50% Lose by 5%
Obama 37% Thompson 54% Lose by 17%
Edwards 45% Thompson 44% Win by 1%

Clinton 46% Romney 46% Tie
Obama 43% Romney 45% Lose by 2%
Edwards 48% Romney 38% Win by 10%

This state is not kind to Obama. Hillary doesn't fare too well either. Again, the only sizable win for a Democrat is when Edwards is pitted against Romney.



Democrat Republican Margin

Clinton 41% Giuliani 52% Lose by 11%
Obama 32% Giuliani 59% Lose by 27%
Edwards 40% Giuliani 50% Lose by 10%

Clinton 41% Thompson 54% Lose by 13%
Obama 34% Thompson 60% Lose by 26%
Edwards 38% Thompson 50% Lose by 12%

Clinton 45% Romney 46% Lose by 1%
Obama 36% Romney 53% Lose by 17%
Edwards 45% Romney 39% Win by 6%

The only way we're winning Alabama is if Edwards is pitted against Romney. Otherwise, we can probably write it off. But hey, it is Alabama, after all. If we're actually competitive in Alabama, I don't think we have to worry too much about winning the Presidency. It would then be a matter of how big the electoral vote rout would be.
So, the latest batch of SurveyUSA polls show that time after time again, Edwards performs best out of the three frontrunners in the head-to-head match-ups against the GOP frontrunners (sans McCain). And these differences cannot really be attributed to name recognition; Gallup showed that all three Democratic frontrunners have pretty high name recognition, though Hillary's is the highest. But Edwards and Obama are pretty much tied in name recognition.

Yes, these polls are just a snapshot in time, and things can change, but right now, it does seem there is a noticeable gap between Edwards and Hillary and Obama when it comes to who can win these states, or at least make them close races.

So in the final tally, when comparing one of the 12 match-ups against each of our frontrunners, how many would we win?

John Edwards: win 6, lose 6 Hillary Clinton: win 3, lose 8, tie 1 Barack Obama: win 1, lose 11
So, with these new numbers, let the "electability" arguments flare up once more.

Since BK did his post, Survey USA moved on to New Mexico. Lets see how that looks:

Democrat Republican Margin

Clinton 51% Giuliani 43% Wins by 8%
Obama 46% Giuliani 46% Tie
Edwards 48% Giuliani 44% Wins by 4%

Some of this may be due to Bill Richardson being the presumptive running mate for Hilary. Didn't they tell you, Evan?

Clinton 53 % Thompson 42 % Wins by 11%
Obama 52% Thompson 41 % Wins by 11%
Edwards 52% Thompson 37% Wins by 15%

Clinton 54 % Romney 39 % Wins by 15%
Obama 55% Romney 36% Wins by 19%
Edwards 54% Romney 34% Wins by 20%

A few stray thoughts....

Though Obama does better here, his campaign should be a bit concerned about how his overall general election numbers are shaping up.

If the Pubs want Hilary for an opponent, then the Dems should want Mitt.

And there's an interesting trend that within the states, the Pub candidate generally becomes less popular when pitted against Edwards.

Things that make you go "Hmmm..."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I try again

(South Bend Tribune Voice of the People submission)

Some would have us believe that evaluation of the past job performance of the two candidates for Mayor of South Bend is merely a matter of opinion - that there is no data to inform a citizen of who most deserves his/her vote.

One of the two campaigns is certainly happy to advance this theory. The Manigault campaign's mantra is "perceptions are more important than facts". They actually said that. It's hard to imagine a more cynical approach to electing a chief executive. It's hard to think of a comment that more demeans the process.

The worst thing that can be said about Mayor Luecke is that he is a good man doing a hard job.

As for Juan Manigault, the best way to characterize his past accomplishments is to paraphrase auditors Crowe, Chizek, et. al... comments made in their report after they were hired to evaluate the operation he headed (by that organization): The most serious problem found is that because of the reporting system of the Workforce Investment Board , we can't be sure we've found all the problems - some of which may be very serious.

The problems that were found were certainly serious and caused that organization to forfeit 1.1 million dollars which could have provided training and pathways to a better life for many of our citizens.

Look into it. Your paper won't. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Friday, September 21, 2007

No child left behind? How about no child's chance for an education left behind?

Oddly, John Edwards thinks there is a role for the federal government in education. Here's what he'd like to do. - Don

Restoring the Promise of America's Schools

As the product of public schools in a small rural town and the father of four children who attended public schools, John Edwards understands the importance of education. He believes every child should have the same chance to get a great education – a commitment that is at the core of his plan to build One America where everyone has a chance to succeed.

But more than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have two school systems that are separate and unequal. No longer legally separated by race, our children are sorted by economics, often with a racial or ethnic dimension. At the same time, our children are preparing for unprecedented global economic competition.

Unfortunately, Washington is letting down our children. George Bush's No Child Left Behind law is not working for schools, teachers and – most importantly – our children, and it needs to be radically overhauled. And Washington is simply not doing its part to invest in early childhood education, teachers, or helping struggling schools. Our students are falling behind in key subjects like math and science, good teachers are leaving the profession, and our graduates aren't as prepared for the global economy as their peers in other countries. Students in poor rural areas and major cities often don't have the same chances as other students, and an achievement gap that falls along economic and racial or ethnic lines undermines the promise of equality.

Today, John Edwards outlined his vision for excellent American schools, based on three principles:

Every child should be prepared to succeed when they show up in the classroom.

Every classroom should be led by an excellent teacher.

Every teacher should work in an outstanding school.

Preparing Every Child to Succeed

Half of the achievement gap between children from poor families and their more fortunate peers exists before they start school. Quality preschools compensate for the learning opportunities some children miss at home, reducing remedial education, welfare, and crime. Its benefits are strongly supported by academic research and the experience of universal pre-K programs in Georgia and Oklahoma. Children from poor families benefit most from high-quality preschool, but less than half of poor children attend pre-school compared to two-thirds of other children. [Denton and Germino-Hausken, 2000; Aspen, 2007; PPI, 2004; RAND, 1998; Barnett, 1996; EPI, 2002; Education Sector, 2007]

John Edwards believes that quality preschool education should be as common as kindergarten. As president, he will lead the way toward universal preschool, starting with the children who need the help most. In addition to maintaining and expanding support for existing programs like Head Start and the child care block grant, Edwards will:

Offer Universal "Great Promise" Preschool to Four-Year-Olds

Edwards will provide resources to states to help them offer universal high-quality preschool programs for four-year-olds. Great Promise programs will:

Teach academic skills: Preschool is much more than babysitting; it is a unique opportunity to teach children the skills they will need in school. Great Promise will help develop children's language abilities and introduce them to early math, reading, and other academic concepts, as well as help develop their social and emotional skills.
Start in needy communities: The federal commitment will begin in low-income neighborhoods where schools are struggling and expand to serve more communities over time.

Be led by excellent teachers: Research shows that the most effective preschool teachers have at least a bachelor's degree. Lead teachers in Great Promise will have four-year college degrees and be paid commensurately.
Involve parents and their families: Research shows that preschool benefits children the most when their parents are involved. Parental involvement will be essential to Great Promise.

Be voluntary and universally affordable: Participation would be fully voluntary for families. Tuition would be charged on a sliding scale based upon family income and waived for children from low-income families.

Create National Smart Start

North Carolina's innovative Smart Start initiative promotes the healthy development of children under the age of five. It helps local partnerships make child care higher quality and more affordable, provides health services and supports families. Participating children show better cognitive and language skills and fewer behavioral problems. Edwards will help other states duplicate Smart Start programs, prioritizing children who are not served by other pre-K programs. Smart Start will:

Offer integrated services for young children: By linking together health care, child care, education, and family support services for children under five, Smart Start addresses all aspects of young children's development and helps them begin school healthy and ready to succeed.

Perform health care outreach: Smart Start makes it easier for young children to get screening for health problems related to hearing, speech, vision, dental, and learning disabilities.

Sponsor home visits to new families: Home visits improve prenatal health and the quality of caregiving after birth. Children receiving nurse visits are cognitively more advanced, have fewer behavioral problems, and are less likely to be abused or neglected. The Smart Start program will fund home visits by registered nurses to 50,000 low-income new parents. [AAP, 2004; RJWF, 2006; NFP, 2006]

An Excellent Teacher in Every Classroom

Nothing is more important in a school than the relationship between a teacher and a child. In a single year, a good teacher can raise student achievement by a full grade level more than a less effective teacher. Yet students with the greatest needs are more likely to have less experienced and effective teachers. Poor urban and rural schools in particular struggle to attract and retain excellent teachers. While pay for CEOs and other highly paid workers skyrocketed in recent years, teachers earn a fraction of the salaries paid to other educated professionals.
John Edwards believes we need to invest more in training and paying our teachers to help every child learn at high levels. As president, he will:

Raise Pay by up to $15,000 More for Teachers in High-Poverty Schools

Two-thirds of states do not offer any incentives of any kind for teachers to work in high-poverty schools, and many veteran teachers choose to teach in other schools. Edwards will fundamentally change teachers' incentives by helping states pay teachers in successful high-poverty schools as much as $15,000 more a year. The $15,000 raise includes:

$5,000 for all teachers in successful high-poverty schools: High-poverty schools with high academic performance, good student behavior, and high parent satisfaction could give up to $5,000 in bonuses to each of their teachers, encouraging a schoolwide culture of success. Bonuses will grow over time to reward continuing success and give teachers an incentive to stay. Successful schools will open their doors to share their experiences with other schools.

$5,000 for teachers with national certification for excellence in high-poverty schools: The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certifies excellent teachers, but few of these teachers teach in high-need schools. Teachers who have demonstrated high effectiveness in a national process, such as National Board certification, will be eligible for the higher pay.

$5,000 for veteran teachers who serve as mentors in high-poverty schools: Giving veteran teachers the opportunity to mentor new teachers creates opportunities for career advancement for longtime successful teachers, while providing much-needed guidance to new teachers.

