Monday, December 31, 2007

Pictures From Brian Moran's Holiday Party

Thanks to my buddy from the Firefighters Union, Hanh Deniston, I have pictures from Brian Moran's holiday party yesterday at Gadsby's Tavern in Old Town, Alexanderia. Thanks so much Hanh!

Is It Time To Dethrone Iowa?

Iowa has long had an inordinate influence on presidential politics by sheer dint of its position as the first contest of the presidential campaign season. Indeed, its position as first in the nation was designed specifically to give an outsized influence to a tiny, sparsely populated and demographically unrepresentative rural state. In the general election, its actual number of electoral college votes makes it too small to be considered an influential player.

But as every primary season kicks off, months of attention falls on Iowa. The top stars of the news media all camp out there and some of the luminaries of every campaign show up. Candidates spend virtually all their time stumping in the snowy rural hinterlands, shaking every hand, conducting town hall meetings in places like Ottumwa whose only other claim to fame is that Radar O'Reilly came from there.

As a great boon to the local economy of Iowa, I don't resent this. But because it skews election results and upends the aspirations of many good candidates, I have serious concerns about the every four year circus that is the Iowa Caucus.

For starters, the caucus system does not give anybody a good feel for which candidate is really an effective vote getter. It favors good organization and lots of money and the ability to get out the most partisan citizens to spend hours publicly declaring their support for a candidate in front of all their neighbors.

In most of the nation, we have a secret ballot, which is the heart of a true democracy.

And that's the most worrisome aspect of the carnival side show we call Iowa. There is no secret ballot. And that influences how people vote.

In today' Washington Post, there is an interesting article by Shankar Vedantam, in his Department of Human Behavior column about how people make decisions.

Vedantam reports on an experiment conducted by two sociologists and a mathematician, Matthew Salganik, Duncan Watts and Peter Sheridan Dodds.

They asked a group of people to listen to and rate 48 songs. They then had 8 other groups repeat the process. The difference was that the other 8 groups all knew how other members of their group were rating the songs. While the first group, the control group, rated the songs based on the quality of the music, the other groups all picked the songs based on the opinions of others in their group. And in each of the groups, a different set of songs made the cut as the best music. There was no consistency in the choices between groups. Here's what the experimenters concluded:

...Did the eight groups come up with the same list of the best songs? No. When people knew how others thought, this changed how they thought.

Since the people in the first "control" group had nothing to go on besides the songs, their ratings were measures of quality. But in the other eight groups, quality played a much smaller role in determining a song's success. Rather, network dynamics -- the mathematical patterns that govern how ideas spread when a large group of people share complex interconnections and simultaneously influence others and are being influenced themselves -- explained why some songs became popular.

From rating songs to rating political candidates, both the sociologists, whose experiment was just published in Science Magazine, and Vedantam extrapolate that the theory of network dynamics can influence the outcome of people's choices in ways that defy logic and quality.

The experiment, published in Science, suggests that when large networks of people evaluate something together -- and it does not matter whether we are talking about songs or "American Idol" contestants or presidential candidates -- their conclusions are not only powerfully shaped by the views of others, but by the network that binds them together. The Iowa caucuses, which involve people watching one another and moving from one candidate's camp to another, have different network properties than a primary where voters don't have such real-time feedback.

The implications are ominous.

Not only does network dynamics shape the outcome of the caucuses in Iowa, it creates a false sense of momentum carrying into New Hampshire, another largely rural, largely white small state. Between them, Iowa and New Hampshire already have an inordiante influence on the outcome of presidential politics. But at least New Hampshire has a legitimate secret ballot election where pressure from neighbors and network dynamics aren't skewing the results even further than necessary.

Both New Hampshire and Iowa jealously guard their perogatives as first in the nation caucus and primary states. Every other state has been pushing the primary calendar earlier and earlier. By the time the primaries are over it will be far too early, far too much money will have been spent, and the odds of voter fatigue setting in before the general election will be greatly increased.

It's time to fix what has become a broken system that no longer works fairly and that we now know is not even producing the best candidates or the the best leaders. It's not a rational system and it's got to go. And the first step should be dethroning Iowa from its number one spot in the nation.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Rudy and The Media Are Missing About the Florida Primary

While I was at Brian Moran's holiday party, I ran into an old friend I've known since my Florida Young Democrats days. We were discussing the presidential primaries and both of us agreed there's a story the national press may well be missing.

