Monday, March 31, 2008

Prepare Run Win: A Women's Campaign College

On Saturday, March 29, 2008 I attended "Prepare, Run, Win: A Women’s Campaign College" sponsored by Faulkner Strategies, IUSB American Democracy Project, IUSB Office of Campus Diversity, IUSB Political Science Club, League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area, Women’s Alliance, A Healthy Communities Initiative and Women Business Owners of Michiana.

This event was billed as a workshop "for women who are ready to run for elected office, may consider running in the future or who would like to work on a campaign, become a political activist and build their leadership skills."

Panel discussions included women who are currently serving or who have served in public office and women with experience in the realm of putting campaigns together and fund-raising. Media representatives headed up a panel on public relations. A panel on "getting started" and community relations rounded out the day.

Prepare, Run, Win was well-organized with all the speakers providing relevant information on all aspects of running as well as serving in public office. Highlights from some of the speakers included:

· attend meetings for the office you are seeking
· read the paper
· volunteer for city government committees
· attend civic events
· work on someone else’s campaign
· learn the number of votes needed to win
· lay out a plan and budget for that plan
· raise money as early as possible
· use innovative fund-raising methods

· know the office you’re running for
· walk door-to-door and follow-up with voters
· walk door-to-door with another person who can take notes
· provide television media with a visual story
· give reporters as many elements to a story as you can

In addition to coming away with good information for a future campaign, I was able to bring up issues specific to Green Party candidacies during every panel discussion.

To Jackie Walorski, District 21 Indiana State Representative, I brought up the issue of Indiana's restrictive ballot access for independent and Green Party candidates. She acknowledged the unfairness of state law and asked me to email her.

To the political strategist, I was able to articulate why I would only run as a Green (and corrected his statistics for Green Party elected office-holders; he thought there were less than fifty, there are over 200 nationwide).

I also addressed the television media on the bias against independent and minor party candidates. I specifically noted the television piece omitting Tom Brown, Green Party mayoral candidate, from the on-stage television shot following a public debate. Mark Peterson, WNDU News tried to go towards whether a candidate had a chance, which I reminded him was something that’s decided on Election Day. Elizabeth Bennion, moderator and co-coordinator for the Women’s Campaign College continued with this point and took all the media to task for failing to inform voters of all their choices.

Finally, we introduced ourselves and talked about why we came. This was my opportunity to speak to my plans and the values of the Green Party; social justice, grassroots democracy, ecological wisdom and non-violence.

The Women’s Campaign College was well worth the time for the information I came away with and for the opportunity to speak to issues unique to the Green Party.

The Dilbert strategy

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Anyone who has worked in a large organization - or, for that matter, reads the comic strip "Dilbert" - is familiar with the "org chart" strategy. To hide their lack of any actual ideas about what to do, managers sometimes make a big show of rearranging the boxes and lines that say who reports to whom.

You now understand the principle behind the Bush administration's new proposal for financial reform, which will be formally announced today: it's all about creating the appearance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive.

The financial events of the last seven months, and especially the past few weeks, have convinced all but a few diehards that the U.S. financial system needs major reform. Otherwise, we'll lurch from crisis to crisis - and the crises will get bigger and bigger.

The rescue of Bear Stearns, in particular, was a paradigm-changing event.

Traditional, deposit-taking banks have been regulated since the 1930s, because the experience of the Great Depression showed how bank failures can threaten the whole economy. Supposedly, however, "non-depository" institutions like Bear didn't have to be regulated, because "market discipline" would ensure that they were run responsibly.

When push came to shove, however, the Federal Reserve didn't dare let market discipline run its course. Instead, it rushed to Bear's rescue, risking billions of taxpayer dollars, because it feared that the collapse of a major financial institution would endanger the financial system as a whole.

And if financial players like Bear are going to receive the kind of rescue previously limited to deposit-taking banks, the implication seems obvious: they should be regulated like banks, too.

The Bush administration, however, has spent the last seven years trying to do away with government oversight of the financial industry. In fact, the new plan was originally conceived of as "promoting a competitive financial services sector leading the world and supporting continued economic innovation." That's banker-speak for getting rid of regulations that annoy big financial operators.

To reverse course now, and seek expanded regulation, the administration would have to back down on its free-market ideology - and it would also have to face up to the fact that it was wrong. And this administration never, ever, admits that it made a mistake.

Thus, in a draft of a speech to be delivered on Monday, Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, declares, "I do not believe it is fair or accurate to blame our regulatory structure for the current turmoil."

And sure enough, according to the executive summary of the new administration plan, regulation will be limited to institutions that receive explicit federal guarantees - that is, institutions that are already regulated, and have not been the source of today's problems. As for the rest, it blithely declares that "market discipline is the most effective tool to limit systemic risk."

The administration, then, has learned nothing from the current crisis. Yet it needs, as a political matter, to pretend to be doing something.

So the Treasury has, with great fanfare, announced - you know what's coming - its support for a rearrangement of the boxes on the org chart. OCC, OTS, and CFTC are out; PFRA and CBRA are in. Whatever.

Will rearranging these boxes make any difference? I've been disappointed to see some news outlets report as fact the administration's cover story - the claim that lack of coordination among regulatory agencies was an important factor in our current problems.

The truth is that that's not at all what happened. The various regulators actually did quite well at acting in a coordinated fashion. Unfortunately, they coordinated in the wrong direction.

For example, there was a 2003 photo-op in which officials from multiple agencies used pruning shears and chainsaws to chop up stacks of banking regulations. The occasion symbolized the shared determination of Bush appointees to suspend adult supervision just as the financial industry was starting to run wild.

Oh, and the Bush administration actively blocked state governments when they tried to protect families against predatory lending.

So, will the administration's plan succeed? I'm not asking whether it will succeed in preventing future financial crises - that's not its purpose. The question, instead, is whether it will succeed in confusing the issue sufficiently to stand in the way of real reform.

Let's hope not. As I said, America's financial crises have been getting bigger. A decade ago, the market disruption that followed the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management was considered a major, scary event; but compared with the current earthquake, the L.T.C.M. crisis was a minor tremor.

If we don't reform the system this time, the next crisis could well be even bigger. And I, for one, really don't want to live through a replay of the 1930s.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thomas v. Ross

by Don Wheeler

One of my main purposes of attending Dyngus day festivities at the West Side Democratic Club was to make some contact with local and state Democratic candidates.

I got to say hello to Mayor Luecke, Speaker Bauer. I was able to have brief conversations with both Jim Schellinger and Jill Long-Thompson. Local candidates were not so much in evidence - or may have chosen later arrivals - due to the star power of the event, I suspect. There was one exception.

Dave Thomas, who is opposing Steve Ross for the Democratic nomination for District 2 County Commissioner had a golf cart with campaign signs on it. Most of the time it was unattended, but after former President Clinton made his exit, I noticed some gents hanging out around it.

People who know me well know that I have had many problems with Mr. Ross' conduct in the prior campaign and as Commissioner. So I was very interested in meeting his challenger.

(If you're wondering why I waited a week to write this piece, it's because I furnished Mr. Thomas with contact information and encouraged him to tell us more about his campaign. I'm still waiting to hear from him)

One of the gents was indeed Mr. Thomas. We introduced ourselves and I mentioned the blog.

I started with the question most people would ask first: "Why are you running?"

He explained to me that he was an accountant, had lived in the area all his life and had an interest in civic affairs.

I assumed I must not have asked my question in the way I had intended - judging by the response - so I rephrased it slightly (I don't remember exactly how).

He pretty much just added onto to his first response.

So I tried another approach. "What is it you would like to do?" And so on.

At some point in this process he mentioned Mr. Ross' poor attendance at meetings and failure to keep any of his campaign promises. He listed these in some detail. And towards the end (noting the name of our blog) he admonished me that we needed to get behind Democrats...At no point did he ever outline any proposals, or even any ideas he had, to better the lives of county citizens.

Last week, in a short South Bend Tribune article, he repeated some of the charges against Mr. Ross. The newspaper gave Mr. Ross a one paragraph rebuttal. As I remember it, Mr. Ross said something like Mr. Thomas was a five time candidate waging a negative campaign, etc.

Ready to vote, Democrats?

Let's start with Mr. Ross. Mr. Ross complaining about someone waging a negative primary campaign is a little tough to take. Mr. Ross first earned my opposition based upon his own intensely negative primary campaign and irresponsible promise to repeal the so-called "Wheel Tax". As Mr. Thomas correctly pointed out, there wasn't much follow up on that promise.

That part is fine with me, but Mr. Ross' complaint about Mr. Thomas reminds me of an old story about certain home construction materials and self restraint.

From all I can tell, Mr. Thomas' campaign message is "I'm a good guy - the other guy isn't. 'Nuff said."

The thing of it is that I have no more idea of what I would get with Mr. Thomas as County Commissioner than I did before I spoke with him. I know what I'll get with Mr. Ross.

Independent candidacy, anyone? Or should we work hard to enact the single professional Commissioner model?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

On Filling The Time, Or, The 24 Hour News Cycle Improved

In the beginning, there was darkness.

But then unto the world can Edward R. Murrow, who begat Walter Cronkite…and then there came to pass Huntley and Brinkley.

And it was good, and we were happy.

But then before Pharaoh came Ted Turner, who cried: “Let my people go!”…and thus was CNN brought forth upon the Earth.

For some it was a miracle…but for others the endless repetition of the same stories over and over represents a new 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Can the cycle be broken?
Can an oasis in this desert be found?
Can our thirst for more useful insight be sated?

Those are the questions we pose today…and before we’re done, I’ll offer one potential answer.

To be completely fair here, it’s hardly all CNN’s fault. To keep the Biblical analogy going just a bit longer, additional begatting has brought us MSNBC, the Fox (Excuse For) News Channel, NY1, Bloomberg’s contribution to business news, ESPN…and of course, the constellation of smaller satellites that make up the rest of the firmament—the various CNBCs, CNN’s Headline News, and the Fox Business Channel being quick examples of the genre.

The uninformed observer might think this has created an explosion of “new” news, but as the band P.M. Dawn would tell you…“reality and life are not the same”.

The current state of the news cycle, for those unaware, is that something happens…and then every channel discusses that same event over and over, at least 24 times, during the next 24 hours.

“Experts” from one side or the other discuss, with great urgency, the import of the event. During campaign season some “experts” become “surrogates”…and the urgency becomes more urgent. The efforts to spin each result to the favor of one side or the other and drown out the opposing “talking head” become so intense during the run-up to the news events—and just after--that the National Weather Service is actually considering co-locating tornado detection devices in certain broadcast studios for the protection of those nearby.

Eventually the stories, after the process has finished with them, may end up literally becoming marks on a daily scoreboard, thanks to the newest incarnation of the process; wherein a host takes over the role of “final arbiter” and issues his somewhat official “Verdict”, following a final daily session of “harrumph-harrumph-harrumph” from the show’s panel participants.

Because of the increased demand brought on by the endless campaign cycle, we’ve noted how the professional “talking head” community has grown much larger and much more sophisticated. Talking heads can now morph from “reporter” to “advisor/consultant/surrogate”—and sometimes even into a “candidate”, “appointee”, or “elected official” role…and then eventually back to “talking head”.

Others will remain “neutral and unbiased observers”, representing, in a manner that defies the biological need for sleep, one (or more) media outlets…and in what seems to be an extension of a process pioneered by CNBC and The Wall Street Journal, media entities are forming their own alliances, presumably to force the others “off the island”.

Under the right circumstances they can offer a considerable contribution to the exercise of analysis—but many are kept on a short leash. All of this is, naturally, dependant on the status into which they have currently morphed.

While this is a well-designed system for those who might watch news one hour a day or less, the downside is that the entire day becomes an endless repetition of the same talking points, or video clips, or gaffe…which, for those of us who might partake of more than an hour of “informational” programming daily (bless you, C-SPAN!), seems to be a waste of valuable “talking head” resources.

You might think this sort of structure would eventually collapse under its own “spin load”, creating a mess that resembles an Oklahoma trailer park after a tornado moves through…leaving only reruns of “Lockup: Raw” and that weird Lou Dobbs show to fill the void…but as of today none of the participants have so fallen (rumors about Fox Business notwithstanding), and the public appears to remain willing to watch.

That’s the history…but what about the future?

Here’s an idea:

There are a ton of stories that are not being discussed daily that are of considerable importance, yet just can’t seem to get on the national radar screen.

Why not take an hour a day and turn it into a discussion of one of those stories—making use of the “talking heads” to fill out the last three or four segments of the hour?

Need some help getting started?

Here are a few stories that absolutely need discussion…and could absolutely use analysis by the candidate’s surrogates:

--The Coast Guard’s “Deepwater” program.

--The trials and tribulations (and budget issues) relating to the effort to replace most of the US Air Force’s fighter fleet with the F-22 and F-35. (Then on Tuesday—tankers and bombers…)

--Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. There are so many bridges, highways, and sewers to be replaced that you could send a show on the road to do location stories once a week from now until November—and among the excellent locations available…New York City’s new water tunnel, or the bridge replacement in Minneapolis (excellent political tie-in), or the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Winsor, Ontario.

--Medicare and the issues related to its funding.

--Now this one is the story that every member of the staff will be more than anxious to cover. Why not examine the effect of climate change on Florida’s (politically important) economy? Start with the issue of property insurance and “firewalling” (a problem that could spread to California…and already is spreading to Texas), and end with an examination of how Florida would cope with a rise in sea levels.

Such a story would surely require many visits to the affected locations to really get the perspective the public demands…many visits that would get people out of Manhattan in lousy weather season…and require the networks to send them to Florida--with expense accounts. The truly resourceful news manager (Dan Abrams, are you listening?) will decide to investigate the question of how Florida’s theme parks will cope with the changes…and how could such a story possibly be presented without going to the parks themselves?

In each case, make the candidate surrogates explain where each of these national needs fits into an Administration’s budget…how they’d pay for each program…and force them to answer the question: offsetting budget cuts—or taxes raised?

My guess: the discussions, and the squirming and shuffling, will be just as interesting as what we see today—and you can still use a scoreboard--but the issues involved will be issues that average voters might actually care about.

Not to mention the fact that all this new news footage created by the squirming and shuffling will make excellent filler for the other 23 hours of the news cycle.

Now we’ve had lots of fun with these story ideas (and frankly, played a bit of realpolitik as well); but the fact is we have here an idea that could actually break the repeat, repeat, repeat that is today’s cable news—and do it in a way that puts news organizations back in the business of driving the news cycle…instead of merely being couriers of the press releases of others.

I’m guessing Murrow and Huntley and Brinkley—and maybe even Cronkite—would approve…and even more importantly, I bet the audience would as well.

Two on SB City Council appear to show lack of ethics

(from the South Bend Tribune with my comments in italics -KJH)

Council member driving without valid plate
Temporary tag on Cadillac expired 2 months ago

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Driving a car with an expired paper plate is the same as driving an unlicensed vehicle, a police spokesman says.

So it begs the question why Henry Davis Jr., a South Bend Common Council member since Jan. 1, has been driving around for two months with such an expired plate on his car, and why he hasn't been ticketed.

His temporary registration tag has an expiration date of Jan. 29.

When questioned about the issue by telephone Thursday afternoon, Davis, D-2nd, said he has an extension on the temporary plate, but he declined to let a reporter see the relevant paperwork. He said he didn't understand why it's of interest to the press, and after a short conversation, he hung up.

Davis parks his 2003 Cadillac in a space marked "City Council" in a city-owned lot on Lafayette Boulevard. The lot is across the street from the County-City Building, where Davis is employed as a caseworker in the Child Support Services of the county prosecutor's office. His job is on the sixth floor of the County-City Building. He also has an office in the city council suite on the fourth floor.

His fourth-floor office is next to the office of Council Member Derek Dieter, D-1st, who works as a South Bend police corporal. Asked why he hasn't ticketed Davis, Dieter said police have jurisdiction on public property, and the car is parked on a private lot.

[Note Dieter's explanation is that he doesn't have jurisdiction]

But the lot is owned by the city, according to the mayor's office, and police can issue tickets on any public property, according to Capt. Phil Trent, spokesman for the South Bend Police Department.

[Dieter's explanation is directly contradicted by South Bend police dept. spokesperson]

Dieter said he has talked to Davis about the expired tag. City Clerk John Voorde said several council members have mentioned it to him. Davis has told them, Voorde said, that he's taking care of it. He allegedly told them he got a 60-day extension because he's waiting for a special plate."That would not be correct," James McCormick said about the extension. "We cannot do that."

[This implies Davis' stated explanation is patently false.]

McCormick owns McCormick Auto Sales, which sold the Cadillac to Davis in December. He also supplied the temporary tag. McCormick said his files indicate that no extension has been requested or granted.

[Again, implies Davis' explanation is patently false.]

Julie Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the BMV, said Friday that the BMV does not renew or extend paper plates. If a customer comes into a license branch to license or title a car, and some delay occurs, she said, the customer would be given a BMV-issued paper plate, which is different than a dealer-issued paper plate. The customer would have to display the BMV-issued plate in his car window, she said.

Violations of the temporary registration laws are a Class C infraction. The fine would be only $1, but court costs would be $112.50.

[From a comment posted to the South Bend Tribune's forum in response to the article:
What sad behavior for a local official. Henry Davis is only in office for 3 months and this is how he carries on? Davis obviously lacks the maturity and integrity to serve the public. Instead of just admitting his fault to a Sulok, paying a small fine and rectifying the matter, he chooses to lie to her and then gets caught. Is he just that stupid? His arrogance shows a lack of respect for those he was elected to serve and behavior like his continues to feed the cynicism that the public has toward elected officials. The people of the second district will soon realize what they lost in the way of a 1st class city council representative when they chose to replace Charlotte Pfeifer. Davis has a long way to go to fill her shoes.

Derek Dieter doesn't do himself any good either. As a city councilman and a police officer he doesn't know that the lot where all those city officials park is owned by the city? Give me a break. And if he really didn't know, he could have found that out in 5 minutes with a phone call when it was brought to his attention. Just looks like one "good old boy" covering for another. By the way, now that he knows it, will a ticket be written and the car towed.]

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Truthout roundup

Former US Secretaries of State Kissenger, Baker, Christopher, Albright and Powell urge closing of Guantanamo; former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison on appeal; Iraq extends deadline for militiamen as fighting continues; legal challenges regarding destruction of CIA tapes filed in at least 13 lawsuits; a day in the life of a Guantanamo detainee; accusations of legal apartheid as Israeli Supreme Court approves separate roads for Palestinians; Paul Krugman on the candidates' policy proposals for the mortgage crisis; and more ... Browse our continually updating front page at http://www.truthout.orgt r u t h o u t 03.28

Shut Guantanamo
The Associated Press reports: "Five former US secretaries of State on Thursday urged the next presidential administration to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and open a dialogue with Iran.... Powell was joined by Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III, Warren Christopher and Madeleine K. Albright, who sat in a round-table discussion sponsored by the University of Georgia at a sold-out conference center in downtown Athens.

"Siegelman to Be Freed on Appeal
The Associated Press reports: "Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is not just getting to go home after spending nine months in federal prison. He's also getting a chance to testify before Congress about possible political influence over his prosecution.

"Iraq Extends Militiamen Deadline
BBC News reports: "Iraq's government has extended by 10 days a deadline for Shia militiamen fighting troops in the southern city of Basra to hand over their weapons. More than 130 people have been killed and 350 injured since a clampdown on militias began in Basra on Tuesday.... Iraq's parliament is to hold emergency talks on the crisis, which has also brought a three-day curfew in Baghdad.

"Tapes' Destruction Hovers Over Detainee Cases
Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane report for The New York Times: "When officers from the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting harsh interrogations in 2005, they may have believed they were freeing the government and themselves from potentially serious legal trouble. But nearly four months after the disclosure that the tapes were destroyed, the list of legal entanglements for the CIA, the Defense Department and other agencies is only growing longer.

"A Day in a Guantanamo Detainee's Life
Carol J. Williams reports for The Los Angeles Times: "Under gray skies all but obscured by an opaque canopy and high concrete walls topped with razor wire, two bearded young men in tan tunics are having 'rec time' inside separate chain-link pens. One jogs frenziedly back and forth in the 30-foot enclosure; the other is curled like a fetus at the base of a cement block.

"Barred From Main Road, Palestinians Fear Two-Tiered System
Ethan Bronner reports for The New York Times: "The object of Mr. Abu Safia's contempt - Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem - has taken on special significance in the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what was happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank - a charge that makes many Israelis recoil

Loans and Leadership

New York Times

When George W. Bush first ran for the White House, political reporters assured us that he came across as a reasonable, moderate guy.

Yet those of us who looked at his policy proposals — big tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization — had a very different impression. And we were right.

The moral is that it’s important to take a hard look at what candidates say about policy. It’s true that past promises are no guarantee of future performance. But policy proposals offer a window into candidates’ political souls — a much better window, if you ask me, than a bunch of supposedly revealing anecdotes and out-of-context quotes.

Which brings me to the latest big debate: how should we respond to the mortgage crisis? In the last few days John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all weighed in. And their proposals arguably say a lot about the kind of president each would be.

Mr. McCain is often referred to as a “maverick” and a “moderate,” assessments based mainly on his engaging manner. But his speech on the economy was that of an orthodox, hard-line right-winger.

It’s true that the speech was more about what Mr. McCain wouldn’t do than about what he would. His main action proposal, as far as I can tell, was a call for a national summit of accountants. The whole tone of the speech, however, indicated that Mr. McCain has purged himself of any maverick tendencies he may once have had.

Many news reports have pointed out that Mr. McCain more or less came out against aid for troubled homeowners: government assistance “should be based solely on preventing systemic risk,” which means that big investment banks qualify but ordinary citizens don’t.

But I was even more struck by Mr. McCain’s declaration that “our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital.”

These days, even free-market enthusiasts are talking about increased regulation of securities firms now that the Fed has shown that it will rush to their rescue if they get into trouble. But Mr. McCain is selling the same old snake oil, claiming that deregulation and tax cuts cure all ills.

Hillary Clinton’s speech could not have been more different.

True, Mrs. Clinton’s suggestion that she might convene a high-level commission, including Alan Greenspan — who bears a lot of responsibility for this crisis — had echoes of the excessively comfortable relationship her husband’s administration developed with the investment industry. But the substance of her policy proposals on mortgages, like that of her health care plan, suggests a strong progressive sensibility.

Maybe the most notable contrast between Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton involves the problem of restructuring mortgages. Mr. McCain called for voluntary action on the part of lenders — that is, he proposed doing nothing. Mrs. Clinton wants a modern version of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, the New Deal institution that acquired the mortgages of people whose homes were worth less than their debts, then reduced payments to a level the homeowners could afford.

Finally, Barack Obama’s speech on the economy on Thursday followed the cautious pattern of his earlier statements on economic issues.

I was pleased that Mr. Obama came out strongly for broader financial regulation, which might help avert future crises. But his proposals for aid to the victims of the current crisis, though significant, are less sweeping than Mrs. Clinton’s: he wants to nudge private lenders into restructuring mortgages rather than having the government simply step in and get the job done.

Mr. Obama also continues to make permanent tax cuts — middle-class tax cuts, to be sure — a centerpiece of his economic plan. It’s not clear how he would pay both for these tax cuts and for initiatives like health care reform, so his tax-cut promises raise questions about how determined he really is to pursue a strongly progressive agenda.

All in all, the candidates’ positions on the mortgage crisis tell the same tale as their positions on health care: a tale that is seriously at odds with the way they’re often portrayed.

Mr. McCain, we’re told, is a straight-talking maverick. But on domestic policy, he offers neither straight talk nor originality; instead, he panders shamelessly to right-wing ideologues.

Mrs. Clinton, we’re assured by sources right and left, tortures puppies and eats babies. But her policy proposals continue to be surprisingly bold and progressive.

Finally, Mr. Obama is widely portrayed, not least by himself, as a transformational figure who will usher in a new era. But his actual policy proposals, though liberal, tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox.

Do these policy comparisons really tell us what each candidate would be like as president? Not necessarily — but they’re the best guide we have.

Could Libertarians split the vote on the Right?

Bob Barr thinking ‘very serious’ thoughts about a presidential race, Iraq, and torture

Wednesday, March 26, 2008, 06:47 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On an Internet site called Anti-War Radio, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr confirmed on Wednesday that he’s “very seriously” looking at joining the race for the White House as a Libertarian — and had harsh words for both the Iraq war and for the Bush Administration’s defense of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Many thanks to blogger Jason Pye for passing on word of the interview.

On a presidential run, Barr said:

“There’s been a tremendous expressed to me both directly and indirectly on the Internet. I take that support very seriously, and I think it also reflects a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current candidates and the current two-party system. So it is something, to be honest with you, that I’m looking very seriously at.”

Barr said a Libertarian candidacy would essentially be an extension of the Ron Paul campaign.

“Ron Paul tapped into a great deal of that dissatisfaction and that awareness. Unfortunately, working through the Republican party structure, it became impossible for him to really move forward with his movement. But we have to have ….a rallying point out there to harness that energy, that freedom in this election cycle,” Barr said.

On Iraq:

“What we’ve fallen into in recent years — not just since 9/11, but particularly since 9/11 — is this notion that, in order to protect ourselves, we have to preemptively go into and — in the case of Iraq — occupy another sovereign nation,” Barr said. “Simply saying, ‘Gee, it’s better to fight over in this other nation and destroy another nation, so we’re not potentially attacked here, is the height of arrogance.”

As for the Bush administration’s refusal to define waterboarding as torture, Barr referred to the practice as “sophistry of the worst and rankest order.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Other America: Skid Row Part 5: Afterword

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On A Startling Breakthrough, Or, Will Your New Eye Need Tech Support?