To address other recruitment hurdles, Edwards will help states and school districts improve working conditions and increase time for teacher collaboration and planning. He will also address barriers for teachers moving between states by encouraging reciprocal credentials and studying ways to make pension plans compatible. [NCTAF, 1996 and 2002; Sanders and Rivers, 1996; Jordan, Mednro, and Weerasinghe, 1997; Peske and Haycock, 2006; Rural School and Community Trust, 2006 and 2007; NY Times, 8/27/2007]

Create a National Teacher University

While there are some successful education schools, many future teachers graduate without the skills and knowledge they need. In one survey, more than 60 percent of graduates said their education school did not prepare them. Because having great teachers is a national priority, Edwards will create a national teachers' university – a West Point for teachers – to recruit 1,000 top college students a year, train them to be excellent teachers, and encourage them to teach where they are needed most. The school will waive tuition for students who go on to teach in schools and subject areas facing shortages. It will also lead improvements at education schools nationwide by developing and sharing model curriculum and practices and serve as a forum to promote shared certification and licensing requirements across states. [Levine, 2006]

Help Teachers in Their Early Years

A third of all new teachers leave the profession within three years. Students in high-poverty and high-minority schools are twice as likely as other students to be taught by inexperienced teachers. Edwards will help states support teachers during their early years. He will encourage a transition year for rookie teachers with smaller class sizes, reduced teaching loads, and minimal extra duties. Resources will support structured mentoring programs pairing new teachers with successful veterans. Finally, he will support professional development based in actual classroom needs. [Ingersoll, 2003; Ed Trust, 2007; Levine, 2006; NCATF, 2006]

Reduce Class Sizes

Smaller classes help students learn more by allowing them to get more individualized attention from teachers. According to a Tennessee study, young students in small classes are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to graduate on time, complete more advanced math and English courses, and receive honors. Poor and African-American students gain the most from smaller classes. Edwards will dedicate federal resources to reduce class sizes, particularly for young children who are learning below grade levels. [Krueger and Whitmore, 2001, 2002; Smith, Molnar, and Zahorik, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2000]

Train More Excellent Principals

Principals can have a large impact on student achievement by setting high expectations and recruiting and supporting teachers, but many districts face principal shortages and the turnover rate for principals in poor urban and rural districts is as high as 20 percent a year. Edwards will help train excellent principals for high-need schools. Programs could be operated by schools of education, school districts, business schools, or other non-profits with a proven track record like New Leaders for New Schools. Establishing programs to train 3,000 principals a year will meet the needs of most of the country's high-need urban and rural schools. [Education Sector, 2007; Aspen Commission, 2007; Leithwood et al. 2004; Education Week, 9/12/2007]

Use Highly Qualified Teachers for Tutoring

No Child Left Behind requires schools that fail to make adequate progress for three years in a row to set aside up to 20 percent of their Title I funds to pay for "supplemental service" tutoring programs, often offered by private companies with unproven capabilities. Edwards will require that tutors be highly qualified teachers.

Making Every School an Outstanding School

Every child in America should have the chance to attend an outstanding public school that has high expectations for every child. Children need to master both basic skills in reading, writing and math and advanced thinking skills like creativity, analytic thinking and using technology. We cannot tolerate the benign neglect of our schools. No Child Left Behind has lost its way by imposing cheap standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum at the expense of science, history, and the arts and mandating unproven cookie-cutter reforms on schools. As a result, it has lost the support of teachers, principals, and parents, whose support is needed for any reform to succeed.

John Edwards believes that we need to overhaul No Child Left Behind to center our schools around children, not tests, and help struggling schools, not punish them. He will:

Overhaul No Child Left Behind

The law must be radically changed to live up to its goal of helping all children learn at high levels, accurately identifying struggling schools, and improving them. Its sole reliance on standardized, primarily multiple choice reading and math tests has led schools to narrow the curriculum. Its methodology for identifying failing school can be arbitrary and unfair. And it imposes mandatory, cookie-cutter reforms on these schools without any evidence they work. Edwards supports:

Better tests:Rather than requiring students to take cheap standardized tests, Edwards believes that we must invest in the development of higher-quality assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, and projects and experiments.

Broader measures of school success: Edwards believes that the law should consider additional measures of academic performance. The law should also allow states to track the growth of students over time, rather than only counting the number of students who clear an arbitrary bar, and give more flexibility to small rural schools.

More flexibility: Edwards will give states more flexibility by distinguishing between schools where many children are failing and those where a particular group is falling behind. He will also let states implement their own reforms in underperforming schools when there is good reason to believe that they will be at least equally effective.

Launch a "Great Schools" Initiative to Build and Expand 1,000 Successful Schools

Across America, there are public schools that are helping children from all backgrounds succeed, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, small schools, and other models. Edwards will help 250 schools a year expand or start new branches. Federal funds will support new buildings, excellent teachers, and other needs.

Among the schools he will support are:

Small schools: Small high schools create stronger communities, reducing adolescent anonymity and alienation and encouraging teachers to work together. At 47 new small high schools recently opened in New York City, graduation rates are substantially higher than the citywide average. Communities can establish multiple schools within an existing facility, build new schools, and reopen old facilities. [Aspen Institute, 2001; N.Y. Times, 6/30/2007]

Early college high schools: High schools on college campuses let students earn both a high school diploma and an associate's degree (or two years of transfer credit) in only five years. In North Carolina, Governor Mike Easley's Learn and Earn initiative raises rigor and aspirations, reduces tuition costs, and relieves overcrowded college campuses. [American Institutes for Research and SRI International, 2007; Easley, 2007]

Economically integrated schools: While income diversity is not a substitute for racial diversity, low-income students perform best when in middle-class schools where they are more likely to have experienced teachers and classmates with high aspirations. States can build magnet schools in low-income communities and create incentives for middle-class schools to enroll more low-income children. [Kahlenberg, 2007; Harris, 2006; NY Times, 7/15/05]

Create a School Success Fund to Turn Around Struggling Schools

Improving our worst schools is going to take more than federal mandates of unproven remedies; it will require a serious commitment of resources. A new School Success Fund will:

Let experts design and implement reforms: Based on North Carolina's successful reform, Edwards will ask teams of experienced educators to spend a year at struggling schools helping start reforms. These educators will tailor comprehensive solutions to each school, rather than adopting silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions.

Provide resources to implement them: Some schools need more resources to help their children succeed. The School Success Fund will target resources to the neediest schools. Resources will be available to recruit new school leadership and a core of excellent teachers, reduce class sizes, duplicate proven models, strengthen the curriculum, and other reforms.

Emphasize extra learning time: Due to our 180-day school year, American children spend much less time in class than their foreign competitors. Many other countries have 25 percent more instructional time, which adds up to more than two years by the end of high school. When combined with making better use of learning time and designed with educators, longer school days and years create new opportunities for children to master the basics and a broader curriculum. [ED in 08, 2007; Zimmerman, 1998; CAP, 2006]

Establish stronger academic and career curricula: The rigor of high school classes is the number-one predictor of college success. Even students who do not go to college need strong math and reading skills in the workplace. Edwards believes that all schools – even those in small, isolated, and high-poverty areas – should have access to challenging Advanced Placement courses. And he will support partnerships between high schools and community colleges to help high school students get the training they need for the good jobs where skilled workers are in short supply today. [US Department of Education, 1997; ACT, 2006; ED in 08, 2007]

More Resources for Poor and Rural Schools

Four out of five urban school districts studied nationally spend more on low-poverty schools than on high-poverty schools. Rural schools enroll 40 percent of American children – including most children in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina – but receive only 22 percent of federal education funding. Edwards will increase federal Title I funding and dedicate the increases to low-income schools and districts and rewarding states that distribute funding where it is needed most to increase learning. He will also invest in distance education and cutting-edge software to bring the promise of new learning technologies to remote areas. [NASBE, 2003; Rural School and Community Trust, 2007; Digital Promise, 2003]

Meet the Promise of Special Education

More than thirty years ago, Congress committed to fund 40 percent of the excess cost of educating children with disabilities, but it provides less than half that amount. George Bush has proposed a $300 million cut. Edwards opposes the Bush cuts and supports getting on a path toward meeting the federal promise. [Committee for Education Funding, 2007]

Raise Graduation Rates

Almost a third of all students drop out of school before earning a high school diploma, and rates among children of color or from low-income families are higher. At nearly 2,000 high schools nationwide – called "dropout factories" – more than 40 percent of students won't graduate. Edwards will create multiple paths to graduation such as Second Chance schools for former dropouts and smaller alternative schools for at-risk students. He will focus on identifying at-risk students and support the Striving Readers literacy program and one-on-one tutoring to keep them in school. Edwards will also fund additional guidance counselors in high-poverty schools. [Baron, 2005; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007; Balfranz and Legters, 2004; NCES, 2004]

Support High School Service Programs

The energy and enthusiasm of high school students who want to make their community and their country a better place to live. One type of service program, service-learning, has been shown to have positive impacts on students' civic engagement, college enrollment, career development, and personal relationships. Nearly half of school-age children lack the activities and role models that are opportunities to make a difference through helping others. Edwards will create a Community Corps service programs for high school students. It will provide resources to high schools that choose to make community service a graduation requirement, helping them make service opportunities higher in quality and integrate them into the curriculum. [NYLC, 2006; America's Promise Alliance, undated]

(From The Campaign To Change America)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Urgent call to restore Habeas Corpus has put out this alert. It is essential that we restore Habeas Corpus.
Please call your Senators on this all important matter.

Karita Hummer
San Jose, CA

This what requests on its Web-site, Habeas Corpus Vote

- Call Your Senators!
Submitted by Bob Fertik on September 18, 2007 - 12:06pm.

* Human Rights

Senator Chris Dodd is leading the fight to pass the "Habeas Corpus Restoration Act" and he needs our help immediately because the Senate vote could be tomorrow. Below is the vote tally - where do your Senators stand?

If they have not promised to vote for Dodd's bill call them today at 202-225-3121 and also use our petition:

Update: 9/21

Per the link, both our Senators are reported to be in support. Please call them to let them know how proud and pleased we are that our representatives are fighting for!

Senator Bayh 202-224-5623
Senator Lugar 202-224-4814

Thanks in advance.


South Bend Mayoral race heading into critical phase

As with most local political contests, crunch time really begins as September begins to wane and our city's mayor's race is no exception.

You have to hand it to the Juan Manigault staff and supporters - and I suppose the candidate himself. Despite a demonstrated lack of ability in past administrative assignment(s) and a social agenda which would turn off the majority of citizens (if they knew of it), these folks have done an astonishingly good job of making their guy look like a credible alternative. They've had some help, certainly - and I'll get to that point a bit later - but Mr. Manigault has kept himself in the media and done so with a very creative tactic in continuing attacks on Mayor Steve Luecke.