The current conventional wisdom is that Rudy Guiliani will do very well in the Republican primary in the Sunshine State because so many New Yorkers have relocated there, either in search of job opportunities or to retire. Giuliani, himself, is banking on a strong showing in Florida to offset expected losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But there's a big flaw in that strategy. And an equally big fallacy in the conventional wisdom that is fueling it.

What many of the pundits and strategists are missing is that the New Yorkers who have settled in South Florida - largely in Broward and Palm Beach counties - are mostly registered Democrats. And they are as staunch a group of liberals as you'll find. In other words, they are not just Democrats, they are New York liberals. This is especially true of the large retiree population there. Many of them are activists who came out of the depression era and were formed by FDR's New Deal.

Florida also is not an open primary state as Virginia is. That means that even if they were so inclined, those New Yorkers Rudy is banking on can't cross party lines to vote for a fellow New Yorker. For the reason I mentioned above, I personally doubt that many of them have that inclination anyway, but they wouldn't have the legal ability to do so if they wanted to.

The beneficiary of Florida's GOP demographics could be, believe it or not, Mike Huckabee.

Here's why.

The GOP's strength is mostly in North Florida and the Panhandle. Both of those regions have more in common with other Southern states than with South Florida and its large population of New Yorkers.

The largest city in Northeast Florida is Jacksonville. It is a large military town with three naval bases. It also attracts a lot of former military retirees. Those who come there for jobs mostly hail from rural south Georgia. The same demographic is true for the retirement population in Jacksonville. It's composed of natives of Jacksonville and south Georgia.

If the South is heart of the Bible Belt, North Florida is its eastern buckle. For years the Jacksonville First Baptist Church was THE major arbiter in local politics for both Democrats and Republicans.

Then there's the Panhandle, which is famous throughout the South as "the Redneck Riviera" because it plays host to vacationers from Alabama and Mississippi. Those folks love the sun and surf and casual atmosphere of a beach setting as much as vactioners anywhere, but Key West or South Beach wouldn't be their leisure destination. They come to the beaches of Panama City because culturally and socially they feel at home there among fellow conservative Southerners.

The only wild card for the GOP primary would be Miami with its staunchly Republican Cuban American population. Cuban Americans will be facing a real dilemna in this election cycle. They remain vehemently anti-Castro and pro-Republican. But the issue of immigration is very important in the Cuban exile community. So, I'm not sure how the Republicans' harsh anti-illegal immigration stance plays out here.

In any case, I believe the the Cubans in Miami will be outnumbered by the values voters up North and along the Florida West Coast.

There are many things that could stop a Huckabee surge, with its roots in the Iowa caucuses. The main stumbling block for him right now is his lack of foreign policy experience and his gaffes following the Bhutto assassination. The growing crisis in Pakistan has put national security and foreign policy back on the front burner for most voters.

But if values voters, who are growing tired of unkept promises, have their say and vote for one of their own, Huckabee could come out of Florida's Republican primary with a strong showing. That more than any other defeat would derail Giuliani's campaign since he's putting so many of his eggs in that basket.

I think the basket will have its bottom fall out and the eggs will break. There simply aren't enough New Yorkers in South Florida who vote in GOP primaries to put that Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Brian Moran's Holiday Party at Gadsby's Tavern

Now you would think that after driving (actually riding with Dan driving a good bit of it) 12 hours in two days, one of which was through rain and fog, that I'd get to sleep in, read the Washington Post for the first time in over a week, and just veg out all day with absolutely nothing to do and no place to go.

Yeah, you'd think.

But if you were a political junkie, and a blogger to boot, there would actually be no rest for the weary.

There can, however, be lots of fun going to holiday parties and seeing who else shows up. So, tagging along with Dan who, as president of the NoVa Central Labor Council, goes to most of these things, I attended Brian Moran's post holiday party. It was held at one of my favorite spots, the lovely and historic old Gadsby's Tavern in Old Town, Alexandria.

A crowd of about 500 well wishers flowed through all the nooks and crannies of the old stone and wood structure that dates from 1785. I greeted Brian Moran as soon as I entered, climbing old winding, wood steps to the second floor where a large reception room was set up.

Some of the notables who were there included Del. Chuck Caputo,as well as both candidates for the 10th District Congressional race, Mike Turner and Judy Feder. Del. Dave Marsden and his wife Julia were there as was Del. David Bulova and his wife Gretchen.