We have all seen some impressive advances in technology over the past couple of decades—and many of them have represented science fiction becoming, to one degree or another, science fact.

Sometimes even better.

Dick Tracy’s “wrist TV” is at least equaled by the iPhone...the average minivan carries an network of electronic signal distribution that rivals anything in Buck Rogers...and modern communicators are giving George Orwell a run for his predictive money by advancing their arts in ways that I’m willing to bet even he never anticipated.

But even in the context of all this “gee-whiz” technology something comes along that offers the potential to change so much of what we do today that it deserves special note—even in the midst of a madly competitive political season.

And it will most assuredly change the way you see the world—forever.

So what’s all this big fuss, you’re asking?

How about this: University of Washington scientists have figured out how to implant minute circuitry inside contact lenses that makes it possible for the lenses to function in ways never before possible...meaning that everything you know about human vision is about to utterly and completely change.


How about contact lenses capable of acting as telescopes and microscopes?

How about night vision...or infrared...or the ability to switch modes as needed?

This is entirely possible; reports Babak Parviz of the UW’s School of Engineering...and it may be commercially available within 10 years.

How can this be done?

Traditional methods of manufacturing miniaturized circuits involve etching the required circuits onto “buildups” of appropriate material, layer by layer (a process that would destroy any contact lens material)...but in this case, the circuits are “self-assembled” inside an ordinary contact lens, using capillary action to pull the tiny units together within the lens itself.

(Speaking of science fiction coming to pass: this is a perfect example of the potential of nanotechnology becoming reality...)

The lenses, to the eye, feel exactly the same as the contact lenses you wear today (because they basically are), and because there are portions of the eye’s surface that do not gather light, there’s plenty of space to implant circuitry that will never be seen by the wearer.

The news I’ve presented so far is great if you’re an amateur astronomer...or ornithologist...or crime scene investigator.

But to be honest, it doesn’t really offer the “zing!” I promised in the beginning of the story. So let’s kick it up a notch, shall we?

Why don’t we...oh, I don’t know...why don’t we give your new eye a wi-fi connection?

Are you kidding?

No, I’m not.
It’s actually, again, well within the realm of possibility...and not even that technically daunting of a task, if I understand correctly.

Now you may be asking: “What does a wireless connection do for me”?

How about a contact lens that can display your iPhone directly to your eye, transparently, so that you see the Internet through your contact lens “screen” while simultaneously maintaining a view of the “real” world?

Of course, with the exception of those annoying bandwidth, signal-to-noise, and second-order interference issues sending what you see will be the simplest thing ever (broadcast engineers are allowed to do a spit take at this point) making everything from emails to sports coverage a completely new experience for everyone. (Imagine seeing the incoming fastball exactly as the batter sees it—through his very own eyes...or seeing the quarterback’s view as the defense closes in, thanks to the “in eye” cameras that sports broadcasters will rush to adopt as soon as they’re available.)

Driving will be utterly transformed. Imagine a rear view camera superimposed over one eye whenever you want to know what’s behind you...or, again, night vision capabilities—or an enhanced ability to see in fog...or the ability to see farther into the distance as your speed increases—not to mention the ability to determine the speed of the other cars, and access to traffic information and traffic cameras...and all the while never taking your eyes off the road..

Soldiers who can “see” through walls...cops and firefighters who can access databases and maps while outside the vehicle...mechanics who can access the tech manual while looking at the part being repaired...and surgeons who can access imaging of a patient while operating on that patient--and compare old images to new anatomy without ever lifting a scalpel or turning the head away from the work.

And none of this is even the coolest part.

Try, just for a moment, to imagine what this is going to do to video games, simulations (pilot training, for example), engineering and architectural design tools...and the movie and television industries.

For example, if you have a couple of hours to kill (perhaps an airplane flight...) you might access Netflix and download a video to your handheld device...and then watch it in the aspect ratio of your choice directly on your eye(s).

The next generations of PSP-like devices might interact with the new eyes by becoming more sophisticated controller devices, leaving the contact lenses to become the display...the potentially 100% immersive display that creates an environment that can be as transparent as you wish—either allowing you to see the outside world...or completely removing it from your sight.

Now you gotta admit, that is pretty cool.

So that’s our story for today: a new way of making contact lenses that will soon make the way we look at vision totally obsolete, transform the way we perform a thousand common tasks, and turn entertainment from something we look at on a screen to something that fills every part of our vision—creating images we could never before experience in such an immersive way...and it’s predicted all of this could occur in the next decade.

I don’t know about you, but this is one time I’m actually looking forward to an impending future.

The Other America - Skid Row Pt. 4

The Good Video series continues. This chapter is entitled "God"

Schellinger releases jobs plan

It's time to pick up Indiana

Today, Jim Schellinger released his Pick Up Indiana Jobs Plan - the centerpiece of his plan to grow Indiana’s economy intelligently and quickly.

As a Hoosier who helped build a successful small business, I know three things grow the economy and return/attract businesses in the long-term: a world-class education system, a well-trained workforce and an attractive quality of life.

As Governor, my number one priority will be to rebuild Indiana’s education system that will lead to a well- skilled and vibrant Hoosier workforce that will then have the skills they need to earn a good-paying job. Public schools and the men and women who teach our children should not be ridiculed for the work they do. Parents and communities should be empowered and students encouraged to succeed.

Education alone however will not be enough. We must maintain and improve the quality of life in Indiana so that Hoosiers will want to work here and then stay and raise their families here. To accomplish this we must recognize how everything is connected to everything – education, jobs, health care, the environment and the way government operates. To address one without understanding the impact and importance of others will only hinder our progress.

We need leadership that creates positive changes for every issue we face today. And that is why, as Governor, I will never push one of these issues to the back burner.

Updated: China Plans Tour For Select Journalists As Western Opinion Sides With Dalai Lama and Tibet

First, more news about brutality being used against protesters in Qinghai:

"They were beating up monks, which will only infuriate ordinary people," the source said of the protest on Tuesday in Qinghai's Xinghai county.

A resident in the area confirmed the demonstration, saying that paramilitaries dispersed the 200 to 300 protesters after half and hour, that the area was crawling with armed security forces and that workers were kept inside their offices.

The Beijing source said resentment at the paramilitary presence around Lhasa's monasteries prompted one monk at the Ramoche temple to hang himself.


"It's very harsh. They are taking in and questioning anyone who saw the protests," the source said. "The prisons are full. Detainees are being held at prisons in counties outside Lhasa."


After repeated headlines in the Western press about the Chinese government's censorship of the events in Tibet, authorities there have decided to invite a select group of western journalists to view places and events that support their side of the story:

The small delegation of selected foreign journalists landed in Lhasa on Wednesday afternoon for a three-day reporting trip expected to be tightly controlled and slanted toward China's version of the Tibetan unrest.

China has indicated the journalists -- the first allowed into Tibet since the unrest -- would be allowed to speak with victims of the violence and shown property damaged by rioters, but gave no assurances on reporting freedom.


It is unclear how much this public relations event will reverse - or even stem - the tide of Western criticism of China over their handling of the continuing protests.

For a sample of how much big that tide is, let's turn first to the European Union, which has issued a strong statement on the heels of Nicolas Sarkosy threatening a boycott of the opening ceremonies by France:

Geneva, Switzerland (AHN) - The European Union recently let out a series of criticism aimed at China regarding its violent crackdown and tight-grip rule on the region of Tibet. The collection of European nations called for the Asian giant to halt its forceful control over Tibetan protesters demanding the return of their exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

At a meeting with the United Nations Human Rights Council, the EU expressed its disapproval of China's authoritative tactics on Tibet, while showing concern over the growing unrest and violence spreading throughout the region, as well as the Tibetan provinces in other parts of China.

"We urge Chinese authorities to refrain from using force against those involved in unrest and call on demonstrators to desist from violence," stated Slovenia's ambassador to the U.N., Andrej Logar.


The Telegraph highlights Germany's calls for a dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama, is reporting that Britain is continuing its criticism of China's crack-down of the protests:

Britain also criticised Beijing, with an annual report by the Foreign Office highlighting Beijing's "violation" of human rights in Tibet.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said worldwide concern about the situation in Tibet was "justified and proper".

"There needs to be mutual respect between all communities and sustained dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities," he said.


Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias is adding his voice to those calling for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama:

"Nobody is asking for independence for Tibet," Arias said. "The Dalai Lama has never asked for that. What is at stake is preserving the autonomy of Tibet."


Arias described the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a personal friend, and said he was disturbed by the scenes of violence in Tibet.

"I saw scenes on television in which Tibetans were busting up Chinese stores, which led to the army being called in and the death of innocent people," he said. "That just shouldn't happen."


Finally, Hillary Clinton has called out President Bush's "closet diplomacy" with China:

"I think that what's happening in Tibet is deeply troubling, and this is a pattern of the Chinese government with respect to their treatment of Tibet," she told reporters after a campaign event in Pennsylvania.

"I don't think we should wait until the Olympics to make sure that our views are known," Clinton said, while saying she did not have an opinion now on whether the U.S. team should not go to the games.

Clinton said President George W. Bush's administration should be more forceful about the Tibet issue.

"I think we should be speaking out through our administration now in a much more forceful way and, you know, supporting people in Tibet who are trying to preserve their culture and their religion from tremendous pressure by the Chinese."


Earlier this month, Barack Obama issued his own statement on the situation in Tibet, which can be found here:

Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.

UPDATE: Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu gives his support to the Dalai Lama's calls for dialogue and nonviolence:

I wish to express my solidarity with the people of Tibet during this critical time in their history. To my dear friend His Holiness the Dalai Lama, let me say: I stand with you. You define non-violence and compassion and goodness. I was in an Easter retreat when the recent tragic events unfolded in Tibet. I learned that China has stated you caused violence. Clearly China does not know you, but they should. I call on China's government to know His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as so many have come to know, during these long decades years in exile. Listen to His Holiness' pleas for restraint and calm and no further violence against this civilian population of monastics and lay people.

I urge China to enter into a substantive and meaningful dialogue with this man of peace, the Dalai Lama. China is uniquely positioned to impact and affect our world. Certainly the leaders of China know this or they would not have bid for the Olympics. Killing, imprisonment and torture are not a sport: the innocents must be released and given free and fair trials.

I urge my esteemed friend Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet and be given access to assess, and report to the international community, the events which led to this international outcry for justice. The High Commissioner should be allowed to travel with journalists, and other observers, who may speak truth to power and level the playing field so that, indeed, this episode -- these decades of struggle -- may attain a peaceful resolution. This will help not only Tibet. It will help China.

And China, poised to receive the world during the forthcoming Olympic Games needs to make sure the eyes of the world will see that China has changed, that China is willing to be a responsible partner in international global affairs. Finally, China must stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing one whose life has been devoted to non violence, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace laureate.


Chelsea and the Monica question

by Don Wheeler

The incident we've heard so much about really illustrates what happens when someone with a personal investment, but little experience in campaigning is confronted with a difficult situation.

I'm also intrigued that the only video I can find is her response, not the question.

I was impressed with Chelsea Clinton's remarks at the West Side Democratic Club, but as the South Bend Tribune correctly pointed out - they were quite brief. It's also my understanding that she does not take questions from "the media".

I think I'm not alone remembering her - when her father took office - as a perfectly wonderful thirteen year old girl beset on by bullies in the right wing faux media. I'll never forget, for example, the infamous Rush Limbaugh slideshow about our new First Family. A picture of Chelsea was put up with the comment "First Dog".

I'm not a violent man, but I wanted to strangle that coward. I'll never forgive him for that despicable act.

But she's 28 now, and playing in the big leagues.

I credit that she wants to stand up for her mother and I agree the question was not meritorious. But it was posed by a supporter and whether you believe her that no one ever posed this question before (I don't), it is obviously in the minds of many people.

And whether you believe the claim of the questioner that he was offering an opportunity for Ms. Clinton to highlight the strength of her mother, the Candidate, that opportunity was presented nonetheless.

Instead, (and I'll choose my words carefully) Chelsea reacted in condemning and condescending manner. In fact, her approach reflected a personal trait which makes some of us uncomfortable with her mother.

She could have made the same point more gently and spared the questioner the humiliation. But it really looked like the humiliation was the point.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The college student who got a stinging brushback from
Chelsea Clinton when he asked about the Monica Lewinsky scandal said Wednesday
he's a Clinton supporter who was trying to get her to show "what makes Hillary
so strong."

Evan Strange, a Butler University student who works on the school's
newspaper, The Butler Collegian, said he had asked Chelsea Clinton her opinion
"on the criticism of her mother that how she handled the Lewinsky scandal might
be a sign of weakness and she might not be a strong enough candidate to be

It wasn't clear what aspect of the former first lady's actions he was
referring to. Before she was fully aware of President Bill Clinton's
relationship with Lewinsky, Hillary Rodham Clinton said allegations about her
husband and the White House intern were manufactured by a "vast right-wing

In support of local Public Radio

WVPE 88.1 FM is in the midst of their spring pledge drive. You can pledge here.

A bit over ten years ago I discovered WVPE had become an NPR affiliate. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but what I did know was that there was suddenly a lot of interesting programming each day – replacing the “smooth jazz” format in the daytime.

As I remember the lineup, Bob Edwards (I still miss him) started things off with Morning Edition. The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air and the Derrick McGinty Show followed. In the afternoon it was Talk of The Nation with Ray Suarez, followed by All Things Considered. At various points in my life since then I have been able to listen much of the day - and really felt I had a lot better idea of what was going on in the world.

I became a member shortly after this discovery – my small business even sponsored “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” for a couple of years.

When I first met the woman who became my wife, we decided to make our first real date be a Meet Me On The Island event – which was up until recently was cosponsored by WVPE. You see, she too was a Public Radio fan and a fan of that gathering. We still go.

A bit over a year later, we sponsored a Marry Me On The Island event – our wedding – commemorating that first date. I snuck backstage at the WVPE Blues and Ribs fest a few weeks prior to it, and talked Junior and The Igniters into playing for our reception. People still talk about that party.

Obviously, WVPE has great significance in our family.

I also noticed in recent years that the station made an ongoing effort to solicit listener commentaries and had been a bit surprised at how few takers there were. Over time, it became clear that the station wasn’t just trying a short term program; rather, it was clearly a station policy.

Well I got involved in a few projects and causes and decided I had some things to say about this and that, and discovered to my delight that they meant what they said. They’ve let me put my two cents in from time to time on the airwaves. What a privilege.

“The thing of it is”, as Chicago Public Television host John Calloway would start a thought… the thing of it is the combination of local news, local music programs, award winning syndicated talk and news analysis programs, sponsored community events and citizen access to broadcast media simply isn’t available anywhere else in our area. In Michiana, WVPE puts the public in Public Radio.

So as a long term member at this point, I’d ask you to think about what WVPE means to you. Heck, go into their studio and tell the rest of us. I, for one, would love to hear your story.

And all of us who love what we have here should think about what we are able to do to keep what we love going and thriving. For me, some years I can do more than others. I think the point is to try to do something always.

I hope you do too.

Don Wheeler

Making the case for Obama

My friend Brian Siebel, who is an attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, recommends this piece from the Huffington Post as making a strong case for an Obama presidency. Excerpts and a link follow.


by Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Danny Glover

This call has been drafted for immediate circulation, discussion, and action.

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grass-roots participation drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle down economics or charitable billionaires.

By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below.As progressives we believe this sudden and unexpected new movement is just what America needs. The future has arrived. The alternative would mean a return to the dismal status quo party politics that have failed so far to deliver peace, health care, full employment and effective answers to crises like global warming.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Taming The Beast

by Paul Krugman
New York Times

We’re now in the midst of an epic financial crisis, which ought to be at the center of the election debate. But it isn’t.

Now, I don’t expect presidential campaigns to have all the answers to our current crisis — even financial experts are scrambling to keep up with events. But I do think we’re entitled to more answers, and in particular a clearer commitment to financial reform, than we’re getting so far.

In truth, I don’t expect much from John McCain, who has both admitted not knowing much about economics and denied having ever said that. Anyway, lately he’s been busy demonstrating that he doesn’t know much about the Middle East, either.

Yet the McCain campaign’s silence on the financial crisis has disappointed even my low expectations.
And when Mr. McCain’s economic advisers do speak up about the economy’s problems, they don’t inspire confidence. For example, last week one McCain economic adviser — Kevin Hassett, the co-author of “Dow 36,000” — insisted that everything would have been fine if state and local governments hadn’t tried to limit urban sprawl. Honest.

On the Democratic side, it’s somewhat disappointing that Barack Obama, whose campaign has understandably made a point of contrasting his early opposition to the Iraq war with Hillary Clinton’s initial support, has tried to score a twofer by suggesting that the war, in addition to all its other costs, is responsible for our economic troubles.

The war is indeed a grotesque waste of resources, which will place huge long-run burdens on the American public.

But it’s just wrong to blame the war for our current economic mess: in the short run, wartime spending actually stimulates the economy. Remember, the lowest unemployment rate America has experienced over the last half-century came at the height of the Vietnam War.

Hillary Clinton has not, as far as I can tell, made any comparably problematic economic claims. But she, like Mr. Obama, has been disappointingly quiet about the key issue: the need to reform our out-of-control financial system.

Let me explain.

America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission is justified. But you don’t have to be an economic radical, or even a vocal reformer like Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to see that what’s happening now is the quid without the quo.

Last week Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, declared that Mr. Frank is right about the need for expanded regulation. Mr. Rubin put it clearly: If Wall Street companies can count on being rescued like banks, then they need to be regulated like banks.

But will that logic prevail politically?

Not if Mr. McCain makes it to the White House. His chief economic adviser is former Senator Phil Gramm, a fervent advocate of financial deregulation. In fact, I’d argue that aside from Alan Greenspan, nobody did as much as Mr. Gramm to make this crisis possible.

Both Democrats, by contrast, are running more or less populist campaigns. But at least so far, neither Democrat has made a clear commitment to financial reform.

Is that simply an omission? Or is it an ominous omen? Recent history offers reason to worry.

In retrospect, it’s clear that the Clinton administration went along too easily with moves to deregulate the financial industry. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that big contributions from Wall Street helped grease the rails.

Last year, there was no question at all about the way Wall Street’s financial contributions to the new Democratic majority in Congress helped preserve, at least for now, the tax loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Now, the securities and investment industry is pouring money into both Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s coffers. And these donors surely believe that they’re buying something in return.

Let’s hope they’re wrong.

Dyngus Day and logistics

by Don Wheeler

The West Side Democratic Club has to get poor marks for this years event. For starters, why in the world wasn't the event moved to a site which could accomodate a crowd size (easily anticipated) wishing to be involved?

I arrived around 9:30 and within about a half hour the line to the building reached two blocks in length. It wasn't all that long after that most of us figured out we wouldn't be getting in. Many decided to leave.

These were all people prepared to pay admission. But someone must have decided that their money was no good.

But assuming that was the plan, the situation was pretty lousy for those of us outside. It was cold. There were no toilet facilities, no opportunity to purchase hot beverages. The food eventually offered was stone cold. When speakers came out to talk to us, no microphone was available for them. As a matter of fact, some gent rolled out a microphone cable to a platform. But no one used that platform except spectators and camera people. The speakers used a platform closer to the building.

Poor Tim Roemer had to compete with amplified polka music. He lost badly.

The next time the Indiana Primary matters in the Presidential race - 40 years from now - maybe we'll be better prepared.

Still, I'll admit I had a good time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dyngus Day and the Governor race

by Don Wheeler

When I arrived around 9:30 AM, I joined a line a bit over a block long of people hoping to enter the West Side Democratic Club for Dyngus Day festivities. Within the next half hour or less, the length of line doubled. What most of us didn't know was that all the space inside the club was either taken or reserved.

There was a benefit to standing in this line, however. After a while I noticed Jim Shellinger and Jill Long-Thompson were working their way down the line. Because of this, I was able to have a brief conversation with each of them.

In each case, I mentioned our blog and asked for a way to directly pose questions to their campaigns. In the case of the Shellinger campaign, Jim's wife Judy said she'd make sure their publicity director (who was on site) would make contact with me. That didn't happen. In the case of the Long-Thompson campaign, Jill furnished me with the email address of her campaign website and assured me it would reach her personally. When I mentioned that I had written that address recently to find out if she planned to be at this event, but got no reply - she seemed somewhat chagrined. Ditto for her campaign manager who was standing next to her. Stuff happens.

From what I could hear, there was a sizable contingent of Schellinger supporters inside. Outside, the Long-Thompson supporter clearly dominated.

Jill and Jim were some of the early speakers, with Jim leading off. Their speeches were interestingly reflective of my experience of each of their campaigns to date.

A good chunk of the John Edwards Indiana contingent are involved in the Schellinger campaign. Some of these folks have contacted me - asking for support. I responded to them and made it clear that that was entirely possible - only I wanted some idea of what he proposed to do as Governor. His campaign website had not and still does not make it clear. That request apparently offended them, since I got no reply.

I had a similar gripe with the Long-Thompson campaign (who actually contacted me first) until about a month ago when Jill started rolling out fairly specific policy proposals.

Today Jim touted his South Bend heritage and business background and spoke only in vague ways about policy issues. Jill, on the other hand, spoke very specifically about what she intends to do - starting with immediately restoring state employees' rights to collectively bargain, then make it a permanent right through legislation. That and the other initiatives she spoke of were things likely to make Edwards Democrats proud.

So they're off!

We each need to put energy into finding out what we need to know about these two. Both seem to be decent people. But in six weeks, we need to pick one of them, and it's fair to say we need better information.

I will pose questions to them, as promised. And I will report back to you.

We must ditch Mitch.

Dyngus Day/Solidarity Day Photo Gallery 2

The Elk's Club welcomes Bill Clinton

Bill speaking to the crowd inside the Elk's Club

Working the crowd inside the Elk's Club. Yep. I was really that close!

Clinton working the crowd outside the Elk's Club

Clinton behind the Elk's Club shortly before leaving

I didn't think I was going to be able to make either one of Clinton's appearances. As luck would have it, two scheduled appointments were canceled and I was free to Dyngus. YAY for me!!!

First, I checked out the West Side Democratic Club and found it to be filled to capacity with no one else being let in, including many holding tickets. Not a big surprise there. I decided to swing back to the Elk's Club since, on my way I saw there was hardly any crowd at all over there. Good choice on my part. Not only did I manage to get in, I got a seat. Worked for me!

Of course, it was great to hear the usual politicians, but let's be real, most people turned up to see Bill Clinton (myself included). I don't know if Indiana will ever be so important to an election to have such prominent visitors here. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Having gotten close enough to be able to shake a President's hand was definitely once in a lifetime.

His speech was pretty much what I expected to hear, foreclosures, education, homeless vets, war. Good speech but I still haven't decided who I support. Go figure! The one time my vote may actually matter and it has to be a really tough choice for me personally.

I'm not sure I'd be all that upset regardless of whether Barack or Hillary wins. Either way, we're witnessing history with the possibility of having either our first black President or our first woman President. Now, I don't decide my vote based on race or gender but it's pretty cool to think about the possibility of not only watching history being made, but being able to be a part of it.

Dyngus Day and the Presidential race

by Don Wheeler

There's no point in sugar coating it - the Dyngus Day event at the South Bend West Side Democratic club was stacked against Barack Obama's campaign. Compare the signage in the photo array post, add a dash of a large Clinton campaign staff contingent handing out event signs (no comparable effort for Obama), compare the speaker list and it certainly appears the Obama campaign (for the most part) thought it wise to sit this one out.

They were not absent, I should be clear. I was not in the building - which sounded as though it was dominated by Clinton supporters - but outside there was a healthy contingent of Obama supporters. In addition, former Congressman Tim Roemer made a powerful speech on his behalf.

But later, when Mr. Roemer attempted to recap the speech to those of us outside, no microphone was provided and for several minutes he had to compete with very loud polka music over the PA system. Eventually, someone finally prevailed upon county party chair Butch Morgan to ask the music be cut off while Congressman Roemer spoke. But it was nearly impossible to hear him.

First up for the Clinton campaign was former Mayor of South Bend, Lt. Governor and Governor of Indiana - Joe Kernan. Joe is as beloved a man among local Democrats as anyone, I suspect. His job was to introduce Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (daughter of RFK) who proved to be a powerful and intriguing speaker.

In the first part of her speech she shared very personal glimpses of life with her parents and her memories of her father's visit to South Bend and Dyngus Day in 1968. I didn't live here then, but her words still impacted me. Maybe I've lived here long enough that my sense of community predates my actual physical presence here.

In the second part (and there was a clear division) she explained how Hillary Clinton's arc of life and her campaign for the Presidency dovetailed with Robert Kennedy's efforts in his short life. It was powerful.

Then it was Chelsea Clinton's turn. She spoke briefly about what she saw as her mother's strengths and how she intended to help the effort to elect her. The person I most clearly remember as an awkward teeenager is now a polished speaker. Perhaps a better public speaker than her mother.

But Chelsea's main job was to introduce her father.

Bill Clinton has a particular talent for compressing serious information into a short format. He also tends to bing up a tibit of information many of us who thought we were paying attention have/had never heard. On this occassion, he claimed that 90 percent of people in foreclosure never missed a payment. That sounds mighty compelling until you think about how that could be possible. Most foreclosures occur when borrowers are seriously behind on payments. I guess we need to read the footnotes.

He made a few other somewhat dubious claims, but in general he made a very strong case for Hillary by clearly defining our challenges and framing her proposals as solutions. This was a stark contrast to Rep. Roemer's Obama talking points which tend to be more based on personality and less on policy. Mr. Clinton also highlighted some specific examples indicating an electoral advantage (in defeating McCain) vs. Obma - based on some recent polling.