In my Intro To Psychology class (circa 1975) I believe the tactic was called "projecting". If memory serves, this was a phenomenon where an individual would assign character defects to another which were in actuality his or her own. I think it was further explained as typically a preemptive, defensive strategy designed primarily to distract.

The Manigault folks have also kept a steady stream of noise going in the local paper in the form of letters, etc. Most recently, a pretty well written piece by Jeremie Adams was published as a "Michiana Point of View" which painted a bleak view of the state of our city. Its worth was pretty well written and even included a few facts! The conclusions drawn were highly suspect, but it read well.

Mayor Luecke's supporters need to take this election seriously - I know his campaign staff does. It may be too late to get your own Point of View piece published, but you can submit letters to the editor and you can encourage others to do the same. You can talk about the election to friends and colleagues. Most importantly, make sure that everyone understands that voting is critical. A low turnout can change the ultimate result.

All this is much more important than I would have thought because the mayor's supporters have a serious obstacle I did not anticipate.

We have only one daily newspaper serving South Bend - The South Bend Tribune. That paper has established a clear bias favoring Juan Manigualt. There is no other reasonable conclusion available.

This paper which publishes the monthly rants of Dorothy Elkins and others accusing public officials of treason and worse with no evidence, no corroboration or any evidence of critical thought at all still refuses to write anything about a public record of gross mismanagement at the Juan Manigualt headed Workforce Investment Board. It apparently doesn't satisfy them that these conclusions were made auditors hired by the board and the head of the supervising agency of that board. They won't even publish a letter with my signature which merely summarizes these findings.

What would you think? What other conclusion is available?

No, the mayor's supporters certainly have their work cut out for them.

Borrowing from Keith Olberman "Goodnight, and good luck!"

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Update: Friday, September 21

The Tribune published a letter from a citizen, Catherine Pittman, today- part of which made many of the same points made in my letter to them. She had other things to say as well. One difference in our letters (probably due to word count considerations) is that she didn't attempt to identify sources of her information nor provide a path for others to verify it. This observation is a not criticism, in case it sounded that way.

Publishing her letter, but not mine reveals a continuation of a pattern where our local paper wants us all to think that there are no facts available - there are only differing opinions. And if there are no facts, then there is certainly no need for the South Bend Tribune to look into them and do their own analysis.

I disagree. They hold the public's trust. They should do their job(s).


(Ms. Pittman's letter)

Critics wrong, South Bend is making gains


When statistics clearly document a decrease in crime in South Bend, how can Republican mayoral candidate Juan Manigault criticize the South Bend Police Department and Mayor Stephen Luecke for increased crime?

His supporters say that "perceptions" are more important than facts, but politicians such as Manigault should look at the role their negative statements play in shaping these perceptions. For months, Manigault has minimized and disregarded major improvements that have occurred in the city under Luecke's administration. I look around and feel pride at the cooperation between many different groups that has improved the opportunities, safety and beauty of South Bend.

I'm tired of Manigault's inaccurate, irresponsible complaints about how unattractive and unsafe South Bend is. South Bend may need improvement, but Manigault needs to stick to the facts to see where additional efforts are needed. Crime is down; his criticism of the police department is misplaced. I'm more concerned about the money that was misplaced when he was directing the Work Force Investment Board.

Let's look at Manigault's record. Because of mismanagement, fraudulent checks and faulty record-keeping in the agency Manigault was directing, $1.1 million was forfeited for programs. That money could have been used to train people and transition them into gainful employment. But, apparently Manigualt couldn't keep the numbers straight then, either.

We don't need his kind of inept and negative leadership in South Bend.

Catherine Pittman
South Bend

Saturday, September 15, 2007

South Bend Tribune gets it wrong

Mr. Tim Harmon
Managing Editor
South Bend Tribune

Mr. Harmon

Today the South Bend Tribune and James Wensits published an article titled Different Takes. The clear message from the title and the content of the article is that Juan Manigault's fiscal mismanagement with the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board (NIWIB) over a period of years is merely Mayor Steve Luecke's opinion. That implication is false.

On September 7, 2007 I sent a letter to the South Bend Tribune summarizing the findings of a five part study -created from examination of 169 pages of public record - on this matter which was published on Progressives, South Bend. None of the information obtained in this study was authored by the Mayor. Instead, it was two outside auditors which established the pattern of management and Alan Degner, Commisioner of Indiana Workforce Development (the supervising agency for NIWIB) who characterized the costs. I received two follow up calls from Terry Bland - Assistant Editorial Page Editor and furnished him with the Degner letter.

At the point in time of this letter, the Sept. 7 letter has yet to be published. Had that letter been published, the public would have had the opportunity to judge for itself whether the characterizations were a matter of opinion - or something more.

It was interesting to note that Mr. Manigault attempted to duck responsibility by declaring he wasn't directly in charge of financial records. But CEO means Chief Executive Officer. That means "the boss".

I suppose some of this stems from the Tribune's eagerness to present both sides of issues, but it's important to note that though there may be two arguments to an issue it does not necessarily follow that each side has equal validity.

Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic. Maybe The South Bend Tribune has plans to do some actual reporting on this matter, rather than just recording. If so, I'll give credit where credit is due. Until then, this is one disappointed subscriber.

Don Wheeler

John Edwards and Our Interconnected, Post-9/11 World

It's a dark, cool fall night in New England, where the diningroom/computer room/throughway to the kitchen/kids art area has finally ceased of all the activity it can handle within its modest 9' x 12' walls. Our family struggles with two small children, one of whom likely has mild autism. As parents our minds agitate over every bill, our souls rejoice over every word our children speak. Trapped in a house that we cannot sell in this current real estate market, we gird ourselves against the here-and-now and focus on the future.

We are like every other family on our block, and all of these families are interconnected with famililes from Great Britain, and Iraq, and North Korea, and Russia, and South Africa. What affects our one family directly affects all of these other families indirectly, and what these far-away families experience directly affects us indirectly.

To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are tied in the inescapable bonds of mutuality.

September is one of the hardest months for me, as it reminds me of younger days when my husband and I were DINKS (double-income no kids). Where was I on 9/11? I was in an up-and-coming, African American suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, working what many would consider a dream job: matching my professional talents with my passion for social justice.

On 9/11, I was on the phone, strong-arming a business executive, using an opening he had left wide-open for me to exploit. I was focused, shutting out the bright blue sky and crisp morning air outside my office so that only he and I existed in this moment in time. In tense negotiations, we were discussing the possibility of his company sponsoring an educational program on nonviolence...

...then the first plane hit.

We couldn't ever pick up that conversation again. It wasn't that we didn't understand its importance, it's just...well, let's say a lot of things went undone after 9/11. Best to put them away, try to hide the sensory memory of the experience.

I eventually left that job and wandered through this world, raising my children, having more conversations with more people about more money and what I would and would not do for them. But always, I carried in the back of my mind the memory of that day, the thick-as-mud irony of my small attempt to spread the message of nonviolence right when the World Trade Center was attacked.

The dark ironies seemed to continue: a cynical use of a national tragedy to play "Democracy dominoes" in the Middle East by attacking Iraq; our national leader declaring "you're either with us or against us" (and giving one the sinking sensation that - in addition to France and Russia - he meant you); a hooded man, arms akimbo, wires dripping off his body as if he was some decorative indoor palm tree in a shopping mall just waiting for the Christmas lights to be turned on.

Martin Luther King viewed the world through the lense of what he termed the "triple evils" of society: racism, poverty and war. It was in the middle of my wandering through my daily life that I encountered this message that gave me hope, that made me think, "Wow. Here's finally a presidential candidate who knew what King was actually talking about":

Being the jaded, research geek that I am, I dug deeper. I found his policies on poverty: and universal health care: . And I started to notice something: this guy's policies were all interconnected. This wasn't politics-by-laundry-list. This was the beginnings of a coherent strategy to take on King's triple evils proactively, to start the process of true justice by using the tools of our sometimes-corrupt-but-still-accountable Democratic system.

Over time, either the policies grew or my knowledge of them did, but I discovered the same consistency in John Edwards' stance on labor: (King, by the way, was an unabashed supporter of unions and organized labor) as well as the environment: .

Recently, he's put out a plan to combat terrorism that is the closest I think one can realistically get to protecting our country by not just going after global terrorists structures but also the root causes of terrorism:

All of this has made me very hopeful that maybe, just maybe, we'll have a Presidential candidate that can implement not just King's words, but his policies.

Maybe John Edwards, once elected, would fall short on that. Maybe the realpolitik of Washington would crush his progressive policies and my soaring expectations. If so, he's got one seriously jaded, vocal blogger on his hands.

But I think at least he deserves a chance.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Someone who did the right thing and was punished accordingly.

This was posted on The Campaign To Change America by MarieMH and addressed to Senator John Edwards - Ed.

I sit here tonight bleary eyed and tired, I have been going through thousand of records on 2 of the war profiteers, the how and why of what they have done.

See I am a whistle blower, I am trying with all my might to tell the truth on why we are in this war, why this administration chose to enter this war, and why the Current leadership of the Democratic Party does not want to end this war. In fact they the DLC I think they are called, want to keep Politics as usual in Washington DC.


I was a senior member at this war profiteering company. for a long time.

During the 9-11 attacks, while so many died in the twin towers, I committed to my company that I would do what ever necessary to support them in fighting these kinds of attacks.

This company of mine, swung in to high gear after 9-11, and acquired one of the dirtiest, corporations involved in this whole mess. We did it to improve the bottom line.

During Katrina when the dome was full of the poor and downtrodden, we were shipping food, water, MRE's medical supplies, generators and satilite phonies and trucks to a location only 40 miles away. 40 miles, just to split the shipments, would have saved lives. No one seemed to care.

After Katrina, I began to pay much closer attention to what was going on, the decisions being made, and tracing those decision to the corresponding "issue" .

I know why we can't pull the troops out, it would leave the contractors there with no protection, and the contractors are all we are protecting over there. Not Democracy, Not the American Way of life, contractors.

We were paying truck drivers 80K for 6 months of work, clerks 75K, and yet Iraqis have no jobs, no water and no electricity. We took away all of their jobs but dont' know why they are mad and keep blowing us up.

We can withdraw the troops now, we just need to give the Iraq People their jobs back. Let then fix it, let them have their oil money, and let them decide what they want to do next.