I also spotted Del. Adam Ebbin and State Sen. Patsy Ticer, whom Dan and I actually saw walking to the event. We offered her a ride in our car, which meant that Dan dropped us both off right at the door - saving me from having to trek from a parking lot in the rain with no umbrella.

I also spotted Alexandria's Del Pepper; Ingrid Morroy, Arlington's Commissioner of Revenue; and Dranesville's supervisor, John Foust. Chair of the DNC Women's Caucus and Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Mame Reiley, was there as was Steve Bunn and Scott Surovell, both of whom are running for Chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. George Burke, the 11th District Chair, was there with his wife Sharon. Margo Horner, the Chair of the 10th District also was there.

The high point for me was finally meeting fellow blogger Vivian Paige who drove up from Norfolk to attend. I had hoped to meet her at last year's bloggers conference before my root canal put an end to that plan. As far as I'm concerned, Vivian is the gold standard for bloggers. We briefly discussed the payday lending issue and legislation, including SB 24 and HB 12, both of which will be coming up in the legislative session and I told her that I'm with her one hundred percent on that. I'll be blogging more about that soon.

There are so many others whom I've probably missed. It was a large crowd and it's almost certain that there are people I've overlooked. If so, my apologies to them.

It was a great event. And it beat staying in and vegging out, even if I was tired from my week in Tennessee and the long ride home.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas To All

Since I will probably be busy for the next several days with family, this will be my last post for a while.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everybody a safe and happy holiday!

Hillary's Co-Presidency, Not!

Lowell has a very good post up and an excellent discussion follows in the comment section about Hillary's latest claim that she and Bill shared a co-presidency.

Actually, there is a history and precedence to that boast on Hillary's part. When Bill Clinton first began his candidacy in 1992, the two of them appeared on 60 Minutes and said that voters would get "two for one." The implication even then was that Hillary would play an active role in her husband's presidency if he won. She was supposed to be a selling point with Democratic feminists.

But it fell flat. Women standing behind their men was exactly the role that women were trying to overcome then. Many progressive women questioned Hillary's decision to forego her own career to be a helper to her husband.

A good feminist case can be made now that a woman should not trade on her husband's success to boost her own career. Real feminism should be about women succeeding on their own merits not being either the little woman behind the throne or about getting a boost from a successful spouse.

I'm not opposed to Hillary. I think she is capable and strong. But depending on your spouse to win is not the feminist message that I want to see sent to young women. What it says is marry right and attach yourself to your husband's rising star and you too can succeed.

How about Hillary running on her own considerable merits. It's not like anybody else running has any greater experience that she has - and that's true in either party. She's not running against an incumbent. So her husband's success should not be an issue.

She needs to impress on her own merits and credentials. She has them!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Celebrating the Holidays With NoVa Organized Labor

I was at the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council’s annual Holiday Party last night. It was very well attended with about 150 to 200 revelers celebrating the season. A member of the striking Writers Guild attended, who fortunately managed to secure a day job earlier this year when he was sworn in as U.S. Senator. Yup, union card carrying, purple heart winner and tattoo sporting Senate Rookie of the Year Jim Webb showed up to mingle with his union brothers and sisters.

A bunch of other elected officials and candidates also attended the party. Leslie Byrne was there basking in support from the unions who have already come out early to endorse her candidacy for the 11th CD. She looked right at home among friends. Of course, Larry Byrne was there as well. As always, he and I chatted about the Yankees. What else is there to talk about at a labor event in Northern Virginia?

I also spoke for a long time with promising newcomer Doug Denneny. Although I am solidly with Leslie, I enjoyed meeting him and wished him well. I told him I want to see him around for a long time because, as I’ve said elsewhere, I expect great things from him.

Gerry Connolly showed up with his wife and of course continued to stoke my ire by being happy about the Red Sox. Ok, I’m a sore loser. This fight, though, has been going on since the game that the Red Sox won from the Yankees back in the summer of 2004 when Gerry had the nerve to cheer his team during the Democratic Convention in Boston. I warned him I would hold a grudge.