I don't know if this is a fair assessment, but I have the impression that the Hillary Clinton campaign may well have fared better by having him here than her. Who can know?

In any case, it sure looked like a Clinton event - with others invited. Still...very interesting.

Here's a short clip from Countdown on the topic:

Dyngus Day photo Gallery

These photos are from the West Side Democratic Club Dyngus Day/Solidarity Day celebration Monday March 24, 2008 in South Bend, Indiana.

(Top photos) The crowd gathers before 10:00 AM. Little did they or I know, they would not be getting in.

(Lower photo) Congressman Joe Donnelly works the crowd.

The Clinton campaign had vastly larger and more prominent signage.

The sum total of Obama signage.

Former Mayor, Lt. Governor, Governor and current South Bend Silverhawks owner Joe Kernan addresses the crowd on the outdoor platform - with former Congressman Tim Roemer and others.

South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke enjoys the festivities with some lucky fan.

Former "first daughter" Chelsea Clinton works the crowd out on the street after her father (former President Bill Clinton's) speech to the Dyngus Day crowd at the West Side Democratic Club.

On Tibet, and the LA Riots

I have lived through one city-wide riot in my life: Los Angeles, 1992. In Hollywood it wasn't "ground zero", but you could see the rioters coming, block by block, up the long, straight road known as Normandie Ave.

Just as unpredictable as a wild fire caused by flinging a lit cigarette out of a car window, riots like this are nimble, incendiary events, fueled by the anger and frustration of a community that has simply had enough. Masses of people don't take to the streets, destroying everything in their line of site, and senselessly looting stores like Fredericks of Hollywood just to get that last, remaining fuscia-colored sized 42DDD bra and matching leopard print thong, without some reason other than a hankering for cheesy women's lingerie (and yes, plenty of these items ended up in tag sales countless weekends after the riots ended).

Something bigger is always at work...

That's why I had some LA riot flashbacks reading today's New York Times, and their account of how the protests started in Lhasa, Tibet.

First, the lack of immediate police response:

Foreigners and Lhasa residents who witnessed the violence were stunned by what they saw, and by what they did not see: the police. Riot police officers fled after an initial skirmish and then were often nowhere to be found. Some Chinese shopkeepers begged for protection.

“The whole day I didn’t see a single police officer or soldier,” said an American woman who spent hours navigating the riot scene. “The Tibetans were just running free.”


For those unfamiliar with the timeline of the LA riots, one of the most controversial parts was the fact that LA Police Chief Darryl Gates was at a fundraiser while the riots were underway and was roundly criticized for not keeping his eye on what was a potentially (and then actually) explosive situation.

In Tibet, it also seems the person who should have been manning the ship was engaged elsewhere:

Ultimately, the man responsible for public order in Lhasa is Mr. Zhang, Tibet’s party chief.


Mr. Zhang also has an excuse; he was at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. When the violence started, Mr. Zhang had just completed a two-hour online discussion about China’s Supreme Court, according to a government Web site. It is unclear when Mr. Zhang was told of the violence, or if he made the final decision on how to respond.

In Los Angeles, where Darryl Gates was routinely criticized for encouraging over-the-top police tactics that violated civil rights, this initial lack of response led to a number of conspiracy theories, stating that Gates wanted the riots to initially spiral out of control so that he could justify more brutal tactics on the part of law enforcement in the wake of an out-of-control populace.

It would not surprise me if similar thoughts are quietly being voiced in Tibet and other sections of China right now.

The LA riots weren't caused by "the Rodney King clique". Indeed, no one man can create this level of public unrest, rather there are always underlying causes that are waiting for a moment in time - that lit cigarette flung out the window - to serve as the spark that ignites a pent up frustration.

In the case of the LA riots the frustration was one of a perception - justified in my mind - that in the matters of police brutality and judicial review there was a double standard that treated African Americans far differently from all of the other racial groups in the city. One year prior to the LA riots, a Korean shopkeeper shot Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old African American girl, dead in the back over a scuffle arising from a small bottle of orange juice. The shopkeeper, Soon Ja Du, was sentenced to probation, community service and a $500 fine by judge Joyce Karlin. This directly contradicted the jury's recommendation that Du serve a 16-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

This sentence, widely publicized and discussed in Los Angeles, solidified in the minds of many African Americans that they could not expect the system to give them fair treatment. The brutal beating of Rodney King and subsequent aquittal of three Los Angeles police officers from charges of police brutality was the spark that caused people to take to the streets.

Riots like these are spontaneous reactions to a building feeling of injustice and isolation. To say that one man can use his magic telepathy-telephone and will people to take to the streets is a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature.

This eyewitness account is particularly telling (again, from the NY Times):

“This wasn’t organized, but it was very clear that they wanted the Chinese out,” said the American woman who witnessed the riots and asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. She said Tibetan grievances exploded in anger.

A responsible government at a certain point will recognize the feelings that started a riot on this scale. Although the systemic problems of racial injustice are far from being resolved in our country, the initial steps of firing Darryl Gates and setting up the independent Christopher Commission to investigate the riots were positive steps in the right direction.

If the Chinese authorities truly want this conflict to end and peace to be restored, the first step on that path is a vocal acknowledgement of the grievances of those who engaged (and likely are still engaging) in this riot. Anything less will just allow the same feelings of isolation and injustice to fester, under the surface, until the next inconvenient outburst occurs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Music And Succession, Or, The Tao Of Texas


To think about the place is to consider the duality of Tao.

A State with a dramatic duality of geography—the trees and rolling hills of East Texas compare starkly to the Panhandle...or Corpus Christi, for that matter.

The duality extends to politics as well.

Consider today’s “Madness of King George”, the weird nexus between Conservative politics and State governance as practiced by Rick “Leadership by Coiffure” Perry, and the perennially wacky antics of the Lege and the unique personalities who find there safe harbor.

Balanced against that are the “aw shucks” kinda folks who have truly made Texas great: Jim Hightower, Ann Richards, and Molly Ivins being three examples who between them represent just a tiny scratch on the deeply carved surface of the big picnic table upon which the BBQ of Texas society is served.

Duality factors into today’s conversation as well; as we intertwine thoughts of West Berlin, succession, and a mini-review of one of the world’s preeminent music festivals: SXSW.

Then let’s get to it.

“It was a nice neighborhood. If you liked neighborhoods.”

--Kinky Friedman, from the book “A Case of Lone Star

The SXSW Festival (pronounced South by Southwest, for those not familiar), based in Austin (the Texas State Capitol), has grown from a neighborhood effort capitalizing on the city’s well-deserved reputation as a haven for live music performance to the new “Aspen”; with A & R reps, movie industry types (there’s now a semi-big semi-fancy film festival in addition to the music), and thousands of glitterati and their retinue roaming 6th Street in search of the “next big thing”.

Your friendly fake consultant was not able to attend in person (issues...), but thanks to the courtesy of a satellite provider who shall remain nameless (but which rhymes with Smerect TV) I’ve been given the chance to see almost a dozen bands in live performance over the past 48 hours, including Daniel Lanois, Dizzee Rascal, Tift Merritt, Sia, X...even the former teen sensations Hanson.

Much of our discussion will focus on my impressions of these bands (and more as yet unmentioned); but first, a few words about West Berlin.

At the end of the Second World War, the defeated Germany became a nation divided by the victors, with French, American, British, and Russian Zones of Occupation. Berlin, the nation’s capital, was also divided into four zones; even though it was entirely within the larger Russian Zone of Occupation.

At the height of the Cold War, Berlin was an island city surrounded by East Germany (a Warsaw Pact member in very good standing and the former Russian Zone; the rest of Germany became known as West Germany) and separated from the world by a series of barriers that collectively became known as the Berlin Wall.

West Berlin’s location deep within a Soviet client State offered a unique perspective on life within this otherwise closed society; making it a legendary locale for espionage...and a legendary location for escape, as East Berliners realized life in the proximity of the West was far less appealing than a life actually in the West.

Because of limited space, SXSW invites about 25% of the bands that apply to participate in the Festival, meaning only about 1,600 bands are able to play during the three-day run of the event, and 25 of those are featured in the satellite provider’s per hour for three days. With re-runs, it means you get three chances to see each band, and there were some bands that I did see twice—including Daniel Lanois (who actually performed at least double duty, also appearing in Martha Wainwright’s band), who` is touring with his guitar and Brian Blades, a drummer who was more than ready to swap melodies with Lanois through the several long-form songs they played.

You may not know Lanois by name, but his work as the producing U2 albums makes him one of those “unknown soldiers” who have had much more influence on your music than you might think. It is also reported that Lanois has been touring with a documentary filmmaker...and with any luck, he’ll be coming to your TV set (or cooperative arthouse theater) in the not-too-distant future.

The Soviet Union’s frustration regarding West Berlin’s status inside East Germany led to an effort to blockade the city’s rail and road connections to the outside world; this in an effort to force the remaining former Allies (an alliance which later begat NATO) to abandon the city to the East Germans.

Harry Truman refused to be bent to the Soviet’s will; the result was the Berlin Airlift, the first effort to feed and supply a city of this size entirely by air.

The treaty creating the German partitioning arrangements had granted to the three Allies the right to access Berlin through certain air corridors...which could not be blockaded by Soviet air forces without committing acts of war (a bad decision at the time, as the US enjoyed a nuclear monopoly—which we had made use of only three years earlier against Japan).

The story of those who engaged in this effort is one of the great epic tales of American and British military history...and one of those rare times when having a military—and using it—truly is the mark of a great power; beyond that it may be the single event that made America the most admired nation on the planet for at least a generation...which eventually sort of turned a President into a self-described pastry:

“Ich bin ein Berliner...”

--President John F. Kennedy, June 26, 1963

Sia is the former lead singer of the band Zero 7, and as much as I enjoyed her music, I was also struck by the fact that her presentation and personality bear a startling resemblance to Cyndi Lauper—not in costume, but in the unpretentious and self-deprecating way she interacted with the crowd...and while I do wholeheartedly recommend her songs, I would also tell you that she looks like one of those people who, if your tire was flat, might help you change it—and might even have a joke handy to lighten the moment.

Are you all familiar with the expression “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”?

Hanson and X (featuring Xcene Cervenka, as the doyenne of punk) performed.

In keeping with the same “say nice things” policy, I will relate to you my “short skirt” theory of music, naming the innocent, and protecting the guilty.

The theory is simple: the shorter the skirt, the more the band sucks.

Results based on a universe of three bands confirmed the hypothesis: the skirt of the first “skirt band” female singer was quite short...and I did not find the band particularly interesting musically.

The second skirt was not only short enough to permit unanticipated gynecological examination in the event of even a minor accident, it was actually cut so as to expose additional hip...which, frankly, may have been a mistake.

There is no question that this particular band practiced posing in their glittery costumes far more than writing and playing recently...which was also a mistake, as it left them even farther down (or up, if you prefer) in the “skirt vs. music” rankings.

Then comes before us Nicole Atkins and the Sea; she of the American Express commercials and a nearly knee-length skirt (and fascinating top that almost appeared to be an inverted whalebone corset in emerald green).

She did a great show, by far the best of this group of three, and I would encourage you to give her a listen. She’s got a folk-rock/storytelling thing going on, and all in all I felt she did great work.

The Soviets tried mightily to prevent the use of the air corridors, occasionally swooping near US and British cargo aircraft (among those the legendary C-47, some of which are still in service to this day) in their smaller, more agile fighters. Despite these efforts at intimidation, the deliveries increased from a few thousands of tons of supplies daily to such a river of air cargo that the Soviets were forced to abandon the effort...and the blockcade was broken.

It taught the Soviets that we would not be beaten...a lesson that may have paid dividends a few years later.

Some of the coolest new musicians today are the British “grime” bands, who combine hip/hop, reggae, and dance into a heady mix of fun; high among that group of artists is Dizzee Rascal (see also: Audiobullys, Roots Manuva, or The Streets); a “straight edge” performer in a ganja world who released one of my favorite albums of last year: “Maths + English”. Check out “Sirens”, or “Bubbles”, or the instant classic “Wanna Be” featuring the most excellent Lily Allen (“So you wanna be a gangster / tell me just one thing / whatcha know about bein’ a hard man / your Mom buys your bling...”), an improbable remake of a Paul Williams song from the ‘70’s movie “Bugsy Malone”.

He had a pretty good broadcast show, and he was the only one of the participants to bring on other artists he is promoting to do the first few songs of the set.

Austin, the home of SXSW, holds a place in the cultural milieu of Texas that is not dissimilar to the position a Democratic precinct captain would have in the George W. Bush household—Austin may be family, but they often get the last scoop of the mashed potatoes at dinner...and never the big piece of chicken.

It seems to be related to the fact that Austin is a giant college town in a State that values the “git ‘er done” guy far more than the average PhD...but whatever the reason, the city, much like West Berlin, is an island of liberal thought trapped within an Evil Empire of hyper-Conservatism—and that’s where this entire story comes together.

What I have attempted to do up to this point is to explain the importance of preserving Austin while demonstrating what can be done to protect even a deeply isolated outpost which finds itself under siege.

How does that apply here?

I’m proposing that we work together to help Austin secede from Texas.
Secede, you say?
Yes, I do.

How might this work?

My proposal would send clandestine agents into the Austin area to identify and organize potential supporters of secession, while at the same time introducing into Congress a proposal to establish Austin as a second Federal District; giving the city the same status as Washington, DC.

There is even a politically palatable way to frame the using the same scare tactics so popular amongst Conservatives—National Security.

Yes, National Security.

If we frame the argument correctly, we could convince the nervous that Washington might be the target of a terrorist attack at any time...and that it is imperative to our National Survival to have a backup location ready for Continuity of Government purposes.

That’s where our supporters come in...some are playing the part of “the nervous” to help spread fear about a potential attack, some represent interests who hope to benefit from a change in control—and of course, we hope to enlist the city’s saloon and bar community, a critical resource for changing public opinion in any Western society.

Augustana is a San Diego band that bears no resemblance whatever to 311 (it is reported they toured with Counting Crows, and it’s easy to see why) but I like them just the same...and I would think that they and Tift Merritt might be one of the better tours of the year, should they ever link up.

Despite the fact that they have quite a good group of writers there already, I seem to have a bit of a following in North Carolina (thanks to the kind folks at BlueNC); so if you’re reading this, be on the lookout for fellow Tarheel Tift Merritt. She has a pretty good alt. country band...and from the look of the beards on the band members I’m guessing they hail from the farthest Western region of the State—or UNC.

Now the key to our plan is the fact the Austin has plenty of available land surrounding the city (an entire state, to be exact)—which means from time to time we can use the Federal Government’s power of eminent domain to expand the District...until eventually, all of Texas is ours! (Insert evil laugh here.)

So that’s unusual but doable plan that uses West Berlin as a model for how to save an endangered city...and perhaps, eventually, an entire State.

Not to mention a small peek at some music that is worth your attention—with a final note. The SXSW organizers have a website operating that has video of the bands we discussed today and many, many more...which means a visit to will be time well spent the next rainy day.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bill's going for the deep seats on this pitch

by Don Wheeler

David Sirota of Credo Action made a point of highlighting the Clinton Indiana strategy. And it is something to behold.
From ABC News:

ABC News' Sarah Amos reports: Bill Clinton set a high
bar in Fort Wayne, Ind., tonight while campaigning for his wife, Sen. Hillary
Clinton, D-N.Y.

In past states Clinton has made a point to lower
expectations, particularly in Texas, where he went as far as to say if she
didn't carry the state, she may not get the nomination.

Today, Clinton was singing a different tune, telling
the crowd, "we need your help. We need your help. I believe she will win a big
victory in Pennsylvania. I believe she will win in West Virginia and Kentucky.
Nobody believes she can win in Indiana because it borders Illinois. If you show
them they're wrong, she'll be the nominee, and she'll be the president."

Clinton went on to urge voters in Indiana not to make
up their minds just yet, saying Hillary does her best when voters think about
their choice in the last hours of an election.

"In every election that we've been involved in, all
these primaries, she always wins the voters that decide in the last 48 hours.
Even in the states where she had no money, no organization, got beat bad.

"In Virginia she won the closing vote, a state where we
had no organization, spent no money. She just went up there for a couple days.
In Mississippi, where she was bound to lose, she did much better than everybody
expected because she won the closing vote," Clinton told the crowd.

"In Texas, she won the vote up to 48 hours before the
election 50-49. She won the last 48 hours 61-38. The people who start thinking
about who would be the best president are coming to her," said Clinton, throwing
in one final example of a state his wife managed to win.

It was an energized day of campaigning for Clinton, who
joked throughout the day about how much more comfortable he feels coming to
rural America.

"I'm the designated rural hitman in the campaign,
because I feel at home," Clinton told one audience today.

Tomorrow, Clinton will continue his rural-themed
campaign run with stops across eastern Pennsylvania.

It's an odd strategy in at least a couple ways. Considering Fort Wayne is (along with Gary and Indianapolis) of the most metropolitan parts of our state, it seems like tin ear syndrome (at the least) to characterize his appearance there as some sort of "wallow with the hogs" initiative. And the claim that Hillary suffers from terrible disadvantages here, brings to mind an old Monty Python "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" skit.

Some might argue that having the backing of the state organization, led by US Senator Evan Bayh, might actually offer an advantage. I'll go out on a limb and say I think it does. I'm not sure what more Bill could ask for.

This really looks like a symptom of their surprisingly poorly run campaign. From the beginning, first Joe Trippi for Edwards, then David Axelrod for Obama continually baited and outmaneuvered Howard Wolfson - who seems to have a particular knack for making himself look like an idiot. George W. Bush got away with a campaign of arrogance and inevitability in 2000 to win his nomination, but he had nothing like the quality of opponents Hillary Clinton has faced.

I'm not a big fan of either Senator, but it's hard for me to see what the Clinton folks think they can do at this point. In some ways, Sen. Obama's margin is small, but in another way - being so late in the game - it is nearly impossible to overcome.

John Edwards did the math, didn't want to end up some kind of power broker, and dropped out a bit sooner than many of us would have predicted.

The new math shows a somewhat similar problem for Sen. Clinton. True, in her case, she could maneuver her way to a nomination - but it isn't likely. And if she succeeded, what would she have accomplished? Could she overcome the hard feelings created by the backroom tactics which would be necessary to pull this off? I doubt it.

Hillary Clinton needs to think carefully about whether - should she wrest the nomination - can the Democrats win the Presidency?

Hubris hasn't served her candidacy well up to this point.

Bill and Chelsea will be here (in South Bend) Monday for Dyngus Day celebrations. Any questions for them?


from Joe Miller

Time is short to stop Bush and EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson from acting on a proposed rule slipped into the Federal Register during the winter congressional recess to exempt factory farms from reporting toxic air emissions from animal waste.

The excerpts and links below convey the urgency of the situation.

The comment period to oppose this latest outrageous action closes on MARCH 28th.

To submit your comment, click on the "add comment" icon for "CERCLA/EPCRA Administrative Reporting Exemption for Air Releases of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste" at the following link (scroll down):

Friday, March 21, 2008

Partying like it's 1929

by Paul Krugman
New York Times

If Ben Bernanke manages to save the financial system from collapse, he will — rightly — be praised for his heroic efforts.

But what we should be asking is: How did we get here?

Why does the financial system need salvation?

Why do mild-mannered economists have to become superheroes?

The answer, at a fundamental level, is that we’re paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s — and having refused to learn from history, we’re repeating it.

Contrary to popular belief, the stock market crash of 1929 wasn’t the defining moment of the Great Depression. What turned an ordinary recession into a civilization-threatening slump was the wave of bank runs that swept across America in 1930 and 1931.

This banking crisis of the 1930s showed that unregulated, unsupervised financial markets can all too easily suffer catastrophic failure.

As the decades passed, however, that lesson was forgotten — and now we’re relearning it, the hard way.

To grasp the problem, you need to understand what banks do.

Banks exist because they help reconcile the conflicting desires of savers and borrowers. Savers want freedom — access to their money on short notice. Borrowers want commitment: they don’t want to risk facing sudden demands for repayment.

Normally, banks satisfy both desires: depositors have access to their funds whenever they want, yet most of the money placed in a bank’s care is used to make long-term loans. The reason this works is that withdrawals are usually more or less matched by new deposits, so that a bank only needs a modest cash reserve to make good on its promises.

But sometimes — often based on nothing more than a rumor — banks face runs, in which many people try to withdraw their money at the same time. And a bank that faces a run by depositors, lacking the cash to meet their demands, may go bust even if the rumor was false.

Worse yet, bank runs can be contagious. If depositors at one bank lose their money, depositors at other banks are likely to get nervous, too, setting off a chain reaction. And there can be wider economic effects: as the surviving banks try to raise cash by calling in loans, there can be a vicious circle in which bank runs cause a credit crunch, which leads to more business failures, which leads to more financial troubles at banks, and so on.

That, in brief, is what happened in 1930-1931, making the Great Depression the disaster it was. So Congress tried to make sure it would never happen again by creating a system of regulations and guarantees that provided a safety net for the financial system.

And we all lived happily for a while — but not for ever after.

Wall Street chafed at regulations that limited risk, but also limited potential profits. And little by little it wriggled free — partly by persuading politicians to relax the rules, but mainly by creating a “shadow banking system” that relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass regulations designed to ensure that banking was safe.

For example, in the old system, savers had federally insured deposits in tightly regulated savings banks, and banks used that money to make home loans. Over time, however, this was partly replaced by a system in which savers put their money in funds that bought asset-backed commercial paper from special investment vehicles that bought collateralized debt obligations created from securitized mortgages — with nary a regulator in sight.

As the years went by, the shadow banking system took over more and more of the banking business, because the unregulated players in this system seemed to offer better deals than conventional banks. Meanwhile, those who worried about the fact that this brave new world of finance lacked a safety net were dismissed as hopelessly old-fashioned.

In fact, however, we were partying like it was 1929 — and now it’s 1930.

The financial crisis currently under way is basically an updated version of the wave of bank runs that swept the nation three generations ago. People aren’t pulling cash out of banks to put it in their mattresses — but they’re doing the modern equivalent, pulling their money out of the shadow banking system and putting it into Treasury bills. And the result, now as then, is a vicious circle of financial contraction.

Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues at the Fed are doing all they can to end that vicious circle. We can only hope that they succeed. Otherwise, the next few years will be very unpleasant — not another Great Depression, hopefully, but surely the worst slump we’ve seen in decades.

Even if Mr. Bernanke pulls it off, however, this is no way to run an economy. It’s time to relearn the lessons of the 1930s, and get the financial system back under control.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The B word

by Paul Krugman
New York Times

Here it comes: The unthinkable is about to become the inevitable.

Last week, Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, and John Lipsky, a top official at the International Monetary Fund, both suggested that public funds might be needed to rescue the U.S. financial system. Mr. Lipsky insisted that he wasn’t talking about a bailout. But he was.

It’s true that Henry Paulson, the current Treasury secretary, still says that any proposal to use taxpayers’ money to help resolve the crisis is a “non-starter.” But that’s about as credible as all of his previous pronouncements on the financial situation.

So here’s the question we really should be asking: When the feds do bail out the financial system, what will they do to ensure that they aren’t also bailing out the people who got us into this mess?

Let’s talk about why a bailout is inevitable.

Between 2002 and 2007, false beliefs in the private sector — the belief that home prices only go up, that financial innovation had made risk go away, that a triple-A rating really meant that an investment was safe — led to an epidemic of bad lending. Meanwhile, false beliefs in the political arena — the belief of Alan Greenspan and his friends in the Bush administration that the market is always right and regulation always a bad thing — led Washington to ignore the warning signs.

By the way, Mr. Greenspan is still at it: accepting no blame, he continues to insist that “market flexibility and open competition” are the “most reliable safeguards against cumulative economic failure.”

The result of all that bad lending was an unholy financial mess that will cause trillions of dollars in losses. A large chunk of these losses will fall on financial institutions: commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds and so on.

Many people say that the government should let the chips fall where they may — that those who made bad loans should simply be left to suffer the consequences. But it’s not going to happen. When push comes to shove, financial officials — rightly — aren’t willing to run the risk that losses on bad loans will cripple the financial system and take the real economy down with it.

Consider what happened last Friday, when the Federal Reserve rushed to the aid of Bear Stearns.

Nobody expects an investment bank to be a charitable institution, but Bear has a particularly nasty reputation. As Gretchen Morgenson of The New York Times reminds us, Bear “has often operated in the gray areas of Wall Street and with an aggressive, brass-knuckles approach.”

Bear was a major promoter of the most questionable subprime lenders. It lured customers into two of its own hedge funds that were among the first to go bust in the current crisis. And it’s a bad financial citizen: the last time the Fed tried to contain a financial crisis, after the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, Bear refused to participate in the rescue operation.

Bear, in other words, deserved to be allowed to fail — both on the merits and to teach Wall Street not to expect someone else to clean up its messes.

But the Fed rode to Bear’s rescue anyway, fearing that the collapse of a major investment bank would cause panic in the markets and wreak havoc with the wider economy. Fed officials knew that they were doing a bad thing, but believed that the alternative would be even worse.

As Bear goes, so will go the rest of the financial system. And if history is any guide, the coming taxpayer-financed bailout will end up costing a lot of money.

The U.S. savings and loan crisis of the 1980s ended up costing taxpayers 3.2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of $450 billion today. Some estimates put the fiscal cost of Japan’s post-bubble cleanup at more than 20 percent of G.D.P. — the equivalent of $3 trillion for the United States.