Stop paying for contractors, if Congress wants to change the war,,,,,,,,End the support contracts.

I would bet good money that if CSC, Dyncorp, Halliburton, Blackwater, all suddenly lost their contracts, the war would end.

I lost my job over this, I am preparing to sell my home, and have plunged my family into some serious poverty. And I don't' think it will change Mr. Edwards, I really don't'. Not as long The Democratic Leadership takes campaign money from the same corporations fueling this war. Please help me tell the truth, that we entered this war for money, and we stay for money.

A contrarian view of the Patraeus summary

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Today Senator John Edwards released the following statement on Iraq:

"After two days of General Petraeus' testimony, only one thing seems clear: this president isn't going to change his failed policy in Iraq until he is forced to do so. The question now is whether Congress will once again cave to his demands, or if they will stand firm and answer the call of the American people who last November voted for change in Iraq.

"My position has been very clear. For over a year, I have called for an immediate withdrawal of 40-50,000 troops—not by next summer, not in the near future, but today—to jumpstart the comprehensive political solution that will end the violence in Iraq and will allow a complete withdrawal of all combat troops within 9 to 10 months. Some, like Senator Obama, have said we should only 'begin' to end this war now. Senator Obama would withdraw only 1-2 combat brigades a month between now and the end of next year, which for the next several months could essentially mimic the president's own plans to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer.

"Taking credit for this gradual withdrawal is like taking credit for gravity. These 30,000 troops would have to be withdrawn anyway, unless the president extended tours to an unconscionable 18 months.

"Enough is enough. We don't need to 'begin' to end the war now. What we need to do now is actually end the war. This is about right and wrong. Our young men and women are dying every day for a failed policy. Every member of Congress who believes this war must end, from Senators Obama and Clinton to Senator Warner, has a moral responsibility to use every tool available to them, including a filibuster, to force the president to change course. Congress must stand firm and say: No timetable, no funding. No excuses."

On Tidying Up, Or, The Assembly Of Disconnected Thoughts

Just as you have unfinished work piling up on your desk; stories pile up on mine that deserve discussion. Each of today’s stories would not in and of itself make a complete day’s work, so instead I’ll lay out on the table a late summer buffet, if you will, of conversational morsels that together will hopefully present a more complete “meal”.

First, to my friends in the Democratic leadership: I have again and again watched Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Presidential elections by being too cautious. In the discussion this week of the “Petraeus” Report I see the start of the same process.

So let’s head it off right now.

“Now there's another thing I want you to remember. I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything -- except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose, and we're gonna kick him in the ass. We're gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose!”
--George C. Scott as General George S. Patton.

More than 55% of Americans, by the Wall Street Journal’s count, even after this giant “product placement” we saw this week, believe this war cannot be won. Last week, that number was 62%. If history repeats itself that number will go back up as our perceived probability of “winning” goes back down.

You will not chase off any likely D voter by beating this point to death every chance you get. Most of the “purple” voters are leaning this way as well, if the numbers are correct.

There is nothing to be gained by being cautious.
There is nothing to be gained by worrying that voters might be turned off by our aggression.
There is everything to be gained by proving to the voters we are the real patriots.

Of course, our R friends have made a huge effort to muddy the rhetorical waters of Anbar Province; and that confuses the average voter enough to provide a bit of cover.

So that means you have to present a simple message that tells simple truths to parents and other voters who are scared of what the Rs might yet do and having trouble seeing through the mud.
Here’s one:

“This Commander-in Chief lied and sent your kids to a war that can’t be won. When he did that, he broke the Army, the Marines, and Iraq. Now we have to end the war.”

Nice and simple.
Already understood by more or less 60% of the voters.
True-and becoming more so every day.

Moving on:

We are constantly guilty of being quick to criticize and slow to compliment. To break that trend, let’s begin today be presenting my First Irregularly Timed Unnoticed Hero award to Steven Aftergood, and by extension the fine folks at the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy website.

For bloggers the gold vein is found in the “Congressional Research Service Documents” link. You pay for the data, Aftergood and his team engages in a daily struggle to wrest it from a reluctant Government.

Enemy Combatant Detainees: Habeas Corpus Challenges in Federal Court”, “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”, and “Congress's Contempt Power: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure” are but a few examples of the tremendous breadth of material that can be found there.

These are reports that are written for “Congressional customers”, which means you are seeing the same reports your Member of Congress sees.

Last topic for today:

H.L. Mencken was associated with the Baltimore Sun from 1906 until 1948. If he were alive today he would undoubtedly be blogging; and in fact we are constantly quoting his famous Sun article of July 1920 “Bayard vs Lionheart”:

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

There is however, a better quote. In the final selection from today’s buffet, allow me to offer these paragraphs from that most excellent column of so long ago-that rings as true as if it had been written for this election cycle.

To set the stage, Mencken was discussing his frustration with candidates for President that to him appeared to be on the on the one hand stupid, and on the other hand, smart, cunning, and untrustworthy:

“But it is one thing to yield to virtuous indignation against such individuals and quite another thing to devise any practicable scheme for booting them out of the synagogue. The weakness of those of us who take a gaudy satisfaction in our ideas, and battle for them violently, and face punishment for them willingly and even proudly, is that we forget the primary business of the man in politics, which is the snatching and safeguarding of his job. That business, it must be plain, concerns itself only occasionally with the defense and propagation of ideas, and even then it must confine itself to those that, to a reflective man, must usually appear to be insane. The first and last aim of the politician is to get votes, and the safest of all ways to get votes is to appear to the plain man to be a plain man like himself, which is to say, to appear to him to be happily free from any heretical treason to the body of accepted platitudes-to be filled to the brim with the flabby, banal, childish notions that challenge no prejudice and lay no burden of examination upon the mind.

It is not often, in these later days of the democratic enlightenment, that positive merit lands a man in elective office in the United States; much more often it is a negative merit that gets him there. That negative merit is simply disvulnerability. Of the two candidates, that one wins who least arouses the suspicions and distrusts of the great masses of simple men. Well, what are more likely to arouse those suspicions and distrusts than ideas, convictions, principles? The plain people are not hostile to shysterism, save it be gross and unsuccessful. They admire a Roosevelt for his bold stratagems and duplicities, his sacrifice of faith and principle to the main chance, his magnificent disdain of fairness and honor. But they shy instantly and inevitably from the man who comes before them with notions that they cannot immediately translate into terms of their everyday delusions; they fear the novel idea, and particularly the revolutionary idea, as they fear the devil. When Roosevelt, losing hold upon his cunning at last, embraced the vast hodgepodge of innovations, some idiotic but some sound enough, that went by the name of Progressivism, they jumped from under him in trembling, and he came down with a thump that left him on his back until death delivered him from all hope and caring.”

The desk being clear enough for today; and there being no way I can top Mencken, let’s call it a job done. We have a couple stories under research, and over the next few days one of those should be up in this space as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rep. Ike Skelton: Failing to remove troops from Iraq could be disastrous

In a recent article, Washington Post columnist E J Dionne had a lot to say about Rep. Ike Skelton's (D-MO) reaction to the "surge" strategy. Referring to a needed change in tatics by war opponents, Dionne writes: "Their goal, Skelton made clear, was to move away from a narrow argument over whether the surge has succeeded or failed -- the subject on which Petraeus, in a clear and steady voice, offered a small mountain of statistics -- to a broader debate about 'the overall security of this nation.'"

Continuing, "The issue, Skelton insisted, is whether 'Iraq is the war worth the risk of breaking our army and being unable to deal with other risks to our nation.' Thus did the Missouri Democrat issue an indirect plea that those inside the Pentagon who are skeptical of a lengthy engagement in Iraq make their views known. Facing the Petraeus challenge, congressional Democrats are discovering that other generals may be their strongest allies."

And here comes the key point in my opinion:

"When Skelton said that 'with so many troops in Iraq, I think our response to an unexpected threat would come at a devastating cost,' he offered a direct challenge to the administration: If withdrawing troops from Iraq is dangerous, failing to withdraw them may, in the long run, be even more dangerous." tent/article/2007/09/10/AR2007091002070. html?hpid%3Dopinionsbox1&sub=AR

Support the troops, end the war. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Kumbaya and the Politics of Race

There comes a time when regardless of how much that inner voice tells you restraint is the higher form of virtue, you just have to trudge forward and get your hands in the dirt.

This is one of those times.

My personal breaking point came yesterday when reading that somehow certain folks think that John Edwards was using a racial slur when referring to Barack Obama as a "kumbaya" candidate.

I read these comments in yesterday's Huffington Post, under an article with the title "Edwards Smacks Obama As "Kumbaya" Candidate" (link is here: omments/2007/09/11/63942). This is actually an excerpting of a larger article in the New Yorker (link here: 09/17/070917fa_fact_lizza?printable=true ).

Just for the record, here is the exact quote from the article:

"...Edwards dismisses Obama's argument that more consensus is needed in Washington. The difference between them, Edwards told me, is the difference between "Kumbaya" and "saying, `This is a battle. It's a fight.'..."

Nowhere in this article does the author mention that Edwards' intention was a racial slur. Nowhere does the author even think to ask whether a racial slur was intended.

Nowhere does the thought that this could be a racial slur ever even appear to pop into the author's head.

Why is that? Well...because "kumbaya" is not a racial slur.

First, some background on the song. The song appears to have originated among the Gullah people of the South Carolina coast:

"...According to ethnomusicologist Thomas Miller, the song we know began as a Gullah (an African-American people living on the Sea Islands and adjacent coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, see also here) spiritual. Some recordings of it were made in the 1920s, but no doubt it goes back earlier. Published versions began appearing in the 1930s..." ( umnists_ezorn/2006/08/ ml)

The first claim of ownership of the song comes from a Rev. Marvin Frey in the 1930's. The most reknowned use of the song is Joan Baez's recording of it in 1962, where it became associated with the civil rights movement.

As far as the derisive references to the song, in pop culture it is meant to personify someone who is helplessly encased in rose colored glasses, who naively assumes that just by sitting down and talking all of the world's problems can be immediately solved.

