Friday, February 29, 2008

On Communal Blogging, Or, Today, Education And Promotion Merge

by fake consultant

We are forever being reminded that Americans need to know more about our neighbors around the world...and if you’re reading this, we already know you understand the value of seeking out new perspectives—and that reading the work of bloggers is an excellent way to acquire new knowledge.

If you put all that together, it appears that the missing link in the process of learning more about other countries might just be the lack of a finger to point out some quality bloggers who are able to provide some of the insight we seek (and if any of my Middle Eastern friends are around I’ll point an outstretched hand, instead of the finger, just to be polite...).

Those of you who have graced my personal blog with your presence might have noticed the invitation to “visit the Blogpower community” over there on the left-hand margin; and that’s where we will find everything we need to make this world tour happen.

We’ll also discuss a few recent items of world knowledge that have come to my attention thanks to the work of my communal friends...and then: a shameful admission of my own blissful ignorance.

Put it all together, and a good time should be had by all.

Since this is at heart a tour, our first two stops are to places where our guides are not especially political, but instead lifestyle observers.

Which leads to our first story.

You may not know it, but if you live in Sicily there’s a strong probability that your house is not connected to a water distribution system. Sicilians instead rely on water trucks to deliver water to the cistern that serves your residence. There are many who live in villas with other families, which means you and your neighbors share water.

And occasionally, you run out.

And because it’s Sicily, getting the water is a story all its own. There are public water trucks and private water trucks...and waiting lists...and days the water “isn’t being delivered”.

All this and more I’ve learned thanks to a transplanted teacher from Wales who is now publishing Sicily Scene. Even better, "Welshcakes Limoncello" spends lots of her time in fantastic little cafés, takes the time to show us pictures of what they’re serving...and really offers a feel of what it is to be her neighbor.

If we grab a fez, jump across the Mediterranean, and hang a quick right over to the west coast of Africa we’ll be in Rabat, Morocco; which is where Lady MacLeod’s truly delightful “Braveheart Does The Maghreb” walks us through souks, talks about the role of the woman in an Islamic society (a theme to which we will return at the end of the discussion), adds an occasional dose of cultural intrigue...and even romance.

Another transplant—this time a Scot who has “expatriated" her way across Europe, South Asia, North America...and now, with her daughter, Africa; and who apparently is riding a pretty good lucky streak.

She told a tale a few months back of making a date for dinner...but the date was not at a restaurant.

She reports instead that she was taken by her beau to the beach, where a traditional Bedouin tent had been erected. She tells us of the night, and the fires, and the music...and the scented breeze coming through the tent on the balmy Moroccan night.

When you read her work, you begin to understand why Winston Churchill had such a love affair with the Hotel Mamounia...and why George Patton has been credited with describing Morocco as "a cross between Hollywood...and the Bible”.

(Make sure you read the story of the wedding in Fez.)

There are struggles for autonomy throughout the world—including just “across the pond” in the UK. Cornwall is seeking to find their unique niche in this picture, making “The Cornish Democrat” essential visiting.

The Duchy of Cornwall is located in the far southwest corner of England (the English Los Angeles it’s not, just in case the question came up...); and there are those who argue the case that Cornwall’s accession into the UK was involuntary. They further argue that the Duke of Cornwall seems to be the current legal Sovereign, or in the alternative that the People of Cornwall are the legal holders of power.

If proponents have their way the status of Cornwall might resemble that of Ireland, Scotland...or maybe even the Isle of Man.

Were you aware that the UK is debating whether or not to require compulsory education for 17 and 18 year olds? It’s a fact: at the moment many leave school at the age of 16 to enter the workforce. As you might imagine, the debate centers around issues of cost and competitive position in the world marketplace...and strangely enough, the Conservative party does not support the initiative, and the Liberals do.

And then there’s the parking story.

Health care is provided by the UK Government to the citizens, and the National Health Service is perennially short of funds. Premiums and co-pays are theoretically out of bounds...which apparently means the “employee of the month” award goes to the one who is most creative at inventing new revenue streams...which is why the UK government booked nearly $200 million last year (minus the cost of the framed “employee of the month” photo and the little brass plaque) by charging patients to park at NHS facilities.

Call it a tax, call it a co-pay (for the benefit of our UK friends, a co-pay is what insurance companies make us pay for our health care at the time of the doctor’s visit--and it can be up to 50% of the cost of care)....either way it’s a new expense that’s making UK citizens sick—of the NHS.

Mike Ion brings that and more—including discussions of the problems students encounter with school assignments, questions about liberation theology, and an interesting take on the UK voting age...and that’s just in the last week.

Our final guide will show us what life is like for an Islamic woman living in the Sudan.

One of the very first stories I ever read from Kizzie was a conversation about the stratification of status among those who wear the burka or abiya. It was astonishing for me to discover that women who are not veiled often look down on those who do; that they see them as “country bumpkins” who are unable to make their own decisions.

But this is the part of the story where I have to admit my own foolish behavior.

Just a few days ago I was visiting Kizzie’s blog, and she had a few questions about our esteemed President. To make a long story short, the basic thrust of the interrogation was related to Mr. Bush’s lack of understanding about the region.

Always trying to be helpful, I sent a long comment to Kizzie remarking that the ignorance problem she cites is not just Mr. Bush’s, but all of ours. And then I got stupid. I went on to comment that Mr. Bush probably knows very little about Kizzie’s country beyond what he saw in “Blackhawk Down”.

And then I sent the comment away.

And then I re-read what I had written...which meant that I had to quickly write another comment pointing out my own foolishness, and suggesting that my foible is exactly the sort of ignorance that often drives America’s foreign policy mistakes.

“Sudan...Somalia...what’s the difference?” is exactly the sort of dimnitude that has made “The Ugly American” a worldwide joke, and your friendly fake consultant apologizes to Kizzie and all her Sudanese friends for my foolish remark.

But it does reinforce the point.

We, as Americans, need to take the time to learn something about all the world...and if we do, our efforts at foreign policy might get a bit easier, fewer of the world’s citizens might see Americans as targets...and we might even make some new friends along the way.

Not to mention knowing in advance which of Sicily’s cafés offer the best desserts.

The fight for One America

by Karita Hummer

(Our guest essayist is from San Jose, CA. Some readers may remember that I worked with Karita in Iowa in the run up to the Presidential caucuses. Karita is a terrific peson, and I agree with her sentiments entirely. The photo (l to r): Karita, Carolina Girl and Marla at a New Years Day John Edwards event in Ft. Dodge, IA. Karita publishes the blog, Passionate Progressive Patriot. A link is listed under the blogs of interest section in the left hand margin. - Don)

The John Edwards campaign was one of the most hopeful and exciting campaigns that I have ever worked on.


Everyday, for a full year +, I was full of hope for a better future under him as president: for economic justice here and around the world; peace, diplomacy, strength and compassion for foreign policy; reversal of global warming; smart trade; strengthening of unions; universal health care; respect for our Constitution; rural recovery; and the purging of excess corporate influence, through their lobbyists, over government processes and policy.

This was in my heart through every icy snow pile-up I mounted in Iowa, in that glorious week of hope and anticipation, before the Iowa Caucus on January 3rd.

Because I believed so strongly that John Edwards had diagnosed our problems correctly and had come up with the right remedies, it was a heartbreak when John Edwards suspended his race on January 30th. But even then I heard his words and was not without hope that John Edwards' mission and vision would still be espoused by him and Elizabeth and all of us, too. I knew we would find a way to carry on the movement for such real hope for America.

Today (Feb. 25), when John Edwards and Elizabeth joined forces with MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union, VoteVets.org, and the Center for American Progress to announce a Multi-Million Dollar campaign, called for now, Iraq Campaign 2008, to tie the Trillion Dollar Cost of the War to the economic recession in the country, I was overjoyed to see John and Elizabeth both swinging in to action again.


Likewise, I believe most of the Edwards' supporters are just such activists, and we, too, will continue to carry the banner for the vision and mission they espoused as well, hopefully in a kind of National One Corps.

In addition to the policy issues so important and motivating to all us, I believe it will be important for us, as supporters, to focus on all the obstacles that prevented the John Edwards mission and vision to be heard sufficiently in the campaign: Corporate media, Campaign finance laws, antiquated election laws and procedures (as in the unstandardized caucuses and primaries), and a rusty Democratic Party that doesn't show sufficient backbone, as Edwards would say.

Suffice it to say, I remain an Edwards Democrat and hope to find a way to influence the party to move towards the kinds of progressive solutions espoused by John Edwards. In the short run, Edwards Democrats should lobby super-delegates, support candidates who support Edwards' plan to rebuild America or such ideas as his, and promote John Edwards' agenda as far and wide as we can.

In the long-run, we need to work for media reform (plus build alternative media), election reform, campaign finance reform and Democratic Party reform. Let's join John and Elizabeth and begin today, because "tomorrow begins today".

Karita Hummer
Edwards Democrat

An Edwards Democrat is a Democrat with Backbone.



About Me: Karita Hummer
This blog is dedicated to the memory of my immigrant father from Sicily and Mother, who taught me politics at an early age: my father, ever the Patriot and my Mother, ever the compassionate inspiration. Therefore, I've been active in politics all my life.
View my complete profile

Clinton proposes child poverty plan

by Don Wheeler

Actually, despite the AP title, she opposes it.

In a policy proposal John Edwards supporters will find familiar, Hillary Clinton rolled out an agressive program to give young US citizens greater purchase on their futures. Unlike the Edwards Plan, this is a stand alone program, but certainly offers some promise.

HANGING ROCK, Ohio (AP) -- Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a
plan to improve childhood nutrition and set a goal to reduce by half the 12
million youngsters living in poverty over the next dozen years.

The package of proposals includes a ''comprehensive''
early education initiative that starts with nurse's visits for pregnant women,
lets children begin the Head Start program earlier and calls for universal
pre-kindergarten programs.

The New York senator also says she would deal with
childhood hunger by putting in place a food safety net, and give children
''greater access to healthy, fresh food.''

She spelled out her proposals in a speech Thursday at
the child care development center on Ohio University's southern campus, and
toured a Head Start program serving economically challenged southern Ohio. It
was part of her effort to focus the Democratic campaign on bedrock economic
issues.

''You should have a president again who actually gets
up thinking about you every day,'' Clinton told about 200 people at the event.
''I have spent a lifetime working to help children, which is my first passion.
If our children get off to a good start so much of the other stuff is taken care
of.''




Gee...A President who actually woke up thinking. That would be nice. Here's the story.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The next stop on our Kindergarten odyssey

by Don Wheeler

When Paddy started looking into our daughter, Sarah’s, options, she contacted Kennedy Academy to arrange a tour of the facility. The response from the administrator was that they didn’t permit that sort of thing there. We were told we could attend an upcoming open house - if we liked.

Well, we didn’t much like, but that’s what we did. I wrote about that experience previously.

Our neighborhood school is Hay Primary Center and that was to be our next stop. Paddy’s call there had a completely different result. The principal (who has miscellaneous other duties) had to check his schedule, but then called back and set up a meeting for 12:30 earlier this week.

As it turns out, Hay is one of the best performing of the neighborhood school system. Though its test scores are not as high as Kennedy’s they are at or above state average and well above the district averages. And it’s important to remember, Hay does not self select for “students ready to learn”.

Hay has also achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (as determined by the No Child Left Behind act) each year. Ninety-four percent of their teachers are deemed “highly qualified” and most of the faculty has long tenure in this particular school. Interestingly, Kennedy’s figure is eighty-four percent.

When we arrived for our meeting, I felt a big difference in the atmosphere of the building itself. The entrance opened into a generous lobby, almost every running foot of the facility was covered with students’ artwork. Though a modest structure, the cinder block walls were painted with warm and bold colors. The place felt comfortable and welcoming.

Because Kennedy wouldn’t allow visitation while in session, some comparisons between the two schools become difficult. The students we saw at Hay seemed relaxed, attentive and pretty happy, for the most part. This impressed me quite a bit because the learning atmosphere interests me at least as much as the specific programs available.

After a short wait, the Principal, Craig Haenes, welcomed us into his modest office which was adjacent to the Teachers’ Lounge. Unlike the Kennedy principal, he was a very warm and more relaxed person. He was genuinely pleased to talk to us and very proud of the work and record of his school. There was a lot he wanted to tell us.

He told us their superior English test scores were likely due to a reading program (Wilson LiPS) he had successfully lobbied for that only his school (in the SBCSC) was using (up until this year). He told us that Hay had accepted a number of students from Wilson Primary due to that school’s AYP challenges. He boasted of the active PTO at Hay, went into great detail about the many programs and answered all of our questions. Then we went on a lengthy tour.

It was pretty impressive the way they had made do. The school has been through changes over the years and in the latest incarnation the number of grade levels in the building is fewer than in the past. So when a computer lab was deemed necessary a no longer needed shower room off the gym was converted to that use. It’s an odd sight – children leaning into old Macs in a room that is completely lined with ceramic tile.

He let us poke our heads into several working classrooms, introduced us to passing faculty…

In all, he spent over an hour and a half with us in an attempt to close us on his enterprise. As you can tell, he did a heck of a job on me.

I suspect the Academy model is highly beneficial for many students. If your life lacks adequate discipline or structure, then I have no doubt of the benefit of those characteristics in one’s schooling. Unfortunately, the children who probably need those elements the most are unlikely to be “ready to learn”.

Underlying those things appears to be a serious drive to success and I’m not sure these qualities are what our five year old really needs at this point in her life.

I wish I knew more children who attend Kennedy. The only two I know are fairly nervous people.

There is a certain mythic ism among people we know, about the program. Originally, I bought in completely to the idea of -- if you have the choice – this is where you want your kid to go. But now I’m leaning the other way.

Of course, maybe we’ll be turned down by Kennedy.

And to be honest, it’s a nice problem to have to pick between these programs.

The Other America - Skid Row Pt. 3

Drugs

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Persuading Mayor Luecke and the South Bend Common Council to Support Hydroelectric Power on the St Joe River

by Kathleen Petitjean

To:
Mayor Steve Luecke and
Members of the South Bend Common Council


Across America, mayors are committing to address the threat of global climate change by signing on to the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities agreement. Moving forward with innovative energy solutions that curb global warming and save taxpayer dollars, these local governments are moving America towards becoming a network of healthier, sustainable and livable communities. South Bend can emulate Austin’s "green" government buildings, Charlotte’s hybrid vehicle fleets and Seattle’s homes powered with renewable energy and be part of this network of sustainability.


As Mayor Luecke considers taking up the Cool Cites challenge to reduce South Bend’s carbon footprint I urge you to reconsider installation of the 1.5 megawatt hydroelectric power generator on the East Race of the St Joe River. Originally proposed in the 1980's, South Bend secured the permit for this project, which it still possesses and commissioned Lawson-Fisher Associates to design it. The project was killed when I&M proposed to purchase the power from the generator at a rate the city apparently considered to be too low.


Fortunately, South Bend is not obligated to sell the hydroelectric generator’s power to I&M. Rather, the city could configure the project to direct the electricity to the municipal water works and the water treatment plant, the two biggest users of electricity in South Bend.


In addition to reducing South Bend’s reliance on electricity wrought by burning carbon-, methane-, mercury and sulfur-spewing coal, Lawson-Fisher’s design for the hydroelectric generator included plans for a wheelchair accessible below-water level viewing chamber. Windows on the walls of the chamber allow visitors to watch the river turn the generator’s turbines on one side and fish migrating upriver on the other. Modeled after one of the biggest tourist attractions in Seattle, an educational, enlightening and entertaining feature such as this has the potential to bring many hundreds of visitors to South Bend year-round.


I have contacted the office of Congressman Joe Donnelly regarding hydroelectric power in South Bend and possible federal funding sources for a project such as this. His response, which I have attached, is encouraging with respect to his commitment to working with South Bend in making this a reality.


I hope this is a project you are willing to put your energies behind in guiding South Bend towards a healthy, livable, sustainable community.


I look forward to hearing from you and offer any assistance I can give in gaining public support for this project.

CAFO "Good Character" Ammendment Passes

(Passing this along from Rae Schnapp, Wabash Riverkeeper with the Hoosier Environmental Council. "CAFO" refers to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. CAFOs are a significant risk to both human health and the environment and they are collectively driving out the "family farm." Not to mention the ethical questions involved in factory farming in terms of the treatment of livestock. - KJH)

In a close vote (45 to 47 along party lines), the CAFO amendment described below passed. Now SB 200 carries the Good Character provision, so please urge your Representative to support this common-sense bill.


(and below, from an earlier release):

Representative Ryan Dvorak of St. Joseph County is expected to offer an amendment to SB200 on second reading in the Indiana House of Representatives TODAY.
In a nutshell, this amendment seeks to ensure that CAFO applicants provide:

1) disclosure of any previous violations and
2) a financial assurance package.


To find your Representative's email address, go to http://www.in.gov/legislative/legislators/listing.html

If you don't know who your Representative is, go to http://www.in.gov/apps/sos/legislator/search/

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

2008 St. Joseph County Council/Commissioner races

by Karl Hardy

Nancy Sulok, writing in the South Bend Tribune, suggested that most county-wide primary races will be unopposed.

A significant exception will be in the 2nd District County Commissioner where incumbent Steve Ross will face a challenge from Dave Thomas. Sharon Carr-Eaton has also filed to compete in the 2nd District County Commissioner primary but has apparently withdrawn and thrown her support behind Thomas.

It appears as though many local Democrats - possibly including those within the Democrat establishment - are unhappy with Ross' performance and are willing to support a primary challenge. Obviously more will come to light on this subject in the coming weeks and months.

Of course, it remains to be seen if any third party (Libertarian, Green, etc.) or independent candidates crop up.

In this past fall's 2007 municipal elections there were no independents, a single Libertarian, and 4 Greens (including your's truly) across all of St. Joseph County.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Michiana Social Forum: Follow up meeting to move forward

by Karl Hardy

On Saturday Feb 23 more than 40 people attended a follow-up meeting to the Michiana Call to Action week (this past January 19-26).

The meeting began with a recap of work that break-out groups did on January 26th at the "Michiana and the World Social Forums" event held at the downtown South Bend public library. That afternoon meeting attendees broke into small groups to tackle questions of

  • "What Unites Us?"
  • "What Divides Us?"
  • "Where Do We Go From Here?"

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick put together a brief presentation that included the
responses the small groups came up with to help provide background for this weekend's follow up meeting.

Based on the responses to "What Unites/Divides Us? and "Where Do We Go From Here?" an informal organizing group identified 3 general areas to discuss.

  1. Building Bridges/Engaging With All Parts of Our Community
  2. Creating "Open Spaces" and "Open Space" Resources
  3. Standing in Solidarity

Elonda Wilder-Hamilton spoke to the group about her thoughts on the challenges for people to relate to one another as part of going beyond our own comfort zones.

Waldo Mikels-Carrasco talked about how we can work to develop a "social forum process" and bring the idea of "public and open spaces" out of libraries and classrooms and out into the community.

Tom Brown gave a presentation about the possibilities of creating a local/regional media hub that could serve as an electronic commons or "open space" for public dialogue and sharing information.

Joe Carbone described Jobs with Justice's model of Standing in Solidarity, specifically the idea that each of us should commit to actively supporting one another including showing up at each other's events and actions.

Sofia Javed presented the idea of a Human Rights City campaign including a brief history and outline of how a South Bend Human Rights City campaign might take shape.

Jessica Mikels-Carrasco concluded the meeting's formal presentations with an update on the various sustainability initiatives that are underway around Michiana.


In between each speaker there was time for some discussion and, from my point of view, there was a lot of energy towards supporting upcoming actions to take place in the Michiana area. We had hoped to save enough time at the end of the meeting to do break-out groups around various topics but, for better or worse, we ran too long.

Many of the day's attendees were able to stick around after the end of the official meeting time and network informally. Plans for a future meeting will be forthcoming as another organizing group forms.

For more information and/or to get involved with the Michiana Social Forum project, please visit michianasocialforum.org.

Or email michianaforum (at) sbcglobal (dot) net

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Other America - Skid Row Pt. 2

The Children

The Good Magazine series continues.

Here's your "clean" coal, Mr. Obama



CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA–When you flick on the lights this evening, think
of Kayford Mountain. Or what was Kayford Mountain, but now is a sprawling,
muddy, trembling construction site 100 metres below Larry Gibson's
home.

Three years ago, Gibson hunted wild boar here, picked gooseberries and
peaches, and sat under the shade of white oaks and hickories so thick he
couldn't see the sky.

"Now, you can see the sky below your feet," Gibson says.

The boars have long scurried away. The trees have been reduced to a heap of
pulp. The gooseberries have been bulldozed, replaced by rows of explosives. Just
past the "Do Not Enter" sign, the mountain has been brought to its knees – cut
down like a giant tree.


So begins an article by Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star.




See, even if "liquid coal" made sense -- it still has to come from somewhere. Coal is "cheap" when it's mined this way. But how cheap is it , really?

Is anyone running against Mitch Daniels?

by Don Wheeler

No, really!

Soon after John Edwards ended his campaign, I was contacted by a Jill Long-Thompson staffer -- feeling me out about where I was leaning. Most of the Edwards Indiana folks seem to be in Jim Schellinger's camp (as it turns out). Anyway, it seemed to be a good time for me to get an idea about two Democrats purported to be running for Governor. The best place to start, I thought , would be their campaign websites. I have followed up every few days for about four weeks now. I was not impressed originally, and in one case little has changed. In the other, nothing has. See for yourself.

Jim Schellinger's site is rather nice looking, offers fairly banal videos ("Jim Schellinger is a good guy, with great ideas..", etc.) , but there isn't any button or tab called issues or positions that a potential voter could click on to get some idea of what he wants to do. To the site's credit, there are two new press releases since my first visit.

As for Jill Long-Thompson's site , it doesn't look as though anyone's been there since December. To her credit, she does have an issue button. Her issue is education, although more is promised for the future.

As far as events for voters to interact with these candidates -- Jim's screen is blank; Jill's last date is mid December.

Gee whiz, folks.

We are just over two months away from the primary. Would either of you like our votes? Would either of you care to give us reason to give them?

Or do you think Mitch is really our man?

Killing of 15 year old boy labeled a hate crime


Lawrence King, who had recently publicly announced he was gay, was gunned down by a schoolmate on February 12, 2008. The assassin was a 14 year old boy -- and this crime has stunned the people of Oxnard, CA.


Follow the link for the complete story.


Donnelly responds on Hydro Power in South Bend

by Kathleen Petitjean

this is a cross post from http://ifweonlyconnect.wordpress.com

This is Encouraging

I recently called Joe Donnelly's South Bend office to ask whether there was federal funding available for a hydro electric plant on the East Race as was once envisioned in the 1980's. Today I received his response; the entire text of his letter follows:

"Dear Kathleen,

Thank you for taking the time to contact my office about the recently-passed energy bill and to inquire about federal funding for a hydroelectric power plant in South Bend.

I share your interest in clean, renewable energy sources, and I believe that creative and clean energy generation projects are vital not only for the protection of our environment but also for ensuring the sustainable future of our communities.

As you know, last December the president signed The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008 (PL 110-140). This important, bi-partisan legislation was an important first step in our efforts to put America on the path to energy independence, respond to global warming, and grow our economy.

A key element of the legislation was a section dedicated to the promotion of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies. This particular section authorized funding to be used to research and develop technologies to produce electric power from waves, tides, and free flowing water--including rivers and man-made channels like South Bend's East Race.

The bill also authorized an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program to assist local governments in reducing fossil fuel emissions and total energy use and improving energy efficiency in an environmentally sustainable manner. Although the grant program has not yet been funded (my emphasis), it would appear that the concept of completing a hydroelectric power plant on South Bend's East Race would meet the basic qualifications outlined in the legislation.

In addition to this new grant program established in The Energy Independence and Security Act, there are a number of other federal, state and private grants available to assist communities in the development of clean, renewable energy sources. My office stands ready to work with the City of South Bend and other communities to find the available resources needed to make these projects possible. To learn more about alternative energy grant opportunities, please contact my Grants Director, Beth Barrett, in my South Bend office.

Thank you again for your interest in hydroelectric power, and your commitment to making South Bend a healthy and sustainable community. Creative ideas and emerging technologies hold tremendous potential for the City of South Bend, and I look forward to working in partnership with you and others to turn these ideas into action.

Sincerely,

Joe Donnelly

Member of Congress"



What I intend to do:

1) send Mr. Donnelly a follow-up letter to:

(a) thank him for his response

(b) urge him to support funding of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program

(c) urge him to support the hydroelectric power plant and viewing chamber design created by Lawson-Fisher Associates for its potential to draw visitors to South Bend

(d) suggest that in homage to this area's previous inhabitants, the Potawatomi, who traveled on and were sustained by the river that runs through us, request that the viewing chamber be named The Sagwa-Se-Pe Viewing Chamber after the Potawatomi's name for the river

2) call Beth Barrett, at Mr. Donnelly's South Bend office (574) 288-2780 to learn more about energy grant opportunities

3) bring the information in this letter to the attention of progressive groups and individuals in this area and ask them to also contact Mr. Donnelly's office and ask for Beth Barrett regarding hydroelectric power on the East Race

What you can do:

1) call Joe Donnelly's office (574) 288-2780 and urge him to follow-through with his support for hydroelectric power in South Bend and to support funding for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program

2) call Joe Donnelly's office (574) 288-2780 and find out for yourself what information Beth Barrett, Grants Director has on grants for this project

3) call Mayor Steve Luecke and your representative on the South Bend Common Council and urge them to begin working towards installation of hydroelectric

Friday, February 22, 2008

Donnelly Watch: FISA Act and the 2nd Congressional District candidates

(Passing this along from the Donnelly Watch blog. "Puckett" refers to Luke Puckett, Rep. Joe Donnelly's most likely Republican opponent in the general election. It is worth noting that today is the deadline for candidates to file for the primary election. At present time, Donnelly is running unopposed in the Democrat primary. Of course, it remains to be seen whether a third party or independent insurgent candidacy could emerge... - KJH)

::::::

According to HoosierAccess, Puckett issued the following statement on the recent debate over the extension of the FISA law:

“Without the act in place, vital programs would be plunged into uncertainty and delay, and capabilities would continue to decline. Under the Protect America Act, we obtained valuable insight and understanding, leading to the disruption of planned terrorist attacks. Expiration would lead to the loss of important tools our workforce relies on to discover the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.”