If these numbers shock you, they should. But the big bailout is coming. The only question is how well it will be managed.

As I said, the important thing is to bail out the system, not the people who got us into this mess. That means cleaning out the shareholders in failed institutions, making bondholders take a haircut, and canceling the stock options of executives who got rich playing heads I win, tails you lose.

According to late reports on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase will buy Bear for a pittance. That’s an O.K. resolution for this case — but not a model for the much bigger bailout to come. Looking ahead, we probably need something similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over bankrupt savings and loan institutions and sold off their assets to reimburse taxpayers. And we need it quickly: things are falling apart as you read this.

Just what I was hoping for

by Don Wheeler

In February of 2007 I discovered the The Campaign To Change America - The John Edwards blog, and realized that there are a lot of people sifting through available information and trying to make some sense of it. At a certain point, I felt the need to weigh in myself.

Two authors there - fake consultant and grannyhelen - really stood out to me. So I asked their help.

In the summer of 2007, after being frustrated by the poor coverage or lack of coverage by our only newspaper The South Bend Tribune, I had this crazy idea of creating a Progressive media entity to address the vacuum and challenge the SBT.

In retrospect, it is interesting that fake consultant, grannyhelen and DonVila presented views from the West Coast, East Coast and the midsection of the country. Originally, my only thought was that they (fc and gh) were good thinkers and good writers. They continue to bring us global issues which we each need to think about carefully. I am so pleased that they continue to contribute.

We started out mostly talking about why we thought John Edwards was advocating the things we needed to happen, and I wrote a bit about local situations that confirmed that. A bit later, we rolled out a series about the malfeasance of the Republican candidate for Mayor of South Bend and developed a pretty loyal local following.

John Edwards leaving the Presidential race was a wicked blow for me. Anyone who stops by much won't be surprised by that. But P, SB was more about what he wanted to do than it was about him.

So recently I have been working on getting other local activists and organizations to communicate here. And they have responded.

It's been about ten days since I posted, but while I was in Mexico visting my mother I read great stuff here posted by people who are trying to make a difference in the world and in our area. I hope people who care about these things and are working on these things will join us - tell us about them and what they are doing.

That was the whole idea, after all.

Celebrating the first twentieth of our 100 years war

JL-T campaign update

Unlike the Schellinger campaign, which has not issued so much as a press release since February, Democratic Party Gubenatorial Candidate Jill Long-Thompson issued two policy position statements within the last week.


ARGOS, Ind. - Today, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson responded to the Indiana General Assembly's passage of the Governor's Property Tax plan (House Bill 1001).

"I applaud the General Assembly's attempt to make a bad bill better, however, I am disappointed with the passage of the Governor's property tax plan. It's a short-sighted, political band-aid designed to help his re-election, and does not represent the real reform Indiana needs and Hoosiers deserve.

Governor Daniels' plan hurts schools, local communities and working families, and it does nothing to provide the kind of incentives that would keep good-paying jobs from fleeing our state.

While I support property tax relief, I continue to believe that we must do much more. We need to totally overhaul our state's entire tax structure, including sales, property and income taxes, to ensure we have an equitable system that allows Indiana to better compete in the global marketplace.

As laid forth in my strategic approach for re-building Indiana's economy, we must not only change our tax policy, we must transform our healthcare policy by to encourage businesses and individuals to pool to buy health insurance at reduce costs. We must also reform Indiana's education policy, allowing teachers to teach and by re-emphasizing vocational education. Finally, we must update our infrastructure by bringing broadband and high-speed internet connectivity to every community.

Unlike the current administration, as Governor, I'll work for comprehensive reform that is fair, equitable and transparent."

3/20/08 Democratic gubernatorial candidate calls for transparent government during "Sunshine Week"

ARGOS, Ind. - As the nation celebrates "Sunshine Week," a national effort to promote more open government, today Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson proposed a series of reforms to make the state's campaign finance and ethics laws more transparent.

"I strongly believe that state government and our entire political process should be an open book," said Long Thompson. "We need to put in place some common sense reforms so all Hoosiers have access to complete information on who is trying to influence our government and our leaders - and why."

"As I did while in Congress, if elected Governor, I will make this a top priority of my administration."

As a Member of Congress, Long Thompson compiled an impressive record on government and ethics reform issues. She introduced one of the nation's first pieces of legislation banning members of Congress from accepting gifts and she also sponsored measures to eliminate automatic pay increases for members of Congress as well as to expand the disclosure requirements for lobbying activities.

As Governor, Long Thompson would seek legislation to strengthen the state's campaign finance laws. Specifically, she would work to limit the amount of money entities organized as limited liability companies (LLCs) may donate to political campaigns. Under her proposal, LLCs would be permitted to contribute no more than $5,000 a year, the same restrictions currently placed on corporations.

"Unfortunately, under current law there is potential to use these organizations to circumvent disclosure requirements and to hide illegal corporate or individual contributions. There is no way to know if all political contributions are legal unless there is full disclosure," said Long Thompson. "The public has the right to know who is contributing to campaigns, how much is being given, and whether those contributions are legal. My proposal makes certain there will be no safe havens for secret or illegal campaign contributions."

Long Thompson also said she would prohibit businesses and the officers of businesses doing work with, or soliciting work from, state or local governments from donating to political campaigns while they are under contract and for two years following the conclusion of their work.

Finally, Long Thompson would fight for tougher disclosure requirements for lobbyists, including mandating that lobbyists report all expenditures, including meals, made to state government employees to the Indiana Lobbyist Registration Commission quarterly. Under current law only expenditures and gifts to legislators and their staffs that equal $100 or more in one day, or more than $500 during the calendar year, are required to be disclosed two times a year.

In the area of government reform, Long Thompson outlined several steps she would take as Governor to ensure the highest degree of integrity of those serving in her administration.

To allow for greater public scrutiny of those who oversee millions of taxpayer dollars, Long Thompson said she would voluntarily submit all agency head appointees to the State Senate for confirmation and would require them to disclose their financial investments and holdings publicly. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Indiana and Nevada are the only states remaining that do not require any legislative input over agency appointments.

"I will select qualified and honorable people to lead our state agencies well; even more, I want to lead by example," said Long Thompson. "I think it's important that the public and their elected representatives have input on the choice of leaders who will run important government services and programs."

In addition to senate confirmation, Long Thompson said she would ban state employees from receiving any gifts, meals or other perks from those doing business with the state and would disallow former state employees from lobbying state government for a period of one year. She would also prohibit private entities from paying the salaries of state employees.

Finally, Long Thompson, would seek to make the state's Inspector General position a truly independent watchdog. If elected, she would push legislation to provide the position a six-year term that would overlap gubernatorial administrations. She would also require the confirmation of the nominee by the State Senate and House of Representatives prior to the appointment.

"These are all much needed reforms to create greater transparency in our government and political processes," said Long Thompson. "I firmly believe that everything needs to be on the table, for everyone to see, and as Governor, that's how I will operate."

Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2008, is led by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

Long Thompson represented Northeast Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives serving from 1989 to 1995. She also served as U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development from 1995 to 2001. She received her B.S. in Business from Valparaiso University and her M.B.A and Ph.D. in Business from Indiana University. A former educator, Long Thompson most recently served as CEO of The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy. Long Thompson and her husband Don Thompson, a commercial airline pilot, live on their family farm in Marshall County.

For more information about Jill Long Thompson or her campaign, please visit or call 574-892-6100

Tibet: China Admits Protests Spreading After Footage Aired

...And Gordon Brown steps in to fill the Western void.

First, the footage. After this was aired on CTV in Canada and then picked up by other Western news outlets, China has formally admitted that the protests have spread outside Lhasa:

China has admitted for the first time that anti-Beijing protests have spread outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as security is ratcheted up.

Xinhua news agency reported huge damage to government buildings and shops after riots in Sichuan province on Sunday.

And officials said 24 people had been arrested after demos in the Tibetan city of Lhasa, and 170 protesters had surrendered to authorities.

Hundreds of troops have been seen pouring into Tibetan areas.


The Dalai Lama gave a press conference earlier today, reiterating his intention to resolve the conflict peacefully, while reminding folks that he cannot unilaterally stop these protests (full video of the press conference can be found on the Dalai Lama's website, here: ).

The Dalai Lama specifically stated that he is "...not seeking Tibetan independence, but preservation of Tibetan culture." He summed up the rhetorical back-and-forth between himself and the Chinese government (live blogging his comments - my apologies for any minor errors):

I think a hundred times, a thousand times I have repeated these things, so sometimes I jokingly tell people my side one mantra which to recite "we are not seeking independence, we are not seeking independence". This is my mantra which I repeat a thousand times on my rosary. Then the Chinese government side has their mantra, "Tibet is part of China, Tibet is part of China" which they repeat a thousand times. But the world isn't too convinced, is it?

In the middle of these dueling choruses worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan stepped in British Prime Minister Gordan Brown:

Mr Brown took the Commons by surprise when he informed MPs that Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister, had told him in a telephone conversation yesterday that he was ready to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, provided that he did not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounced violence.

Downing Street said that the Dalai Lama had already satisfied both conditions in recent statements and that Britain believed that conditions were in place for talks to resume between Beijing and Tibet’s spiritual leader.


During their conversation, for which diplomats on both sides had prepared for several days, Mr Brown also called on China to show restraint in Tibet. He told Mr Wen of his intention to meet the Dalai Lama.

The formal reaction from China was one of dismay, however. China’s Foreign Ministry urged Britain to understand the Dalai Lama’s “true face” and offer him no support, the Xinhua news agency reported. A ministry spokesman said: “China is seriously concerned about the message. As we have repeatedly pointed out, Dalai is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion.”


Any good operetta needs its villian, and China it trying to cast the Dalai Lama in that role.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground remains uncertain as western journalists and international observers are still denied access to the areas where the protests are occuring.

Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.

Video: Citizens of South Bend Commemorate 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

St. Joseph County fails to meet air quality standards

(In yet another battle between Bush administration appointees and the scientific community, the EPA adopted a weaker standard for air quality than was called for by heath experts and science boards. Below are some excerpts of an AP story published last Thursday in the South Bend Tribune. - KJH)

By H. Josef Hebert
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The air in hundreds of U.S. counties, including five area
ones, is simply too dirty to breathe, the government said Wednesday,
ordering a multibillion- dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in
cities and towns nationwide.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced it was tightening the
amount of ozone, commonly known as smog, that will be allowed in the
air. But the lower standard still falls short of what most health
experts say is needed to significantly reduce heart and asthma attacks
from breathing smog-clogged air.

Some 14 Indiana counties are in violation of the new standard. They are:
St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaPorte, Allen, Boone, Clark, Greene, Hamilton,
Johnson, Lake, Marion, Perry, Porter and Warrick.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called the new smog requirements "the
most stringent standards ever," and he said they will require 345
counties - out of more than 700 that are monitored - to make air quality
improvements because they now have dirtier air than is healthy.

Johnson's decision is likely to be met with sharp criticism from health
experts and some members of Congress because it goes counter to the
recommendations of two of his agency's scientific advisory panels - one
on air quality and the other on protection of children.

The new EPA standard will lower the allowable concentration of ozone in
the air to no more than 75 parts per billion, compared with the old
standard of 80.

The science boards had told the agency that limits of 60 to 70 parts per
billion are needed to protect the nation's most vulnerable citizens,
especially children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma and
other respiratory illnesses.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More on Donnelly's votes against his own party

(From the Donnelly Watch blog - KJH)

The Washington Post has compiled a lengthy database of Donnelly’s votes against his own party available here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

UPDATED (2x): Police Conduct House-by-House Searches In Tibet As Protest Spreads

From today's Wapo - I've highlighted a chilling part of their report:

Vowing a harsh crackdown, Chinese police conducted house-to-house searches in central Lhasa Monday and rounded up hundreds of Tibetans suspected of participating in a deadly outburst of anti-Chinese violence, exile groups and residents reported.

The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government has decided to move decisively to crush the protests despite calls for restraint from abroad and warnings that heavy-handed repression could taint next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Tibetan regional governor, Champa Phuntsok, said detainees who show remorse and inform on others who were part of the week-long unrest would be rewarded with better treatment. But Buddhist monks and other Tibetans who participated in Friday's torching of Chinese-owned shops and widespread attacks on Han Chinese businessmen would be "dealt with harshly," he told a news conference in Beijing.


The BBC updates its coverage of the spreading protest:

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Sichuan province, rights groups say seven people were killed when security forces opened fire on Tibetan protesters in the city of Aba on Sunday.

And in Machu, Gansu province, a protester told the BBC a crowd of people set government buildings on fire on Sunday.

Groups of people also took down the Chinese flag and set it on fire, replacing it with the Tibetan flag, he said.

Smaller protests were reported elsewhere in Gansu and Tibet.


Please contact your senators and congresspeople and ask them to open Tibet to foreign media:

UPDATE: Another sign of trouble reported to the BBC by a Tibetan outside Lhasa:

The situation feels very tense and there is a heavy military presence. I saw large convoys moving towards Lhasa.

There are all kinds of rumours going around but it is difficult to know what to believe.

My family and friends are all very, very worried and fearful of the unknown and what might happen in the coming days.

We are very worried about arbitrary arrests. We believe that the people recorded on CCTV will get arrested but I fear that others will be arrested.

We are all very worried about the lack of western people and journalists in and around Lhasa. I have not seen any myself in the past day.


The presence of western journalists and international observers is a deterrent to human rights abuses. Everyone, please contact your senators and congresspeople.

UPDATE 2: The BBC has an interview with a Tibetan Buddhist nun who served time in Chinese prisons. This is a must-read to understand the potential human rights abuses that may be happening in the ground, now or in the near future:

The penalties at Drapchi were severe. Ms Sangdrol was forced to suffer beatings with iron rods and rubber pipes, electric cattle prods on the tongue, knitting and spinning until her fingers blistered, and six months in complete darkness while in solitary confinement.

There was also extremely unpleasant hard labour.

"For instance, we had to use night soil on the garden... You have to take turns to go down to the latrine and pass up the waste. When the bucket is pulled, inevitably it splashes and spills everywhere and it will go into your mouth," she said.

She still suffers headaches and kidney and stomach problems as a result of her treatment.

But, she said, "the mental torture was worse".

"We had to denounce his Holiness the Dalai Lama and were not allowed to engage in religious practice."


Five Years Too Many: Rally/Vigil to End the War

Public area infront of Morris Performing Arts Center
211 N. Michigan Street
19 Mar, 6:00 PM

Michiana residents will gather to mark the 5th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war and occupation. Nearly 4,000 American troops have been killed and tens of thousands wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, wounded or displaced. It's long past time for our elected officials in Washington to listen to us and end this endless war.

Bring Signs, Candles and Friends!

Sponsored by: Michiana Peace & Justice Coalition (

WAND of Northern IN (

St. Joe Valley Project-Jobs with Justice (

Center for Peace and Non-violence ( and more.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Updated - Protesters Dead in Tibet, Dalai Lama Calls for International Investigation

The city is in complete shutdown. There is no atmosphere whatsoever on the streets because there is a curfew and the streets are totally deserted.

This evening we have heard a few sporadic blasts once every few hours.

Right now, I'm looking at buildings that are burnt out. The city is absolutely burnt to cinders. It's trashed.


Our current hostel is in a safe area, in a kind of 'green zone' as people are calling it. The worst of the violence was in the centre and east of the city.

Some tourists who were in the east were forcibly removed from their hotels and hostels. Police turned up today and tried to forcibly remove all of us to a hotel further out west.


The electricity in our hostel is out even though all the buildings nearby have electricity. You sense that it might be because they know tourists with cameras and email accounts are here and could contact the outside world.

From an eyewitness account in Lhasa:

After confirming reports of 80 people being killed in riots in Lhasa ( ), His Holiness the Dalai Lama has labeled China's current actions cultural genocide, and is calling for an international investigation. In this exclusive interview with the BBC the Dalai Lama criticizes China's traditional use of violence to handle the conflict in Tibet, noting that this is now the second generation protesting Chinese rule:

The Dalai Lama is not calling for an end to the protests.

Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that protests have now spread to Sichuan province:

The clashes in Aba, known as Ngawa in Tibetan, happened around 1200 local time on Sunday, according to Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet.

"The lay people and monks seem to have joined together in a protest... which was focussed around the police presence in the town," she told the BBC.

"According to reliable reports the police opened fire," said Ms Saunders, who is in London but said she had indirect phone and web access to eyewitness accounts. "We know there have been deaths."

Accounts of how many people died differ, but she said the most reliable eyewitness source put the toll at seven.

The New York Times highlights the differences between the demands of the protestors - complete independence - and the Dalai Lama's "middle way":

“We the young people feel independence is our birthright,” said Dolma Choephel, 34, a social worker active with the Tibetan Youth Congress and who gathered Sunday morning at a demonstration outside the gates of the main town temple. “We understand the limitations of the Dalai Lama’s approach. What we got after six rounds of talks — this violence?” She was referring to the six negotiating sessions between the Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities since 2002.


The Dalai Lama, for his part, seemed unfazed about the dissent among Tibetans over full independence versus greater autonomy. Even his elder brother, he recalled, had admonished him many years ago for not advocating independence from China. “ ‘My dear younger brother, the Dalai Lama,’ ” his brother told him. “ ‘You sold out the Tibetan legitimate right. Like that.’ ”

The Dalai Lama described dissent as “a healthy sign of our commitment to democracy, open society.”

Chuckling, he added that the idea might come as “a surprise to our Chinese brothers and sisters.”

Audio of the entire press conference is available at the Dalai Lama's official website:

News agencies are reporting that the Chinese authorities in Tibet have called for the protestors to turn themselves in on Monday.

Keep both the Tibetan and Chinese people in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.

Update (h/t to davidseth at DocuDharma): please visit the International Campaign for Tibet for ways to get involved:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On Race, Gender and Reconciliation

It was a brilliant summer day in Atlanta, and the lumescent, blue sky lifted my already risen spirits as I was planning my wedding. A coworker and I were shopping for wedding dresses in an upscale suburb, both of us dressed in the standard uniform for such an event: sweats and sneakers. My coworker carried the look off with much more chic than I, with her tall frame, warm brown eyes and rich, espresso colored skin giving her the natural grace of a woman for whom sweats is a weekend indulgence.

Me? I just looked a little dumpy.

We had just hit our first shop, a cozy, new business run by a mother/daughter team. The dresses, and brides, and bridesmaids, and friends, and female relatives filled the tiny store with a joyous, bustling excitement. My coworker found The Dress, and insisted to me it just had to be The Dress, and after I tried it on still was talking about The Dress when we hit our second shop.

The second shop was a bigger establishment, with large windows, and floor to ceiling mirrors, teaming with mostly blonde-haired, mostly blue-eyed, uniformly petite, white, female staff. As we walked in we saw the demographics of the clientele matched those of the store assistants, like separate socks of an identical pair.

We proceeded toward the racks of dresses, placed in the middle of the expansive space, when we were met by a store clerk.

"May I help you?" She asked, suspiciously eyeing my coworker.

"Yes." I said. "We just want to try on some dresses."

The clerk, never taking her eyes off my coworker, exhaled deeply, her voice trembling with annoyance and a touch of fear.

"Our brides," she said, "make an appointment."

"Um...okay." I said. "Can we make one later on today?"

"No." She said, barely looking at me.

"Well, can we make one next weekend?" I asked.

"No." She said. "The only day we have available for appointments is Wednesday. And the store closes at six."

"Oh." I said, unsure of what to say next. "Well, we both work so, I guess we'll just go somewhere else then."

"Yes, I think you should." And with that the store clerk glanced toward the door, willing us toward it with all the body language she could muster.

It was outside, heading toward the car that my coworker looked at me, a small, white woman, her eyes still stinging with disbelief.

"Was that..." She hesitated. "Was that what I think it was?"

I looked up at her, my blue eyes meeting hers.

"Yes." I answered.

We silently drove back to the cozy, cramped store, not knowing what to say about what had just happened.

The problem with racism is it strikes regardless of whether you're prepared for it or not. Like a cold slap it hits you in the face, unprepared, and leaves you reeling as you try to search for answers. What just happened? Was this really real? Why did it happen to me?

And then it leaves a small wound in your soul, that heals slowly until the scab is ripped off by the next event that takes you just as much by surprise. It leaves you with a small kernel of pain deep inside.

Sexism does the same thing. I remember the frustration, sitting in front of my corpulent boss after getting up the nerve to ask him to be considered for a promotion from secretary to one of two sales jobs that had just opened up, when he told me in no uncertain terms that because I was a young woman all I was going to do was go have babies so why would he give me one of these jobs just to have me leave. My education, my experience with the company meant nothing. I was young, and female, and somehow that meant "unpromotable".

And sometimes events like this, across a person's life, just serve to grow that kernel of pain until it lashes out at the society that nurtured it. It can happen when delivering a sermon, in the heat of cheering crowds. It can happen when writing an op-ed in the New York Times, telling women they just have to vote for a female candidate in order to be "true" feminists.

The one strength we have as progressives is empathy. We aren't progressives because we're rich, or because we love free markets and small government. We're progressives because, at some point in time, all of us have felt or seen others feel that kernel of pain, either because of race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or economic status. We have seen injustice in people being denied health care, and we question a foreign policy that pursues death and destruction over peace and diplomacy.

We have empathy. We put ourselves in someone else's shoes and understand injustice from that person's perspective.

But somehow in this presidential race, good progressives have lost that empathy. We have allowed ourselves to be so co-opted by winning, and strategy, and what's-worse-sexism-or-racism that we have lost our empathy. We have turned our back on the very thing that made us progressives in the first place. We have failed to understand each other, and instead hurl insult and invective at each other as fast as our fingers can fly over our keyboards.

This is no longer about Barack Obama. It is no longer about Hillary Clinton. Forget the "50 state strategy", or coat-tails, or turning red states into blue states. Partisans on both sides have now become the rigid idealogues we have decried on the right for so many years.

We have lost our empathy, and in doing so we have lost our way.

So, this weekend, try for a moment to walk away from the keyboard, shut your eyes and put yourself into that other person's place. Understand where they are coming from. Put aside the anger, and frustration, and outrage.

It is time to reconcile, and take back our strength again.

On Truth, Or, An Open Letter To A Reverend

Dear Reverend Wright,

I write to you today to offer a small bit of support at what might be a difficult time for your family and yourself.

There are a series of comments of which you are certainly aware that are causing considerable outrage in some quarters this week…but if I may be so bold, I do not understand exactly why the sermons that are today being proffered as unacceptable speech deserve to generate the degree of shock and anger being expressed in the larger political and media communities.

It is clear that you express your positions with great fire—and we presume an appropriate level of brimstone as well—but when you suggest that our imperious foreign policy has come home to roost, I think you speak truth in a way that makes many uncomfortable, yet seems to be borne out by a dispassionate examination of facts.

To be completely honest, I have forever wondered why we have never had a national conversation that centers around the question of whether we might be, through our own behavior, causing others to contemplate attacks of a similar nature to the events of 9/11; and rather than offering condemnation, I write today to thank you for having the courage to raise a most difficult issue.

Another quick note—again, with your kind indulgence.

I have never been a nigger.

But I have seen, with my own two eyes, the look of dismissive contempt on the face of someone close to me talking about “lazy niggers” who would just as soon kill you as rob you…and it hurts me, deep in my soul, to imagine the torment that statement causes in the hearts of those to whom the remarks are directed.

I will never feel that torment personally…and the fact is neither Hillary Clinton nor John McCain have either. It is also a fact that there is a candidate running who has had that experience—and in a time when reconsidering how we relate to each other and the world is more critical than ever, that experience may in fact matter.

Which brings me to my final topic:

As a child I can recall watching the images of the “Long Hot Summers” and then being told that I had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when school resumed.

I could never resolve the conflict between those images and “One Nation Under God”, even at that young age.

From the age of 10 I refused--never out loud, but silently—to participate in the morning ritual; and for the rest of my school career I stood silently with my arms at my sides.

With that in mind, I want you to know that I do well understand what you meant when you said “God Damn America”; and while it was said in a manner that was clearly designed to cause discomfort to the listener, it does not change the fact that behind the words is again an overarching truth many wish would remain unspoken.

And I would go a step further.

I would suggest that the exercise of speaking truth to power is in fact the very essence of a Reverend’s chosen vocation…and that choosing to remain silent is choosing to assent to injustice.

The most important power possessed by the United States is not military, or economic, or superficially cultural. Instead, our greatest strength lies in the fact that we are not a “love it or leave it” nation—that we are indeed capable of great and painful introspection, and from time to time, great and painful change.

But that change, as you so well know, is not achieved by the meek.

And I write today to tell you that I think a Nation that began a process of great and painful change with a Civil War in the 19th Century and consecrated even more hallowed ground at a bridge in Selma in the 20th Century can stand a bit of strident truth telling in this 21st Century …and that, despite today’s hue and cry, if we really think about the meaning of your words we will find within them dark and unsettling truths.

But if we are willing to face those truths…to look within ourselves and give that “last great measure of devotion”…we may finally find the power to set ourselves truly free.

Should that day come, Reverend Wright, a God who has blessed us so richly in the past will have bestowed upon America the greatest blessing of all.

A letter from Tucker to Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern

Hopefully, all of you have had the opportunity to hear the words of Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern. She's the one that recently made the comment "I honestly think it's (homosexuality) the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam." She also seems to think we're going after young children and that we're infiltrating city councils. These are only a few of her recent comments speaking before a conservative Republican group in January. She thought nobody would hear what she had to say about gays but her words were secretly recorded by a member of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. Now her horrific comments are out there for the world to hear.

