Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lucky Bloggers!

Jaime has a post up at West of Shockoe listing all those lucky bloggers who will get to meet her at the Bloggers United Conference in Norfolk July 13-15. Here’s the list:
Jaime raises an excellent point worth considering when you decide whether to come or not. I mean, what about decadent desserts, hospitality suites, cocktail hours, a great dinner, and panel discussions on blogging, the new media, and the chance to meet all of the gubernatorial candidates – both Democratic and Republican – doesn’t make you all want to sign up and join us? Heck, just for the chance to meet the zany crew from Daily Whackjob, it's worth the price.

In addition to meeting other bloggers and candidates from both parties, there will be interesting and useful roundtable discussions on blogging, fair use of other’s material, and technical aspects of blogging. Personally, I can’t wait for the one on technology. I’m in serious danger of breaking my blog every time I try something new.

Anyway, here’s where you go to sign up!

And here’s who will be participating (ripped off from the Blogs United Hampton Road website) and a list of the panel discussions:
For July 14, here's what you can expect...
8:00 to 9:00 a.m. Breakfast (available until 10:00 a.m.)
9:00 to 9:30 a.m. Attorney General Bob McDonnell
9:30 to 10:15 a.m. Roundtable on anonymous blogging moderated by Jay Hughes
10:15 to 10:30 a.m. Break
10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Media Panel
11:30 to 11:45 a.m. Lunch served
11:45 to 12:30 p.m. Del. Brian Moran
12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Political Panel
1:30 to 1:45 p.m. Break
1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Jack Holt, OSD-Public Affairs
2:15 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Fair-use/RSS Feeds Panel
3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Roundtable on technology moderated by Jim Hoeft
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Break
6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Reception
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Dinner with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and friends
With all that info, I hope you sign up. And I hope to meet all of you bloggers from other parts of the state and across the political spectrum.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ann Coulter: Mean Girl

She purses her lips provocatively, flashes a half smile, as if she’s sharing a secret, intimate joke with the TV camera, and then there’s that toss of her thick blond mane. Then she slightly lowers her head and tips it to the side as she looks coyly into the camera again.
Of course, she’s wearing the ever-present little black dress hiked thigh high and her legs are crossed as she sits slightly sideways on the stool.
I don’t know why nobody has ever noticed this before, but Ann Coulter’s body language, while lobbing her nasty little bombs of hatred, is that of a barroom skank at a pickup joint at half past three in the morning. Closing time. There’s a slight air of desperation as she flirts, minces, and attempts to seduce the audience and the usually male talk show host.
Closing time at the bar and she’s got to seal the deal. Sell that controversial book she's hawking.

But the statements are getting more outrageous. The little lines around her mouth and eyes are ever so slightly harder than they used to be. The act is wearing thin as the pre-pubescent Young Republican boys who used to lust after her in their adolescent fantasies grow up, find their own wives, have children and actually begin to worry about things like decency and civility and the kind of world they want to leave their children.

Meanwhile, the talk show hosts are starting to get ever more alarmed at her outrageousness and the public's possible blowback. You never know when the audience is going to develop another one of those Imus revulsion moments and sympathize with one of her victims. Bullies, after all, always go too far and cause their own downfall.

When Elizabeth Edwards called in to the Chris Matthews show and challenged Coulter for her dreadful statements, wishing John Edwards had died in 9/11, the audience cheered, not for Ann, but Elizabeth.

What Coulter, like Neal Boortz and others of that ilk do is lob their verbal stink bombs and if anybody tries to hold them accountable, they rear up like a cornered rodent with its back to the wall and scoff that they were just joking. They are bullies who try to intimidate their critics into silence by falling back on the old, tired accusation that their opponents lack a sense of humor or are too “politically correct.”


You don’t have to be a dour, politically correct stick in the mud to see that this is simply rudeness. Vicious rudeness. This type of a corrosive battery acid tongue has done more to cause the break down of society than any atheistic statement Christopher Hitchens or Daniel Dennet could have made. Civility is the glue that holds any society together. All the Pat Robertson “decency rallies” won’t cure the indecency and crudeness that the Coulters, Boortzes and Imuses spew.

But the interesting thing about Coulter was that at the end of the Chris Matthews show, when Elizabeth Edwards was dressing her down, Coulter was shifting uncomfortably in her seat. She looked impatient and annoyed. And that’s when it struck me; she’s nothing more than a former sorority deb who feels entitled to be a mean girl because she’s pretty and has always gotten away with it.

