Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(WIB 10 ) The fiscal agent gets a fiscal agent, or, over 1.1 million not served

It's clear from the Crowe Chizek audit that "the agency" headed by Juan Manigault, was seriously dysfunctional. But - believe it or not - the news actually gets worse. Back to the Alan Degner letter of 10/06/2004:

"In early 2003 after the audits, our agency received the final grant close-outs for these (prior) three 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 would be the $1.1 million problem that Mr. Manigault claims never happened.

"This over expenditure was created when two formula awards(WIA903 and WIA003) were reported by the Auditor (Crowe Chizek) as being a combined $4,245.030.00 as compared to the closeout submitted by NIWIB of $3,136.948.00."

Those notes about problems with sticking with cost allocation plans are tugging at our sleeves about now. And just for consistency:

"In addition, only 4 out of 23 grants could be reconciled with the Auditor report's 'Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards" to NIWIB closeouts submitted."

Keep in mind, the standard here is 100%. "The agency's" performance of approximately 17% lags a bit from the standard. Konnie Beasley was nearly apoplectic when she saw this note.

Remembering this letter is addressed to Mayor Luecke, and remembering his constraints...

"Based on these findings, the Department recommended the selection of a new fiscal agent to be effective on or before July 1, 2003. As chief elected official, you later selected Crowe Chizek to act as fiscal agent effective July 1, 2003."

If I'm following this, an entity whose sole purpose is to keep track of finances was ordered to have an outside organization retained to ensure they actually did that. That would pretty nearly seem to obviate the usefulness of "the agency". Back to the 1.1 mil.

"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 formulations."

Not much of choice here. But it meant that people who deserved help didn't get it because funds that should have been there for them had been previously spent on things having nothing to do with the programs the money was dedicated to. So job seekers and taxpayers took the hit.

Mr Degner continued that there was an additional $26,389.01 which local governments had to write a check for, because those grants had been closed out. Yet another unbudgeted taxpayer expense.

Mr. Degner wrote a stern letter. Having read it a few times now (it's available in its entirety in chapter 4) I find myself wondering why the state didn't (at a minimum) suggest a staff review. There is little in my experience that exceeds the volume of documentation demonstrating the failure of leadership of an organization, as I have seen in this case.

I have a few more thoughts to share. Until next time.

Don Wheeler

The Debate Hillary Lost

Was it over Kyl-Lieberman? Iraq? Hsu? Fundraising? Corporate influence?

No.

It was over...driver's licenses.

Specifically, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

Here's the short version: Elliot Spitzer, the firebrand Governor of the State of New York, is proposing that illegal immigrants be granted driver's licenses in the context of his state trying to deal with the many, many illegal immigrants living in the shadows and away from the law.

Hillary Clinton stated she supported this legislation...until...Chris Dodd called her on it, saying that a driver's license is a priviledge, not a right. Senator Clinton then did her standard backpedal:

1. It's all George Bush's fault

2. I'm for this in theory but I don't agree with the specifics

Edwards then went in for the knock out punch: we need to have a President who says the same thing regardless of who she - or he - is saying it to.

It's about being in truth-telling mode all the time.

Not wanting to be left off the bandwagon, Obama joined in with his ten seconds of "me, too"...but this moment belonged to the tag team of Edwards and Dodd, who got Clinton on the ropes and didn't let her recover.

It revealed Clinton's main weakness: she dissembles, trying to carefully craft her messages so specifically to different audiences that eventually she just ends up completely contradicting herself until you're really not sure where she stands on anything.

And here's what I have to say about all of that: Edwards/Dodd 08!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Curiouser and curiouser...(WIB 9)

Naturally, after findings like that Cole and Dunton had a recommendation. And the recommendation was stunning.

According to Commissioner Degner, "As a result, Cole and Dunton recommended that NIWIB reconstruct their financial records so that an audit could be performed."

In other words, they were of the belief that one couldn't even audit "the agency" without serious work beforehand.

Now we get to the first and only article published by the South Bend Tribune on this matter - on June 7, 2002 by Keith Benman. The headline: "Nonprofit Pays Out $228,088 To Correct Faulty Bookkeeping".

You, the eternal optimist, probably think that the amount quoted was what was paid to Cole and Dunton - but no! I haven't discovered the amount paid to them.

The article continues: "The Workforce Investment Board has paid most of that money to accountants from BKD LLP, of Indianapolis, who are reconstructing the agency's books going back to July of 1999." (You'll recall that was the date selected Ms. Beasley as feasible starting point).

The article quotes the ever confident Juan Manigault. "'I think we will be pleasantly surprised when this is all done,' Manigault said. 'And one of the surprises may be that the way we did things was not incorrect.'"

Was that indeed the surprise? Not exactly. Back to Alan Degner's letter.

"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;
- continual adjustments throughout the process by the NIWIB to the cost allocation plan; and
- a dispute over the reported participant numbers that NIWIB originally submitted to DWD."

The third item on the list is significant and I believe notes the effect of the drawn-down strategy (for meeting expenses) discussed earlier.

Mr. Degner continues: "Beginning October 2002, Crowe Chizek began the audit process on the reconstructed financial records." Finally there is some belief "the agency " can be audited with some hope of a useful outcome.

Read the next section carefully - I missed the significance of it on my first reading.

"During the auditing process, DWD and NIWIB reached an agreement that would allow the WIB to adjust and make corrections of proposed findings by Crowe Chizek as needed. As a result, any potential findings could be rectified before the audits were closed and many findings were resolved with DVD's assistance and approval."

In other words, many problems never made it into the audit report. But a few did, including:

- In February 1998, three fraudulent 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 management 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 preparing monthly financial statements.
- NIWIB did not adhere to its cost allocation plan.
- Grants were not 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 sub-recipient."

A few notes. When you look at the Crowe Chizek report itself, what is meant by the second item above is that the because the accounting system was so bad, the auditors couldn't be sure that they had found all the actual problems "the agency" had. The third item almost makes me smile. Can you imagine "the agency" monitoring someone elses financial records? We know from Ms. Beasley's observations that item five is a serious understatement. And item six sure looks familiar. Once again, cost allocation plans seemed to be a moving target.

As bad as the Crowe Chizek report looks, let's recap a couple of points. Cole and Dunton had worked on the books, BKD worked on the books and corrections were allowed ahead of this report during this process. Add to that, Crowe Chizek makes no guarantee it found all the problems even this far down the line. Sure doesn't fill a taxpayer with much confidence in the stewardship of the WIB.

And, oh yeah! There was something having to do with a million dollar problem, more or less, wasn't there?

We get to that next time.

Don Wheeler

The tip of the iceberg (WIB 8)

So Konnie Beasley had quite a mess on her hands.

Ms. Beasley attended quarterly meetings in Indianapolis, where the status of programs of this nature state-wide were reviewed. These meetings confirmed what she had already come to believe - that "the agency" had major fiscal problems. These meetings also revealed that her situation was highly unusual.

She writes that she gained "superb assistance" from the people attending theses meetings.

"It was at that time I sought help and advice from Bruce Kimery, Deputy Commissioner of Indiana Workforce Development. After a couple of meetings with Mr. Kimery, ("the agency") was required to have an outside audit performed. The state chose Cole & Dunton and helped fund that audit. The results of that audit laid bare the dysfunction of the WIB."

Let's cut away to the Commisioner of the Indiana Workforce Development, Alan Degner letter, published in its entirety on this blog in 'What Juan Manigualt Cost You". This letter to Mayor of South Bend, Steve Luecke, penned October 6, 2004 summarized the findings of multiple auditors and agencies. Here is a relevant excerpt.

"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:

fraudulent 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: ( Ms. Beasley notes that these would have been for Juan Manigault's travel)

procurement of $24,000 in business equipment charged to two different funding pools;

accounting software (in use) 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."

I'd ask the reader's indulgence to carefully consider that last point above, because in retrospect it may be the most telling observation and it was advanced in September of 2001.

Ms. Beasley, in one of our conversations indicated that Juan Manigault engaged in something of a fiscal shell game to account for a given desired expenditure. He would look at available balances in funds and assign the expense to one that had room. [The reference to cash draws (another term is draw downs) refers to an application for expensing an amount less than the total of the fund]. When expenses which actually pertained to the grant would occur - surprise, surprise - there likely would not be a sufficient balance available to cover the legitimate costs. We'll return to this point in the future.

How about sixty thousand dollars in fraudulent checks? Ms. Beasley explained that the physical checks appeared to be created by superimposing checks from one agency account over checks from the other. I can't really visualize the effect of that, but it certainly hints at an inside job.

From multiple sources: The checks were cashed in South Carolina, the mechanical signature apparatus of the agency was employed, no recovery was made on behalf of the taxpayers and there were at least two straightforward ways recovery could have been made on behalf of the taxpayers.

That's right. I claim that the taxpayers could have been spared the sting of sixty thousand dollars stolen from them if the person in charge - Juan Manigault - had conducted his duties in a way even approaching competence.

How? First of all, the bank that cashed the fraudulent checks had insurance. Secondly, the agency itself had insurance. But in order to collect, timely reporting had to be done. I'm told it wasn't.

Naturally, if a claim was filed either way, there would have been a pretty detailed investigation. I've heard suggestions that that might not have been desired.

In any case, why don't we have answers to these questions by October 2007? And why is it we (private citizens) are wrestling with them now? Where are the watchdogs? Where is the "professional" media?

There's more.

Don Wheeler

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Coffee Addiction, Or, Smarter Foreign Policy, One Cup At A Time

We did not mean to write a story about economics, or foreign aid, or National Security when writing began today. We meant instead to write a story about unusual and rare coffees and the odd fixations of those who spend many months a year under gray skies.

As it turns out, all of those themes intertwine-which is why in today’s conversation we’re going to talk about Rwanda, the United States Agency for International Development, alternative methods of diplomacy and their potential effect on the Nation’s future...and the difference between “washed” and “natural” coffee.

And as I am wont to do on many a morning, let’s start with the coffee.

There’s Folger’s (Nestle for our European and Australian friends), and then there’s Starbucks, and then there are coffee companies who are even more upscale...who specialize in what are essentially the “single malts” of coffee-small batches of unique coffees produced from single specific source farms.

It is the desire of have this sort of fine coffee experience that brings me to the “living room” of Zoka Coffee Roasters’ Snoqualmie, Washington store early on Saturday morning for a “cupping” (tasting) of six premier coffees, led by Zoka’s Proprietor Jeff Babcock and Trish Skeie, the company's Director of Coffee.

Before we talk about specific coffees, let’s address the manner in which the coffee business works.

Traditionally, large “commodity” roasters (the national and private brand producers) purchase huge lots of coffee on the “spot” or “futures” markets and blend the purchases in an attempt to produce the same flavor over and over.

My Scot readers will recognize this process as the method by which “blended” Scotches are made (for the benefit of some of my American readers, Scots are people, Scotch isn’t). My Scot friends will also be aware that “single-malts” are made from one single batch, and are not blended.

This allows the discerning taster to enjoy unique flavors and characteristics that are not present in the blended varieties of Scotch-and those characteristics will change from year to year, even within the same distillery. The same is true with coffee: specific growing locations around the world produce unique “small batch” coffees; and there are roasters and shops on at least four continents catering to this market.

This is a crop that is grown in some of the poorer regions of the world, and there has been a movement to put more of the money in the hands of the growers; and to that end you may have seen Fair Trade Coffee advertised at your local retailer.

A more recent development has been the advent of the “Cup of Excellence” country auctions, in which the wholesale buyer community sends professional judges into the host country; and in a marathon “cupping” session the best coffees in these countries are identified and then offered for auction, with the money raised going to the farmer and the coop to which they belong.

The Cup of Excellence countries include Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua...in other words, the Western Hemisphere’s big shots of coffee. That will soon change...but more on that topic later.

And there is substantial money involved.

Most retail consumers in the US are paying $5 to $12 or so per pound of coffee, but the coffees purchased in these auctions are selling-in the home country, at wholesale-as high as $47.06 per pound.

Yes, you heard correctly.
$47.06

Stumptown Coffee Roasters paid $100,222 to the Las Golondrinas Estate in Mozonte, Nicaragua for 14 150 pound bags of what was judged to be the finest coffee presented for sale in the auction in Nicaragua this year.

Prices above $12 are not unusual in these auctions, and examples of wholesale prices between $12 and $19 are quite common, as the Guatemala results demonstrate.

So how does all this relate to international affairs?

These days there’s a new kid on the block-Rwanda is involved in the Golden Cup process, which is the lead-in to the Cup of Excellence program, in which they will participate next year as the first African nation to enter the process. This is the culmination of several years of work connecting the farmer to the international market, and there was a major amount of effort made overcoming the political barriers that existed between the groups on the ground before this could be accomplished.

But to really tell their story, we have one more bit of background to address.
Call it “coffee anatomy”, if you will.

Rain causes the coffee bush to flower and bud. Coffee beans are found inside that bud-or the “cherry”, as it’s called in the trade.

Some coffee producers use a process that involves soaking and mechanical means to remove the beans from the cherries before they are dried (“washed” coffee); while others allow the cherries to dry with the beans inside (“natural coffee”), after which the cherry is milled away.

Each method produces beans with different flavor “notes”, and neither is considered inherently better. In fact, Trish Skeie was telling us about a conversation she had with a grower’s group where that question came up, and her response was basically that you can process using either method, as long as you do it well.

Which brings us back to Rwanda.

For the past seven years, Tim Schilling of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has been involved in a project to develop a coffee industry in Rwanda, including the recent establishment of about 150 “washing stations” throughout the country (with another 150 on the way). Each station combines soaking pools (the “bad” beans float, and are easily separated) with mechanical equipment that removes the cherries.

Rwanda has more or less 500,000 coffee farmers, each farming an average of about an acre, Jeff Babcock told us; and he had just returned from a trip to the country where he was one of the judges (and eventual buyers) of coffees at the event, including Karmonyi, the fifth highest rated of the coffees auctioned at Rwanda’s Golden Cup (and one of the coffees we “cupped”).

By the way, the washing stations perform two functions for the Rwandans: besides the obvious economic boost provided by access to improved production technology, the washing stations are available, without discrimination, to Hutu and Tutsi alike, creating a sort of local “cracker barrel” where neighbors can gather and maybe some ethnic healing can begin.

At this point, a word about “cupping”: this is a controlled tasting method that has very specific rituals. In front of the “cuppers” (us) are small bowls arranged in pairs. Each pair of bowls contains 14 grams of the same dry ground coffee. (Your barista uses 7 grams in that little cup they attach to the espresso machine when they make your espresso or cappuccino or latte.)

(Two examples of each coffee are paired to guard against the possibility that one of the bows might contain a bad bean, causing a misunderstanding of that crop’s true potential.) We are tasting six varieties of coffee, thus there are two tables, each with six pairs of labeled samples.

We then smell the samples in order from “lightest” to “heaviest” flavor-a practice familiar to wine tasters. Also familiar: we are seeking the aforementioned flavor “notes”-the hints of berry, or vanilla, or hazelnut, or any of a thousand other tastes and smells that combine to create the unique character of each coffee.

Hot water is then added to the samples. During the four minutes of steeping we again smell the offerings. I’m walking around the table, doing the old “pushing the steam to my nose” thing to try to get a more complete sense of the aromas present.

Next comes the moment that the coffee “liquor” is “cracked” (the liquid in the cups is an extraction of coffee, as is the beverage you drink. It is thus accurate to say you are not drinking a cup of coffee, but instead an extraction-a cup of coffee liquor). Cracking involves first removing the “crust“ that has formed on the surface of the liquid, then stirring the liquor-exactly four stirs-with the goal of drawing the grounds that have accumulated on the surface down into the liquor.

And now we taste.

Spoons are dipped into hot water between each taste, then into the liquor. Trish Skeie demonstrates the “sip and slurp”-in which the liquor is drawn into the mouth along with an intake of air, the better to spread the taste across the tongue. A quick swish, and then spit into the provided cups.

Repeat 11 more times, in the same order as before (“light” to “dark”, if you will), and all 12 bowls have been tasted. We will return to the samples again as the liquors cool, the better to evaluate the increase in acidity associated with the reduction in temperature.

Wine tasters would feel right at home, believe me.

Jeff Babcock tells us that his Rwanda trip involved having to perform this ritual as many as five times daily, with as many as 15 samples to be examined in each session. The coffee event was being held at the same time and place as a national soccer tournament, which was sponsored by Jeremy Torz, was who one of the Judging participants, and a co-founder of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee of London.

The farmers and their families who benefit from this project (and the communities who benefit as well) are the exact people that we need to influence in positive ways if we hope to advance American interests around the world in a successful manner; and if you ask me (which, in a way, I guess you are...) we should be creating as many Tim Schillings as we can find and sending then into the world like bees from a hive to implement Tip O’Neill’s admonition that “all politics is local”.

Jeff had a slideshow for us to see, and if I had any questions about the success of Schilling’s work, the slide showing Torz wearing the native Chief’s hat and holding the elaborately topped spear he was given as gifts suggests these folks actually appreciate what these efforts have done for their communities-and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of 500,000 Rwandan families feel good about our country every time they go to the local washing station.