Seriously, he gets a lot of ire from the blogosphere but he has done good things in Fairfax including the Cool Counties initiative, supporting and passing big box legislation and the living wage bill. In addition, he refused to demagogue the illegal immigration issue in the last election when his counterparts in Prince William and Loudoun counties all tried it. I think he’s right to concentrate on enforcing zoning ordinances against crowding, noise restrictions and other laws that penalize the behaviors that distress so many residents in neighborhoods where immigrants, legal or not, have chosen to live. By focusing on illegal actions, he has refused to demonize the people. He’s right about that. And he’s been an excellent Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Other elected officials whom I saw include the two Davids: David Bulova and Dave Marsden. Vivian Watts, Patsy Ticer, Mark Sickles, Adam Ebbin, and Al Eisenberg were all there too. I chatted for a few minutes with George Barker who looked excited about heading for Richmond in January.

Judy Feder also looked happy and enthusiastic about her upcoming campaign. I met Mike Turner for the first time as well. Both will face each other in a primary in the 10th CD,

Writing up these “gossip column” type reports is often dicey and I’m always afraid there will be somebody that I leave out. If so, my profound apologies!

It was a great party that didn’t break up until after 10, a late night for most labor people who wake up early and face long commutes in our area just like everybody else.

Happy Holidays to All!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Leslie Byrne Picks Up New Union Endorsement

Congrats to Leslie Byrne who just picked up the endorsement of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters yesterday.

Leslie is a long time friend of labor who has supported many of their issues. While in office, she was a supporter of legislation that benefitted working men and women. In addition, she was a strong advocate for consumers and served in the Clinton administration as chief consumer advocate. She also has an excellent record on the environment.

After the holiday, I will focus more on the 11 CD race, as well as other electoral politics, and go into more detail on her record and why she will represent the 11th CD and all of Virginia's interests so well in Congress. In other words, I'll explain it detail why I am such an enthusiastic supporter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cuccinelli Wins the Recount

Both RK and NLS have the stories. Ken Cuccinelli's total actually went up from the original 91 to 101. So, was it worth it for Janet Oleszek to ask the state for the recount?

I think so. When it's that close voters have a right to make sure that every vote is counted accurately and thoroughly. That doesn't imply any wrong doing on anybody's part. First of all, despite some misconceptions, machines can break down. Even more important, there are absentee ballots which are counted by hand and there is room for human error there. As for the cost, which Republican bloggers and commenters spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about, it was estimated to cost approximately $200 to ensure that all the votes were counted properly. Here's the quote from an earlier Washington Post story:

...Under state law, recount officials review those votes using printouts. A smaller number of votes -- such as absentee ballots -- were tabulated on paper, and those will be recounted by hand, Fairfax County officials said.

It is the county, not the state, that will set up the recount and bear the expense, largely for paying election workers. Officials said it would probably not cost more than a couple hundred dollars.
That's a modest sum to ensure an accurate vote. It is not a waste of money; it is the heart of a democracy to do so.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Ken Cuccinelli both on his victory and his new son, Thomas Jackson, who was born on December 6. This is the Cuccinelli's first boy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

And that's why I'm going on a brief hiatus.

It's already apparent that I haven't written or posted too much in the past couple of weeks. I've been busy as many of us have.

Christmas and Chanukah shopping is great fun. The stores, whether in the city or out in the suburban malls, are all pretty. I was walking through Macy's just tonight and everything was red, gold, silver and sparkly. But my favorite thing is that even my sense of smell was tempted by the subtle scent of perfume wafting from the perfume counter to the farthest reaches of the store. I love walking in the door of a large department store and smelling all the perfume as I pass the cosmetic counter, the handbags, shoes, and holiday dresses.

Actually, most of my Christmas shopping is already done, the presents wrapped and waiting to be put under our tree.

Since we'll be traveling to Tennessee for the holidays, that's most of our preparation already completed. There are a few last minute things to do in this next week and some parties to attend. It's nice to have most of the work behind me and to look forward to the fun.

Unless something really catches my attention, I probably won't blog again until after New Years.

When I do get back, I expect that my focus will be on the presidential primaries and the upcoming elections in 2008. Yes, I'll focus most of my attention on the Virginia Senate race and the 11th CD Congressional race. And I hope to write more about religion and other cultural topics that have gotten short shrift on my blog recently.

For now, though, I wish everybody a happy holiday.

Go enjoy this most wonderful time of the year!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wittman Wins in the 1st CD

My congratulations to Rob Wittman and my condolences to Phil Forgit.

I suspect that the 1st CD was never really ours to take. Sometimes you can't overcome the demographics and that has been a reliably GOP area for quite some time. And for a while it probably will remain so.