The conservative HoosierAccess blogger, Brian Sikma, had this analysis:

“Puckett’s opponent, Joe Donnelly (D), played an interesting role in last week’s events. On Wednesday morning Donnelly bucked party leadership and joined the Republicans on a roll call vote on the subject. In the afternoon, however, Donnelly changed his position and joined his party leadership in the afternoon vote on the bill.

Either Joe Donnelly doesn’t know what his position is or he’s just not interested in protecting the American people and providing our national intelligence agencies with the legal tools that they need.

This fall the choice for voters across America will be clear: The Republican candidates have pledged to do whatever it takes to win the defining conflict of our era, the Democratic candidates have continually failed to decisively act on key proposals that have real consequences for our security.”

[bold text by Donnelly Watch]

We can agree on our frustration over Donnelly’s (and, more generally, the Democrat-controlled Congress) lack of principled stands while disagreeing strongly with Sikma’s assertion that civil liberties ought be sacrificed at the alter of fear.

Donnelly’s apparent inability (as evidenced above with his FISA votes) to take a clear stand is, perhaps what is most frustrating. It’s discouraging to see that Donnelly and many of his fellow Democrats do not realize how weak and “indecisive” they seem because of their (in)action since the 2006 election.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Other America - Skid Row

Thanks to the TPM cafe for introducing us to this introduction of what looks to be an important work.

In one of the richest cities of the richest country in the history of the world, look how people live.

"So, how was Sunday School, Dear?", or, "What’s for lunch?"

by Don Wheeler

As mentioned previously, I lead a class for fourth, fifth and six graders at the First Unitarian Church in South Bend. Last session was on the subject of alternate school lunches – a program introduced to us by our own friendly fake consultant. My original idea was to have the students divide into teams and debate the practice in the usual pro/con way.

It didn’t work – at least not in the way I’d envisioned it.

One difficulty with this class is that I never know who will attend. It is common to have a face I’ve never seen before in a given session, even though we’re more than halfway through the program year. Adding to that, I typically alternate sessions with another teacher.

The children are all quite smart, but their temperaments and ability to focus vary wildly.

Armed with this information I’m sure you can appreciate that each class is a step into the unknown. It is rare for us to have anything like a “breakout session” for an entire class, but we have had many moments here and there that are pretty cool.

Back to lunch. In my class of five (this time, classes have varied from 3 - 9), two of the more vocal boys agreed to argue in favor. The lone girl in the class took the other side. The other two boys constituted about half a person (together) in terms of their contributions – though what there were was in opposition.

I had each of them read a paragraph of the section where fake (quoting a California newspaper) described the program in practice. Interestingly, everyone focused and was respectful of each other and the least focused boy turned out to be an excellent reader.

I had wanted the teams to work on group arguments (albeit small), but that wasn’t going to happen. So we altered plans a bit and had a roundtable discussion – that actually went pretty well.

The arguments went pretty much the way you’d expect from adults – including some of dubious value. Supporters touted the practice as an effective approach to collect from recalcitrant parents. Detractors focused on the humiliation factor (I got to define ostracize for them). The moderator (me) tossed in the observation that the people being punished weren’t the ones committing the “crime”. This led us into a discussion about coercion.

The lads arguing in support were mostly playing devil’s advocate – a role they each relish, but it’s interesting to watch them start to buy in to their own arguments a bit. And as far as I’m concerned, they made about as good an argument as can be made for this program. The girl in opposition did equally well – though it must be conceded she had the easier side of it. In sum, it’s pretty clear that people this age can do as well or better than many grown-ups in terms of critical thinking.

Obviously, these are the Kennedy Academy type students. These young people do not attend the Other School System.


***

After this meeting, I had a conversation with someone involved with one of our local charter schools, who said that school's formal policy provided for the alternate meal concept - in this case, the too popular peanut butter sandwich. She said that as far as she knew, it had never been put into practice.

Since this is a public school, it seems reasonable to infer that the alternate meal program is the formal policy of the South Bend Community School Corporation. [sigh...] Another project.

****

Turned out to be a quick project. Here's the South Bend Community School Corporation's policy:


"No Charging" Procedure

We don't allow children to charge meals, extra food, or ala carte items, so prepayment is a great option. For those students who do not have money in their account or do not bring money to pay for that day's meal the following system was put into effect in 1995:

DAY 1 -
Inform student meal account is low or 0 $, note sent home.

DAY 2 -
Peanut Butter & Jelly or Cheese Sandwich MEAL served and note sent home.

DAY 3 -
PB&J or Cheese Sandwich MEAL served, note and phone call to guardian also get assistance from Principal.

DAY 4 -
PB&J or Cheese Sandwich MEAL served

DAY 5 -
No meal served without money.

If you have any questions regarding prepayments or the "no charging" procedure, please contact our office at 283-8094.

******

Now it's your turn, grownups. What do you think of this? Embarassing the kids is merely a transition phase here. If we refuse to feed them, that might even work better!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michigan City law maker stands firm despite great pressure

Lawmakers show support for amendment to ban gay marriage

By Deanna Martin
Associated Press Writer

February 19, 2008 2:17 PM

A majority of lawmakers in the Indiana House have signed a petition showing their support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - despite a decision by House leaders not to give the proposal a hearing this year.

Rep. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said Tuesday that representatives wanted to do something to show voters that they support the amendment. He said some lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have been criticized for not doing enough to push for the proposal.

"We could demonstrate with our signatures our reaffirmation to those in our districts that we do support it," he said.

Democrats hold a 51-49 majority in the House. Most Republicans and seven Democrats signed the petition, which had 55 signatures Tuesday. Buck said more representatives could sign onto the petition later if they chose.

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said the amendment is unnecessary and that lawmakers should focus on property tax relief during this short legislative session.

The proposed amendment has been assigned to the House Rules Committee, where chairman Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, has said he will not give it a hearing. Pelath notes that an Indiana law already bans same-sex marriage, and that a court ruling has upheld that law.

Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, said he will continue to fight for the amendment until the legislative session ends in mid-March, even if that means looking for creative ways to revive the proposal, such as suspending procedural rules.

"Things can be voted on right up to the last minute," Turner said. "I think we need to look at every opportunity."

Both supporters and opponents of the amendment have been pressuring lawmakers about the issue. Supporters say the state needs to amend the constitution to prevent activist judges from overturning state law banning gay marriage. Opponents say the amendment would write discrimination into the state constitution and that it could have unintended consequences.

Amending Indiana's constitution requires a resolution to pass consecutive, separately elected General Assemblies and then be approved in a statewide vote.

The General Assembly passed the proposal in 2005, when Republicans controlled the House, but would have to pass again this year to be on the November ballot in 2008. If the proposal fails this year, the earliest the measure could be on the ballot is 2012.

From the Indiana Democratic Party website:


Hundreds of e-mails. Petitions with thousands of signatures. Phone calls. Letters. Radio ads. Statehouse rallies.

Supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage continue to press the issue, despite a key lawmaker's firm stance that he will not give the proposal a hearing.

Without that hearing this year, the amendment appears dead _ good news for opponents. But they, too, are pouring on the pressure, hoping to offset efforts by supporters.

At the center of the storm of e-mails and petitions stands Rep. Scott Pelath, a Democrat from Michigan City who chairs the House Rules Committee. Pelath hasn't budged from his position, saying the
amendment is unnecessary since Indiana law already bans gay marriage.
"
You only amend the constitution when you absolutely have to," Pelath said. "We already have a law that's been upheld in court, and there's just no reason to do it."

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, agrees. He has said repeatedly that he does not know of any gay marriages in the state and that lawmakers should instead focus on property tax relief this session.

Conservative groups say it is crucial for the amendment to get a hearing this year because if it passes it could be on the November 2008 ballot. If it doesn't, the years-long process of amending the constitution would start over, and the earliest it could pass would be 2012.

The proposal's sponsor, Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, said he's not sure if he'll push the
resolution next year if it fails now.

"Obviously I feel strongly about the issue, but I'd have to give serious consideration whether to bring the issue up again if it has little future in the House of Representatives," he said.

Conservative activist Eric Miller is urging members of his Advance America group to contact their representatives and ask for a vote before the legislative session ends in mid-March.

"A delay by Speaker Bauer this year results in a four-year delay for Hoosier families, and that's not right," Miller said.

The American Family Association of Indiana, meanwhile, delivered a petition with nearly 8,000 signatures urging leaders to give the matter a hearing and vote. The organization's political action committee paid more than $4,000 for radio ads called "Confused Children" running in several
areas represented by members of the House Rules Committee.

"If my dad married a man, who would be my mom?" a child asks in the ad, which urges people
to call their representatives.

"Regardless of what a legislator thinks about the issue, this is about the people's vote," said Micah Clark, the association's director. "I think Representative Pelath needs to step aside."

Both Clark and Miller say their groups will remind voters of lawmakers' stances come election time.
Amendment opponents worry that all the pressure from supporters might eventually get to House leaders.

"We still want to stay vigilant," said Brandon Monson, communications chair with the gay rights
organization Indiana Equality. "We want to make sure we do everything we can."

The group's Web sites allows people to e-mail thanks to Pelath for his "courage and leadership" on the issue. On Monday, more than 200 people gathered for an Indiana Equality rally at the Statehouse.

Susan Hazer, of Indianapolis, said the proposed amendment would write discrimination into the
state constitution.

She noted that there are still weeks left in the legislative session, and wanted to urge lawmakers not to try to revive the proposal.

"You never know what's going to happen," Hazer said. "It's really not totally dead until the legislative session ends."

Several Indiana companies, including Cummins Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co., have also spoken out against the proposal, saying it would send a message to prospective employees that Indiana is not welcoming or inclusive. Pelath also said he has heard from law professors worried about the amendment's wording.

The proposed amendment contains two parts. The first states that marriage in Indiana is the union of one man and one woman. The second includes a phrase that says state law "may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Opponents have argued that the amendment could have unintended consequences on domestic violence laws or domestic partner benefits offered at some companies and universities. But amendment supporters say court rulings in other states have helped clarify those issues.

Pelath said he has received "hundreds and hundreds" of e-mails about the issue, very few from his
district. People may have thought a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was more important a few years ago, before courts upheld Indiana's law, he said, although he realizes the issue will likely come up in elections.

"We chose to do these jobs," Pelath said. "That's part of the business. I've been through this a couple of times and lived to tell about it."


*********************************


We should communicate support to Reps Bauer and especially Pelath for doing the difficult thing.

Bringing people into the economic equation

Community Forum on Economic Development holds public meeting on revitalization plans for La Salle Square

by Karl Hardy

Last night I attended a packed public meeting at the Minority Health Care Coalition office in La Salle Square on South Bend's northwest side. The Community Forum on Economic Development (CFED) brought together a diverse panel including city officials, representatives of neighborhood associations, and faith organizations to discuss plans to direct funds from the Airport TIF towards revitalizing LaSalle Square.

(The Airport TIF refers to the city's ability to ensure that tax revenue received within an area surrounding the South Bend Regional Airport is spent within that same area on infrastructure improvements.

- I'm not an expert, hopefully this is correct ;)

Attendees listened as city officials, including Jeff Vitton of the Division of Community Development, and Common Council members Henry Davis, Jr. (D- 2nd District) and Karen White (D- At-large) outlined plans for a steering committee composed of both civic and business interests that will work to determine the best way to bring retail, medical, and other resources to the area.

The Rev. Hardie Blake, of Project Impact, spoke on the importance of valuing human beings in what is too often a purely "market-based" equation. The sentiment was echoed by several audience members during a discussion/Q&A period that followed the panel presentation.

Marty Wolfson, of CFED, also commended the city officials for their actions in ensuring citizen participation in the steering committee that will have "teeth" in actually influencing the outcome of revitalization plans.

Disappointingly, no residents of the nearby Beacon Heights neighborhood attended the public forum, something that Blake referenced in his remarks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Holes in the Wall:

Homeland Security Won't Explain Why the Mexican Border Wall Bypasses the Rich and Connected

By Melissa del Bosque
The Texas Observer

Texas resident Eloisa Tamez wants to know why her land is getting a border wall, while a nearby golf course and resort remain untouched.

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security marches down the Texas border serving condemnation lawsuits to frightened landowners, Brownsville resident Eloisa Tamez, 72, has one simple question. She would like to know why her land is being targeted for destruction by a border wall, while a nearby golf course and resort remain untouched.

Tamez, a nursing director at the University of Texas at Brownsville, is one of the last of the Spanish land grant heirs in Cameron County. Her ancestors once owned 12,000 acres. In the 1930s, the federal government took more than half of her inherited land, without paying a cent, to build flood levees.

Now Homeland Security wants to put an 18-foot steel and concrete wall through what remains.

While the border wall will go through her backyard and effectively destroy her home, it will stop at the edge of the River Bend Resort and golf course, a popular Winter Texan retreat two miles down the road. The wall starts up again on the other side of the resort.

"It has a golf course and all of the amenities," Tamez says. "There are no plans to build a wall there. If the wall is so important for security, then why are we skipping parts?"

Along the border, preliminary plans for fencing seem to target landowners of modest means and cities and public institutions such as the University of Texas at Brownsville, which rely on the federal government to pay their bills.

A visit to the River Bend Resort in late January reveals row after row of RVs and trailers with license plates from chilly northern U.S. states and Canadian provinces. At the edge of a lush, green golf course, a Winter Texan from Canada enjoys the mild, South Texas winter and the landscaped ponds, where white egrets pause to contemplate golf carts whizzing past. The woman, who declines to give her name, recounts that illegal immigrants had crossed the golf course once while she was teeing off. They were promptly detained by Border Patrol agents, she says, adding that agents often park their SUVs at the edge of the golf course.

River Bend Resort is owned by John Allburg, who incorporated the business in 1983 as River Bend Resort, Inc. Allburg refused to comment for this article. A scan of the Federal Election Commission and Texas Ethics Commission databases did not find any political contributions linked to Allburg.

Just 69 miles north, Daniel Garza, 76, faces a similar situation with a neighbor who has political connections that reach the White House. In the small town of Granjeno, population 313, Garza points to a field across the street where a segment of the proposed 18-foot high border wall would abruptly end after passing through his brick home and a small, yellow house he gave his son. "All that land over there is owned by the Hunts," he says, waving a hand toward the horizon. "The wall doesn't go there."

In this area everyone knows the Hunts. Dallas billionaire Ray L. Hunt and his relatives are one of the wealthiest oil and gas dynasties in the world. Hunt, a close friend of President George W. Bush, recently donated $35 million to Southern Methodist University to help build Bush's presidential library. In 2001, Bush made him a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, where Hunt received a security clearance and access to classified intelligence.

Over the years, Hunt has transformed his 6,000-acre property, called the Sharyland Plantation, from acres of onions and vegetables into swathes of exclusive, gated communities where houses sell from $650,000 to $1 million and residents enjoy golf courses, elementary schools, and a sports park. The plantation contains an 1,800-acre business park and Sharyland Utilities, run by Hunt's son Hunter, which delivers electricity to plantation residents and Mexican factories.

The development's Web site touts its proximity to the international border and the new Anzalduas International Bridge now under construction, built on land Hunt donated. Hunt has also formed Hunt Mexico with a wealthy Mexican business partner to develop both sides of the border into a lucrative trade corridor the size of Manhattan.

Jeanne Phillips, a spokesperson for Hunt Consolidated Inc., says that since the company is private, it doesn't have to identify the Mexican partner. Phillips says, however, that no one from the company has been directly involved in siting the fence. "We, like other citizens in the Valley, have waited for the federal government to designate the location of the wall," she says.

Garza stands in front of his modest brick home, which he built for his retirement after 50 years as a migrant farmworker. For the past five months, he has stayed awake nights trying to find a way to stop the gears of bureaucracy from grinding over his home.

A February 8 announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the agency would settle for building the fence atop the levee behind Garza's house instead of through it, which has given Garza some hope. Like Tamez, he wonders why his home and small town were targeted by Homeland Security in the first place.

"I don't see why they have to destroy my home, my land, and let the wall end there." He points across the street to Hunt's land. "How will that stop illegal immigration?"

Most border residents couldn't believe the fence would ever be built through their homes and communities. They expected it to run along the banks of the Rio Grande, not north of the flood levees - in some cases like Tamez's, as far as a mile north of the river. So it came as a shock last summer when residents were approached by uniformed Border Patrol agents. They asked people to sign waivers allowing Homeland Security to survey their properties for construction of the wall. When they declined, Homeland Security filed condemnation suits.

In time, local landowners realized that the fence's location had everything to do with politics and private profit, and nothing to do with stopping illegal immigration.

In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, authored by Republican Congressman Peter King from New York. The legislation mandated that 700 miles of double-fencing be built along the southern border from California to Texas. The bill detailed where the fencing, or, as many people along the border call it, "the wall," would be built. After a year of inflamed rhetoric about the plague of illegal immigration and Congress's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the bill passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and a few Democrats. All the Texas border members of the U.S. House of Representatives, except San Antonio Republican Henry Bonilla, voted against it. Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn voted for the bill.

On August 10, 2007, Chertoff announced his agency would scale back the initial 700 miles of fencing to 370 miles, to be built in segments across the southern border. Chertoff cited budget shortages and technological difficulties as justifications for not complying with the bill.

How did his agency decide where to build the segments? Chad Foster, the mayor of Eagle Pass, says he thought it was a simple enough question and that the answer would be based on data and facts. Foster chairs the Texas Border Coalition. TBC, as Foster calls it, is a group of border mayors and business leaders who have repeatedly traveled to Washington for the past 18 months to try to get federal officials to listen to them.

Foster says he has never received any logical answers from Homeland Security as to why certain areas in his city had been targeted for fencing over other areas. "I puzzled a while over why the fence would bypass the industrial park and go through the city park," he says.

Despite terse meetings with Chertoff, Foster and other coalition members say the conversation has been one-sided.

"I think we have a government within a government," Foster says. "[This is] a tremendous bureaucracy - DHS is just a monster."

The Observer called Homeland Security in Washington to find out how it had decided where to build the fence. The voice mail system sputtered through a dizzying array of acronyms: DOJ, USACE, CBP, and USCIS. On the second call a media spokesperson with a weary voice directed queries to Michael Friel, the fence spokesman for Customs and Border Protection. Six calls and two e-mails later, Friel responded with a curt e-mail: "Got your message. Working on answers…" it said. Days passed, and Friel's answers never came.

Since Homeland Security wasn't providing answers, perhaps Congress would. Phone conversations with congressional offices ranged from "but they aren't even building a wall" to "I don't know. That's a good question." At the sixth congressional office contacted, a GOP staffer who asked not to be identified, but who is familiar with the fence, says the fencing locations stemmed from statistics showing high apprehension and narcotic seizure rates. This seems questionable, since maps released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed the wall going through such properties as the University of Texas at Brownsville - hardly a hotbed for drug smugglers and immigrant trafficking.

Questioned more about where the data came from, the staffer said she would enquire further. The next day she called back. "The border fence is being handled by Greg Giddens at the Secure Border Initiative Office within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office," she said.

Giddens is executive director of the SBI, as it is called, which is in charge of SBInet, a consortium of private contractors led by Boeing Co. The group received a multibillion dollar contract in 2006 to secure the northern and southern borders with a network of vehicle barriers, fencing, and surveillance systems. Companies Boeing chose to secure the southern border from terrorists include DRS Technologies Inc., Kollsman Inc., L-3 Communications Inc., Perot Systems Corp., and a unit of Unisys Corp.

A February 2007 audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office cited Homeland Security and the SBInet project for poor fiscal oversight and a lack of demonstrable objectives. The GAO audit team recommended that Homeland Security place a spending limit on the Boeing contract for SBInet since the company had been awarded an "indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for 3 years with three 1-year options."

The agency rejected the auditors' recommendation, saying 6,000 miles of border is limitation enough.

In a February 2007 hearing, Congressman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had more scathing remarks for Giddens and the SBInet project. "As of December, the Department of Homeland Security had hired a staff of 98 to oversee the new SBInet contract. This may seem like progress until you ask who these overseers are. More than half are private contractors. Some of these private contractors even work for companies that are business partners of Boeing, the company they are supposed to be overseeing. And from what we are now learning from the department, this may be just the tip of the iceberg."

Waxman said of SBInet that "virtually every detail is being outsourced from the government to private contractors. The government is relying on private contractors to design the programs, build them, and even conduct oversight over them."

A phone call to Giddens at SBI is referred to Loren Flossman, who's in charge of tactical infrastructure for the office. Flossman says all data regarding the placement of the fence is classified because "you don't want to tell the very people you're trying to keep from coming across the methodology used to deter them."

Flossman also calls the University of Texas at Brownsville campus a problem area for illegal immigration. "I wouldn't assume that these are folks that aren't intelligent enough that if they dress a certain way, they're gonna fit in," he says.

Chief John Cardoza, head of the UT-Brownsville police, says the Border Patrol would have to advise his police force of any immigrant smuggling or narcotic seizures that happen on campus. "If it's happening on my campus, I'm not being told about it," he says. Cardoza says he has never come across illegal immigrants dressed as students.

Flossman goes on to say that Boeing isn't building the fence, but is providing steel for it. Eric Mazzacone, a spokesman for Boeing, refers the Observer to Michael Friel at Customs and Border Protection, and intercedes to get him on the phone. Friel confirms that Boeing has just finished building a 30-mile stretch of fence in Arizona, but insists other questions be submitted in writing.

Boeing, a multibillion dollar aero-defense company, is the second-largest defense contractor in the nation. The company has powerful board members, such as William M. Daley, former U.S. secretary of commerce; retired Gen. James L. Jones, former supreme allied commander in Europe; and Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff. The corporation is also one of the biggest political contributors in Washington, giving more than $9 million to Democratic and Republican members of Congress in the last decade. In 2006, the year the Secure Fence Act was passed, Boeing gave more than $1.4 million to Democrats and Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A majority of this money has gone to legislators such as Congressman Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who championed the Secure Fence Act. In 2006, Hunter received at least $10,000 from Boeing and more than $93,000 from defense companies bidding for the SBInet contract, according to the center. During his failed bid this year for the White House, Hunter made illegal immigration and building a border fence the major themes of his campaign.

In early February 2008, Chertoff asked Congress for $12 billion for border security. He included $775 million for the SBInet program, despite the fact that congressional leaders still can't get straight answers from Homeland Security about the program. As recently as January 31, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members sent a letter to Chertoff asking for "greater clarity on [the Customs and Border Protection office's] operational objectives for SBInet and the projected milestones and anticipated costs for the project." They have yet to receive a response.

Boeing continues to hire companies for the SBInet project. And the congressional districts of backers of the border fence continue to benefit. A recent Long Island Business News article trumpeted the success of Telephonics Corp., a local business, in Congressman King's congressional district that won a $14.5 million bid to provide a mobile surveillance system under SBInet to protect the southern border.

While Garza and Tamez wait for answers, they say they are being asked to sacrifice something that can't be replaced by money. They are giving up their land, their homes, their heritage, and the few remaining acres left to them that they hoped to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

"I am an old man. I have colon cancer, and I am 76 years old," Garza says, resting against a tree in front of his home. "All I do is worry about whether they will take my home. My wife keeps asking me, 'What are we going to do?'"

Besides these personal tragedies, Eagle Pass Mayor Foster says there is another tragedy in store for the American taxpayer. A 2007 congressional report estimates the cost of maintaining and building the fence could be as much as $49 billion over its expected 25-year life span.

"They are just going to push this problem on the next administration, and nobody is going to talk about immigration reform, and that's the illness," Foster says. "The wall is a Band-Aid on the problem. And to blow $49 billion and not walk away with a secure border - that's a travesty."

Progressives must get off the fence on immigration

by Karl Hardy

Yesterday was a big day on the issue of immigration both here in the 2nd Congressional district and across Indiana.

Rep. Joe Donnelly held a news conference to report back on his recent trip to the USA/Mexico border and to tout his support for the SAVE act. See "Donnelly Watch" for discussion of Donnelly's apparent pandering to some ridiculous far-right ideas of deporting immigrants and some disturbing excuses for targeting our community's Hispanic population.

Also, SB 0335 passed out of committee- a bill that the Indianapolis Star yesterday said would be "one of the nation's toughest illegal immigration bills." This bill now will likely go to the House Ways and Means committee.

Progressives need to be active in contacting both Donnelly and our Indiana legislators and letting them know that we oppose the scapegoating of immigrants for political points. With reactionary, and even sometimes overtly racist and xenophobic forces working to blame immigrants as a solution for complex problems, we have a responsibility to stand up for what's right.

Torture or not? You make the call

An incident in Ohio earlier this month is so grotesque that I won't attempt to analyze it. I've tried to piece some things together, but I'm not sure how coherent it will be.

The basic story is this: A woman made a complaint to law enforcement, yet wound up the victim of a horriffic assault at their hands. Let's start out with the Stark County Sheriffs Department statement.