Well, it's time to end Coulter's free pass. And it looks like Elizabeth Edwards, a serious woman with depth and brilliance, has done just that. What else to do about Coulter? Don't censor her for goodness sake. Just keep calling in those Coulter dollars. When Democratic candidates start raking in money from those who object to Coulter's behavior, her own fellow Republicans will turn on her. And don't worry about their accusation that we are exploiting her bad behavior.
Yeah, so?
Once she causes us to win a few elections we can take a poll and see who has the lack of sense of humor.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Political Pork Barrel

Ok, I couldn't resist the awful pun. This is just some housekeeping info. I've added some blogs to my blogroll.

First is Bacon's Rebellion, which should have been there for a while. Jim Bacon has one of the most intelligent righty blogs around, especially for in depth analysis of transportation, land use, and zoning issues - you know, the things that actually affect our daily lives rather than simply wedge issues and inflammatory gossip.

I also wanted to put on a couple of new blogs because I've liked the writings from these bloggers on other sites. They are The Daily Ham (hence my silly pun) and Power Concedes.


Not Bush. The Vice President!

Vice presidents didn’t used to be controversial figures. In fact, the job was something of a booby prize, awarded to an also ran, a promising newcomer whose career the party deemed not quite ready for prime time, or as a reward to an elder statesman.

The main role of the vice president was largely to balance the presidential ticket in a campaign, either geographically or ideologically and, once in office, for the president to have somebody to send to those all-important state funerals and political fundraisers.

Al Gore became known as the first modern vice president to break that mold and to actually be influential on public policy matters. He had Clinton’s ear more than most modern vice presidents and was considered an anomaly.

Then came Dick Cheney and his co-presidency with Bush. You could say, with some understatement, that he certainly has pushed the envelope on the vice president’s role.

Here’s how Dan Quayle described his encounter with Cheney, in an article in today’s Washington Post, the first in a four-part series examining the Vice President's role in the Bush administation. Quayle's recollection highlights how very different the traditional vice presidential role used to be:
In his Park Avenue corner suite at Cerberus Global Investments, Dan Quayle recalled the moment he learned how much his old job had changed. Cheney had just taken the oath of office, and Quayle paid a visit to offer advice from one vice president to another.

"I said, 'Dick, you know, you're going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you're going to be doing all this political fundraising . . . you'll be going to the funerals,' " Quayle said in an interview earlier this year. "I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, 'We've all done it.' "

Cheney "got that little smile," Quayle said, and replied, "I have a different understanding with the president."

"He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be -- I'm just going to use the word 'surrogate chief of staff,' " said Quayle, whose membership on the Defense Policy Board gave him regular occasion to see Cheney privately over the following four years
Indeed, since that fateful meeting, Cheney has pushed the boundaries so far that he’s becoming a threat to the Constitution and a danger to democracy.

As today’s WaPo reports, Bush has signed all kinds of clandestine powers to his vice president, literally in the darkest secrecy.
Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.

In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.

Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."

"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.
And Cheney has resisted even in the most innocuous of subpoenas to testify about his role in anything. He has claimed executive privilege, and most recently even clashed with executive level agencies alternately claiming that even they have no jurisdiction because he is not part of the executive branch of government but is the president pro temp of the Senate. When it suits him, he cites separation of the various branches of government to keep from being accountable to any governmental branch. Basically, he’s putting himself and the office of vice president above the reach of the law.

Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security
And here:
Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.
In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.
And this:

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, was astonished to learn that the draft gave the Justice Department no role in choosing which alleged terrorists would be tried in military commissions. Over Veterans Day weekend, on Nov. 10, he took his objections to the White House.

The attorney general found Cheney, not Bush, at the broad conference table in the Roosevelt Room. According to participants, Ashcroft said that he was the president's senior law enforcement officer, supervised the FBI and oversaw terrorism prosecutions nationwide. The Justice Department, he said, had to have a voice in the tribunal process. He was enraged to discover that Yoo, his subordinate, had recommended otherwise -- as part of a strategy to deny jurisdiction to U.S. courts.

Raising his voice, participants said, Ashcroft talked over Addington and brushed aside interjections from Cheney. "The thing I remember about it is how rude, there's no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president," said one of those in the room. Asked recently about the confrontation, Ashcroft replied curtly: "I'm just not prepared to comment on that."

This cannot stand!

In a republic with a democratically elected representative government, governed under a constitution, this is unacceptable behavior. No man is above the law. And certainly nobody – not the president or his vice president – should be allowed to wipe away, with the stroke of a pen, the most basic of human rights, the right to a trial. We are a nation of laws. That is our greatest legacy to the world. It's what every soldier, not just in Iraq, but in every war we've ever fought to defend democracy has fought for.