It's really sad that this woman is able to hold an elected office when she clearly is incapable of representing everyone in her district. I should note that, so far, she has refused to apologize for her comments.

If you haven't has chance to listen to her words, here ya go. It's really quite scary to think that these are the words of a leader. After watching the video, keep reading and you'll hear the most amazing reply anyone could have given her. The letter is reportedly written by a high school senior who lost his mother in the Oklahoma City bombing. I could never find such wise words as he. I'll let him speak for himself.

The following letter has been posted on numerous sites and can be found, along with info on it's origins, at Pam's House Blend.

Rep Kern:

On April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City a terrorist detonated a bomb that killed my mother and 167 others. 19 children died that day. Had I not had the chicken pox that day, the body count would've likely have included one more. Over 800 other Oklahomans were injured that day and many of those still suffer through their permanent wounds.

That terrorist was neither a homosexual or was he involved in Islam. He was an extremist Christian forcing his views through a body count. He held his beliefs and made those who didn't live up to them pay with their lives.

As you were not a resident of Oklahoma on that day, it could be explained why you so carelessly chose words saying that the homosexual agenda is worst than terrorism. I can most certainly tell you through my own experience that is not true. I am sure there are many people in your voting district that laid a loved one to death after the terrorist attack on Oklahoma City. I kind of doubt you'll find one of them that will agree with you.

I was five years old when my mother died. I remember what a beautiful, wise, and remarkable woman she was. I miss her. Your harsh words and misguided beliefs brought me to tears, because you told me that my mother's killer was a better person than a group of people that are seeking safety and tolerance for themselves.

As someone left motherless and victimized by terrorists, I say to you very clearly you are absolutely wrong.

You represent a district in Oklahoma City and you very coldly express a lack of love, sympathy or understanding for what they've been through. Can I ask if you might have chosen wiser words were you a real Oklahoman that was here to share the suffering with Oklahoma City? Might your heart be a bit less cold had you been around to see the small bodies of children being pulled out of rubble and carried away by weeping firemen?

I've spent 12 years in Oklahoma public schools and never once have I had anyone try to force a gay agenda on me. I have seen, however, many gay students beat up and there's never a day in school that has went by when I haven't heard the word **** slung at someone. I've been called gay slurs many times and they hurt and I am not even gay so I can just imagine how a real gay person feels. You were a school teacher and you have seen those things too. How could you care so little about the suffering of some of your students?

Let me tell you the result of your words in my school. Every openly gay and suspected gay in the school were having to walk together Monday for protection. They looked scared. They've already experienced enough hate and now your words gave other students even more motivation to sneer at them and call them names. Afterall, you are a teacher and a lawmaker, many young people have taken your words to heart. That happens when you assume a role of responsibility in your community. I seriously think before this week ends that some kids here will be going home bruised and bloody because of what you said.

I wish you could've met my mom. Maybe she could've guided you in how a real Christian should be acting and speaking.

I have not had a mother for nearly 13 years now and wonder if there were fewer people like you around, people with more love and tolerance in their hearts instead of strife, if my mom would be here to watch me graduate from high school this spring. Now she won't be there. So I'll be packing my things and leaving Oklahoma to go to college elsewhere and one day be a writer and I have no intentions to ever return here. I have no doubt that people like you will incite crazy people to build more bombs and kill more people again. I don't want to be here for that. I just can't go through that again.

You may just see me as a kid, but let me try to teach you something. The old saying is sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Well, your words hurt me. Your words disrespected the memory of my mom. Your words can cause others to pick up sticks and stones and hurt others.



Friday, March 14, 2008

On A Vice President, Or, A Fake Consultant Advises Obama

Your friendly fake consultant is an equal-opportunity consultative provider, and having recently been called upon to advise Hillary Clinton, I thought I might turn my attention today to helping out Barack Obama.

The thing is, should the gentleman be nominated, he’s going to need to choose a running mate…and it might not be as easy as it would seem.

For reasons we’ll discuss, the normal crop of candidates might be better left undisturbed…but what if we could bring to the table a running mate who offers an extraordinary understanding of the world’s interconnected economy, a close, personal relationship with many of the world’s leaders—and the kind of negotiating skills that humble even the United States Government?

And if all that wasn’t enough…a candidate for whom fundraising most assuredly won’t be a problem.

Follow along, then, and we shall see…

Now before we begin naming names, let’s take a moment to explain why a large pool of ordinarily available likely running mates might not be available in this cycle.

An effective strategy in the past has been to choose from the community of sitting Senators, and many of the names being considered for Vice Presidential contention today are, in fact, of that group--Jim Webb, Chris Dodd, and Hillary Clinton being three quick examples.

But employing that strategy in ‘08 might be a bad idea. At a time when Democrats are trying desperately to get 60 votes in the Senate; when at least one Democratic Senator is likely to be leaving for other elective office (and another is Joe Lieberman), we need to conserve whatever forces we have there for the legislative fights ahead.

Of course, that does leave Governors, ex-Governors, and distinguished former members of the military…which makes Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, Wes Clark—and maybe even Anthony Zinni—pretty good options.

But in the case of Governors, again, we hate to lose one who might currently hold office…and for reasons related to perceived foreign policy experience it would be even closer to an optimal condition if Obama could team up with someone who is on an intimate, first-name basis with many of the planet’s most influential leaders…and not just attending teas and MC’ing USO concerts while meeting them.

It would also be nice to have an individual who is passionately devoted to expanding educational opportunities to the downtrodden worldwide…and providing them health care to boot—two issues that will be huge in this electoral cycle.

A choice that is out-of-the-box—and at the same time deeply mainstream.

So who might this magical personage be?

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to consider…Vice President Bill Gates.

Go ahead. Let it sink in for a second.
It kind of works, doesn’t it?
Now let’s do a bit of why and why not:

What does it do for Obama?

Well, there is no doubt that Gates is vastly more familiar with all of our trading partners than almost anyone…blunting any attacks McCain might seek to launch regarding the Obama ticket’s “experience”.

McCain can probably tell you what the initials ECB stand for, but Gates knows from decades of experience what international trade hardball with the European Union is all about…and he has years of personal experience negotiating across a table with our Chinese and Middle Eastern friends as well.

Africa is a place of major importance to the world as we advance into this century, and Gates can fairly be described by this time as an “Old Africa Hand” who knows his way around the continent because of his work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…in fact, I’m willing to bet that he, too, owns some Somali clothing.

Then there’s education. McCain supports the failed “No Child Left Behind” concept, while Gates has spent $2 billion of his own money funding experimental school programs in this country and abroad for years that are ready to be rolled out nationwide and have a measurable track record of raising educational achievement…creating a record of accomplishment, a virtual Rolodex, and a depth of understanding regarding educational issues that neither McCain nor any other likely VP candidate--for either party--can touch.

And he can say the same things about healthcare—billions of his own money spent on increasing access to care, a second virtual Rolodex, and a record I suspect even John Edwards respects in helping those less fortunate live healthier lives.

Frankly, the “family bench” is so deep here that the two spouses could be Cabinet members in an Obama Administration; then come back in 2016 and run on their own ticket, with a good chance of winning—Michelle Obama is today a medical administrator who is well respected in her field…and Melinda Gates?

The record shows she moved from a senior management position with the world’s largest software firm to a senior management position at one of the world’s largest philanthropic institutions—suggesting that if the two of them were running this cycle they’d have a reasonable shot at beating any likely Republican ticket themselves.

And what about funding? There’s the possibility that McCain might choose Romney for a running mate—and that a Romney nomination might cause the Republican duo to consider using some of the Romney fortune to advance their campaign (think unusual loan arrangements here…).

In what might be the greatest understatement ever, I posit that it is unlikely Romney would have access to more self-funding resources than Gates…which more than obviates any potential advantage such a move might create on the GOP side.

Another understatement? Gates running as Obama’s VP should “lock in” the all-important geek, nerd, and dork vote (as if we weren’t voting Obama anyway…). Even Steve Jobs might be inclined to vote for Gates.

One more? Name recognition…probably not a huge problem.

What would possibly motivate Gates to accept such a…well, a demotion?

For an answer, take the time to watch Gates’ March 12th testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee at their 50th anniversary event. As the most extremist Republicans tried and tried again to vilify him, it seemed to this observer that his responses suggested he was enjoying the skewering he gave Members such as Dana Rohrabacher and the overtly racist Phil Gingery in his replies.

There’s also precedent for such a move: The Gates Foundation has “lent” their own CEO to the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Directors for “corporate housekeeping” purposes.

There’s also the fact that his mother gave years of public service though her presence as a University of Washington Regent—and what son doesn’t want to make his Mom proud? (If you’re listening, Bill…this would make quite a Mother’s Day gift.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, Gates is transitioning away from a hands-on role at Microsoft…and might well be interested in an entirely new kind of challenge.

So if I were the Obama team, I might offer Gates the “science / education / technology” portfolio…and also a chance to be the behind the scenes “dragonslayer” in Congress—a sort of lobbyist-in-chief for the “nerd community” with a goal of improving education…which is the essential first step in resolving the “Two Americas” problem…who also has the ability to move the healthcare debate—here and worldwide.

I might also use the allure of giving him the chance to more directly oversee the spending of the $5 billion in checks Gates reports he has personally written over the years in income tax payments to the US Government—an idea that, based on the look on his face as he was referencing the payments, he might find very appealing.

And guess what? Gates is an immigration advocate—his company (and virtually all US tech companies) wants to expand the opportunities for H-1B visas…and it’s hard to find a better argument for immigration than pointing to jobs that Gates himself has seen created (as he says) “around” the top engineers and scientists that the visa program has brought to the US economy.

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, it’s not always sunny in Bill’s Philadelphia

The very same antitrust cases that gave him experience staring down government negotiators will not be great for his image now—but this can be mitigated by pointing out that today he’s older and wiser; when combined with the relative obscurity of the subject matter (“antitrust…smantitrust” will be the likely “average voter” reaction) there should be no insurmountable issues…and besides, what are the odds that John McCain (a Keating Five survivor, just for starters) wins a battle of business ethics with any capitalist left of JP Morgan?

There are also those who view the H-1B program as a detriment to the ability to keep US programmers working…and just as with the NAFTA debate, those who see the benefit in open markets will have to effectively defend their point of view to the public at large.

The fact that Obama’s and Gates’ public statements suggest they might see the issue from different points of view could be considered a plus (if you support the idea that a President should have access to multiple viewpoints and robust debate when making decisions), or a minus (based on the idea that there would be constant infighting, rather than progress on issues).

So there we are: today’s advice is that grabbing a VP candidate from the pool of individuals commonly chosen might not be the best option this time…but if we reach way outside the system there’s a potential candidate that’s amazingly conversant with the very same foreign policy and national security issues upon which Obama will be challenged by McCain; a candidate for whom a commitment to improving education and healthcare is a demonstrable effort upon which he has personally spent billions of his own dollars…and a VP partner that is guaranteed to have access to more self-funding dollars than not just Romney, but possibly the entire state of Utah.

Go get him, Barack…and then let the battle be joined.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On 3 AM Phone Calls, Or, A Fake Consultant Advises Hillary

As so many of us discover, late nights are the best time to do any serious writing that has piled up during the day. No meetings to attend, no phone calls to interrupt the flow…and most importantly, nobody else’s fires to put out.

And sure enough, there I was, working away, when the phone rang.

I knew who it was going to be…Hillary.
After all, she’s the only one who ever calls me at 3 AM.

She sounded like she’d been drinking…and not Mimosas either. Her voice had that angry edge, like it did the time she called up and told me about the photographs from that night Bill and Chris and that guy from “The West Wing” were partying at The Bulldog.

She’d been hitting the mescal hard last night as the Mississippi results were coming in, she told me, and before she called she’d already put four bullets into the poster-sized photograph of Monica Lewinsky she keeps inside the garage door—and everyone who knows her knows Gusano Rojo makes Hillary even more mean than usual.

I could hear the crunching of the worm between her teeth as she fired another round into the poster…

“I told you I could stay in this race” she hissed at me through the phone. The gun went off again. She usually keeps 13 in the clip…it’s a superstition, I’m told. Seven more to go until she reloads.

She’s been pissed at me ever since I predicted a year ago that she would never be elected President…and especially since I recently suggested to her that she would be better off going back to the Senate and living off the graft Bill’s been bringing in with his “Presidential Library” money. She’d fired off at least two clips that night—and I heard she had to have a new Monica and a new garage door installed the next day.

“I know you can stay in” I tell her, “but you’ll never win…especially not the way you’re hitting Obama with any lame crap you and Wolfson and the rest of that crazy-ass crew over there can fake up. It’s killing any “change” credibility you have left.”

“Of course I can” she screamed back: “look at Pennsylvania. I know places up there that are racist as hell. I can send Geraldine up there and they’ll love her. Indiana? They have quite a history with a former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and their former Governor. They’ll love me there. West Virginia? Need I even go on?”

Boom! Boom!
Two more shots.
“Right in the eye. How you like that, Monica?” the voice came down the line.

“After that, I’m sending ‘Obama in Somali clothing’ bobbleheads to all the Superdelegates…and I want to talk to you about an ad idea I had…”

“Really?” My eyebrows were arching at this point, because this is where I really earn my money…and being the only honest voice she ever hears is becoming a nice piece of my fake income this cycle.

“Here it is.
I think it makes the '3 AM' ad look like Sesame Street, but tell me what you think.

Picture a school bus, on a beautiful sunny day, all the kids singing songs…and all of a sudden black vans surround the bus. After it stops, masked men in Arabic clothing storm the bus, screaming “Death to America”. Then they load the bus up with explosives, all the while shouting ‘jihad, jihad’. Then they drive away in the bus, filled with terrorists and explosives and the terrified children.

The bus crashes through the gates of a nuclear power plant, terrorists firing their machine guns the entire time…and before anyone can stop them, the bus full of children and explosives is heading straight into the reactor building, with nothing to stop it.

At the last second the camera reveals the driver, who takes off his mask just before the bus bomb causes the reactor to explode…and that’s when we discover the driver is a smiling Barack Obama.

The graphic comes up as the mushroom cloud goes off:

‘Barack Hussein Obama.
Can we trust him with our kids?”

“What do I think?”

“I think you need to get out of the race this second, Hillary. I think you need to fire Mark and Howard so they can go out and start a Fight Club somewhere…and I think you and Chris need to seriously think about an afternoon at The Bulldog.”

Boom! Boom!
“Suck lead, bitch!”

Three shots left.

“The thing is, Hillary, the longer you stay at this the worse it gets. Look, the last time you went negative you lost 11 in a row…and after Mississippi and Wyoming that means at least a few more losses ahead…and the “entitlement” thing is getting more and more threadbare every day…and even Oprah’s finally turned against you.

Oprah, Hillary.
You actually managed to alienate Oprah.
Do you realize how far you’ve fallen?
Do you realize that at this moment Oprah respects Steadman more than you?”

Boom! Boom! Boom! Crash!
Click. Click.

My guess: three shots, she threw the empty bottle at “Monica”…and then she jacked in a new clip.

“But Hillary, here’s a bigger question. Obama has changed the game by bringing in all these new voters that have, in the past, distrusted the process. What you’re doing right now means that they may vote for Obama, but they’ll never become Democrats.

Now if you lose you’re going back to the Senate…but if those new voters become real Democrats, they’ll vote for Democratic candidates besides Obama in every state, cycle after cycle…including you… and you could quickly find yourself in a Senate with 60 Democrats.

The Senate has no term limits, unlike the Presidency.
That means you could find yourself facing one of two possible futures:

Would you rather be reelected, over and over, as a popular Senator, even having a shot at Majority Leader…or would you rather go down in history as the “Ralph Nader” of 2008?

You know which one John McCain hopes you choose, right?

You want my advice? Being willing to say or do anything to achieve a momentary victory is no victory at all…and the more that ugly side of you becomes known to the people you want to rule, the less they’ll want you as their ruler.

Now put the gun away, stop buying mescal, switch back to the Bailey’s…drop out of the race…and hire yourself a really great looking handyman to fix the garage door. Maybe even two.

And have them come over the weekend you send Bill to Pittsburgh.
I won’t tell if you don’t.

And for God’s sake quit chewing on that worm.
It’s really annoying.

I’ll send a bill for the consult in the morning.
Now go to bed…and when you wake up, end this mess.”

And with that, the phone went dead.
But as she was hanging up I could hear her voice, amused, saying: “I do need a new door…”

DW Editorial: Urge Donnelly Not to Sign Discharge Petition

(The following is a cross-posting from the Donnelly Watch blog - KJH)


The GOP is seeking signatures for a discharge petition (this is a means of bringing a bill out of committee and to the floor for consideration without a report from a Committee and usually without cooperation of the leadership - Wikipedia) to force a vote on the SAVE Act.

The SAVE Act stands for Secure America through Verification and Enforcement and represents an “enforcement first, second, and last” approach to immigration issues. This is not an example of comprehensive immigration reform and instead represents a disturbingly narrow-minded outlook on what is a complex issue.

Republicans are looking for both Democrats and fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives to sign this discharge petition. Regardless of Donnelly’s position on the SAVE Act (he supports it), a discharge petition is not the way to advance this bill’s consideration. Such an action works against the Democrat Party in this crucial period leading up to the November 2008 elections. Signing the discharge petition undercuts the Democrat leadership in the House and, ultimately, weakens the party. This is an effort orchestrated by the GOP against the Democrat Party and is intended to embarrass the Democratic presidential nominee, whoever this turns out to be.

Please consider writing or calling Rep. Donnelly’s offices and urging him not to sign this discharge petition.

Rep. Donnelly’s DC office: (202) 225-3915 Fax: (202) 225-6798

South Bend office: (574) 288-2780 Fax: (574) 288-2825


Thank you,


Green Party gets partial victory on write-in ballots

Article published Mar 12, 2008 in the South Bend Tribune

-Election Board won't apologize to Greens, but admits there were issues in last year's election.

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- The St. Joseph County Election Board is making no apologies for the way write-in ballots were handled in November's election.

But Election Board Chairman James Korpal said the board, acknowledging there were problems with write-in ballots at polling places, will plan on a different system this year.

Korpal said write-in ballots will be processed into the same box as other ballots and will be separated and counted by hand in the 2008 elections.

Members of the St. Joseph Valley Greens asked the Election Board on Tuesday to apologize for discrepancies during the November municipal election.

The Green Party alleges legal write-in votes were not counted properly and that voters' privacy was violated in a variety of ways, including poll workers asking voters if they were casting a write-in vote and tallying those votes on a sheet visible to the public. Karl Hardy, who was a write-in candidate for South Bend Common Council at-large, said the Greens realize elections are complex to run, but the fact that Green candidates were credited with fewer votes than electronic tallies of write-ins, along with the numerous reports of violations, support their case.

Hardy said there's evidence votes for him and write-in candidates Tom Brown and David Vollrath were not attributed to each of them as intended.

"This isn't about playing gotcha or singling anybody out," he said. "All we are asking for is an apology and acknowledgment that these problems did occur and that accountability lies with the county election board as public officials."

Korpal said the board did everything it could to train poll workers on how to handle write-in votes, posting notices on the machines and leaving instructions at polling places.

The only way to prevent this from happening in the future, he said, is to feed all ballots through the machines and open the boxes to count the write-in ballots by hand. Those ballots would be tallied and placed back into the box."The (poll) workers aren't going to like that ... but that's too bad," Korpal said. "We tried something that we thought was feasible, but obviously it didn't work."

Board member Murray Winn also acknowledged that poll workers didn't follow training instructions and agreed with using the hand count method this year. Winn also noted that write-in ballots are not always filled out correctly and that the machine numbers and hand counts will not always match perfectly if a name isn't written next to the write-in oval on ballots.

Hardy also suggested the county buy diverters for voting machines, which would divert write-in ballots into a separate bin after the ballot is fed into the machine.

Korpal said it wouldn't be fiscally responsible to ask the County Commissioners for diverters. Even with this technology, Winn said, the ballots still have to be separated and counted by hand for each write-in.

After the meeting, Hardy said he is happy steps are being taken to ensure votes will be counted this year but the board is still sidestepping its responsibility. People in the county "deserve to have accountability for the conduct of elections," he said.County resident Robin Beck said voters have the right to privacy and the board should have at least apologized to residents for that breach.

"This is something everyone should be concerned about," Hardy said. "This is our democratic process that we're talking about here."

Monday, March 10, 2008

On Lazy Days, Or, The Things You See On TV

The brain has been full of thoughts of nuclear war this past week, and as a result we’re taking another “lazy day” before we return to that most challenging topic.

Today we discuss the potential opportunities offered by imposing mandates, a curious advertising opportunity as yet unused, and although I usually don’t do breaking news, it appears today we’ll also be discussing an Emperor who had an opportunity to see a Governor who had no clothes.

I’ve been thinking about mandates lately, what with Hillary Clinton making them an important part of her conversation...and It occurs to me that there are lots of opportunities to expand the idea.

For example, why don’t we use mandates to solve America’s obesity problem?

Now, the regular writer might simply suggest we make being overweight unlawful...but I have a better plan: I think we should mandate that all physicals, from this day forward, be conducted aboard spacecraft.

Spacecraft, you say?

Absolutely. By mandating that all weigh-ins be conducted in a zero-gravity environment, we guarantee that everyone will comply with today’s height and weight guidelines...and once we’ve ended obesity, we will quickly see diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and lots of other ailments heading on a downward trend that will benefit not just the individuals involved, but the taxpayer as well.

Virgin Galactic is already positioning themselves to do in-flight physicals, and considering how much money insurance companies will save as all these other ailments are eradicated, there should be a tremendous interest in the idea as the technology of personal space travel becomes more widespread.

I am constantly watching and listening to something during my day, and over and over lately the Internet matchmaking service has been running ads that feature women who report that despite the fact that they are nice people (at least in their own minds) they are among the million others have been rejected by rival matchmaking service eHarmony...for reasons suspiciously unknown.

If you were eHarmony, how might you respond?

One way might be to agree with every element of the other side’s argument.

“We’ve rejected over a million you won’t have to.”

But all this is the small stuff.

Even as we speak, Elliot Spitzer, the Governor of the State of New York, has just given a press conference in which he did not deny today’s New York Times story detailing “involvement” in a prostitution ring.

The “Emperor’s Club VIP” is alleged by the FBI and IRS to have provided certain personal services (at prices ranging from $1000 to above $5000 per hour) to a variety of high-end clients in numerous cities in the US and Europe...and the story at the moment suggests things are quite serious for Spitzer.

Both the Times and the Associated Press are reporting that Federal investigators captured electronic communications between himself and the Club...and it is being reported that Spitzer may be “client number nine” in the Federal indictment charging the Club with not only being a prostitution and money laundering operation, but also a component of the Gambino crime family.

(It is also reported that the Club’s website offered “investment advice”, and one wonders what sort of advice was offered. Perhaps the investment representative was a fan of the early Damon Wayans:

“We take yo’ money, put it into ‘ho money, and then you make...’mo money.”

But I digress)

All of this, for the sake of the foreign reader, needs a quick bit of background.

Governor Spitzer rose to his current job (rumors of his imminent resignation are swirling around at the moment, but nothing has come to pass as of this writing) from his prior position as State Attorney General (New York State’s top law enforcement official), where he was personally and publicly responsible for the prosecution of prostitution rings...people who, in his own words, he found to be “disgusting”.

All of this is balanced against the public perception of the Governor as a highly-principled, straight-arrow kind of guy which has been crumbling under a variety of political and legal challenges to his Administration (“Troopergate”, for one), which dates from his days as a prosecutor and law enforcement leader and was punctuated by his campaign promises to come to Albany and clean things up.

The Wall Street investment community has a split opinion of Spitzer: on the one hand, he is a pariah to the mainline investment firms, who were forced to reconstruct the relationship between their research and “selling” operations...but on the other hand, many investors feel that his efforts have made for a more fair and open environment in which to do business, and for a number of them he is truly a hero.

The Governor has been a very public supporter of Hillary Clinton (and of course, is a Superdelegate), and it is possible that the fallout will spill over into the Presidential race...but as of this moment what impact will occur in unknown.

It is also as yet far too early to know the outcome of the larger story, but there is an additional element to the events that could be far more damaging to Spitzer personally than anything else we’ve discussed so far.

If the facts as presented in the indictment do indeed prove to be true, and Spitzer is indeed “client number nine”, then evidence collected from wiretaps reports he hired a woman to visit him in Washington, DC (and according to the indictment, paid her $4300) on February 13th of this year.

And as we all know, February 14th is Valentine’s Day.

The Governor’s wife is a leader in the environmental movement, and certainly his unfortunate timing raises the possibility that she may choose to have him recycled...and even if she turns out to be one of the most forgiving wives in recent history you gotta believe come Christmas, environmentalist or not, at the very least she’ll be putting a giant lump of coal in his stocking.

Well, that’s it for today...and next time...we return to the far more mundane, but far more real, world of nonstrategic nuclear weapons--where we’ll ask the question “why is Mr. Bush asking everyone else to give up their weapons while we develop new ones?”

Groups Launch Nationwide Multimillion Dollar Iraq/Recession Campaign

Release New Ad Against John McCain:

WASHINGTON, DC - February 25 - Today anti Iraq war leaders, joined by former Senator John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, announced the launch of a new nationwide, multimillion dollar campaign aimed at shining a light on the cost of war in Iraq. The $20 million campaign will include paid advertisements, lobbying Congress not to pass blank check funding bills, urging Congressional action to bar President Bush from making a long term commitment to Iraq that could tie the hands of the next president, and campaigning in key Senate states and House districts.

The Iraq/Recession campaign is a joint venture of, the Service Employees International Union,, USAction, the Center for American Progress and Americans United For Change.