To insure we are performing in the manner directed in those
policies and procedures, the Stark County Sheriff’s Office videotapes incidents
when dealing with difficult or troubled inmates. The video documentation is
preserved for future reference if needed or questions or concerns are raised as
to the procedure followed. The portions of the videos that were released by the
media were segments of the entire tapings provided to the Attorneys representing
Hope Steffy in connection with the pending civil lawsuit.

I have reviewed this incident and feel
comfortable that my deputies performed their rather unpleasant tasks in this
incident in a professional manner that is consistent with the requirements of
the law. However, an outside, objective review of our actions is always welcome
and necessary to maintain the public’s trust in this office. Therefore, Sheriff
Tim Swanson reports that after conferring with Counsel and Stark County
Prosecutor John Ferrero’s Office, an official request has been made of Attorney
General Marc Dann. The letter officially requests that Attorney Marc Dann’s
Office review all circumstances surrounding the arrest and incarceration of Hope
Steffy in October of 2007. The Stark County Sheriff’s Office will cooperate
fully with the Attorney General’s inquiry and review and stands ready to
proceed.





The statement was, in part, a response to a local news story broadcast on channel 3. Those videos follow and they are not easy to watch.











THE STARK COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE HAS NO FURTHER COMMENT ON THIS INCIDENT UNTIL THE REVIEW BY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE IS COMPLETED.
_______________________________________Sheriff Timothy A. Swanson Stark County Sheriff

Monday, February 18, 2008

St Joe County Vote-Count Failures in 2007 Election

by Kathleen Petitjean

In the 2007 local elections, the St Joe Valley Green Party gathered signatures to place one Green Party candidate on the ballot and also ran three write-in candidates: for South Bend Mayor, South Bend Common Council At-Large and Mishawaka Common Council At-Large.

Election Board's "Solution" for Handling Write-in Votes

Green Party members and the write-in candidates attended several St Joe County Election Board meetings prior to the November 2007 elections to press the board on how they intended to handle legally cast write-in votes this time around.

The Election Board reported that "diverters" could be purchased for each ballot scanner, which would divert ballots cast with write-in votes to be counted separately after the polls closed. Citing the cost of the diverters, however, the St Joe County Election Board's "solution" to handling write-in votes in 2007 was to require voters to place ballots with any write-in votes into a separate bin below the scanning device. The local print and television media ran stories on this procedure devised by the Election Board.

Problems Persist

Multiple problems as a result of this "solution" were observed and reported by voters as well as designated Green Party observers in the 2007 election:

1) Violations of privacy

Anyone present at the polls knew when a voter had cast a vote for a write-in candidate because of the separate treatment for ballots with write-in votes. Therefore, these voters' privacy was violated by virtue of where their ballots were required to be placed. This was especially true for voters in Mishawaka, where only one candidate, the Green Party candidate, was a write-in candidate. Anyone voting for this candidate would automatically be revealing their choice for the At-Large seat when they put their ballot into the "special slot for write-in ballots".

2) Human Error Disenfranchises Voters

Furthermore, several instances were documented in which voters were erroneously instructed by poll workers to put their ballots into the scanners, despite the voter's objections to the contrary.

In these cases, the voters had more information regarding the handling of write-in votes than did poll workers. When ballots with write-in votes were fed into the scanner, the machine tallied a "write-in" vote but was unable to read the name the voter had written.

Re-Count Question

Although the scanning machines reported write-in votes had been cast, to determine for whom those votes had been cast would, according to Election Officials, require a recount. Going forward with a count of the write-in votes would have cost the local Green Party several thousand dollars including lawyer and filing fees as well as the cost to open the scanners at each precinct in both South Bend and Mishawaka. This, agreed Green Party members, amounted to a de facto poll tax and thus refused to ask for a recount on principle.

Once again, as in 2006, the St Joe County Election board:

1) disenfranchised voters

2) failed to provide citizens with information on the baseline of support for a third party

3) violated federal statutes in failing to count legally cast votes.

What you can do:

1) write a signed email to votegreenmichiana@gmail.com, which we will print and present at the next St Joe County Election Board meeting on Wednesday, March 12 (this will be their first meeting since the November 2007 elections).

2) attend the next St Joe County Election Board meeting on Wednesday, March 12 at 10:00 a.m. in the County Council Conference Chambers (4th floor, corner office, County City Building; ask security guards for directions, if necessary)

3) call the County Clerk's office at (574) 235-9635

4) send this piece to a friend or post it on your blog to help generate phone calls and emails prior to the Election Board meeting on March 12th

and tell our elected officials, whose duty it is to uphold our Democracy that you

a) want to go on record with your concerns about this issue

b) demand the St Joe County Election Board goes on record to apologize to the voters who were disenfranchised and to the write-in candidates whose votes were disregarded in direct violation of federal election law in 2006 and 2007 and

c) demand the St Joe County Election Board invest in the mechanisms needed to properly count legitimate write-in votes.

On The Cost of War, Or, Do You Know What We Could Have Bought?

by fake consultant

There will be a great debate as November approaches over who is a “fiscal conservative” and who is a “tax and spend liberal”.

It is highly likely someone will throw the words “transcendent challenge” into the conversation, and that got me to thinking…what if there were other “transcendent challenges” besides “islamo-facism-scary-monster-gonna-get-us”?

Then my thoughts went further (always a dangerous step), and I found myself asking: if we hadn’t of spent that $2.4 trillion on one transcendent challenge, what else could we have done with the money?

Some of today’s answers are serious, some are maddening, some are silly…and all of it is our tax dollars in action. (Well, to be fair, it’s not all ours. Our kids and grandkids will be chipping in, too.)

Before we start, a warning: don’t believe that $2.4 trillion will be the end of it.

Remember, we still need to replace or “trade up” virtually all our now worn out military rolling stock (maybe $300 billion or so), and there are aircraft to replace as well (adding about $500 billion more to the cost); making my “back of the envelope” guess an additional $800 billion for the two…meaning we’re really looking at some total number in the $3.2 trillion range--even if we came home right this very minute.

So, what else could the money have bought?

Well…who thinks education is important?

For the same $2.4 trillion we’ve spent so far on the war we could have given a $25,000 educational grant to 96 million Americans.

Who among us has entered the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes?

The Prize Patrol would need to hire some help, but you could afford it—because even if you gave 2 million people $1 million each, you’d still have $400 billion left over for payroll.

Ever been to Vegas?

You could not lose this much money if you tried. I figured it out—if you lost $10 million every day for the rest of your life…well, to lose this much you’re going to have to figure out how to live 657 years. Of course, with $2.4 trillion, you might.

Speaking of which…they tell me if you buy in bulk you get big discounts. Well, if you decided to buy everyone’s health insurance, you could pay a $500 monthly premium for 300 million Americans for a year—and still have $600 billion in your pants pocket to go back to Vegas with. (This, by the way, is about enough to buy the entire place…lock, stock, and “gentleman’s clubs”. And you might as well. After all, you’ll be there 657 years.)

Wanna buy something else in bulk? With that kind of money, you can shop at the “corporate Costco”…so let’s really think “supersize”:

Let’s grab something from the Halliburton aisle…and maybe an Exxon/Mobil, too…and a GM, and why not a Starbucks while we’re at it? Toss in a Nike, and how about we grab Costco, too.

The total market capitalization of all of them put together?

Not even $500 billion.

Fort Knox? You could buy 18 of them, based on the current estimate of US gold holdings at the site and a $900 per ounce price of gold.

Or you could buy 4.8 trillion Jack-in-the-Box tacos. (By the way, if you ate two of those daily it would take about half the estimated history of the universe to finish them all-more than 6.5 billion years.)

That $350 iPod? You could give one to just about every human on the planet…and some download cards to go with them. Think of it as hooking up 6 billion of your closest friends. You, for all intents and purposes, would be Santa for a year.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that 100,000 Americans will be sleeping in their cars tonight. You could buy those 100,000 people 365 Cadillac Escalades (at $50,000 each…again, bulk discount), so they could sleep in a different one every night--and it would still leave you with more than $500 billion to play with.

You could take everyone in the US to the Old Country Buffet—a thousand times.

Spring training is starting. You’ll want good seats…why not buy 30 teams a $500 million Arizona or Florida training facility? And why not do it again every year for 160 years? After all, you can afford it.

Why not go really nuts?
Take the team out for a movie after practice.

For $2.4 trillion, you could have bought 9 movie tickets, 9 large tubs of movie popcorn and 9 large drinks—and you’d still have had $1.63 in change left over.

I once proposed in these pages that we convert surplus aircraft carriers into “Peace Ships” with hospital and other emergency supplies for use during disasters worldwide. At $3.5 billion each we could buy a fleet of 685.

If you split the $2.4 trillion evenly, you could be as rich as Bill Gates ($50 billion, more or less)—and so could 47 of your friends.

In the wake of Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers is spending about $25 million to build a mile of levee. Instead of flooding Iraq with US troops, we could have bought 96,000 miles of flood control. (If we built just a bit less we could afford the $50 billion it would cost to build each of 250,000 Louisiana residents a $150,000 house…and $50,000 worth of stuff to go in it.)

Who in this group is a golfer? How about $150 green fees, $100 cart rental, $100 for lunch and cocktails…every day for 18 million years. (If you pay the same for your other 3 deadbeat friends you can only go every day for 4.6 million years; but that’s the price of friendship, I suppose.)

Does art grab your fancy? Maybe a nice $150 million Van Gogh to spruce up each of the empty looking walls around the old mansion? You better have 16,000 empty walls…you’ll need ‘em.

Would you like to buy the world a Coke? At $1.00 each, you could—every day for a year, with money left over.

Or instead, shoes?
There’s money in the budget for 24 billion pair at $100 each-that’s roughly 3 pair and a left foot for every person alive today.

So what’s the bigger point here?

It’s simple.

As we mentioned at the top of this story, someone is going to tell us all about what a fiscal conservative he is…at the same time he’s telling us about a “hundred years’ war”.

Well, if you listened to me and spent the money in some of the ways I’ve illustrated here you’d be a damn fool—but you’d have more to show for the $2.4 trillion than what we have today…and we’d probably all feel a lot safer, too.

So when the fiscal conservative is peddling his rhetorical wares, let’s be sure to remind him of this conversation…and let’s watch him squirm.

The Other South Bend - the education component

by Don Wheeler

As mentioned in the Kennedy Academy cattle call post, I started thinking about larger issues involving what happens to children in our education system locally.

It occurs to me that our magnet school strategy, left as it is, could lead to a two tiered public education in South Bend. The fine arts and Montessori programs are just rolling out, so it’s not possible to speculate much about them. But the academy and traditional programs have been in place a while.

If this is a transitional phase leading to a complete reworking of the school system, then it might be just the ticket. But if we focus just on the Kennedy program and the current conditions – there are things to talk about.

The phrase “students ready to learn” echoed in my thoughts and not just because it was used so many times in the presentation. This is the key factor in admissions, and the fact it is stressed emphasizes that many children entering Kindergarten aren’t “ready to learn”.

I can’t claim any in depth analysis I’ve done to prove what I’m about to claim, but I have a pretty clear impression that students who come from stable homes, full of books, where learning is encouraged, valued and recognized seem to do pretty well in our system. My impression is that these higher achievers are identified and funneled into honors programs and some eventually to Advanced Placement (for college credit) programs. That’s pretty much what happened to me in the 1960s and 70s, and it began (to a minor extent) in first grade.

But the Evanston, IL school system had a lot of money, and the students whose learning pace was slower seemed to get the attention they needed and do OK. At least, I think so.

In South Bend it seems clear to me that they do not. Little else would seem to explain our low graduation rates.

So, we have a program for those kids who are good to go. It seems to me we need a comprehensive program aimed at children who aren’t.

I used to be a mentor in the Dream Team For Unity Program , a program I highly recommend. I met weekly with James while he was a fourth and fifth grader. Generally mentors meet with students for lunch, but my schedule didn’t allow for that, so we met after school. There were reasons for James to be in the program, but he was very smart and school came easily to him. I’m guessing he’s doing fine – but I can’t say I know.

At the beginning we met privately, but in the second year we met in his classroom. His teacher ( the same woman both years) held after school sessions with a group of half a dozen students or so who needed extra help. These children were not ready to learn - most wanted to be, but weren’t.

Their neediness was almost suffocating. They didn’t have mentors, and so envied James. When their teacher was free, it was almost like watching a nest full of recent hatchlings beseeching Momma Bird for sustenance. It was heartbreaking.

I am ashamed that I don’t remember this valiant teacher’s name, but I will never forget her expression of fatigue every single week I saw her. She never let it stop her, though. She would be there every time – ready to help.

Some readers may be aware that I supported John Edwards for President. As part of a tapestry of policy proposals to create or restore (depending upon your point of view) a condition of One America he proposed a very aggressive education component.

This proposal had many things to commend it, but if we focus on the early childhood portion, he proposed universal pre-K (as he called it) for four year olds as well as beefing up nutrition, healthcare and childcare programs for younger children. This pre-K would be a natural point to get our children “ready to learn”. Unfortunately, I think we can all agree we won’t be creating such a thing locally out of whole cloth any time soon. And that’s a problem.

Our daughter Sarah has been attending St. Mary’s Early Childhood Development Center for two years now. It is a fantastic program, but far from cheap (I just did our taxes). Not much doubt if she’s ready to learn. So to speculate that she has a leg up on getting into Kennedy really isn’t speculation at all.

When you are told the objectives of Kindergarten at Kennedy, it mostly has to do with reading and spelling and writing and math and operating computers. This is more aggressive than I’d prefer, but it will probably be fine for most of the children admitted. But some will need more of a foundation, and may end up leaving the program. For those kids and the ones not admitted…here’s what I think.

Since there are and will be children who have no educational experience prior to Kindergarten as well as those who have challenges despite some preschool, we should agree that Kindergarten’s focused priority be preparing our children for learning. Anything else should be secondary. What does that mean?

It means rewarding curiosity, making learning fun and fostering early critical thinking skills. It means encouraging creativity, early problem solving, collaboration and compromise. Any human with this skill set will learn faster and face a better outcome in later life than those who lack it. We should not want our children getting past Kindergarten without the confidence this foundation would give.

This may mean that Kindergarten classes need to be smaller – which, of course will make them more expensive. If so, so be it. The ripple effect of prepared students in the later grades will bring down many ancillary expenses. Prevention is always cheaper.

And more young adults will enter careers that are more rewarding and have lives more fulfilling – which is what they’re going to need when they have to deal with all the problems we’re likely to leave them.

That’s how I see it.

Poverty is poison

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

"Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain." That was the opening of an article in Saturday's Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that "many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development." The effect is to impair language development and memory - and hence the ability to escape poverty - for the rest of the child's life. So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America's record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his "War on Poverty" 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children's misery.

Living in or near poverty has always been a form of exile, of being cut off from the larger society. But the distance between the poor and the rest of us is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because most American incomes have risen in real terms while the official poverty line has not. To be poor in America today, even more than in the past, is to be an outcast in your own country. And that, the neuroscientists tell us, is what poisons a child's brain.

America's failure to make progress in reducing poverty, especially among children, should provoke a lot of soul-searching. Unfortunately, what it often seems to provoke instead is great creativity in making excuses.

Some of these excuses take the form of assertions that America's poor really aren't all that poor - a claim that always has me wondering whether those making it watched any TV during Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter have ever looked around them while visiting a major American city.

Mainly, however, excuses for poverty involve the assertion that the United States is a land of opportunity, a place where people can start out poor, work hard and become rich.

But the fact of the matter is that Horatio Alger stories are rare, and stories of people trapped by their parents' poverty are all too common. According to one recent estimate, American children born to parents in the bottom fourth of the income distribution have almost a 50 percent chance of staying there - and almost a two-thirds chance of remaining stuck if they're black.

That's not surprising. Growing up in poverty puts you at a disadvantage at every step.

I'd bracket those new studies on brain development in early childhood with a study from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked a group of students who were in eighth grade in 1988. The study found, roughly speaking, that in modern America parental status trumps ability: students who did very well on a standardized test but came from low-status families were slightly less likely to get through college than students who tested poorly but had well-off parents.

None of this is inevitable.

Poverty rates are much lower in most European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs that help the poor and unlucky.

And governments that set their minds to it can reduce poverty. In Britain, the Labor government that came into office in 1997 made reducing poverty a priority - and despite some setbacks, its program of income subsidies and other aid has achieved a great deal. Child poverty, in particular, has been cut in half by the measure that corresponds most closely to the U.S. definition.

At the moment it's hard to imagine anything comparable happening in this country. To their credit - and to the credit of John Edwards, who goaded them into it - both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are proposing new initiatives against poverty. But their proposals are modest in scope and far from central to their campaigns.

I'm not blaming them for that; if a progressive wins this election, it will be by promising to ease the anxiety of the middle class rather than aiding the poor. And for a variety of reasons, health care, not poverty, should be the first priority of a Democratic administration.

But ultimately, let's hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned - that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

Being the "change" we want to see in the world

By Karl Hardy

Creating our own ideas of citizenship, “doing” politics, and the Michiana Social Forum

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or maybe just decided to go on a “media fast”), chances are you’ve heard about the great desire for “change” among American presidential primary voters. Pollsters and pundits have hyped “change” so much that all of the major party candidates have tried to claim that they, in fact, are the “candidate of change.”

Of course rarely, if ever, does anyone stop to discuss what exactly is meant by “change.” And without any substance behind it, “change,” means little other than something - anything - other than what we experience as the status quo. So, a bunch of wealthy, professional politicians from both major parties can try and convince the American public to vote for them because, obviously, none of them are George W. Bush.

Fair enough. I can agree that not being George W. Bush is a start.

But what concerns me is how small, passive, and insignificant this whole “change” fad makes me and other regular people out to be. The sort of “change” that I want isn’t being talked about by any of the major candidates. - Yes, some have made vague statements about issues I care about. No, I’m not saying that there’s no difference between the major parties either. - But the idea that by simply casting my vote for one politician or another, we will truly bring about the change I believe is so vitally necessary… ? Nope. I don’t buy it. And I think a lot of other people don’t buy it either.

See, I’m convinced that in order for us to tackle the grave ecological problems we face (global warming, species extinction/reduction of biodiversity, shortages of both food and energy, pollution, etc.), we must also address our social problems. I believe the two are inter-related; one alone can’t be fixed – it’s going to take creating a more just, more ecological society if we human are to live sustainably on Earth.

In order to create a more just, more ecological society, we’re going to have to flatten it. By “flatten” I mean we’re going to have to make it more egalitarian and less hierarchical. So long as there’s so much power at the “top” of our society, the ills that plague our society (poverty and, more generally, economic inequality are at the top of the list) will work to keep us from making the truly necessary changes so important to heading off future environmental catastrophes.

Rather than placing my faith in the largely passive act of voting for political candidates who get to run for president, senator, or the US House of Representatives precisely because they are at the “top” of our society, I believe we must take matters into our own hands. If we want a “flatter,” more just, and more ecological society, we’re going to have to build our own organizations, institutions, and resources without looking for help or approval from the elites in our communities or society at large.

But there is a lot of cynicism, frustration, and hopelessness about being an “activist” these days. The powerful forces at work in the world seem so huge, the stakes so high, and, honestly, activists have developed a bad rap over the years.

Some of this is justified, some of it isn’t.

Some activists can be irritatingly, even arrogantly, self-righteousness while others can be so passionately focused on their individual concerns that they seem out of touch or even insensitive to other points of view.

I do, however, think we need to remember that the old “divide and conquer” strategy works very well. By playing people off of one another, those who stand to benefit the most from the status quo keep would-be allies arguing amongst themselves, draining energy away from the important work of bringing about real change.

:::

Over the past few months I’ve been a part of what started as a small group of activists - representing a handful of our community’s civic advocacy organizations - that got together to talk about ways to overcome this “divide and conquer” problem and inspire everyday people to go beyond the hype of “change” surrounding the presidential election cycle. A few of us had heard about and studied something called the World Social Forum and wanted to try to build our own “Social Forum” right here in Michiana.

The World Social Forum is an annual international meeting of people with many different interests, backgrounds, and ideas for change all coming together under the idea that “Another World Is Possible.” Since 2001 the WSF has met in Brazil, Kenya, India, Venezuela, Mali, and Pakistan and inspired many regional and national “social forums” with the first ever US Social Forum taking place last summer in Atlanta. The WSF is unique in that it is an attempt at creating a ­commons – an open, “flat,” free space without any overarching authority – no politicians or bureaucrats posturing in an attempt to win votes - where democratic discussions and decision-making can happen and people can build international relationships.

There are several other important aspects to the WSF:

1) It’s an ongoing, imperfect process – and this is recognized and celebrated. The idea is that by working to keep social forums an open space, over time we’ll learn to correct the mistakes we make along the way.
2) An emphasis on building networks of solidarity between peoples and organizations that may have historically been divided. This includes people working to re-think their ideas to be more sensitive to others’ experiences and interests.


Locally, we decided to call our start-up effort the “Michiana Call to Action” to highlight our shared belief in the importance of everyday people acting for change. We worked to coincide our Call to Action week with the World Social Forum’s Global Call for Action culminating on January 26. During the week leading up to the 26th we had events and actions centering on peace and anti-militarism, labor rights, global warming and the environment. One of the highlights for me personally was watching as representatives of Jobs with Justice and the Sierra Club stood side by side in to proclaim their solidarity in a “Blue-Green” alliance of environmentalists and organized labor, two groups who have long been portrayed as at odds with one another.

But what was perhaps most exciting and hope-inspiring was seeing approximately 75 people turn out on a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon at the downtown South Bend public library for our “Michiana and the World Social Forums” event. After hearing “report backs” from students who had attended the US Social Forum last summer, attendees listened as representatives of local advocacy organizations described their respective groups’ efforts. Each representative also talked about what it meant to be part of a diverse coalition of change agents.

This had the effect of helping each of us in attendance to begin to relate to each other as citizens - citizens of our local Michiana community, citizens of a global human society, and citizens of a worldwide web of ecosystems. Relating to one each other as citizens didn’t mean ignoring our differences – be they based on age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, economic or, educational status. We were also transcending the conventional sense of nation-state citizenship that is too often the result of cynical, politically-charged policies that give and take away rights based arbitrary national borders.

The last part of the day’s program was a break-out session where we split into small groups to try to answer three questions: What unites us? What divides? Where do we go from here?

Skeptics might say that all this amounts to is a lot of talk- but I think this is neglecting the real importance of building trust and constructing a very different way of “doing politics” – instead of choosing from among a group of polished, professional politicians, we were laying the groundwork for future actions and beginning to re-build the institutions of civil society through face-to-face discussion. That, I truly believe, is what real change is all about.

:::

The Michiana Social Forum is calling a follow-up meeting to continue the process and build towards the possibilities of “another Michiana.” Please consider joining us on Sat. Feb 23 at IUSB from 1030am to 1230pm or visit our website at http://www.michianasocialforum.org/ for more information.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

CIA's ambitious spy plan falters

By Greg Miller
The Los Angeles Times

Saturday 16 February 2008

After 9/11, the agency spent millions setting up front companies overseas to snag terrorists. Officials now say the bogus firms were ill-conceived and not close enough to Muslim enclaves.

Washington - The CIA set up a network of front companies in Europe and elsewhere after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a constellation of "black stations" for a new generation of spies, according to current and former agency officials.

But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting up as many as 12 of the companies, the agency shut down all but two after concluding they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned for gathering intelligence on the CIA's principal targets: terrorist groups and unconventional weapons proliferation networks.

The closures were a blow to two of the CIA's most pressing priorities after Sept. 11 - expanding its overseas presence and changing the way it deploys spies.

The companies were the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to increase the number of case officers sent overseas under what is known as "nonofficial cover," meaning they would pose as employees of investment banks, consulting firms or other fictitious enterprises with no apparent ties to the U.S. government.

But the plan became the source of significant dispute within the agency and was plagued with problems, officials said. The bogus companies were located far from Muslim enclaves in Europe and other targets. Their size raised concerns that one mistake would blow the cover of many agents. And because business travelers don't ordinarily come into contact with Al Qaeda or other high-priority adversaries, officials said, the cover didn't work.

Summing up what many considered the fatal flaw of the program, one former high-ranking CIA official said, "They were built on the theory of the 'Field of Dreams': Build them and the targets will come."

Officials said the experience reflected an ongoing struggle at the CIA to adapt to a new environment in espionage. The agency has sought to regroup by designing covers that would provide pretexts for spies to get close to radical Muslim groups, nuclear equipment manufacturers and other high-priority targets.

But current and former officials say progress has been painfully slow, and that the agency's efforts to alter its use of personal and corporate disguises have yet to produce a significant penetration of a terrorist or weapons proliferation network.

"I don't believe the intelligence community has made the fundamental shift in how it operates to adapt to the different targets that are out there," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

The cover arrangements most commonly employed by the CIA "don't get you near radical Islam," Hoekstra said, adding that six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "We don't have nearly the kind of penetrations I would have expected against hard targets."

Trying to Get Close

Whatever their cover, the CIA's spies are unlikely to single-handedly penetrate terrorist or proliferation groups, officials said. Instead, the agency stalks informants around the edges of such quarry - moderate Muslims troubled by the radical message at their mosques; mercenary shipping companies that might accept illicit nuclear components as cargo; chemists whose colleagues have suspicious contacts with extremist groups.

Agency officials declined to respond to questions about the front companies and the decision to close them.

"Cover is designed to protect the officers and operations that protect America," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said. "The CIA does not, for that very compelling reason, publicly discuss cover in detail."

But senior CIA officials have publicly acknowledged that the agency has devoted considerable energy to creating new ways for its case officers - the CIA's term for its overseas spies - to operate under false identities.

"In terms of the collection of intelligence, there has been a great deal of emphasis for us to use nontraditional methods," CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said in November 2006 radio interview shortly after taking the helm at the agency. "For us that means nontraditional platforms - what folks call 'out of embassy' platforms - and we're progressing along those lines."