But Forgit ran a great campaign. He didn't have enough money nor enough time to really introduce himself to the voters and gain the name recognition he needed. And Wittman ran as a moderate Republican. Further, the RCCC threw a lot of money into this district to defend what should have been a safe seat for them. That in itself is something of a moral victory for us.

For now, though, there was too much to overcome and too little resources with which to do it. But I am proud of the Democratic candidate for running the race he did. And I'm equally proud of all the Democratic electeds who got out to help him including Tim Kaine, Mark Warner, Chap Petersen and many others.

Well done!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Chap Petersen Campaigns for Phil Forgit

Chap Petersen, the newly elected state senator from Fairfax County's 34th District, has this great post up on Ox Road South about attending a GOTV rally for Phil Forgit in Fredericksburg today.

After that rally, he and Phil picked up their walking sheets and drove downtown to begin knocking on doors in the middle class neighborhoods near Mary Washington campus.

Here's some of Chap's description of the experience:

I'd gone a few blocks when my brain started to put together the street names (e.g. Sunken Lane) with the sloping topography. For all you Civil War buffs ... yes we were knocking on doors below Marye's Heights.

In other words, we were campaigning on the same patch of land that the Union Army was charging across during the battle of Fredericksburg. The battle was fought on December 13, 1862 and was a decisive defeat for the Union Army who lost over 10,000 men trying to dislodge Lee's Army from the Heights.

To add gentle irony to situation, Chap noted that by coincidence the National Park Service was commemorating the anniversary of that battle and re-enactors were staging the fight, with men in butternut and ladies in shawls and long skirts. A group of those women, staying in character, informed Chap that they could not vote for Phil Forgit because they hadn't yet gotten the vote.

A pretty humorous experience and an entertaining post. At the end, Chap reminds residence of the 1st CD to get out and vote for Forgit this coming Tuesday.

P.S., that means the ladies too because, yes, we actually do have the right to vote. Let's exercise it on Tuesday, December 11th :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Phil Forgit and Rob Wittman Debate

The three candidates for the 1st CD special election, Democrat Phil Forgit; Republican Rob Wittman; and conservative Independent, Lucky Narain, mixed it up on a local Norfolk TV station last Thursday. Their debate will air tomorrow (Sunday) locally.

Fred2Blue has a story on Forgit’s confident and skilled performance in staking out his position and taking on his opponents, especially Wittman.

Also, according the Daily Press

The policy debate started with a discussion of Iraq with Forgit explaining that while he was training Iraqi soldiers in 2005 he saw a lot of potential.

"They are willing to work, they are willing to stand up," Forgit said. "While our troops are there we need to support them in deeds, not just in words."

Meanwhile, Wittman said that the surge was helping to stop violence in some parts of Iraq and more needed to be done to build on that security. In other words, stay the course just as the Bush administration argues.

Lucky Narain, meanwhile, said he wanted to bring the troops home but not before the Iraqis gained better control of the insurgents and militias.

Of course, it’s hard to say when that would be or how that’s different from Wittman’s stand. Narain, however, at least quickly turned the subject to the need to protect veterans’ benefits, which he said are shrinking.

In that area, he’s in agreement with Forgit, an Iraq veteran and Naval Reservist as well as a Bronze Star recipient who has made protection of veterans’ benefits a centerpiece of his campaign.

Then the discussion turned to oil and conservation. Here's more on Wittman and his positions

...Wittman, currently a state delegate, said he wants to see additional research done on more efficient and cleaner fuels and noted that during his first General Assembly session he sponsored a bill that created a grant program to fund scientists working on alternative biofuels.

"We need to have energy independence," Wittman said. "It's a national security issue."

He also mentioned that he was one of four legislators who had been named Chesapeake Bay Foundation's legislator of the year in 2007. To which Forgit quipped, “Welcome to the Democratic Party.”

Forgit also said to Wittman, “The fact is your party is not going to be there for you.” Forgit pointed out that the Republicans and Bush administration have scuttled research into alternate energy sources and fought against environmental regulations.

On immigration Forgit went after the Republicans in Congress and the administration:

Forgit again went after the GOP, charging that while Republicans controlled Congress and the White House for six years, the party did little to effectively curb illegal immigration. Forgit said the federal government must shut down the borders and fine businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

That is an excellent point and one that more Democrats need to remind people of.