(Tip for the future: Babcock reports that the next African country to embark on this process will be Burundi.)

Finally, on to the coffees: we started with the Finca Carrizal from Costa Rica; and then a very special coffee produced at the Hacienda la Esmerelda in Panama. Jeff tells us that this crop was not sold in the usual 150 pound bags, because of its scarcity. Instead, only one dozen 50 pound bags were available worldwide, and we were tasting from the one he was able to purchase.

Next was the previously discussed Karmonyi from Rwanda (we noted a strong cherry presence in this one), and then a Sumatran coffee that I frankly found fairly ordinary. (Notice how I now assume I actually know what I’m talking about? Oh, the confidence of not enough experience...)

But the big finale was the two Ethiopian Yirga Cheffes, which were paired-except that one was washed, and the other was natural. For me-and it appeared, for the other tasters as well-the evidence of hazelnut was quick to the nose when sniffing the dry natural coffee; and the nut note was very easy to discern in the natural coffee liquor as well.

So that’s our story for today: we left expecting to try some coffee, and we came back with much more: an example of another type of American stationed overseas who is doing great work on a shoestring budget, who is setting a great example for how we should be spending tax dollars to influence world opinion, and who actually has the potential to create new foreign allies for this Nation, as opposed to new foreign enemies. All that and we’re set up to start making people’s lives better in the bargain.

And in Rwanda, where more or less 10 million folks live in an area more or less 6 times the size of Rhode Island, we seem to be moving in the right direction to do exactly that.

What’s not to love?

John Edwards from Manchester, NH today

Remarks by Senator John Edwards

St. Anselm's College, Manchester, New Hamphshire
October 29, 2007

Many of you know that I am the son of a mill worker -- that I rose from modest means and have been blessed in so many ways in life. Elizabeth and I have so much to be grateful for.

And all of you know about some of the challenges we have faced in my family. But there came a time, a few months ago, when Elizabeth and I had to decide, in the quiet of a hospital room, after many hours of tests and getting pretty bad news -- what we were going to do with our lives.And we made our decision. That we were not going to go quietly into the night -- that we were going to stand and fight for what we believe in.

As Elizabeth and I have campaigned across America, I've come to a better understanding of what that decision really meant -- and why we made it.

Earlier this year, I spoke at Riverside Church in New York, where, forty years ago, Martin Luther King gave a historic speech. I talked about that speech then, and I want to talk about it today. Dr. King was tormented by the way he had kept silent for two years about the Vietnam War. He was told that if he spoke out he would hurt the civil rights movement and all that he had worked for -- but he could not take it any more -- instead of decrying the silence of others -- he spoke the truth about himself.

"Over the past two years" he said, "I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silence and speak from the burning of my own heart."

I am not holier than thou. I am not perfect by any means. But there are events in life that you learn from, and which remind you what this is really all about. Maybe I have been freed from the system and the fear that holds back politicians because I have learned there are much more important things in life than winning elections at the cost of selling your soul. Especially right now, when our country requires so much more of us, and needs to hear the truth from its leaders.

And, although I have spent my entire life taking on the big powerful interests and winning -- which is why I have never taken a dime from Washington lobbyists or political action committees -- I too have been guilty of my own silence -- but no more. It's time to tell the truth.

And the truth is the system in Washington is corrupt. It is rigged by the powerful special interests to benefit the very few at the expense of the many. And as a result, the American people have lost faith in our broken system in Washington, and believe it no longer works for ordinary Americans.

They're right.As I look across the political landscape of both parties today -- what I see are politicians too afraid to tell the truth -- good people caught in a bad system that overwhelms their good intentions and requires them to chase millions of dollars in campaign contributions in order to perpetuate their careers and continue their climb to higher office.This presidential campaign is a perfect example of how our politics is awash with money.

I have raised more money up to this point than any Democratic candidate raised last time in the presidential campaign -- $30 million. And, I did it without taking a dime from any Washington lobbyist or any special interest PAC. I saw the chase for campaign money at any cost by the frontrunner in this race -- and I did not join it -- because the cost to our nation and our children is not worth the hollow victory of any candidate.

Being called president while powerful interests really run things is not the same as being free to lead this nation as president of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. If protecting the current established structure in Washington is in your interest, then I am not your candidate.

I ran for president four years ago -- yes, in part out of personal ambition -- but also with a deep desire to stand for working people like my father and mother -- who no matter how hard things were for our family, always worked even harder to make things better for us. But the more Elizabeth and I campaigned this year, the more we talked to the American people, the more we met people just like my father, and hard working people like James Lowe.

James is a decent and honest man who had to live for 50 years with no voice in the richest country in the world because he didn't have health care. The more people like him that I met, the more I realized something much bigger was stirring in the American people. And it has stirred in each of us for far too long.

Last month Ken Burns -- who made the great Civil War documentary -- launched his newest epic on World War II on PBS -- and what a story it tells. At the cost of great suffering, blood and enormous sacrifice, within four years after Pearl Harbor it is incredible what this nation achieved. America built the arsenal of democracy worthy of our great history. We launched the greatest invasion armada in the history of warfare against Hitler's fortress Europe, and, with our allies, we freed a continent of suffering humanity. At the same time on the other side of the globe we crossed 10,000 miles of ocean and liberated another hemisphere of humanity -- islands and nations freed from the grip of Japanese militarists. While at the same time succeeding in the greatest scientific endeavor ever undertaken -- the Manhattan project -- and topped it off with building the Pentagon, one of the largest buildings in the world in a little over a year.

It is incredible what America has accomplished. Because no matter what extraordinary challenges we have been faced with, we did exactly what America has always done in our history -- we rose to the challenge.

And, now, as I travel across America and listen to people, I hear real concern about what's going on. For the first time in our nation's history, people are worried that we're going to be the first generation of Americans not to pass on a better life to our children.And it's not the fault of the American people.

The American people have not changed. The American people are still the strong, courageous people they have always been. The problem is what our government has become. And, it is up to us to do something about it. Because Washington may not see it, but we are facing a moral crisis as great as any that has ever challenged us. And, it is this test -- this moral test -- that I have come to understand is at the heart of this campaign.

Just look at what has happened in Iraq. What was the response of the American people to the challenge at hand? Our men and women in uniform have been heroes. They've done everything that's been asked of them and more. But what about our government? Four years after invading Iraq, we cannot even keep the lights on in Baghdad.When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the American people were at their best. They donated their time and their money in record numbers. There was an outpouring of support. I took 700 college kids down to help -- young people who gave up their spring break. But what about our government? Three years after hurricane Katrina thousands of our fellow Americans, our brothers and sisters, are still housed in trailers waiting to go home.

There's no better example of the bravery and goodness of the American people than the response to the attacks of 9/11: firefighters and first responders risking and too often giving their lives to save others, charging up the stairs while everyone else was coming down; record bloodbank donations; and the list goes on.

But what about our government? Six years after 9/11, at Ground Zero there sits only a black hole that tortures our conscience and scars our hearts.In every instance we see an American people who are good, decent, compassionate and undeterred. And, American people who are better than the government that is supposed to serve and represent them.

And what has happened to the American "can do" spirit? I will tell you what has happened: all of this is the result of the bitter poisoned fruit of corruption and the bankruptcy of our political leadership.It is not an accident that the government of the United States cannot function on behalf of its people, because it is no longer our people's government -- and we the people know it.

This corruption did not begin yesterday -- and it did not even begin with George Bush -- it has been building for decades -- until it now threatens literally the life of our democracy.While the American people personally rose to the occasion with an enormous outpouring of support and donations to both the victims of Katrina and 9/11 -- we all saw our government's neglect. And we saw greed and incompetence at work. Out of more than 700 contracts valued at $500,000 or greater, at least half were given without full competition or, according to news sources, with vague or open ended terms, and many of these contracts went to companies with deep political connections such as a subsidiary of Haliburton, Bechtel Corp., and AshBritt Inc.

And in Iraq -- while our nation's brave sons and daughters put their lives on the line for our country -- we now have mercenaries under their own law while their bosses sit at home raking in millions. We have squandered millions on building Olympic size swimming pools and buildings that have never been used. We have weapons and ammunition unaccounted for that may now be being used against our own soldiers. We literally have billions wasted or misspent -- while our troops and their families continue to sacrifice.

And the politically connected lobby for more. What's their great sacrifice -- higher profits.It goes on every minute of every day.Corporate executives at United Airlines and US Airways receive millions in compensation for taking their companies into bankruptcy, while their employees are forced to take cuts in pay.

Companies like Wal-Mart lobby against inspecting containers entering our nation's ports, even though expert after expert agrees that the likeliest way for a dirty bomb to enter the United States is through a container, because they believe their profits are more important than our safety. What has become of America when America's largest company lobbies against protecting America?

Trade deals cost of millions of jobs. What do we get in return? Millions of dangerous Chinese toys in our children's cribs laden with lead. This is the price we are made to pay when trade agreements are decided based on how much they pad the profits for multinational corporations instead of what is best for America's workers or the safety of America's consumers.

We have even gotten to the point where our children's safety is potentially at risk because nearly half of the apple juice consumed by our children comes from apples grown in China. And Americans are kept in the dark because the corporate lobbyists have pushed back country of origin labeling laws again and again.

This is not the America I believe in.The hubris of greed knows no bounds. Days after the homeland security bill passed, staffers from the homeland security department resigned and became homeland security consultants trying to cash in.

And, where was the outrage? There was none, because that's how it works in Washington now. It is not a Republican revolving door or a Democratic revolving door -- it is just the way it's done. Someone called it a government reconnaissance mission to figure out how to get rich when you leave the government.

Recently, I was dismayed to see headlines in the Wall Street Journal stating that Senate Democrats were backing down to lobbyists for hedge funds who have opposed efforts to make millionaire and billionaire hedge fund managers pay the same tax rate as every hard-working American. Now, tax loopholes the wealthy hedge fund managers do not need or deserve are not going to be closed, all because Democrats -- our party -- wanted their campaign money.

And a few weeks ago, around the sixth anniversary of 9/11, a leading presidential candidate held a fundraiser that was billed as a Homeland Security themed event in Washington, D.C. targeted to homeland security lobbyists and contractors for $1,000 a plate. These lobbyists, for the price of a ticket, would get a special "treat" -- the opportunity to participate in small, hour long breakout sessions with key Democratic lawmakers, many of whom chair important sub committees of the homeland security committee. That presidential candidate was Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton's road to the middle class takes a major detour right through the deep canyon of corporate lobbyists and the hidden bidding of K Street in Washington -- and history tells us that when that bus stops there it is the middle class that loses.

When I asked Hillary Clinton to join me in not taking money from Washington lobbyists -- she refused. Not only did she say that she would continue to take their money, she defended them.Today Hillary Clinton has taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any candidate from either party -- more money than any Republican candidate.

She has taken more money from the defense industry than any other candidate from either party as well.

She took more money from Wall Street last quarter than Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama combined.

The long slow slide of our democracy into the corporate abyss continues unabated regardless of party, regardless of the best interests of America.

We have a duty -- a duty to end this.I believe you cannot be for change and take money from the lobbyists who prevent change. You cannot take on the entrenched interests in Washington if you choose to defend the broken system. It will not work. And I believe that, if Americans have a choice, and candidate who takes their money -- Democrat or Republican -- will lose this election.

For us to continue down this path all we have to do is suspend all that we believe in. As Democrats, we continue down this path only if we believe the party of the people is no more.

As Americans, we continue down this path only if we fail to heed Lincoln's warning to us all.

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected," he asked, "if it ever reaches us it must spring up amongst us. It can not come from abroad. If destruction be our lot -- we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time or die by suicide."

America lives because 20 generations have honored the one moral commandment that makes us Americans.To give our children a better future than we received.

I stand here today the son of Wallace and Bobbie Edwards. The father of Wade, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack -- and I know, as well as you, that we must not be the first generation that fails to live up to our moral challenge and keep the promise of America. That would be an abomination.

There is a dream that is America. It is what makes us American. And I will not stand by while that dream is at risk.I am not perfect -- far from it -- but I do understand that this is not a political issue -- it is the moral test of our generation.

Our nation's founders knew that this moment would come -- that at some point the power of greed and its influence over officials in our government might strain and threaten the very America they hoped would last as an ideal in the minds of all people, and as a beacon of hope for all time.That is why they made the people sovereign. And this is why it is your responsibility to redeem the promise of America for our children and their future.

It will not be easy -- sacrifice will be required of us -- but it was never easy for our ancestors, and their sacrifices were far greater than any that will fall on our shoulders. Yet, the responsibility is ours. We, you and I, are the guardians of what America is and what it will be.

The choice is ours. Down one path, we trade corporate Democrats for corporate Republicans; our cronies for their cronies; one political dynasty for another dynasty; and all we are left with is a Democratic version of the Republican corruption machine.It is the easier path. It is the path of the status quo. But, it is a path that perpetuates a corrupt system that has not only failed to deliver the change the American people demand, but has divided America into two -- one America for the very greedy, and one America for everybody else.

And it is that divided America -- the direct result of this corrupt system -- which may very well lead to the suicide Lincoln warned us of -- the poison that continues to seep into our system while none notice.Or we can choose a different path. The path that generations of Americans command us to take. And be the guardians that kept the faith.

I run for president for my father who worked in a mill his entire life and never got to go to college the way I did.

I run for president for all those who worked in that mill with my father.

I run for president for all those who lost their jobs when that mill was shut down.

I run for president for all the women who have come up to Elizabeth and me and told us the like Elizabeth they had breast cancer -- but unlike Elizabeth they did not have health care.

I run for president for twenty generations of Americans who made sure that their children had a better life than they did.

As Americans we are blessed -- for our ancestors are not dead, they occupy the corridors of our conscience.

And, as long we keep the faith -- they live. And so too the America of idealism and hope that was their gift to us.

I carry the promise of America in my heart, where my parents placed it. Like them, like you, I believe in people, hard work, and the sacred obligation of each generation to the next.

This is our time now. It falls to us to redeem our democracy, reclaim our government and relight the promise of America for our children.

Let us blaze a new path together, grounded in the values from which America was forged, still reaching toward the greatness of our ideals.

We can do it. We can cast aside the bankrupt ways of Washington and replace them with the timeless values of the American people. We can liberate our government from the shackles of corporate money that bind it to corporate will, and restore the voices of our people to its halls.

This is the cause of my life. This is the cause of our time. Join me. Together, we cannot fail.

We will keep faith with those who have gone before us, strong and proud in the knowledge that we too rose up to guard the promise of America in our day, and that, because we did, America's best days still lie ahead.



Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Welcome to the fiefdom, Konnie (WIB 7)

Konnie Beasley tells a story about a meeting with Juan Manigault where they were ironing out the details of the position she was about to accept (Vice President for Finance of the WIB). In a downtown restaurant - when the details were all agreed to by each of them - he grabbed her hand and said "Let's pray". She hadn't expected that.

Ms. Beasley had been warned away from accepting the position (a former Executive Vice President I spoke with had gotten the same advice), but she felt well equipped to take on what was clearly a clean-up operation. She was most recently from the position of Controller of Aramark, where she had straightened out serious accounting problems. I'm told she was highly appreciated and well treated there. Before that, she worked for WNDU for ten years, where she had worked up to Controller for that organization.

Here's what she told me learned pretty shortly after going to work for the agency:

The banks accounts had not been reconciled internally for as far back as she could discern. Because of the severe cash flow problems, the agency was unable to pay some vendors and checks for others bounced. The situation appearing hopeless, she felt that she needed to pick a date to start from and attempt a reconstruction. She chose July of 1999 because the records were accessible and her time was limited.

Alert for accounting disparities, she was nonetheless astounded at the number of them she found. These fell into two categories: Accounting errors - misappropriations and some simple errors- and cash shortages. The latter is of particular interest.

Ms. Beasley writes, "It is my belief that the cash shortage was pre -existant to my tenure, but not as obvious because of a child care grant and its funding that followed WDS" (I mistakenly referred to it as DWD in WIB 6) "which split from the agency in July 2000."

As is typical in large grants like this, it was common to have had money appropriated and the recipients not yet having cashed their checks. Ms. Beasley notes "What this had done for the organization, was to provide a cash float in the bank. When this fund followed WDS - NIWIB was left without this float it was accustomed to having, leading to shortages and overdrafts."

She told me one of her primary responsibilities was to prepare monthly reports ( referred to as AERs) which would provide complete information of accounting by grant. In other words, expenditures and balances remaining within each individual grant. Although this was supposed to be her job, she confided that frequently Mr. Manigault would insert his own figures - figures Ms. Beasley asserts that did not reflect the actual operation.

Ms. Beasley made a valiant attempt to deal with boxes and boxes of records and put in many dozens of hours in each week in this attempt. But it became clear she would need some help.

The story continues....

Don Wheeler

The evolution of the agency (WIB 6)

A brief primer

I've had some minor misunderstandings about the evolution of Juan Manigault's Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board (and its various incarnations) and I'm guessing readers may have as well. After conversations with former executives and others involved on the periphery, I think I have a much clearer picture.

Also, from this point I'll just use the terms WIB or "the agency" to identify it.