This vice president must not be allowed to subvert that legacy. Dick Cheney must be reined in. He must be held accountable to the American people and made to comply with the rule of the law or he must go.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Michael Bloomberg: Whom Does He Hurt?

I’ve been surfing the blogosphere and the MSM newspapers, especially the New York ones. There are basically two prevailing opinions about who gets hurt most if New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who just jumped from the Republican Party to the Independent label, decides to run.

According to David Frum, in National Review on-line, it hurts the Republicans most. Here he writes:

“So far, none of these winners and losers will affect the general outline of the election much. But here's one more prediction: Bloomberg will launch his campaign on the high road, giving worthy speeches about rebuilding US alliance, reforming health care, combating climate change, and other topics designed to win him the approbation of the Manhattan financial and media elite. Favorable publicity may bump him up to 5% or 8% in the polls, just enough to keep him spending money. But after the conventions of the summer of 2008, voters will begin returning to their homes in the two big parties. Bloomberg's numbers will dwindle (as Nader's did). He will then face a stark choice: accept that he's been made a monkey of - or up the ante. Nobody gets to be as rich as Bloomberg if he is not a fierce competitor. So - assuming he has followed the path thus far - he will double down. He will go negative, filling the airwaves with harsh attack ads.

Against whom will those ads be aimed? A lot will ride on that question. Attack ads are dangerous things, because they damage both the attacker and the attackee. Their main effect is not to change votes from D to R or R to D, but to depress turnout among potential supporters of the targeted candidate. Candidates refrain from excess negativity for fear of damaging their own image. But a Bloomberg in the polling basement will feel no such constraint.

The ads will be a free gift to the candidate Bloomberg dislikes less at the expense of the candidate he dislikes more.

And the candidate he dislikes more will almost certainly be the Republican.”
Frum makes some interesting points, but I don’t think Mayor Bloomberg hurts the Republicans more than the Democrats for a several of reasons. First, no really plugged in Republican ever truly believed Michael Bloomberg was one of them. He was a lifelong Democrat who switched parties just to avoid a crowded primary field. And he gives the term RINO all new meaning. From day one, Bloomberg declared that his mission was to remake the Republican Party as a liberal party. It was never going to happen outside of Manhattan’s silk stocking district where the politics are more pro-business, free trade, libertarian, and corporatist than Republican.

So, the other prevailing conventional wisdom, as captured by John Hawkins at Rightwing News is:
The natural issue for a third party candidate would seem to be illegal immigration, but Bloomberg is pro-comprehensive immigration, just like all the top tier Republican and Democratic candidates, other than Fred Thompson. If Fred Thompson or another tough on illegal immigration nominee like Duncan Hunter were to win the nomination, Bloomberg would hurt the Democratic candidate. If both candidates are pro-comprehensive immigration, Bloomberg's entry would probably be a wash.

Bloomberg is pro-abortion. Again, that would probably undercut the Democratic nominee.

Bloomberg is Jewish and since Jews typically vote Democratic 70/30, he would probably draw more of them from the Democratic candidate.

Since Bloomberg is from New York, you'd have to think he would have the potential to draw votes away from the home town girl, Hillary in New York State and perhaps in states like Florida, which have a lot of transplanted New Yorkers living there. If Rudy turns out to be the GOP nominee, this would probably turn out to be a moot issue.

Bloomberg does have a reputation as a fiscal conservative, but he has raised taxes and is not in any way, shape, or form a small government guy. We're talking about a guy who banned trans-fats in restaurants. So, for that reason, he would probably have a lot of difficulty appealing to small government conservatives. Again, this issue would probably be a wash.

Bloomberg hasn't talked a whole lot about foreign policy which isn't surprising, given that he's just a Mayor, but the limited number of things he has said about the issues make him sound more like a Democrat than a Republican. So again, he would probably drain more support from the Democratic candidate.
In fact, if you look at Hawkins' talking points, Bloomberg is your typical slightly left of center candidate, much like the Democratic frontrunners. It’s a general rule of thumb that when two individuals who hold roughly the same moderate to liberal principles run against each other in a three way race against a conservative, the two left center candidates will split the liberal, moderate and independent votes leaving the conservative to slide into an easier victory with a smaller number of dedicated true believers.

I think Bloomberg undercuts any Democratic candidate. He probably won’t be a threat to the very liberal parts of the Democratic base, as Ralph Nader was in 2000, but he will appeal to independents. They are not aligned with any party and Bloomberg’s pragmatic socially liberal, fiscally moderate, pro-business, sympathetic to the poor, not antagonistic to labor platform will appeal to them. And despite his recent foray into Republican politics, their base never thought he was one of them anyway.