Indeed, in the recent statewide elections, Republicans demagogued the immigration issue to death. The truth is this is not a state problem, it’s a national problem. There is very little states can legally do to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The solution lies at the federal level. And it includes getting control of our borders, which is also a security issue.

Anyway, it looks like Forgit more than held his own against an experienced politician and he brings real, pragmatic solutions to the race.

In addition, he has picked up a lot of support from his fellow Democrats in his final push this weekend. Raising Kaine has a great post up about events featuring Tim Kaine today at Three Olives Restaurant, 1203 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA., and Mark Warner, at the Forgit for Congress office in Newport News on Monday at 2 pm. Also, tomorrow Chap Petersen will be at a Get Out The Vote Rally at the Forgit for Congress office in Fredericksburg at 1:30 pm. For more information about these events go to the Forgit for Congress website.

Since turnout is expected to be miniscule on Tuesday, December 11, every vote is going to count. With Phil Forgit in office, there will be one more voice representing Virginia and moving forward a Democratic agenda that will give us a sustainable energy policy, dedication to protecting the benefits of those who serve our nation, making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and a knowledgeable voice on education.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Phil Forgit in December 11 Special Election

NLS had an excellent live blog with Phil Forgit. I just finished reading it and am more impressed than ever with the Democratic candidate from the 1st CD.

Forgit, a moderate Democrat, is an Iraqi war veteran, Naval reservist and a Bronze Star recipient. He's also a nationally recognized teacher and winner of the 2005 National Education Association Award for Teaching Excellence. He brings creative ideas and independence to the race.

His views on health care are particulary impressive and show an understanding of the pragmatic solutions that will work for America. Here's what he had to say on the topic:
Let me say again for the record (and I hope my opponent is listening), I am not for single payer health care and I am not for creating new bureaucracies. I want to pursue three guiding principles: accessibility, affordability, and portability. I know from experience that it can be a real hassle to keep insurance between jobs, so portability issues must be resolved.

I would like to look at successful programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program and to some degree Medicare and build on what we are doing right in order to expand coverage for those who need it. I want to encourage a unique American system with competition and full involvement of private insurance companies.

Forgit puts an emphasis on practical solutions that work for the U.S., not rhetoric and ideology. He rejects the European systems which are government run and understands that reforming health care delivery will best be achieved through a market based public-private partnership.

His position on energy consumption and conservation is equally thoughtful and pragmatic:
How is it that we can send a man to the moon, but we can create engines that don't run on substances produced by our enemies? This is an environmental and national security nightmare. Thanks to the Democrats, Congress is finally coming close to updating our CAFE standards. But this is just a start. I strongly support initiatives to develop alternatives that rely on renewable resources like wind, sun and water, as well as new technologies which reduce energy consumption.
Finally, he displayed his dedication to doing more than paying lip service to "supporting the troops" by showing how he would write legislation to actually assist soldiers and veterans:
As an Iraq Veteran and Naval Reservist, I want to help craft legislation, similar to what Senator Webb is working on, that helps our troops and veterans. There is a push to draft a new GI Bill of Rights to increase health and other benefits for troops to a level closer to what our WWII heroes received. I've seen how this Administration has talked a good talk all the while making budget cuts for health care and benefits--not to mention armor, etc.--for our troops. I will not stand for this. Their hypocrisy must come to an end.
Let's not have any illusions. As good a candidate as he is, Phil Forgit has an uphill battle. The 1st CD is a Republican district. And the GOP candidate, Rob Wittman is already a state delegate with name recognition. He also is considered moderate by Virginia Republican standards. But that's actually a stretch. His record and positions are more in line with conseratives nationally.

He supports Bush's unpopular Iraq war. In addition he has endorsements from National Right to Life and the Family Foundation. In fact, he has a 100% rating from them as well as an A rating from National Rifle Association.

In Phil Forgit, the 1st CD would get a pragmatic problem solver not somebody interested in fighting the culture wars.

But, as I said, despite Forgit's qualifications, he has to gain name recognition and introduce himself to voters in a short time. This race is expected to have low turn out and will be decided by whichever side is most successful in getting their voters to the polls. For a list of events including volunteer opportunities and canvasses go here.

This weekend is the last big push. Finally, if you live in the 1st CD, remember the obvious: go out and vote next Tuesday, December 11.

Congrats to Leslie Byrne on AFSCME's Endorsement!