For instance, Arianna Huffington uses it in this September 2006 article, "Bill Clinton and Laura Bush: Homogenizing the '06 Election":

"...By making nice with Laura and promoting a kumbaya, "we're all in this together" atmosphere Clinton is blurring the very real distinctions between Democrats and Republicans and homogenizing the '06 race. And homogeneity is death in elections..." ( ffington/bill-clinton-and-laura-bu_b_298 68.html)

Or this reference by then-President Clinton's spokesperson:

"...Smooth sailing," Mr. Clinton said as he led the leaders single-file off the passenger ferry Tyee and into the lodge. "I don't now if they are going to be holding hands and singing 'Kumbaya,' but this is just what the President had in mind," said Lorraine Voles, a White House spokeswoman. "This all about getting to know each other..." ( ning-Words-1474/ m)

Or this recent use by David Sirota (thanks to blogger mkj for the research on this one):

"...I've written a lot about Obama, including a major piece for The Nation magazine last year. In my time studying his career, it became obvious that this is a person who wants to do the right thing and has genuinely strong convictions. But he also seems to believe that the reason our country has such challenges is because all sides of every issue have not come together in unity (I've gone back and forth wondering whether this is a sincere belief or merely a justification for overly cautious behavior, but I'm not a psychoanalyst, so I have no idea).

The problem with this outlook is that it fundamentally misunderstands why we are at this moment in history. Forty-five million Americans are uninsured, and millions more underinsured not because low-income health advocates and the insurance industry haven't sat down together and sung Kumbaya..." ( ta/i-want-to-believe_b_40901.html)

But I think one of my favorite uses of this word to illustrate this point comes in this over-the-top video game:

Nowhere have I ever heard "Kumbaya" used as a racial slur. Not even the notorious white-power group Stormfront uses this as a racial slur (and trust me - they use all of them).

So why do some Obama supporters suddenly think Edwards is using this as a racial slur when he refers to him at the "kumbaya candidate"? I wish I knew.

Racism is an ugly thing, and the charge of racism is one that as a society we do not take seriously enough. It is not a blunt instrument to be used on people simply because you don't agree with them. Tossing it around lightly and without merit removes power from the word itself, equating it to just so much political correctness.

Let's talk about the issues, let's debate the positions. But please, let's not invent racism where none exists.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Pain Of This Day

This is from Ellinorianne who posts on The Campaign To Change America.

I don't want to remember 9/11
I have been dreading today for a couple of weeks now. Dreading the many stories and photos of 9/11. Even though I'm attempting in my own way to be involved, aware and educated about what this President is doing to this country, every passing day I become more despondent and more disappointed. I feel helpless at times, helpless to do anything.
Just like I did on that day.
Basking in the lasting glow of his Sept. 11 leadership while campaigning in Pinellas County and Orlando on Friday, Giuliani stressed national security and electability, rather than the sort of hot-button social issues that are thought to be critical to winning the Republican nomination.

"For me every day is an anniversary of Sept. 11," Giuliani said after reviewing emergency response equipment at the Pinellas Sheriff's Office with Attorney General Bill McCollum and Sheriff Jim Coats. "If we don't talk about Sept. 11, you can't prepare to try to avoid another Sept. 11."

I understand this, that everday feels like 9/11, but how do you think those who lost loved ones feel Rudy? Can you compare what you feel to what they've lost? Can you? I can't.

I think this is why I was dreading today. There are so many people bringing this day up as a means to scare, to hurt and to steal our democracy from us. I feel wrong in bringing it up and talking about it and how it affected me. I wasn't there; I was three thousand miles away watching the most horrible thing I'd ever seen unfold in front of me on a TV.

So whenever anyone invokes this awful day as a means to garner respect, votes and campaign contributions I get a little choked up. Seriously, I get a bad taste in my mouth, like metal and I feel quite torn inside. I ask myself, how are we helping those affected by this heinous day? And I think of all those soldiers and civilians that have died in Iraq and I think, how could we let so many more die because of 9/11? How can we call this "war on terror" a success when we've lost so many more lives? AND FOR WHAT?

Does anyone else feel ill when they hear the talking heads squabble over the number of dead? Do you feel angry and sick at the same time when you hear that the manner of death determines if the loss of a life is merely crime or sectarian violence? Does it really matter? They are gone. Families, communities and an entire country lost because of our Presidents blind lust for power. Lost. So many more lives lost.

So I apologize for not wanting to read about September 11 or talk about it. I know that my anger and frustration can be nowhere near that of those who were directly affected by 9/11 and this costly and futile war. I don't even dare to compare the empty feeling I woke up with today to those who have been left with the empty beds of loved ones who will never return home. But I want you to know that I do care, in my way, I do care about this day and I won't forget it. How could I?

Virtual Presidential Candidate Debate Scheduled

By JIM KUHNHENN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Imagine shaping your own presidential showdown, using candidates and their answers like building blocks that shatter the standard conventions of a televised political debate.

Yahoo! and the blog and the Web magazine this week will let viewers assemble their own presidential confrontations. They can stack one candidate against another, or line them all up by single issue.

PBS' Charlie Rose will be the moderator and interviewer who will elicit the answer blocks in a series of interviews Wednesday with the eight Democratic presidential candidates. Rose will quiz each candidate separately, by satellite from New York, on topics selected by a vote of Yahoo! users.

Once posted on the three Web sites on Thursday, viewers will be able to edit to taste. Joe Biden vs. Barack Obama on the war in Iraq. Hillary Rodham Clinton on health care, education and the war. All eight on a "wild card" question reserved for each one. And more.

Call it Web 2.0 politics. Or, call it what its organizers do - a "mashup."

The experiment is the latest offspring of the marriage of politics and the Internet. Presidential candidates have ventured onto online social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. They've established elaborate interactive Web pages to spread their message and raise money. They've learned to advertise based on keyword searches. They've participated in online town halls sponsored by the liberal And they've lived, and suffered, by the power of YouTube.

"The point is putting power in the hands of the audience and letting them navigate it," said Scott Moore, Yahoo's senior vice president of news and information.

The idea, said Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, was to reach an audience made up particularly of young people who typically do not get their information from traditional media sources.

"If we're going to increase their political participation we have to meet them where they are," she said. "That was the idea of the mashup - that is, to empower users to create their own tailored candidate forum experience....They may not sit spellbound for an hour and a half."

Rose will ask the candidates questions on four categories: the war, health care, education and one undisclosed candidate-specific subject. As the interviewer, Rose will be allowed to follow up and to slightly alter the questions to fit the circumstance.

The eight interviews, if watched in one chronological sitting, would last about two hours. But that's so old media.

"A big part of this for us is to try to innovate and do something that hasn't been done before," Moore said. For the candidates, the format permits them to reach an audience without major scheduling upheavals. They'll connect with Rose from wherever they happen to be campaigning. Several of the candidates who are members of Congress will participate from Washington.

So far, only the Democrats have agreed to be part of such a debate. Moore, Huffington and Slate's Jacob Weisberg want to have a similar exchange with Republicans. Once the parties have their nominees, Moore said he'd like to stage an event that would also allow the candidates to interact with each other.

Others are testing the Internet, too. MySpace and MTV plan to hold real-time online conversations between the candidates and young voters, who will be able to instant-message, e-mail or phone text their questions. The exchanges will be Webcast live on and starting later this month through December.

"If you think back to the 1960 (presidential) campaign, that was the first time that television had a material impact on the election, on who won," Moore said, referring to the televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. "I believe that 2008 will be the first time that the Internet will have a material impact on who wins the election."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

September John Edwards fund raiser is scheduled in Michigan City

Per Robin Winston, Chair of the Indiana John Edwards 2008 campaign (The Campaign To Change America), a fund raising event has been scheduled for Sept. 25 in Michigan City, Indiana. Here are the details.

Who: Senator John Edwards.
What: Fundraising Reception.
When: Tuesday, September 25th from 7:30PM until 9PM.
Where: The private home of Dr. Vidya and Sudha Kora, 105 Woodside Drive, Michigan City, Indiana. Other hosts are Shaw and Greta Friedman, Anthony Bertig, Mark Holtan and my wife Charlitta.
Why: This continues our effort in Indiana to raise funds to support Senator Edwards' bid for the presidency. Recent polls show him leading in Iowa, which could produce the momentum to win the nomination.
How: You are invited to attend the reception. Costs range from $2,300 per person to $500 per person. Remember, if you cannot pay the $500 per person, please let me know and we can discuss ways to support the event.

Reservations or futher information:


For those who know transformational change is critical to address our many challenges, but want a chance to be more confident about the personal qualities of the transformer, this will be an excellent opportunity for that.

In August, I made an eleven hour round trip to Burlington, Iowa in order to attend a event in the Fighting For One America Tour. After presentations by Elizabeth Edwards and then John, I had the privilege of a brief conversation with the Senator. They are what they say they are. They want they say they want.

These small group encounters allow a person to really take measure of a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, they go away as we approach the primary/caucus season. And in Indiana - because of our late primary - candidates can only offer us fund raisers rather than general campaign events. Alternatively, willingness to travel a bit can net a free encounter. There are always choices.

And in case anyone would prefer to make a small donation to The Campaign, one can do that at any time by clicking the Small Change For Big Change link in the upper left corner of the page.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

On The Fate Of The Bees, Or, One Problem Down, One To Go

The survival of the honeybee, perhaps the world’s largest matriarchy, has been a matter of real concern since the announcement of Colony Collapse Disorder earlier this year.

As we discussed in an April story (On Bees, Or, An Apple A Day May Be A Thing Of The Past), the pathogenic loading seen in the few recovered bees was so dramatic and of such a great variety that it was assumed there was more than one cause for the troubles.

Recent news reports from Spain have suggested the answer may be at hand…but apparently nothing in life is that easy. We’ll talk more about the bad news-and the good-as we go on.

First the bad news: There do appear to be two different problems the bees are facing, and unfortunately we can only resolve one at the moment.

One of the most common of bee diseases is nosema, caused by a parasitic infestation (Nosema Apis, for those keeping score at home) of the bee’s gut. It is easily treated with the antibiotic Fumigilin.

The news from Spain concerns reports of another similar bee parasite, Nosema Ceranae (a third parasite of this class, Nosema Bombi, is also known to infest bees), which appears to have made the jump from infesting Asiatic honeybees (Apis Cerana) to the far more numerous and, for agriculture, more important Western honeybee (Apis Mellifera). Thanks to the work of Dr. Mariano Higes we know that the infestation is widespread in Europe, and may be present in the US.