Another problem for Democrats is that Bloomberg never cut his ties to some of his most powerful Democratic friends and allies. Indeed, in his last run for mayor, in 2005, he sucked up lots of the money that would have gone to his Democratic opponent because of his longtime friendship with powerful Democratic fundraisers like Toni Goodale. Here’s a quote from Christ Smith at New York Magazine:

Toni Goodale, the socialite, professional fund-raiser, and loyal Democrat, knows Rattner well but wasn’t invited. Yet her long friendship with Bloomberg, a neighbor, was enough to hamper one of his Democratic challengers. “I’ve been supporting Gifford [Miller] since he was a baby,” Goodale says. “I was one of Kerry and Gore’s major, major fund-raisers; I raised hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one. I think Gifford is great, and he could be a terrific mayor—someday. But he knows we’ve been friendly with Bloomberg. My daughter works for the corporation counsel—for Michael Cardozo, who was my kindergarten boyfriend—and in effect for Bloomberg. So when Gifford asked for help with fund-raising, I said no.”
Got that? A major fundraiser who did heavy lifting for Kerry and Gore but threw her considerable financial weight behind Republican (in name only) Bloomberg and not the Democrat Gifford Miller. And despite his more recent dustup with the Transportation Workers Union Local 100 during the transit strike, Bloomberg won the endorsement and cultivated the support of some of the city’s municipal unions:

Frank Ombres is standing on West 34th Street, grinning broadly as thousands of his happy union brothers pour out of the Hammerstein Ballroom after a raucous event that’s part press conference, part TV-commercial shoot, and part union-hall blowout. Moments ago, Mike Bloomberg was onstage, bopping tentatively as “Welcome to the Jungle” screamed from the loudspeakers and carpenters and glaziers chanted “May-uh Mike! May-uh Mike!,” their enthusiasm stoked by the city’s humming economy and an open bar paid for by Bloomberg 2005. Turning his company into an international powerhouse earned Bloomberg the respect of his corporate peers. But nothing satisfies the ego of a pencil-necked plutocrat like soaking in the cheers of a theater full of burly construction workers.

Ombres is secretary-treasurer of Laborers Local 731, and after the rally, he’s telling a story about meeting Bloomberg in a slightly different setting. “He had us over to his house a couple months ago,” Ombres says. “All the union leaders. That was pretty cool. It’s a fancy place, but he’s a regular guy. He put on a good spread. And he’s come through for us. All we want is work and new members, and he’s got construction going for the next 50 years.”
Bloomberg inoculates himself from some of the blame for his role in putting down the transit strike in 2006 because Governor Pataki, not the mayor, appointed the Metropolitan Transit Board that played hardball with the TWU. Although Bloomberg went to court to force the strikers back to work – the judge invoked New York state’s Taylor law to fine the striking union $1 million a day – the mayor actually played no role in the negotiations. So, he was able to lay it at the governor’s feet for appointing an intransigent board.

The Democrat’s only hope of not losing in a three way race where the two liberals split the independent and moderate votes is that Bloomberg keeps saying he’s not going to run. If he keeps his word, that’s the Democrats’ best shot at holding their base and reaching out to moderates and independents disenchanted with the Republican Party.

Hopefully, Michael Bloomberg is simply positioning himself to come back to the Democrats some day and be a player there. Otherwise, we have a long, difficult campaign season that might end in bitter disappointment for both Bloomberg and the Democrats.

Bloomberg probably wouldn’t win. The track record for third party candidates without a party machinery to help get out the vote isn’t very promising. But he sure could keep the Democrats from reaching the White House and he could give victory by default to the very Republicans he supposedly disdains. We can only pray that his much vaunted pragmatism wins out over his ego.

Monday, June 18, 2007

AIAW Unmasked - Sort Of

I am doing something a little bit different for me. I usually don't post pictures or illustrate my posts. The reason for this is simple. I'm not much good at the technology, simple as it is to use. And I would rather write than show photos of myself. But I just got back from visiting my father in Fort Lauderdale for Father's Day, and I'm not really in the mood to do a serious post. And I'm certainly not in the mood for the usual blogger-political warfare that appears to be breaking out across the blogosphere. I don't want to lose the mellow feeling for a few more days at least.

So hopefully, you'll enjoy some pictures of me with some of my union buddies. They were taken at Chuck Caputo's campaign kickoff a few weeks ago. I never really meant to post them. But at a loss for anything else, I thought it would be fun for people to see I'm not really anonymous - it's just the title of a blog.