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, is one of the largest public employee unions. They have a history of embracing progressive political causes and candidates. Following that longstanding tradition, they unanimously endorsed Leslie Byrne in her bid for Congress.

I have a somewhat personal connection to AFSCME. The father of a close friend of mine, the late Jerry Wurf, was president of AFSCME until 1980. I spent many hours listening to Susan Wurf's stories about growing up the daughter of one of the most respected labor leaders of the 20th Century. Her father also championed the Civil Rights movement as one of the founding members of the New York state chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, CORE, In addition, he was a close associate of Martin Luther King. In fact, King was attending the AFSCME sanitation workers' strike in Memphis in 1968 when he was assasinated. Jerry Wurf later issued the following statement about that:
"Let us never forget that Martin Luther King, on a mission for us, was killed in this city. He helped bring us this victory,"

I am proud to be supporting a candidate who has won the endorsement of one of the most progressive labor unions, one that has consistently stood up for the rights and dignity of all workers.

Congratulations Leslie!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pentagon Pink Slips for Christmas

In an effort to show it can play hardball with people’ lives and give all meaning to bad faith, the Pentagon is threatening to lay off 200,000 employees for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho!

According to Stephen Barr’s column in today’s Washington Post, 100,000 federal employees and 100,000 contractor workers could have their jobs on the chopping block in February. Since federal work regulations require 60 days notice before RIFs (reduction in force is the technical term for a government layoff), the pink slips will go out at Christmas season.

The Army and the Marine Corps both say that if they run out of money to fund the Iraq war they will have to reduce operations at their bases around the U.S. According to this account:
Yesterday, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said "facts are the facts" and that military bases will have to cease operations, terminate contracts and send employees home without pay if a war-funding deal is not reached.
"Anyone who thinks that this is not a serious situation is simply misinformed or is ignoring the facts," he said in an interview with the American Forces Press Service.

However, the real story isn’t quite that straightforward. Here’s the telling quote:
Whitman's warning came a day after Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) released a letter, signed by seven other Washington area House members, calling on the Pentagon to shift money around in the department's many budget accounts to stave off furloughs.

"This is an old budget showdown tactic -- and they're using federal employees' livelihoods as leverage in a turf battle with Congress," Moran said.

Asked for his views on the furloughs, John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of Defense workers, yesterday said Secretary Robert M. Gates should "reconsider plans to lay off civilian employees in the midst of this political debate. The Defense Department should have alternatives for funding the war without laying off civilian employees --one alternative is to request authority from Congress to reprogram operation funds."
Federal employees, Gage said, are vital to the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts, and many Defense civilian employees are military veterans who have volunteered for jobs in the combat zones. "They are the ones who care for wounded war fighters in DoD hospitals, and they are the ones who tend to the families of troops waiting at home for their loved ones," he said.

The letter that Moran released, by the way, was also signed by Reps. Tom Davis, Frank Wolf, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. In other words, the Virginia and Maryland members of Congress – both Republican and Democratic – and the DC delegate to Congress are all united in their plea to the Pentagon to shift the money around to keep the military bases funded.

This is nothing more than the Bush administration’s attempt to play chicken with Congress to get its way regardless of the cost to employee morale or the security of the country. The money is there; the funding of salaries can be met through reprogramming funds and other budgetary tools until next year when supplemental funds will be passed.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New Blogger on the Block

I've just added a couple of new blogs to my blogroll.

One of them is new to blogging, though I'm pretty sure you'll recognize her name. Leslie Byrne is certainly not new to Virginia politics nor to the political blogosphere. She's read our blogs, live blogged, commented and generally supported our efforts; so, now it's time to support her, read her blog, go to her website and contribute to her campaign. And certainly, as her campaign gears up to take on Tom Davis next year, be on the look out for opportunities to volunteer.

BTW, her current post is funny and shows the lady has a sense of humor!

The other blog I've added is not new. I've just gotten around to updating though and I recommend Dan Geroe's site , Donkey With a Trunk, very highly. Dan used to known as Dannyboy. And his four part study on the Evangelical voters is worth reading carefully. It's on a topic dear to my heart and on which I will have more to say here at my own site in the coming days.

Geroe and his fellow blogger afausser have a lot of interesting things to say, so go take a look.

The Girl of Qatif and the Sweet Orthodoxy

Kudos to the Washington Post for its editorial, "Saudi Whiplash," criticizing the Bush administration’s embrace and celebration of Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Saud al Faisal, at last week’s Annapolis Middle East peace conference.