We first became aware that N. Ceranae was a problem for Western bees because of the fact that both Western and Asiatic bees are found in Vietnam-and in 2005, it was discovered that both had the same infestation. (A quick note-we have three members of the faculty of the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University, Belfast, to thank for the development of a rapid-sequencing DNA screening method that made this discovery possible: Julia Klee, Andrea Besana, and Robert J Paxton, whose story we referenced above.) Further confirmation was obtained when an imported colony of Western bees was found to be infested with N. Ceranae in Taiwan.

Klee and Besana’s work can be seen here. It contains an excellent discussion of the spread of N. Ceranae, “host jump”, the technical details of bee analysis, and a thorough description of how you too can sequence DNA at home in your spare time.

They also point out that the presence of N. Ceranae in collapsed European colonies does not automatically prove it’s causing CCD-it could well be coincindental.

So we now find ourselves facing a few questions:

--Are we looking at the source of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

--Is this infestation suddenly spreading because of opportunities created by the agent that causes CCD?

--If N. Ceranae is not the cause of CCD, what effect does this infestation have on the bees?

It does not appear that N. Ceranae is the cause of CCD, according to an analysis of Dr. Higes’ work published at North Carolina State University’s website. As we had discussed in April, the sheer number and variety of pathogens found makes it unlikely that one single agent was solely responsible. At the time the thinking was that a new infection or infestation was causing immunosupression through stress, allowing the variety of other opportunistic pathogens to take hold. To quote from the analysis:

"Initial studies on bee colonies experiencing the die offs has revealed a large number of disease organisms present in the dying colonies, with most being "stress related" diseases and without any one disease being supported as the "culprit" underlying the deaths. The magnitude of detected infectious agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immunosuppression. Case studies and questionnaires related to management practices and environmental factors have identified a few common factors shared by those beekeepers experiencing the CCD; but no common environmental agents or chemicals were easily identified by these surveys. The search for underlying causes has been narrowed by the preliminary studies, but several questions remain to be answered."

As to the other two questions: is N. Ceranae spreading opportunistically because of the agent that causes CCD? We don’t yet know.

What will be the effect of the spread of N. Ceranae in Western honeybees? That is a big unknown. It appears it can be easily treated, but what is unknown is what might happen if treatments are only applied irregularly. The possibility exists of “acclimation” to our current treatments, and that is but one of many possible implications that will have to be explored-the sooner the better.

There is guarded success in the effort to deal with CCD as well.

Details are literally coming in as we speak, but on September 6th Science Daily broke the story that a US based scientific consortium had discovered a connection between the presence of the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and Colony Collapse Disorder in numerous samples collected from a variety of media-including actual dead bees and royal jelly-collected from infected colonies and non-infected colonies.

The team was able to use DNA sequencing as a tool to determine associations between many pathogenic “possibilities” such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which is why the work could be completed so quickly. As a result of the sequencing work, it was determined that IAPV was found in all the collapsed colonies-and none of the non-infected ones.

Does this mean we have a culprit?
Not so fast, friends.

As with N. Ceranae, association does not automatically mean causation has been established, and we are reminded to be cautious by the Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) in a September 7th statement. (The statement also suggests imported Australian bees may be responsible for the infection.)

In fact, we are specifically told IAPV is likely a marker, or working with other opportunistic pathogens, and not likely to be the sole cause of CCD.

But we are again told that there is a very strong association (all the CCD colonies have IAPV present, and none of the non-infected ones do) between the two.

The statement tells beekeepers not to re-use hives, and continue to treat for Varroa and nosema as usual, and to keep hives healthy and well-fed (to maximize profits, as with any “livestock”, bees are fed exactly what they need to survive and not much more…this may also play a part in CCD).

Here’s some other possible good news: we are told that Australian bees are not affected by IAPV, and this could be because the Australian bees are immune to the virus. If so, cross-breeding is possible to eliminate the susceptibility. (It is also possible that Varroa, which is not present in Australian bees, may potentiate the virus, suggesting cross-breeding would not work.)

So that’s our story for today: the cause of CCD remains unknown, but tantalizing new information exists; a second new threat has been identified, and with any luck, our hard working friends in yellow and black (no, I don’t mean the Steelers) will be back where they belong-out hunting for your pollen.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Draft Gore to Endorse Edwards: A Write In Happening

Today's (well, technically tomorrow's) WaPo hints that Al Gore may endorse a Democratic candidate before the end of the primary season:

"...Former vice president Al Gore's pronouncement that he is likely to endorse one of the Democratic candidates for president before the primary season is over has set off a slew of speculation about who his choice might be.

Truth is, the courting of the "Goreacle" began many months ago. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Gore huddled in Nashville in December, and Gore has also met with former senator John Edwards (N.C.). Gore and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) conferred as recently as last week..." ( tent/article/2007/09/08/AR2007090801458. html)

So, I'm asking everyone's help in a "Draft Al Gore to Endorse John Edwards" write-in happening.

John Edwards is right on the environment. He is right on alternative energy. He is right on terrorism. He is right on Iraq. He is right labor.

Before I launch into a laundry list of items that Edwards correctly supports, here's the real reason why Al Gore should endorse him for President: unlike the other candidates, Edwards has a clear, concise holistic vision of this country. It is the Big Idea that Dan Balz in WaPo recently stated Dems did not have ( /2007/09/07/democrats_make_new_blogger_f ri.html).

It is the idea of America. We are a country founded on an idea, captured on paper in the language of all men being created equal. The idea is expressed in working men and women saving and scrimping so they can afford that extra well-baby visit. It lives and breaths in co-workers being called into active service in Iraq, where they try as best they can to stop an administration's bad foreign policy from becoming an unmitigated disaster on the ground.

It is an optimistic belief in the good of all of us, that somehow we can all pull together to build a future that truly is better than the present we have now. It involves sacrifice, and hard work. But we are ready.

We can be patriotic about something other than war. After two disastrous terms of the Bush administration, we need the right leader to put us on that path.

John Edwards is that leader.

Please write Al Gore and ask him to endorse John for President.

Vice President Gore does not have a public email address, but he does receive snail-mail here:

Honorable Al Gore
2100 West End Avenue
Suite 620
Nashville, TN 37203

Friday, September 7, 2007

My letter to the South Bend Tribune

To the editors:

A recently ended series of articles in the blog Progressives, South Bend brought to light some unsettling things concerning the management practices of the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board (NIWIB), which was headed by (mayoral candidate) Juan Manigault. The information was developed from 169 pages of public record and the findings are from outside auditors as well as the agency which supervised the NIWIB - Indiana Workforce Development.

Broadly speaking, the conclusions of these parties seemed to be that there were few controls present to provide accountability for taxpayers' money. This led to a very long list of problems including fraudulent checks cashed for $60,000. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in attempts to construct better records, as well.

But the figure that really jumps out is the $1.1 million the NIWIB forfeited for programs, due to their faulty record keeping. Presumably, that money would have been used to train people and transition them into gainful employment. How many people lost the chance for a better life?

There is a lot of detail available on the blog to anyone interested.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler
Progressives, South Bend

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards and U of M Strikers: Why I Love This Woman

Talk about putting your action behind your words: Elizabeth Edwards spoke to striking union members at the University of Minnesota yesterday.

Local TV station KARE-TV carries the details:

"...Braving the heat and humidity in a grey suit, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, showed up to lend support. She told the sign-waving strikers and their supporters, "If they respect you and believe in your dignity, they're going to provide you with this raise!"

It was a sudden burst of political star power on the first day of AFSCME's second strike in four years at the institution..." ( aspx?storyid=264007)

KARE-TV also notes that the news of the strike wasn't even carried in the campus newspaper, the "Minnesota Daily" that day. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that because of Elizabeth's presence supporting the strikers, they're covering it now: 06/72163251?com=add

Also, please see KARE11's video news report posted online here: aid=53345&bw=

Elizabeth put the case for the workers in clear, blunt language at the end of the report, "This is just to keep up with inflation, for Pete's sakes, they're not askin' for the moon."

I couldn't agree more.

What Juan Manigault Cost You (WIBFP-4)

Juan Manigualt, Republican mayoral candidate waved his "you're doin' a heckuva job Brownie" letter for the benefit of the South Bend Tribune in August 2007. I have a copy of that letter. It's dated October 6, 2004 and it's from Indiana Workforce Development Oversight Director Gus Linde. The phrase Mr. Manigault wants us to pay careful attention to is: "It appears your agency has satisfactorily addressed all of the issues identified in the audits." (FY 2000, 2001, 2002)

On the same day, the Commisioner of the Indiana Workforce Development, Alan Degner (Mr. Linde's boss) wrote a letter to South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke outlining the commission's understanding of the fiscal conduct of the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board, headed by Juan Manigault. Here it is in its entirety.

Dear Mayor Luecke:

I apologize for the delay in responding to your email regarding the decision made by you and the other local elected officials of the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board (NIWIB) to reimburse our agency for $26,389.01 in grant contract over-expenditures. While I certainly understand the sentiment of your email, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify our position and demonstrate the lengths that the Indiana Department of Workforce Development has take to ensure NIWIB's financial solvency.

Issues surrounding the integrity of NIWIB's financial records began to surface in a June 2001 monitoring report issued by DWD, which reviewed the year ending June 30, 2000. This report documented serious deficiencies in the necessary records needed to reconcile NIWIB's books against the the Department's records. As a result, members of both staffs met and it was decided that DWD would contract with Cole and Dutton to assess the Board's financial records, report their findings and make recommendations to DWD and NIWIB.

In September 2001, Cole and Dunton's submitted a report that supported the findings of DWD monitoring reports that indicated serious deficiencies in record keeping, which included:

* fraudulant checks totaling $60,000
* more than $77,000 that could not be reconciled between NIWIB and the St. Joseph County Auditor's records
* the financial system could not produce a balance sheet
* travel expenses charged to NIWIB credit cards that were lacking appropriate documentation under IRS standards
* procurement of $24,000 in business equipment that was charged to two funding pools
* accounting software that could not generate financial statements for each fund or entity; and
* no documentation presented or available to close out records that supported the reconciliation of the case receipts
recorded by NIWIB to the summary of cash draws from the grantor.