L-R: John Niemec, from Fairfax County Firefighter's Union; not-so-Anonymousisawoman, Dan Duncan, President of the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council; and Bob Moses, Vice Chair of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee and fellow AFL-CIO member

L-R Captain Brad Waltrip, Airline Pilots Association; AIAW; Dan Duncan; and Diane Waltrip, Legislative Aide to Del. Chuck Caputo

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Congrats to All Our Candidates!

If you go back to my endorsements, you will see that not everybody I wanted won yesterday. I am disappointed. And my heart goes out to those candidates who didn’t win. Running for office takes a leap of courage and a lot of work. Each and every person who does it deserves kudos for putting themselves on the line. They risk disappointment, rejection, embarrassment, and the downright meanness of the general public. When you become a public figure, the public feels it owns you and forgets that there is a human being in there who still has feelings just like they do. So my sympathy and heartfelt appreciation goes out to all those who didn’t make it but chose to take the risk and to subject themselves to that.

And my hearty congratulations to all those who won even if you weren’t my first choice. And that’s important. In a Democratic primary, those who might not have been my first choice are still my candidates now. And I will support them, work for them, and vote for them in November. And I hope to see the rest of you, regardless of who your first choice was, there beside me in the trenches.

Now, I’m heading out to see my dad for Father’s Day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Primary Endorsements

You know, there’s no primary in my district. That means I get to wake up at my normal time and go to work without detouring to a polling place at 6 a.m. That’s only one of the benefits of having no contested races in my district. The other is that I actually don’t have to make endorsements. There’s wisdom in not going out my way to make enemies.

So, against all commonsense, I’m going to give you my endorsements anyway.

Let’s start with the Greg Galligan-George Barker race.

I have all the respect in the world for George Barker and could absolutely support him against Jay O’Brien if he comes out the victor tomorrow. He has a long resume of public service and has been involved in the community and Democratic politics for years. He’s capable and bright.

But Greg Galligan did the difficult thing last time. When the Republicans were in the ascendancy in public esteem and Democrats couldn’t win certain districts, Greg went out and challenged a popular incumbent. That took courage.

In addition, Greg, in his much shorter career, has proven himself equally capable and bright. He simply hasn’t lived long enough to rack up the credentials that George has. This time, I’m going to choose courage and conviction over experience.

Another reason I’m for Greg is because I think it’s time the Democratic Party started being future oriented and thinking like people who could actually win and leave a legacy. For too long we’ve elected placeholder politicians. Those are officials whose ambition is limited. They run for a local or state office and that’s where they stay.

And we need some of those people who are at exactly where they want to be and who will build up seniority within the system. But we also need a farm team that will move on. We’ve been caught short in races for Congress and the U.S. Senate because we don’t have candidates who have served at the local level and build up their names and their public recognition to run for higher office. We got lucky with Jim Webb but we almost had a vacuum that would have catapulted George Allen into the frontrunner status in the 2008 Presidential race.

Judy Feder, Andy Hurst, Ken Longmeyer were all great candidates. But they went up against Goliaths and they just weren’t Davids. They shouldn’t be expected to be. Sending beginners, with virtually no name recognition and no experience with elective office, into battle against popular incumbents in leadership positions in Congress is not a winning formula.

We need to elect young, ambitious people to local and state offices who will move up a ladder, whether aspiring to higher statewide office or going on to the federal level. We need to nurture and develop the Chap Petersens, David Bulovas, Steve Shannons, and the Greg Galligans. There is nothing wrong with George Barker. But I don’t want more placeholders who played it safe, waited for an opportune time, and whose ambition begins and ends at one office.

So, if you live in 39th District and you are a Democrat, vote your party’s future and vote for Greg Galligan to go against Jay O’Brien for state Senate.

The other race I’m going to make an endorsement in is the Supervisor for Providence District. As with George Barker, I don’t have the same animus as some other bloggers do with Linda Smyth. But I do think Charlie Hall has more of a vision of where to take Providence and Fairfax. We need somebody independent of the developers, more responsive to their constituents, and with a better vision for Fairfax County.

I do think Gerry, Linda and the other Board members are on the right track with the Cool Counties initiative and mixed use, smart growth development around existing Metro stops. But I also think Charlie Hall has more determination to walk the walk and really stand up for things like the tunnel rather than an aerial rail to Dulles.