The vast majority of the CIA's spies traditionally have operated under what is known as official cover, meaning they pose as U.S. diplomats or employees of another government agency.

The approach has advantages, including diplomatic immunity, which means that an operative under official cover might get kicked out of a country if he is caught spying, but won't be imprisoned or executed.

Official cover is also cheaper and easier. Front companies can take a year or more to set up. They require renting office space, having staff to answer phones and paying for cars and other props. They also involve creating fictitious client lists and resumes that can withstand sustained scrutiny.

One of the CIA's commercial cover platforms was exposed in 2003 when undercover officer Valerie Plame was outed in a newspaper column by Robert Novak. Public records quickly led to the unraveling of the company that served as her cover during overseas trips, a fictitious CIA firm called Brewster Jennings & Associates.

Official cover worked well for the duration of the Cold War, when holding a job at a U.S. Embassy enabled American spies to make contact with Soviet officials and other communist targets.

But many intelligence officials are convinced that embassy posts aren't useful against a new breed of adversaries. "Terrorists and weapons proliferators aren't going to be on the diplomatic cocktail circuit," said one government official familiar with the CIA's cover operations.

Under Intense Pressure

After the terrorist strikes, the Bush administration ordered the agency to expand its overseas operation by 50%. The agency came under intense pressure from Congress to alter its approach to designing cover and got a major boost in funding to expand the nonofficial cover program, which is commonly referred to by the acronym NOC, pronounced "knock."

Although the agency has used nonofficial cover throughout its history, the newer front companies were designed to operate on a different scale. Rather than setting up one- or two-person consulting firms, the plan called for the creation of a companies that would employ between six and nine case officers apiece, plus support staff.

The NOC program typically had functioned as an elite entity, made up of a small number of carefully selected case officers, some of whom would spend years in training and a decade or more overseas with only intermittent contact with headquarters. But the new plan called for the front companies to serve as way stations even for relatively inexperienced officers, who would be rotated in and out much the way they would in standard embassy assignments.

"The idea was that these were going to be almost like black stations," said a former CIA official involved in the plan to form the companies. "We were trying to build something that had a life span, that had durability."

In the process, the agency hoped to break a logjam in getting post-Sept. 11 recruits overseas. Thousands of applicants had rushed to join the CIA after the attacks, and many were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. But outside of those war zones, open slots were scarce.

"The embassies were full," said a former CIA official involved in deployment decisions. "We were losing officers by the dozens because we didn't have slots for them overseas."

In separate interviews, two former CIA case officers who joined the agency after the attacks said that 15% to 20% of their classmates had quit within a few years. Among them, they said, was one who had earned his master's in business administration from Harvard University and was fluent in Chinese and another who had left a high-paying job at the investment firm Goldman Sachs.

The front companies were created between 2002 and 2004, officials said, and most were set up to look like consulting firms or other businesses designed to be deliberately bland enough to escape attention.

About half were set up in Europe, officials said - in part to put the agency in better position to track radical Muslim groups there, but also because of the ease of travel and comfortable living conditions. That consideration vexed some CIA veterans.

"How do you let someone have a white-collar lifestyle and be part of the blue-collar terrorist infrastructure?" said one high-ranking official who was critical of the program.

But the plan was to use the companies solely as bases. Case officers were forbidden from conducting operations in the country where their company was located. Instead, they were expected to adopt second and sometimes third aliases before traveling to their targets. The companies, known as platforms, would then remain intact to serve as vessels for the next crop of case officers who would have different targets.

'A Very Bitter Right'

The concept triggered fierce debate within the agency, officials said.

"This was a very bitter fight," said a CIA official who was a proponent of the plan because it insulated the fictitious firms from the actual work of espionage.

"When you link the cover to the operation, the minute the operation starts getting dicey, you run across the screen of the local police, the local [intelligence service] or even the senior people in the mosque," the official said. "I saw this kill these platforms repeatedly. The CIA invests millions of dollars and then something goes wrong and it's gone."

But critics called the arrangement convoluted, and argued that whatever energy the agency was devoting to the creation of covers should be focused on platforms that could get U.S. spies close to their most important targets.

"How does a businessman contact a terrorist?" said a former CIA official involved in the decision to shut the companies down. "If you're out there selling widgets, why are you walking around a mosque in Hamburg?"

Rather than random businesses, these officials said, the agency should be creating student aid organizations that work with Muslim students, or financial firms that associate with Arab investors.

Besides broad concerns about the approach, officials said there were other problems with the companies. Some questioned where they were located. One, for example, was set up in Portugal, even though its principal targets were in North Africa.

The issue became so divisive that the agency's then-director, Porter J. Goss, tapped the official then in charge of the CIA's European division, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, to lead an in-house review of the NOC strategy.

Mowatt-Larssen sided with critics of the approach and began pulling the plug on the companies before he left the agency to take a senior intelligence post at the Department of Energy, officials said. Mowatt-Larssen declined to comment.

The agency is in the midst of rolling out a series of new platforms that are more narrowly targeted, officials said. The External Operations and Cover Division has been placed under Eric Pound, a veteran foreign officer who was CIA station chief in Athens during the 2004 Olympics.

But the agency is still struggling to overcome obstacles, including resistance from many of the agency's station chiefs overseas, most of whom rose through the ranks under traditional cover assignments and regard the NOC program with suspicion and distrust.

In one recent case, officials said, the CIA's station chief in Saudi Arabia vetoed a plan to send a NOC officer who had spent years developing credentials in the nuclear field to an energy conference in Riyadh.

The NOC "had been invited to the conference, had seen a list of invitees and saw a target he had been trying to get to," said a former CIA official familiar with the matter. "The boss said, 'No, that's why we have case officers here.' "

On Harmony And Balance, Or, The Brain Takes A Short Break

by fake consultant

A substantial amount of work has come from this desk recently that has sought to explain complex economics, change the nature of corporations, offer alternatives to a pointless corporate merger, and recognize a pair of youthful Constitutional heroes.

All of that deep thinking has begun to tax the ol’ melon, however; and in an effort to ensure continued mental harmony and balance we take leave of those subjects for today to discuss, instead, an oddly commercial look at love, a linguistically odd take on caffeine and the English language, and a story that oddly manages to link Valentine’s Day, death, and the commercial inevitability of smoked meat.

To quote Frank Zappa: “Get your shoes and socks on people, it’s right around the corner…”

OK, so we have to start with the Wal-Mart story…because it’s just so “Kathy Griffin”.

For reasons that you’ll all just have to accept, on the evening of the 13th of February The Girlfriend and I found ourselves in a Wal-Mart.

For those who don’t go into those places, I will set the picture. The passage from the front door to the sales floor (which I suppose is a sort of vestibule) is always lined with the items that are to be “pushed” the hardest; and as you enter the sales floor area there are “end cap” displays at the end of the aisles that present you with other assorted exciting “must-haves”.

You might have seen or heard stories of the “midnight madness” sales the day after Thanksgiving, and the entrance of the Wal-Mart on this day had much of that atmosphere as the entire vestibule (on both sides), the end caps of the oncoming aisles, several giant red Valentine’s gift display tables, and a variety of other standing displays all groaned with their romantic offerings.

Dozens of shoppers roamed the displays—so many so that it took me a minute to see what I saw…a sight which left me so strongly affected that I actually had to have my irony meter recalibrated after I got home that night.

What did I see?

Imagine we’re standing near the junction of the vestibule and the sales floor. As we look to the left there are tables covered with plants and balloons next to every cash register line.

The signs scream: “$4.99! Low, Low, Prices!” in a smiley face language of blue and yellow that is blinding to hear...Look to the right and we see shelves seven feet high festooned with stuffed animals of every description…and red, red, red, everywhere.

Just a few degrees to the left of that is the first of the end caps, and up that aisle are tons of shoppers…because that’s the chocolate aisle. Next to that is another aisle of Valentine’s silliness…and it’s all so unbelievably red, with pink fur trim and electronic singing and LED lights…

Right in front of us is the maddest part of the whole thing, the three card aisles…Dads telling the kids what cards to get for Mom…Moms and their daughters crowding around…”Oh, that’s soooo cuuuuute” is being chanted over and over like a mantra belonging to a religion of Saccharine Satanists…

And if you look just a bit farther to the left, in the dead center of the main front aisle of the store, surrounded by all the other vital Valentine’s supplies…and immediately next to the jewelry department…you will see what Wal-Mart apparently felt was the most important Valentine’s Day supply of them all:

The “Valentine’s hula hut” display of Bartles and Jaymes and Gallo wines.

You heard correctly, folks…and I’ll say it again, just for emphasis:

From right to left you see red hearts, red hearts, red hearts, red hearts, jewelry, cheap wine…and red hearts.

They had all the good stuff, too: the B&J that comes in that blue box, and the one that has the kind of a berry-colored box--and not just the crappy Gallo, either. They had Gallo magnums. You wanna talk about class, this was it.

Try to imagine if you went to sleep in the normal world, and when you woke up the next day the biggest store in bizarro world had been taken over by “The Jerry Springer Show”…that was exactly the atmosphere; and I swear I was looking around for Todd, in his headset, to lead the audience chants.

By the way, right next to the cards were two DVD displays, including the “Black History Month” video display (yes, Virginia, there is a “Black History Month” video display at Wal-Mart)…which contained two movies I had not previously considered as Valentine’s Day/Black History Month crossover interest films…but then again, I’m probably just not as able to see the big picture as the esteemed corporate marketing executives.

The films?

What’s Love Got To Do With It” and Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?

You come home with films like that, you’re guaranteed a very…interesting…Valentine’s Day, indeed.

With that story out of the way, let’s move on…

Starbuck’s no longer rules “upscale” coffee, what with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Doughnuts having recently entered the business; and the folks at Dunkin’ are today running commercials that are clearly intended to take a shot at the pretentiousness they perceive in the Starbuck’s experience.

The setting is the local coffee shop, where the line of waiting customers are singing in unison about how tough it is to wrap their minds around the strange language they are encountering there…a sort of Frechtalian that features words like Venti, or Doppio, or something of the sort.

The soothing voice of the announcer reassures America that Dunkin’ Doughnuts would never do that to us, delivering a tag line that is destined to become an instant irony classic:

“Delicious lattes from Duncan Doughnuts. You order them in English.”

Rumors are that they plan to branch out into additional new menu items; meaning it will soon be possible to order other great American classics (like arroz con pollo, croissants, and Sauerbraten) in English as well.

Because after all, no real American wants to be forced to order a latte in French.

And finally, a story that, as promised, manages to ironically mix a holiday and smoked meat.

The Valentine’s Day edition of “Oddball” featured the porcine redux of the famous “Heart Puppy”…the cutest little baby piggie you ever saw, with a perfect tiny black heart on the side of his snow-white hide…and just to get it out of the way, let’s all say it together…

…”AAAWWWWwwwwwww…”

Before you spontaneously erupt into treacle, however, you should know there’s a dark future ahead for our little Wilbur.

The farmer who is raising the minute bit of livestock reports that the heart is actually considered to be a genetic indicator…and I swear I am not making this up…of…again, I’m sorry to have to be the messenger here…particularly delicious meat.

That’s right, in the most awful bit of Valentine’s Day irony since the Massacre, our little Heart Piggie faces the prospect of becoming…Heart Bacon.

So there you go, my friends: we have cleared the desk…if not the brain…and we are ready to move ahead with more serious stories; our harmony and balance a bit more restored.

And as for me, I’m in the mood for a bit of a “pick-me-up”.
I think I’m gonna head on over to the Dunkin’ Doughnuts and try that new English language coffee drink we were talking about earlier: the “Freedom Latte”.

With any luck, it’ll be America-licious.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

On Better Ways To Spend Billions, Or, Microsoft Wants Yahoo! Why?

by fake consultant

For the past couple of years Microsoft has pursued Yahoo!; and over the past week the news has been full of discussion regarding Microsoft’s (now rejected) $44 billion takeover offer. Rumors suggest Yahoo! might seek as much as $56 billion.

The company that put Bill Gates on the map reports that the intent of merging the two is to create an online community and search service that could rival Google, and to develop new services that will turn that online community into a new form of online cash register down the road.

As a fake consultant, it’s my real fake job to offer advice on these sorts of deals; and since Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, does not appear to have been well served by his “real” consultants, today’s discussion is, literally, advice from a fake consultant.

To understand the logic of the deal, we need to understand exactly what Yahoo! does for a living—and the most important thing they do is “host” an online community of millions (Yahoo! Groups) in the US. They also own a major e-mail service, the HotJobs website, and are trying to establish an open-source competitor to the Windows Mobile operating system for your phone or Blackberry-like device.

The reason internet communities are important is because they are one of the most effective ways to gather potential online customers in one place…which allows the owner to gather advertisers to the same place. It also becomes possible to establish online “shopping malls” (think of eBay and their Power Sellers); and just as in the terrestrial world, it’s possible to charge “virtual rent” for the online space. (You can also make great money processing the online payments, which is why eBay paid so handsomely for PayPal.)

Another way to gather customers is to provide an ubiquitous search service that everyone wants to use…in other words, Google. If billions of “eyes” are on your site daily doing searches, you really have something to sell to advertisers, and Google is the world leader in that market.

If you’re really smart (and Google is), you keep records of where your visitors go and use that data to develop a process to deliver advertising to visitors that will be tailored to what interests each of those visitors. Then you buy the largest online advertising agency (AdSense). Then you convince the owners of millions upon millions of websites to let you place your advertising on their sites, and you use your process to decide which ads go where.

Yahoo! has a search service, but Google’s is immensely more popular. Microsoft owns the MSN internet service, which also operates a search service and some online community features, but the two combined do not begin to approach the popularity of Google.

Who saw “Roger & Me”?

One of the most memorable characters from the film was Genesee County, Michigan’s Sheriff’s Deputy Fred Ross, who was charged with the task of performing evictions in a county that was losing thousands of GM jobs at a time—over 30,000 lost in the County’s largest city, Flint, by the time of the film’s 1989 release.

He posed a question (and an answer) that is as relevant in this instance as it was in the film. To paraphrase: “What’s the point of a woman marrying someone else who’s already broke? She can be broke by herself—and do it for less money.”

Now we get to the advice part.

If Microsoft doesn’t marry Yahoo!, what are they to do to finally grow the internet business they have never really seemed to be able to get off the ground?

A business that can challenge Google…especially in China.

Here’s a radical thought: instead of spending $56 billion on someone else’s shareholder equity, why not invest a similar amount internally and make MSN into the world’s coolest place to be?

Since China is the market of the future, let’s start our investment program right there.

Why not create a new Chinese television show, not unlike a melding of “The Apprentice” and “American Idol”, offering a big prize…say, $50 million…for the best internet business idea? See if Bill Gates will be a judge alongside a famous Chinese business personality…or the iconic character who awards the cash to the winner.

“China’s Next Mega-Millionaire…sponsored by MSN”.

In parallel with the show you create the MSN community that runs the voting, the contestant video audition upload service (online viewers vote for these, too…keeping eyeballs on the site 24/7), hosts all the chat and gossip and “news” and daily voting results that you can pump out, and sells the merchandise generated…and you get to deliver advertising to billions of eyeballs week after week…on TV, through personal appearance tours, and on the Web.

Of course, the recent announcement that all mobile phone carriers except Nokia now offer Windows Mobile-enabled devices means you can port all this content to even more eyeballs by phone.

All of this could easily be done for under $1 billion…including marketing, and the odds and incidentals that might be needed to get it going. We also assume a few well-placed “licensing fees” will assist the process, and expect the cost on that to be manageable as well.

Naturally, the second part of the prize is MSN operating the business in conjunction with the new “Mega-Millionaire”…and the ongoing relationship with the Chinese public is further reinforced.

And then you do it all over again.
And again. And again.

The payoff from being China’s coolest ongoing “product release” party?
You’re gonna need extra staff to count all the money.

But I’m not done yet.

Want to quickly make MSN “the” world’s coolest site to visit?

Free, legal music downloads.
That’s right…any song you could ever want, from anywhere in the world musicians can be found, free.

Offer each of the major recording library owners some absurd amount of money on an annual basis ($500 million each, guaranteed, upfront, nonexclusive?), in exchange for the distribution rights to the libraries. Offer to distribute new music for new artists, as iTunes does today…and pay those unsigned artists based on how many free downloads MSN customers request. This makes MSNZune the most desirable site from the artists’ and customers’ perspective—and knocks iTunes down to size in a big hurry.

It’s a win for the library owners as well—free and legal makes pirating pointless…and it creates opportunities for distribution of desired media in limited packaging for premium prices.

The total annual cost: this could be done for under $5 billion annually…and it should be possible to recover that cost in the form of advertising revenue as you grow the site. Even if you take 3 years of no revenue at all, the cost is below $15 billion—and you can sell Zune players and tons of artist-related products at the same time.

By the way, if you want to monetize music…has anyone at Microsoft ever considered making an offer for LiveNation? There’s a synergistic brand, not yet fully developed, that could be leveraged off all the other ideas we just discussed. The immaturity of the brand means it could be purchased with far more “bang for the buck” than Yahoo!, with a real growth potential for the future.

What kind of growth potential?
Can you say LiveWorld?

Hey, don’t you sell XBOX?

Think MSNXBOX. In addition to the XBOX Live service, you add “meet the developers” chats and interaction (watch the G4 channel and then either buy them out or do it better)…MSNTESTCORPS for beta testers and others (more viral marketing potential and a “testbed” for new game concept discovery); and the MSNToolshed, for those who want to build out their own versions of the games (an apprenticeship program? an international “unknown talent” hiring hall? an ongoing focus group? all of the above? you bet).

MSNFREEGAMES does just what it sounds like: it provides free (ad supported) games to XBOX, PC, and cell phone users alike…and contests like crazy. $50 million in giveaways annually, distributed worldwide? That’s peanuts compared to $56 billion…and it grows property you already own that’s already demonstrated it can be of interest to the gaming public…and again, you don’t have to enrich someone else’s stockholders to do it.

And of course, MSNZune, the Zune device itself, and the XBOX complex all gain presence at future MSNLiveNation events…and giant MSN “tour tents”, swag giveaways…and “meet the musician”, “meet the game character”, and product release events become more and more melded together from then on.

Even more so with the release of “Rock Band”, which seems to be the vehicle by which all of this might be realized…especially as new bands are added to the game…creating the demand for “add-on” versions that let you be the band you love the best…and naturally you’re willing to pay MSNLiveNation fat money to get tickets to the show when that same band comes to town.

This means MSN suddenly becomes the means by which you can sell Zunes, XBOX, games, and concert tickets…and a place that gathers the participants in all of those communities for a world of hungry advertisers.

Here’s another idea: develop an online music creation service that gives XBOX owners and PC owners (and you too, Apple and Linux!) free tools that allow them to make music and video, along with online musician and fan communities and artist collaboration tools that let artists meet, link up, and build an audience at the site…which means MSNArtistBuilder could quickly become another of the most important gathering places on the ‘Net….with the output of artists who work over the service ported to the MSNZune service, as we described above…not to mention the potential “Rock Band” tie-ins.

How to promote it?

How about the first “Planetary Battle of The Bands”, with videos and voting from the site, by XBOX Live or computer or cell phone, with a $10 million prize for the winners to guarantee some serious worldwide media attention? And then do it again every six months.

Ka-ching!

We still haven’t really discussed what might be done with MSNSearch, but here’s an idea no one else has today: why not spend some R&D money to develop a “media hunter” engine that allows users to hum a tune which the service uses to locate the song? Then expand the idea into a tool for searching video

Universal media search that’s better than anyone else’s: an advantage that should be worth quite a bit, and if it costs $1 billion; or even $5 billion…compared to $56 billion, so what?

Spend the extra money to make this useable in every language you can find...in other words, as far as the competition is concerned, hit ‘em where they ain’t.

Now even if you go nutty with the money, there’s no way all of this could possibly cost over $40 billion (and don’t be afraid, Mr. Ballmer, to send me a lil’ taste of that delicious Redmond Cheddar if all this strikes a responsive chord); and we haven’t even come to the part where Microsoft might be able to truly realize their fondest dream…the part where they stop selling so much software—and start renting more of it.

The copy of Windows that came loaded on your computer was purchased by the machine’s builder…but why should Microsoft only make one sale? Why not “rent” maintenance, upgrade, and new product services by the month? This is already underway, and by moving the process to an MSN branded location we lay the groundwork for the inevitable next step: Office Online becomes MSNOffice and that rental process begins.

A version of Office can be developed that allows finished work to be stored and retrieved by the user from their own machines, and the Office program functions are rented for…say…$9.95 a month, which means there’s a huge potential future revenue stream—and it’s one Microsoft has always wanted to access.

The advertising supported version, available for free, offers even more potential for “eyeball gathering” (along with reducing the OpenOffice and piracy threats), and MSNOfficeFree users’ “sessions” would last much longer than the microseconds most users spend looking at pop-ups as they wait for other sites to load today.

So that’s my advice, Mr. Ballmer: instead of investing $56 billion to marry someone who’s already broke, invest the same money in Microsoft and build something truly revolutionary.

And, finally, consider this: if I’m wrong, I’ll go away, quietly, peacefully…you’ll never hear from me again.

But Steve…if I’m right…you have the chance to enrich millions of registered Microsoft shareholders.

Need I say more?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Our Senators throw us under the bus

I must admit to feeling betrayed. I have not found many Republicans to support in recent years, but have felt that Richard Lugar would always place his contituents' interests as supreme. Similarly, Evan Bayh is too conservative for my taste, but again, I felt he displayed a reliable focus on fundamental issues.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when both of them went on record to insulate the Bush Administration and the Tel-com industry from any responsibility or consequences arising out of what were likely illegal wire-tapping activities. Lawsuits are the only means we'll ever have to find out what was done -- and arguably our only protection against what could be done in the future. They are smart men, so it is inconceivable that they bought the disengenuous, self -contradictory nonsense the White House has been spewing on the matter. It must be that they are that beholden to AT&T and their brethren.

The Senators to our north (in Michigan) did much better. Both voted no.

Poor Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn) had vowed to filibuster this awful bill, but his leader Harry Reid cut his legs out from under him.

Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley discusses the whole sorry mess with Keith Olbermann below.






Oh... and a bit more on the topic.





The Kennedy Academy cattle call

by Don Wheeler

My wife Paddy, I and daughter Sarah recently visited John F. Kennedy Academy on the west side of South Bend recently for Sarah’s admission test. That’s right -- there is a test to determine whether one is worthy to enroll in Kindergarten in that school.

To be fair – some winnowing is needed. This year, for example, 295 students are vying for 115 openings in the program. Still, the idea of my child facing a pivotal moment in her life -- when she’s not yet five – makes me uneasy. More on that later.

For those unfamiliar with the evolving South Bend School Corporation program, a magnet school program has been in place for some time. By next year, the program will have expanded to four target schools. The purpose of this concept, as I understand it, is twofold:

SBSC has struggled to achieve racial balance in the system and (like in most areas) forced bussing has not gone over well. Our neighborhoods probably are segregated more in terms of socioeconomic status than by strict racial lines, but of course there is a racial component to SES. By placing attractive programs in schools which are located in “minority” neighborhoods, a certain amount of voluntary integration is achieved.

The other half of the strategy is to offer programs with specialized emphases at the magnet schools. I won’t attempt to explain the distinctions (I’m not sure I understand them entirely) – rather I’ll use the broad terms employed by the school corporation. An academy program, a traditional program, a fine arts program and a Montessori Method program are available by application to students in the district – all in addition to the standard neighborhood schools.

Back to the stock pens…

Our odyssey to primary education began with an orientation session in early December along with dozens of other families. This consisted of a presentation and a tour, which I found pretty useful. But it, and the subsequent event, began somewhat inauspiciously.

The Kennedy School building was constructed in the 1960s when architects seemed to be fixated on innovation. Necessary components of innovation seemed to require that the buildings be severe and dramatically ugly. Rough, unpigmented concrete was the façade of choice in many of these buildings and Kennedy is no exception.

The main entrance can only be described as weird. One enters through a short, narrow vestibule (which provides an airlock). That empties into a small, round lobby. There are no exterior windows, only glass block. There is one small interior window – reminiscent of a ticket window – on a curved wall which offers the only contact with the front office. Every event seems to begin with us being held in this small pen until those in charge granted us access to a larger area.

On our test date about thirty children were invited. They were split up into six groups of five and led off to their testing out of our view. I found that mildly disconcerting – but that’s on me, not on them. I’m the parent of a young child and I will have to adjust. And I will.

That left the parents and ancillary children in the gymnasium for a presentation given by the school principal. There’s no point in sugar coating this – it was dreadful. The principal is likely a highly capable administrator, but the material was not well organized and redundant in a repetitive way. The delivery was bordering on admonishment.

Here’s what I got out of it. They expect children to come to school. Children can’t learn if they’re not at school. Children need to behave in socially acceptable ways. The Academy program is not targeted at “gifted” students; rather, those ready to learn. (That point was made three or four times). Parents are expected to help teachers, if not in classrooms, then in other ways. Unlike the Traditional Magnet program, we weren’t required to pledge a certain number of hours of service. (Whew – there’s a load off). A certain level of conformity is expected of the children -- including corporation approved attire. You get the idea.

At a certain point, glancing at my bride and noting her expression, I leaned over and whispered something like, “Don’t worry, it won’t really be that bad for her”. She replied with a quick, somewhat weak, grin.

At this point you may wonder why Paddy and I would be so interested in having Sarah go to Kennedy. As Pad and I discussed later, where is the emphasis on the joy of learning, personal growth and creativity so necessary for successful learning?