The campaign kicked off today with the release of a new TV ad critical of Senator John McCain. The ad, which can be viewed at, features Iraq veteran Rose Forrest discussing Senator McCain’s proposed 100 year commitment to Iraq and the cost here at home.

A majority of Americans already believe that the best way to get the country out of recession is to get the country out of Iraq, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll published earlier this month. [Associated Press, 2/08/08] Underscoring the challenges faced by any candidates who choose to follow President Bush’s failed policies, a new swing voter poll released this month by coalition partner USAction found that the group is more receptive than ever to an agenda of ending the war and instead investing in America’s future. SEE RESULTS HERE.

Quotes from today’s call:

Former US Senator John Edwards: “There is great concern, anxiety and angst out there among most Americans about their economic security. They are worried about a lot of things. They are concerned about the cost of a health care system that is broken and needs to be fixed. They are worried about how to pay to send their kids to college. The mortgage and foreclosure crisis is now becoming central to the economic insecurity an awful lot of Americans are feeling. All of these things are made much worse due to the war in Iraq. The American public sees a direct connection between the spending in Iraq and the economic anxiety caused by the price of oil and gasoline. They want to see this war brought to an end.”

Elizabeth Edwards: “If the economy is your number one issue when you’re voting, the war is, too.”

John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress: “It is exceedingly easy to grasp the overall reality that the combination of President Bush’s war policies and his economic policies have left the country with a falling dollar, hundred dollar a barrel oil, rising consumer prices, family debt at an all time high, IOUs to restore the military and honor our Veterans, budget deficits as far as the eye can see and the specter of stagflation not seen since the 1970s. There is no question that President Bush’s war policies combined with his economic policies have had the overall effect of weakening our national security and our economy.”

Jon Soltz, Co-Founder and Chairman, “We will do nothing to disparage Senator McCain’s service but when it comes to Iraq policy, he is no different from President Bush. Now until the election we will continue to hold him accountable for his failed policy and what he is doing to our national security and to the members of our Armed Forces.”

Eli Pariser, Executive Director of “This will be the largest grassroots initiative, aside from the Presidential campaigns, this year. Our goal remains the same as it has been for years, to end the war in Iraq. We are going to seize on the fact that Americans are increasingly connecting the war with the problems here at home.” As economic concerns weigh heavily on the minds of Americans, opposition to President Bush’s reckless war in Iraq continues to grow. The massive cost of the war in Iraq – hurtling toward one trillion dollars – has increased demand for a strategy to bring U.S. troops home. The Iraq/Recession Campaign will highlight the majority of Americans who want to see leadership on investing in critical priorities at home and establishing real security throughout the world.

Stop the presses

That darn liberal press is at it again. Always ready to give cover to any Democrat.

All of the day I kept hearing that New York Governor Elliot Spitzer was "connected with a prostitution ring". Big Time Media (BTM) used exactly that language everywhere its tentacles stretched.

Soo.... Mr. Spitzer must have been the Amazing Pimp or had been bribed or extorted into promoting the business, right? That would be consistent with the language.

When I got a chance to actually read a story, I found out that Mr. Spitzer was a one time client of this prostitution ring.

It's completely fair to point out that it is illegal to pay a woman (or man) for sex in the United States of America -- Nevada is a rogue state, of course. Some might question why it is illegal.

But it seems clear that Mr. Spitzer paid for sex -- and that's all.

So it seems to me Elliot Spitzer is connected to this ring in a way similar to how Sadaam Hussein was connected to weapons of mass destruction. In each case, the man had 'em briefly.

Greens seek apology over voting irregularities; Candidates to address county election board

For Immediate Release

Greens seek apology over voting irregularities
Candidates to address county election board

Two 2007 write-in candidates for municipal offices in South Bend - Tom Brown and Karl Hardy who ran for Mayor and Common Council At-large, respectively - plan to request a formal apology from the St. Joseph County Election Board for their part in problems with both the counting of legal votes and the treatment of write-in voters.

A third Green write-in candidate, David Vollrath, cannot attend the Tuesday morning meeting but will prepare a statement to the board as well. Vollrath ran for a Mishawaka Common Council At-large seat.

The candidates point to election returns that show more than 60% of machine-recorded write-in votes cast in their races not being attributed to any candidate. Brown, Hardy, and Vollrath were the only registered write-in candidates running in the municipal elections and none are contesting the outcome of the respective races.

“This is about our fundamental right to run for public office and have our votes counted,” said Brown. “In failing to count all legal votes, our election board is out of compliace with Indiana law.”

Brown added that he and Hardy also planned to ask the board to create a plan to count legal write-in votes in the upcoming 2008 election, noting the likelihood of write-in candidacies for both declared independent Ralph Nader and the eventual Green Party nominee as well as other potential third party or independent candidacies at all levels of elected office.

In addition to the failure to count votes, voters and poll watchers documented other serious problems. Problems included some voters being asked by poll workers if they planned to cast a write-in vote, a direct violation of citizens' right to cast a private ballot; poll workers being observed tallying write-in votes in public view before the close of polls; voters being erroneously instructed by poll workers to feed their ballots with write-in votes into the scanners, thus nullifying their write-in votes. Two poll workers admitted to the South Bend Tribune that they'd been instructed to ask voters with write-in choices to tally their own votes.

“What we are asking for is simple accountability for these problems that have occurred,” said Hardy. “The election board members must uphold the sacred trust we place in them to maintain the integrity of our democratic process.”

The St. Joseph County Election Board will meet Tuesday March 11 at 10am in the 4th floor County Council Conference Chambers in the County-City building located in South Bend.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers to speak Tues March 11 at St. Mary's College

(Passing this news along: Dolores Huerta will be speaking at 6:30pm in Carroll Auditorium of Madeleva Hall on the campus of St. Mary's College - KJH)


It is an honor for Saint Mary's College to bring Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), to our campus and community.

Dolores has played a major role in the American labor, environmental, women's and civil right's movement, and has been arrested 22 times for non-violent peaceful union activities. Dolores served a key role in the early years of farm worker organizing, and she spoke out early and often against toxic pesticides that threaten farm workers, consumers, and the environment.

She directed the UFW's national grape boycott taking the plight of the farm workers to the consumers. If the UFW organizing efforts gave birth to boycotts as a means of nonviolent action in the marketplace, then Dolores Huerta can quite rightly be considered the midwife of that movement.

In 1993 Dolores was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. That same year she received the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award, and the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award. In 1998 she was one of three Ms. Magazine's, "Women of the Year", and the Ladies Home Journal's, "100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century".

Dolores still works long hours for the union she co-founded and nurtured. Many days she is in cities across North America promoting "La Causa" and women's rights, and most recently, she has been traveling the country, speaking at marches on behalf of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and advocating for the Dream Act.

Born in 1930 in New Mexico, today she is the mother of 11 children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Schellinger calls for immediate tax relief, long-term reform

INDIANAPOLIS – In response to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ insistence that lawmakers not alter the constitutional caps in his property tax relief plan, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Schellinger today outlined how he would address the issue if he were Governor.

House and Senate Republicans joined with Daniels yesterday to deliver an ultimatum to Hoosiers that they refuse to accept any additional compromise on the issue of proposed constitutional caps that will cause local governments to cut back vital services or raise taxes.

Schellinger, who has spent the last year listening to Hoosiers in all 92 counties, said the General Assembly must make immediate relief its top priority this session.

“Hoosier families are hurting and need real relief from rising taxes and high fuel, healthcare, and food costs,” Schellinger said. “Those rising costs and the effects of a serious slump in the housing and real estate sectors have hurt Hoosier families for too long. We must do everything we can to support working men and women struggling to make ends meet.”

Schellinger said Daniels’ proposed sales tax increase, coupled with the unknown effects of constitutional tax caps, will be devastating to both local governments and lower-income Hoosiers.

“Mitch Daniels put the cart before the horse this session,” Schellinger said. “He wants to fiddle with our state’s most sacred legal document without any idea what effect his actions will have. Instead of focusing on actual reform, he’s playing a shell game with Hoosier taxpayers.”

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, in a series of editorials this week, points out that Daniels himself, through his 2005 budget, was largely responsible for the current tax crisis. His budget froze the property tax replacement credit and slashed education funding, forcing cash-strapped local governments to shoulder an increased financial burden.

“Not only has Mitch Daniels been absent from the debate for the past three years,” Schellinger said, “but now he’s scrambling to look like he’s part of the solution, not the root of the problem.”

Schellinger said yesterday’s last-minute Republican showmanship proves that Daniels is more interested in making this a partisan issue than solving the problem.

Schellinger urged lawmakers to find a way to compromise on the issue of immediate relief but to wait until next year’s budget session to take up the issue of long-term local government reform. He pointed out that Daniels has given short shrift to the suggestions set forth in last year’s bipartisan Kernan-Shepard Commission report, demanding instead that lawmakers accept his plan without question.

“Mitch Daniels likes to rush things by telling Hoosiers that there’s no other way but his,” Schellinger said. “That attitude got us into our current situation, and we just can’t afford to continue letting his short-term thinking and poor leadership erode our great state.

“Hoosiers deserve leadership that is committed to hard work and consensus-building, so today’s quick fix doesn’t become tomorrow’s tax increase. We have to immediately assist working families hit hard by this crisis while moving forward intelligently and steadily with a plan for long-term reform that will lead to government that is more efficient and accountable.”

The myth of "the surge"

This powerful article was reported by an Arabic speaker. As you read it, you'll note what a difference that makes. It shows the hopelessness and chaos we've created and fed in Iraq.

As I read it, I recalled what Dances With Wolves said sadly when he discovered the Army had reconstituted Fort Sedgewick. "Go home. There's nothing (constructive) for you to do here."

By Nir Rosen
Rolling Stone

Thursday 06 March 2008

Hoping to turn enemies into allies, US forces are arming Iraqis who fought with the insurgents. But it's already starting to backfire. A report from the front lines of the new Iraq.
Click here to see more photos taken by Danfung Dennis for this feature.

It's a cold, gray day in December, and I'm walking down Sixtieth Street in the Dora district of Baghdad, one of the most violent and fearsome of the city's no-go zones. Devastated by five years of clashes between American forces, Shiite militias, Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda, much of Dora is now a ghost town. This is what "victory" looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets. Mountains of trash stagnate in the pungent liquid. Most of the windows in the sand-colored homes are broken, and the wind blows through them, whistling eerily. House after house is deserted, bullet holes pockmarking their walls, their doors open and unguarded, many emptied of furniture. What few furnishings remain are covered by a thick layer of the fine dust that invades every space in Iraq. Looming over the homes are twelve-foot-high security walls built by the Americans to separate warring factions and confine people to their own neighborhood. Emptied and destroyed by civil war, walled off by President Bush's much-heralded "surge," Dora feels more like a desolate, post-apocalyptic maze of concrete tunnels than a living, inhabited neighborhood. Apart from our footsteps, there is complete silence.

My guide, a thirty-one-year-old named Osama who grew up in Dora, points to shops he used to go to, now abandoned or destroyed: a barbershop, a hardware store. Since the U.S. occupation began, Osama has watched civil war turn the streets where he grew up into an ethnic killing field. After the fall of Saddam, the Americans allowed looters and gangs to take over the streets, and Iraqi security forces were stripped of their jobs. The Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite paramilitary force led by the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, took advantage of the power shift to retaliate in areas such as Dora, where Shiites had been driven from their homes. Shiite forces tried to cleanse the district of Sunni families like Osama's, burning or confiscating their homes and torturing or killing those who refused to leave.

"The Mahdi Army was killing people here," Osama says, pointing to a now-destroyed Shiite mosque that in earlier times had been a cafe and before that an office for Saddam's Baath Party. Later, driving in the nearby district of Baya, Osama shows me a gas station. "They killed my uncle here. He didn't accept to leave. Twenty guys came to his house, the women were screaming. He ran to the back, but they caught him, tortured him and killed him." Under siege by Shiite militias and the U.S. military, who viewed Sunnis as Saddam supporters, and largely cut out of the Shiite-dominated government, many Sunnis joined the resistance. Others turned to Al Qaeda and other jihadists for protection.

Now, in the midst of the surge, the Bush administration has done an about-face. Having lost the civil war, many Sunnis were suddenly desperate to switch sides ..." and Gen. David Petraeus was eager to oblige. The U.S. has not only added 30,000 more troops in Iraq ..." it has essentially bribed the opposition, arming the very Sunni militants who only months ago were waging deadly assaults on American forces. To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites. Operating as a contractor, Osama runs 300 of these new militiamen, former resistance fighters whom the U.S. now counts as allies because they are cashing our checks. The Americans pay Osama once a month; he in turn provides his men with uniforms and pays them ten dollars a day to man checkpoints in the Dora district ..." a paltry sum even by Iraqi standards. A former contractor for KBR, Osama is now running an armed network on behalf of the United States government. "We use our own guns," he tells me, expressing regret that his units have not been able to obtain the heavy-caliber machine guns brandished by other Sunni militias.

The American forces responsible for overseeing "volunteer" militias like Osama's have no illusions about their loyalty. "The only reason anything works or anybody deals with us is because we give them money," says a young Army intelligence officer. The 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which patrols Osama's territory, is handing out $32 million to Iraqis in the district, including $6 million to build the towering walls that, in the words of one U.S. officer, serve only to "make Iraqis more divided than they already are." In districts like Dora, the strategy of the surge seems simple: to buy off every Iraqi in sight. All told, the U.S. is now backing more than 600,000 Iraqi men in the security sector ..." more than half the number Saddam had at the height of his power. With the ISVs in place, the Americans are now arming both sides in the civil war. "Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," as U.S. strategists like to say. David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. Petraeus, calls it "balancing competing armed interest groups."

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."

Maj. Pat Garrett, who works with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment, is already having trouble figuring out what to do with all the new militiamen in his district. There are too few openings in the Iraqi security forces to absorb them all, even if the Shiite-dominated government agreed to integrate them. Garrett is placing his hopes on vocational-training centers that offer instruction in auto repair, carpentry, blacksmithing and English. "At the end of the day, they want a legitimate living," Garrett says. "That's why they're joining the ISVs."

But men who have taken up arms to defend themselves against both the Shiites and the Americans won't be easily persuaded to abandon their weapons in return for a socket wrench. After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, "Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families." The new militias have given members of the Awakening their first official foothold in occupied Iraq. They are not likely to surrender that position without a fight. The Shiite government is doing little to find jobs for them, because it doesn't want them back, and violence in Iraq is already starting to escalate. By funding the ISVs and rearming the Sunnis who were stripped of their weapons at the start of the occupation, America has created a vast, uncoordinated security establishment. If the Shiite government of Iraq does not allow Sunnis in the new militias to join the country's security forces, warns one leader of the Awakening, "It will be worse than before."

Osama, for his part, seems like everything that American forces would want in a Sunni militiaman. He speaks fluent English, wears jeans and baseball caps, and is well-connected from his days with KBR. Before the ISVs were set up, Osama and a dozen of his original men were known to U.S. troops as "the Heroes" for their work in pointing out Al Qaeda suspects and uncovering improvised explosive devices in Dora. Osama's men helped find at least sixty of these deadly bombs. In today's Baghdad, the trust of the American overlords is a valuable commodity. Osama's power stems almost entirely from his access to U.S. contracts.

As a result, members of the Awakening who had previously attacked Americans and Shiites are now collaborating with Osama. "To a large extent they are former insurgents," says Capt. Travis Cox of the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Most of Osama's men had belonged to Sunni resistance groups such as the Army of the Mujahedeen, the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, named for the uprising against the British occupation that year. Even Osama admits that some of his men's loyalty is questionable. "Yesterday we arrested three guys as Al Qaeda infiltrators," he tells me. "They thought that they were powerful because they are ISV, so no one will touch them. You got to watch them every day."

Osama himself makes no secret of his hatred for the Shiite government and its security forces. As we walk by a checkpoint manned by the Iraqi National Police, which is comprised almost entirely of Shiites, Osama looks at the uniformed officers in disgust. "I want to kill them," he tells me, "but the Americans make us work together."

Although Osama insists that he has no connections to Al Qaeda or other jihadists, his fellow leaders of the ISVs in Dora are directly tied to the Sunni resistance. Since the Americans often require that each mahala, or neighborhood, have two ISV bosses, Osama has given half of his 300 men to Abu Salih, a man with dark reddish skin, a sharp nose and small piercing eyes. "We know Abu Salih is former Al Qaeda of Iraq," a U.S. Army officer from the area tells me. In fact, when I meet with him, Abu Salih freely admits that some of his men belonged to Al Qaeda. They joined the American-sponsored militias, he says, so they could have an identity card as protection should they get arrested.

The other leader working with Osama is Abu Yasser, a handsome and jovial man who wears a matching green sweatshirt and sweatpants, with a pistol in a shoulder holster. "Abu Yasser is the real boss," says an American intelligence officer. "That guy's an animal ..." he's crazy." A former member of Saddam's General Security Service, Abu Yasser had joined the Army of the Mujahedeen, a resistance organization that fought the U.S. occupation in Mosul and south Baghdad. He still has scars on his arms from the battles, and he put my hand on his forearm to feel the shrapnel embedded within. Like Osama and Abu Salih, he views the Shiite-led government as the real enemy. "There is no difference between the Mahdi Army and Iran," he tells me. Now that he is working for the Americans, he has no intention of laying down his arms. "If the government doesn't let us join the police," he says, "we'll stay here protecting our area."

To watch the ISVs in action, I accompany U.S. soldiers from the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment on a mission in the neighborhood. After meeting up with Osama, Abu Salih and Abu Yasser at a police checkpoint, we walk down Sixtieth Street to the Tawhid Mosque, followed by Stryker armored vehicles from the 2-2 SCR. First Lt. Shawn Spainhour, a contracting officer with the unit, asks the sheik at the mosque what help he needs. The mosque's generator has been shot up by armed Shiites, and the sheik requests $3,000 to fix it. Spainhour takes notes. "I probably can do that," he says.

The sheik also asks for a Neighborhood Advisory Council to be set up in his area "so it will see our problems." The NACs, as they're known, are being created and funded by the Americans to give power to Sunnis cut out of the political process. As with the ISVs, however, the councils effectively operate as independent institutions that do not answer to the central Iraqi government. Many Shiites in the Iraqi National Police consider the NACs as little more than a front for insurgents: One top-ranking officer accused the leader of a council in Dora of being an Al Qaeda terrorist. "I have an order from the Ministry of Interior to arrest him," the officer told me.

As Spainhour talks to the sheik at the mosque, two bearded, middle-aged men in sweaters suddenly walk up to the Americans with a tip. Two men down the street, they insist, are members of the Mahdi Army. The soldiers quickly get back into the Strykers, as do Osama and his men, and they all race to Mahala 830. There they find a group of young men stringing electrical cables across the street. Some of the men manage to run off, but the eleven who remain are forced into a courtyard and made to squat facing the walls. They all wear flip-flops. Soldiers from the unit take their pictures one by one. The grunts are frustrated: For most of them, this is as close to combat as they have gotten, and they're eager for action.

"Somebody move!" shouts one soldier. "I'm in the mood to hit somebody!"

Another soldier pushes a suspect against the wall. "You know Abu Ghraib?" he taunts.

The Iraqis do not resist ..." they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. "I bet there's an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us," an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.

I try to tell the soldiers they've made a mistake ..." it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator ..." but the Americans don't listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. "If an IED is on the ground," one tells me, "we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius." As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.

In a nearby house, the soldiers find Mahdi Army "propaganda" and arrest several men, including one called Sabrin al-Haqir, or Sabrin "the mean," an alleged leader of the Mahdi Army. The Strykers transport the prisoners, including the men from the courtyard, to Combat Outpost Blackfoot. Inside, Osama and Abu Salih drink sodas and eat muffins and thank the Americans for arresting Sabrin. Everyone agrees that the mission was a great success ..." the kind of street-to-street collaboration that the ISVs were designed to encourage.

The Sunnis from the first house the Americans raided are released, the plastic cuffs that have been digging into their wrists cut off, and three of them are taken to sign sworn statements implicating Sabrin. An American captain instructs them to list who did what, where, when and how. Abu Salih, the militia leader, walks by and tells the men in Arabic to implicate Sabrin in an attack. They dutifully obey, telling the Americans what they want to hear so they will be released.

Osama, meanwhile, uses the opportunity to lobby the Americans for more weapons. Meeting with a sergeant from the unit, he asks if he can have a PKC, or heavy-caliber machine gun, to put on top of his pickup truck.

"No," the sergeant says.

"But we can hide it," Osama pleads.

After processing, Sabrin is moved to a "detainee holding facility" at Forward Operating Base Prosperity. At least 25,000 Iraqis are now in such U.S. facilities ..." up from 16,000 only a year ago. "We were able to confirm through independent reporting that he was a bad guy" from the Mahdi Army, a U.S. intelligence officer tells me. "He was involved in EJKs" ..." extrajudicial killings, a military euphemism for murders.

To the Americans, the Awakening represents a grand process of reconciliation, a way to draw more Sunnis into the fold. But whatever reconciliation the ISVs offer lies between the Americans and the Iraqis, not among Iraqis themselves. Most Shiites I speak with believe that the same Sunnis who have been slaughtering Shiites throughout Iraq are now being empowered and legitimized by the Americans as members of the ISVs. On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you.'"

In an ominous sign for the future, some of the Iraqis who are angriest about the new militias are those who are supposed to bring peace and security to the country: the Iraqi National Police. More paramilitary force than street cops, the INP resembles the National Guard in the U.S. Along with the local Iraqi police and the Iraqi army, the INP is populated mainly by members and supporters of the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias. The police had fought in the civil war, often targeting Sunni civilians and cleansing Sunni areas. One morning I accompany Lt. Col. Myron Reineke of the 2-2 SCR to a meeting at the headquarters of the 7th Brigade of the Iraqi National Police. The brigade is housed in a former home of Ali Hassan al-Majid, the notorious "Chemical Ali." Now called a JSS, or joint security station, it is particularly feared by Sunnis, who were frequently kidnapped by the National Police and released for ransom, if they were lucky. The station is also rumored to have been used as a base by Shiite militias for torturing Sunnis.

Reineke finds the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Abud, sitting behind a large wooden desk surrounded by plastic flowers. Behind him is a photograph of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. To his side is a shotgun. Five or six of his officers, all Shiites, surround him. Karim and his men greet the delegation of Americans warmly ..." but then, the Americans are greeted warmly wherever they go. They assume that this means they are liked, but Iraqis have nothing to lose ..." and everything to gain ..." by pretending to be their friends.

Karim begins the meeting by accusing the Awakening of being a front for terrorists. "We have information that the Baath Party and Al Qaeda have infiltrated Sahwa," he tells Reineke. "It's very dangerous. Sahwa is killing people in Seidiya."

A few days later, I return to meet with Karim without the Americans present. I find him talking to several high-ranking Shiite officers in the Iraqi army about members of the Awakening, who have been taking over homes in Dora that once belonged to Shiites. "We need to bring back the Shiites, but the Sunnis are in the houses," one colonel tells Karim. "This battle is bigger than the other battles ..." this is the battle of the displaced." To these men, the Awakening is reviled: Eavesdropping on their Arabic conversation, I hear him angrily condemn "killers, terrorists, ugly pigs!"

Karim's phone rings, and he begins talking with a superior officer about a clash the previous day between the Awakening and armed Shiite militias. The ISVs had battled the Mahdi Army, but Karim blames U.S. troops for establishing an ISV unit in the area. "American officers took Sahwa men to a sector where they shouldn't be," he says. "Residents saw armed men not in uniforms and shot at them from buildings. Four Sahwa were injured. My battalion was called in to help." After listening for a moment, he agrees with his superior officer on a solution: Members of the Awakening must be forced out. "Yes, sir," he says. "Sahwa will withdraw from that area. They started the problem."

Away from the Americans, Karim and his men make no secret of their hatred for the Awakening. One of the most frequent visitors to Karim's headquarters is a stern and thuggish man named Abu Jaafar. A Shiite known to the Americans as Sheik Ali, Abu Jaafar has his own ISV unit of 100 men in the Saha neighborhood of Dora. "He may not be JAM," an American major tells me, using the common shorthand for the Mahdi Army, "but he has a lot of JAM friends."

The Awakening, Abu Jaafar tells me, is full of men who once belonged not just to the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Army of the Mujahedeen but also to Al Qaeda. He pulls out a list of forty-six people from the neighborhood. "Criminals in Sahwa," he says. He points to two names. "The Americans told me, 'If you see these two men, you can kill them or bring them to us.' Now they are wearing the Sahwa uniform. They say they have reconciled."

Abu Jaafar looks at me and smiles. Shiites, he says, do not need the Awakening. "We are already awake," he says. "Our eyes are open. We know everything. We're just waiting."

U.S. troops who work with the Iraqi National Police realize that beyond their gaze, the country's security forces do not act anything like police. "The INPs here are almost all Shiites," says Maj. Jeffrey Gottlieb, a lanky tank officer who oversees a unit charged with training Iraqi police. "Orders from their chain of command are usually to arrest Sunnis, not Shiites." The police have also been conducting what Gottlieb calls "United Van Lines missions" ..." resettling displaced Shiite families in homes abandoned by Sunnis. "The National Police ask, 'Can you help us move a family's furniture?' We don't know if the people coming back were even from here originally." Gottlieb shrugs. "We don't know as much as we could, because we don't know Arabic," he says.