As for the Margi Vanderhye vs. Rip Sullivan Delegate’s race in the 34th, I think Margi is the better qualified candidate. Here my logic is the reverse of Galligan-Barker race. Margi is a long time activist who has proven herself capable and knowledgeable on the issues. Sullivan is very promising. The difference between him and Galligan is that unlike Greg, who was the Democratic standard bearer and took on a difficult race that nobody else wanted to take on, Sullivan is a newcomer who needs to pay some dues. Although I support Margi, I hope he sticks around.

As for Morris Meyer vs. Rex Simmons races, I have to admit I have no opinion. I thought that it was ridiculous of the Simmons campaign to compare Meyer to George Bush in a flyer that said that like another Texan, he didn’t know much about Virginia.
It was a dumb tactic. But it’s true the Meyer just moved here and his main issue seems to be the environment and Global Warming in general. Can’t fault him for picking the future of the entire world to run on. But I think he does need to spend a little more time in Virginia getting to know the local issues, including the environmental impact of specific projects and developments here at home. I’m going to go with Tip O’Neill’s famous statement “all politics is local.” This is another one where I want to see Meyer active for a few more years and then run again.

Having said all this, I’d like to add that despite all the heat and light generated by the more controversial races, the whole field of Democrats is good. We have bright, capable people who can govern. When this is over, please come together and don’t let sour grapes get in the way of Democratic victories. At some point, we all need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves what matters most. It should be voting for those who most clearly share our principles and values not voting sour grapes and personal resentments.

So, good luck to all our candidates. And after the smoke clears tomorrow, let’s get together and make this a Democratic year again!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Economic Bitter Fruit of an Unfettered Free Market

Note: This is cross posted at Raising Kaine

Republicans like to tout the strong economy as a sign that their conservative, free market philosophy still works and that they are still “the party of ideas.” Indeed, with foreign policy and the war in Iraq in shambles, their economic success is all they’ve really got.

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that ain’t a whole lot. In fact, there are a couple of pieces of just plain rotten news about the economy today.

First, according to former Georgetown economics professor, Alfred Tella, writing in today’s Washington Times, there is a discrepancy between the rosy unemployment numbers that we’ve gotten and what may be a real and troubling trend toward higher unemployment. He writes here:

“Nonfarm payroll employment perked up in May, rising a respectable 157,000, about twice as much as in April. Since the end of 2006, payroll jobs, as measured by the government's employer survey, are up 664,000. The unemployment rate was unchanged in May, and at 4.5 percent, was the same as last December.
In contrast, total employment as measured by household survey (a more comprehensive count that includes the self-employed, agricultural, private household and unpaid family workers, and workers on unpaid leave) has been stagnant so far this year -- a puzzling inconsistency. In the three prior years, both employment series were on a generally rising trend.

According to Tella, the real rate of unemployed Americans may be closer to 4.9% or higher.

You see, the unemployment rate just measures those out of work who are currently looking for a job. But in a bad job market many people get discouraged and stop looking and then they are no longer counted. So a lower rate may not necessarily mean that the country is at full employment or that every able bodied American who wants to work has a job. It could just mean they couldn’t find a job and gave up. It also could mean that while they have dropped out of the labor market they are doing menial chores or “consulting,” i.e., picking up small, piece meal jobs that bring in some income but could hardly be considered real employment. And, of course, people who are consulting don’t have health benefits or pension plans. Consulting is sometimes genuinely lucrative and attractive to entrepreneurial types. But lots of times it’s merely a face saving term for folks just scrapping by after being laid off. But those folks don’t count as part of the unemployment rate.

So on paper the economy looks like it’s stronger than it is. Indeed, what we have is a paper pushers’ good economy. Investors push around paper profits but our country doesn’t manufacture much. CEOs, corporations and large investors are doing fine; but since not much is produced here, workers are losing ground every day.

And there’s more economic bad news on the doorstep today too.

According to this piece in today’s Wall Street Journal (sorry, you gotta pay - they're capitalists), productivity is down significantly and that raises fears amongst both economist and the Federal Reserve about inflation. Here’s the Wall Street Journal quote from Mark Whitehouse:

“New evidence that American companies are having a hard time keeping labor costs under control raised worries about a pickup in inflation, sending stocks tumbling. The Labor Department reported that the sum nonfarm businesses pay their workers for each unit of production rose at an annualized rate of 1.8% in the first quarter, sharply exceeding its initial estimate of 0.6%. The jump in so-called unit labor costs stemmed from a combination of factors: sharper compensation growth, which was revised upward to 2.8% from 2.3%, and lower growth in productivity -- or output per hour -- which was revised down to 1% from 1.7%.”
Of course, what’s bad for one segment of the economy isn’t necessarily grim news for another. While productivity is down, wage growth is up

I’ve been arguing for years that the old formula that higher productivity eventually produces higher wages is wrong. It used to be true that higher productivity led to higher profits, which employers passed on to their workers. The reason for this was that demand for the company's goods grew so they needed more workers to produce more widgets (or whatever it was they manufactured). But that’s not been true for a long time. Instead, higher productivity has been fueled by technology and automation and to a lesser, but significant extent, by outsourcing and off shoring. Because of those factors, even as productivity and profits climbed there was little demand for new workers to produce more goods and services.