As the Post reported, national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, praised al Faisal for attending by saying “I know it must have been a very difficult decision.”

Meanwhile, al Faisal, in the spirit of commitment to a Middle Eastern peace accord, lambasted Israel and explained why he refused to even shake hands with Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

Then, one reporter present asked the foreign minister about the Girl of Qatif, as the Saudi rape victim sentenced by a religious court to 90 lashes for being in public with a male to whom she is not related, is known. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to move freely about their country unaccompanied by a chaperone, usually a husband or male relative.

After her harsh sentence, the young woman hired a lawyer, Abdul-Rahman al Lahem, described by the Post as “one of Saudi Arabia’s most courageous human rights advocates,” who appealed the case. For this effort to obtain real justice, the court increased the woman’s sentence to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail. In addition, they retaliated against the lawyer by barring him from further representing the woman and suspending his lawyer’s license. He is also facing a disciplinary hearing, which could lead to his complete disbarment. I reported on this here.

Obviously, heavy handed retaliation like this against a lawyer legitimately defending a client is meant to have a chilling effect on any other attorney who wants to defend a woman’s rights in the Saudi courts. It’s basically shutting the legal door on any woman who is victimized by a crime. And the Girl of Qatif may actually be lucky.

Honor killings of rape victims are still not uncommon in much of the Middle East. Though technically against the law, the family members who commit these murders are seldom prosecuted and if they are, sentences amount to a pro forma slap on the wrist.

As the Washington Post further points out, despite the Bush administration’s embrace of Saudi Arabia and its steadfast friendship of the Saudi royal family, that country is the major source of the spread of radical Islam throughout the world. Fifteen of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudis, as is Osama bin Laden. The majority of the suicide bombers in Iraq are Saudis. Furthermore, the Taliban in Afghanistan, which sheltered al Qaeda even after 9/11, was funded and influenced by the radical Wahabi clerics from Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Wahabism, a militantly puritanical and fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam is the brand of Islam taught in the madarassas – Islamic religious schools – throughout the world. Most of the radical Muslim terrorists have been recruited through those schools and Wahabi- funded mosques, which are heavily financed by wealthy Saudis.

Here’s a quote, from the Post editorial that sums it up nicely:

Six years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it was widely acknowledged in and outside the Bush administration that Saudi Arabia -- the homeland of 15 of the 19 hijackers, along with Osama bin Laden -- was a threat as well as an oil supplier to the United States. Its embrace of extremist Islamic ideology, its vigorous efforts to spread that creed throughout the Middle East and beyond and its sponsorship of groups like the Taliban were a far more direct cause of anti-Western terrorism than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For several years the Bush administration pressed the Saudi regime for reforms; the regime responded with half steps that didn't change its essential nature. Most of the suicide bombers in Iraq have been Saudis. Yet in the last year, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration has abruptly returned to describing Saudi Arabia as a "mainstream" and "moderate" state and a staunch U.S. ally. Once again the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is treated as the Middle East's most critical problem and Prince Saud as a statesman who is to be congratulated for appearing in the same room as an Israeli. The case of the Girl of Qatif ought to be a reminder of what the Bush administration has chosen to forget.

Meanwhile, in another excellent report in today’s Washington Post, Kevin O’Sullivan reports on a new, upbeat face of modern Islam. One of its most successful proponents, Moez Masoud, promotes “sweet Orthodoxy.”

Masoud, an advertising executive by day, preaches to huge crowds of young Muslims, telling them that Islam can have compassion for non-Muslims and for homosexuals. Although Masoud does not challenge any of the basic tenets of Islam such as prayer five times a day, the practice of charity, refraining from sex outside of marriage, etc., he encourages his followers to embrace music and the arts. He tells them that Islam, properly understood, is about doing good and also enjoying life. And he encourages greater compassion and a far less punitive and puritanical brand of Islam, one that dampens the rage that has been so prevalent among young, disaffected Muslims elsewhere.

His upbeat message of seeking personal freedom and fulfillment, rather than militant rage, within the context of living an orthodox Islamic life is resonating with young, educated Muslims in Egypt and across the Middle East. It may yet be the moderate form of Islam the West is hoping for to replace the fanaticism sponsored by the aging clerics in places like Saudi Arabia.

In the end, it may be bring hope that we all can prevent both more Girls of Qatif as well as more 9/11s.