Gottlieb had recently conducted an inventory of the weapons assigned to the 172 INP ..." short for 1st Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Division. There were 550 weapons missing, including pistols, rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. "Guys take weapons when they go AWOL," he says. The police were also reporting fake engagements and then transferring to Shiite militias the ammunition they had supposedly fired. "It was funny how they always expended 400 rounds of ammunition," Gottlieb says.

Then there is the problem of "ghost police." Although 542 men officially belong to the 172 INP on paper, only 200 or so show up at any given time. Some are on leave, but many simply do not exist, their salaries pocketed by officers. "Officers get a certain number of ghosts," Gottlieb tells me. He looks at a passing American soldier. "I need some ghosts," he jokes. "How much are you making?"

When I go to visit the 172 INP, American officers from the 2-2 SCR admonish me to wear my body armor ..." to protect myself from accidental discharges by the Iraqi police. "I did convoy security in the Sunni Triangle and was hit by numerous IEDs, complex attacks, small arms," Capt. Cox tells me. "But I never felt closer to death than when I was working with Iraqi security forces."

The night I arrive, thirty-five members of the Iraqi National Police are going out on a joint raid with Americans from the National Police Training Team. The raid is being led by Capt. Arkan Hashim Ali, a trim thirty-year-old Iraqi with a shaved head and a sharp gaze. Because seventy-five percent of all officer positions in the INP are vacant, officers like Arkan often end up assuming many roles at once. Arkan gathers his men in an empty room for a mission briefing. Cardboard and Styrofoam models have been arranged to replicate the Humvees and pickup trucks they will be using. The men all wear the same blue uniforms, but they sport a hodgepodge of helmets, flak jackets and boots.

"Today we have an operation in Mahala 830," Arkan announces. "Do you know it? Our target is an Al Qaeda guy." Salah and Muhamad, two brothers suspected of working with Al Qaeda, would be visiting their brother Falah's home that night. Falah was known as Falah al-Awar, or "the one-eyed," because he had lost one of his eyes. Arrested two weeks earlier by the Americans, he had revealed under interrogation that his brothers were involved in attacking and kidnapping Americans. "He dimed his brothers out," an American officer tells me.

The briefing over, Arkan asks his men to repeat his instructions, ordering them to shout the answers. Then they head out on the raid.

At Falah's house, the INPs move quickly, climbing over the wall and breaking the main gate. Bursting into the house, they herd the women and children into the living room while they bind Muhamad's hands with strips of cloth. Muhamad begins to cry. "My father is dead," he sobs. Arkan reassures him but also controls him, holding the top of Muhamad's head with his hand, as if he were palming a basketball. The women in the house ask how long the two brothers will be taken for. Arkan tells them they are being held for questioning and describes where his base is. Then the INPs speed off in their pickup trucks, causing the Americans to smile at their rush to get away.

"We just picked up some Sunnis," jokes an American sergeant. "We're getting the fuck outta here."

The next day, Sunni leaders from the area meet with the American soldiers. The two brothers, they claim, are innocent. Before the 2-2 SCR arrived, the 172 INP had a history of going on forays into Sunni neighborhoods just to punish civilians. Fearing for their safety, the Sunni leaders ask if the two brothers can be transferred to American custody.

The Americans know that the entire raid may have been simply another witch hunt, a way for the Shiite police to intimidate Sunni civilians. The INP, U.S. officers concede, use Al Qaeda as a "scare word" to describe all Sunni suspects.

"Yeah, the moral ambiguity of what we do is not lost on me," Maj. Gottlieb tells me. "We have no way of knowing if those guys did what they say they did."

With American forces now arming both sides in the civil war, the violence in Iraq has once again started to escalate. In January, some 100 members of the new Sunni militias ..." whom the Americans have now taken to calling "the Sons of Iraq" ..." were assassinated in Baghdad and other urban areas. In one attack, a teenage bomber blew himself up at a meeting of Awakening leaders in Anbar Province, killing several members of the group. Most of the attacks came from Al Qaeda and other Sunni factions, some of whom are fighting for positions of power in the new militias.

One day in early February, I accompany several of the ISV leaders from Dora to the Sahwa Council, the Awakening's headquarters in Ramadi. They are hoping to translate their local military gains into a political advantage by gaining the council's stamp of approval. On the way, Abu Salih admires a pickup truck outfitted with a Dushka, a large Russian anti-aircraft gun. "Now that's Sahwa," Abu Salih says, gazing wistfully at the weapon. Then he spots more Sahwa men driving Humvees armed with belt-fed machine guns. "Ooh," he murmurs, "look at that PKC."

At Sahwa headquarters, in an opulent guest hall, Abu Salih meets Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, brother of the slain founder of the movement, who sits on an ornate, thronelike chair. "How is Dora?" he asks Abu Salih, sounding like a king inquiring about his subject's estate. Then he leads us into a smaller office, where three of Abu Salih's rivals from Dora are gathered. All of the men refer to Abu Risha with deference, calling him "our older brother" and "our father." It is a strange reversal of past roles: urban Sunnis from Baghdad pledging their allegiance to a desert tribal leader, looking to the periphery for protection and political representation. But the Americans have empowered Abu Risha, and Baghdad's Sunni militiamen hope to unite with him to fight their Shiite rivals.

It doesn't take long, however, for the meeting to devolve into open hostility. One of the rivals dismisses Abu Salih and his men as mere guards, not true Sahwa. "You are military, and we are political," he jeers, accusing Abu Salih of having been a member of Al Qaeda. Abu Salih turns red and waves his arms over his head. "Nobody lies about Abu Salih!" he shouts.

Abu Risha's political adviser attempts to calm the men. "Are we in the time of Saddam Hussein?" he asks. The rivals should hold elections in Dora, he suggests, to decide who will represent the Awakening there. In the end, though, Abu Salih emerges from the meeting with official recognition from the council. All of the men speak with respect for the resistance and jihad. To them, the Awakening is merely a hudna, or cease-fire, with the American occupation. The real goal is their common enemy: Iraq's Shiites.

Some of the escalating violence in recent weeks is the work of the Mahdi Army and other Shiite paramilitary forces to intimidate Sunnis like Abu Salih and prevent members of the Awakening from cooperating with the Americans. Even members of the Iraqi National Police who refuse to take sides in the bloody rivalry are being targeted. Capt. Arkan, the Iraqi who led the raid for the 172 INP, has tried to remain nonsectarian in the midst of the bitter new divisiveness that is tearing Iraq apart. Like others who served in the Iraqi army before the U.S. occupation, he sees himself as a soldier first and foremost. "Most of the officers that came back to the police are former army officers," he says. "Their loyalty is to their country." His father is Shiite, but Arkan was forced to leave his home in the majority-Shiite district of Shaab after he was threatened by the Mahdi Army, who demanded that he obtain weapons for them. He had paid a standard $600 bribe to join the police, but he was denied the job until a friend intervened.

"Before the war, it was just one party," Arkan tells me. "Now we have 100,000 parties. I have Sunni officer friends, but nobody lets them get back into service. First they take money, then they ask if you are Sunni or Shiite. If you are Shiite, good." He dreams of returning to the days when the Iraqi army served the entire country. "In Saddam's time, nobody knew what is Sunni and what is Shiite," he says. The Bush administration based its strategy in Iraq on the mistaken notion that, under Saddam, the Sunni minority ruled the Shiite majority. In fact, Iraq had no history of serious sectarian violence or civil war between the two groups until the Americans invaded. Most Iraqis viewed themselves as Iraqis first, with their religious sects having only personal importance. Intermarriage was widespread, and many Iraqi tribes included both Sunnis and Shiites. Under Saddam, both the ruling Baath Party and the Iraqi army were majority Shiite.

Arkan, in a sense, is a man in the middle. He believes that members of the Awakening have the right to join the Iraqi security forces, but he also knows that their ranks are filled with Al Qaeda and other insurgents. "Sahwa is the same people who used to be attacking us," he says. Yet he does not trust his own men in the INP. "Three-fourths of them are Mahdi Army," he tells me, locking his door before speaking. His own men pass information on him to the Shiite forces, which have threatened him for cooperating with the new Sunni militias. One day, Arkan was summoned to meet with the commander of his brigade's intelligence sector. When he arrived, he found a leader of the Mahdi Army named Wujud waiting for him.

"Arkan, be careful ..." we will kill you," Wujud told him. "I know where you live. My guys will put you in the trunk of a car."

I ask Arkan why he had not arrested Wujud. "They know us," he says. "I'm not scared for myself. I've had thirty-eight IEDs go off next to me. But I'm scared for my family."

Later I accompany Arkan to his home. As we approach an INP checkpoint, he grows nervous. Even though he is an INP officer, he does not want the police to know who he is, lest his own men inform the Mahdi Army about his attitude and the local INPs, who are loyal to the Mahdi Army, target him and his family. At his home, his two boys are watching television in the small living room. "I've decided to leave my job," Arkan tells me. "No one supports us." The Americans are threatening him if he doesn't pursue the Mahdi Army more aggressively, while his own superiors are seeking to fire him for the feeble attempts he has made to target the Mahdi Army.

On my final visit with Arkan, he picks me up in his van. For lack of anywhere safe to talk, we sit in the front seat as he nervously scans every man who walks by. He is not optimistic for the future. Arkan knows that the U.S. "surge" has succeeded only in exacerbating the tension among Iraq's warring parties and bickering politicians. The Iraqi government is still nonexistent outside the Green Zone. While U.S.-built walls have sealed off neighborhoods in Baghdad, Shiite militias are battling one another in the south over oil and control of the lucrative pilgrimage industry. Anbar Province is in the hands of Sunni militias who battle each other, and the north is the scene of a nascent civil war between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. The jobs promised to members of the Awakening have not materialized: An internal U.S. report concludes that "there is no coherent plan at this time" to employ them, and the U.S. Agency for International Development "is reluctant to accept any responsibility" for the jobs program because it has a "high likelihood of failure." Sunnis and even some Shiites have quit the government, which is unable to provide any services, and the prime minister has circumvented parliament to issue decrees and sign agreements with the Americans that parliament would have opposed.

But such political maneuvers don't really matter in Iraq. Here, street politics trump any illusory laws passed in the safety of the Green Zone. As the Awakening gains power, Al Qaeda lies dormant throughout Baghdad, the Mahdi Army and other Shiite forces prepare for the next battle, and political assassinations and suicide bombings are an almost daily occurrence. The violence, Arkan says, is getting worse again.

"The situation won't get better," he says softly. An officer of the Iraqi National Police, a man charged with bringing peace to his country, he has been reduced to hiding in his van, unable to speak openly in the very neighborhood he patrols. Thanks to the surge, both the Shiites and the Sunnis now have weapons and legitimacy. And what can come of that, Arkan asks, except more fighting?

"Many people in Sahwa work for Al Qaeda," he says. "The national police are all loyal to the Mahdi Army." He shakes his head. "You work hard to build a house, and somebody blows up your house. Will they accept Sunnis back to Shiite areas and Shiites back to Sunni areas? If someone kills your brother, can you forget his killer?"

A clean, fair fight

The New York Times

Wednesday 05 March 2008

If recent history is any guide, this fall's presidential election will be marred by vote suppression and cynical dirty tricks. Congress still has time to stop some of the worst offenses. The Senate is considering two bills, one to outlaw so-called vote caging and another to rein in duplicitous robo-calls. Congress should pass both bills well before Election Day.

Vote caging is a little-known but pernicious technique. Political operatives mail letters to voters, targeting areas where the opposing party is strong. If a letter is returned as undeliverable, the voter's name is put on a list to be challenged at the polls. The challengers try to persuade election officials not to let the person vote, or only to let them cast a provisional ballot. Some voters end up disenfranchised. No matter how the challenges turn out, they often create confusion and long lines, reducing turnout in the targeted precincts.

Minority voters have been especially victimized. In an infamous case in Louisiana, a Republican political operative boasted that a vote-caging program "could keep the black vote down considerably." Vote caging is sometimes defended as a way of removing ineligible voters from the rolls. But there are many reasons letters are returned, including errors in names and addresses, which are common on direct-mail lists.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, has sponsored a good bill that would require operatives to present better evidence when they challenge a voter's eligibility, such as verifiable proof that a prospective voter has moved or died. The bill would not deter legitimate efforts to keep ineligible people from voting, but it should greatly reduce the use of voter challenges as an Election Day dirty trick.

Political robo-calls are another tactic desperately in need of regulation. In the 2006 election, voters described being harassed by automated telephone calls - which called back as many as eight times after the recipient hung up. In some cases, the recordings began by saying that they included important information about one candidate, although they were really placed by the other side. The caller would then blame the wrong candidate.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, has introduced legislation that would restrict political robo-calls in the run-up to an election, limiting an organization to no more than two such calls to the same phone in a single day. It would also require the call to begin with a clear disclosure of the group that was placing it.

Almost invariably on Election Day, there are reports of skulduggery followed by cries for reform. Once the election is over, however, the damage has been done. This year, Congress should take strong action to prevent the dirty tricks before they occur.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jill Long Thompson announces additional economic program details

I keep watching the Schellinger site. Not much going on over there.

By Christin Nance Lazerus Post-Tribune staff writer

MERRILLVILLE -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson encounters voters with similar concerns as she tours the state.

They're worried about the future of the economy, property taxes and the high cost of health care, she said Tuesday during a stop in Northwest Indiana.

With that in mind, Long Thompson wants to revamp the state's approach to economic growth and its tax code.

Long Thompson proposes tax incentives for businesses to provide health care, gain new technology and reduce environmental impact. For individuals, she envisions permanent tax deductions to offset health care and continuing education costs.

"We need to have a tax structure that helps Indiana families and businesses that are already here," Long Thompson said.

Long Thompson said Gov. Mitch Daniels' current property tax plan doesn't resolve problems by raising the sales tax.
"It's a political Band-aid to shift taxes from one source to another," she said.

Long Thompson is facing Indianapolis architect Jim Schellinger for the Democratic nod in the May primary, but the two have not committed to any debates as yet.

Long Thompson was a representative in the U.S. House from Indiana's 4th District from 1989 to 1995. She served as U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001.

Long Thompson has local ties, as well. She graduated from Valparaiso University and was a member of the Valparaiso City Council.

"I'm a fiscal conservative," she said. "I never once voted for a tax increase when I was a member of Congress."

Long Thompson supports public and rail transportation, such as the South Shore extension plan. She said finding state resources to fund the project will be a challenge.

"It's important to be as creative as we can, but I think the reform of the overall tax system is critical," the candidate said.

Long Thompson is skeptical about privatizing the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

"I think that in general privatization is a short fix. It's generally not a solution," she said. "If the state is looking to privatize the Gary airport, there needs to be a thorough analysis and opportunity for the public to participate in the process."

The dilhemma for Edwards supporters

by Don Wheeler

A childhood friend recently emailed me. He had supported Clinton, then changed to Obama. The occassion for the first contact was an attempt to raise funds for Senator Obama.

We managed to hurt each other's feelings, but when the dust settled I tried to explain why thing were tough for Edwards Democrats right now. The questions alluded to in my note were: The request for money, whether John would endore and whether that would make a difference to me.

Hi Bri,

Glad to shift things to a more analytical plane.

I think if John were planning to endorse , he'd have done so. He and Elizabeth are involved in another project at the moment, and my sense is that he's content to let the voters do their thing.

I've kept in touch with folks in "my group" - people within ten years of my age (either way), who blogged a lot, had a deep familiarity of the Edwards agenda and did actual campaign work. Interestingly, we all seem in the same spot. With us there is a simple question: "Who is more likely to effectively advance and enact progressive policy?"

Since both candidates are solid centrists, there's no obvious choice. Clinton's policies and her approach are more consistent with the Edwards way. But John's comment that "it's no good to replace corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats" is not lost on us. We fear Ms. Clinton is likely to bring us such folks.

Obama's rhetoric sounds better to our ears, but we're both not sure we entirely believe him and unconvinced his approach will be effective. While the Clinton campaign exaggerates her experience, she does have more. Experience is a good teacher. Obama's claim that he is inherently more wise doesn't work very well with us. I won't bore you with any more criticisms, but Paul Krugman has voiced the types I have over the last couple of months.

Obama could help himself with folks like us by cluing us in on the types of folks he'd likely bring into his Cabinet. Bringing in progressive, aggressive, policy wonks would mitigate his seeming disinterest in such things. His leadership qualities aren't at issue. But he worries us with comments such as: "The problem hasn't been a lack of good ideas..."

Also currently working against him (and this is NOT directed at you) is a certain group of his supporters who exhibit Borg-like tendencies - resistance is futile; you will be assimilated. These folks have driven many of us away from DailyKos and -- both of which have taken on the appearance of being satellite Obama campaign sites.

It's my sense is that John Edwards is in a similar position, and won't endorse. I may swallow hard and vote for Hillary or I may vote for John anyway - letting the other voters decide. I may change my mind, but it would take a lot.

The timing for Edwards' withdrawal was pretty interesting. He wasn't going to win any contest on super Tuesday (with the possible exception of Oklahoma), but he certainly would have garnered quite a few delegates. This would have given him quite a bit of influence in a contested convention. It's said that he didn't want that role -- he wanted to be there as a viable candidate, or get out of the way. He didn't see the former as likely, so he opted for the latter.

The other thing interesting to me is that he had been considered the winner of the last three debates and particularly came off as the "serious guy" in the last one - where it was only the three of them.

Then a few days later he dropped out of the race. Big Time Media fell all over themselves saying what a visionary he was, etc. I'll bet you could hear my group gagging from coast to coast.

I'm not sure why I thought this, but I had been convinced this would be John's last race. Now I don't think so. He's only 54 and it looks like he clearly dropped out on a very high note.

I suspect he and Elizabeth will put a lot of energy behind the eventual nominee, but I think he wants to stay out of any convention fight. I'm on record now...let's see how I do.

To your questions: I am very unlikely to vote for Barrack Obama in the primary. If John endorsed him at this point, it wouldn't change anything for me. (I supported John on the issues mostly, after all). If John told me not to vote for him (John), to make another choice, that would matter. And any campaign contributions at this point (to either candidate) might as well be made directly to the shareholders of corporate media - cutting out the middle man. The money spent has been well beyond obscene.

I'll obviously vote for the Dem. nominee in November, but it won't matter. McCain will win here. It's ironic that the one time Indiana's primary will matter, I'm so unenthused by the two on the ballot. But we have a very interesting Governor's race, and a guy can only do so much anyway.

Hope you, Linda and the kids are well. Thanks for the Christmas card.

Your friend, Don

2008 Presidential Prospects for Progressives: Nader, the Greens, and Building a Movement

[This was first published yesterday, March 5, at]

By Karl Hardy

While the presidential primary season lurches onward with Obama and Hillary struggling to secure the Democrat nomination, progressives are finding themselves in a predicament similar to both 2000 and 2004. Al Gore and John Kerry left a lot to be desired, though Bill Bradley, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton never gained much traction with their "inside the party" candidacies. We can’t forget Howard Dean either, who was considered the frontrunner in 2004 before faltering and eventually becoming the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

The question, yet again, is whether or not to hold your nose and vote for the "lesser of two evils" (or, if you will, against the Republican Party) OR vote your conscience in support of a true progressive. Casting such a ballot in 2008 for a candidate with almost no chance of winning after the 2000 election fiasco is a tall order, especially when recognizing the substantial differences between McCain and Obama/Clinton on many, though certainly not all, important issues.

Ralph Nader’s 2000 Green Party presidential run is well documented. Charges of "spoiling" aside, his 2.7% - despite appearing on only 44 states’ ballots and not being included in presidential debates – represented a significant and promising development for progressives. Unfortunately, as many journalists have documented, Bush won Florida - and thus the presidency - through a combination of illegal voter disenfranchisement and legal fiat thanks to a 5 to 4 US Supreme Court decision. The momentum created by Nader’s candidacy was blunted considerably by the resulting anger and frustration over Bush’s installation as president and what remaining energy was effectively silenced in the disturbingly reactionary "patriotic" fervor immediately following 9-11. The combination of 9-11 and fallout over the 2000 election was disastrous, in many respects, for the Greens, specifically, and progressives, generally.

What may have been, however, is now a mute point.

In 2004, while Dean’s presidential candidacy prospects rose rapidly only to crash with equal speed, Nader decided not seek the Greens’ nomination, instead declaring an independent candidacy. Acrimony over both the result of the 2000 election and Nader’s distant relationship to the Greens (more on that later) led to divisions within the Green Party that eventually resulted in a something of a split. Unknown Green Party member David Cobb campaigned nationally for the nomination and articulated what became known as a "safe state strategy" that involved largely staying away from contested swing states that were likely to determine the next president. (Of course, now some controversy exists as to whether this was, in fact, Cobb’s campaign plan but I personally attended a meeting in San Antonio, Texas where Cobb clearly stated just such an approach.)

Nader, for his part, never joined the Green Party and refused to share donor/volunteer lists from his 2000 campaign with the Greens – this despite his oft-repeated campaign goal of building the party infrastructure and triggering federal matching funds with at least 5% of the national vote. Nonetheless, he did select a prominent California Green politician, Peter Camejo, as his vice-presidential running mate and asked the Greens for an "endorsement" of their ticket. At a contentious 2004 national convention, Nader’s appeal was rejected and Cobb became the party’s nominee.

Although Nader was on 44 ballots in 2000, both he and Cobb managed only a fraction of that total for the 2004 general election. Unsurprisingly, several states reacted to Nader’s previous candidacy by raising already unreasonable ballot access standards even higher. The Democrats, fearing a repeat of 2000, contested the Nader campaign through a series of lawsuits designed to drain precious time, resources, and, ultimately, deny him ballot access.

Many Greens, especially those in the relative stronghold of California, went outside the party to support Nader leaving the Green candidate, Cobb, with only 118,000 votes nationwide - good for just 6th place behind Bush, Kerry, Nader and both the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates. Nader’s support fell drastically to less than .4%.

In this 2008 election cycle Nader has offered praise for some of the positions of John Edwards – Kerry’s vice-presidential running mate turned populist progressive 2008 presidential candidate – as well as those of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, all of whom ran unsuccessfully for the 2008 Democratic nomination. He also has had kind words for Cynthia McKinney, former Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia who recently joined the Green Party and declared her candidacy for the Greens’ presidential nomination. But, for better or worse, Nader has decided on another independent candidacy opting not to support McKinney or any of the other Green candidates.

Progressives, by definition, must be concerned with the future. Many thoughtful progressives, with this in mind, have long understood the absolute necessity of building social movements as the basis of transformative social change. The German Green Party evolved as an extension of environmental, peace, and other activist currents in recognition of the need for an electoral arm to social movements. The American Green movement began similarly as a coalition of anti-nuclear activists, feminists, and both those connected to ecology and social justice movements.

The development of the American Green movement was also helped, in part, by Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Democratic presidential candidacies. Many of the elements of the "Rainbow Coalition" brought together in support of Jackson’s ultimately unsuccessful candidacies subsequently rallied to the Green movement. Jackson’s failure to capture the Democrat’s nomination – and the similar letdowns of subsequent progressive efforts – suggests the considerable obstacles to building substantive progressive movements inside the Democratic Party.

But the unique realities of the US "winner take all" system combined with the entrenchment of the two-party system – both institutionally and in the hearts and minds of the American public – require an especially nuanced approach to progressive electoral activity. The struggle over "party" vs. "movement" has already caused a major split as the current electoral-focused Green Party US diverged from the original - and much more movement-oriented - Greens/Green Party USA.

Ralph Nader’s unwillingness to work within the Green Party coupled with his inability, thus far, to build any sort of movement since 2000, raises serious questions about the value of his 2008 candidacy. While Nader’s tireless, lifelong efforts will doubtless serve to ensure his very positive legacy to history, his independent candidacy can aspire to little more than raising issues in the short term. Furthermore, his choice of another high profile California Green, Matt Gonzalez, as his vice-presidential running mate is particularly troubling for the Green Party.

Gonzalez, running as a Green, was nearly elected mayor of San Francisco in an election that received nationwide attention. Gonzalez was so close to besting Democrat Gavin Newsom that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jesse Jackson campaigned on Newsom’s behalf. As result of this race and his stature as president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (similar to a city council) Gonzalez appeared to be a promising asset to the Green Party. However, Gonzalez has announced his decision to change his registration from Green to independent, explaining this as consequence of his part of the independent Nader ticket.

What this means for the Green Party remains to be seen. Nader handily won the California Green Party presidential primary vote over McKinney even as he steadfastly pronounced he was not a candidate. (He declined, however, to have his name removed from the primary ballot.) Perhaps the Nader/Gonzalez ticket will be successful in their stated desire to raise the issue of third party and independent candidates’ ballot access as a major civil rights issue. This is certainly an important matter that deserves public attention, as are Nader’s well-known critiques of corporate power.

McKinney, the likely Green nominee at this point, escapes what Katha Pollitt, writing in her weekly column in The Nation, referred to the "white populist error," a notion expressed by Bill Fletcher in The Black Commentator. "Edwards, much like Kucinich, fell prey to… (the idea) that unity will magically appear by building a campaign that attacks poverty and corporate abuse, supports unions and focuses on the challenges facing the working class, BUT IGNORES RACE AND GENDER" (Fletcher quoted by Pollitt with her emphasis).

But there is a real possibility that a McKinney candidacy will not have a united Green Party behind her. Though Nader has stated he will not actively seek the Green’s nomination, there is a chance that individual states could break from the national party to give Nader their ballot lines. Another national convention battle appears almost certain, though with declining numbers – in terms of both active supporters and ballot lines – there is, in some respects, less at stake than in 2004.