As a result, Cole and Dunton recommended that NIWIB reconstruct their financial records so that an audit could be performed. The following items are a sampling of the reconstruction requests for both NIWIB and WDS, Inc:

* an accounting for cash receipts, cash disbursements and cash balances between NIWIB and the St. Joseph County
Auditor's office
* a cost allocation plan
* payroll time sheets and job descriptions
* travel and expense reimbursements
* a list of all leases
* a fixed asset inventory list
* annual financial statementss; and
* annual settlements and grant closeouts

The Department then consulted with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the recommendations of this report. The USDOL requested that NIWIB reconstruct their books for Progran Years ending June 30, 2000 (PY99), June 30,
2001) (PY00) and June 30, 2002 (PY01) and prepare them for audit. In December 2001, NIWIB hired BKD to reconstruct their books for PY99, PY00 and PY01. DWD fully expected that, as a result of the reconstruction, the audits would be "clean".

But, throughout the reconstruction, BKD experienced difficulties, which delayed the total reconstruction. These issues included the following:

* a chart of accounts included 65,000 separate accounts for allocating expenses
* NIWIB staff changed the agreed upon chart of accounts in the middle of a project
* payroll taxes and other payroll related withholdings were not part of the original payroll check listing
* continual adjustments throughout the process by NIWIB to the cost allocation paln and;
* a dispute over the reported participant numbers that NIWIB originally submitted to DWD

Beginning October 2002, Crowe Chizek reported their findings for PY99 and PY00 and in February, the PY01 findings were released. A summary of their findings and questionable costs is as follows:

* In February 1998, three fraudulant checks totaling $60,000 were drawn on NIWIB's bank account.
* Internal control over financial reporting and its operation were considered to be significantly deficient and could
adversely affect NIWIB's ability to record, process, summarize and report financial data.
* NIWIB had not established a monitoring plan for verifying the adequacy of their sub-recipients' internal control
and financial mangement structure.
* The auditor's report on compliance for the major federal award program for NIWIB expressed a qualified opinion.
* NIWIB was not determined to be a low risk auditee.
* NIWIB was experiencing difficulties in preparing monthly financial statements.
* NIWIB did not adhere to its cost allocation plan.
* Grants were not being properly administered.
* Approximately $134,000 of funds disbursed to a sub-recipient was not adequately documented as allowable
under the terms of the various source grants.
* Federal awards were disbursed to a sub-recipient in excess of the supportable expenditures of the subrecipient.

In early 2003 after the audits, our agency received the final grant close-outs for these program years. After carefully reviewing the financial records, Mr. Chuck Martindale, the agency's former Controller, sent a letter to Mr. Juan Manigualt that outlined several discrepancies, including over-expenditures that exceeded $1.1 Million. This over-expenditure was created when two formula awards (WIA903 and WIA003) were reported by the Auditor (Crowe, Chizek) as being a combined $4,245,03.00 as compared to the closeout submitted by NIWIB of $3,136,948. In addition, only 4 out of 23 grants could be reconciled with the Auditor report's "Schedule of Expenditure of Federal Awards" to NIWIB closeouts submitted. Based on these findings, the Department recommended the selection of a new fiscal agent to be effecticve on or befor July 1, 2003. As chief elected official, you later selected Crowe Chizek to act as fiscal agent effective July 1, 2003.

Because NIWIB had accumulated $1,108,082.00 in over-expenditures in these two grants, you and the other local elected officials had two options. You could either repay this amount to the State of Indiana through your local government funds or NIWIB could request to apply the over-expenditures to future WIA formula allocations, if approved by the local elected officials. However, DWD could not waive $26,389.01 in over expenditures, which included:

* $12,350.02 in WIA003 youth expenditures in excess of the contract
* $8,983.55 in WIA003 dislocated worker expenditures in excess of the contract; and
* $5,055.44 in RRS003 Rapid Response expenditures in excess of the contract.

The Department could not waive these three over-expenditures accepted by the NIWIB because the grants had already been closed out and reconciled. If the Department were to do so, every grant received in PY99, PY00, and PY01 would need to be reopened. Therefore, in a letter dated June 30, 2004, the Department requested these monies be paid in full. Please be advised that the Department has received the reimbursement for $26,289.01 and this amount has been repaid to the USDOL for the over expenditures. Reflecting this repayment of monies, NIWIB still had to address the above $1.1 million in outstanding debt.

As you are aware, the Department has applied this $1.1 million repayment against future WIA formula allocations in order to eliminate the outstanding balance. We must insist that NIWIB meet their obligations and performance measures for upcoming program years on the current WIA three-year grant that has been reduced by this amount. Our agency will continue to provide technical support regarding these matters and will closely monitor your financial records. I would suggest that individual Board members do the same.

If you or any Board member would like copy of any of the reports outlined in this letter, please do not hesitate to contact our office and we will be happy to provide those documents for you. Thank you again for your diligence in resolvint these issues and I look forward to a lasting partnership between these oeganizations.


Alan D. Degner


So... What did Juan Manigualt cost you?

Based on what we've seen here in terms of direct costs, incompetence, and forfeited opportunities -- two million dollars is a conservative figure. And what's perplexing to me is that in the private sector, no one who was this bad at doing his/her job would have have kept it. Why did he?

What really stinks is that over a million dollars targeted to people who needed training or opportunity to find gainful employment - a chance to make their families work again, perhaps - didn't get the opportunity. Because Juan Manigault is so bad at his job, that money went away.

Again, what did Juan Manigualt cost you?

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Workforce Investment Board Fiscal Practices - 3

On to the FY 2000 findings by Crowe, Chizek,

Notes on Finding 00-1 include "The Organization has not established procedures that allow for a matching of requests for grant funds with the specific grant expenditures. In addition, the Organization's focus has been on reporting revenue and expenditures based on the grant year-end. As a result, additional receivables or liabilities for grant funds in relationship to grant expenditures may exist on both a monthly and fiscal year basis." (Added emphasis is mine).

The auditors go on to outline accepted and common practice(s). "Accounting practices for cost reimbursement grants and contracts should include documentation for the request of grant funds with information attached for the specific expenses (i.e. vendor invoices) to be reimbursed by the funds. Accounting principles also require the matching of revenue and expenses and establishing procedures that ensure cut-off is proper on a monthly basis."

Why does this stuff matter? According to the auditors, the downside is "Potential for improper use of grant funds and related monitoring".

On to Finding 00-2:

"The organization is experiencing difficulties in preparing monthly financial statements for management use. In addition, timely reconciliations of account reconciliations were not prepared during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2000." (My emphasis)

The downside, according to the auditors (and this may seem familiar) "Potential for improper use of grant funds and related monitoring".

Finding 00-3

"The Organization has not followed the Cost Allocation Plan as approved by Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) in the allocation of various cost pools. The impact of these changes affect the allocation of various cost pools. The impacts of these changes affect the allocation of indirect costs to various grants, including those specifically affected (ACP, AEGF, WIA/JTPA Youth)." (My apologies, I don't know these acronyms).

DWD, of course is the agency the WIB reports to. The description above - at the least - amounts to ignoring company policy. I think most of us will recognize that there is a downside to that sort of practice.

The auditors' concern (no surprise) "All grants affected by the allocation of Cost Pools #15, #97 are impacted by change." (Sorry, I don't know what the cost pool numbers refer to.)

Finding 00-4

"The Organization has reported expenditures by grant under the reconstruction process that do not match those reported on the Accrued Expenditure Reports (AERs) utilized for grant monitoring and settlement."

In retrospect, this will turn out to be a key finding. The auditors continue, "Reported costs do not match detailed records prepared through the reconstruction process."

The auditors must have been scratching their heads about this one. I've heard reports that the actual cost to reconstruct this organization's books was around $500,000 and still the auditors state reported costs don't match the records!

Now that we have a flavor for the tradition of the NIWIB, let's fast forward to the audit for FY 2003 - the most recent in my packet of 169 pages.

The FY 2003 audit was prepared by a different company for some reason: Comer, Nowling and Associates. There is definite improvement illustrated in this report. Significantly, no material weaknesses are identified - though there are reportable conditions. These conditions (again) have to do with federal grants.

And, sad to say, this auditor agrees with Crowe, Chizek... that the WIB is not "qualified as (a) low risk auditee".

Let's now return to our assignment to compare and contrast.

The Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board displayed very sloppy and haphazard record keeping. The auditors complained that the biggest problem they faced was the reality that they couldn't possibly be sure they could identify all the problems. The WIB was out of compliance (consistently) with federal grant programs as well as with the agency they report to. These systemic failures had a real cost - which will be the topic of the next chapter.

The City of South Bend with a far larger and more complex budget by contrast had very specific reportable conditions. Any of us who run or have run businesses know that auditors insist on regular, timely deposits - no matter how much (or little) money is involved. It's a good practice that indicate controls are in place. But lets remember - no money was lost, misappropriated or turned up missing.

The other area of focus had to due with specific account "shortfalls". These were in the categories of central services and parking garage funds. Per the mayor, these were anticipated and routinely covered by general revenue funds. (There's nice explanation about how these funds work in the South Bend Tribune article of August 28, 2007 by Jeff Parrot). One wonders if there is a way to eliminate future confusion by reallocating figures into different categories, but once again - no money was lost, misappropriated or turned up missing.

So as promised, next time we look at what the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board cost you and the people they were to serve. 'Til then.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Workforce Investment Board Fiscal Practices - 2

Many of us were offered the opportunity by instructors (High School, College, etc.) to "Compare and contrast...".

Who knew how useful that skill could be?

Republican mayoral nominee Juan Manigault recently called a press conference upbraiding Mayor Steve Luecke for not publicizing problems in the most recent audit of the City of South Bend's books. The problems cited were shortfalls in two accounts and a failure to make prompt (timely) deposits of emergency medical services revenue. From what I understand, that was the sum total of unsatisfactory items identified.

As it happened, my Sister and Niece visited yesterday. Meg is a CPA (tax issues specialist) who is certainly better trained to look at an audit than I am. I asked Meg if she'd mind looking over the four audits of the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board (NIWIB) which was headed by Juan Manigault for me, just to identify (and translate into English) things of interest in these documents. She gamely agreed.

It wasn't long before her body language indicated we would be needing a highlight pen. Since the audits were prepared fairly contemporaneously to each other, she focused mostly on the first and last ones. Also, she thought there was no point in me actually trying to follow the accounting -- focusing on the findings of the auditors seemed to be the way to go. Some general impressions she had was that the organization had showed significant improvement of their record keeping by the last audit, but it pretty much had nowhere but up to go from the first one. At some point she volunteered, "These must have been very expensive audits!"