Even higher productivity doesn’t eliminate the law of supply and demand. In the “new economy” the demand for labor is lower because of efficiencies that make the production of goods cheaper and less labor intensive, so corporations don’t have to share their profits with workers. Bosses never pass on their profits in the form of wage hikes simply out of the goodness of their heart or out of a sense of noblesse oblige. If businesses don’t have to hire more staff to meet rising demand for their goods, the demand for labor doesn’t rise. And with automation and off shoring, the demand for workers won’t rise even as consumer demand for their goods does. So companies get to keep their profits and they don’t have to share or play nice with workers. That includes not having to provide decent health benefits or pensions to compete for employees.

The only time bosses give raises or offer decent benefits is when they have to do so to retain their workforce. If they don’t need that workforce, then wages will stagnate no matter how high corporate profits climb.

The Washington Post, bless their little free trader hearts, never got that part right. Their business writers spent most of the last seven years assuring readers that higher productivity would trickle down to workers and raise their salaries. Now, though, the Wall Street Journal, a far better business publication that actually understands economics, tells the truth with this explanation:

“While strong growth in jobs and wages is good for workers, it raises the possibility that companies, unable to offset higher labor costs by increasing productivity, will try to pass those costs along to consumers, a trend that could fuel inflation and prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in response. "Even if economic growth is not gangbusters, the Fed could end up with an inflation problem," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital in Greenwich, Conn.
And therein lies the problem. What’s good for workers – higher wages – is bad, not only for business but for investors, because it cuts into profit. Of course, one could question why exorbitant pay and extravagant perks for CEOs doesn’t affect the bottom line or push inflation pressure upward. That, for some reason, seems a reasonable investment in talent. CEOs, basketball stars, and coked out starlets all appear to have "talent" that make them valuable commodities on the free market.

On the other hand, the educators who teach your kids, the cops who protect your life and limb, and the guy who sacks your groceries don’t have value in the marketplace, even though they contribute immeasurably more to your life.

So much for the wisdom of unfettered markets and other ideologies that don't match the reality on the ground.

Meanwhile, look for investors and business types to push the panic button and try to slow growth, especially wage growth in order to put a break on inflation. That’s just one more proof that the interests of the average wage earner are not the same as their boss’s interests. And one more sorry example that the good times passed the American worker by. All those years when the corporate profits were rolling in and CEOs were living extravagantly never trickled down. Only the economic downturns trickle down to workers. It is the bitter fruit of a free market economy indeed.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ben Tribbett's Long Argument With Political Reality and Hypocrisy

Bwana over at Renaissance Ruminations has a great defense of Ben Tribbett up. Here's the money quote:

The Mason Conservative takes issue with the language Ben used in a recent post where he labeled a Fairfax supervisor a “miserable rhymes with witch“. I wouldn’t use this language, and hope that in the future Ben doesn’t give in to such linguistic emotion. Nonetheless, while anyone can get fired up about whatever they want to, this seems to be relatively small potatoes. It is clear this was less a direct attack on Ben’s editorial stylings than a collateral attack on Ben’s claims regarding the Mark Tate allegations…and that is what makes the MC post interesting. You see, toward the end of the post MC asks who would take Ben Tribbet’s word over that of Shaun Kenney…and frankly, in the fact set we have out I don’t know that is a question MC really wants to be asking.

You can say what you will about Ben, but What You See Is What You Get.

I have met the man, and to some degree taken his measure. He is a bleeding heart in the best sense of the word. He knows what he knows and what he thinks, and wears his heart on his sleeve. He fervently wants change, and isn’t real careful sometimes how he phrases things in pursuit of that change. He will call a spade a spade-no facades up over at NLS!
Like Bwana, I’ve met Ben. I’ve known him for years and I can vouch for the fact that there are no facades with him.

My taste is less confrontational, inflammatory and in your face than Ben’s. But he’s honest and what gets under so many people’s skin is that Ben has a long running argument with the status quo and hypocrisy. He also uses a wicked sense of humor to eviscerate those he believes are betraying the public trust. Or even those he simply thinks are two-faced. That means most of the human race needs to watch out around him.