The answer is that we have a lot of anecdotal information that tells us that children thrive at the Kennedy Academy. We socialize and interact with people who value the concepts of joy, growth and creativity and have heard many accounts from them that their children do very well in the program. In fact, I have not heard an exception to this.

We are relying a bit on that. The information from the school itself is rather off-putting.

This experience did make me think about some larger issues. That will be the theme of a follow-up piece.

FISA et, al - A Special Comment

by Keith Olbermann
Countdown


Richard Lewis on "Countdown"

Richard Lewis and Keith Olbermann review the Bush Presidency. It's well worth a look.

The Edwards primary

by John Nichols
The Nation
Feb. 11, 2008

Barack Obama had planned to veer off the "Potomac Primary" campaign trail after his last rally in Baltimore tonight and fly to Chapel Hill for a private meeting with John Edwards. Scheduling conflicts scrapped that scheme, but count on Obama to make a meeting happen in short order.

Obama wants the former North Carolina senator's endorsement. Badly.

Why? Check this out:

On Super Tuesday, 415,000 Democratic primary and caucus voters chose John Edwards as their candidate for president. It is true that many of those votes came on "early ballots" that were cast before the former senator from North Carolina withdrew from the race. But hundreds of thousands of Democrats and independents who were motivated enough to go and vote on February 5 did so for Edwards, knowing full well that he was out of the running.

In Oklahoma, where Edwards might well have won the primary if he had stayed in the race, the former candidate won more than 10 percent of the vote. In several of the state's larger counties, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president took second place, running ahead of either Obama or Hillary Clinton. In the state's 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, Edwards took 13 percent of the vote, narrowly missing the 15 percent threshold needed to secure delegates.

In California, Edwards won 170,050 votes for 4 percent of the total. And in at least one of the state's congressional districts he fell just short of the 15 percent threshold.

In Arizona, Edwards won 5 percent; in Tennessee, he took 4 percent.

In Louisiana, which voted on Saturday, Edwards continued to win as much as 5 percent of the vote in some congressional districts.

Does this matter? It did in Missouri, which gave Obama an essential win by just 9,997 votes. Edwards took 16,747 votes. Had the Edwards votes broken for Clinton, she might well have won another of the key battleground states on Super Tuesday.

Similarly, had Edwards votes flipped to Obama in a number of congressional districts across the country, the Illinois senator would have won more delegates to this summer's Democratic National Convention. Take the 28th District on New York state, where Clinton beat Obama by 509 votes. That gave her 3 delegates to 2 for Obama. But if the 691 Edwards votes in the district had gone to Obama, he would have had the 3 delegates to Clinton's 2.

Of course, no former candidate's endorsement can swing all of his or her supporters behind another contender.

But both the Clinton and Obama camps have come to recognize that a nod from Edwards could influence a significant number of his former (and in some cases continuing) backers. And the remaining candidates know that in a close race for the nomination -- after his Maine caucuses win on Sunday, Obama leads Clinton by 3 delegates -- an endorsement could be definitional.

This is especially true right now, as next Tuesday's big primary is in Wisconsin, a state where Edwards had the backing of Congressman David Obey, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and many key legislators and local officials.

So Clinton and Obama are making their moves.

Clinton rearranged her schedule to meet last week with Edwards in Chapel Hill. She then said while campaigning in Maine that, "There is a lot that John and I have in common... And I intend to ask John Edwards to be part of anything I do.. when I'm in the White House."

Clinton does not necessarily expect an Edwards endorsement. She wants him to stay out.

Obama wants him in.

So watch for veiled references from Obama -- think "Attorney General Edwards" -- about how much he wants to work with the former senator.

And when should we expect an endorsement -- or a formal decision to stay on the sidelines?

No doubt, there will have to be an Edwards-Obama meeting. But once that happens, expect a decision in short order. Edwards is not meeting with the candidates for fun. He knows that this is the moment when he matters most. He will move sooner rather than later.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On A Way Forward, Or, Practical “Subprime Crisis” Solutions

We had a lively discussion last week regarding the causes and possible future of the “subprime crisis” that is on everyone’s lips these days.

Having examined the sources of the problem, and noting the lack of holistic thinking about how things might be resolved, I’ve taken it upon myself to come forward with an idea that can actually get at the root causes of today’s difficulties…and do it in a way that offers a potential “win-win-win” outcome for homeowners, investors—and the taxpayer.

Paying attention, Presidential candidates?

Good—because time is short, and we need to get to work.

For today’s solution to make sense, we, like Sherman and Peabody, need to make use of the “WABAC Machine”. We’ll set the time dial to the late 1980s, and we’ll set the location as the headquarters of the Resolution Trust Corporation.

What we’d find is a governmental organization established at the height of the “savings and loan crisis” of the 1980s. The savings and loan companies had made a series of bad real estate investments (much like today), and many had already entered or were in danger of bankruptcy.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the same names we recognize today from the world of politics were also to be found “doing bidness” at the time of the birth of the RTC…and if you look it up, you’ll find such luminaries as John McCain, Barney Frank, and even Neil Bush doing things that they today wish we would forget.

In fact, there were so many people doing things they wish we would forget that the RTC was needed to find buyers for all the bankrupt savings and loans that had piled up across the nation. The way this was accomplished was to use regulatory pressure to politely force the bankrupt to accept offers from the more solvent.

As a result, the Silverados of the world vanished, and Keating Five became part of the lexicon.

And with the history lesson complete, let’s scoot on back to the “WABAC” machine and return to the present day, shall we?

Those who participated in our bond insurance discussion (and many who didn’t) may recognize that the biggest problem currently affecting the American financial sector (and beyond) is an inability to accurately determine the exact value of various financial assets.

As you may recall, we noted that one form of these assets are “collateralized debt obligations” (CDOs), which are fundamentally income streams from loans backed by real estate collateral. The original debt was incurred in the form of mortgages or equity loans. The current owners of these assets are not the originating lenders; but instead investors scattered across the planet which have purchased bundles of these loans, a process known as “securitization”.

Because there is a disconnect between an investor in Singapore who purchased a CDO and the borrowers back in the USA who are supposed to be making the payments; it is at the moment impossible to determine with any accuracy the actual value of any particular CDO. In other words, if you invested in loans and you don’t know who might fail to pay, how can you know what your investment is worth?

Lenders, regulators, and investors prefer clarity above all else. In a perfect world, borrowers who might be in trouble would promptly contact lenders to initiate a “workout”. Then everybody would know the status of every individual CUSIP, and life would again return to a state of near normality. (CUSIP is a fancy technical term: each individual loan that makes up a CDO is known colloquially as a CUSIP, and has a CUSIP registration number. Other types of debt instruments, such as bonds, also use the CUSIP registration process.)

But how is that supposed to happen when neither the borrower nor the investor know each other?

That’s where this proposal comes in.

Imagine, if you will, a new Resolution Trust Company that would be chartered with the purpose of creating a “clearinghouse” where investors and borrowers could reach accommodation—and where the status of individual CUSIPs could be determined, registered, made known to participating investors, and, in a privacy protected form, to the public at large.

On the investor side, the process would begin with each investor voluntarily “registering” their CDOs with the new RTC. The registration process would determine exactly which CUSIPs are associated with every registered CDO, and this data would be maintained in a public database.

On the borrower side, an advertising campaign that might look like the ads you see for “credit counseling” services would be run by the RTC…something like: “Are you facing foreclosure? We can help to keep you in your home. Call 800 NO FORECLOSE today”.

The RTC would be empowered to act under a limited power of attorney on behalf of the registered investors and would have the authority to negotiate payment arrangements that might include extending the term of the loans at lower payments, some form of delay on “teaser rate” ARM adjustments, or converting the ARM to a fixed-rate loan—or any combination of the above, as warranted.

In extraordinary cases, the RTC could facilitate direct negotiations between homeowners and investors—and in cases where the home is “under water” (the amount owed is greater than the home’s value) such negotiations will be needed.

Every day, as more and more homeowners call in and the status of their loans is determined (“current—no issues”, “default”, “in processing”, “resolution unsuccessful”, “unknown”, and “resolved” are examples of categories to which the loans might be assigned) they can be matched to their registered CUSIP. As the database fills, this creates the clarity that allows more accurate valuation of the CDOs associated with the CUSIPs…which should be the necessary first step in resolving the valuation issue that’s currently choking up the financial markets.

By publicly posting the loan status and the CUSIP number-without other personally identifiable information-it would be possible, to some degree, to protect the homeowner’s personal credit information from public view, while still offering an “open and public” assessment by an independent third party of the CDO to which the CUSIPs are associated…which means private financing can return to the mortgage market with renewed confidence in what they’re buying…which should also have a positive affect on the stock prices of some of the most beaten down companies in today’s market.

At the same time, as the foreclosure rate declines (if this proposal were successful, that could happen rather quickly) less surplus real estate appears on the market…making investment in land and homebuilding once again a reasonable business proposition. Fewer foreclosures also means less decline in the value of affected neighborhoods, which means the neighbors benefit as well.

All of this could be funded by a registration fee per CUSIP (or based on the amount of the loan) charged to the investors that covers the cost of the RTC’s operations.

You might have noticed that I have not referenced what might be the most daunting problem a new RTC might face: the problem of large loans for large projects. How does the $30,000,000 loan to the Florida land developer who has a half-finished condo complex as collateral get worked out?

I have no idea, but it seems to me that the role of the RTC might be best served by doing the high-volume, “cookie-cutter”, single-family home resolutions (and similar duplex, triplex, and other “small unit” properties), leaving the most complex solutions to be negotiated directly between borrower and investor, with loan servicers and bond insurers charged with facilitating resolutions of these problems on their own.

If solutions can’t be found, the bond insurers are on the hook for the income stream, but if the bond insurers default the investors will get nothing (even when they do get paid the cross-ownership is so convoluted that as we move through the process some of the investors will potentially have to work out deals with themselves), so everyone involved should already-or soon will-have what R. Lee Ermey once famously referred to as “the proper motivation”.

So with all that said, what do we have?

We have a proposal that creates a new RTC for the purpose of “clearing” CUSIPs, which allows CDOs associated with those CUSIPs to be valuated, which creates the conditions for private investment to return to the mortgage market.

We do this with the only cost to the taxpayer being limited to incidental costs (registration fees not collectable, and the cost of enacting the legislation, for example) and the burden of bearing the upfront costs of establishing the RTC and launching the ad campaign—which presumably will be recovered as the process moves along to conclusion.

We also do this without changing the “risk profile” of the loan portfolios held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—a potentially huge benefit to the taxpayer.

The investors, bond insurers and loan servicers win because it suddenly becomes possible to credibly and independently valuate the CDOs, communities win if foreclosures return to normal levels, and homeowners get to keep their homes and credit ratings…and the larger economy benefits as the CDO market, for the first time, feels the “cleansing effect of sunshine” brought on by greater disclosure.

And to top it all off, the “moral cost” of the bad choices made are borne by the involved parties, rather than the American taxpayer: homeowners who made bad loan choices still have to pay off the loans, even if it takes longer than they originally thought…investors will lose or have delayed some portion of their interest income…and the best part—investors and “predatory lenders” who foolishly participated in sketchy loans to currently “under water” borrowers will probably lose some or all of the value of those investments as the true state of their CDO portfolio becomes known to the market at large.

Judging fake consultant

by Don Wheeler

Actually, not. But it sounded catchy - and expresses that my rebuttal to his rebuttal of my argument exceeds the length of a reasonable comment.

For clarification: It may have been easy to miss, but Indiana mostly does elect judges. Only St. Joseph and Lake Counties (the two bluest, interestingly) do not elect Superior court justices. These judges must periodically stand for rentention votes, though.

Most of the tools fc mentioned in use in Washington don't really aid the initial election process, but could be useful for retention votes. The problem is that most of them don't exist here. In any case, not a strong case for intitial election.

Assuming we have a qualified person on the bench, I'm not mad keen on hamstringing their decision making by imposing arbitrary guidelines from folks (be it citizens or legislators) without legal backgrounds and lacking the omniscience needed to forsee all possible scenarios and potential unintended consequences. If we as a society reject my view of this, then we really don't need judges. Facilitators might be good enough.

That overstates it a bit, I realize, but I want judges who can and are allowed to judge. If we get some that can't - vote them out.

In reference to campaign contributors, I'm not as concerned about about biases in criminal cases (with the exception of white collar or coporate crimes), as I am about civil cases. Here's where subtle shadings can really effect outcomes and could be potentially difficult to spot and/or root out. And generally, the last thing we should want to do is increase the influence of money in politics and inject more politics into jurisprudence.

But this is the deal breaker for me. The Washington system (if we were to implement something like it) still doesn't address and can't change the fact that people don't pay attention. There's no reason to think that will change. They have lives which are either comfortable enough that it leads them to think that things are OK, or difficult enough that they don't have time or energy to devote for issues like this. The latter are often of the view that things are bad, but there's nothing they can do about it. And even if they could, studying up on local judge candidates probably wouldn't top their to-do list.

Thus, it will always be a very small group of people without specific qualifications who make the decision. That seems worse - and not very democratic - in my view.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On Electing Judges, Or, The Comment That Got Away

by fake consultant

a progressives, south bend exclusive

I started to write this as a short comment to Don Wheeler’s story in this space from just a couple of days ago regarding the proposal to elect judges in Indiana…and all of a sudden, I had written an entire story.

Oops.

So for the delight of the assembled throng (hi, throng!), here’s a field report from Washington State, an “elect the judges” state. I’ll flesh out some of the details below to help add some answers to your questions:

--first, the grading of judges is accomplished more or less exactly as you predicted…the State’s various Bar Associations and the League Of Women Voters collaborate to produce the pre-election ratings (the League prepares surprisingly neutral ratings for all candidates for every elected office in the state every election cycle. Ratings include “highly qualified”, “qualified”, and “unqualified”).

Judicial candidates can also make statements in the State’s official voter information pamphlet.

--judges may not be associated with political parties…and the media will report if the candidate in question is running for the Supreme Court and has “notable” views (pro-life/pro-religion is the big one that gets attention)…but it is a different story for lower court judges. They often run unopposed, and even if they don’t there’s a real “who in the world are these people?” problem—unless one of the candidates was involved in a notable trial or scandal.

This tends to benefit the incumbent not facing a “name recognition” opponent.

I’m pretty sure badly timed drunk driving charges kill off as many lower-level judges at election time as legal errors, bad behavior from the bench, and ideological issues combined. Supreme Court Justices can and have survived them, however.

There are concerns about the “Liberals/Conservatives taking over the judiciary” problem; and the lower court judges’ 4-year terms tend to keep this in check. (The Supreme Court has 9 Justices, 3 are elected every 2 years.)

Washington State’s voters adopted “determinant sentencing” by initiative a number of years ago…which means judges use a point system to determine a sentencing range, and cannot sentence outside of the range without providing an appealable justification. “Enhancements”, such as exceptional violence in the commission of a crime, justify exceptional sentencing.

This form of judicial control seems to be very important in protecting the public from bad electoral choices…and makes the “I’ll be tough on crime” argument somewhat useless in elections.

--all oral arguments before the Washington State Supreme Court can be viewed on the TVW channel or website ( www.tvw.org ), which has been true for more than 15 years. (TVW is also the official record of state government—virtually all activities of the Legislature-executive session excluded-and the Supreme Court, along with much of the work of the executive branch can be seen from this site.)

As a result we have a way to personalize the Justices, and see them in at least a part of their job routines.

This was important for me in the case of Richard Sanders, a candidate for the Supreme Court who staked out an unabashed pro-life position and claimed he would be unaffected by his politics, after which he won election to the Court.

In the several years since he came to the Court I have had numerous occasions to observe his courtroom demeanor and as a result I have voted for his re-election—and I’ll happily do it again. Being able to watch him made me agree he is fair and unbiased…and he does not suffer fools well…and that makes me feel pretty good about the electoral process, as opposed to the earlier comment about the “who are they…?” issue.

I can say from having watched that 7 or 8 of the 9 justices are first-class; and with the exception of Sanders and the recently elected hard-right guy I don’t like at all it’s impossible to determine exactly what their politics are.

(I say 7 or 8 because there is another Justice-Mary Fairhurst-who is also relatively new to the bench, having previously served as the State Attorney General’s rep for an executive branch agency; and as a result of her being so new I’m not yet ready to offer her an enthusiastic endorsement. The others? Darn good at what they do.)

--there should be no need for requests for campaign finance reports. Around here that stuff is put online by the State’s Public Disclosure Commission and you should demand the same.

(More disclosure is always a great “purple” issue, by the way, and “we have the right to know who owns our politicians” is a perfect way to frame that discussion.)

--the issue of “creeping campaignism” has just begun to affect the low-key tradition of judicial campaigning here; and we may find that we wish to limit campaign activity in judicial races while still respecting the freedom of political speech…which will be an especially tough balancing act.

That is a potential major problem down the road for which no easy answer is yet evident. It is possible that voter backlash will provide the moderating tool we seek, however, that cannot be known at this time.

--the opportunities for manipulation with appointed judges are vast indeed, and without a full knowledge of Indiana’s system it’s tough to identify the exact “pinch points”—but it’s easy to imagine where they could be found.

So where is all of this going?

I guess what I would tell you is that from here, despite the inherent risks, the election of judges has been a mostly positive experience—but the fact that we have given judges a limited degree of discretion in criminal sentencing is probably as important in making that true as any good luck we might have had in our electoral choices.

And any time you can get the public making decisions you create more democracy, which is a good thing, most of the time.

I would suggest this remains true unless the judicial elections devolve into full-blown combat campaigning; this has not been the case in Washington State so far.

The future?
We shall see.

In the meantime, my bias toward democracy tells me to recommend you consider how you might move forward on the idea of electing judges…and if you don’t have them already, get the limits on judicial discretion in place at the same time, so as to avoid “Judge Roy Bean” syndrome…and its impact on campaigning.

I wasn’t kidding, was I?
This really was the comment that got away…but I hope you find the information of value.

Saying goodbye to the John Edwards blog

by Don Wheeler

It’s official. As of late yesterday, The Campaign To Change America – The John Edwards blog, is no more. And this morning, I had to go cold turkey.

The staff was great about warning us. I had plenty of time to “clean out my desk” and say some goodbyes. But I think many of us figured we’d be at it a lot longer and some diehards are still it at – only elsewhere.

Back to my cold turkey…

It has been my habit, for over a year, in the early hours to turn on my machine, go outside and grab our New York Times and South Bend Tribune, then hit my bookmark. On the left side, I would get news from the campaign staff; center, approved (by bloggers) posts; and on the right margin, diaries. Basically, two-thirds of the page was controlled by supporters, not the campaign.

There were two camps (and continuing arguments) about what the purpose of the blog was. Interestingly, they can be defined by splitting the name (title) in half.

One group thought it was the John Edwards blog. Those folks seemed to think all commentary, etc should address him, his family and his campaign. It appeared to me the vast majority of that group insisted these posts be flattering to our guy.

Another group thought it was The Campaign To Change America blog. Most were certainly John Edwards supporters, but these people were also very interested in focusing on issues which he advocated for as well as progressive arguments and actions in general. Folks in this group often brought things to my attention I could follow up on. They also tended to be involved in progressive causes in their local area as well as putting time, energy, money, etc. into John’s campaign.

While sympathetic to the first group, I considered myself a member of the second.

The CTCA – JE blog inspired many of us who hadn’t blogged before, not only to participate for the first time, but in some cases to start their own blogs. In my case, I realized that South Bend really didn’t have any go-to medium for people interested in progressive issues and only one local newspaper. To be sure, Progressives, South Bend has carried a pro Edwards stance, but John Edwards is highly respected in the progressive community here.

But it was never intended as merely a campaign organ. It’s a matter of -- admire the teacher, but focus on the teachings.

I was even able to sweet talk a couple of Edwards bloggers to join me in my project. These are people whose thinking and writing I respect a lot and they have brought perspectives we wouldn’t have had at P, SB otherwise. They are popular and I am appreciative.

Karita Hummer, grannyhelen, fake consultant, IM4JRE, Sirius (who posts here as be inspired), oklahomavoter, rosy Baldwin, destiny, (and the other names I can’t recall right now) – thank you for your fellowship and drawing my attention to things I may have missed otherwise.

And thanks to other supporters who shared their big hearts and passion for transformational change. I am a better person for having heard your stories.

The Campaign To Change America changed this American.

On Rethinking The Corporation, Or, Incentivizing Decency: Can It Be Done?

by fake consultant

It is the central tenet of corporate theology: the maxim that corporations exist for one purpose only...to maximize profits for their shareholders.

We are forever feeling the impact of this “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” kind of thinking; and we are forever wishing that we could do something about it.

Well, what if we could?

Today’s conversation suggests we can...and that we can use the power of the market to “incentivize” (cool corporate buzzword, eh?) the sort of behaviors we seek from corporations—and that we could end up with a stronger economy in the process.

Before we get too far, a disclaimer. This is an admittedly unfinished concept that may contain all sorts of unanticipated consequences, and I encourage all of you to think through this and point me to my errors of thought. That said, here we go:

Under the current theology, the only members of society that corporations have any incentive to consider are the corporate management class itself, shareholders, who have the power to impose discipline on members of the corporate management class, and governmental players, who have the power to give and to take away...and who are often themselves, at various points in their careers, members of the corporate management class—maybe even from your own corporation.

There are no real incentives in the system that encourage corporations to bring workers into the management process, nor is there an incentive for corporations to consider the communities that are affected by corporate mobility—at least, not once the local tax incentive has been collected. There is no incentive for corporations to become environmental advocates, nor champions of “social health”.

To create such incentives, this proposal would create a second class of corporation: a “social conscience” corporation, which would maintain its beneficial tax treatment and enhanced legal status based on the attainment of certain social goals.

Corporations could voluntarily choose to assume this new form of “legal personhood”, or they could remain a “legal person” in much the same way as they are today. With this proposal, however, there is one big change in the “traditional” corporation: it would not retain all of the rights and freedoms that today accrue to “legal personhood” in today’s corporate structure...making them a “limited legal person”, if you will.

To illustrate the idea more completely, imagine first how a “social conscience” corporation might work: corporate charters would have to reflect the concept that this form of corporation has a fiduciary duty to not just the shareholders, but also the corporation’s workers, and the surrounding community as well as the world environment.

The board of directors of such a corporation might have some of its seats reserved for worker representatives, and some of its seats reserved for community representatives.

A means of measurement of attained goals would be required, and one possibility would be that corporations of this type trade “conscience credits” (donate x % of corporate profit to community services and earn so many credits) in much the same way “carbon credits” are being traded today. A “conscience market” could be created that matches those who seek corporate “conscience” assistance with available corporations, and also to facilitate inter-corporate trading.

Maintaining a “no-layoff, no outsourcing” policy could earn a corporation lots of credits...as could voluntary efforts to remediate environmental damage caused by others. Investing in employee education could create credits, and you can probably imagine other incentives that we might want to develop.

Did a community offer your corporation tax incentives, and now you’re considering moving? That would be a “conscience cost”, and such a corporation would lose “conscience credits”.

A corporation of this type, in the event it possessed no credits, could be forced into “conscience bankruptcy”, where it would either have to create a “workout” plan or face liquidation, in much the same manner that corporations work through “capital bankruptcy” today.

Corporations who choose this structure would maintain all of the other legal protections afforded any person-actual or “legal”-in the American legal system.

There would be a tax incentive, as well. Profits from such a corporation would be taxed in the same manner as capital gains are treated today.

Now it’s time to flip the coin:

The officers and directors of “traditional” corporations would continue to maintain a fiduciary duty only to shareholders; and they would be free to make corporate decisions with no regard for the impact of their actions beyond that single duty, if they should choose to do so.

Here’s the cost:

--Corporate profits from this type of corporation would be taxed as ordinary income for the shareholders...and these corporations would also be taxed on “retained capital” assets (cash and cash equivalents) as well as declared “profits”.

--“Traditional” corporations would no longer have the legal status they have today. For example, they would no longer be protected under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments...meaning law enforcement could conduct snap searches of corporate property...corporations would not have the free speech rights they today claim (meaning deliberate untruth itself could be criminalized)...and corporations would not be able to refuse demands by regulators to testify as to the nature of their activities (of course, the “real persons” who might have committed any illegal acts would still maintain their personal protections—but the corporation, as a “limited legal person”, could be compelled to testify against them).

This proposal envisions no change in the form or function of municipal corporations.

So that’s the idea: “traditional” corporations would be free to continue to act as they always have-with new legal restrictions and a changed tax structure.

“Social conscience” corporations would exist as well, receiving tax benefits and the full protection of the Constitution as a way to “incentivize” socially desirable behaviors.

Whaddaya think?
An idea whose time has come, or more liberal hoity-toity?
I’ve reported, you decide.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: this conversation began as a pair of back and forth comments between myself and Anglico over at the BlueNC site, which i encourage you to visit "early and often".

Monday, February 11, 2008

My next Sunday school class

by Don Wheeler

Something I do in my "spare time" is teach a class for fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the First Unitarian Church of South Bend. This turns out to be way more challenging than any reasonable person would expect -- but that's a topic for a later post.

We have just finished viewing and arguing about the classic Henry Fonda production "Twelve Angry Men". The overall scheme I had was to introduce philosphy and look at justice issues. Critical thinking was what we were particularly focusing on. Despite the many challenges, for the most part, the kids ate it up. There were a lot of jokes about the age of the actors, all the smoking...but I think they got something out of it.

I want to make the next class a pivot point of sorts and the students were very interested in voting along with the jury in the movie, so it seems clear the next session should be highly participatory.

The answer, I think is an age appropriate, at least slighty complicated issue to argue about.