Green Party US’s almost singular focus on ballot access as well as electoral politics, generally, and presidential candidacies, specifically - as part of a "trickle down" strategy of party growth - is terribly misguided. Building a broad-based social movement, one that includes themes of economic justice, ecology, and social justice as well as a recognition of the importance of so-called "identity politics" to a comprehensive critique of the dominant order, around the idea of citizenship is an idea that was part of the beginnings of the American Green movement.

Though they were ultimately futile in their attempts to maintain a decidedly "bottom-up" movement focus within the Green Party, social ecologists and other forward thinking elements advocated just this position. They stressed the importance of education and historical perspective as part of engaging in movements oriented at everyday concerns and far-reaching, reconstructive visions of a liberatory, ecological human society.

Is it possible that progressives may have learned enough from the experiences of the recent election cycles to reconsider the hazards of an electoral, party-based focus? With economic recession and both the global warming and an enduring "War on Terror" looming as momentous challenges for both near and short term, here’s hoping.

Karl Hardy is a graduate student at Prescott College studying social ecology, a community activist, and was a 2007 Green Party candidate for city council (South Bend, IN.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2nd district choices: bad, worse, and ridiculous

(passing these bits along from the Donnelly Watch blog. - KJH)

Chances are that you may have seen the television ads running in support of extending FISA, ads that are underwritten by a right wing group called "Defense of Democracies."

Falling in line, 2nd District Republican challenger Luke Puckett issued an attack on incumbent Rep. Joe Donnelly (D - Granger) despite the fact that Donnelly, as part of group of moderate Democrats known as the Blue Dogs, actually was part of a Democratic minority in favor of extending the act.

In fact, Donnelly was one of only 7 Democrats to join last week with the GOP in voting to extend the act.

Jack Colwell, columnist for the South Bend Tribune, described the ineptitude of Donnelly's challengers in a piece published on March 2. Of course, this doesn't take much convincing given Tony Zirkle's recent statements on re-segregation (yes, you read that right).

Donnelly received some unusual exposure for a Freshman this past weekend when he delivered the Democrat's weekly radio address.


Unless a third party or independent progressive alternative emerges in the general election, it appears progressives' choices will be bad (Donnelly) or worse (Puckett) - or ridiculous (Zirkle).

It was, however, heartening to see citizens from IU-South Bend organize to urge Donnelly to help cut the cost of birth control.

Perhaps the progressive citizenry of the 2nd district will learn from this example and act to raise their voices to urge Donnelly to turn away from his "moderate" position as a Republican behaving Democrat.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Jill Long Thompson unveils her economic strategy

The Democratic candidate for governor recently released her strategy for improving economic conditions for Hoosiers.

"Looking across Indiana, you see factories closing, families struggling to pay their mortgages, pay their taxes and keep up with the rising costs of healthcare. Once-thriving communities are slowly dying as people and businesses move away. And our current Governor doesn't seem to have the
solutions or seem to care," said Long Thompson.

"Hoosiers make ninety cents on the dollar relative to workers in the rest of the country;
Indiana has one of the highest home mortgage foreclosure rates; almost one third
of our high school freshmen will not graduate from high school; and healthcare
costs in Indiana are higher than the national average. That is unacceptable and
the Governor's lack of action to these issues is unforgivable."

The Daniels' approach to economic development simply
isn't working. His 'one business at a time' strategy ignores how broad
policy affects growth and ignores existing business. This shortsighted
policy is leaving too many communities and too many people behind, and that's
especially true the further you are from the central part of the state. It
is extremely important to bring new businesses to Indiana, but it's also
important to put policies in place that keeps existing businesses here and helps
them grow," Long Thompson added.

Read the complete release

Brett Favre announces his retirement

Green Bay Packers' legendary quarterback made it official, surprising most of us.

Here's a nice article by Don Banks:

Pivotal gay marriage hearing Monday in California Supreme Court

Go to Original

By Crystal Carreon
The Sacramento Bee

Monday 03 March 2008

The California Supreme Court is set Tuesday to consider a pivotal civil rights question that has sparked controversy in courthouses and contentious public debate: Should gay couples be allowed to marry?

From its courthouse in San Francisco, the seven justices are scheduled to hear three hours of oral arguments about whether the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional - an issue that has polarized politics and divided courts across the country for nearly a decade. But a decision by this high court, in the state with the largest number of homosexual couples, could reverberate well beyond California.

"This will be one of the - if not the - legal landmarks in the struggle for equal rights," said Geoffrey Kors, of Equality California, a gay and lesbian advocacy group involved in the marriage litigation. "It will have a ripple effect not only in this country, but the whole world."

To date, only Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to legally marry. But supporters of gay marriage say they have hope that California's high court will channel its legacy of progressive rulings, including its landmark 1948 decision to legalize interracial marriage, in the belief that people have a fundamental right to marry whom they choose.

Social conservatives and other foes of gay marriage, however, are girding themselves for Tuesday's legal fight, which will also examine Proposition 22, the voter-approved initiative in 2000 that limited marriage to a man and woman.

New initiative drives are under way for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that would override a court decision and usurp the kinds of public policy confusion that has "trashed the people's vote," according to the Web site for Sacramento-based, one of the groups concerned over how the high court may rule.

"The justices can destroy or protect marriage. If the justices alter the definition of marriage, then the people will certainly override them at the ballot box," said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, which helped draft the initiative and is a respondent in the state's marriage case.

Thomasson's organization, which will make the closing argument Tuesday, has crusaded over the years to keep the institution of marriage between a man and a woman "for a good society, a stable society."

"If you get rid of the foundation of marriage - which is male and female - then it's super easy for the secondary issues to fall," he said, referring to age of consent, pedophilia and polygamy. "Society will have nothing special about marriage anymore."

The city and county of San Francisco, 15 same-sex couples, and gay-rights groups are challenging the state's marriage law. The cases follow the fallout from the marriage licenses granted to gay men and lesbians at San Francisco City Hall in 2004.

The high court voided thousands of those marriage contracts six months later, but left unresolved crucial questions over equal protection, due process and privacy rights for gays.

In 2006, a state appeals court upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, reversing an earlier decision by a San Francisco Superior Court judge who found it to be unconstitutional.

The appellate court decision at the time stated that the legislature and the voters have determined that marriage is for opposite-sex couples "and it makes no difference whether we agree with their reasoning."

Over a year's worth of court filings from critics and some religious groups have argued that marriage must be between a husband and a wife, based on the ability to procreate. Some have even warned of a backlash should the state Supreme Court license gay marriage. Other friends-of-the-court briefs from such groups as the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the city of Sacramento have decried the marriage ban on gays and lesbians as discriminatory and socially antiquated.

In court documents, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the marriage question a "complex societal issue" and said that he did not believe the limited definition of marriage violated gays' rights.

As of last year, same-sex couples who registered as domestic partners were given all of the "same rights, protections and benefits" of spouses, according to the governor's response, such as filing joint state income tax returns, community property rights and hospital visitation.

But for longtime Davis couple Ellen Pontac and Shelly Bailes, the term "domestic partner" doesn't resonate and carry the same cultural meaning as marriage.

The two women, who have been together for 34 years, remembered the moment when word leaked over the Internet that San Francisco was granting marriage licenses. They raced out the door, drove through the rain and landed the distinction of being the 45th couple to be married on Feb.12, 2004, the first day of the historic ceremonies at a festive City Hall.

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) officiated.

"He said, 'I now pronounce you partners for life,'" Pontac, 66, said, her voice cracking.

"Marriage makes a difference," she said. "It means, 'welcome to the family.' The rest of the world was saying 'Welcome.'"

Pontac and Bailes expect to be in San Francisco on Tuesday to hear the arguments from the courthouse, just down the street from where the movement began at City Hall.

After the high court reviews the arguments, it will have 90 days to issue its opinion.

Charlotte provided us a useful link on the topic.

Monday, March 3, 2008

That scary, sinking feeling about McBama

by Don Wheeler

When I was sixteen years old, there was a Presidential election posing an agent of change versus an established pro. The change agent was a sitting Senator, but in this case, the “pro” was an incumbent President. The change agent came out of nowhere, energizing young people with his vision and attitude.

I grew up in the Chicago area when major newspapers generally had their own serious political cartoonists on the payroll. In my opinion, only Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal Constitution approaches (now defunct) The Chicago Daily News’ John Fischetti.

I still have this cartoon. It shows Edmund Muskie on crutches, Hubert Humphrey pushing a broken down jalopy. And overhead? A broad-chested , caped, flying figure with “McG” emblazoned on his outfit.

George McGovern flew to the nomination, surprising nearly everyone. I was an ardent supporter and since he was facing Richard Nixon – it wasn’t hard to figure out who was the good guy in the contest.

Barack Obama will have the advantage of not facing a popular sitting President. But like McGovern, he will oppose a seasoned pro with lots of fans in the mainstream media. McGovern fought the tough fight in Congress for many years and was elected in a highly conservative state. Obama has never faced a credible Republican opponent and comes from a safe Democratic state.

This does not bode well.

Movement Progressives are left pretty unmotivated by Mr. Obama’s tepid and timid policy proposals and his conservative rhetoric in defending them. The vast majority will vote for him, but the number that will put money and effort into his campaign is certainly open to question. Cult of personality campaigns have their limits.

The Republicans will certainly rally to their guy. They won’t overlook the ties (limited as they are) to the Chicago area crime figure, or the politics as usual “present” votes in the Illinois GA. It’s possible they’ll advance the idea of how beholden Obama is to the coal and nuclear power industry. And who knows what else they’ll come up with besides the obvious and obligatory lack of experience claim.

At least with Hillary, we’d know what they’d come at us with. Bill, mostly.

It’s not exposing state secrets to mention that if you are on the McCain campaign in this setting, what you need to establish is reasonable doubt of your opponent. That strategy has won in the past and there’s no reason think it wouldn’t now.

I hope I’m selling Sen. Obama short and I’m misreading the situation, but I doubt that’s the case. This looks like a much tougher contest for Democrats than it should have been and we could lose.

Deliverance or Diversion?

by Paul Krugman
New York Times

After their victory in the 2006 Congressional elections, it seemed a given that Democrats would try to make this year’s presidential campaign another referendum on Republican policies. After all, the public appears fed up not just with President Bush, but with his party. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows Democrats are preferred on every issue except terrorism. They even have a 10-point advantage on “morality.”

Add to this the fact that perceptions about the economy are worsening week by week, and one might have expected the central theme of the Democratic campaign to be “throw the bums out.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 2008 election.

Unless Hillary Clinton wins big on Tuesday, Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee. And he’s not at all the kind of candidate one might have expected to emerge out of the backlash against Republican governance.

Now, nobody would mistake Mr. Obama for a Republican — although contrary to claims by both supporters and opponents, his voting record places him, with Senator Clinton, more or less in the center of the Democratic Party, rather than in its progressive wing.

But Mr. Obama, instead of emphasizing the harm done by the other party’s rule, likes to blame both sides for our sorry political state. And in his speeches he promises not a rejection of Republicanism but an era of postpartisan unity.

That — along with his adoption of conservative talking points on the crucial issue of health care — is why Mr. Obama’s rise has caused such division among progressive activists, the very people one might have expected to be unified and energized by the prospect of finally ending the long era of Republican political dominance.

Some progressives are appalled by the direction their party seems to have taken: they wanted another F.D.R., yet feel that they’re getting an oratorically upgraded version of Michael Bloomberg instead.

Others, however, insist that Mr. Obama’s message of hope and his personal charisma will yield an overwhelming electoral victory, and that he will implement a dramatically progressive agenda.

The trouble is that faith in Mr. Obama’s transformational ability rests on surprisingly little evidence.
Mr. Obama’s ability to attract wildly enthusiastic crowds to rallies is a good omen for the general election; so is his ability to raise large sums. But neither necessarily points to a landslide victory.

Polling numbers aren’t much help: for now, at least, you can find polls telling you anything you want to hear, from the CBS News/New York Times poll giving Mr. Obama a 12-point national advantage over John McCain to the Mason-Dixon poll showing Mr. McCain winning Florida by 10 points.

What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent — and that he has not yet faced the hostile media treatment doled out to every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988.

Yes, I know that both the Obama campaign and many reporters deny that he has received more favorable treatment than Hillary Clinton. But they’re kidding, right? Dana Milbank, the Washington Post national political reporter, told the truth back in December: “The press will savage her no matter what ... they really have the knives out for her, there’s no question about it ... Obama gets significantly better coverage.”

If Mr. Obama secures the nomination, the honeymoon will be over as he faces an opponent whom much of the press loves as much as it hates Mrs. Clinton. If Mrs. Clinton can do nothing right, Mr. McCain can do nothing wrong — even when he panders outrageously, he’s forgiven because he looks uncomfortable doing it. Honest.

Bob Somerby of the media-criticism site predicts that Mr. Obama will be “Dukakised”: “treated as an alien, unsettling presence.” That sounds all too plausible.

If Mr. Obama does make it to the White House, will he actually deliver the transformational politics he promises? Like the faith that he can win an overwhelming electoral victory, the faith that he can overcome bitter conservative opposition to progressive legislation rests on very little evidence — one productive year in the Illinois State Senate, after the Democrats swept the state, and not much else.

And some Illinois legislators apparently feel that even there Mr. Obama got a bit more glory than he deserved. “No one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit,” one state senator complained to a local journalist.

All in all, the Democrats are in a place few expected a year ago. The 2008 campaign, it seems, will be waged on the basis of personality, not political philosophy. If the magic works, all will be forgiven. But if it doesn’t, the recriminations could tear the party apart.

Some signs of life at the Jill Long Thompson HQ

A couple statements by the Democratic Gubenatorial candidate may be of interest.

"We can't allow another Toll Road situation, where a private entity can buy the airport for far less than it's worth and make huge profits off the state and our citizens for a long period of time," added Long Thompson. "It's unfortunate that the Governor's first instinct when he faces a challenge is to try to get someone else to deal with it, even if that means taking potential revenues away from the citizens of Indiana."



"Like all Hoosiers, after years of waiting for Governor Daniels to address the property tax issue, I was hoping that this year we might finally see fair and comprehensive property tax reform that could help to restart the state's economic engine.

Unfortunately, what we got from this Governor was more of the same. His property tax plan is nothing more than a well-orchestrated shell game designed to shift the blame and the burden of collecting taxes to local government - not to reduce property taxes or government spending

Long Thompson: Governor’s Property Tax Plan Does More Harm Than Good

Sunday, March 2, 2008

On Baby Nukes, Or, Sometimes The Smallest Things Cause The Biggest Problems

by fake consultant

We come before you today with another of those giant stories.

In fact, this one is so large that to make it a bit more digestible we’re going to break it down into smaller parts. Today’s, obviously, is part one.

The issues we’ll discuss will be an immediate concern of the next President, they impact upon our relationships with many of the world’s nations, and they directly affect whether we will return to a nuclear arms race with Russia…and even more fundamentally, whether we will be a nation that embraces the “first use” of nuclear weapons while asking others to give them up.

And with that, I bid you welcome to the mostly uncharted territory of “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”.

Because this is a particularly large story, I want to take a moment to offer you a preview of what’s to come: we will explain exactly what the weapons are we’re talking about, how they’re used, who has them…and of course, some history to orient our thinking, and an analysis of the potential futures to tie it all together.

(A quick author’s note: unless otherwise noted, the quotes used throughout the series are from the Congressional Research Service’s report “Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons”; which as of this writing is just over a month old.)

The first question you might be asking is: how exactly does this affect the next Administration?

Congress has also required that the next Administration conduct a new review of U.S. nuclear weapons posture and programs in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill (H.Rept. 110-477).

So: just what exactly are nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and how are nuclear weapons used “tactically”?

According to the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms, a strategic mission is:

Directed against one or more of a selected series of enemy targets with the purpose of progressive destruction and disintegration of the enemy’s warmaking capacity and will to make war. Targets include key manufacturing systems, sources of raw material, critical material, stockpiles, power systems, transportation systems, communication facilities, and other such target systems.

As opposed to tactical operations, strategic operations are designed to have a long-range rather than immediate effect on the enemy and its military forces.

In contrast, the tactical use of nuclear weapons is defined as “the use of nuclear weapons by land, sea, or air forces against opposing forces, supporting installations or facilities, in support of operations that contribute to the accomplishment of a military mission of limited scope, or in support of the military commander’s scheme of maneuver, usually limited to the area of military operations.”

In times past, the distinction was made through weapons design and capabilities—for example, long-range Russian ICBMs at one time were not accurate enough for tactical use; and there was no delivery system capable of launching short-range US nuclear artillery shells from Germany to Moscow.

This view seems to be no longer valid. For example, first generation Soviet submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) had a relatively short range of less than 500 miles, but were absolutely strategic weapons. By the same token, modern US Air Force or Navy cruise missiles that we normally use tactically can become strategic weapons if the targeting is changed.

In fact, the same Tomahawk cruise missiles that were launched from the sea into command and control targets in downtown Baghdad during the “shock and awe” campaign might have been used just as easily against Chinese naval vessels in the Taiwan Strait…and it may happen yet, if our defense establishment is to be believed.

A third way of defining “nonstrategic” weapons is by identifying them as those weapons that are not today covered by any other arms-control treaties or agreements.

While this third definition is the one we’ll be focused upon in these discussions (most of the time anyway); we should also keep in mind as we go along that the “strategic and tactical” definition of these weapons intertwines with our “not in a treaty” definition, and neither is mutually exclusive of the other.

Estimates suggest that by 1991 the Soviets possessed somewhere around 20,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons, down from a peak of about 25,000. It is estimated the US possessed a number nearer to 7,000. These numbers had been trending down throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s as both sides modernized weapons systems and ratified various arms-control pacts.

What types of weapons are we talking about?

At different times during the period, [the Soviet Union] deployed “suitcase bombs,” nuclear mines, shells for artillery, short-, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles, short-range air-delivered missiles, and gravity bombs.

With the exception of suitcase bombs (as far as we know) the US deployed the same types of weapons in Europe and Asia.

Both sides required so many nonstrategic weapons, particularly in the European theater, because Soviet doctrine envisioned surprise tactical nuclear attacks on NATO positions followed by masses of armor and infantry as the beginning of a Western European invasion (picture the process of “walking” artillery into an enemy encampment with your ground forces close behind the explosions and you have the idea on a smaller scale)…and NATO doctrine saw them as a tool to delay or stop such an invasion.

It is worth noting that for NATO these weapons also serve a political purpose. There are today weapons in storage sites located on bases in several of the NATO countries. Agreement among the NATO members seems to be required before they would be used…but beyond that, the presence of these weapons on European soil means even if the US chose not to respond to an aggression against a NATO ally, that ally could. This creates a certainty of deterrence that is believed to benefit the alliance in ways that extend beyond the weapons’ direct military utility.

By the 1980s, Soviet leaders had come to the conclusion that any tactical use of nuclear weapons against the US or NATO would lead to a “full exchange” of weapons, which would be…well, Mutually Assured Destruction.

In 1991, the United States began unilaterally reducing not just the inventory of warheads, but more importantly, nonstrategic nuclear weapons’ delivery systems. Nuclear anti-aircraft systems and the “atomic cannon” were among the decedents.

Current public disclosure reports only US attack submarines and aircraft can deliver such weapons.

It is reported that about 1100 of these weapons currently remain in the US arsenal. About 500 of the weapons are believed to be bombs which are stored in the NATO countries. About 320 sea-launched cruise missiles are believed to be stored in facilities in the US. The remainders are believed to be bombs, also stored on US territory.

The US, at the direction of the smarter President Bush, began to destroy the warheads from these weapons. The work continues to this day at the Pantex Plant in Texas (An example of how fast progress is made? The last W-79 nuclear artillery shell was destroyed in 2003). Due to the volume of backlogged work and the inability to increase processing capacity, job security at Pantex seems to be assured for some number of years to come.

Concurrent with the US reductions, the Soviet Union and later Russia also unilaterally reduced the number of their deployed weapons…but they do not appear to be dismantling all the warheads (despite earlier promises to do so), choosing instead to store them; either for future use or to be dismantled when more funding becomes available for such efforts.

For a number of years the Russian Federation has also been destroying strategic warheads (consistent with other treaty obligations); and in addition to the factors discussed above capacity restraints might account for the decision not to destroy the nonstrategic warheads.

Additionally, the Russians have recently made public statements that they need to store the warheads because they are concerned about US efforts to develop new generations of warheads.

Another reason the question of future use is being raised is because Russia, in contrast to our position at the time, chose to continue to consider the use-including first use-of nonstrategic nuclear weapons to be important part of their military doctrine.

From the CRS report:

Russia revised its national security and military strategy several times during the 1990s, with each successive version appearing to place a greater reliance on nuclear weapons. For example, the military doctrine issued in 1997 allowed for the use of nuclear weapons “…in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation.”

The doctrine published in 2000 expanded the circumstances when Russia might use nuclear weapons to include attacks using weapons of mass destruction against Russia or its allies “as well as in response to large-scale aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

To understand the second paragraph of that quote completely, see: Chechnya, Inability to End Insurgency Using Conventional Forces…and then read the faux book “Russia Doesn’t Need Another Afghanistan, Thank You”.

There seems to be a low probability that Russia will resume a conventional military buildup sufficient to allow the nation’s military to reduce its reliance on “substrategic” nukes (the term favored by the United Nations’ WMD Commission) if only because of the unbelievable cost involved.

The US is looking at the better part of $800 billion, by my estimation, to “re-up” our military rolling stock and aircraft after the current Iraq adventure—and that does not include the cost of payroll for the soldiers to operate the new equipment…a cost we bear today, but the Russians do not.

There is no evidence that the kind of money required for such a buildup is even available to the Russian Federation—and as the Soviets discovered, the public will eventually demand butter over guns if they discover butter.

And today, Russian citizens know about butter.

That said, there were other reasons for the Russian decision to continue to rely on “battlefield nukes”. Examples include the concerns regarding NATO expansion and the inability to influence the NATO military actions against the Serbs in Kosovo; both of which also appear to have factored into the mix to one degree or another.

It is speculated that Russia may today have the ability to deploy nonstrategic nuclear weapons from aircraft, ships at sea, and in the form of air-defense missiles. There may also be weapons deployable by ground forces.

One Russian analyst has speculated that the [military planning] documents approved in 1999 focused on the development of operations plans that would allow Russia to conduct “limited nuclear war with strategic means in order to deter the enemy, requiring the infliction of preplanned, but limited damage.”

The concerns were as much about countries to the south (Iran, Pakistan, and maybe Iraq, we are told) as the US—and the ten years since then have made that assessment more relevant than ever.

These matters have become more noteworthy since Russia threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in the first half of 2007.

Let’s take a moment to reconsider where we’ve been so far:

There are certain nuclear weapons that once could be classified by their targeting, or their size, or their range, as “non strategic” or “substrategic” nuclear weapons.

Today we recognize them as those weapons not included in other arms-control regimes. We also now realize that many weapons could conceivably be strategic or nonstrategic depending on how the device is targeted.

Both the US and the Russian Federation are unilaterally decreasing the numbers of weapons in this class that are deployed, but there are issues related to the destruction of the warheads associated with those weapons and their possible future use.

Russian military doctrine continues to envision the first use of nuclear weapons against some targets…and as concerns over Islamist-inspired terrorism and its impact on the Russian state increase; the probability of their actual use does as well.

That probability is further increased when you realize that Russian Federation conventional forces are not today likely to be able to mount an expeditionary campaign similar to our own Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns, should they be the victims of a “9/11” style attack.

That’s plenty to digest for today…and for next time: the evolution of US doctrine regarding the use of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the changing cast of potential characters, and the challenges we face going forward as those first two topics interact.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Truthout outdoes itself today

Take your pick. Not much good news here. Nonetheless, hat's off to

Civilian casualties in Iraq rise by more than one-third; Bob Herbert writes about the "danger for the Democrats"; top Bush administration official resigns amidst growing concerns over evangelism; Arctic warming could lead to armed conflict; prison population at "all-time high"; Bush administration blocking Baghdad embassy investigation; and more ... Browse our continually updating front page at t r u t h o u t 03.01

Iraqi Civilian Casualties Up 36 Percent
Paul Tait of Reuters reports: "Violent civilian deaths in Iraq rose 36 percent in February from the previous month after a series of large-scale bombings blamed on al-Qaeda, Iraqi government figures showed on Saturday."

Bob Herbert A Nominee? Or a Debacle? New York Times' columnist Bob Herbert asks, "When does a dandy fight become an ugly brawl? For the Democrats, perhaps on Tuesday.

"Proselytizing Veterans Official Resigns Post Aaron Glantz, Inter Press Service, writes: "Another high-ranking George W. Bush administration official has resigned. The Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Daniel Cooper quit Thursday amid mounting criticism over a backlog of disability claims for injured veterans that runs six months long and an appearance he made in a fundraising video for an evangelical Christian organization where he said Bible study was more important than doing his job.

"Arctic Warming Could Result in Armed Conflict The Ottawa Citizen, Peter O'Neil says, "The fast-warming Arctic's vast economic potential makes it increasingly prone to smuggling, perilous polar tourism, environmental catastrophes and even armed conflict unless Canada and the US lead efforts to bring order to the region, according to a new analysis.

"US Prison Population Largest Ever
According to N.C. Aizenman of The Washington Post, "More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.

"White House Blocks Inquiry Into Iraq Embassy The Guardian UK's Elana Schor reports: "The Bush administration is blocking an inquiry into the delay-plagued construction of the $736 million US embassy in Baghdad, a senior Democrat in Congress said today.

"A Letter From Feminists on the Election Morning in America In The Nation, a collective of feminists writes about the election, stating, "How, we wondered, did a historic breakthrough moment for which we have all longed and worked hard, suddenly risk becoming marred by having to choose between 'race cards' and 'gender cards?'"