Years ago, the slogan “Cynicism is the last refuge of the idealist,” was very popular and on college campuses, people even hung printed copies of it on their desks and dorm room doors. I hope Ben always remains an idealist, but escapes the fate of cynicism. It’s a lot to hope for. Especially from somebody still arguing with political reality and those of us who are lesser mortals.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Media Matters and Ours is Failing Us

Vivian Paige has an excellent post up about last night’s Democratic Presidential debates, in New Hampshire, complete with a chart displaying graphically the amount of talk time that each candidate was allotted by moderator Wolf Blitzer. The chart was compliments of Chris Dodd’s campaign. As Vivian points out:

Look - we all know that the MSM has decided that Obama, Clinton and Edwards are the only candidates worth hearing from but does it have to be so obvious? Can’t they at least pretend that the voters haven’t made that decision yet? After all, even the primaries are seven months away!

The positioning of the top three - with Clinton in the middle - at the podiums was a dead giveaway that this “debate” was not going to give much time to the other candidates. To me, that does a disservice to the viewers, the ones who will ultimately be making the decision.
Indeed, 20 minutes into the debate, my husband and I both checked our watches, distressed to realize that within that time period, only the top three contenders – Clinton, Obama, and Edwards had even been addressed with questions. The others present were rudely overlooked.

This is probably the most poorly conducted, biased debate I’ve ever seen. It even surpasses last month’s shameful League of Women Voters event, where Charlie Hall, running for Providence District supervisor, was first up to answer each question, giving incumbent Linda Smyth the advantage of always having the last word.

That unbalanced debate could, at least, be written off as local yokel hacks who got caught clumsily trying to stack the deck. It was simply an amateur night that ended up giving their favored candidate more embarrassment than help.

But this is the professional media, the folks who pride themselves on being the gatekeepers and the shapers of public perception.

Unlike the LWV, though, their purpose isn’t even political. In a media world driven increasingly by a search for the next great star rather than a substantive focus on issues, this was all about the horse race and the charisma kids in the top tier, not about really examining the issues that affect people’s lives.

In fact this post on Huffington Post, from long time Los Angeles Times reporter, Nancy Cleeland, shows the frustration of journalists who want to do good work in an era when publishers and corporate owners want to focus on the next scandal with Lindsay or Brittany. Here’s what she had to say about her departure from the Times.

After 10 years, hundreds of bylines and some of the best experiences of my professional life, I’m leaving the Los Angeles Times at the end of this month, along with 56 newsroom colleagues. We each have our reasons for taking the latest buyout offer from Chicago-based Tribune Company. In my case, the decision grew out of frustration with the paper’s coverage of working people and organized labor, and a sad realization that the situation won’t change anytime soon.

Los Angeles region is defined by gaping income disparities and an enormous pool of low-wage immigrant workers, many of whom are pulled north by lousy, unstable jobs. It’s also home to one of the most active and creative labor federations in the country. But you wouldn’t know any of that from reading a typical issue of the L.A. Times, in print or online. Increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy, and celebrity — and crime-focused in its news coverage, it ignores the economic discontent that is clearly reflected in ethnic publications such as La Opinion.Of course, I realize that revenues are plummeting and newsroom staffs are being cut across the country. But even in these tough financial times, it’s possible to shift priorities to make Southern California’s largest newspaper more relevant to the bulk of people who live here. Here’s one idea: Instead of hiring a “celebrity justice reporter,” now being sought for the Times website, why not develop a beat on economic justice? It might interest some of the millions of workers who draw hourly wages and are being squeezed by soaring rents, health care costs and debt loads.
And even in the political sphere, once respected reporters and pundits are more interested in chasing the next star than in discussing repeal of the alternate minimum tax, health care, outsourcing, immigration policy, or even an exit strategy for Iraq.

In fairness, all of the candidates, when given a chance to speak, did address these issues and they all had thoughtful solutions. They all came prepared to engage the audience even if the media often seemed to want to give only selected candidates the chance to do so. And Vivian is right on target that that approach does a disservice to the public.

It’s possible that the most creative solutions could come precisely from the second tier of candidates because they are the ones more likely to be thinking outside the normal political "inside the Beltway" box. But they were never given the time to develop their ideas fully in front of the audience.

We live in serious times but we no longer have a serious media. Unfortunately, today’s top journalists are like crows. They are very intelligent creatures, with short attention spans, and they are easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.

Don’t look for substance or service to the American people from them.