Then I remembered fake consultant 's work about "alternate" school lunches, which appeared here last summer.

http://www.progressivessouthbend.org/2007/07/on-teaching-debt-collection-to-kids-or.html

In an effort to recover modest debts, some school systems have adopted a strategy many of us would object to.

Per fake, referring to an LA Times article:

...the Chula Vista (a suburb of San Diego, CA) Elementary Schools District's "alternate meals" plan, which works something like this: If a parent owens the district more than $5 in meal money, the district will send a letter home, put a sticker on the child's hand, and eventually, hire collection agencies. If all that fails, the district will basically...repossess lunch. How is that possible, you ask?

Picture two second graders in the cafeteria line. As they get to the yummy pizza, the first little girl gets her slice of pepperoni. But not the second girl. She gets a cheese sandwich. That's right -- this school district, and numerous others nationwide, have special school lunch options" for those students who have parents that owe money -- and in Calloway County, KY, it only takes $3.


You may want to go back and click that link I offered you earlier. Scarlet letter seem about right? Mr. consultant went on to write two followups, also well worth a look.

Anyway, I'll be interested to see what the class thinks about this practice.

Should we elect our judges?

This will air Thursday, Feb 14th at 7:35 am and 12:30 pm on WVPE 88.1 FM - your local NPR station

by Don Wheeler

The South Bend Tribune noted last Saturday that St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak is supporting a drive to replace appointed judges with elected ones. (The appointed judges currently stand later for retention votes.)

http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008802090303

Mr. Dvorak: "There's a concern that our (St. Joseph County) judges too often do not hold themselves accountable for their decisions." He added that the current system "has failed if for no other reason that no judge has even been stricken from the bench. They have all been retained. It's effectively a lifetime appointment."

State Senator John Broden D - South Bend, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, has a different view. According to the Tribune:


Broden said he did not forsee wavering from his support of St. Joseph County's system for Superior Court Judges.

Broden, a lawyer, said he agrees with the Indiana and St. Joseph County bar associations, which support the concept of judges being seperated from politics as much as possible.

"When you are a candidate, you have to raise money and solicit contributions, Broden said. Often, those who donate to a campaign expect something in return."


John Edwards makes this point a lot. "You can't be with these people, take their money and then challenge them. It doesn't work!"

And a judge needs to be able to challenge anyone.

Mr. Dvorak makes a credible case that reform is needed. As my friend and attorney, Chuck Leone pointed out to me, we could assume all judges' performances are above reproach, but...

Let's assume not. Beefing up, putting teeth into, (choose your own metaphor), the retention voting process seems the first thing to work on. There's obviously interest in the situation, so an independent review board involving citizens could be formed to "grade" judges on their performance. This board would need to have hearings for people with grievances, and be willing to study judges' records carefully. They would then need to produce their findings ahead of retention votes for the judges.

This would be a lot of work and would need to be done with great care.

But popular elections of judges carries some significant potential downsides.

As Senator Broden highlights, potential corruption is a concern. And even if it weren't blantant, our system depends upon impartiality of the judiciary, so even a slight "shading" is a problem.

And how would a citizen sniff out potential leanings? I suppose he or she could file a freedom of information request for campaign finance reports. Assuming that action, if the voter then also knew the leanings of the contributors, he or she might be able to infer certain leanings of the candidates. Do most people go to this sort of effort before voting for local officials? For those that do, how easy would it be to figure all this stuff out?

And how about this. I consider myself pretty well informed, know some basics about law... But I have no belief I have the background needed to determine who will be a competant judge, and who would not be. I would have a lot of work to do to get to that point, and frankly, I'd rather leave it to those who already have that knowledge.

With a good opportunity to remove those found wanting.

That's how I see it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

On Patriotism Gone Horribly Wrong, Or, Let’s Lynch The Witnesses

by fake consultant

We have an especially good story to discuss today, and it has all the elements of a Hollywood movie: an oppressive State which demands national unity from school kids on pain of imprisoning their parents, children who resist on religious grounds, a court system which than rejects the entreaties of those children at its highest levels—and angry mobs who insult, attack, and even kill those associated with the children’s cause.

And that’s just the midpoint of the tale.

Every bit of what you’ll hear today is absolutely true…it all took place in the United States during the 20th Century…and the central subject of the story, believe it or not, is the Pledge of Allegiance.

A story like this requires context, so let’s first set the stage: during the 1930s, as Hitler was growing into power…as the first stages of World War II were falling into place…many communities in the United States felt the need to inculcate patriotism into the population; and one way to do this, it was felt, was to require students to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

A variety of State Legislatures passed laws putting this idea into motion, including Pennsylvania’s; a law was passed there allowing school districts to choose to make this a part of the daily ritual. Minersville, Pa.’s School District chose to do so.

You should know that the Pledge of Allegiance was a bit different than it is today.
Here’s the description as provided in Justice Felix Frankfurter’s eventual Supreme Court opinion on the matter:

…The right hand is placed on the breast and the following pledge recited in unison: "I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." While the words are spoken, teachers and pupils extend their right hands in salute to the flag…


Now if any of that sounds a bit Nazi-esque to you, you’re not alone; but to address that issue is to digress, and we have bigger fish to fry.

The law stated that refusal to comply with demands to say the Pledge were to be treated as insubordination, leading to expulsion. The expulsion did not relieve the child of the burden of attending school, making violators truants. Under Pennsylvania law, parents of truants were subject to fines and jail time.

And with that, allow me to introduce William Gobitas. In 1935 10 year-old William and his 12 year-old sister Lilllian, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, refused to obey the District’s command to join the other students in the Pledge. Billy’s original letter to the Minersville School District can be seen at the Library of Congress, and it is presented here exactly as it was written:
Our School Directors Minersville, PA
Dear Sirs Nov. 5, 1935

I do not salute the flag because I have promised to do the will of God. That means that I must not worship anything out of harmony with God's law. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus it is stated, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor bow down to them nor serve them for I the Lord they God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. I am a true follower of Christ. I do not salute the flag not because I do not love my country but I love my country and I love God more and I must obey His commandements.

Your pupil,
Billy Gobitas


The District felt there was no need for accommodation, and the two kids were promptly expelled. The kids were eventually enrolled in private schools at the parent’s expense; lawsuits were filed all around, and in April of 1940 (roughly a year-and-a-half before Pearl Harbor) Minersville School District v. Gobitis was argued before the United States Supreme Court. (There is a difference between the spelling of the last name in Billy’s letter and the spelling as it appears in the opinion; it is reported the Court is incorrect.) A ruling followed not quite six weeks later.

The court offered no sympathy for the religious objections offered by the Gobitas children. Justice Felix Frankfurter (who would later become Chief Justice), instead, took the approach that the most important question was national unity:

…The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities… We are dealing with an interest inferior to none in the hierarchy of legal values. National unity is the basis of national security… The ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment…


Beyond that, the Court questioned whether it could even competently rule on the case at all:

…But it is a very different thing for this Court to exercise censorship over the conviction of legislatures that a particular program or exercise will best promote in the minds of children who attend the common schools an attachment to the institutions of their country…


Finally, there was this:

…That the flag salute is an allowable portion of a school program for those who do not invoke conscientious scruples is surely not debatable. But for us to insist that, though the ceremony may be required, exceptional immunity must be given to dissidents... might cast doubts in the minds of the other children which would… weaken the effect of the exercise…


There was dissent on the court, and the historically notable dissenting opinion of Justice Harlan Stone is quoted below:

… The law which is thus sustained is unique in the history of Anglo-American legislation. It does more than suppress freedom of speech, and more than prohibit the free exercise of religion, which concededly are forbidden by the First Amendment and are violations of the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth. For, by this law, the state seeks to coerce these children to express a sentiment which, as they interpret it, they do not entertain, and which violates their deepest religious convictions…

...The very essence of the liberty which they [civil liberties] guaranty is the freedom of the individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say, at least where the compulsion is to bear false witness to his religion. If these guaranties are to have any meaning, they must, I think, be deemed to withhold from the state any authority to compel belief or the expression of it where that expression violates religious convictions, whatever may be the legislative view of the desirability of such compulsion.

History teaches us that there have been but few infringements of personal liberty by the state which have not been justified, as they are here, in the name of righteousness and the public good, and few which have not been directed, as they are now, at politically helpless minorities…

… The very terms of the Bill of Rights preclude, it seems to me, any reconciliation of such compulsions with the constitutional guaranties by a legislative declaration that they are more important to the public welfare than the Bill of Rights…

…The Constitution expresses more than the conviction of the people that democratic processes must be preserved at all costs. It is also an expression of faith and a command that freedom of mind and spirit must be preserved, which government must obey, if it is to adhere to that justice and moderation without which no free government can exist…


In a time of growing patriotism, particularly after Pearl Harbor, public sentiment turned against the Witnesses; and there were reports of meetings being attacked by the general public, many examples of individual Witnesses being harassed…and even murders of Witnesses because of their “unpatriotic” views.

Billy and Lillian had lost, but they were not to be forgotten.

Just three years later (August 1943) the issue resurfaced in West Virginia State Board Of Education v. Barnette; and the change in attitude on the part of the Court has rarely been more dramatic in such a short period of time. Consider these quotes from the majority opinion; which overturned the law in question and ended the right of school districts to compel students to utter the Pledge:

… To sustain the compulsory flag salute we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual's right to speak his own mind, left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind…


The Court next addresses the question of how much power a democracy needs to remain viable:

… Government of limited power need not be anemic government… To enforce those rights today is not to choose weak government over strong government. It is only to adhere as a means of strength to individual freedom of mind in preference to officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end…


An additional question: is it even more important to ensure children are taught these principles of national unity than adults, justifying the School District’s legal position?

…The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures -- Boards of Education not excepted…That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes…


Does the Legislature even have the right to demand that those who object upon religious grounds disregard their objections in the name of the common good?

…The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections…


From time to time we are treated to an eloquent reminder of the bedrock notions of what it is to be American—and every one of us should take a moment to read this ruling…particularly its ending paragraphs, which should ring like a bell in the minds of those who value freedom as the core of our belief system:

… Lastly, and this is the very heart of the Gobitis opinion, it reasons that "National unity is the basis of national security,"…

… Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men… As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity… Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard…

… There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent…

… If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein…

So that’s pretty much our story for the day: two children who would not bow to the authority of the State caused a debate that made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States-twice-before justice was done…other members of the same religion paid with their lives for subscribing to the same beliefs…but in the end, even in the middle of a World War, with our very national survival literally at stake, freedom won a victory.

However, that’s not quite the entire story.
After all, I never did tell you anything about the author of the Barnette opinion.

Justice Robert H. Jackson, who wrote the majority opinion in Barnette, has a significant history all by himself. After serving as Solicitor General (the Office of the Solicitor General defends the United States Government against lawsuit), and then Attorney General, and then a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Jackson became the lead prosecutor for the United States for the Nuremberg trials; where, in addition to designing the format for the trials (which required him to negotiate with British, French, and Soviet representatives) and selecting the staff of prosecuting attorneys, he personally cross-examined Hermann Goering and Albert Speer.

And now, as Paul Harvey says, you know “the rest…of the story”.

The Democrats' Class War

by David Sirota
Creators Syndicate

For all the hype about generational and gender wars in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, we have a class war on our hands. And incredibly, corporate America's preferred candidate is winning the poorer "us" versus the wealthier "them" — a potentially decisive trend with the contest now moving to working-class bastions like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In most states, polls show Hillary Clinton is beating Barack Obama among voters making $50,000 a year or less — many of whom say the economy is their top concern. Yes, the New York senator who appeared on the cover of Fortune magazine as Big Business's candidate is winning economically insecure, lower-income communities over the Illinois senator who grew up as an organizer helping those communities combat unemployment. This absurd phenomenon is a product of both message and bias.

Obama has let Clinton characterize the 1990s as a nirvana, rather than a time that sowed the seeds of our current troubles. He barely criticizes the Clinton administration for championing job-killing trade agreements. He does not question that same administration's role in deregulating the financial industry and thereby intensifying today's boom-bust catastrophes. And he rarely points out what McClatchy Newspapers reported this week: that Clinton spent most of her career at a law firm "where she represented big companies and served on corporate boards," including Wal-Mart's.

Obama hasn't touched any of this for two reasons.

First, his campaign relies on corporate donations. Though Obama certainly is less industry-owned than Clinton, the Washington Post noted last spring that he was the top recipient of Wall Street contributions. That cash is hush money, contingent on candidates silencing their populist rhetoric.

But while this pressure to keep quiet affects all politicians, it is especially intense against black leaders.

"If Obama started talking like John Edwards and tapped into working-class, blue-collar proletarian rage, suddenly all of those white voters who are viewing him within the lens of transcendence would start seeing him differently," says Charles Ellison of the University of Denver's Center for African American Policy.

That's because once Obama parroted Edwards' attacks on greed and inequality, he would "be stigmatized as a candidate mobilizing race," says Manning Marable, a Columbia University history professor.

That is, the media would immediately portray him as another Jesse Jackson — a figure whose progressivism has been (unfairly) depicted as racial politics anathema to white swing voters.

Remember, this is always how power-challenging African-Americans are marginalized. The establishment cites a black leader's race- and class-unifying populism as supposed proof of his or her radical, race-centric views. An extreme example of this came from the FBI, which labeled Martin Luther King Jr. "the most dangerous man in America" for talking about poverty. More typical is the attitude exemplified by Joe Klein's 2006 Time magazine column. He called progressive Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., "an African American of a certain age and ideology, easily stereotyped" and "one of the ancient band of left-liberals who grew up in the angry hothouse of inner-city, racial-preference politics."

The Clintons are only too happy to navigate this ugly cultural topography. After a rare Obama attack on Hillary Clinton for supporting policies that eliminated jobs, Bill Clinton quickly likened Obama's campaign to Jackson's, and the Clinton campaign told the Associated Press Obama was "the black candidate." These were deliberate statements telling Obama that if he talks about class, they'll talk about race.

And so, as Marable says, Obama's pitch includes "no mention of the class struggle or class conflict." It is "hope" instead of an economic case, bromide instead of critique. The result is an oxymoronic dynamic.

Obama, the person who fought blue-collar joblessness in the shadows of shuttered factories, is winning wealthy enclaves. But Clinton, the person whose globalization policies helped shutter those factories, is winning blue-collar strongholds.

Obama, who was schooled by the same organizing networks as Cesar Chavez, is being endorsed by hedge fund managers. But Clinton, business's favorite, is being endorsed by the United Farm Workers — the union that Chavez created.

Obama, the candidate from Chicago's impoverished South Side, is finding support on Connecticut's gilded south coast. But Hillary Clinton, the candidate representing Big Money, is finding support from those with relatively little money.

As the campaign heads to the struggling Rust Belt under banners promising "change," this bizarre class war may end up guaranteeing no real transformation at all.

David's blog

Because they said so

The New York Times

Editorial

Even by the dismal standards of what passes for a national debate on intelligence and civil liberties, last week was a really bad week.

The Senate debated a bill that would make needed updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — while needlessly expanding the president’s ability to spy on Americans without a warrant and covering up the unlawful spying that President Bush ordered after 9/11.

The Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, led the way in killing amendments that would have strengthened requirements for warrants and raised the possibility of at least some accountability for past wrongdoing. Republicans declaimed about protecting America from terrorists — as if anyone was arguing the opposite — and had little to say about protecting Americans’ rights.

We saw a ray of hope when the head of the Central Intelligence Agency conceded — finally — that waterboarding was probably illegal. But his boss, the director of national intelligence, insisted it was legal when done to real bad guys. And Vice President Dick Cheney — surprise! — made it clear that President Bush would authorize waterboarding whenever he wanted.

The Catch-22 metaphor is seriously overused, but consider this: Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress there would be no criminal investigation into waterboarding. He said the Justice Department decided waterboarding was legal (remember the torture memo?) and told the C.I.A. that.

So, according to Mukaseyan logic, the Justice Department cannot investigate those who may have committed torture, because the Justice Department said it was O.K. and Justice cannot be expected to investigate itself.

As it was with torture, so it was with wiretaps.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the president decided to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and authorized wiretaps without a warrant on electronic communications between people in the United States and people abroad. Administration lawyers ginned up a legal justification and then asked communications companies for vast amounts of data.

According to Mr. Rockefeller, the companies were “sent letters, all of which stated that the relevant activities had been authorized by the president” and that the attorney general — then John Ashcroft — decided the activity was lawful. The legal justification remains secret, but we suspect it was based on the finely developed theory that the president does not have to obey the law, and not on any legitimate interpretation of federal statutes.

When Mr. Bush started his spying program, FISA allowed warrantless eavesdropping for up to a year if the president certified that it was directed at a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, and there was no real chance that communications involving United States citizens or residents would be caught up. As we now know, the surveillance included Americans and there was no “foreign power” involved.

The law then, and now, also requires the attorney general to certify “in writing under oath” that the surveillance is legal under FISA, not some fanciful theory of executive power. He is required to inform Congress 30 days in advance, and then periodically report to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Congress was certainly not informed, and if Mr. Ashcroft or later Alberto Gonzales certified anything under oath, it’s a mystery to whom and when. The eavesdropping went on for four years and would probably still be going on if The Times had not revealed it.

So what were the telecommunications companies told? Since the administration is not going to investigate this either, civil actions are the only alternative.

The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant — or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed — and all federal statutes were being obeyed.

To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege — saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.

So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth.

Mr. Rockefeller argues that companies might balk at future warrantless spying programs. Imagine that!

This whole nightmare was started by Mr. Bush’s decision to spy without warrants — not because they are hard to get, but because he decided he was above the law. Discouraging that would be a service to the nation.

This debate is not about whether the United States is going to spy on Al Qaeda, it is about whether it is going to destroy its democratic principles in doing so. Senators who care about that should vote against immunity.

Community to meet re: LaSalle Square area

February meeting of the Community Forum

In June, 2007 Airport TIF funds became available for the revitalization of the LaSalle Square area. The February meeting of the Community Forum for Economic Development will be a public meeting to hear and discuss the next steps in this process, which is important not only for residents and businesses in the LaSalle Square area, but also for the economic health of the West Side and, ultimately, the entire city of South Bend. Join us on February 19.

The Next Step for LaSalle Square: A PUBLIC FORUM
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 from 7 - 9 PM
Office of the Minority Health Coalition 915 N Bendix (in LaSalle Square)

Presentations from:

Pam Meyer and Jeff Vitton, Department of Community and Economic Development, City of South Bend
Henry Davis, Jr., City Council Representative from District 2
Pastor Eddie Miller, Faith Apostolic Temple Hardie Blake,
Project Impact Leaders from West Side neighborhood organizations

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What happened to my democracy?

by Kathleen Petitjean

In my life as a white, middle class American, I’ve been failed by businesses, relationships and religious dogma. But I never imagined that the thing I most believed in would collapse the day my Democracy failed.

For nearly 18 months, I worked to get a minor party candidate’s name on the state ballot. To me, it represented an opportunity to put an intelligent, energetic person in public office, to the party, it meant a chance for future ballot access and to every voter, it offered another choice on Election Day.

For a minor candidate’s name to appear on the ballot, state law demanded the submission of an astronomical number of voter signatures. Steadfast in my belief in Democracy, I took the challenge. To every person of likely voting age I met I posed the same questions: “Are you registered to vote? Would you please sign my petition to get my candidate’s name on the ballot?”

Ninety-nine percent of the people I approached listened to my request for help. Of that group of people, ninety-nine percent were willing to do their part for Democracy.

“Everyone should be able to run for office,” an older woman told me.

“The more choices, the better,” a young kid said, “I’m sick of what we have now.”

“I probably won’t vote for him,” remarked a middle-aged guy, “but you should be able to.”

Every week I took my sheets of government-approved forms, filled with signatures in accordance with government-mandated standards to the government Voter Registration office. There, the sweet, steel-haired ladies dutifully checked my forms against their computers to verify if the signatures I’d wrested were legitimate. For all my work, the government ladies certified only about half of the signatures I submitted. Sometimes the signature failures were voters who had forgotten they had moved. Some were women who had married and forgotten to update their records with their new last names. Most of the time, though, the person’s name apparently just wasn’t in the government’s voting system.

Despite Herculean efforts by people across the state, it wasn’t enough to overcome the barriers erected by the state against third parties. Nonetheless, having properly filed all the necessary forms, the candidate was still eligible for write-in votes. Although this made him a long-shot to win, he might still garner enough votes so party candidates could appear on the ballot in future elections without again having to gather signatures.

On Election Day, I took my ballot to the standing carrel and carefully marked my choices. As instructed for my candidate’s race, I darkened the bubble next to “Write-in” and slowly and deliberately printed each letter of his first and last name. An election official stood next to the ballot scanner. He smiled when I joked about putting my ballot into the “shredder” as I fed the sheet with my votes into the slot.

That night and the next day, the television media and local newspaper reported only race results for the “major” party candidates. Well, I knew he didn’t win, but it was important to know how my candidate had fared.
Finally, I called the County Election Board:

“Hello. Could you please tell me how many votes were cast for my candidate in this county?”

“Let’s see. Well, the official number reported to the State Election Board was zero.”

“Could you repeat that, please?”

“Zero.”

How could that be? I knew all the local campaign workers planned to vote for him. Many of my friends said they would vote for him. I was fairly certain my boyfriend voted for him. My mother told me she voted for him and I know I voted for him! How in the name of Democracy did Election Officials miss my vote?

“We don’t have the mechanism in place to count write-in votes,” they said.

You don’t have the mechanism to count votes? You have the mechanism for a person to file as a legitimate candidate. You have a mechanism to certify the thousands of signatures required to get on the ballot. Whether a candidate is a write-in or one whose name appears on the ballot, you have the mechanism for candidates to report every penny that comes into and out of a campaign. You even had the mechanism on the ballot for voters to write-in a legitimate candidate’s name. How does an Election Board not have a mechanism to count votes? Pressed on this basic premise of Democracy, a government official on the Election Board said simply: “I suggest you see an attorney.”

I don’t think I should have to hire an attorney to ensure my government counts my vote? Do you?

Tony Zirkle, the creative candidate

by Don Wheeler

I noted with some interest a "Brief" which appeared in the South Bend Tribune. As is often the case, I think they missed the point.

It's short, so I'll reprint it.

Zirkle to provide free consultations

SOUTH BEND --- Tony Zirkle, a Republican candidate for Indiana's 2nd District congressional seat, will open his law office on Sunday to provide free 10-minute legal consultations for anyone seeking to have a suspended Indiana driver's license reinstated.

Zirkle's law office is at 110 N. Main St. The offer is open to any resident of Indiana's 2nd District.

The office will be open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. To make an appointment, call (574) 968-8557. If demand is great, Zirkle will extend the service on future Sundays.

"I'll tell them what they need to do to get their license validated again," Zirkle said.Cases involving driver's license issues make up 10 percent to 15 percent of Zirkle's practice, but he said he isn't offering the consultations to attract more clients. "I can refer them out. I am not doing this to get business," he
said.




Notice who is eligible? Any resident of the 2nd Congressional District. What is the juristiction Mr. Zirkle seeks to represent? The 2nd Congressional District.

I don't think the problem here is that Mr. Zirkle is trying to drum up business. Actually, this seems to be a quite legitimate way to try to drum up business.

No...buying votes is what comes to mind - or something like it.

Just me thinking out loud.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.



Friday, February 8, 2008

Where to now St. Peter continues...

by Don Wheeler

Many leftie commentators are assuring me (somewhat worriedly it seems to me) that the natural home for John Edwards supporters is the Obama camp. My sense is that by a small margin, it will go the other way.

There are serious problems with each candidate if you are an Edwards Democrat, and eventually we each will have to decide which of the two has the least injurious problems. These break in very different directions.

Mr. Obama - in demeanor and rhetoric seems more in concert. He also is not taking lobbyist contributions in this election cycle after being challenged by John. Ms. Clinton has not agreed to do this (or to not do it, I guess). But his (Obama’s) policy proposals are timid, and he has not shown leadership in the Illinois General Assembly or in Congress. It’s quite telling that his explanation for all his “present” votes in the Illinois G.A. is that it was a strategic decision coordinated with the body’s leadership. It tends to make one wonder if his “different sort of politics” is anything other than a soundbyte. It also doesn’t give one much confidence that he’s willing to “Challenge The System” as JedReport http://jedreport.com described what John Edwards was trying to do.

Ms. Clinton is a tough sell to us as well. She seems strong in leadership skills, but didn’t seem to accept Edwards’ analysis that (referring to lobbyists) “You can’t be with these people, take their money, and then challenge them. It doesn’t work!” So she appears to be with the entrenched interests that we all wanted to stand up to.

But she has more aggressive policy proposals, and seems to have been motivated to achieve them sooner in her administration than she said originally. And I’m persuaded that she can accomplish things. I’m not, however, confident that all the things she’d accomplish will turn out to be to my liking.

I’m also troubled by a nagging sense that the Obama candidacy is something of a cult of personality. Too many of his supporters seem to like the image he portrays and have little sense of the positions he takes or his background. It almost seems as though an Obama lobotomy has been performed on these folks. I see these Obamalobs on Daily Kos and even invading the John Edwards blog.

I have the luxury of knowing my vote for President won’t count, still… I’d like Barrack Obama to close me that he’s the guy.

Exit Edwards, stage left

by John Nichols
The Nation

There was brutal irony in the live coverage of John Edwards's exit from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Perhaps the story would have been different if the media--which in January gave Edwards only a quarter of the coverage accorded Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton--had paid more attention to what the former North Carolina senator was saying and doing. In its closing days, his campaign achieved rare moments of connection in a political year that has already seen too much division.

In his native South Carolina, Edwards climbed atop makeshift stages with actor Danny Glover and bluegrass star Ralph Stanley for events that featured muscular anticorporate appeals for economic justice but invariably finished on the sweetest of notes: with African-American and white Democrats joining hands to sing "Amazing Grace." There was a raw beauty to these moments--a beauty that merited more than the cursory coverage and "who's he hurting" speculation that was the lot of the man who spoke for "the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party."

After his third-place finish in South Carolina, Edwards knew he would not be the Democratic nominee. Within the Edwards camp, strategy sessions turned toward discussions of whether he could be a kingmaker in the race between Obama and Clinton. With the 300 delegates he might have won by soldiering on through Super Tuesday, Edwards could conceivably have held the balance of power at a closely divided Democratic National Convention. Presumably he would have aided Obama, whose candidacy holds more promise of healing the divisions between the "two Americas" Edwards sees as pulling the country apart.

But even as Edwards spoiled Clinton's math in key states--in South Carolina, he won among white men--he had little taste for the petty politics of positioning and power plays. That was evident in what turned out to be the last debate of his campaign, when he was supposed to be a spectator but instead emerged on top. As Obama tied Clinton to Wal-Mart and Clinton linked Obama to a slumlord, Edwards asked,
"This kind of squabbling--how many children is this going to get healthcare? How
many people are going to get an education from this?"


That was a sharp line. But Edwards followed up with a deeper message, which will be needed throughout a Democratic campaign that runs the constant risk of being more about image than substance:

"We have got to understand this is not about us, personally. It is
about what we are trying to do for this country and what we believe in."


Those words rang true because the steadiness of the speaker's focus during this campaign had led even cynical Democrats to the conclusion reached by Martin Luther King III, who told Edwards,
"You have almost singlehandedly made poverty an issue in the election."
Despit all the talk of $400 haircuts and disappointing past positions, in the end there was a sense that Edwards had earned the right to talk about his vision for his party and his country.

Edwards shaped the 2008 race, offering the first universal healthcare plan from a major contender, proposing the first economic stimulus package, making an issure of war profiteering.

And he was heard. Obama's rhetoric has grown more powerful and effective as he has borrowed Edwards' policies as well as his populist phrasing. And when Clinton tells urban audiences she is campaigning to help Americans "lift yourself and your familiy out of poverty, " it is impossible to miss the Edwards echo.

Even Republicans like Mike Huckabee sounded like they'd been reading Edwards' position papers on trade policy.

Now, as a noncandidate, Edwards can and should continue to shape the race. The desire of Clinton and Obama for his endorsement will get his phone calls answered.

But perhaps an Edwards endorsement is is of less consequence than his continuing presence. Forget the empty speculation about his as a vice presidential prospect; Edwards' best role will be as the voice of conscience for a party that has yet to recognize that its historic commitment to economic justice must be renewed in a time of recession.

Before Edwards ended his candidacy, his aides had talked about using a core of delegates to influence the summer's convention and the fall campaign it will launch. To the extent that Edwards pulls the front runners toward his more progressive economic positions -- from his unequivocal opposition to the free-trade regime, to his proposal for public works programs as one response to the economic downturn, to his smart plan to expand Medicaid as a first step toward healthcare reform -- he gives Democrats the muscular message they'll need to counter Repulican attempts to benefit John McCain by framing the election as a referendum on national security.

Edwards campaigned for the Democratic nomination not only on his own behalf, but in the hope that he might redifine his party as a counterbalance to the corporate power that defines the Republican Party.

He has ended his formal candidacy, but he ought not to stop his campaign to persuade Democarats to embrace his message that "economic justice in America is our cause."

A long story

By PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

The economic news has been fairly dire this week. The credit crunch is getting worse, and a widely watched indicator of trends in the service sector — which is most of the economy — has fallen off a cliff. It’s still not a certainty that we’re headed into recession, but the odds are growing greater.

And if past experience is any guide, the troubles will persist for a long time — say, into the middle of 2010.

The problems now facing the U.S. economy look a lot like the problems that caused the last two recessions — but this time in combination.

On one side, the bursting of the housing bubble is playing the role that the bursting of the dot-com bubble played in 2001. On the other, the subprime crisis is creating a credit crunch reminiscent of the crunch after the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s, which led to recession in 1990.

Now, you may have heard that those recessions were short. And it’s true that the last two recessions both officially ended after only eight months.

But the official end dates for those recessions are deeply misleading, at least as far as most peoples’ experience is concerned. There’s a reason that the Bush administration, in its (increasingly strained) efforts to tout economic performance on its watch, always talks about jobs added since August 2003. It was only then — two and a half years after the recession began — that the U.S. economy began to experience anything that felt like a recovery.

And the same thing happened a decade earlier: the recession that began in 1990 officially ended in March 1991, but the jobless recovery that followed kept Americans feeling miserable about the economy right up through the 1992 election.

Since the current problems of the U.S. economy look like a combination of 1990 and 2001, the shape of this episode of economic distress will probably be similar to that of the earlier episodes: even if the official recession is short, the bad times will linger well into the next administration.

How severe will the distress be? The double-bubble nature of the underlying problem — a housing bubble and a credit bubble combined — suggests that it may well be worse than either 1990 or 2001.

And some highly respected economists are issuing dire warnings. There has been a lot of buzz about a new paper by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff that compares the United States in recent years to other advanced countries that have experienced financial crises. They find that the U.S. profile resembles that of the “big five crises,” a list that includes, for example, Sweden’s 1991 crisis, which caused the unemployment rate to soar from 2 percent to 9 percent over a two-year period.

Maybe we’ll be lucky, and that won’t happen. But what can be done to limit the damage?

Since September, the Federal Reserve has slashed its target interest rate five times, and everyone expects it to cut further. But interest rates were cut dramatically during the last two slumps, too — yet the slumps went on for years anyway.

Meanwhile, Congress and the Bush administration have reached agreement on a much-hyped stimulus package. But the package, while probably better than nothing, is unlikely to make a noticeable dent in the problem — in part because the insistence of the administration and Senate Republicans on blocking precisely the measures, such as expanded unemployment insurance and food stamps, that are most likely to be effective.

Still, by January the White House will have a new occupant. If the slump is still going on, which is likely, this will offer a chance to consider other, more effective measures.

In particular, now would be a good time to think about the possibility of going beyond tax cuts and rebate checks, and stimulating the economy with some much-needed public investment — say, in repairing the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

The usual rap against public spending as a form of economic stimulus is that it takes too long to get going — that by the time the money starts flowing, the recession is already over. But if this turns out to be a prolonged slump, which seems likely, that won’t be a problem.

But we won’t get any innovative action to help the economy unless the next president has a couple of key attributes.
First, he or she has to be free of the ideological blinders that make the current administration and its allies fiercely oppose the idea that the government can do anything positive aside from cutting taxes.

Second, he or she has to be knowledgeable about and interested in economic policy. Presidents don’t have to be their own chief economists, but they do need to know enough to take the right advice.

Will we have that kind of president? Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Bond Insurance, Or, The Ongoing Train Wreck You Barely Knew Existed

It’s time that you and I had a little talk, my dear reader, about a subject your Mom and Dad never really explained that well. It’s gotten to a point where it is affecting your daily life, and you probably don’t even know why.

They didn’t cover it well in school, either, and if they had it likely would have just been one of those things you make jokes about later in the locker room.

That’s right…it’s time we discussed bond insurance, collateralized debt obligations…and how all of this is hitting you right in the wallet—and some comments about what’s coming next.

In other words, complicated economics, simply explained.

First things first: how does all this stuff affect your daily life?

For starters, these topics are the source of a lot of the bad economic news you’re hearing these days. If the value of your house is going down while your payments are going up…or your neighbor’s house is being foreclosed upon…or if India’s Tata Chemical Co. just bought the soda ash plant where you work…it’s already affecting your daily life.

If you invest (and that includes those of you with 401-Ks who might hope to retire someday) and you’ve been watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average (or your stock’s prices) slide downward this could be an even bigger part of your life than it is today—but as I said, I’ll explain about that before we’re done.

Trying to borrow money? This is a huge part of your life--so pay attention, and I’ll do my part to make it worth your while.

Are you an American who buys imported goods (don’t we all?), is thinking about a European vacation, or one who likes to hop over the Ambassador Bridge and spend a Saturday night out in Windsor? Notice how all those things are suddenly more expensive? This story affects you, too.

So exactly what is it we’re talking about?

All kinds of entities in “the market” have been investing in what are called “Collateralized Debt Obligations” (or other variations on a similar theme). The name seems quite esoteric, but actually it’s rather easy to understand, once it’s explained.

The way this works is you and I go out (along with thousands of our closest friends) and borrow money from our “friendly local bank” in the form of mortgages or equity loans. Our “friendly local bank” is limited in how much money they can lend—but if they can “sell” these loans to another investor they can use that money to make more loans…which means more “loan servicing” fees for the bank, and more interest money, over the long term, for all the investors.

Instead of selling one loan at a time, the loans are grouped together into “packages” of loans worth millions of dollars (the “Debt Obligation” part of the name of these “investment products”). Everyone who lends money loves collateral, and of course you can always foreclose on a house if the owner quits paying, which is where the “Collateralized” part of the name comes from.

And thus we have “Collateralized Debt Obligations”…also known as CDOs.
Make more sense now?
Good.
Let’s forge ahead.

So who might these other investors be? For starters, names that you’ve probably been hearing in the news, such as Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Citigroup. Other countries have been putting their nation’s money to work in these investments as well—and when national treasuries invest, they usually establish what’s known as a “Sovereign Wealth Fund” (simple translation: China’s money, or Dubai’s money, or…well, you get the idea)—and China, who really needs the money at the moment, has been very active in this market.

Now if you’ve been thinking about all this you might be saying to yourself: “Self, how can people in Dubai invest in the loans we took out at the bank if they have no way of knowing which loans will get paid, and which borrowers are going to be unable to repay?”

Well, that’s where “bond insurance” comes in.

There are companies in the market (AMBAC and MBIA are the two largest players) who, for a fee, will “rate” the quality of the borrowers behind the CDO that our friendly bank is attempting to sell to an investor. Some CDOs are sent to market by banks who only lend to the most carefully-screened borrowers…and from those banks we see the “AAA” rated CDOs. Because the risk of them failing to pay is low, they pay lower interest rates (after all, risk equals reward…).

On the other hand, some of our friends and neighbors have those “adjustable-rate loans”, and there are questions as to whether they’ll be able to keep up the payments. These “subprime” borrowers (and, eventually, the CDOs their loans represent) are more risky…but they pay much higher interest rates, especially after their “teaser” rates expire—and that’s obviously more appealing to investors, if some way can be found to limit the risk.

A solution was found: AMBAC and MBIA would essentially “insure” the continued stream of income from these CDOs for a fee that would be based on the risk of repayment, as they saw it—which would theoretically make “subprime” CDOs just as safe for investors as “AAA” CDOs…only with much higher interest being paid by the borrowers to the “subprime” investors.

Low risk, big reward...it was financial genius.

And for three years or so, every time you flipped on the TV you saw ads for loans from the Countrywides and the Ditechs of the world. Washington Mutual became one of America’s largest lenders on the strength of this market.

Investors and lenders/servicers made billions in fees and interest payments with a steady stream of income ahead for as far as the eye could see—as long as the borrowers kept up the payments. Mortgage lending became a much bigger business than it had been the decade before…investing in real estate became the fast way to make a buck…and homebuilders went nutty building on any piece of land they could buy or borrow. Brokerage firms could afford to give their most valued staff the kind of bonuses that make $1000 suits too cheap to wear to work.

Condos in Florida became the investment everyone wanted to have.

But have you seen the Florida real estate market lately?

That rhetorical question is actually not a bad description of what’s happened to lots of those investors: a huge run of lending to pretty much anyone, lots of those folks can’t make their payments, and there’s so much surplus real estate out there that foreclosure isn’t resolving the investor’s problems (if you can’t sell the foreclosed property it becomes an expense as you pay some third party to maintain the place until you can…and try to imagine what happens if you own an entire condo building that’s sitting vacant—as lots of investors do).

To make matters worse, the current “glut” of real estate has depressed the value of homes and land across the country…meaning you might owe more on a property than it’s current value. (As an example, new condos in San Diego are worth much less than they were 18 months ago.)

If all that wasn’t enough, those who took out “Adjustable Rate Mortgages” (ARMs) over the past couple of years are now seeing their interest rates “adjust”—and guess what? When they adjust, the payments are not going down…they’re going up. Meaning more and more borrowers can’t pay on loans that are supposed to be long-term “safe” income streams.

Now here’s where it gets ugly for some of the players.

If you are a lender who has sold loans you become the “servicer” of those loans. That means you collect the money from the borrowers, and then pass that money to the investors…minus your fees for the service, of course. But you take a risk: as part of the “service”, if a borrower should fail to make payments, you are on the hook to keep sending money to the investor for that loan until it’s classified as “nonperforming”…which might take a few months. If many thousands-or millions-of borrowers are not paying their loans, you’ll be in big trouble—and that’s why Countrywide is in the process of being acquired by Bank of America.

Ditech is a part of the GMAC Finance operation, meaning GMAC has to cover those losses for them…and Washington Mutual, according to some observers, is today “circling the drain”; with Chase or Wells Fargo mentioned as potential acquirers.

But what if you’re one of those “insurers”? Once these loans go “nonperforming”, the potential exists for the investors who own literally trillions of dollars worth of loans to seek restitution for their lost streams of interest income—which will immediately bankrupt the insurers. If that occurs, this type of business, as we know it today, would presumably come to an end, as there would be no way to create the same low risk, high return environment investors found so attractive.

Presumably this would also remove millions of potential homeowners from the market, further lowering the demand for all that surplus real estate, and potentially bankrupting America’s homebuilders.

Of course, all these investors now have to begin the process of trying to figure out what they actually own…and how much less the true value of their investments are than what they wanted to believe. And since they are not yet sure which loans will fail…there’s no way to determine the true value of those investments. A classic Catch-22.

And that’s why you’re hearing unfamiliar terms on the news like “writeoff” and “mark to market” and “Sovereign Wealth Fund”. Investors are having to admit they have billions of dollars less in these investments than they originally thought (Citigroup has already written down over $20 billion); and some banks and brokers are being forced to turn to outside sources for capital just so they can stay in business.

It’s also part of the reason the dollar is less valuable in the eyes of the rest of the world…meaning everything we buy from another country with dollars is made more expensive—things like clothes, and cars, and HDTVs, and iPods…and oil.

That’s a reasonably good recap of what’s happened so far.

However, I also promised you a glimpse of the future.
So here we go.

Most of the borrowers who took out these ARMs will see a “reset” of their interest rates 24 months after taking out their loans…and if they can’t make the new payments, the problem will become quickly evident.

There have been far fewer loans of this type written the past 18 months, which means in about 6 months most players in the market will begin to actually know just how bad their problems really are.

There are efforts to create a “bailout” for the bond insurers; but the concept there seems to be either that the investors will cover their own losses; which, from my limited perspective, seems a pointless exercise—unless some new source of investment capital can be found; or alternatively, that this function be made into a “quasi-public” corporation, not unlike Fannie Mae is today in the mortgage market.

An additional “bailout” is being considered for borrowers. Such a plan might involve not raising interest rates for some period of time on perceived risky ARMs, in order to keep the borrowers in their homes. Others have proposed a moratorium on foreclosures—but that may just be delaying the problem, not a solution.

The bottom lines of both plans seem to be that investors are going to eat some losses, either in equity or income stream—or both…and unless some lenders and investors are exceptionally patient, large numbers of borrowers are likely to lose their homes, suggesting real estate valuations will remain depressed for a few years to come—particularly in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Southern California…and most especially Florida, where, for a while, the run of building was most amazing indeed.

There’s an additional element to all of this that is just now becoming known.

In addition to the investors I’ve previously mentioned, we are now discovering that lots of other institutions we would never associate with the financial sector have been dipping their toes into this water; and we are now being told that states and municipalities, colleges and corporations, and various entities of all sorts have been using these investments as a way to earn money from idle cash that would otherwise have been in a Treasury bond at 3% or so.

As a result, you can expect over the next few months to hear a thousand stories about the discovery that someone or another you hadn’t thought could have will have lost money in the “subprime” market.

Having said all that, I’m here to tell you that this element of the problem is likely less of a news event-even though the effects will be more widely spread-than the problems we already are aware of in the financial sector. Why? Because the financial sector player’s losses are deep (billions of dollars each for several of those players, presumably with new discoveries through at least midyear); while this newer group of losses will likely be “shallow”—that is, lots of involved entities each losing relatively small amounts...and relatively few of them in need of “cash infusions” or bailouts to remain in business.

And now it’s time to get to the big summation:

An investment vehicle known as a CDO (and others like it) allowed banks to “sell” mortgages and other debt to a whole new pool of investors…which created a whole new pool of home buyers…which created a building boom…which led to more borrowing to cash in on that new equity…which made a ton of money for a ton of people…until the party abruptly came to an end, taking a ton of people down with it.

As a result, the Dow Jones Average is up one day, down two, banks and brokers are sweating bullets, someone in Dubai will eventually own a Florida condo complex no one wants to buy at current prices, and as many as 2,000,000 families might lose their homes.

The extent of the problem is not yet fully known, but things will be clearer by midyear; and as bad as things are now, there’s a decent chance by year’s end we’ll be getting to the other side of a great big mess.

The unexpected bonus?
Now you’re ready to talk about this stuff as if it actually makes sense.

And who saw that coming?

AP confirms secret camp inside Gitmo

by ANDREW O. SELSKY
Associated Press Writer


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP) - Somewhere amid the cactus-studded hills on this sprawling Navy base, separate from the cells where hundreds of men suspected of links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have been locked up for years, is a place even more closely guarded - a jailhouse so protected that its very location is top secret.

For the first time, the top commander of detention operations at Guantanamo has confirmed the existence of the mysterious Camp 7. In an interview with The Associated Press, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby also provided a few details about the maximum-security lockup.

Guantanamo commanders said Camp 7 is for key alleged al-Qaida members, who must be kept apart from other prisoners to prevent them from retaliating against long-term detainees who have talked to interrogators. They also want the location kept secret for fear of terrorist attack.

Many operations have been classified since the detention center opened in January 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More than four years passed before the military released even the names of detainees held on this 45-square-mile base in southeast Cuba - and it did so only after the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

Detainees have been held in Camp Echo and Camps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Journalists cleared by the military have been allowed to tour some of these lockups, where 260 men are held, but aren't allowed to speak to detainees. Some lawmakers and other VIPs have passed through, and the International Red Cross has access, but doesn't divulge details of visits with prisoners.

Camp 7, where 15 ``high-value detainees'' are held, is so secret that its very existence was not publicly known until it was mentioned in December by attorneys for Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who allegedly plotted to bomb gas stations in the United States. Previously, many observers believed the 15 were being held in Camps 5 or 6, which are maximum-security facilities.

``Under the gag order ... we are prohibited from saying anything more about their camp,'' lawyer Gitanjali Gutierrez, who met with Khan in October, said Tuesday. Most of the lawyers' notes and memos have been stamped ``top secret'' by the government.

Buzby told the AP he is sharply limiting to a ``very few'' the number of people who know Camp 7's whereabouts.

He described it as a maximum security facility that was already built when President Bush announced in September 2006 that 14 high-value terrorism suspects had been transferred from CIA secret detention facilities to Guantanamo. An additional detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, arrived last April.

``They went straight into that facility,'' Buzby said.

Buzby, who heads all military detention operations on Guantanamo, said he controls Camp 7, but would not discuss whether the CIA might still be talking with the high-value detainees.

Paul Rester, the military's chief interrogator at Guantanamo, told AP he has been interviewing one of the Camp 7 detainees and that others may be interrogated, depending on intelligence needs.

But other key military commanders on the base have been told to leave Camp 7 to others.
`
`Not everybody, even within the Joint Task Force, has access or even knowledge of where Camp 7 is,'' said Army Col. Bruce Vargo.

As commander of the military's Joint Detention Group at Guantanamo, Vargo is responsible for the camps holding 260 detainees. But not for Camp 7.

Red Cross representatives have visited Camp 7 and all the other detention facilities at Guantanamo, confirmed Geoff Loane, head of the humanitarian organization's delegation in Washington. He declined to give details.

Buzby said the 15 are kept isolated in part to protect other prisoners. ``Detainees have told us a lot of things about this group of people, and if there were potential for retribution it would be a very, very dangerous situation,'' he said.

For his part, Vargo said he is preoccupied by the possibility of an al-Qaida attack on Guantanamo.
`
`Although we are trying to be open, security is paramount,'' he said. ``I mean, if you can fly a plane into the towers, you can attack Guantanamo if that's what you choose to do. It's something I think about on a day-to-day basis.''

Vargo declined to discuss whether the U.S. has received information that al-Qaida may be planning such an attack.

``We have intelligence reports, but I don't want to release what we know for obvious reasons,'' he said.
While some military personnel have reportedly grumbled about being kept out of the loop, others don't mind.

Army Col. Larry James, whose team of psychologists assists interrogators, said he does not want to know where Camp 7 is.

``I learned a long, long time ago, if I'm going to be successful in the intel community, I'm meticulously - in a very, very dedicated way - going to stay in my lane,'' he said. ``So if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it.''

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Obama's Anti-Clinton Spin At Odds with DNC

...Or, how Democrats Eat Their Own.

by grannyhelen

Talking Points Memo has an article up describing Obama's latest mailer attacking the Clinton Presidency:


In what may be Obama's most direct and aggressive criticism of Bill Clinton's presidency yet, the Obama campaign dropped a new mailer just before Super Tuesday that blasts "the Clintons" for wreaking massive losses on the Democratic party throughout the 1990s.

"8 years of the Clintons, major losses for Democrats across the nation," reads the mailer, which goes on to list the post-1992 losses suffered by Dems among governors, Senators and members of the House of Representatives. The mailer was forwarded to us by a political operative who told us it was sent to Alaska, though it was probably sent elsewhere, too.


link: http://tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/02/obama_directly_attacks_bills_p.php

So, being the curious blogger I am I was wondering what the DNC's official take on the Clinton years was. Below is their take on Bill Clinton's legacy, taken from their website (my emphasis added):


In 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States. President Clinton ran on the promise of a New Covenant for America's forgotten working families. After twelve years of Republican presidents, America faced record budget deficits, high unemployment, and increasing crime. President Clinton's policies put people first and resulted in the longest period of economic expansion in peacetime history. The Deficit Reduction Act of 1993 — passed by both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote — put America on the road to fiscal responsibility and led to the end of perennial budget deficits. Having inherited a $290 billion deficit in 1992, President Clinton's last budget was over $200 billion in surplus. The Clinton/Gore Administration was responsible for reducing unemployment to its lowest level in decades and reducing crime to its lowest levels in a generation. In 1996, President Clinton became the first Democratic president reelected since Roosevelt in 1936. In 1998, Democrats became the first party controlling the White House to gain seats in Congress during the sixth year of a president's term since 1822.

In the 2000 elections, Democrats netted 4 additional Senate seats, one additional House seat, and one additional gubernatorial seat. Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote for President by more than 500,000 votes. In 2001, Democrats regained control of the Senate under Majority Leader Tom Daschle, while Democrats swept to victory in races all across the country, including races for Virginia Governor and Lt. Governor, New Jersey Governor, and 39 out of 42 major mayoral races including Los Angeles and Houston.


link: http://www.democrats.org/a/party/history.html

So, Obama's message on the Clinton years: we didn't get enough done because the Democrats lost seats due to how divisive the Clintons were. The DNC's message on the Clinton years: we got a lot of things done, including ripping the mantle of "fiscal responsibility" away from the GOP, and we didn't need Republican support to get there. Heck, we even ended up with more elected Democrats at the end of it all.

While both versions of history have some validity, the overall problem with Obama's recent mailer is this: it is at odds with how the Democratic National Committee wants to view itself during the Clinton years. That's a bad thing.

Being officially agnostic on Hillary versus Obama, I'm not going to claim the Clinton years weren't divisive. They were (now, whether or not that was actually the fault of the Clintons is a matter that could be up for discussion). And if Barack Obama wants to hit Hillary hard on being a divisive figure, I say have at it. Not only is this a valid line of attack but there's more than enough polling data to actually, factually back that one up.

However, when Obama's messaging on the Clinton years starts to directly conflict with the DNC's, it's time to throw in the penalty flag. The Democratic Party, as an entity, has a vested interest in pointing out that Bill Clinton (and by association the DNC) left the country better than they found it, because they can make that same pledge to voters this year in the general election. "It takes a Democrat to clean up after a Bush" should be the rallying cry come November.

But it can't be if Obama takes away that rhetorical goose that could lay all of those golden soundbite eggs.

If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to destroy each other in the primaries, fair enough. That's not something I'd prefer but with stakes this high I can see how that one can happen. *But when they start to go after the effectiveness of the Democratic Party and its messaging, it's time to reign in that line of attack.*

We all want to elect more Democrats this year. Let's not lose sight of that goal.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Michiana Monologues - Feb. 22-23 at IUSB

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

MICHIANA MONOLOGUES

Friday February 22nd, and Saturday February 23rd, 2008

158 Northside Hall, IUSB campus

Silent Auction at 6:15pm, Performance at 7pm each night

Tickets On Sale Now!,

IUSB Box Office: 520-4203

Brought to you by Voices Against Violence (V-Club) IUSB, as a benefit performance for SOS of Madison Center, YWCA of St. Joseph County, and St. Margaret's House.

BUSINESSES, ARTISTS, ORGANIZATIONS, GENEROUS INDIVIDUALS:

Advertising space available in the program to be handed out at the performances!
Business card size ad: $50 Name/Business listing:$25

We are also seeking in-kind donations of artwork, gift baskets,gift certificates and other items for our silent auction.

Any businesses donating items to the silent auction are welcome to include a flier and business card to advertise their business to the auction bidders.We would like to have all in-kind donations in stock by February 15th.

-Contact me to find out more!

For background, link below to a November P,SB story.

http://www.progressivessouthbend.org/search?q=Michiana+monologues

Progressive town hall meeting scheduled for Feb. 17

from Robin Beck

Thank you all who attended the January Progressive Town Hall meeting on Cool Cities. We had a wonderful turnout. Many people appeared to walk away thinking that this would be wonderful for South Bend and Mishawaka to sign on to. Please, contact the mayor and city councilmembers of each city. It’s very easy to do. Just follow the links to the City of South Bend and the City of Mishawaka and email them your concern, your concern of the need for a sustainable community. Not onlywill we reduce our carbon footprint but we’ll save money by implementing changes throughout our city and city government center.

If you would like more information, please check out the Cool Cities website. Take the time to send an email. Even if you don’t live in the city, you shopor work in the city and your voice needs to be heard.

The next Progressive Town Hall Meeting will takeplace February 17th at 4pm in the Fiddlers Hearth Pub downtown SouthBend. We will be discussing becoming a “Human Rights City” with Jackie Smith, Sociology Professor at Notre Dame.

Eugene, Oregon is a great example of a Human Rights City and you can check out their website for information on how they did it. Basically, a human rights city propelshuman rights to the forefront of daily work.

(From the Peoples Movement for Human Rights Learning) “What are human rights cities?

Imagine living in a society where all citizens have made a pledge to build a community based on equality and nondiscrimination; --where all women and men are actively participatingin the decisions that affect their daily lives guided by the human rights framework; where people have consciously internalized the holistic vision of human rights to overcome fear and impoverishment, a society that provides human security, access to food, clean water,housing, education, healthcare and work at livable wages, sharing theseresources with all citizens-- not as a gift, but as a realization of human rights. A Human Rights city is a practical viable model that demonstrates that living in such a society is possible!”

I hope you can all attend!

A few announcements:From Charlotte Pfeiffer at the Indiana University South Bend:

Midwest Black Man's Think Tank Friday, February 15, 2008; 5:30 p.m.; Wiekamp Hall 1001
Saturday, February 16, 2008; 8 a.m.; Northside Hall 158, IUSB campusIU South Bend Math/Science Education Conference Next Steps in Scienceand Math Education: Our Community's Future Friday, April 18, 2008; 8a.m. - 2 p.m.; Administration Building, The Grille, IUSB campus

I look forward to seeing you at the next Progressive Town Hall meeting!

Sincerely,Robin Beck
Facilitator

Monday, February 4, 2008

Clinton, Obama, insurance

February 4, 2008

by PAUL KRUGMAN
New York Times

The principal policy division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves health care. It’s a division that can seem technical and obscure — and I’ve read many assertions that only the most wonkish care about the fine print of their proposals.

But as I’ve tried to explain in previous columns, there really is a big difference between the candidates’ approaches. And new research, just released, confirms what I’ve been saying: the difference between the plans could well be the difference between achieving universal health coverage — a key progressive goal — and falling far short.

Specifically, new estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s — at only slightly higher cost.

Let’s talk about how the plans compare.

Both plans require that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Both also allow people to buy into government-offered insurance instead.

And both plans seek to make insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. The Clinton plan is, however, more explicit about affordability, promising to limit insurance costs as a percentage of family income. And it also seems to include more funds for subsidies.

But the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.

Mr. Obama claims that people will buy insurance if it becomes affordable. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.

After all, we already have programs that make health insurance free or very cheap to many low-income Americans, without requiring that they sign up. And many of those eligible fail, for whatever reason, to enroll.

An Obama-type plan would also face the problem of healthy people who decide to take their chances or don’t sign up until they develop medical problems, thereby raising premiums for everyone else. Mr. Obama, contradicting his earlier assertions that affordability is the only bar to coverage, is now talking about penalizing those who delay signing up — but it’s not clear how this would work.

So the Obama plan would leave more people uninsured than the Clinton plan. How big is the difference?
To answer this question you need to make a detailed analysis of health care decisions. That’s what Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T., one of America’s leading health care economists, does in a new paper.

Mr. Gruber finds that a plan without mandates, broadly resembling the Obama plan, would cover 23 million of those currently uninsured, at a taxpayer cost of $102 billion per year. An otherwise identical plan with mandates would cover 45 million of the uninsured — essentially everyone — at a taxpayer cost of $124 billion. Over all, the Obama-type plan would cost $4,400 per newly insured person, the Clinton-type plan only $2,700.

That doesn’t look like a trivial difference to me. One plan achieves more or less universal coverage; the other, although it costs more than 80 percent as much, covers only about half of those currently uninsured.

As with any economic analysis, Mr. Gruber’s results are only as good as his model. But they’re consistent with the results of other analyses, such as a 2003 study, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that compared health reform plans and found that mandates made a big difference both to success in covering the uninsured and to cost-effectiveness.

And that’s why many health care experts like Mr. Gruber strongly support mandates.

Now, some might argue that none of this matters, because the legislation presidents actually manage to get enacted often bears little resemblance to their campaign proposals. And there is, indeed, no guarantee that Mrs. Clinton would, if elected, be able to pass anything like her current health care plan.

But while it’s easy to see how the Clinton plan could end up being eviscerated, it’s hard to see how the hole in the Obama plan can be repaired. Why? Because Mr. Obama’s campaigning on the health care issue has sabotaged his own prospects.

You see, the Obama campaign has demonized the idea of mandates — most recently in a scare-tactics mailer sent to voters that bears a striking resemblance to the “Harry and Louise” ads run by the insurance lobby in 1993, ads that helped undermine our last chance at getting universal health care.

If Mr. Obama gets to the White House and tries to achieve universal coverage, he’ll find that it can’t be done without mandates — but if he tries to institute mandates, the enemies of reform will use his own words against him.

If you combine the economic analysis with these political realities, here’s what I think it says: If Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, there is some chance — nobody knows how big — that we’ll get universal health care in the next administration. If Mr. Obama gets the nomination, it just won’t happen.

Clinton, Obama Both Flawed On Health Care

by grannyhelen

In the middle of the mandate pie-fight (which just had a big ole can of gas dumped on it today by Paul Krugman), I think it's important for folks to understand that - mandates aside - there's still issues with both Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's health care plans that need to be addressed. I'm going to pick the big, blank area of each plan that leaves it open to attack, because my primary goal is to have a viable universal health care plan introduced by whoever wins the Democratic nomination (and then hopefully the presidency) as quickly as possible.

I suggest first off that folks read up on both of these plans.

Hillary Clinton's plan is here: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/feature/healthcareplan/americanhealthchoicesplan.pdf

Barack Obama's plan is here:
http://www.barackobama.com/issues/pdf/HealthCareFullPlan.pdf

First off, a little housekeeping. I've read a number of threads on these health care plans and I've seen folks making the argument that the Clinton plan would force folks into private insurance. That is not the case - both the Clinton plan and the Obama plan have a public option. From page 6 of the Clinton plan (I'm retyping directly from the .pdf, my apologies for any typos):


In addition to the array of public choices offered, the Health Choics menu will also provide Americans with a choice of a public plan option, which could be modeled on the traditional Medicare program, but would cover the same benefits as guaranteed in private plan options in the Health Choices Menu without creating a new bureaucracy. The alternative will compete on a level playing field with traditional private plans.


Now, that being said, the big problem with Hillary's plan is that it is vague on regulation. With another politician this may be less of an issue, but as Hillary has a policy of taking lobbyist money (and has been pretty vocal on that subject), this leaves her plan - which includes mandates - more open to the charge that it's "putting money in the pockets of the insurance lobby". Regardless of the public option, folks will (and already have) drawn the connection between mandates and Hillary's friendly relations with Big Insurance. This is the language Hillary uses in her plan that speaks to how she would regulate insurers:


The plan creates rules that all insurers must follow, ensuring that no American is denied coverage, refused the renewal of an insurance policy, unfairly priced out of the market, or charged excessive insurance premiums. Health plans will compete on cost and quality rather than avoiding patients who need insurance the most.

snip

Require minimum stop loss ratios: Premiums collected by insurers must be dedicated to the provision of high quality care, not excessive profits and marketing.


In order for Hillary to answer critics she must put in more specifics on stop loss ratios. "Excessive" is in the eye of the beholder, and if she is mandating that all people opt into an insurance plan, folks have to know that this isn't one big scheme to fleece their already strained budgets to aid the profits of insurance companies. Being more specific on how she would cap insurance industry profits would go a long way to building consumer confidence in her plan.

Now, let's turn to Obama's plan. Although Obama could also be more specific on industry regulation (his plan mentions capping industry profits in certain markets that aren't competitive and removing caps in other markets that are more competitive, which frankly sounds pretty convoluted - see pages 9-10 of his .pdf), he has a much bigger problem that he hasn't dealt with yet: penalties.

From his interview on Meet The Press, December 30 (my emphasis added):


MR. RUSSERT: In terms of candor, you're running a political ad in Iowa and elsewhere about healthcare. And this is what the ad says. Here's the Obama ad. Let's watch.

(Videotape)

SEN. OBAMA: I've got a plan to cut costs and cover everyone.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: "Cover everyone." Every analysis of your healthcare plan says there are 15 million Americans who would not be automatically covered because you don't call for a mandate.

SEN. OBAMA: But, but, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT: Let me just give you a chance to respond. Ron Brownstein, who's objective on this, wrote this for the National Journal, and then we'll come back and talk about it. He says this: "Obama faces his own contortions. He commendably calls for building a broad healthcare consensus that includes the insurance industry. But in the states, the individual mandate has been critical in persuading insurers to accept reform, including the requirement" "they no longer reject applicants with pre-existing health problems. If such a requirement isn't tied to a mandate, insurers correctly note, the uninsured can wait until they are sick to buy coverage, which" would "inflate costs for everyone else. By seeking guaranteed access without an individual mandate, Obama is virtually ensuring war with the insurance companies that he's pledged to engage."

SEN. OBAMA: Well, Tim, here's the philosophical debate that's going on. First of all, every objective observer says Edwards, Clinton, myself, we basically have the same plan. We do have a philosophical difference. They both believe the problem is the government is not forcing adults to get healthcare. My belief is that the real problem is people can't afford healthcare, and that if we could make it affordable, they will purchase it. Now, they assert that there're going to be all these people left out who are avoiding buying healthcare. My attitude is, we are going to make sure that we reduce costs for families who don't have health care, but also people who do have healthcare and are desperately needing some price relief. And we are going to reduce costs by about $2500 per family.

If it turns out that there are still people left over who are not purchasing healthcare, one way of avoiding them waiting till they get sick is to charge a penalty if they try to sign up later so that they have an incentive to sign up immediately.

MR. RUSSERT: Which is a quasi-mandate.

SEN. OBAMA: But--well, no, it's not a quasi-mandate because what happens then is we are not going around trying to fine people who can't afford healthcare, and that's what's happening in Massachusetts right now. They've already had to exempt 20 percent of the uninsured, and you're reading stories about people who didn't have healthcare, still can't afford the premiums on the subsidized healthcare, but now are also paying a fine. That I don't think is providing a relief to the American people. We need to make health care affordable. That's what my plan does. And The Washington Post itself said, for the Clinton campaign to try to find an individual who wanted healthcare and could not get it under the Obama administration would be very difficult because that person probably does not exist. If you want healthcare under my plan, you will be able to get it, it will be affordable, and it will be of the high quality.


link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22409176/page/5/

I've reviewed Obama's health care plan (and double checked it again this morning) and I have yet to find any details about these "penalties". Any plan for universal coverage has to deal - at some point - with adverse selection (the probability of more high risk people signing up for a plan than low risk people, thereby forcing the plan to pay out more money than it takes in). Hillary is proposing to deal with this on the front end through mandates. Obama is doing this on the back end through penalties (and before folks start on about "making insurance more affordable"...both plans do that. Both plans also have an enforcement mechanism for adverse selection, and Obama seems to have the trigger for the enforcement when the person who hasn't paid into the plan goes to access benefits).

However, as Obama has not been very specific about what these penalties are, how many past premium periods they may cover, whether or not interest is charged, whether or not there is a wage or income garnishment involved, whether or not these folks would be charged higher rates for not opting in sooner, etc. etc. this leaves his plan weakened. It is also unclear whether putting penalties in place on the back end would give people "an incentive to sign up early". The opposite could also be argued: that folks may put off seeking treatment because they don't want to pay these penalties. This would in turn increase, not decrease, the cost of care.

I want universal health care. I want Democrats going in with a strong plan so that - in the eventual compromise stage in Congress - many elements of the plan remain in place. When the plans start to get whittled down I want them made out of oak, not balsa wood or soft pine.

I'd like to see both candidates address the weaknesses in their plans for this reason. Let's not attack each other over universal health care; let's work together to get it done.

Coporate Presidential Campaign Giving Surges

By Kevin Drawbaugh
Reuters

Monday 04 February 2008

Washington - Corporate America is pouring money into the US presidential campaign at an unprecedented rate, with a torrent of donations coming from the businesses behind the subprime mortgage crisis.

Facing a government crackdown over predatory lending and a troubled housing finance system, Wall Street and the real estate industry were among the top political givers in 2007, a campaign finance watchdog group said on Sunday.

Leading all corporate donors in campaign donations as of the end of last year was investment banking giant Goldman Sachs, based on an analysis of Federal Election Commission records, the Center for Responsive Politics said.

The next four largest corporate donors were Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, according to the center's fourth-quarter preliminary analysis, which is subject to revision.

Investment banks, commercial banks and real estate companies altogether have pumped almost $34 million into the presidential race, with Democratic leaders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama getting the most money, the center said.

Overall, the 2008 presidential contest is shaping up, as expected, to be by far the costliest in U.S. history.

"From the beginning we've known this will be the most expensive race ever ... Already the whole field has raised $582.5 million," said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonprofit, nonpartisan center.

Senators Clinton and Obama have each taken in more than $5 million from securities and investment firms; Republican Mitt Romney, over $4 million, and rival John McCain, $2 million.

Real estate has not been far behind, donating $4.8 million to New York's Clinton and $3.7 million to Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Illinois' Obama has raked in $2.7 million, and Arizona Sen. McCain $1.9 million from real estate interests including mortgage brokers, homebuilders and property developers.

Real Estate Market Woes

With home prices plummeting and foreclosures on the rise, especially among subprime mortgage borrowers with poor credit, lawmakers and regulators are looking hard at home lenders and the debt markets into which they sell loans.

Fears of recession have pushed the economy onto center stage of the election campaign, stealing attention from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, immigration and such social issues as abortion rights.

One sector with an interest in almost every debate remains the richest source of campaign funds - lawyers and law firms, which have donated $26.6 million to date in the 2008 cycle.

Hollywood, including television, film and music, has given $6 million - $5 million of it to Clinton and Obama.

In contrast, oil and gas's favorite candidate still standing is Romney, who has taken in $375,000 of the sector's $1.1 million. Those firms donated more than $620,000 to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who left the race.

Hedge funds and private equity, a new, independent-minded source of funds, has sunk $3.6 million into campaigns: $1.3 million to Clinton; $1 million to Obama; $837,000 to Romney, and $395,000 to McCain. But the private equity and hedge fund kingpins also bet big on drop-out Giuliani, donating more than $1.2 million to him.

Major hedge fund donors contributing to presidential and congressional campaigns have included Elliott Management, SAC Capital Advisors, Citadel Investment Group, Fortress Investment Group and Renaissance Technologies, the center said.

Giving by all of them has skewed heavily toward Democrats, except for Elliott, which gave 99 percent to Republicans.

Private equity firms with generous purses have included Blackstone Group, Apollo Advisors and Carlyle Group.

Housing finance groups Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have given nearly $1 million to 2008-cycle presidential and congressional campaigns; mortgage broker Countrywide Financial has given $156,900, the center said.

The center's analysis of campaign giving by business sector includes donations by political action committees and donations from individuals giving more than $200 based on employment.

The question for progressives of the 2nd District: Has Donnelly earned our votes?

by donnellywatch
<http://www.donnellywatch.wordpress.com/>

Thus far Rep. Joe Donnelly is unopposed in the upcoming Democratic primary. His Republican challengers, Luke Puckett and Tony Zirkle seem to pose little threat. (See discussion here or here. Even conservatives aren't optimistic.)

To date Donnelly has amassed more than $700,000 in his bid for re-election, more than three times the amount he had on hand at a similar point in the 2006 election cycle.

Yet, while it's obvious that progressives prefer Donnelly to the district's previous Congressman, Chris Chocola, there are many progressives frustrated and disappointed in Donnelly's actions during his first term. Donnelly's celebration - he released a press release to call attention to his ranking the 5th most "independent" Democrat in Congress - of his "moderate" views rankle a lot of the citizens who worked to get him elected in 2006.

In 2006 Steve Francis stepped forward to challenge Donnelly and, despite an enormous financial disparity, collected 17% of the vote. Roughly 1 in 6 voters chose Francis despite the significant disparity in resources between Francis and Donnelly. Francis also had to contend with Donnelly's having been backed by the DCCC and numerous Democratic chairpersons throughout the 2nd district.

It remains to be seen whether a progressive Democrat in the primary and/or a third party or independent candidate in the general election will offer progressives an alternative to our "independent" Congressman.

Remember, Joe, it was the voters of St. Joseph County which solidified your victory in 2006. St. Joseph County is a relative Democratic stronghold with a significant number of progressives who are increasingly frustrated with your lack of principled stands on a host of issues ranging from the war in Iraq to immigration.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Edwards' legacy: The "one boat" generation

From Daily Kos by permission
by J V Calin


Reading Krugman's column today (how happy am I that NY Times op-eds are free again!) about Edwards got me to thinking about what his campaign represented... and to me it seems that it was historically significant in many ways, much more than most typical presidential campaigns. His message seems to have caught on... and set the tone not just for this year's presidential campaign, but the tone of politics for the next decade.
At least I hope. :)

Edwards showed real leadership in the campaign and pushed issues to the foreground, forcing the others to follow suit.

Except perhaps for Dodd, the others were perfectly happy to play it safe... portray themselves as Republican-lite... which worked so well for us four years ago. Edwards said "nuh uh", and boldly pushed his plans: universal healthcare, reducing the influence of big money, bringing power back to the people, and he did so without any hint of trepidation or cautiousness. He said, "this is what I believe in and I'm proud of it!" And you know what? A lot of people agreed with him. And more than just voting against the Republicans, they became excited and passionate about politics again. Once again, they remembered what it was like to hope, to have something to fight for.

The most crushing aspect of the 2004 elections was that it made us believe that most of the country despised our ideals. That the country did not believe in justice and decency. That the country did not care about the poor and the needy, but were perfectly happy to allow the rich to use their influence to siphon even more money towards themselves. That corporate interests were more important than individual rights. That it was ok to suppress any inconvenient reports by the FDA, EPA and the FCC so that big money would not be impeded from steamrolling over the interests and lives of normal people, even as they hasten our planet into a crisis which we may never be able to reverse. We believed that our country had no problem with cronyism and corruption, that it was just the way things were. We watched as our government violated civil rights, did away with cornerstone principles like habeas corpus, tortured innocents without a trial (as if torturing anyone with a trial was acceptable either), and cared little for the lives of our soldiers and Iraqi citizens.

We sat as everyone in the media made fun of us and demonized us and ridiculed our beliefs, while crying out that the establishment was biased in our favor. They called us traitors and told us that we didn't care about our troops, while in the next breath portraying our soldiers, and anyone who complained about how they were being treated, as stupid and weak and easily manipulated. They ignored reports of thousands of soldiers coming home with severe mental problems, scoffed at the idea that 200,000 veterans were homeless because of mental and physical injuries they had sustained in this and previous wars, fought against pay increases and benefits, and against making sure that they had enough training and rest before being sent into service, all the while cheering them on as they are forced to return yet again for another tour of duty, more than they ever signed up for.

When Edwards fought back, we realized that we were not the minority. That heck, a lot of people think like we do.

More than we thought there were. When he spoke about our worries and reflected our ideals, we began to hope again that maybe we can take our country back, that we can make a difference. We were given that small glimmer of hope that all was not lost, and that glimmer has become much more than just a glimmer. So even if others may have taken that message and run with it, the message is out there nonetheless, and it is a message that is igniting into a revolution.

The fifties was a generation of service... "ask not what your country can do... " - progress was made by altruism

The sixties was a generation of idealism and freedom - our definition of progress is all wrong

The seventies was a generation of anger and rebellion - progress is being taken away from us

The eighties was a generation of greed and "me first" - progress is made by making myself succeed

The nineties was a generation of cynicism - progress? why bother

The um... 00's was a generation of corruption and fear - if you don't make progress, you die

I hope that the 10's will be a generation of community... not of selflessness, but of the recognition that the good of the community is the best way to further oneself.

I hope that the 10's will be the "One Boat" generation: Progress is made if everyone gets there together.

Friday, February 1, 2008

So where to now, St. Peter?

by Don Wheeler

The next line from this Elton John/Bernie Taupin 1970 song lyric is "tell me which road I'm on".

The progressive has bowed out, so what to make of the leftover candidates?

I'm fron the Chicago area originally, and the two slip into pretty familiar roles. Hillary Clinton is the "machine Democrat" and Barrack Obama most closely matches the moderate Republicans of the day. I voted for some of those folks - particularly Senator Chuck Percy, and it wasn't all that unusual that they were more progressive on some issues than the MDs.

Anyway, I have no horse to ride anymore - so its time to look at the other two.

Unfortunately, this recent development ensures that Democrats in Indiana will have no say in the general election. McCain will easily beat either Obama or Clinton here, but most of us have friends in more civilized evirons. It could still be useful.

Let's start off with health care.

The Clinton plan is basically a clone of the earlier released Edwards plan. It mandates coverage, blends public and private plans. It has the advantage of not asking anyone to give up coverage they like and offers subsidies to people who need them to pay the cost. A single payer plan is a part of it, and could eventually engulf other options due to the efficiencies inherent in the plan. Universal (mandated) coverage provides the best possible premium pool, and that in turn lowers the per person cost as one looks at the entire health care delivery system.

The Obama plan (modified Edwards) is optional - with the exception of minor children. In other respects, it is pretty similar. I hope I am not mischaracterizing his defense of this - it seems so weird, I'm not sure I have it right. His claim is that 1) Universal coverage is too hard to achieve, so we shouldn't even try and 2) People don't buy Health Insurance because they can't afford. If they can afford it, they will buy it.

He goes on to say he hasn't met anyone who could afford Health Insurance who didn't buy it. Only the people who can't afford it don't buy it, according to Obama.

He should come introduce himself sometime, so we can dispel that myth.

Most of my life I've had no coverage. Sometimes it was true I couldn't have afforded it, but in all cases I didn't want to spend the money. I was healthy, didn't see a doctor. It seemed like a poor use of my money. But if something serious had happend to me, the people who did do the responsible thing would have been the ones picking up the tab.

The way insurance works is that the people who make fewer claims subsidize the ones who make more claims. The more total money in the pool, the smaller the subsidy. That is a given. But we don't always know in advance who each of these are. And everyone is paying something in.

Also, these plans all offer subsidies to help people pay for coverage. So if they are designed properly, there wouldn't be any people who "can't afford" coverage. And I think that we should think twice about a government policy which encourages the irresponsible behavior I exhibited in the past.

This is even worse. This is a hit piece the Obama campaign used against the Clinton campaign in the run up to the Iowa caucuses. It's classic Harry and Louise stuff.

http://www.politico.com/pdf/PPM44_080130_nd_obama_hrc_healthcare_plan_forces_health_insurance2.pdf

My fallback position by instinct would have been to support Barrack Obama. Perhaps it will end up that way. But I'm going to be taking a hard look at each of them. But I can tell you already, the choice will be a distant second to what could have been.

The Edwards effect

February 1, 2008
New York Times


By PAUL KRUGMAN


So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.

But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

Similar if less dramatic examples of leadership followed on other key issues. For example, Mr. Edwards led the way last March by proposing a serious plan for responding to climate change, and at this point both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are offering far stronger measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases than anyone would have expected to see on the table not long ago.

Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, the willingness of his rivals to emulate his policy proposals made it hard for him to differentiate himself as a candidate; meanwhile, those rivals had far larger financial resources and received vastly more media attention. Even The Times’s own public editor chided the paper for giving Mr. Edwards so little coverage.

And so Mr. Edwards won the arguments but not the political war.

Where will Edwards supporters go now? The truth is that nobody knows.

Yes, Mr. Obama is also running as a “change” candidate. But he isn’t offering the same kind of change: Mr. Edwards ran an unabashedly populist campaign, while Mr. Obama portrays himself as a candidate who can transcend partisanship — and given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan.

It’s true that Mr. Obama has tried to work some populist themes into his campaign, but he apparently isn’t all that convincing: the working-class voters Mr. Edwards attracted have tended to favor Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama.

Furthermore, to the extent that this remains a campaign of ideas, it remains true that on the key issue of health care, the Clinton plan is more or less identical to the Edwards plan. The Obama plan, which doesn’t actually achieve universal coverage, is considerably weaker.

One thing is clear, however: whichever candidate does get the nomination, his or her chance of victory will rest largely on the ideas Mr. Edwards brought to the campaign.

Personal appeal won’t do the job: history shows that Republicans are very good at demonizing their opponents as individuals. Mrs. Clinton has already received the full treatment, while Mr. Obama hasn’t — yet. But if he gets the nod, watch how quickly conservative pundits who have praised him discover that he has deep character flaws.

If Democrats manage to get the focus on their substantive differences with the Republicans, however, polls on the issues suggest that they’ll have a big advantage. And they’ll have Mr. Edwards to thank.