The original charge of the agency was multifaceted. They were to create and administer job creation/enhancement programs, supervise efforts of private non-profits using public funds and apply for grants: Federal, State and private. The grants varied greatly in amounts and started about $25,000. The total for the agency was about $14 million in the early 2000s. Naturally, a key function of the agency was to ride herd on the money involved. It's also useful to know that although the agency represented four counties, the "checkbook" - as it were - was maintained by St. Joseph County. The agency would request the checks, the agency's Vice President of Finance would sign them, but the checks would be issued by the county. In many respects, the county operated in the way many Bursar's offices do for Universities.

Due to conflict of interest concerns, the state elected to split the functions effective in July, 2000. They created a new entity - the DWD - to handle program administration. That left the the WIB the duties of fiscal agent and grant applications.

Overseeing operations of all this was a governing board of somewhere between 50-70 people. Though there was a requirement that a certain number of people be selected for each county, the selections were made by the Board's own Executive Committee, which seems a rather odd way to go about it. One former Executive Vice President of the WIB told me that Mr. Manigault was quite adept at loading this board (via his recommendations to the Executive Committee) with sympathetic individuals.

And of course there was a State agency which supervised this agency - Indiana Workforce Development, headed at the time by Alan Degner.

That clears up everything, doesn't it?

There is a point to explaining all of this. One key point to make is that by July 2000, the WIB's only job was that of a fiscal agent. This fact calls into even greater question Juan Manigault's claim that it wasn't his fault the agency had accounting problems. Not only was he a CEO, he was a CEO of an organization whose only job was to keep track of money.

Another point. After the fiscal crisis was uncovered in the early 2000's, through the efforts of Steve Luecke and others, the WIB was required to hire it's own fiscal agent (Crowe, Chizek) to protect the taxpayers. I don't know of a clearer evidence of malfeasence of an organization than that.

You may wonder, reasonably enough, why they didn't fire this guy? But remember, the governing board was loaded with Manigualt allies.

In the next chapter we'll introduce Konnie Beasley, who came on board in March of 2001 as the Vice President for Finance of the agency. You'll learn a lot towards explaining how one can make 1.1 million dollars disappear.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Friday, October 26, 2007

Time to go Green in the 1st District

I think most would agree that the most important function of any government is the protection of the citizens it represents. Key among those protections is equal protection under the law.

The South Bend Common Council had an opportunity for true leadership when it considered a Human Rights Ordinance.

Right now, it is illegal to discriminate against me because I'm male, or married, or a father, or over 50. It would not be illegal to discriminate against me if I were gay or transgendered. That doesn't seem like equal protection, does it? The HRO would have changed that.

But the ordinance failed by one vote, and among those voting against it was First District incumbent Derek Dieter.

Mr. Dieter seemed a bit surprised at the outrage expressed by significant number of his constituents over his decision. I came to this conclusion due to the fact he sent out a mass mailing explaining his action. I received this letter interestingly, even though I don't live in his district.

In the letter, Mr. Dieter explained that while he favored the concept of the ordinance, there were technical problems. He claimed these problems would lead to the law being unenforceable and/or unconstitutional. But many months have passed since that vote and we've yet to see Mr. Dieter propose what he sees as a suitable alternative. This tends to lead one to doubt his claims.

Mr. Dieter (a Democrat) is opposed by the Green Party nominee, Kathleen Petitjean. (There is no Republican on the ballot). Ms. Petitjean is clear in her support of equal protection for our LGBT citizens. She also favors a closer look at some of the tax abatements granted to businesses in our community. These abatements are normally granted in exchange for certain commitments by these businesses - often having to do with job creation. She's not the first, nor the only person who charges that often these commitments are not honored.

Ms. Petitjean (as do all Greens) pledges efforts to include her constituents in her decision making process as their Councilperson. These efforts would include regular meetings available to citizens.

Mr. Dieter should be honored and appreciated for his service on the Council and in law enforcement. These jobs are not easy and are often thankless. Anyone willing to do them earnestly deserves our respect. But there are some issues which transcend steady service.

There are three posts from this week regarding Ms. Petitjean's positions on the issues. I urge you to read them. As for me...

Progressives, South Bend endorses Kathleen Petitjean for the South Bend Common Council - 1st District

And remember:

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Edwards does best against Republicans in Florida

From Michael4edwards of The Campaign To Change America

It feels good to be right sometimes.

Most of you know that I have been making the case that John Edwards is by far the most electable Democratic candidate for quite some time. The vast majority of state wide and national general election polling has backed this up.

The one state that had been fairly confusing for some was Florida. In the past Edwards and Clinton usually averaged a very similar lead against the Republicans, even though Edwards has always had the best favorable rating. On a few occasions I had pointed out that Senator Clinton gets more early support from Democrats that would align with the nominee no matter who it is after some natural closing takes place in the general election. She receives this support simply because Democratic voters are more familiar with her.

But I also warned, as recently as earlier today in my diary on MyDD, that her favorable ratings were troublesome. It's not that I am some polling expert or anything, the writing was on the wall. However, many of Senator Clinton's online supporters are not necessarily fans of mine, and they were very angry that I was challenging the one swing state where their candidate did as well as ours.

It looks like they are about to get a whole lot angrier.

Quinnipiac has just released a new Florida general election poll and it looks VERY good for John Edwards.

Not only is Edwards tied with Rudy Giuliani for the best favorable rating, he more than doubles Senator Clinton's average lead over the Republicans, and his average lead is 6 times that of Senator Obama's.

I have already written one poll themed diary today, so please blog about this if you would like to.

The previous Florida polling is included in my diary from earlier today -
http://www.mydd.com/story/2007/10/25/15522/250

And as always, you can find check out my General Election Polling Review at - http://esrc08.blogspot.com/


Quinnipiac University - FL: October 25, 2007

http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1297.xml?ReleaseID=1112

Favorable / Unfavorable Percentages

Democrats

Hillary Clinton - 46 / 47
Barack Obama - 45 / 29
John Edwards - 50 / 28

Republicans

Mitt Romney - 31 / 23
Fred Thompson - 30 / 21
Rudy Giuliani - 52 / 30
John McCain - 48 / 27


Vs. Mitt Romney

Clinton - 47%Romney - 39%

Obama - 44%Romney - 37%

Edwards - 48%Romney - 34%

Clinton leads by 8%, Obama leads by 7%, Edwards leads by 14%


Vs. Fred Thompson

Clinton - 46%Thompson - 41%

Obama - 43%Thompson - 39%

Edwards - 47%Thompson - 36%

Clinton leads by 5%, Obama leads by 4%, Edwards leads by 11%


Vs. Rudy Giuliani

Clinton - 43%Giuliani - 46%

Obama - 40%Giuliani - 47%

Edwards - 41%Giuliani - 44%

Clinton trails by 3%, Obama trails by 7%, Edwards trails by 3%


Vs. John McCain

Clinton - 44%McCain - 43%

Obama - 42%McCain - 42%

Edwards - 42%McCain - 40%

Clinton leads by 1%, Obama is tied, Edwards leads by 2%


Averages

Clinton leads the Republicans by an average of 2.75%Obama leads the Republicans by an average of 1.00%
Edwards leads the Republicans by an average of 6.00%

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How to help California fire victims - One Corps in action

From Poligirl of The Campaign to Change America

all the Orange County Chapters and San Diego chapters and many of the LA chapters have info on what is currently needed in regards to the fires under their "event" sections. Sherry in San Diego and Deana and I in Los Angeles are keeping the needs lists updated. Here are some links to some of the groups so you can see if there is anything anyone would like to help with...

and concern is very much appreciated - it's a mess out here and even harder to watch when it's your backyard and your neighbors... :(

http://blog.johnedwards.com/chapter/116 (Los Angeles)

http://blog.johnedwards.com/chapter/1632 (South Orange County)

http://blog.johnedwards.com/chapter/225 (San Diego)

--Noelle (poligirl) Seguin
John Edwards 2008 California Contingent
poligirl@ucla.edu
949-433-9353
www.la4edwards.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This election of ours

by Kathleen Petitjean

Voters in South Bend and Mishawaka inclined to forgo their democratic right to vote in this Fall’s municipal elections, please reconsider. Many of you were likely weary of the re-treaded offerings of the Republican and Democratic parties. Perhaps you were frustrated by the fact that in recent elections, many offices were uncontested as one party or the “other” simply abdicated the municipal seat to the “other” party. This carving up of the electorate is made all the worse by the lack of independent, Libertarian, or other third party candidates at the municipal and county levels. This Fall, however, in several races, local voters will have a choice that isn’t the status quo. This Fall, come to the polls and consider voting for the local Green Party candidates on November 6th.

The Green Party is part of a global movement; Greens hold over 200 municipal offices across the United States as well as hundreds of elected offices throughout the world. Locally, the St. Joe Valley Greens have run candidates for local office, been active participants in local and regional civic affairs and developed our own weekly public access television program, GreenTV, among numerous other projects and activities.

I’m a member of the Green Party because I believe social injustice and inequality are tied directly to our unsustainable relationship with the environment. The Green Party’s four key values; Social Justice, Grassroots Democracy, Ecological Wisdom and Non-Violence speak to a moral obligation to re-construct our society based on truly democratic, egalitarian principles and an ecological ethic. Recognizing the interdependence of all members of human society as well as between the human community and the wider natural world is, I believe, critical for the health and well-being of all life on our planet. Furthermore, the Green Party is unique in our principled stand against accepting corporate financial aid; the Green Party is truly a grassroots organization where everyone has a voice.

I, Kathleen Petitjean, along with three local Green Party compatriots, am running for local office in South Bend and Mishawaka. All are certified candidates whose votes the St Joe County election board has assured the public will be counted. Voters in Mishawaka can write-in David Vollrath for the at-large Common Council seat. In South Bend, voters can write-in Karl Hardy for the at-large Common Council seat and Tom Brown for mayor. I am running for the 1st district Common Council seat with my name appearing on the ballot as a Green Party candidate.

As a Green, I believe social justice exists where all citizens benefit from economic development and are protected from harm. The incumbent 1st District councilman’s vote against the amendment to protect our GLBT citizens and community from the harm of discrimination places him on the wrong side of history with respect to civil rights. I would vote in support of such an amendment; South Bend must join other communities across the country and demonstrate that we are a welcoming environment and are respectful of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity.

As a Green, I believe ecological wisdom must tie quality of life to economic development for a sustainable future. The incumbent’s opposition to striping streets with bike lanes and resistance to amending the tax abatement ordinance to encourage energy efficiency and fair wages speaks of an inability to see the bigger picture with respect to quality of life, sustainability and our children’s future. As Councilwoman, I would work to amend the current tax abatement structure to ensure community benefits for all rather than an elite few. I would also support measures that make our city a live-able, human-scale place to call home.

As a Green, I believe in grassroots participatory democracy. The fact that the first district has only had one contested election since 1991 is fundamentally undemocratic. Voters need more choices not less. Greens on the ballot and as write-in candidates offer voters another choice. As Councilwoman, I would work to facilitate instant run-off voting in municipal elections so that voters can rank candidates in order of preference, thus eliminating the prospect of a so-called ‘spoiler’ in a 3-way race. I would work to facilitate neighborhood assemblies and would attend community meetings and hold “office hours” in restaurants within the 1st district to receive citizen input with respect to services and economic development projects.

Also, because all politics are local, I would urge South Bend’s mayor to sign on to the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection agreement on global climate change and urge passage of a Council resolution calling for extricating our military personnel from Iraq.

If you vote for me, Kathleen Petitjean and the three other Greens running for public office, we will work to usher in responsible economic development with quality of life, sustainability and justice for all as our ultimate goals.

For more information, please visit our election website at:
http://www.votegreenmichiana.wordpress.com/

The Manigault campaign finance report, or, Phair or unfair?

Returning readers will know immediately I've borrowed a riff from our friendly fake consultant - but it's not the first time.

Like any citizen, I have access to campaign finance reports and looking over the Manigault report was interesting. Back to that shortly.

I hadn't realized that there are no limits to the contributions an individual can make to the campaign of someone running for Mayor of South Bend. An individual can only contribute $2300 to a United States Presidential Candidate (per cycle), but the influence of money in our little neck of the woods can be much more profound.

The Vote Manigault For Mayor committee reports year to date contributions of $152,913 for the period ending Oct. 12, 2007. As required by law, the committee listed the contributors.

Let's start with John Phair - a principal of Holladay Properties. Mr Phair has contributed $8500 personally and Holladay has contributed $2000. An additional $1000 from Daniel Phair of Indianapolis was identified as being associated with Holladay. That's a total of $11,500, which is arguably a pretty significant proportion of the total raised.

South Bend Tribune readers may recall a scathing Michiana Point of View piece authored by Mr. Phair dressing down Mayor Luecke and his administration. Recently, a city official grumbled to me that Mr. Phair and Holladay were probably the single greatest beneficiaries of city government largess in the entire span of the Luecke administration. Not good enough, I guess.

An even more significant benefactor "group" - Abro Facilities/Cayuga Heights ponied up an aggregate of $15,000 for a mayoral contest.

There were several individual contributions of $1,000 - $ 3,000 as well, but the two groups listed above contributed nearly 18% of Juan Manigault's total. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

And I couldn't help noting that in a nod to the old WIB fiscal practices (accounting is just a rumor), although the committee was instructed to list the purpose of expenditures, it failed to list the purpose of any expenditure. In a case of "you really ought to read the instructions" there was this curious entry: On 9/1/2007 $253.00 was paid to a judge - Robert Miller.

?

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Petitjean Pledges Support for LGBT Protections

From the Committee to elect Kathleen Petitjean

Denounces Incumbent’s “No” Vote on Human Rights Ordinance Amendment

Kathleen Petitjean, Green Party candidate for South Bend’s 1st District Common Council seat has pledged to sponsor a renewed attempt at amending the city’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) to include sexual orientation and gender identity. She sharply criticized her opponent, incumbent Derek Dieter, for casting a vote against the amendment proposal that came before the Common Council in July of 2006. The proposed amendment was defeated by a 5-4 margin.

“Less than 100 years ago I, as a woman, could not vote much less run for office, “ said Petitjean, who is attempting to become the first woman ever to represent the 1st District. “In 1924 there were riots with Notre Dame students fighting the KKK. South Bend needs to get on the right side of history and stay true to its legacy of being at the forefront of the civil rights movement.”

Petitjean noted that South Bend had a “Human Relations Commission” that predated the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act by roughly 8 years. This Human Relations Commission was eventually re-named the Human Rights Commission and solidified by city ordinance in 1973.

Besides civil rights concerns, Petitjean said that an HRO amendment is in line with the protections many businesses are establishing and that re-locating businesses would want to ensure their employees find South Bend a welcoming environment.

“Let’s be clear about this – LGBT people are part of our community. They should feel welcomed and protected from discrimination, “ said Petitjean. “It’s the right thing to do ethically and it will show prospective individuals, families, and businesses that South Bend is a forward-thinking city.”

Petitjean contrasted her unequivocal support for LGBT protections with the incumbent’s vote against the amendment on the grounds that its definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity were too “vague.” These very same definitions, Petitjean emphasized, are used in dozens of similar pieces of legislation around the country without any confusion.

“I, along with many of my friends and neighbors across the district, was shocked at Mr. Dieter’s vote, “ said Petitjean. “I would have never expected him to resort to such political posturing given his reputation for plain-speaking.”

“What was perhaps most disappointing was the idea that he took for granted the character and progressivism of his constituents,” said Petitjean. “Our district is very diverse, and has many LGBT families. I firmly believe that Mr. Dieter’s vote did not represent our district but instead represented a political calculation.”

South Bend’s 1st District has had only one Republican candidate since 1991. Petitjean is attempting to be both the 1st female councilperson and first Green to represent the 1st district.

Green Petitjean Challenges Incumbent on Tax Abatements

From the Committee to elect Kathleen Petitjean

Green Candidate Petitjean Challenges Dieter

Criticizes incumbent's lack of responsiveness to citizen input

Green Party candidate for South Bend’s 1st District Common Council Kathleen Petitjean has issued a statement calling on the district’s incumbent, Derek Dieter, to directly address citizens’ concerns over the city’s tax abatement structure. Dieter serves as chairperson of the Common Council’s committee on Community and Economic Development (CED).

“The City’s existing laws are not being enforced.” Petitjean said, “Tax abatements should be a tool to both attract business investment and ensure that the well-being of the city is taken into consideration. If the city is failing to act on progress reports and enforce compliance, then these businesses are getting a free handout while the city suffers.”

Petitjean suggested the plan put forth by the Community Forum on Economic Development (CFED) should receive thorough consideration of Dieter and the full council. The CFED is an organization dedicated, in part, to stimulating greater democratic participation in the discussion and decision-making surrounding economic development. Earlier this year, CFED submitted a proposal on South Bend’s tax abatement ordinance through Martin Wolfson, citizen member on the Community Economic Development Committee who is also active in the CFED.

“Unfortunately, it seems Mr. Dieter as chair of the committee on Community and Economic Development has failed to respond to CFED’s proposal,” Petitjean said. “As the councilperson for the first district, I will ensure that constructive input from citizens be given a fair review, at a minimum. In this case, I support CFED’s proposal that strengthens a point system by which businesses are rewarded for providing good jobs, benefits, and a number of other provisions.”

Petitjean pointed to a memo sent by Wolfson to Dieter and the rest of the Common Council that raises three issues of compliance with the South Bend Tax Abatement Ordinance. The memo details problems with enforcement and calls attention to a lack of action on the part of the committee. She noted that under Dieter’s leadership the Community and Economic Development Committee has not taken any action with regard to several companies that failed to provide as many jobs as promised.

“But what is perhaps a larger issue here is the lack of responsiveness on the part of Mr. Dieter and others on the Council to input from the community,” said Petitjean. “The citizens of the first district and South Bend as a whole deserve better. We deserve an explanation as to why the city has been lax on enforcing its own ordinance.”
Petitjean further suggested that enforcing the existing ordinance should be a “minimum” action while adoption of the CFED proposal would represent a first step in the direction of including provisions on green building and Community Benefit agreements as part of any tax abatement.

“Ultimately, South Bend’s economy must move towards self-sufficiency and a greater inclusion of quality of life considerations in order to protect the overall health and well-being of the community,” said Petitjean. “Any tax abatements should work to improve the quality of life for all of South Bend’s citizens and should be tied to a strictly enforced ordinance.”

For more information:http://www.votepetitjean.wordpress.com/

A Democratic Majority...But Are We Ready?

This feels like Part 2 of an untitled series on rural America and John Edwards. This time coverage of rural Purple State America comes to you via the Rocky Mountain Times.

...In this far-flung, northwestern corner of Iowa, it's "almost kind of scary" to be anything but a Republican, she said.

Lyon County, which touches South Dakota and Minnesota, gave President Bush 78 percent of the vote in 2004. It's part of the big, red, rural block that Bush used to eke out the narrowest of victories in the Hawkeye State that year.

In these parts, "A lot of times you don't brag about being a Democrat," said McCarty, 72, of Larchwood, Iowa. "But it's getting better."

That could explain the elbow-to-elbow crowd that greeted Edwards at the firehouse - and the grin Edwards had when he was talking to reporters afterward.

"I do have to say, I was remembering the last time I was up here," Edwards said, thinking back to the 2004 campaign. "We had five, seven people. . . ."

Times have changed...


Link: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5728155,00.html

Things are definitely happening among the Bush believers of rural America. After Katrina, after Iraq, after their homes values have dropped and their dollar just doesn't buy as much as it used to, a lot of them have just stopped believing.

My gauge on this one is my dad. My dad is your prototypical Republican voter. White. Male. Protestant. Small town. The breed of working American who somehow can't bring himself to use the phrase "working class" when describing his economic status.

Before Katina, he almost exclusively watched Fox News (I remember a discussion we had in the time share where we all were staying where I negotiated the MSNBC Compromise). He listens to Rush...and actually enjoys the experience!

But then, after Katrina, something happened to my dad. A fervent believer his whole life (in both Christianity and conservative values) he started to question his beliefs. To illustrate, let me share with you my paraphrased recollection of an instant message we had one night a few weeks back:

Dad: What is KOS?

Me: KOS? What do you mean, KOS?

Dad: They're talking about it in the news. KOS. What is that?

Me (really not getting it): KOS? Do you mean K.O.S.? Or like cuz - because?

Dad: No. They're saying KOS uses bad words and lies about people. What is it?

Me (when the light dawns): Do you mean Kos, as in Daily Kos? The blog?

Dad: Yeah.

Me: Dad, I blog over there. They don't use words that are any worse than any other blog. Here, check out the link right now: www.dailykos.com.

Dad (after a few minutes): Yeah, I don't see anything wrong over there.

Me: Exactly.

Dad: That's not right. When they're reporting stuff they should let you know the whole story.


At which point my head exploded and I launched into a very nice rant about Fox News.

My point in bringing up this story is this is just one of many times recently where my dad has questioned Fox, and Rush, and Bush, and basically the whole God, Guns and Gays agenda of the far right (although my dad's never been much of a gun nut - he just hangs out with them sometimes). If you've ever met someone like my dad, seeing the propaganda shell he's hid himself in cracking right before your eyes is a beautiful thing.

But it's not just my dad.

A lot of rural Americans are questioning what used to be the unquestionable assumption that just like going to church and rooting for the local college football team, they were just going to vote for whatever Republican was on the ballot. More than that, they're starting to question why they've been doing that for so long.

It's almost like they're starting to feel that the GOP has been taking them on a for-granted ride since Reagan first uttered the phrase "Government is the enemy".

Democrats are poised to pitch these folks on a different path. A Competing Big Vision. Edwards is wide and deep down this road already, talking to folks about the things that are important to them: their pocketbooks, their health and their livelihood. Economic populism had its roots in the rural communities of the 19th Century, and every few generations it comes back again in the form of a William Jennings Bryan or a Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Edwards isn't the only one trying to harness this potential power. Obama has just released an agricultural plan that's pretty darn good reading, and Richardson talks a good huntin' game.

But for my money, Edwards is the one whose strategy includes focusing on these folks and bringing them back to their populist roots. Such a strategy, if successful, could garner Democrats a landslide, the reverberations of which could last for years to come.

But are we ready?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Juan Manigault and ostentation (WIB 5)

Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines ostentation as: 1. The act of making an ambitious display; pretentious or vain show; display of anything dictated by vanity or intended to invite praise or flattery. 2. A show or spectacle. Synonyms listed are show, display, flourish, parade, pageantry, pomp, pomposity.

So what, you say. We all have our faults. Mr. Manigault likes comfort and status - where's the harm?

Let's just suggest that there is a potential downside when an individual with this nature has access to public funds.

* * *

Returning readers will know of the blog's series published (mostly in September) on the fiscal mismanagement of the Northern Indiana Workforce Investment Board headed by Juan Manigault. The series was a product of analyzing 169 pages of public record and included audits and correspondence of involved officials. The costs to the public were staggering - approaching two million dollars - but the causes were not entirely clear.

Since that time, I've had contact with a number of folks who have some direct experience with that situation. I'll stipulate that unlike the previous posts on this subject, this one will be highly subjective and anecdotal.

The story I heard recently that seems best to frame this happened long ago. Mr. Manigault was in a meeting with then Mayor Joe Kernan. The topic turned to the taxpayer furnished vehicle Mr. Manigault should have for his job. Mr. Manigault suggested reportedly that it should be a large, comfortable vehicle (implying status). Apparently Mayor Kernan was not impressed with the argument and assigned a small, economical Chevrolet instead.

Visitors to the County/City building will find the austerity hard to miss. My father was in city government in Evanston, IL in the 1960s, and the ambiance of our municipal building in South Bend seems nearly identical.

Years ago, the building the Workforce Investment Board was located in became coveted by Memorial Hospital. It is now gone. The WIB then moved to 401 E. Colfax and set up shop.

It has been suggested that the square footage was well in excess of what a taxpayer funded agency of less than 20 employees could possibly need. It has been suggested that high end upholstered seating and hardwood tables might be unnecessary to fulfill the function of this agency. It's also a possibility that the expensive art on the walls might not aid this agency in an effort to attract and keep track of funding for programs to help our citizens land decent jobs. Who can say for sure?

But I've been tasked to emphasize the difference between a governmental or quasi-governmental organization and one in the private sector. In the private sector, if you screw up or spend wastefully, you can raise prices, sell something, find a new revenue stream, etc. In the public realm, every dollar you get is supposed to do a certain job. So, if you spend great sums of money on office furniture or office alterations - you would need to have some grant or some taxpayer allocation dedicated to that.

Or it would come from somewhere else. Some grant for job training. Some grant for child care. Some grant for displaced workers' transportation. You get the idea.

I thought I had finished this story. But there's more to come.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Sunday, October 21, 2007

DHS needs a job to do







Folks in the great lakes states are likely to know a bit of the plight of Ibrahim Parlak. A legal immigrant, granted asylum, has faced daunting and ridiculous challenges in his adopted country. But as bad as they have been, I'm sure he'd agree that these pale to the horrors he faced in his native Turkey.

Many dozens of us gathered at his restaurant Cafe Gullistan in a rally of support Sunday as he prepared for yet the latest installment of deportation hearings. Tomorrow, he must appear in federal court in Cincinatti, which could order his immediate expulsion from The United States of America.

There is no way I can possibly describe the injustice done to this man in a few paragraphs. That said, I'm including a link to the free Ibrahim website, which will give you some idea.


I certainly am willing to give a few of my impressions, though.

Ibrahim Parlak was a dissident in his native Turkey, and was horribly tortured for that. He was later granted asylum here. Then the PKK (with which he had been associated) was later declared a terrorist group. Citing some nondisclosure offense, our Department of Homeland Security declared Mr. Parlak a terrorist threat

People who live near him characterize him as a gentle man, a wonderful father and a gracious restaurantuer.

Notables such as Roger Ebert, Senator Carl Levin and Representative Fred Upton are determined and vocal in Mr. Parlak's support.

I ask that you put what energy you value (prayer, meditation, your choice) for Ibrahim Parlak.

I'd never met the man before today (though I'd followed his case) and told him so. We embraced, and he thanked me.

Democracy is really, really, really not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Something rotten in the state of Michigan

From The Campaign To Change America

dzog in Diaries 10/20/2007 at 4:55 PM EST

First Gov. Granholm signs legislation to advance Michigan's Primary ahead of February 5th, in clear contravention of the DNC rules concerning primaries. Promptly, all Democratic Candidates for President remove themselves from the ballot, with the exceptions of Senators Dodd and Clinton. Now the Governor comes out and endorses Clinton for President, because, "they think alike".

Was the fix in on this one, folks?

Granholm endorses Clinton

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I hate situations that make me feel like I should be. I often feel that way about 9/11 and our invasion of Iraq. And this Michigan debacle is making me feel that way, too. What better way to pull the rug out from under Edwards in a strongly pro-union state than to get him off the ballot completely?

Of course, Hillary proponents will point out that Edwards voluntarily removed himself from the ballot, and that Granholm had little choice but to endorse the obvious front runner once the field had been narrowed so dramatically. But Edwards and the other Dems stood to lose big amongst Democratic voters in traditional early states like Iowa and New Hampshire had they defied the DNC and stayed in. And, despite recent polls putting Clinton in the lead in Iowa, the chance is still excellent that she will ultimately lose to Edwards there. With her big advantage in money and press time, Hillary can afford to drop an iffy Iowa in exchange for an in-the-bag Michigan, whereas the Edwards campaign is not in a position to take that gamble.

Let's look at the numbers, here. According to FEC filings, Edwards has out-raised Clinton in Detroit, although not in the state. Sen. Clinton's big money advantage (almost 3-to-1 over Edwards statewide) comes from many high-dollar donors in the wealthy suburbs surrounding Detroit - a large proportion of whom have donated $1000 or more to the campaign. Edwards, by contrast, gets a disproportionate number of donations under $250. But a vote counts the same, no matter how much money you gave to a campaign. An urban or pro-labor surge for either Edwards or Obama could have meant real trouble for Clinton in the Michigan primary. Now both challengers are off the ballot.

The timing of the Granholm endorsement - quickly on the heels of the other candidates withdrawing - strikes me as especially curious. Why endorse so quickly? It certainly looks like the endorsement was being held back until the other candidates were out of the way and no longer in contention. Voters everywhere should abhor even the appearance of shenanigans in our election process. While I can't prove there was any string-pulling involved in this situation by the Clinton campaign, I certainly smell a rat. And primary voters in other states should remember Hillary's dubious involvement in this fiasco - and punish her for it at the ballot box.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Revenge, Or, Joe Torre, Have I Got An Offer For You

I’m not much of a sports fan, but even I can see that Joe Torre has been given such a raw deal by the Yankees that there are juries that might not convict him for a chainsaw wielding act of revenge upon the Steinbrenner family, who exercise ultimate control over the team’s fate.

There’s something else I can see, sports fan or not.

I can see that there exists, for a moment, an opportunity for Torre to exact some serious revenge upon those who have wronged him. And to do it in a way that is particularly offensive to his former bosses.

For those not aware, the New York Yankees are the most storied of American baseball teams. The history of the Yankees includes the names Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Lou Gehrig, who is famous not only for his work on the field, but for the amazing coincidence of dying from a disease that shares his name.

The team is also famous for its iconoclastic owner, George Steinbrenner, who burned through Yankee managers at such a pace that he was forced to hire and fire the same one (Billy Martin) five times before it was all over.

To give those of you who are not American readers an understanding of what Steinbrenner means to our culture, consider this: the word “blog” was not originally part of the “dictionary” that is included in the version of Microsoft Word that I am using to create this blog…but if you misspell Steinbrenner, Word will inform you of the error.

Steinbrenner and the fans feel the team should appear in the (American teams only, but that’s an irony for another day) World Series more or less every year, and Torre’s failure to deliver on this desire is the source of his current unemployment-despite his extraordinary success these past 12 years with sometimes less than extraordinary teams

Today the Yankees are well known (and resented) by fans everywhere both for their on-field successes and their enormous payroll; and there are teams who are well known for their contempt of the Yankees.

The Boston Red Sox have advanced this resentment into a legendary and amazing disgust of the Bronx Bombers-a hatred that is so pervasive that during the runup to the baseball playoffs residents of Salem, Massachusetts are more likely to burn you at the stake for wearing a Derek Jeter shirt in public than for using witchcraft to help the Sox.

The casual reader, not yet aware of the potentially deep and cruel nature of my darker mind, might think: “what a great idea…find a way for Torre to become the manager of the team that hates the Yankees above all others.”

Frankly, I consider that a good idea, but not an idea dark enough to really make it worth Torre’s time and effort. No, a man wronged as badly as he deserves a finer form of revenge.

For example, this:

Imagine if there was a team that is today a thorn in the Yankees’ side…a team that currently sucks, but could be turned-by the right manager-into a giant killer…a team that has proven itself capable of going into Yankee Stadium and embarrassing the home team in front of the Steinbrenner’s faces.

Well, there is.

They have a lovely new stadium; the city is surrounded by beauty on a scale far beyond that experienced by those who toil in the urban centers of the American East Coast, and the team is well and truly in the dumper-but with many of the parts in place to ruin the dreams of the hated Yankees, if they had the right leadership.

Joe Torre, meet the Seattle Mariners.

Look, we had a run in the ‘90s, but the reality is this is a situation crying out for you: the team has potential upon which it has not delivered these past few years, you would be a very large fish in a pond that only four people currently share since the death of grunge (Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Ichiro Suzuki and Mike Holmgren being those four), and I can promise you will never be treated with the disrespect you were just shown by the Yankees.

Now here’s the good part: the people of Seattle are by nature quiet and withdrawn…with one odd exception. In what most regard as a town not full of fanatical sports fans, the Seattle Seahawks are the team that introduced the “12th Man” to the NFL-the concept that the noise of the fans is in itself an additional member of the team that bedevils and confuses the enemy. The Seahawks fans are today considered the preeminent practitioners of this art, and Qwest Field is today considered the NFL’s loudest stadium.

To show our sincerity, I offer the following disclosures: it will be tough to find a decent grinder, or a pizza, or a Kosher or Italian deli. (You can always grab a nice Italian dinner at Angelo’s, though, so it’s not without hope…)

There is a bright side.
When it comes to an espresso, a cappuccino, or just about any other coffee drink you can think of, well, to steal a line from Pulp Fiction…we’ll take the "Pepsi Challenge" with New York City anytime.

And it really is a nice stadium.

Think about it, Joe…a team that is not that far away from being capable of continuing its history of embarrassing the Yankees at crucial times, and beyond that, with the right leadership, capable of going deep into the playoffs.

A team that can be a showcase for your talents.

A fan base that will rally to your cause, will treat your presence as a reason for celebration, and who are fully prepared to well and truly hate the Yankees…as we have since before you became their manager.

Mariners’ management? There should be no reason for me to tell them what to do here…and if we have the chance to find another situation for Mike Hargrove in order to create the opening for Torre it would indeed be an opportunity not to be missed.

And just imagine how rich it would be…game 7 of the ALCS…the Mariners beat up the Yankees…Ichiro has his career night, and we go into the World Series with you as a conquering hero, honored from here to Japan.

And there we are…a more or less kinda sorta baseball fan offering advice to a baseball icon, with the fond hope that he takes it-because even I, a more or less kinda sorta baseball fan, would love to see you stick it to the Yankees real good.

An unlikely treasure-trove of donors for Clinton

The senator's campaign drew substantial donations from New York's Chinatown.

The candidate's unparalleled fundraising success relies largely on the least-affluent residents of New York's Chinatown -- some of whom can't be tracked down.

By Peter Nicholas and Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers October 19, 2007

NEW YORK -- Something remarkable happened at 44 Henry St., a grimy Chinatown tenement with peeling walls. It also happened nearby at a dimly lighted apartment building with trash bins clustered by the front door.And again not too far away, at 88 E. Broadway beneath the Manhattan bridge, where vendors chatter in Mandarin and Fujianese as they hawk rubber sandals and bargain-basement clothes.

All three locations, along with scores of others scattered throughout some of the poorest Chinese neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, have been swept by an extraordinary impulse to shower money on one particular presidential candidate -- Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.Dishwashers, waiters and others whose jobs and dilapidated home addresses seem to make them unpromising targets for political fundraisers are pouring $1,000 and $2,000 contributions into Clinton's campaign treasury. In April, a single fundraiser in an area long known for its gritty urban poverty yielded a whopping $380,000. When Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) ran for president in 2004, he received $24,000 from Chinatown.

At this point in the presidential campaign cycle, Clinton has raised more money than any candidate in history. Those dishwashers, waiters and street stall hawkers are part of the reason. And Clinton's success in gathering money from Chinatown's least-affluent residents stems from a two-pronged strategy: mutually beneficial alliances with powerful groups, and appeals to the hopes and dreams of people now consigned to the margins.Clinton has enlisted the aid of Chinese neighborhood associations, especially those representing recent immigrants from Fujian province. The organizations, at least one of which is a descendant of Chinatown criminal enterprises that engaged in gambling and human trafficking, exert enormous influence over immigrants. The associations help them with everything from protection against crime to obtaining green cards.Many of Clinton's Chinatown donors said they had contributed because leaders in neighborhood associations told them to. In some cases, donors said they felt pressure to give.The other piece of the strategy involves holding out hope that, if Clinton becomes president, she will move quickly to reunite families and help illegal residents move toward citizenship. As New York's junior senator, Clinton has expressed support for immigrants and greater family reunification. She is also benefiting from Chinese donors' naive notions of what she could do in the White House.

Campaign concerns: As with other campaigns looking for dollars in unpromising places, the Clinton operation also has accepted what it later conceded were improper donations. At least one reported donor denies making a contribution. Another admitted to lacking the legal-resident status required for giving campaign money.Clinton aides said they were concerned about some of the Chinatown contributions."We have hundreds of thousands of donors. We are proud to have support from across New York and the country from many different communities," campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said. "In this instance, our own compliance process flagged a number of questionable donations and took the appropriate steps to be sure they were legally given. In cases where we couldn't confirm that, the money was returned."

The Times examined the cases of more than 150 donors who provided checks to Clinton after fundraising events geared to the Chinese community. One-third of those donors could not be found using property, telephone or business records. Most have not registered to vote, according to public records.And several dozen were described in financial reports as holding jobs -- including dishwasher, server or chef -- that would normally make it difficult to donate amounts ranging from $500 to the legal maximum of $2,300 per election.Of 74 residents of New York's Chinatown, Flushing, the Bronx or Brooklyn that The Times called or visited, only 24 could be reached for comment.Many said they gave to Clinton because they were instructed to do so by local association leaders. Some said they wanted help on immigration concerns. And several spoke of the pride they felt by being associated with a powerful figure such as Clinton.

New take, old game: Beyond what it reveals about present-day campaign fundraising, Chinatown's newfound role in the 2008 election cycle marks another chapter in the centuries-old American saga of marginalized ethnic groups and newly arrived immigrants turning to politics to improve their lot.In earlier times, New York politicians from William "Boss" Tweed to Fiorello LaGuardia gained power with the support of immigrants. So did politicians in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and other big cities.Like many who traveled this path, most of the Chinese reported as contributing to Clinton's campaign have never voted. Many speak little or no English. Some seem to lead such ephemeral lives that neighbors say they've never heard of them."This is a new game," said Peter Kwong, a professor at Hunter College in New York who studies Chinatown communities across the country. Historically, Kwong said, "voting in Chinatown is so weak" that politicians did not go out of their way to court residents."Today it is all about money," he said.The effort is especially pronounced among groups in the Fujianese community. More than a decade ago, Fujianese cultural associations ran gambling operations and, more ominously, at least one was home to a gang that trafficked in illegal Fujian native immigrants.The human-smuggling problem came to a head in 1993, when a cargo ship, the Golden Venture, ran aground off New York City. As shocked police and immigration officials looked on, hundreds of Fujian natives who had spent weeks below deck struggled to make it to shore. Several died in the attempt.A crackdown by the FBI's organized-crime task force led to the indictment of more than 20 Fujian native traffickers. Today, the problem has substantially dissipated, says Konrad Motyka of the FBI's New York field office, who participated in the investigation of the Golden Venture.Although Motyka is wary of the havoc wreaked in the past by Fujianese organized crime, he said: "I welcome signs that the community is participating in politics."

High hopes: At his tiny restaurant in the south Bronx, which has one table and a takeout counter, Chang Jian Lin displays a prized memento: a photo of himself and Clinton. The picture was taken at a fundraising banquet in Chinatown this spring.Lin and his wife, who also works in the restaurant, said through an interpreter that they believe Clinton, if elected president, will reunite their family. The Lins' two teenage children remain in Fujian, a mountainous coastal province in southeastern China opposite Taiwan."If she gets to be the president, we want our children to come home," Chang Jian Lin said.Campaign officials point out that Clinton has sponsored legislation aimed at family reunification; the proposals failed. And immigration measures being discussed in Congress would assign a lower priority to family reunification, which tends to bring in poor people, and give preference to immigrants with more-lucrative job skills.Moreover, the Lins appeared to have an exaggerated impression of a president's ability to change such things as immigration laws single-handedly.

Kwong thinks Clinton may be "exploiting the vulnerabilities of recent immigrants."Nonetheless, Lin is planning to attend another Clinton fundraiser, a birthday bash next week. He said his support rested on more than his hope for reuniting his family. "Besides the immigration issue with my kids, the overall standard of living will improve for the Chinese people" living in the U.S., he said.He has never before supported a U.S. politician and, not yet a citizen, he is barred from voting. But when Fujianese community leaders asked him to donate to Clinton, he said, he eagerly contributed $1,000. Immigrants who have permanent resident status can legally make campaign contributions.Coming up with the money was hard, Lin acknowledged, adding: "The restaurant is really small."

Missing persons: The tenement at 44 Henry St. was listed in Clinton's campaign reports as the home of Shu Fang Li, who reportedly gave $1,000.In a recent visit, a man, apparently drunk, was asleep near the entrance to the neighboring beauty parlor, the Nice Hair Salon.A tenant living in the apartment listed as Li's address said through a translator that she had not heard of him, although she had lived there for the last 10 years.A man named Liang Zheng was listed as having contributed $1,000. The address given was a large apartment building on East 194th Street in the Bronx, but no one by that name could be located there.Census figures for 2000 show the median family income for the area was less than $21,000. About 45% of the population was living below the poverty line, more than double the city average.In the busy heart of East Broadway, beneath the Manhattan Bridge, is a building that is listed as the home of Sang Cheung Lee, also reported to have given $1,000. Trash was piled in the dimly lighted entrance hall. Neighbors said they knew of no one with Lee's name there; they knocked on one another's doors in a futile effort to find him.

Salespeople at a store on Canal Street were similarly baffled when asked about Shih Kan Chang, listed as working there and having given $1,000. The store sells purses, jewelry and novelty Buddha statues. Employees said they had not heard of Chang.Another listed donor, Yi Min Liu, said he did not make the $1,000 contribution in April that was reported in his name. He said he attended a banquet for Clinton but did not give her money.Clinton "has done a lot for the Chinese community," he said.One New York man who said he enthusiastically donated $2,500 to Clinton doesn't appear to be eligible to do so under federal election law. He said he came to the United States from China about two years ago and didn't have a green card.

Out of the periphery: A key figure helping to secure Asian support for Clinton is a woman named Chung Seto, who came to this country as a child from Canton province and has supported Bill and Hillary Clinton since the 1990s. She called Fujian natives' support for Hillary Clinton the beginning of civic engagement for an immigrant group that had long been on the periphery.She said she stationed translators at the entrance of one event to try to screen out improper contributions.Qun Wu, a 37-year-old waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, saw a reference to a Clinton fundraiser in a Chinese-language newspaper. He took a day off from work to go. Though he only makes $500 a week, he considers his $1,000 donation to be money well-spent. He got his picture taken with Clinton, hung it prominently in his house, then had color reprints made and sent to family in China."Every day I go home and see it," he said. "I see my picture with Hillary, and I feel encouraged. It's a great honor."Many, on the other hand, said they gave for reasons having more to do with the Chinese community than with Clinton. He Duan Zheng, who gave $1,000, said of the Fujianese community: "They informed us to go, so I went."Everybody was making a donation, so I did too," he said. "Otherwise I would lose face."

Times staff writers Dan Morain in San Francisco and Walter F. Roche Jr. and Jordy Yager in Washington, and Times researchers Janet Lundblad, Vicki Gallay and John Jackson in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.

Citizens meet to focus on the good stuff

An organizational meeting was held Thursday at First Unitarian Church of South Bend of Citizens For Progress (through hope, not fear). This organization was spawned in response to the recent nonstop bashing of the city - some of which is coming from those people who only have a desired political outcome in mind.

After introductions, participants were asked to share what they particularly like about our community. I thought I'd share with you some of what they had to say. These are in no particular order.

Neighborliness - People are interested in talking to each other and helping each other out.

The SOS program - This is now nearly the only resource women who suffer sexual violence have in our area.

Twelve miles of river trails.

Great experiences in the school system (generally).

LaSalle Academy - which was characterized as demanding and rewarding.

The Clay High School fine arts program.

The school age mothers program - This program provides resources for pregnant students and young mothers in order to help them stay in school.

Affordability - You can be fairly poor in our area and still live a decent life.

The Dream Team mentoring program.

St. Joseph County Habitat for Humanity.

The size, beauty and activities available of/in South Bend.

The activist population.

The generosity of citizens.

The level of care and effort by city employees. Most are not particularly well paid, yet do their work with passion and dedication.

The United Religious Community (URC) - A truly ecumenical organization. A model for the country.

The Clay High School food drive.


The group appears to want to stay out of politics, but stress the good news in our area.

I wish them well.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

A note: You can link to their website from here. They are listed under "Activist Links" on the left hand side of the page.

Friday, October 19, 2007

On Errata, Or, Your Author Apologizes

Although your friendly fake consultant tries to bring news that is interesting and accurate, I am obligated to apologize for and to correct two significant recent errors, which is the purpose of today’s conversation.

In both cases the “victims” are easily identifiable and public, and as a result we will offer a personal apology to each of them as well.

So with the introduction out of the way, let’s get to the salient facts.

The last story I published (On Solutions, Or, Congressman Reichert, I Believe You Were Looking For This) began by asserting that Democrats are unable to articulate a vision that will extract us from the Iraq mess.

When I posted this story at the (Washblog), however, I was reminded that Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich have articulated such plans.

To be perfectly frank, I did not remember the positions of either Kucinich or Richardson when considering the candidates…and I actually sit through most of the debates.

Had I chosen my words more carefully I might have said that none of the major candidates for the Democratic nomination can offer such a vision, or I might have pointed out that few voters are able to identify any Democratic candidate’s vision for ending the war.

But I did not say either of those things, and as a result I owe Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich my apologies.

Sorry about that, gentlemen.
My bad.

I have one other example of how poor research can cause you to have to publicly ask forgiveness-and it took place in the story that set up the last one.

In that story I reported that Representative Dave Reichert is the Member representing Fort Lewis, Washington, when in fact the base is located in Washington’s 9th District…making Adam Smith their Representative.

In this case, I misread a map, which caused the error.

Interestingly, I sent a note to Reichert’s office pointing him to the original posting, and it’s replication at Kos, with an invitation to respond and correct any misimpressions or inaccuracies that might exist, and there was no response correcting my rather blatant error.

But that doesn’t really matter in the end-I made the error, and for that I apologize to the Congressman, and to you, the readers that are kind enough to look to me for interesting and useful news.

Having taken a day to review my methods, I feel confident that this is a failure that is not systemic, but was instead related to individual failures in each story.

As a result, I continue to move forward with stories currently under development, and you’ll see the product of that work over the next few days.

As for the future…I will be working harder than before to be as close to 100% accurate as I can be-but knowing that no one’s perfect, I suspect there will come a time when we have this conversation again.

Let’s just hope it’s not too soon.

As I’m writing this it is alternately cloudy and sunny, which is an excellent allegory for this situation-the work goes well, then a cloud or two obscure the good work, and then the sun comes out again, and you take advantage of that to get out and renew your commitment to getting the job done.

So once again, my apologies to everyone involved, my thanks for your “patronage”, and we’ll see you in a couple days with another story to tell.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Post Script to grannyhelen's post

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – In response to reports that Senator Clinton is planning a "Rural Americans for Hillary" lunch and campaign briefing at the DC offices of Troutman Sanders Public Affairs, the lobbying firm for Monsanto, John Edwards for President communications director Chris Kofinis released the following statement:

"While John Edwards was in rural Iowa yesterday talking about his plans to help family farmers, the Clinton campaign was in Washington, DC planning an event with the lobbyists from the biggest corporate agriculture company in the world. The difference between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton could not be more clear. Here's some news for the Clinton campaign, when folks in rural Iowa talk about the problems with hog lots, they don't mean parking lots on K Street.

"John Edwards believes family-owned farms are critical to America's future and that the corporate greed that's killing the family farm is hurting America. Apparently, Hillary Clinton doesn't feel the same way. While John Edwards has introduced policies to ensure family farmers can compete against big agribusiness, protect the food we eat and preserve farming communities, Hillary Clinton, beholden to Washington lobbyists, is tailoring her rural policy to reflect the needs of big agribusiness. While corporate America and lobbyists may want someone like Clinton in the White House, regular Americans are ready for someone who will stand up for them and fight for real change."

Hillary Clinton and Monsanto's K Street Test Plot

The ironically named "Rural Americans for Hillary" are holding a shindig to raise some funds for her presidential hopes. Where is this being held?

Iowa? No, sir.

Western New Hampshire? Nope.

South Carolina's low country? Wrong Again.

ABC News reports (and this flyer confirms: http://abcnews.go.com/images/Politics/cl inton_invitation.pdf) that Rural Americans for Hillary are holding this high-toned get together at a lobbyist's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"... and specifically, though it's not mentioned in the invitation, at the lobbying firm Troutman Sanders Public Affairs...

...which just so happens to lobby for the controversial multinational agri-biotech Monsanto.

You read that right: Monsanto, about which there are serious questions about its culpability regarding 56 Superfund Sites, wanton and "outrageous" pollution, and the decidedly unkosher (and quite metaphoric) genetically-bred "Superpig."... (http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/ 2007/10/yee-haw.html)

You can't take big money and expect big change.

Vote Edwards.

Edwards campaign rural strategy conference call

Many of us from around the country met via the telephone with Jeff (Deputy Political Director) and Matt Morrison to discuss the Edwards rural campaign strategy.

The Wednesday evening call also offered opportunities for us to exchange grassroots campaign strategies we were each employing.

I wish my notes were better, but Jeff or Matt should be able to fill in any details I've missed.
Here are some highlights of the discussion.

- In Iowa spending on television ads is as follows:

Obama $4,000,000
Clinton $2,000,000
Edwards $23,000

Yet we are in a statistical dead heat.

- National polls are still showing us to be the strongest Democratic campaign in the general election. We're leading all Republicans in Oklahoma (they forgot to mention Kansas) and even running strongly in Texas.

- By the end of this week, our campaign will have reached every county in Iowa - the first campaign to do so. Audiences are growing much larger and the staff feels this is issue driven.

- Efforts are well underway in New Hampshire as well, where - it was pointed out that Independents are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. These voters are considered prime targets.

- As part of the rural strategy, the campaign will be releasing a hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts policy -with a strong conservation component. No details were given out - it apparently is still in formulation.

- AND THE BIG NEWS! Some time next week the campaign will kick off the "Road Trip For One America". Finally, those of us planning to travel to the early states for caucuses and primaries will be able to sign up for duty! (Iowa for me!)

It was a very good meeting and states from Alaska to Georgia were represented.

Don Wheeler
South Bend, IN

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Juan Manigault touts bigger government

In the most recent gratis campaign press release - courtesy of The South Bend Tribune - Juan Manigualt proposes a notable expansion of city governmental authority into the realm of primary and secondary education.

In a move which must surprise at least some conservative voters, Mr. Manigault proposes to remove two school board positions from the democratic process and instead make them political appointees. He also advocates electing the remaining five members on an at-large basis, instead of on a district basis as they are now. The latter idea might be worthy of discussion, though I think it might unduly advantage progressive candidates. The former idea has some real problems, though.

Let's start with jurisdiction. The City of South Bend and the area served by The South Bend School Corporation are not the same. The school corporation serves many pockets of St. Joseph County which are not in the city limits. Voters in those areas have no representation in city government. And it is a bit stunning to hear folks who think judges should be elected say that people who need much less specialized training should be appointed. The implication is that voters are not qualified to make these decisions about school board members, but are knowledgeable enough about questions of law to elect judges.

I disagree entirely with the notion that a city mayor should have any formal role with a school system. The city government has plenty to keep itself busy with and the citizens (particularly parents of school age children) should be willing to take on the responsibility of electing qualified people to represent them - at a minimum. I' d hope for more than that - but not everyone has the luxury, I know.

The article notes that his educational policy centerpiece would be to agitate for a replica of the Kalamazoo Promise program here in South Bend. There is little disagreement that the Kalamazoo program - which funds state college/university tuition for all high school graduates - is a model and a fabulous success story. But again, this has nothing to do with city government. It is privately funded and should (one would think) be run by a private non-profit foundation. I can't resist adding that the last person we should want to keep track of the fund would be Juan Manigault - someone who's likely cost the taxpayers directly and through lost opportunity something approaching two million dollars through his fiscal ineptness.

I had hoped to read his specific proposal, but it is not posted on his campaign website. I have relied on the information provided by The South Bend Tribune.

After Mr. Manigault loses this campaign, it will be interesting to see if he really wants Mayor Luecke to appoint two school board members and if he'll put real effort behind creating a South Bend Promise program.

Forgive me if I seem skeptical.

Don Wheeler

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Desperation move by state GOP will send Manigault campaign down in flames

For anyone who may have missed it, the state Republican Party sent citizens of South Bend a postcard featuring a headstone for South Bend.

"RIP. Here lies South Bend, a once vibrant city now abandoned by business, overrun by violent crime and driving people from their family homes because of high property taxes."

On the flip side (pun intended) it accuses Mayor Steve Luecke of having "neglected our city and allowed it to die".

There's no point arguing with these folks about reality; remember they brought us the mantra "perceptions are more important than facts". So there's no point in reminding these folks that the crime rate is down measurably and the city government has nothing whatsoever to do with setting the tax rate on real property. None at all. But "let's stop and think" as Dora The Explorer might suggest. From a tactical standpoint, what is the likely outcome of this strategy?

For one thing, the backlash of this tactic has spawned the creation of a new citizens action organization "Citizens For Progress". While it's true that these folks are most likely supporters of Steve Luecke, kicking a hornet's nest rarely brings an advantageous result.

Going further...This sort of approach seems calculated at firing up the base - an excellent strategy for a primary campaign. But think about who's likely to be undecided at this point in the campaign. I'd suggest that it's folks who don't have a particular ideological ax to grind. These are people who who just want their city to work, who want someone serious in control and just don't feel they have enough information yet to know which person that is. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this postcard campaign just might not seal the deal with these voters. Or actually, it might - but not the way Mr. Manigault would like.

In fact, it's my view that this clumsy move should pretty well ensure Mayor Luecke's re-election. But citizens have every reason to be upset even if the result is favorable. They have been insulted, their work has been devalued. They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

South Bend citizens meeting announced

Have you seen the Tombstone mailing informing us that South Bend is dead?

Are you infuriated-- as many of us are?

So many of us have worked hard to make South Bend
a safe and beautiful place to work, play, and raise our families.
We don't need this kind of negativity coming from so many directions.

Come together with other citizens who want to work together to resist efforts to create a negative image of South Bend.

We want to find ways to celebrate and promote South Bend-- through HOPE not fear.
Don't let fear dominate our city!

Join us for the first meeting of a new optimistic grassroots movement!

Citizens for Progress through Hope not fear

We need you!!


Thursday, October 18th

7:00 PM

First Unitarian Church

101 East North Shore Dr
South Bend IN 46617

http://www.hopenotfear.org/

Monday, October 15, 2007

Edwards wins endorsement of Friends of the Earth Action

From The Campaign To Change America
October 14, 2007

Leading environmental group says Edwards has the best policies to halt global warming and protect our planet's natural resources

Manchester, NH – Today at an announcement event in Dover, New Hampshire, Senator John Edwards won the endorsement of Friends of the Earth Action, one of the leading environmental groups in the country.

"John Edwards understands that we must accept responsibility for conserving natural resources and act with urgency to stop the crisis of global warming," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth Action. "He has led on this issue, with the best plan to halt global warming and protect the environment. He has the strength and courage to stand up to the big corporations that are abusing our planet. And he is the only top-tier candidate in this race who opposes new nuclear plants in the U.S. For these reasons, we trust John Edwards to work for a healthy environment and fight for the rights of regular people in our country and around the world."

Edwards has introduced a detailed agenda to halt global warming and protect the environment. His proposals include:

Capping greenhouse gas pollution starting in 2010 with a cap-and-trade system, and reducing it by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, as the latest science says is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

Leading the world to a new climate treaty that commits other countries—including developing nations—to reduce their pollution. Edwards will insist that developing countries join us in this effort, offering to share new clean energy technology and, if necessary, using trade agreements to require binding greenhouse reductions.

Opposing subsidies for new nuclear power plants in the U.S. because they are costly, take too long to build, and generate waste that cannot yet be stored safely and permanently.


Creating a New Energy Economy Fund by auctioning off $10 billion in greenhouse pollution permits and repealing subsidies for big oil companies. The fund will support U.S. research and development in energy technology, help entrepreneurs start new businesses, invest in new carbon-capture and efficient automobile technology and help Americans conserve energy.


Meeting the demand for more electricity through efficiency for the next decade, instead of producing more electricity.


Reversing every harmful environmental executive order and regulation issued by the Bush Administration.


Edwards will submit legislation strengthening the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and restore the "polluter pays" principle in the Superfund.

"For nearly four decades, Friends of the Earth Action has worked to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment," said Edwards. "I am honored to receive their support and I look forward to collaborating with them in the future. We must work together to halt global warming and protect our natural resources to ensure our children inherit a healthy planet."

Founded in San Francisco by David Brower, Friends of the Earth Action has for decades been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a healthier, more just world. Its members helped found Friends of the Earth International, the world's largest federation of grassroots environmental groups, with member groups in more than 70 countries.
Edwards has already earned the endorsement of several influential environmental leaders in New Hampshire, who serve on his Environmental Leadership Committee:

Environmental Leadership Committee Co-Chairs:

State Representative Jay Phinizy - Chairman of the House Environment and Agriculture Committee

State Representative David Essex - Vice Chairman of the House Environment and Agriculture Committee


Members of the Environmental Leadership Committee:

Joanne Allison Sparks - Environmental activist, North Conway

Maureen Westrick - Founder of the Fertile Valley Initiative, Intervale

Margaret Ridgely - Member of New Hampshire Audubon, North Sandwich

Samuel Wasmuth - Member of Sierra Club, Wolfeboro

Jennifer Snow - Environmental activist, Stratham

Kay Delanoy - Environmental activist, Keene

Donna Thompson - Environmental activist, Derry

Joseph Cullum - Environmental activist, Spofford

Ron Poltak - Environmental activist, Auburn









Edwards wins endorsement of Iowa SEIU and nine other states

From The Campaign To Change America
October 15, 2007

Iowa SEIU members say Edwards has the best plans to make Washington work for working Americans

Des Moines, Iowa — Today, the Iowa state council of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) will announce its endorsement of Senator John Edwards for president. The announcement will take place at a press conference with the Iowa SEIU Local 199 at the Eckstein Medical Research Building in Iowa City. A number of other SEIU State Councils will also be announcing their endorsement of Edwards as part of the event—giving Edwards' organization in Iowa a significant boost from around the country. The endorsements will allow these SEIU state councils to organize efforts to turn out caucus goers on Edwards' behalf within Iowa, and in any other state where the SEIU state councils have also endorsed Edwards.

"As a Registered Nurse who knows first hand the need for health care reform, it's a great honor to announce that the members of SEIU Iowa have chosen to endorse John Edwards for president of the United States," said Iowa SEIU Local 199 President Cathy Glasson. "In Iowa, we are uniquely positioned to see and hear the candidates, and members are well informed on the issues important to working families. John Edwards earned our support by taking a strong stand on health care and because he offers our members the greatest hope for restoring the American Dream."

"SEIU is at the forefront of the fight to make work pay and provide economic security to hardworking families. I have proudly stood with them on the frontlines of the fight for working Americans for years, and I am honored to earn their support today," said Edwards. "Together, I believe we can fix the broken system in Washington that has been rigged by corporate interests, and we can make this country work for regular Americans again."

In September, Edwards earned the endorsement of the Transport Workers Union of America (200,000 active and retired members), the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (520,000 active members), the United Steelworkers (1.2 million active members and retirees), and the United Mine Workers of America (105,000 active members and retirees).

Campaign announces nine additional endorsements

The two biggest: California, which has 656,000 members and Washington State, which has 103,000 members.

Other states include: Michigan (70,000 members), Idaho (400 members), Montana (500 members), Minnesota (28,000 members), Ohio (22,000 members), West Virginia (4,000 members) and Oregon (46,000 members).



Sunday, October 14, 2007

On Solutions, Or, Congressman Reichert, I Believe You Were Looking For This

As I reported in a recent story, I was fortunate enough to have a talk with my Member of Congress, Dave Reichert, regarding the “surge”.

While we disagreed with many aspects of his (and my) interpretation of events, there was one valid point he made that deserves a detailed response: that Democrats cannot articulate a path forward that could be reasonably expected to reduce the chances of “the bloodshed and chaos” that is so ominously predicted in so many quarters.

My goal today is to reach way outside the conventional thinking to offer such a path.

So let’s get right to it, shall we?

Before I can offer a set of specific proposals, I need to take a minute to frame the discussion that is to follow.

I will do this through the use of a set of hypotheses.
For example:

--I would suggest we are fundamentally wrong to view the events in Iraq since more or less the 1960s as a series of actions that are motivated solely by the desire of one religious group to dominate another

--We view the conflict that is evident today as a battle against terrorism that is directed at us...or some vague notion of Islamofascism; when in fact much of the violence in Iraq is in no way related to the struggle between extremist elements in Islamic countries and the US.

--I submit that we can get better results by viewing the troubles in Iraq as fundamentally an economic and political power struggle, where various groups are seeking to fill the vacuum left by the removal of the Al-Tikriti clan from power.

--Unemployment and corruption combined with a “failure of hope” for the future are our biggest enemies. A functioning economy and a Government perceived as honest wouldn’t fix all the problems in Iraq; but if we were perceived as the ones who helped Iraq get back to work, it might well keep things from getting worse-and when you’re in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging.

Our first hypothesis states that the events in Iraq are not solely related to the desire of one religious group to dominate another.

Is that correct?

Consider a few facts:

His name was not just Saddam. A more correct representation of his name would be Saddam Hussayn Al-Tikriti. Why does this matter? Because, as with many Iraqi names, the Al-Tikriti refers to the person’s tribe.

Remember the “Playing Cards”?
Look at the names...it’s Al-Tikriti all over the deck.

This fact alone tells us that a major portion of the Iraqi governing apparatus was tribally related-and when you combine this with the fact that the Baath Party was more or less a secular organization you can quickly see that Hussein’s was mostly a “capitalist” oppression, and not so much a religious one.

How did the Baath Party rule?
Not as a theocracy.

By Islamic standards, before 2003 Iraq was a middle of the road country. Women had more freedom of movement and options in public life than today. There was not a movement to establish a strict Sharia Law, nor an effort to “export Islam”.

Despite the claims of certain parties, there was no synergy between the Baath Party apparatus and Al Qaeda.

The economy was the real interest of Hussein’s-and the management of the “Oil for Food” program is an indication of how entrenched the culture of distributing opportunity to your friends for a piece of the action had become.

Political oppression? Plenty of it, indeed-but I submit that oppression, and the attacks on the Kurds and Shi’a were motivated more by a desire to remain in absolute power, facing no opposition, then they were a product of religious animosity.

Evidence to support this proposition is found in the fact that both Kurdish communities in northern Iraq (who are predominantly Sunni) and Shi’a communities were attacked on orders from Hussein, who of course was Sunni.

If the attacks were solely intended to send a religious message, why were fellow Sunnis in the north targeted?

It is important to keep in mind, as we evaluate all of this, that the area from more or less the Tigris River west to the Syrian border (the historically Sunni Arab area, which includes Tikrit, Falluja, and Hadithah) is the one portion of Iraq with the least oil resources; and that at the time of the gassings of the Kurds and Shi’a both were considering nationalist movements-funded by the oil beneath their lands. This would leave the Al-Tikritis with no real source of income. (Do you know what Iraq’s biggest export is after oil? I don’t either...and that’s not good if you’re running what’s left after the Iraqis with all the oil have broken away.)

In that context, the use of gas against Hussein’s own countrymen seems more logical-he did whatever he had to do to keep control of the cash register...and he was perfectly willing to send the most brutal of messages to anyone seeking to diminish that control.

We have advanced a second proposition in this discussion: that the violence in Iraq is not primarily a function of Al Qaeda exporting “Islamofascism” to a new “central front in the War on Terror”.

Sure enough, there are facts available that support this analysis. For example, we are told that “foreign fighters” are responsible for a rather small proportion of attacks in the country. Conversely, we are told that local combatants are the parties responsible for the great majority of attacks...both against US forces, and other Iraqis, as well.

That’s not surprising, if you think about it.

The most basic reality that US planners should have anticipated in 2003 is that no one really appreciates being invaded...no matter how “enlightened” the motives of the invader might seem.

The US itself is no exception. There is no question that the US Constitution is under wholesale assault by this Administration to a degree never experienced outside of a period of declared war. So try to imagine Gordon Brown announcing to Parliament that the UK feels the need for “regime change” in this country because the current Administration has become controlled by extremists and possesses “weapons of mass destruction”.

Imagine Mr. Brown announcing that British troops have landed on US shores, and will be marching on Washington...and then inviting us to “greet them as liberators”.

Despite the best intentions of the UK forces, the greeting would probably look something more like the biggest hunting season you ever saw, with militia members finally getting to use those stashed antitank rockets that are probably buried in back yards all over this country.

And so it is in Iraq.

Obviously the fact that enormous quantities of munitions were left laying around and unguarded makes it even easier to not “greet us as liberators”; and facts suggest that something like the process I’ve just described is taking place.

Of course, violence in Iraq is not just directed at the “coalition of the willing”-a major portion of the violence is between the Iraqis themselves.

Our third proposition addresses that violence, and suggests that majority of the violence is not predicated on religious struggle, but economic.

As we previously discussed, control of a lot of oil has suddenly changed hands, and conventional thinking might lead us to believe that this asset will be divided along sectarian lines.

The fact that the Mahdi Army, led by Al-Sadr is fighting the government of Al-Maliki, and that both are Shi’a...and the fact that Shi’a sects have begun to violently engage with each other in the Basra region as UK troops withdraw should tell you two things...

...it’s not all about sect, and... .

...despite what Joe Biden might think about the wisdom of such a plan, dividing the country into three parts along sectarian lines will not stop the Shi’a on Shi’a struggle; which is a major component of the troubles today, and likely to be a greater portion of the troubles in the future.

The history of Iraq, for most of those alive today, is the 35 years that the Baath Party has held power-and total control of the economy...and all that oil money, and the oppression and fighting with Iran that accompanied those years....and of course, the 12 years between the Gulf Wars when the US operated the “no-fly” zones, and led the charge for the sanctions that so affected average Iraqi’s lives, and the 5 years that have followed.

And all of a sudden, the lid of the “pressure cooker” that had suppressed all other political aspirations has been removed. The internal power struggles, and the perception that Al-Sadr represents Iraq’s Shi’a poor (and that the Iraqi Government doesn’t) have come to the front, as has Iran’s interest in a more theocratic-and Shi’a dominated-Iraq.

Al-Sadr also seems to benefit from a reputation of being less corrupt than Al-Maliki’s allies in Government.

All of this said, we should realize that religious considerations are to varying degrees important to the players; and that appears to be particularly true in the south.

Which brings us to solutions...

Of course, before we can discuss what to do, we need to define what we are trying to do.

With all respect to Congressman Reichert and those who share his perspective, there seems little probability that the surge will develop conditions that achieve the political reconciliation he seeks.

To put it another way, Iraq is not gonna be a “thousand points of light” anytime soon.

My goals are much more modest:

--Success would be to stop creating conditions that engender resentment towards the US.

--Success would be finding ways to help put Iraqis to work.

--Success would be working with institutions inside and outside of Government to improve the professionalism of Government; with the goal of reducing the perception that corruption is the normal way of doing business.

--Any success we might attain in “engaging” leaders and future leaders (religious, tribal, business, and political...who are often the same people) to whom we currently have no direct connection would be a greater victory that we have today.

Bill Richardson aptly points out that when it comes to engendering resentment, the presence of US troops is making things worse, not better.

So the first thing that should be done, Congressman, is to get the troops out of the business of policing a civil war.

I suspect if we were sitting together having this conversation you would tell me that we cannot withdraw troops because of the potential for bloodshed and chaos once we leave. To which I would respond...

...we are incapable of continuing the surge past this spring. We just don’t have the troops. If the surge was required for “victory”, and we can no longer continue the surge, how are we to achieve the “more stable, self-sufficient Iraq” you were hoping for in January?

...even if we had the troops to continue the surge forever, there is no political will to create the reconciliation the surge was supposed to engender. All knowledgeable observers, including General Petraeus, agree that the only way to success of any kind is through the political process-and that, as the General says, the process needs to include our opponents as well as our friends.

...the surge does not reduce the pent up pressures that have developed between tribal and religious groups over these past 35 years, and more and more it seems evident that we are merely delaying any retribution that might occur-and losing troops to do it.

Another source of resentment: the state of the economy. As we discussed above, unemployment is the enemy, and we should more or less hire every Iraqi we can find to rebuild whatever local communities request that is reasonable.

The Defense Department has discretionary funds available for commanders, and we need to do the same thing on a much larger scale through the auspices of the State Department. Many more Provincial Reconstruction Teams resources are needed and local “Sub Teams” should be established. This will require the presence of troops for some time to come, for the purposes of security. But there’s no reason for 130,000 troops and another 150,000 or so contractors...and probably not 30,000, either.

My next idea for the Congressman will involve some looking at the neighbors for inspiration-particularly Syria and Jordan.

If we are to create a more professional governing community, we should aggressively start the process of educating those future leaders...even those who come from groups we might not today support.

Iranians and Iraqis attended US schools in the past, along with citizens from many other countries. Do these contacts matter? I would invite the Congressman to consider these words:

“The relationships that are formed between individuals from different countries, as part of international education programs and exchanges ...foster goodwill that develops into vibrant, mutually beneficial partnerships among nations."


Who said that?
Our current President, that’s who.

To get a sense of what impact this can have, here’s a list of foreign leaders who attended school in the US-and the list literally goes from Afghanistan to Zambia.

Training in the US is a good idea...but what can be accomplished locally? That’s where Jordan comes in.

The Talal Abu-Ghazaleh College of Business in Amman, Jordan is an excellent example of what we have not yet been successful in creating in Iraq-a genuine professional school that can operate with reasonable security.

Schools like this can be created in Iraq-if we make the schools either inclusive...or we help the various groups on the ground set up schools that meet their own needs...always trying to emphasize the positive effect on Iraqi citizens from knowing how to operate and maintain the infrastructure they are building.

This needs to go both ways...until we have schools that teach Americans how to understand this part of the world, our actions are as likely to fail as they are to succeed.

The mistrust that currently exists between the US and the Iraqi communities suggests we may have to accept a limited degree of control and oversight in order to create the perception that we aren’t ramming these schools down anyone’s throats.

This is like drilling wells for African villages-you build the facilities based on what the communities and the US can arrange...but then you let the locals run the show, and you hope they like you the better for it. That process, repeated a thousand times or so, is not only cheaper than today’s combat operations...it gets better results. As a matter of fact, it’s the exact same process we are using in places as disparate as the Philippines and Angola and Somalia-and Baghram.

The faster the US is perceived as the country that builds things for poor people the faster we will find real National Security-because those folks will have less reason to hate us.

It sounds simplistic, but if it’s already our policy in the rest of the world...why not Iraq?

Along the same lines, we need to get credit into the local economy-and the Syrians, who are attempting to adopt a “social market economy” model, are trying to move ahead with a brand of capitalism that both connects their economy to the larger world economy and capital flows; and does it while being empathetic with Islamic economic sensibilities.

We could learn much from an Islamist approach to economic reconstruction as we try to redevelop the economy of the next-door country.

Finally: we have to get to know the people we want to persuade them to see our point of view.

Advertisers the world over know that the first step in any communications effort is to know your target market-and if there’s one thing we don’t know enough about, it’s Iraq.

We don’t speak the language, we don’t understand the culture, and we have limited personal relationships with local leaders. To make matters worse, we transfer out our troops just as soon as they get to know the local leaders, and we replace them with a new set of troops who have to develop the relationships all over again.

This is another State Department and Intelligence Community problem, and we need to have greater Defense/State Department integration so that these relationships can be developed and nurtured over longer periods of time.

To paraphrase George Patton, why take the same real estate twice?

So Congressman Reichert, there you have it: a strategy that is far more likely to work than what the President has proposed to this point, a strategy that will stop us from digging our proverbial hole deeper, and a strategy that will, in the end, save lives-ours and theirs.

And here’s the best part-this same strategy would also go a long way towards fixing our Iran problem.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Republican Presidential Contenders offer slogans, not proposals

So seemed the analysis by conservative commentator David Brooks on Friday's News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Mr. Brooks appeared baffled by the approach taken by the men - particularly in a debate supposedly centered on economic conditions.

Here are some excerpts of Mr. Brooks' comments and a link to the segment.

"...it is certainly true there's a greater sense of economic anxiety among the middle class, people making $40,000 to $60,000, $70,000 a year. And those people, at least white people in that income group, are the core of the Republican Party.

The Republicans won the white working class by 23 percentage points in the 2004 election. And if you looked at that debate, you would say, what on Earth are they offering these people? Nothing. There was no conversation about what they're going through, what barriers they may have to mobility. There were no proposals, and there really are no proposals out there.

And what's striking is, you look at that debate, they're talking about the line-item veto? Well, how many people are sitting around the kitchen table thinking about that? They're talking about reducing corporate taxes. How does that touch directly to these people's lives?

It's airy-fairy. It's abstract, that kind of debate, and that's one of the reasons so many conservatives are sort of dispirited, a loss of touch with the way actual voters live."

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/%20july-dec07/bdgore_10-12.html

Later in the segment, Mr. Brooks continued:

"...objectively, living standards are going up, nobody disputes that, more cars, more TVs, bigger homes, but wages are not going up for a lot of people, and especially for men in the middle class. And so those people -- and then insecurity, for the reasons E.J. (Dionne) talked about, are also going up.

So it's sort of a complicated economic picture, but the bottom line is that we're seeing huge productivity gains. And those productivity gains are not being translated to middle-class workers with medium to low skills. So what are you going to do for those people? And what are you going to do for those people to remind them that their kids are going to have better opportunities than they have?

And, frankly, I think I don't agree with all the proposals, but the Democrats have proposals. I'm not sure the Republicans have proposals about that."

These observations are significant. It's an opportunity for Democrats to reclaim this group - which was historically loyal to them. Which candidate would be most likely to appeal to them?

In my opinion, John Edwards.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Progressives, South Bend endorses Steve Luecke for Mayor of South Bend

OK, it’s not much of a surprise or much of a prize. But each of us needs to weigh seriously the strengths and intentions of those running for elective office. Even if the choice seems clear at the outset, the exercise is still important.

Let’s start with what might seem a small point of analysis.

I recently ran into Mayor Luecke at a health care reform forum and was able to chat with him for a while. I found him to be warm and personable and felt comfortable that he was genuine in what he had to say to me.

Earlier this year, I met Juan Manigault at an African-American Cultural Arts festival. I was there on behalf of John Edwards (the tee shirt was probably a giveaway) and he, of course was working the crowd on his own behalf. I found Mr. Manigault extremely personable as well, but (shall we say) a bit less genuine. He suggested that after his election we could be allies of a sort. This seemed a stretch to me. The Edwards and Manigault philosophies and outlooks seem an oil and water sort of proposition. I’ve heard other people make this type of observation, as well – including my plumber.

Next let’s look at past job performance.

Being Mayor of South Bend is not an easy job and Mr. Luecke doesn’t seem much into self aggrandizement. Studebaker built this town, then destroyed it, and we’re still on the road to recovery. But in Mr. Luecke’s tenure vast acreage of abandoned industrial buildings have been removed – eliminating the danger and eyesore factors of these buildings. This is an expensive proposition and required the city to apply for and win grants – primarily from the federal government. The job is unfinished, but it’s well underway.

Mr. Luecke recently announced an aggressive program to remove many score of abandoned homes and renovate dozens of others with historical significance. And that's underway.

Mr. Luecke was on the job during the renovation and expansion of the Morris Civic Auditorium, The Palais Royale and The South Bend Civic Theatre. The boom of these facilities and the organizations associated with them have attracted (in particular) a boomlet of fine eating and related establishments with more likely to follow. Many thousands of dollars spent in the area would not have been spent without these developments. This stuff doesn’t just happen, folks.

Mr. Managault has been President and CEO of an organization I’ll refer to as the Workforce Investment Board (WIB). I phrased it that way merely to simply. The original organization had its name changed from time to time and more recently, Mr. Manigualt became part of a privatized version which essentially had the same function. How did he do?

As readers of Progressives, South Bend already know – not so well. In a five part series published in September, 2007, 169 pages of public record were examined and analyzed – and what was found was discouraging. $60,000 in fraudulent checks cashed, the money never recovered…$1.1 million in grant money forfeited… in fact, the auditors at one point cautioned the most serious problem they identified in their audit was that the record keeping was so poor, that they couldn’t assure that they’d found all of the problems – some which might be potentially very serious.

More recently, when Mr. Manigault resigned from the successor organization, he received a severance package seemingly based upon his tenure in the earlier organization. That set off alarm bells, red flags, etc. It’s likely that it will be looked into by state regulatory organizations and/or perhaps the courts.

Yet Mr. Manigault claims the he’s the manager guy. That it’s Mr. Leucke who’s a poor administrator. But remember, this campaign is built upon the theme “perceptions matter more than facts”. They’ve actually said that. I guess I don’t blame them; the facts aren’t helpful to their case.

No, in the end this was not a tough call.

Re-elect Steve Luecke as Mayor of South Bend.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

HRC Michigan decision has a huge potential downside

Risking the ire of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clinton and Dodd campaigns decided to remain on the Michigan Primary ballot. The DNC has promised Michigan Dems their delegation will not be seated if they hold to the early date the state approved recently. The state organization has howled in protest - even though the position of the DNC was made absolutely clear well in advance of Michigan's decision.

This decision by the Clinton campaign would seem to be trying to highlight her toughness and independence (I guess) - but there is an arrogance about it which could backfire.

Democratic organizations and voters in at least the four first primary/caucus states implored the presidential candidates to take a pass on contests not within the national party guidelines. Most listened, including John Edwards and Barrack Obama.

If you're a voter in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada, what would you think of a candidate who acts with complete disdain towards what you hold near and dear. My reaction would be that there's a heck of a good field this time and anything that helps narrow the choices is useful.

For the Dodd campaign, it makes the distinguished Senator look like a bit of a bottom feeder (I'm sorry to say). As for Ms. Clinton...well it seems Hillaryesque. The whole tone of her run has seemed tinged with a low level arrogance and indifference which people may find grating.

I think it is a big mistake, and has the potential to cost Ms. Clinton the nomination. She's been running strong in New Hampshire and recently pulled herself into the thick of the Iowa race thanks in large part to an aggressive television campaign there. But we've all seen opinions change sharply and suddenly in past years in the early states.

The only potential upside I can see is that the Clinton campaign has made the calculation that the DNC will relent and seat the Michigan delegation. And they'd of course have just about all the delegates. It seems a completely cynical and arrogant view. The DNC cannot do that without grevious damage to the Party. The layers of betrayal in decision like that takes one's breath away.

I guess we'll see. One thing's for certain - there are no "take backs" on this one. The date one can withdraw one's name from the ballot in Michigan has now passed.

Don Wheeler

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Fake Consultant Exclusive: The Congressman And I Discuss “The Surge”

Every once in a while, serendipity provides a gift to those who answer its call.

But like a cat, you must be always ready; and that’s why I decided to turn around and see what was going on under the tent perched on the corner of the vacant lot this afternoon.

What was going on was that Congressman Dave Reichert was giving a speech. I don’t get a chance to meet the local Congressman very often, and I said to myself: “Self…what a great chance to talk about Iraq…with a Member of Congress. You should go talk to him.”

So I did.

As it turns out, he was most gracious and more than willing to talk; and we spent about 10 minutes in a back-and-forth. As Paul Harvey would say, “the rest…of the story” is continued below.

There are a couple of reasons why I was particularly interested in talking about Iraq: one is that I have a godson now involved; but even more important is that Reichert is, in effect, the Congressman from the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, as Fort Lewis, Washington is within his district (WA-08). As you may or may not know, these troops are at “the point of the spear” as far as the “surge” is concerned, and they are taking casualties in substantial numbers.

So by now I’ve parked the car, and walked up to join the crowd of about 60. The Congressman is here today to be honored for his efforts to help the City of Snoqualmie with its redevelopment efforts; and with the requisite speechifying and handshaking of dignitaries complete, it’s time for my first question…which is basically that I don’t understand how he can continue to support the surge.

Reichert began by reminding me that he was not in office at the time of the original vote. He pointed out that members of both parties felt that there was a reason for the invasion.

Interestingly, he then commented on the fact that hindsight is 20/20…but he told me that if he knew then what he knows today, he would have still voted to invade.

He told me he had just returned from a trip to Iraq with Democratic Congressman Brian Baird, and that Baird had changed his mind as a result of the trip, and now supports remaining in the country.

Reichert recounted his trip through the market, and told me that on previous trips he could not have visited the “Red Zone”. He expressed more than once his belief that violence had been dramatically reduced, as well.

He told me that he had spoken to “hundreds” of troops on the ground, and that not a single one had expressed to him that we should get out because the war was serving no purpose.

He recalled a meeting with Jane Harmon, amongst others; and the problem with the Democratic stance on the war, as he sees it, is that the Democrats offer no alternative plan-or at least could not offer one when he confronted Harmon and the others about this issue at that meeting.

Taking a moment to offer a second question, I asked Reichert if the violence might be reduced in Baghdad these days because we are now at the end of a process of ethnic cleansing. I reminded him that Sunni and Shi’a are separated now more than ever before in the city. I pointed out that Sunni enclaves are now surrounded by blast walls, and that the Shi’a use the checkpoints as locations for targeting Sunni to be attacked if they enter Shi’a territory.

The Congressman told me I am mistaken regarding these issues. He informed me that ethnic cleansing is not an issue. In fact, he reports the local police chief he spoke with (who happens to be Shi’a-I asked), is married to a Sunni woman, and that there are no problems whatsoever. He further challenged my sources regarding this sort of information.

He also reports that Shi’a and Sunni death squads were targeting each other, but that they represent a small minority of the residents of these communities, and that this problem is nothing about which we should be concerned.

He then told me that he is the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee, and as a result he has access to “Top Secret information” that flows from a source at a higher level than mine.

A most interesting moment occurred when he told me that we have to listen to the Generals to decide when to get out of Iraq. I asked him if it wasn’t actually Congress’ job to tell the Generals when to fight wars and when to end them. He said it was not. I then asked him if he believed in the concept of civilian control of the military.

He responded that he did not want me to put words in his mouth; that he was basically trying to say that we don’t want 435 more Generals micromanaging the war.

Although he spent a considerable time talking to me, at one point he looked at me and said “I can see I’m just wasting my time here…” in a reference to his inability to sway me to his point of view. Nonetheless, we continued to engage until his “handler” gently played “bad cop” and led him away.

So what did we learn?

The Congressman seeks succor in the fact that violence is reduced, he does not acknowledge that there are ethnic cleansing problems, now or in the past, and he tells us he is of the belief that we are on the right track.

What he did not like was the question of civilian control over the military. He was far more comfortable with the concept that we should not question our Generals.

What he did not mention was any element of the political situation…suggesting there is not much he wants to highlight in that regard, particularly as it relates to the problems of internal Governmental struggle and its connection to the inability to successfully “nation build”.

Ironically, on the day we were speaking, Iraq’s Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister was announcing that “there will be no reconciliation…”

The question I forgot to ask?

In an effort to improve the conditions faced by our troops back home, I have proposed that Members of Congress get their health care from VA and military facilities. I forgot to ask the Congressman how he might view such a proposal.

In any event, that’s the story for today: we meet a Member of Congress, we have a conversation, and we find that, although he was happy to spend the time, we still find ourselves very far apart on some very basic issues.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Unable to keep down some of the crow I ate

I realized that there was a motive in the South Bend Tribune's delay in publishing my letter concerning the fiscal mismanagement of WIB.

Some time ago, my Co-Captain of One America for St. Joseph County Dustin Blythe mentioned that there was a thirty day waiting period for a citizen after a letter is published.

By waiting to publish my letter, they ensured I would not be eligible to have another one run prior to their announced cut-off prior to the mayoral election.

They make it hard to love them.

Don

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Steve Skvara - featured speaker at forum for health care reform in South Bend

United Auto Workers Local 5 hosted a health care reform forum Saturday, October 6th in South Bend, Indiana. The program featured views from the union and Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan- an organization which agitates for a state run single payer system in Indiana. But the star of the show was Steve Skvara, who gained instant fame with his question at the AFL-CIO Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum in Chicago, IL concerning health care: “What’s wrong with America, and what are you going to do to change it?”

I had the privilege of a conversation with Steve who lives just down the road from us near Valparaiso, IN. He is a retiree from the now defunct LTV Steel Corporation (the company whose engineered bankruptcy cost him his family health care coverage and one third of his pension). He’s currently an Executive Board Member of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) and agitates for health care reform. In his view, what’s needed is a national health care coverage system.

I was curious about how it came to be that in that vast crowd in Soldiers Field he was able to ask a question of the candidates. He explained to me that in an earlier event, he had posed a similar question which had come to the attention of the organizers of the Chicago forum. That put him into a pool (I think he said of 37 people) who were potential questioners. I think I’ve forgotten a step in the process, but the point is that there was a group of people who went to the event given cards with abbreviated versions of their question on their side and a number on the opposite side. Only shortly before the forum started, did the potential questioners find out if they would be called. And the “questionee” was basically by lot.

So in a bit of serendipity, former Senator John Edwards was asked a question he was eager to answer, posed by someone who supports him.

So what did Mr. Skvara have to say? Pretty much what most of us try to get people to understand: That nearly 50 million Americans have no health care insurance coverage, that most personal bankruptcies are driven by medical bills. That although we spend nearly twice as much per person as any other developed nations on health care our outcomes (life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.) lag behind most of these nations. His own cardiac specialist said we need a single payer system, because his billing service costs that doctor a quarter million dollars a year. There’s no medical care benefit to that expense. The other thing he had to say is something people who put up with my posts may have grown tired of hearing. The problem will not be corrected without us. Period.

Mr. Skvara’s experience is very instructional. He suffered a permanent disability due to an auto accident his family experienced. At the time, he had fabulous heath coverage – thanks to the efforts of organized labor. His family had coverage through the same program and though as a retiree he was required to pay for it – the cost was quite affordable. Then came the liquidation of LTV and it was all gone.

When Mr. Skvara stood up in Chicago he qualified for Medicare due to his disability, but his wife had no such coverage. I still find it very hard to keep it together watching the video (as I have many times) as he, struggling with his emotions, says he sits across the breakfast table across from the woman who took care of their family for thirty-six years and knows he can’t afford to pay for health care for her – and seems ashamed of it.

It is we who should be ashamed. I know I am.

Happily, she now has care from a medical group which includes check-ups and tests, thanks to someone who heard of their plight. But it’s because of someone who did a nice thing, instead of us doing the right thing. And it's not the same thing as coverage.

Mr. Skvara is an eloquent spokesman on this issue and he needs our help. I was a bit disappointed in the size of the group of attendees, but pleased to hear the written support of Senators Lugar and Bayh and Representative Donnelly. South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke was also in attendance and I enjoyed a brief conversation with him.

Here are a couple of my own thoughts on the topic. Opponents of universal health care coverage like to trot out the specter of “socialized medicine”. Their idea is that private insurance is the model. But insurance - by definition, is socialism. Gather the biggest pool possible in order to spread the risk. We each pay in our appropriate fraction of the total anticipated cost and receive a benefit only if we need it. Universal coverage is merely the logical extension of the insurance model.

Another thing I think about is that a long time ago we agreed that it was our responsibility as a society to provide a certain level of education to every citizen. Though some have tried to backslide on this one, I still think it is a good idea. People use the phrase “right to life” quite frequently. I’d suggest the right to life (or certainly, the right to a life of quality) often requires competent medical care – without the distraction of “how am I going to pay for this?’. How is this any less important?

Democracy is not a spectator sport.


Don Wheeler

Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Larry Craig, And Filibusters, Or, Wanna Make A Trade?

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”
--Dr. Hunter S. Thompson


There are times when only the most evil of thinkers are able to grasp an excellent opportunity to do good in a most unlikely place.

As one of the most evil thinkers I know, I stand here today to tell you that we have an opportunity to turn this Larry Craig situation into a chance to stand Mr. Bush’s war plans on their head-if we are willing to play the extremely brutal political game required.

Wanna hear more?
Read on...

Before we proceed further, I offer two stipulations:

--I acknowledge up front that this is entirely inappropriate behavior for a civil person to propose.

--I further admit that this is no way to treat a man (Senator Craig) who is, in his heart, a troubled person in a most difficult situation.

That said, let’s set the stage:

We cannot advance the choices we want in regard to the war because our Republican friends in the Senate threaten to block any action with a filibuster; and further threaten to “hold the cards” that prevent the override of that veto.

There is enormous fear in the Republican community because of the “moral threat” posed by Craig’s decision not to leave the Senate, and the fact that that image of Craig’s “wide stance” will persist all the way to Election Day, dragging the Rs deeper into the muck the closer the vote gets.

At the moment, the Rs cannot remove Craig, which they would dearly love to do, because there is no way to obtain a majority on the Ethics Committee unless Democrats agree to join the R members of that committee in a vote.

Beyond that, there is no way the Rs can obtain the votes on the Senate floor to remove Craig unless Ds decide to throw the Rs a life preserver.

So what I’m advising is:

Let’s throw them that life preserver...for a price.

Harry Reid should approach Mc Connell and say something more or less like this: “You give me the votes I need to pass a Defense Department budget with a timeline attached, and you deliver the votes for the override...and the next day we’ll give you the votes to remove Craig.”

I know how inherently bad this is on a moral level, but you know what?

I’m sick of the idea that nothing will change in this war for 18 months, at least-and I’m ready to take any action that will stop Mr. Bush from creating the momentum he wants to carry this war into the next Administration.

I will happily trade Craig’s political life for the very real lives of the 1000 or so troops that will die before January 2009.

If all that wasn’t enough, it will teach the Rs some very real lessons about what you sow when you treat politics as a Rovian exercise.

So that’s my idea for today.

I admit it is the wrong way to practice politics, but that said I feel the savings of 1000 American lives is well worth the sacrifice of Craig...and I suspect any Republican who is a fan of Jack Bauer will have a tough time disagreeing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Steve Skvara to speak in South Bend

Retired steelworker Steve Skvara will be the featured speaker this Saturday at the United Auto Workers Local 5 Hall. Located at 1426 S. Main St., the UAW local will be sponsoring his address on the topic of health care reform.

Few of us will ever forget that electric moment when Mr. Skvara rose at the AFL-CIO Presidential Candidates forum in Chicago and challenged John Edwards - a challenge Senator Edwards clearly embraced.

"What's wrong with America?! And what are you going to do to change it?"

http://youtube.com/watch?v=bUzdDORJwu4

The huge crowd in Soldiers Field stood up in support of this man.

Mr. Skvara put in the most personal way possible what happens to families when health care (or the lack of it) is determined by business interests.

I am so proud that he will be in South Bend. I look forward to shaking his hand and telling him that I'm with him in this fight.

I hope you will join me.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On Challenging Iran, Or, My Letter To Senator Murray

We are all by now aware of the Senate vote to encourage the State Department to identify a unit of the Iranian Army as a terrorist organization.

I was so amazed to discover that Washington's Senator Patty Murray voted for the resolution that I immediately sent her an email expressing my most severe displeasure.

She was kind enogh to respond.
Today I have replied to her response.

Those two emails are the rhetorical tofu in tonight's dinner discussion, and I invite you to pull up to the table and join us.

First, allow me to present Senator Murray's email, which I recieved today:

Thank you for contacting me regarding U.S.-Iran relations and your concerns about possible U.S. military action in Iran . I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.


The Iranian government's uranium enrichment program, sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights abuse s greatly concern me. President Ahmadinejad's statements calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust are also alarming. Iran should play a more constructive role in the Middle East, and I support diplomatic efforts recommended by the Iraq Study Group to encourage Iran to do so.


I have recently cosponsored two bills to address Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons and support for terrorism in the Middle East. S. 970, the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, introduced in March 2007, would tighten sanctions against Iran 's energy sector and identify Iran 's Quds Force as a terrorist organization. S. 1430, the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, introduced in May 2007, would allow states and localities to divest funding from companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran 's energy sector. It is important to note that neither of these pieces of legislation threatens or authorizes military action against Iran .

Please know that I share your concerns about our relations with Iran and will continue to closely monitor developments in Iran and the Middle East . As the Senate addresses this and other issues, I will keep your thoughts in mind.


And below, my response, sent today:

First, thanks for taking the time to reply.

It's much appreciated.

While I do share your concerns about the potential of future Iranian actions, the fact is those are potential actions.

Balanced against that are the realities that Mr. Ahmadinejad is relatively weak in his own country, Iran's recent history of being potentially supportive of US interests (particularly after 9/11), our own inability to offer an effective, sustained military response, and the fact that this action makes no sense in terms of actually making the US safer.

Here's what I mean:

Suppose we do mount a bombing raid against Iranian nuclear facilities (many of which are underground (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2007/iran-070205-voa01.htm), and located near populated areas (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/tehran-tnrc2.htm) -the "human shield" effect), or has been suggested, that we strike at "Revolutionary Guard" targets?

it is highly unlikely that we would successfully destroy any underground facility with any tool short of tactical nuclear weapons.

Why?

Because of the simplicity of providing relatively low-tech countermeasures: specifically shock mounting critical equipment (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/images/anmcc.jpg), and providing blast valves, as seen in this (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/images/site-r.gif) diagram of the "Site R" facility with which you may already be familiar.

The more likely result of such an attempt would be to cement the relationship between Iran and North Korea and Islamist elements in Pakistan; both countries which currently possess nuclear weapons, and who have demonstrated a willingness to offer those for export. It is also highly likely that such an attack would be perceived as further proof that Iran has "arrived" as a regional power, and that the US is expanding its "war on Islam".

Attacking "Revolutionary Guard" targets?

Again, our own ignorance will be greatly to our disadvantage. Exactly what is a Revolutionary Guard target? If, as appears to be the case, the Revolutionary Guard functions in the same way as the Peoples' Liberation Army in China, this would mean the Guard is an economic as well as a military organization. Do we therefore attack oil facilities, and are we prepared to accept the likely Iranian response of attacks on third-country oil facilities, or the shutoff of the Iranian oil spigot, which will cause China to apply pressure on us to back off?

Will we be looking at $150 oil the next week, coupled with the public humiliation of backing down from another pointless show of force?

Or do we instead attack troop emplacements, creating martyrs and guaranteeing the absolute support of the Iranian people in any military actions against the US that might be mounted-and absolutely guaranteeing the failure of any diplomatic efforts that might be considered or under way?

Finally, we must consider the history of our own President.

There is no doubt that he either lied or was fundamentally unaware of the most critical facts about Iraq before he chose invasion.

Further, the Downing Street memos (http://www.downingstreetmemo.com/) demonstrate that Mr. Bush never intended to find a diplomatic solution before invading-and why would you believe, based on his long history of disingenuousness on a variety of issues that he intends to seek a diplomatic solution now?

Further, the history of the action in Iraq-the lack of planning and the obvious failure to consider any long-term consequences in particular-should leave you unwilling to trust this president; and your vote to designate the Guard as a terrorist group suggests both a greater willingness to trust this President than is safe, and a failure to recall his recent history of bad decisions and lack of forethought.

If all that wasn't enough, Mr. Bush has a history of "power-reaching" that suggests he will take this vote as all the authority he needs-or he will attack Iran based on the Commander-in-Chief's "need to respond to all those Iranian IED attacks on our troops..."

This is an absolute disaster in the making...and let's not forget that the USS Cole was nearly sunk by basically a Zodiac boat and two suicide bombers.

The narrow spaces in which our Navy will be forced to operate will be much to our disadvantage, the Straits of Hormuz are riddled with antiship missile emplacements, and we might well lose a ship or two in a major escalation-not to mention the effect on the world economy if the Straits close to commercial oil tanker traffic.

Will we be forced to invade and hold the Straits to keep the oil flowing?

So let's summarize: it will be exceptionally difficult to target and destroy any facility that is of significance, we will empower Iran by doing so, we do not have the understanding of Iran that we need to pull this off, and we are not well prepared for the consequences.

And if all that doesn't scare us, this President has a track record that, to be gentle, suggests his grasp on honesty is tenuous, at best. Trusting him to do the right thing at this point seems absurd, and that was the main source of my disappointment in your vote.


Now to be fair, I generally like Patty Murray, and I was quite appreciative that she took the time to respond; but her vote proves we, as a community, have not yet succeeded in getting the message across to everyone in the House and Senate-even those we would usually think of as likely votes for our cause.

My advice...it's not all done on these pages. A personal note to your Senator and Representatives is another way to advance the conversation; and perhaps we, as bloggers, need to put more of our attention on this most basic aspect of representative democracy.

The Campaign To Change America has changed this American



This will air as a listener commentary on WVPE (88.1 FM) Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007 at 7:25 am. and 12:30 pm.



What I have to say is directed to people who think of themselves as progressives or liberals or lefties… Conservative listeners may want to click off their radios for a couple of minutes, or maybe fire up the ol’ food processor. Go ahead, I’ll give you a second.

OK, for those of you still listening, I want to say that we have an opportunity I haven’t seen before and don’t think will come again – at least in my lifetime, and I’m 51.

We can support the candidate for President who proposes the things we’d actually like to see happen. We can listen carefully to their positions and plans..analyze and criticize… And then what we absolutely must do is put real energy not just into that person’s campaign – but into his or her vision (and hopefully your own) of what could be.

The reason I’m satisfied we have this luxury, is that people who tend not to pay much attention to the federal government’s conduct are so ticked at the current goons of the Executive Branch, that they are quite open to listening to other approaches. But don’t kid yourself, if we elect the “safe” candidate who doesn’t want to rock the boat too much, those folks will note the minor improvement and shift their focus back to their personal situations. And the opportunity will have been lost.

No, this is a rare opportunity indeed.

Anyone who knows me, (or probably) even had a brief conversation with me knows who I support. But I’m not here to tout my candidate or that campaign so much as to tell you what being involved has done for me and how it’s changed me.

Backing up a bit, because of the availability of information via the internet, it’s now possible to know an amazing amount about a person running for President. In my case, I know more about my candidate than I’ve known about all the people running for office I’ve voted for in the past combined. And if you like what you find out, that can give you a lot of confidence in your candidate.

My candidate's campaign has an umbrella social action organization, and late last winter I made contact with the local chapter. Before I knew it, I was a captain of the chapter. We've been involved with food drives, peace demonstrations, health care advocacy, home repair for needy citizens and similar activities.

My candidate’s blog is very open to supporters (and detractors for that matter) and eventually I started posting. That went pretty well, and since the campaign encourages local action, I later got the idea of starting my own local issues political blog. I call it a forum to promote and discuss social action issues, ideas and events in the Michiana area. That’s exactly what I hope it will become, and I’m pleased to note I’ve gotten some nice reviews even though I’m pretty new at the whole business.

The way I see it is that those of us who think everyone should have health care, that we’ve no business in Iraq, that it’s unconscionable that 37 million fellow citizens live a mean existence must take this rare opportunity to weigh in on these matters and be serious about effecting change. Find who you think has the best ideas, support that candidate and try to get those ideas happening – here. I’ve had a chance to do some of that and it sure feels good. Don’t calculate, don’t triangulate – support the person you think has the best plans.

Because there is a value beyond the Presidential race – though, I'm sure you can tell I believe it to be supremely important. My candidate and the campaign have energized me into real citizenship, and I believe this effect will last well into the future for me. I wish that for you as well. It feels good.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way – There comes a time, for all of us, when silence is a betrayal. Gandhi, whom he admired said this – We have to be the change we want to see in the world.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Don Wheeler

Big Money, Big Lobbyists, Little d's

What's a "little d"? It's Democrat who doesn't stand up for Democratic values. It's a Democrat who puts power over policy and party over people.

It's a little d.

Wanna know what I'm talking about? Check out this clip from a movie made in 1998, at the end of the Clinton years:



Remember that time when Democrats held the White House and we were "standing at the doorstep of a new millenium"? Wanna know what the heck happened?

It wasn't the brilliancy of George W or a little man known as Turdblossom.

We forgot who we were...and now we've forgotten that we forgot who we were by buying into corporate America's pitch to all of us that the "money primary" is the real one, and somehow all of us normal folks will just fall in like lemmings behind the person with the most cash.



You can't take Big Money and expect Big Change. The world just don't work like that, and all of us know this in the back of our minds. And if we know it, trust me, the former First Lady knows it, too.

Do you need universal healthcare today? Do you need an end to war after war after war in our continuing quest for bigger profits for Big Oil companies encased in the logic of national self-interest?

Is your wallet a little lighter, and your home worth just a little less?

Do you want this to change now...or do you want to hope it changes in, say, six-ish years from now?

Little d's are for little change. Incremental steps. Let's all have a seat at the table, including the folks that pocket the silverware and hog the dessert tray.

We had little d's before our eight years of Bush, and that brought us downsizing, and "welfare reform", and an abandoned attempt at universal healthcare.

We need to remember that.

We need to elect big D's that stand up for those of us who can't afford to hire our own lobbyist. Big D's who walk their talk by not just believing in public campaign financing but by actually participating in it. Big D's who help the working men and women of our country by supporting unions and workers rights. Big D's who will not allow one person in this country to go without health care, and who know that there's something that we stand for that is more patriotic than war.

John Edwards is a Big D. Elect him. Now.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Ownership Society - A slight return


With a nod and (perhaps) an apology to fellow blogger grannyhelen, I thought of her theme immediately when we received our "my twinn" (the just-like-me doll) catalogue. It's one of those unexpected, " how in the @#%! did I get on this mailing list" gems. Parents of a spirited four and a half year old daughter, my wife Paddy and I were filled with revulsion when we saw this thing.


I can assure you our daughter will never see it.


My negative reactions are really all over the place and not necessarily coherent.


Having a doll that looks like me seems weird in itself, though it's a hard argument to prove. There's a conformity aspect to the whole idea I find deeply disturbing. A pet will at least, have some independent actions. Dolls never do, of course - but even they have some semblence of an independent identity. This entity falls short of either of those.

If you can stand to even turn the cover page of this thing, here's how it works. You buy outfits for your doll and your daughter and it gets well over a hundred dollars pretty much immediately. There's also this cute page where you match eye color, skin color and hair color. You'd hate to make a mistake on any of those things. They almost had me (heh, heh), but Sarah has two lovely freckles arranged horizontally below her left eye, and I didn't see any way to arrange that for the doll.

This seems like the ultimate self absorbtion/self indulgence exercise for you and your child. The "W" Factor.

In any case...Granny, here's your cover.

Don Wheeler