She helped me understand the jargon. For example, both audit summaries begin with "An unqualified opinion was issued...". That's a positive indicator, she told me. It means that the auditors think they got enough information to know what they're talking about. The second note for FY 2000 was a bit more ominous. It listed two "reportable conditions" and that the first of the two was identified as a "material weakness". I'm told a "material weakness " is particularly undesirable.

The last point of the summary of FY 2000 notes that the NIWIB "was not determined to be a low risk auditee..." I gather organizations with good record keeping are generally considered low risk auditees. Low risk auditees require many fewer audit tests and therefor have much lower audit fees.

Ahead of the audit summary for FY 2000, Meg highlighted some comments in the introduction. Under the heading "Internal Control Over Financial Reporting": "...we noted certain matters involving the internal control over financial reporting and its operation that we consider to be reportable conditions. Reportable conditions involve matters coming to our attention relating to significant deficiencies in the design or operation of the internal control over financial reporting that, in our judgement, could adversely affect the Organization's ability to record, process, summarize and report financial data consistent with the assertions of management in the financial statements. Reportable conditions are described in the accompanying schedule of findings and questioned costs as findings 00-1 and 00-2."

The phrase "significant deficiencies in the design or operation..." really jumps out. As a licensed Home Inspector, I am charged by the state with the responsibility of identifying significant deficiencies in the building I'm evaluating for my client. Per the state, these are very serious matters. Failing foundations or roof systems, unsafe electrical systems, etc. Another thing to think about is that this observation came after BKD, LLC had been paid a couple hundred thousand dollars (give or take) to reconstruct the Organization's books.

A bit further into the document "As described in findings 00-3 and 00-4 in the accompanying schedule of findings and questioned costs, the Organization did not comply with requirements regarding allowable costs and reporting that are applicable to its federal programs. Compliance with such requirements is necessary in our opinion for the Organizations to comply with requirements applicable to their federal programs."

This comment seems significant since federal programs figure heavily into all that the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board did.

Remember, finding 00-1 was also designated as a "material weakness" in addition to being a reportable condition. That term is explained in the introduction. "A material weakness is a condition in which the design or operation of one or more of the internal control components does not reduce to a relatively low level the risk that misstatements in amounts that would be material in relation to the financial statements being audited may occur and may not be detected within a timely period by employees in the normal course of performing their assigned functions." (Added emphasis is mine.)

That seems bad.

It continues, "Our consideration of the internal control over financial reporting would not necessarily disclose all matters in the internal control that might be reportable conditions, and, accordingly, would not necessarily disclose all reportable conditions that are also considered to be material weaknesses." (Again, emphasis is mine).

If I've read this right, they are saying that the material weakness is that the lack of a coherent bookkeeping system made it impossible to be confident that there weren't additional reportable conditions, some of which could be material weaknesses. So Crowe, Chizek et. al. seems to be saying, Hey, we did the best we could under the circumstances. And rather than individual acts or ommissions, the auditors seem more concerned with systemic failure.

In the next segment we'll delve into the finding statements themselves. Til next time.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

On The 12 Steps, Or, The Fringe Is Smarter Than The Lampshade

Hello, I’m Fake C., and I’m a member of the Lefty Fringe.

Even though I’ve been attending these meetings for awhile, I need to better understand how I came to be in this situation, so here goes…

It all started when I was reading about this George Bush guy that was running for President. This woman who used to write about Texas politics and its quirky nature put up a series of stories that gave you the impression that there was nothing good about this guy.

So I voted for Al Gore, because (I thought) he would make a better candidate. It turns out it was just a sign that I’m a member of the Lefty Fringe.

Don’t get me wrong-it’s not as if I haven’t sought help…but it just isn’t helping.

The news isn’t all bad.

I’ve been able to, with the help of my Conservative friends, admit that I’m addicted to hating America and all it stands for, which was a tough first step, but a necessary one.

I’ve also been able to recognize that the higher spiritual power of basic human morality can give me the strength to continue to seek a better future for America-and to realize that I have to work hard to own my government.

But then things start to get a bit fuzzy.

I’m supposed to be able to examine and make amends for my past errors, and I just can’t figure out what I’ve been doing wrong. They say a mentor can help you identify your past mistakes-would you like to help by telling me where I went off the track?

I remember thinking way back in 2001 that North Korea was not really as big a threat as this Administration seemed to want us to believe, and I don’t think I was wrong about that. But if you believed that point of view, you were a member of the Lefty Fringe.

I remember thinking that rolling back environmental protections was a bad thing; but lots of smart folks thought my complaining made no sense, suggesting once again that I’m stuck out there on that Lefty Fringe.

And then there was September 11th. I heard Condoleezza Rice telling me that this sort of attack was “unprecedented”, even though crashing a plane into a building as a terrorist action had already been attempted in 1994-seven years earlier. Of course only Lefty Fringers would doubt such a highly placed individual…but that's me, I guess.

And I’ll never forget the day my friend Steve and I talked about how he was going to an anti-war protest…and I told him he was wasting his time. Being on the Lefty Fringe and all, I was pretty sure this decision had already been made (maybe even before Mr. Bush came into office), and our opinion wouldn’t mean squat. But he’s even farther over on the Fringe than I, so he gave it his best shot…

And why Iraq, anyway?

We on the Lefty Fringe knew that almost all the hijackers were Saudi.
We knew the “aluminum tube” story was bogus, and if we didn’t know it already, in this case even the Administration’s own experts were trying to tell us so.

You know what else we knew? We knew that Shi’a would get revenge on the Sunni that had been oppressing them once Saddam was out of the way, and that a civil war that we could not control would be the result. We might even find ourselves in a quagmire, some thought; killing American troops to remove a guy who “wasn’t worth much”. Of course, there were lots of people who thought having these sorts of doubts was enough to not just put us on the Lefty Fringe, but to make us enemies of the State.

Here’s something else us Lefty Fringers figured out: if you used to run a horse racing association, and have no emergency management experience, you might not be the best candidate to run FEMA.

Lefty Fringers were confused to be in the mainstream when that awful Mr. Clinton was running Federal surpluses; and we are now back in our normal place with the far more economically traditional Mr. Bush’s Federal budget deficits, which seem to be in place to go on for many years to come.

Here’s the craziest part of all: I’m forced these days to defend the Constitution and the concept of separation of powers while my Conservative friends tell me I’m just giving aid and comfort to my enemies for my Lefty Fringe ideas. Here’s where I get really confused: these days, my Conservative friends suddenly trust the Government to do the right thing, while I’ve remained the principled skeptic.

I even use Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as examples of Presidents who understood that talking to our enemies is the smart thing to do, while my Conservative friends (who you might think would be Reagan supporters) tell me I’m some sort of appeaser for my thoughts. Thoughts like this Richard Nixon quote (substitute Iran for China, if you will) ". . . we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors…" are somehow considered ill-informed and inapplicable in today’s world.

Even today, apparently because of my addiction to hating America and all it stands for, I don’t think we’re making the slightest bit of progress in this “phony war on terrorism”. (As it turns out, I’m not the only one who hates America.)

Now if I really seek recovery, I’m supposed to make amends for my errors, and adopt a new code of conduct; but how do I do that?

Am I supposed to be sorry that I knew in advance that the Administration was wrong on every one of these issues?

Should I apologize to Pat Robertson for doubting that invading Iraq would be a good idea? Should I encourage my own godson to reenlist, knowing that this war is just about over-that “enormous success” is assured because the insurgency is in its last throes?

Should I adopt the traditional Conservative worldview that just assumes the Government should be trusted when it comes to war because Government knows what it’s doing at all times? That the Government will always be the guardian of the best interests of the citizens?

Maybe it’s because I’m addicted to hating my country so much, but I just can’t seem to do it. Instead I mistrust Government, and I want to control it, rather than the other way around. I hate this country so much that I want a Government that isn’t running around “nation-building” every chance it gets. Most of all, I hate America so much that I want other countries to admire us, respect us, and maybe even join into coalitions with us-to work on other global problems that even our own EPA recognizes will have huge impacts worldwide.

So that’s my testimony for today, and if someone will just sign my slip I’ll see you all next meeting.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Workforce Investment Board Fiscal Practices - 1

After looking through all the documents provided through public record, it seems wise to try to frame the information a bit.

There are actually two organizations with very similar names that Juan Manigault headed. The Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board, Inc. (NIWIB), was a quasi-governmental body which existed up until a couple of years ago. This organization is the one we'll be looking at - primarily in the years 1999-2004.

More recently, the functions were "privatized' - one of Governor Mitch Daniels' favorite activities - and the functions were assumed by an organization called "Workforce Development Group, Inc. (WDG). Oddly, it seems most of the principals shifted from one group to the other and its not clear what the benefit(s) was/were. At any rate, it is from the WDG that Mr. Manigault recently resigned as President and CEO -- and as noted by others, with a severance package which has touched off some controversy.

My understanding is that both groups were to perform pretty much the same function. In general terms, to help those out of work or underemployed to a path of useful work with a livable wage. In terms of the NIWIB, the responsibility charged was "workforce development in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Kosciusko and Marshall counties. It issued contracts to agencies such as Workforce Development Services and Goodwill to help welfare recipients, dislocated workers, youth and others get training and jobs." (Summary courtesy of the South Bend Tribune).

On June 7, 2002 the South Bend Tribune published an article by Keith Benham entitled "Nonprofit Pays Out $228,000 to Correct Faulty Bookkeeping". Most of the cost quoted was to reconstruct financial records dating back to July of 1999. The audit and reconstruction in this case was by a company referred to as "BKD LLP of Indianapolis". On August 2, 2007 the South Bend Tribune published an article by James Wensits entitled "Manigault Clears Slate With Agency". Mr Wensits noted "Manigault produced a letter from the state Workforce Development oversight director. The letter issued in October 2004, regarded the final determination of audits covering the period from July 1999 through June 30, 2002, and concluded that 'your agency has satisfactorily addressed all of the issues identified in the audits'."

I have a copy of that letter as well, but the question we want to examine is what did it take to get to that point and what and who did it cost.

My packet of information included four audits (but not the one by BKD, curiously) and a lot of correspondence. In part 2 of this series we'll get into some particulars, but one general condition seems clear: The record keeping by NIWIB was considered poor and poor enough that it and its successor organization were required to retain an outside financial agent to satisfy the state.

Until next time.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler