30 September 2007

Griffin: China will beat US to the Moon

17 September 2007

Earlier today NASA administrator Mike Griffin gave a luncheon speech in Washington to talk about the "space economy," a concept part of the agency’s new strategic communications plan. His most noteworthy comment, though, came near the end of the Q&A session after his talk, when he was asked about the potential for cooperation and competition with other emerging space powers, including (but not limited to) China:

I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are. I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it. I think we will see, as we have seen with China’s introductory manned space flights so far, we will see again that nations look up to other nations that appear to be at the top of the technical pyramid, and they want to do deals with those nations. It’s one of the things that made us the world’s greatest economic power. So I think we’ll be reinstructed in that lesson in the coming years and I hope that Americans will take that instruction positively and react to it by investing in those things that are the leading edge of what’s possible.


28 September 2007

GOP-backed bid to reform California's electoral process collapsing

By Carla Marinucci
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, California
28 September 2007

Days after a controversial organization began collecting voter signatures for a ballot measure to change California's winner-take-all primary, a founder of the GOP-backed group says its major players are resigning - and the group will fold - due to lack of funding and support.

"The levels of support just weren't there," said Marty Wilson, the Sacramento-based fundraiser, in a telephone interview Thursday.

Wilson was among the founding members of Californians for Equal Representation, the group led by Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk that intended to collect roughly 434,000 signatures to qualify the Presidential Election Reform Act for the June 2008 ballot.

The measure would have changed the state's winner-take-all means of awarding Electoral College votes to a proportional system that would have awarded 53 of the state's 55 electoral votes - one by one - to the popular vote winner of each of the state's 53 congressional districts. The other two electoral votes would have gone to the statewide popular vote winner.

The change, Democrats had complained, would benefit the GOP - and perhaps alter the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

"There has not been the financial level of support necessary to run a viable campaign, and there wasn't sufficient interest from donors inside or outside the state to qualify the measure for the ballot," Wilson said.

Wilson said he has disassociated himself from the committee, and he confirmed that Hiltachk, who has represented both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state GOP, resigned from the committee Wednesday, as has spokesman Kevin Eckery.


27 September 2007

Raucous system seems immune to change

By Matt Stearns
McClatchy Newspapers
26 September 2007

Florida's defiant decision to hold its presidential primary weeks earlier than both national parties dictate highlights one inescapable fact: There's no easy fix for this mess of a presidential nominating system.

Parties set rules and dates, but self-interested states ignore them with little fear of meaningful consequence or much concern for the national interest. Would-be reformers tout a variety of fixes, which the states find lacking. Congress suggests that it might step in, but the Constitution might not allow it.

"States are tripping over each other to get to the front lines, and most of them are operating within the rules of the parties," said Ryan O'Donnell, spokesman for FairVote, a non-partisan electoral-change advocacy group. "Clearly, the parties are failing to control the process."

The problems of the current primary-and-caucus nomination game are well documented: It's too fast, too expensive and each election cycle is accelerating the absurdity. Plus, Iowa and New Hampshire, two idiosyncratic early-voting powerhouses that barely reflect the rest of the country, play an outsized role in this electoral Survivor.

The still-unsettled 2008 primary schedule is the worst one yet: With states leapfrogging one another to gain influence and attention, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire has formally scheduled its vote, which both states are determined will remain first and second, come what may.

This chaotic system encourages states to jockey for position and leads to overcrowded primary days, forcing campaigns to rely on barrages of negative ads, expensive television buys and quick fly-ins rather than engaging in substantive discussions with voters one state at a time over many months.


26 September 2007

Electoral Vote Initiative Is Unconstitutional

By Thomas Gangale

Never mind the partisanship behind Republican lawyer Tom Hiltachk's so-called Presidential Election Reform Act, an initiative that seeks to peel off about twenty of California's electoral votes to Republican presidential candidates in 2008 and indefinitely into the future. Let's just consider the question, does the US Constitution permit a state to determine via a ballot initiative how to cast its electoral votes?

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 says in part: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." The Legislature directs... how does this power devolve upon the voters?

Proponents of the Hiltachk initiative might argue that California's initiative process permits the voters to assume some legislative functions, and that this includes changing the rules about allocating the state's electoral votes. Perhaps the initiative's supporters will say that the state legislature gave citizens the right to "legislate" when it gave them the power to propose and pass ballot initiatives; so in effect, nearly a century ago, the state legislature "directed" a "manner" for appointing presidential electors that contemplated the abdication of this power to the people.

This is tortured logic. The body of citizens is certainly not the state legislature. When the Constitution says "legislature," it means exactly that. The initiative process is not an abdication of legislative power; the legislature still legislates. Rather, the initiative process is an alternative method of enacting law. It is not only outside of the legislative power, it is also outside of the executive power; the governor can veto legislation, but he cannot veto an initiative. Therefore, an initiative is not just another kind of legislation, it is of its own kind. Likewise, when we act as a body of citizens, we are not acting in the capacity of a legislature; we are of our own kind.

The distinction between the body of citizens and the legislature as sources of law goes back 2,500 years to the Roman Republic. There were some types of laws that the Senate could pass, while others required passage by one of the various citizens' assemblies. Hence, SPQR, senatus populusque romanus, the Senate and People of Rome. In the same vein, California's legislature and its body of citizens are two distinct lawmaking entities; they aren't us, and we're not them.

Clearly, the Framers of the Constitution also drew this same distinction between a state's legislature and its people. From the beginning, members of the US House of Representatives have been elected by the people. This is not true of the US Senate. Originally, the Constitution provided for senators to be elected by the legislatures of their states; the Framers created two distinct methods of electing the houses of Congress.

The election of US senators by the people came about as a result of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. This transfer of power from legislatures to the people was a very specific reform born of the Progressive Era. To infer that another Progressive Era reform, the initiative process, also transferred the power to appoint electors, is a legal fallacy. If Progressives had intended to transfer such power, they would have stated so explicitly, either in the Seventeenth Amendment or in a companion amendment. They did not.

So, if neither the Framers nor the Progressives intended the people to have the power to direct the manner of appointing electors, the only possible conclusion is that the power does not exist. If enacted, the Hiltachk initiative could not stand legal challenge, and the state attorney general would be forced to waste millions of taxpayer dollars defending a lost cause. Rather than have our pockets picked by Tom Hiltachk, we voters should defeat his initiative at the ballot box. Better yet, don’t sign his petition and keep the initiative off the ballot.

25 September 2007

NASA aims to put man on Mars by 2037

Mars Daily
24 September 2007

NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037, the administrator of the US space agency indicated here Monday.

This year marks the half-century of the space age ushered in by the October 1957 launch of the Sputnik-1 by the then Soviet Union, NASA administrator Michael Griffin noted.

In 2057, the centenary of the space era, "we should be celebrating 20 years of man on Mars," Griffin told an international astronautics congress in this southern Indian city where he outlined NASA's future goals.


24 September 2007

To Boldly Own What No One Has Owned Before

By Thomas Gangale

A couple of years ago, a message from the Executive Director of the Space Settlement Institute was forwarded to the email list of a technical subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics:

The Space Settlement Institute believes that the most valuable resource in space is Lunar and Martian real estate. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits any claims of national sovereignty on the Moon or Mars. But, quite deliberately, the treaty says nothing against private property. Therefore, without claiming sovereignty, the U.S. could recognize land claims made by private companies that establish human settlements there.

We think this is the key to promoting private enterprise in space.

Let's look at the SSI's first assertion, that "the most valuable resource in space is Lunar and Martian real estate." I wonder, have they taken a good look at Nevada lately? The first rule of real estate is, "Location, location, location!" Nevada may be in the middle of nowhere, but at least it has breathable air. The Moon and Mars are well beyond the outskirts of nowhere, and neither has breathable air. As for water and vegetation, Nevada is a veritable rain forest by comparison!

The next set of assertions pertains to property rights on the Moon and Mars. Here lies the fundamental flaw in their logic, which makes futile a major thrust of the SSI’s mission. It is true that, "The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits any claims of national sovereignty on the Moon or Mars," and it is also true that "the treaty says nothing against private property." It does not follow, however, that "without claiming sovereignty, the U.S. could recognize land claims made by private companies that establish human settlements there."

As a matter of natural law theory, rights exist independently of their legal recognition; as Jefferson wrote, we "are endowed... with certain unalienable rights," but of course, governments are instituted to secure these rights. In anarchy, any rights that one might assert are purely theoretical, other than those one has the firepower to personally defend. So a practical matter, property rights exist only if they are granted or recognized by a government and subject to the protection of law. Such grant, recognition, or protection is an act of state, and as such is an exercise of state sovereignty. Title cannot come into existence out of thin air (or the vacuum of space). Legal title must arise from a sovereign power possessing legal authority over the territory in question.

Referring to the Space Settlement Institute's "Land Claim Recognition (LCR) Analysis:"

Congress should pass "land claim recognition" legislation legalizing private claims of land in space. A land claim recognition bill would not violate the ban on sovereign ownership if the "use and occupation" standard from civil law (rather than "gift of the sovereign" from common law) were used as the legal basis for the private claim.

This is a load of green cheese.

Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states: "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty provides: "States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty."

"Non-governmental entities" includes private parties; thus States Parties cannot appropriate the Moon and other celestial bodies, or parts thereof, through private parties.

For Congress to pass "land claim recognition" legislation legalizing private claims of land in space would be an exercise of state sovereignty, and therefore a violation of international law under the provisions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Although I personally favor promoting private enterprise in space, and the development of an international legal regime for granting and protecting extraterrestrial property rights, I also deplore unilateral action on the part of the United States as an international outlaw. In my view, we have seen far too much of that in the past four years.

Meanwhile, the Space Settlement Institute appears to be yet another medicine show on the New Frontier.

23 September 2007

The Problems of Regional Primaries

Written Statement on Federal Regional Primary Legislation
Submitted to the Senate Rules Committee

By William G. Mayer
Associate Professor of Political Science
Northeastern University
19 September 2007

Finally, I would like to call the Committee's attention to a number of problems with regional primaries, however they are adopted and enforced. First, though regional primaries have recently been proposed primarily as an antidote to front-loading, it is by no means clear that a regional primary system would actually reduce front-loading. It depends on how the system is designed. The proposal formulated by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) provides a good example of the problem. The NASS calendar allots separate weeks to Iowa and New Hampshire -- and then, one week later, the first region would vote. In other words, one week after New Hampshire, delegates would be selected in twelve different states on the same day. By comparison, most recent presidential nomination calendars have started up more slowly. Immediately after New Hampshire, there have typically been several weeks in which only one or two states held their primaries or caucuses. The NASS calendar, to be sure, would be less front-loaded after that: There would be a month off before the next region voted. But this is small consolation to all the candidates who cannot afford to campaign in twelve states, even twelve contiguous states, just one week after the race begins and who will therefore not be around when the second region goes to the polls.

Another major problem associated with regional primaries is that they would confer a significant advantage on any candidate who happened to be particularly strong in whatever region went first.27 As Table 1 indicates (it is located at the end of this statement), region is a very important variable in explaining primary outcomes. Almost every recent presidential candidate has done significantly better in one region than in the others. In 1976, for example, Gerald Ford won 60 percent of the vote in the average northeastern primary, as against 35 percent in the average western primary. In the same year, Jimmy Carter won, on
average, 62 percent of the vote in the South, 35 percent in the Northeast, and 21 percent in the West. In 1980, Edward Kennedy won 53 percent of the vote in the average northeastern primary, but only 18 percent in the southern primaries.

In the contemporary presidential nomination process, the order in which primaries are held matters. Indeed, that is why front-loading developed in the first place. And thus, which region goes first could have very important implications for which candidate gets nominated. In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton's candidacy would likely have been doomed if the southern states had voted last: for the first five weeks of that year's delegate selection season, Clinton didn't win a single primary or caucus outside the South. Supporters of regional primaries implicitly acknowledge this problem, for regional primary proposals invariably include a provision that rotates the order in which regions vote or determines that order by lot. But rotation and lotteries do not eliminate this problem -- they merely ensure that the direction and recipient of the distortion will vary, in a random manner, from one election cycle to the next.


22 September 2007

Senators seek regional presidential primaries


By Frank Davies
San Jose Mercury News
San Jose, California
20 September 2007

WASHINGTON - Frustrated by the ever-changing free-for-all of 2008 presidential primaries, a bipartisan group of senators, including Dianne Feinstein, wants to bring order out of chaos with a rotating system of regional primaries.

Their legislation would bring predictability and fairness to the "pell-mell scramble" the nation faces in a few months, with states moving up their primaries and trying to leapfrog each other, said Feinstein, a California Democrat. Because of the fierce competition to be early, half the states will vote by Feb. 5, and the nominees of both parties effectively could be chosen by then.


20 September 2007

Back of the Classroom in the Electoral College

By Thomas Gangale

OK, so we're stuck with the Electoral College. If we want to improve the presidential election process, what are our realistic options? The best idea around is the interstate compact for the national popular vote. Recognizing that the Electoral College is hear to stay, and utilizing the constitutional provision that the states are free to decide how to cast their electoral votes, it is a proposed agreement among the states to cast all of their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote for president. The compact would enter into force once a number of states constituting a majority of the Electoral College (at least 270 votes) have agreed to it. We can't get rid of the Electoral College, but we can reflect the will of the nation. Maryland became the first state to get on board. In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger blew California's opportunity to lead the nation on this issue by vetoing the national popular vote bill. California state Senator Carole Migden reintroduced the bill in the 2007 session.

Meanwhile, in response to the Republican Party's nefarious plot to put an initiative on the June 2008 ballot that would peel off about 20 of California's electoral votes for themselves, an initiative on the interstate compact for the national popular vote is in the offing. And, yet another group is proposing a third initiative! But, is any of this legal? Does the US Constitution permit a state to determine via a ballot initiative how to cast its electoral votes? Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 says in part: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." The Legislature directs... how does this power devolve upon the voters?

Schwarzenegger Veto Keeps Californians Untermenschen
Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
Oakland, California
4 October 2006


At the end of September, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the opportunity to do all Californians a great service. Instead, he chose to do us a great injustice.

Even before the "presidential selection" of 2000, when the Supreme Court stopped the recount of votes in Florida and gave the presidency to the loser of the nationwide popular vote, people clamored for abolishing the antiquated Electoral College in favor of direct popular vote for president and vice president. There have been hundreds of unsuccessful bills in Congress. The problem is that this 18th century anachronism is hardwired into the design of the American republic. It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College outright.

A proposed amendment must first pass both houses of Congress by a 2/3 majority, then be ratified by the legislatures in 3/4 of the states. How hard is that? Very. There have been only 27 amendments to the Constitution. Eleven of these (1-10 and 27) were the Bill of Rights, which were an immediate supplement to the Constitution. Three others (13-15) took a civil war to bring into being. That leaves only 13 that have been proposed and ratified through an orderly political process since the era of the Constitution's original framing and implementation in the 1790s.

Recently, a clever way around this obstacle has been introduced in state legislatures around the country. Once a number of states, comprising 270 votes in the Electoral College, agree to cast all of their votes for the winner of the national popular vote, an interstate compact will go into effect. California had an opportunity to become the first state to sign up to this compact. Both the Assembly and the Senate passed the bill (AB 2948) and sent it to the Gubernator's desk for signature. California's 55 electoral votes would have put the interstate compact 1/5 of the way to its goal of 270. Instead, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.

His excuse was incredibly lame: "It disregards the will of a majority of Californians" and "is counter to the tradition of our great nation which honor states rights and the unique pride and identity of each state."

Huh? By every poll ever taken, most Californians would love to ditch the Electoral College! And, as for "states' rights," that political code has been used to defend all sorts of despicable "peculiar institutions." Is it possible that Skynet programmed the Terminator to time-travel back to an ante bellum slave state and he wound up in the here and now by mistake, naked and confused?

Let's do some simple math that even a Kindergarden Cop ought to be able to follow. Each state's electoral votes equal its number of senators and number of members of the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives is based on population; the more populous that state, the more representatives it is apportioned. However, every state, regardless of population, has two senators. The 2000 Census counted 33.9 million Californians and 494 thousand Wyomingites, yet California has two senators... and so does Wyoming. On the basis of population, California was apportioned 53 representatives; Wyoming only one. So, adding the number of senators and representatives, California had 55 electoral votes and Wyoming has three. Sound fair? Not so fast! Fifty-five electoral votes for 33.9 million Californians means there is one vote for every 616 thousand Californians; three electoral votes for 494 thousand Wyomingites means there is one vote for every 165 thousand Wyomingites. In other words, every resident of Wyoming has nearly four times the political power of a Californian.

Another Schwarzenegger movie title comes to mind: "Raw Deal." The Electoral College is all that. It makes all Californians political untermenschen (subhumans).

That suits Governor Schwarzenegger just fine. Why? The two most recent presidential elections happen to have been among the closest in American history. In 2004, George W. Bush won the popular vote by less than three percent. In 2000, Al Gore's margin of victory was half a percent. Yet, in both elections, President Bush won in 31 states, and his Democratic opponent won in only 19 states plus the District of Columbia. This means that both times President Bush was awarded 22 more electoral votes than his opponent, based on lines drawn on a map rather than on votes cast by flesh-and-blood humans.

So, Governor Schwarzenegger's veto of the interstate compact makes no sense to California. It makes a lot of sense to Wyoming, but we're not in Wyoming. It also makes sense to a Republican who puts the interests of his party ahead of those of his people. By vetoing this bill, the Gubernator has again shown that he is a partisan first and a Californian second... or worse. But, hopefully, next year there will be a new bill... and a new governor to sign it into law for the benefit of all Californians.

19 September 2007

Sophomoric Ideas About the Electoral College

In view of the current flap in California over what to do with its 55 electoral votes, the following article from three years ago might be worth a read. Goofy ideas can be generated by either the Republicans or the Democrats. This year, it's the Republicans' turn, with their self-serving scheme to blast apart the Democratic Party's largest gold mine in the Electoral College: the Golden State. An ever-popular goofy idea, one that both of California's currently serving US senators have championed in turn, is to abolish the Electoral College altogether. It's a simple idea that's never going to happen, as I explain below.

Face It - We're Stuck With the Electoral College

By Thomas Gangale
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Santa Rosa, California
29 December 2004

After almost every presidential election, and particularly after close ones, someone proposes doing away with the Electoral College. This political medicine show is probably as old as the American republic itself. There have been about 700 unsuccessful attempts to abolish the Electoral College. None of these are ever serious proposals, because there is no chance of them being enacted, and the charlatans know this from the start.

So, why do politicians bother? Because it's always a crowd-pleaser, particularly in populous states such as California. The credulous yahoos in the audience applaud, since they have only a hazy idea of how their government works. This time around it's Sen. Dianne Feinstein's turn to trot out the old snake oil.

Let's look at the political science behind her miracle elixir.

To begin with, abolishing the Electoral College requires amending the Constitution, which is a two-step process. The first step has two options, but the one most often used is for each house of Congress to pass the proposed amendment by a two-thirds majority. The second step is for three-fourths of the state legislatures to ratify the proposed amendment.

Now, let's do the math. There are 538 electors in the Electoral College: one for each Congressional district (435), two for each Senate seat (100) and three for the District of Columbia. The 2000 Census counted 281 million people in the 50 states and D.C. Dividing the population by the number of electors results in an average of 523,000 people per elector.

But here's the problem. California - the most populous state- has 33.9 million people and 55 electors (53 Congressional districts plus two Senate seats). That's 616,000 Californians per elector.

Wyoming - the least populous state - has 494,000 people and three electors (one Congressional district plus two Senate seats). That's only 165,000 Wyomingites per elector. In other words, one voter in Wyoming has nearly four times the political power of one Californian.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that the Creator made us equal, but a few years later the Constitution re-created us unequal. Californians, in particular, are distinctly inferior. But this nation wasn't founded on the principle of one person, one vote; it was founded as a union of sovereign states.

And here is why, as long as the Constitution exists, the Electoral College will never be abolished.

Remember that, nationwide, the average number of people per elector is 523,000. In the 17 most populous states - including California - that number is higher, so these states are disadvantaged. The other 33 states, however, have a sweet deal, so why would they give it up? They wouldn't. That means that there are only 34 votes in the Senate for a constitutional amendment and 66 votes against. Senator Feinstein will need two-thirds of the Senate - 67 votes - for her amendment. How does she propose to convince 33 of her colleagues to change their votes and cut their own political throats?

But let's say that oratory wins the day, and the Senate passes Feinstein's plan. And let's stipulate that the House of Representatives also passes the amendment. Now, the second hurdle must be vaulted: three-fourths of the state legislatures. That's 38 states. But only 17 states are disadvantaged by the present system, and the other 33 like it. Do you imagine that 21 state legislatures would vote away their constituents' political advantage?

Senator Feinstein, I don't like the Electoral College either, but we're stuck with it, and you know it. This isn't rocket science, just political science. You have as much chance of changing the law of gravity and making everything fall upward.

18 September 2007

California GOP's election 'reform' measure reeks of Rove

By Mark Leno
Marin Independent Journal
16 September 2007

THIS IS ONE straight out of Karl Rove's political playbook. A group of Republican political operatives and their powerful special interests have hatched a desperate scheme to rig California's electoral process to their advantage. They're proposing a statewide ballot initiative to change how California casts its electoral votes for president. They've cleverly labeled it the "Presidential Election Reform Act," which would sound credible if it weren't so cynical.

But make no mistake, this wolf-in-sheep's-clothing has nothing to do with reform or protecting voters' interests or preserving the integrity of our Constitution. It's an audacious power grab by the GOP as it spirals into irrelevance leading up to the 2008 presidential race.


16 September 2007

The New Kitty Hawk

By Marilyn Dudley-Rowley and Thomas Gangale
22 June 2004

On the Summer Solstice, an historically significant landmark was laid down by an industry in its infancy that will, in time, change the human condition. Several thousands witnessed an innovation as seminal as fire, the plow, the steam engine, electricity, heavier-than-air flight, and the Internet. What took place over the desert landscape of Mojave, California was reminiscent of the dawn of aviation on the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The first private spacecraft took test pilot Mike Melvill over 62 miles high. At that suborbital altitude, he experienced approximately three minutes of weightlessness, saw the curvature of the Earth, and the black of space. Melvill was the pilot of Earth’s first private spacecraft. And, Mojave's little airport now has the same cachet of being "first in flight"--that is, private spaceflight--just as surely as the North Carolina coast can boast of hosting the first genuine airplane flight.

The technology of the Melvill flight was a 21st century analog of the X-15 flights of the early 1960s when two of those flights made astronauts of those pilots who flew them above 62 miles. Alas, the American public quickly forgot those flights in the sound and fury of the Space Race and the various programs with names like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Then, after American astronauts made several flights to the surface of the Moon, and after both Russians and Americans built space stations on orbit and men and women lived there on various missions, the American public seemed to suffer cultural amnesia about the entire enterprise--even though their tax dollars were picking up the tab on much of it--and continue to pick up that tab on existing federally-funded space projects.

Monday’s flight did not use taxpayer money. Paul Allen, who made his fortune from his participation in the founding of Microsoft, kicked in the bucks for this new breed of Buck Rogers to underwrite maverick aerospace engineer Burt Rutan’s composite design. Similar to the B-52 borne X-15 flights of yesteryear, a carrier aircraft dubbed the White Knight flew the little rocketplane, SpaceShipOne, high into the sky, released it, and then Melvill ignited the rocket engine. He then proceeded to vertically climb to the requisite altitude to earn his astronaut wings. Then, he returned to Earth, making a flawless landing with his rocketplane on the same little airport runway from which he had been carried aloft, with thousands of people cheering only a few feet away. The configurable wing and tail of the rocketplane used the upper atmosphere to brake and that allowed a "care-free" re-entry. While "care-free" also described the mood of the crowd, it was the most reverential and mannerly group of over 11,000 people that we have ever seen.

Monday’s flight ushers in an era of a new kind of private sector aerospace aviation. We are not talking about the big aerospace companies that depend almost strictly on heavy federal contracts and that produce incremental upgrades to half-century-old intercontinental ballistic missile designs year after year. We are talking about a private space industry that begins at the level of Moms and Pops and that could produce staggering technological and economic changes of a kind and degree that non-commercial space systems did not produce. Author-visionary G. Harry Stine thought the American space shuttle program and its twin technology, a second American space station (following Skylab), would lead to a third industrial revolution. This did not happen. And, it did not happen precisely because of the choking drag of the bureaucracies charged with managing these non-commercial spaceflight systems. The weight of bureaucracy morphed space hardware and systems into a technology that, though somewhat useful, has not been as transformative an innovation as it should have been.

Melvill’s flight happens to come on the heels of the Aldridge Commission that recently decried the bureaucratic roadblocks that NASA has inflicted upon space development. Several solutions were explored to remove the roadblocks. One of those solutions was to farm out whatever NASA could to private industry. That sounds great--cased solved! It is not. What most of the American public does not know is that much of private space-related industry is nowhere near to being mature. Burt Rutan and his company are one of the few private space teams that exist in any real sense. Private space industry is at the stage of early aviation when it was one-third research and development, one-third somebody’s hobby, and one-third medicine show.

As with private air industry, we can expect there to be plenty of disappointment and heartache on the way to the maturation of the private space industry. The frameworks of early aircraft showed that they were little more than sophisticated kites and looking more like fish traps in design than anything else in the human toolkit. All too often they were death traps, coming apart mid-air, killing all aboard. Although our overall technology is better than sticks, wire, and canvas, we can expect our share of tragedy before the private spaceflight industry is mature enough to affect the human condition. However, the private spaceship enterprises will prove to "buy more bang for the buck" than the government-sponsored sacrifices have.

The key to private spaceflight is, indeed, the key to anything of value done in space--sustainability. Its effort has to survive long enough to loft longer and longer duration space missions and projects in order to turn a profit or enact those things that substantially alter the human condition for the better. So far, private space is no more sustainable than NASA has been, a taxpayer-based agency that is hard-pressed to build and operate a space station by itself. Despite the passion of a Burt Rutan, the deep pockets of a Paul Allen, and the allure of winning the Ansari X Prize, private space must ally itself with a cast of others in order to get that sustainability. This means hooking up with NASA and other space agencies, with more mature industries, and with many other going concerns, both public and private, domestic and international. It must transnationalize as its close relative, the aviation industry, has. Only in this way will it transcend the technological drag of national bureaucracies and the political whims of national budgetary bodies in order to have a fighting chance to become profitable.

Many social scientists believe that capitalism is destined to collapse if it cannot be transformed. One solution to the transformation of capital is to turn a one-world economy into a multiple-venue ecology by taking off-planet the way we make our living. Several compelling products and services present themselves by virtue of a transplanetary economic ecology: more effective pharmaceuticals manufactured in zero G, more powerful data compression technologies, large-scale environmental protection products to revitalize industries that harm the planet, etc. However, a nascent industry that can transform capital must walk before it can run. It will have to go through the developmental equivalents of dusting crops, carrying the mail, and hauling cargo before becoming fully functional as a transport system and the basis for a large profitable business, just as its aviation cousin did.

Until that time comes, private space will be a niche redolent of the early days of aviation full of hobbyists, hucksters, and serious men and women pushing the envelope for glory, fortune, and merely their suppers. In the end, the high frontier will be the final arbiter, for that unforgiving environment ensures that only the strong survive.

It seems an irony that we have done no more than we have in space with our huge state-run efforts and hundreds of billions spent. It is due to the technological drag of cumbersome bureaucracies and the slow political wills of nation-states. If the first classes of astronauts and cosmonauts were embittered by Apollo-era programs that were de-budgeted before the promise of those programs were fulfilled, think of what the entire Baby Boomer generation feels. Our cohort suffered the lost legacy of those programs that promised us that we would live and work in space. We were reared with this vision. After all, our public school educations got a major shot in the arm when our math and science curricula were beefed up, courtesy of Sputnik and the birth of the Space Race. All was not completely lost when penurious Congressional budgets and a de-focused, underfunded NASA let us down. Armed with that high octane education, some of us went out and set about to explore our world and beyond. As a consequence, we did things like found Silicon Valley, another industry that has transformed the world for good and ill. But, as an aggregate, we Boomers got the short end of the stick. We got all dressed up and there was no place to go. Our parents’ generation went to the Moon, and we dreamed of going to Mars.

However, on the 21st of June 2004, Mike Melvill, sixty-something, at the leading edge of the Baby Boomer demographic wave, saw the Earth as only a space flyer can see it. He rode into the heavens a test pilot on someone’s private dime and returned to Earth an astronaut and at the forefront of a new industry.

15 September 2007

The Katrina Commission Report

By Thomas Gangale
16 September 2005

NEW NEW ORLEANS, LA. August 29, 2008.

Michael Nickersdown, who has succeeded Michael Chertoff as head of the Department of Hopeless Screwups (DHS), steps up to the microphone:

"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, my fellow Americans; I am pleased to announce today that the Katrina Commission has finished its work and has delivered its report to me."

The DHS Secretary gestures expansively to the floor of the newly rebuilt Louisiana Superdome, which is covered in neatly-bound volumes to a depth of approximately six feet.

"No expense has been spared, no stone left unturned. This blue-ribbon commission was carefully selected in an exhaustive process of interviews, hearings, and background checks that took more than two years to complete. The people of this great nation can rest assured that the result of this process was the selection of the largest and most outstanding group of posturing politicians, inept administrators, party hacks, and horse show has-beens, as well as numerous nephews of large campaign contributors.

"The Commission heard testimony from thousands of experts in the field of disaster response, from first responders with years of real-world experience to the finest minds in academia who have made scientific studies of the societal response, environmental effects, and economic repercussions of disasters on the scale of Hurricane Katrina. This testimony was invaluable in guiding the Commission in its mission to eschew the inclusion of any meaningful content in its findings, any placing of blame for the federal response to Katrina, or the recommending of any substantive preventive measures to either forestall or mitigate future calamities.

"The Commission was able to complete its work in just under a year, in time for this, the third anniversary of Katrina's landfall."

Secretary Nickersdown holds up a single sheet of paper. It contains a considerable amount of doodling.

"It's been hard work, but thanks to the hard work of these great American public servants, any semblance of a productive outcome has been assiduously avoided.

"However, there is a recommendation here, as I said. The Commission, having many years of first-hand experience with spending your tax dollars with little oversight or accountability, has decided that a massive reorganization of the federal government is in order. The Commission's report calls for the creation of a new layer of bureaucracy to protect the American people... or at least the ones that work for the government. All useless, inept, but faintly well-meaning officials will be transferred into a new Federal Employment of Mediocrities Administration (FEMA) that will have no responsibilities whatsoever, in the hope that they will no longer interfere with essential federal functions and services. However, the new agency will provide for the continuing payoff for political favors that is vital to our socioeconomic system."

Michael Nickersdown lifts up a newly-designed seal for the agency, containing the motto: QUANTILLA SAPIENTIA REGITUR MUNDUS--"With how little wisdom the world is ruled."

"I am also pleased to announce that the President has selected Michael Brown as the most qualified person to head this new agency.

"Thank you, and may God help the United States of America."

14 September 2007

Parties need to reform presidential primaries

Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, Mirror Newspapers and Hometown Weeklies Michigan

Michigan has taken a prominent role in the presidential primary leap-frog game. Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill moving Michigan's primary to Jan. 15, in defiance of Republican and Democratic party threats to not seat delegates selected before Feb. 5 and a pledge by leading Democratic candidates to not campaign in the state.

For many years, the presidential chase for delegates has begun with caucuses in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. Leaders in big, industrial, urban states like Michigan have long complained that small, rural Iowa and New Hampshire do not reflect the majority of American voters. They have argued that by the time more representative states actually vote, a decision has already been made.

The Democrats tried a mild reform by adding Nevada and South Carolina into the mix. But New Hampshire was miffed that the Nevada caucus was scheduled to precede the New Hampshire primary and vowed to move its date back to retain its traditional role.


13 September 2007

Dems blast party over primary penalties

Leaders in Michigan, Florida, say New Hampshire also should face penalty for moving up vote.

By Gordon Trowbridge
Detroit News Washington Bureau
12 September 2007

WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers from Michigan and Florida issued a stinging rebuke on Tuesday to the national Democratic Party, saying party chairman Howard Dean is threatening their states with penalties for breaking primary scheduling rules by establishing early voting dates while allowing New Hampshire to flout those same rules.

Stepping up their fight with Dean and the Democratic National Committee, 16 members of the states' congressional delegations sent a letter to Dean, asking him to penalize New Hampshire for its public commitment to move its primary earlier than its party-assigned date of Jan. 22.

"We are proud Democrats, insisting on fairness, and we will fight the selective enforcement of our party's Delegate Selection Rules," said the letter. It was signed by both Michigan's U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and all Democratic House members except Rep. Bart Stupak. Stupak and other supporters of John Edwards' presidential campaign have criticized the move to a primary in Michigan.


12 September 2007

Primary Chaos

By Eliza Newlin Carney
10 September 2007

The fight over just how early states may schedule their presidential primaries has spilled onto Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are calling for a complete overhaul of the nominating system.

"The present system has clearly broken down... into chaos and into full irrationality," declared Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., at a Sept. 6 press conference in the Capitol. Levin joined his brother, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to tout legislation that would schedule concurrent primaries, spread over a four-month period, in six regions of the nation.

The Democrats were responding to an increasingly heated scheduling dispute that has pitted party officials in Michigan and Florida against national party leaders at the Democratic National Committee. State-level GOP officials from Michigan and Florida, as well as from several other states, are engaged in a similar tug-of-war with the Republican National Committee.


11 September 2007

Celsius 8/29

By Thomas Gangale
11 September 2005

Most of us are only now beginning to realize it, still in a state of numb shock as we pick up the pieces of our lives and of our very nation in the aftermath of Katrina, but the Post-9/11 Era ended when that horrific storm made landfall on August 29th and drowned the Big Easy.

We are now in the Post-8/29 Era or the Post-Katrina Era; in which a new trauma to the national psyche has replaced an older one; in which the "new normal" has been replaced by a newer "normalité nouvelle;" in which a great American city has not simply been wounded but almost entirely destroyed; in which not only thousands of American fatalities remain to be counted, but millions more have been hurled back into a Third World existence... and kept there under the tender mercies of a government that is either uncaring, incompetent, or both.

While 9/11 was the action of those who presume to act in the name of God, 8/29 was an act of God. In one case we can ask why, in the other it is pointless to do so. In both cases, however, we must acknowledge that in some part the fault was not in our stars, but in ourselves. We were unprepared. We could have been prepared, but we had other priorities.

So now we leave behind Fahrenheit 9/11, and look forward to Celsius 8/29. The consensus is that the Bush Administration's reaction to 9/11 was fairly swift, decisive, effective; its response to Katrina has been none of those, and it is here that we should ask why.

And, while we should not make the mistake of depersonalizing this tragedy by expressing it only in terms of dollars and body counts, neither should we make the mistake of overpersonalizing the responsibility for the ineptitude in its aftermath. Sending FEMA administrator Michael Brown back to Washington isn't enough, and firing him is irrelevant. If you carry high the severed head of one lawyer as you parade around the arena to the cheers of the vengeful crowd, what have you accomplished? How will this prevent the next disaster, or if unable to avert it, to ameliorate it?

What can be done, and who are best positioned to do it? It is these questions that an inquiry must ask. And, even more important than the questions that are asked is the question of who shall ask the questions?

We are all vulnerable. There will be another Saffir-Simpson category 4 hurricane in the South, a line of Fujita-Pearson class 5 tornadoes in the Midwest, another Blizzard of the Century in the Northeast, another Richter magnitude 8 earthquake in the West. Who will show us how to prepare? A commission of politicians and bureaucrats passing judgment on the actions of other politicians and bureaucrats?

We need to think outside the Beltway. There are many experts in academia and elsewhere who have made scientific studies of societal responses to past disasters. This is the brain trust with the lessons learned that officialdom never deigns to consult. These are the people we need to have on the Katrina Commission.

10 September 2007

GOP banks on early primaries

By Donald Lambro
Washington Times
9 September 2007

Six Democratic candidates, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, signed a pledge not to campaign in the Florida and Michigan primaries after they were moved to prior to Feb. 5.

Republican presidential candidates hope their participation in the early primaries in Florida and Michigan will help them win the two states, which Democrats plan to avoid owing to party rules.

"We've had conversations with all the Republican presidential campaigns, and they said they will continue to campaign here," said Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

The Republicans' primary calendar rules, like those of the Democrats, prohibit scheduling any primary before Feb. 5, except for the four approved contests in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But Republicans in Florida last month moved their state's primary up to Jan. 29. Last week, the Michigan Legislature moved that state's primary to Jan. 15.

"The Democrats are actually asking their candidates to boycott the primary and not campaign here, or they will take away 100 percent of their delegates in the state," Mr. Anuzis said. "Our rules say we will lose 50 percent of our delegates, but nobody in our party is talking about boycotting anything. They are coming in to campaign."


09 September 2007

News of the Week on Presidential Primaries

Can parties impose order on '08 calendar?

By Ariel Sabar
The Christian Science Monitor
4 September 2007

As states seek the limelight with earlier primaries, the national parties threaten harsh penalties.

The national political parties will face a moment of truth in coming weeks: Can they impose order on a primary calendar that has states leaping over one another to host the first presidential nominating contest?

The Democratic National Committee took its boldest step of the year late last month, threatening to strip Florida of all its delegates to the national convention unless the state pushes back its Jan. 29 primary date.

The Republican National Committee vowed last week to dock half the delegates of any state with a GOP primary before Feb. 5, a group expected to include Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

But party organizations in many of those states remain defiant. Some insist it's time for New Hampshire and Iowa to share the spotlight with other states, while others portray their early dates as a protest against a nominating system they see as broken.


Remember 1984
The year of the lengthy primary season we now long for
By Jeff Greenfield
7 September 2007

With the presidential nominating season now threatening to spill forward into early January—or Boxing Day—or Halloween—a lamentation is ringing through the land (or at least among the politically obsessed). It goes something like this: "Why can't a wide variety of states, small and large, have a genuine say in the nomination? Why can't the voters have the time they need to get a real sense of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses?"

Why not? For the answer, look to 1984—not Orwell's dystopian novel, but the Democratic nominating calendar of little more than 20 years ago. That year, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart battled for the chance to take on incumbent Ronald Reagan. And what now seems an impossibility—lots of states with real clout, lots of time for voters—was pretty much what happened. And while the process ended with the traditional gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that greets the end of every primary season, it seems a model compared to the truncated six-week campaigns of recent years and the real possibility of an even shorter season this time around.


Nominate a new primary system
Roanoke Times
Roanoke, Virginia
9 September 2007

The national political parties must repair a primary system that is sinking into chaos.

The primary system, quite plainly, is broken. Restoring order for the 2008 election is all but impossible. The national parties must look to creating a more reasonable primary system for 2012.

Proposals have been floated for reform, but the national parties have declined to fool much with the status quo.

One popular proposal, dubbed the American Plan, begins with contests in small-population states and grows progressively as the nominating process advances. The schedule consists of 10 multi-state primaries evenly spaced over 20 weeks.


08 September 2007

Charlie Brown Launches Second Sortie Against Doolittle for California Congressional Seat

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
Oakland, California
8 September 2007

He had a quiet, matter-of-fact, Iowa way of speaking, but from the first, I saw something in Charlie Brown. I saw an Air Force Academy graduate, an effective leader, an honorable man. I saw the future congressman.

I figured that as he got more experience on the campaign trail, the stiff awkwardness would fall away, and now that the braces were off his teeth, he would learn to smile all over again. But the stiffness and the self-conscious, Washingtonian "I'm afraid to smile" manner made it all the more plain that Charlie was quietly determined.

A newcomer both to the Democratic Party and to politics itself, he was taking on John Doolittle, the seven-term Republican incumbent who had turned California's 4th congressional district into a fiefdom controlled by his political machine. It was one of the largest and most rural of California's districts, stretched along the northern range of the Sierra Nevada, from Lake Tahoe to the Oregon border, encompassing some counties that didn't even have Democratic central committees. The 4th district was the reddest of the red.

It seemed a quixotic quest. Here was an unknown, willing to give up his secure job with the Roseville Police Department to campaign full-time against one of the mighty of the Republican establishment, a close ally of Tom Delay, an ear into which Jack Abramoff whispered. No Democratic congressional candidate had polled higher than the low thirties against Doolittle as he sailed through one reelection after another.

The political pros among California Democrats dismissed Charlie as an impossible dream. "He better raise a million dollars if he wants to be competitive," a top California Democratic Party operative said in October 2005. "That district is not in play," a sitting member of Congress said in January 2006. They looked at the California political map as a static chessboard across which it was impossible to move pieces, a gridlock of safe districts for one party or the other. When top Democrats look at that map, the coast is solidly blue, the east is red, and so it shall ever remain. They know the map, but they didn’t know Charlie.

Charlie, with his understated demeanor, kept campaigning. He won the June 2006 Democratic primary by a comfortable margin. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's website listed the 4th district race as uncompetitive, and continued to do so as the Abramoff scandal broke, Delay posed for his police mug shot, and Charlie's poll numbers climbed into the forties. When he arrived at a television studio to debate Doolittle, local TV news coverage described the crowd outside as giving Charlie "a rock star's welcome." Charlie, the quiet rock star.

In September 2006, when polls showed the race to be a statistical dead heat, the DCCC put the district on its "watch list," and eventually it pumped some money into Charlie's campaign. Up to that point, Charlie and his wife Jan had done it on their own, and they had rattled the Republicans so badly that President George W. Bush flew in to make several campaign appearances to keep Doolittle afloat. A sitting president--“the war president”--brought in to battle political unknowns.

On Election Day, Doolittle eked out a 9,000-vote victory. I don't know if the Democratic pros sat around the next morning playing woulda coulda shoulda. A decent amount of party support early on might have swung those few thousand votes. But, win or lose, Charlie drew heavy fire from Republican forces from outside the 4th district, which might otherwise have been deployed elsewhere to defeat other Democrats.

It wasn't much of a win for Doolittle, it was more like snatching a slow and agonizing political death from the jaws of a quick and merciful one. Even though he got to keep his house in the Washington suburbs for two more years, he had to suffer the FBI as unwanted but warranted visitors as the Abramoff scandal continued to unravel. And whereas Doolittle easily defeated his primary challenger in 2006, he faces at least two challengers in 2008, with a third weighing his options. There's blood in the water, and the sharks are circling.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown is stronger than ever. He has two years of campaigning experience, where before he had none. He has a campaign organization, whereas he and Jan started from scratch to nearly unseat Doolittle. And this time, they're not alone. This time they have early support from the DCCC and Democracy for America.

Charlie smiles now, and with good reason. He heavily damaged the target on his first mission, one that others said was hopeless. A second sortie will finish off the target. On 7 September, at Auburn Airport, I saw Charlie and Jan take off on their new mission. As they flew northward to campaign stops in Grass Valley and Quincy, they looked out over the Sierras, and also over the political landscape that they had changed.

07 September 2007

Charlie Brown Launches His Second Campaign

Today my friend Charlie Brown officially kicks off his second campaign to unseat John Doolittle in California's 4th congressional district. He'll be speaking in several places throughout this very large district. I'll be at one or two of them. Another of my retrospective series will be several pieces that I wrote about Charlie's first campaign. Below is the first of them. Written in August 2005 and published a few months later, it describes how we met by chance, and the shared connection to the past we discovered.


A Soldier of Peace Launches His Campaign
By Thomas Gangale
Petaluma Argus-Courier
Petaluma, California
30 November 2005

In August I attended a Democratic fundraiser in Grass Valley in the hope of getting a few minutes of face time with Art Torres, California Democratic Party chair. Serendipit-ously, I also met Lt. Col. Charles Brown, USAF (Ret.), who was exploring the possibility of challenging the Republican Congressman John Doolittle for the very "red" 4th District, which runs from Roseville to the northeastern corner of California.

After talking to me for a while over some chicken and potato salad, Charlie was called to the podium. During his speech, he mentioned that whenever he is in Washington, DC, he visits the Vietnam Memorial at a time of day when it's quiet. His voice wavered when he spoke the name of the last fatality of the war, who was killed during the rescue of the SS Mayaguez crew, a merchant vessel that the Khmer Rouge had captured in international waters. Charlie had flown a chopper that day in May 1975.

After I had my conversation with Sen. Torres, I tracked down Charlie and said, "You were at Koh Tang Island. Did you know Bob Undorf?"

"Sure. FAC [foward air control] pilot. OV-10 [a small, slow, unarmed, propeller aircraft]."

"Wow! He was my squadron commander! Small world! He turned off the Pentagon on his radio and ran the operation his way."

"Everyone turned off the Pentagon! The F-4s [fighter-bombers] were screwing things up. Undorf took off in his OV-10 on his own authority and got the operation on track." Major Undorf understood that the key to success was to listen to the people who had their butts on the line.

That's a metaphor for the Charles Brown for Congress campaign. Charlie was a life-long Republican, but now he's turned them off. It's no longer the party he first joined, and it's screwing things up. Just like the armchair quarterbacks who were trying to direct the Mayaguez operation from half a world away, the Republican Party is out of touch with what's really going on. So now, Charlie is ready to run the operation his way and get it on track. And, he'll listen to you, the people who have their butts on the line, because you are the key to success. He officially announced his candidacy in October.

Charlie, like so many Boomers, is one of Graham Nash's "Soldiers of Peace." We served in uniform because we believed in our country even when we didn't believe in some of the wars it fought. We former military officers have studied Sun Tzu and understand, "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight." It was plain to most of us that Iraq was the wrong fight. So it's time for us to bring it home, "now fighting for children, for homes and for wives."

We understand that America will not last much longer as a great military power if we let things rust and rot here at home. The neoconservatives are not true to traditional conservative values. They have mortgaged America to the top of the Capitol dome. Some of our most dangerous economic competitors hold most of that paper, thus the Republicans have recklessly placed our children's future in those foreign hands. The Republicans' decades-long campaign to starve and dumb-down the American public education system is making it impossible for our children to work smarter than our overseas competitors, so they are now forced to work cheaper.

A well-balanced economy is a national security issue. A strong educational system is a national security issue. A secure Social Security system is a national security issue. A healthy work force is a national security issue. A clean environment is a national security issue. A government of integrity -- that isn't in the pocket of war profiteers and energy spot-market gamesters, that doesn't "out" its own intelligence officers, and that doesn't defy the law of civilized nations and alienate its allies -- is a national security issue.

Charlie will tell you that he's no pacifist. There are times when one must fight. But victory lies in knowing when to fight, and Charlie has the experience to make that judgment. He wants to bring our people, including his own son, home from Iraq. "The old warriors don't want you to hurt any more."

Welcome home, Charlie.

05 September 2007

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Swift Boat

Swift Boat Ad Backer Linked To State Electoral Vote Proposition
3 September 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Lawyers behind a California ballot proposal that could benefit the 2008 Republican presidential nominee have ties to a Texas homebuilder who financed attacks on Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Charles H. Bell and Thomas Hiltachk's law firm banked nearly $65,000 in fees from a California-based political committee funded almost solely by Bob J. Perry that targeted Democrats in 2006. Perry, a major Republican donor, contributed nearly $4.5 million to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that made unsubstantiated but damaging attacks on Kerry three years ago.


04 September 2007

Bill Richardson Says God Wants Iowa First

Thus, the Iowa caucus' place in the schedule is part of the "intelligent design" paradigm, according to the Gospel of Bill. However, you will find in the bull of the pontifex minimus, "If God wanted to be in politics, He would file candidacy papers." Not to worry; these and other doctrinal discrepancies will be resolved at a future Council of Nicea.

Vade in pace.


Richardson: God wants Iowa first
By Jason Clayworth
Des Moines Register
4 September 2007

Sioux City, Ia. - God's will is for Iowa to have the first-in-the-nation caucus, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson told a crowd here Monday.

"Iowa, for good reason, for constitutional reasons, for reasons related to the Lord, should be the first caucus and primary," Richardson, New Mexico's governor, said at the Northwest Iowa Labor Council Picnic. "And I want you to know who was the first candidate to sign a pledge not to campaign anywhere if they got ahead of Iowa. It was Bill Richardson."

Several people in the crowd snickered after Richardson made the comment.

"That was a little weird," said Sioux City resident Joe Shufro. "I don't know what God had to do with choosing Iowa among other states. I found that a little strange."


03 September 2007

Three Initiatives on How to Allocate California's Electoral Votes!

Yet another proposal to change the way California casts its 55 electoral votes may result in voters being so confused that they'll vote down all three initiatives. Note that the report states, "A surprise third initiative filed last week by a small, relatively unknown group would allocate electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote in California once a majority of states adopt a similar system." First of all, it is NOT proportional allocation by popular vote; it is allocation by congressional district like the Hiltachk (Republican) initiative. Secondly, the proviso "once a majority of states adopt a similar system" makes it sound more reasonable than the Hiltachk initiative, but is it? Which states? Red states? Blue states? A majority consisting of mostly small states could total far less than 270 electoral votes, which constitutes an electoral majority.

While we're going crazy with filing one initiative after another, it might be important to point out that the 1969 Maine law and the 1991 Nebraska law allocating those states' electoral votes by congressional district were enacted by their legislatures. The US Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 states: "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress...." The legislature may direct the manner of appointing electors, but may the people do so via a ballot initiative? It may be that James Madison trumps Hiram Johnson.


How to divvy up state's electoral votes?
3 initiatives in works to change winner-takes-all

By John Marelius
San Diego Union Tribune
2 September 2 2007

California voters may get the opportunity to dramatically alter the 2008 presidential landscape by changing the way the state allocates its electoral votes.

Three rival initiatives have been proposed for the June 2008 ballot, although all are in very preliminary stages and it is unclear which, if any, will qualify for the ballot.

A Republican plan would allocate California's 55 electoral votes by congressional district, rather than statewide winner-takes-all as it is now. In 2004, that would have meant an extra 22 electoral votes for President Bush and a much more comfortable ride to re-election.

A Democratic option would give all of the electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of how California voted. It only would become effective if enough states whose electoral votes added up to at least 270 - the number needed to win - joined in.

A surprise third initiative filed last week by a small, relatively unknown group would allocate electoral votes in proportion to the popular vote in California once a majority of states adopt a similar system.

There long has been scattered grumbling in academic and political circles that the U.S. Electoral College is unfair. Sentiment to change it or abolish it altogether has never reached critical mass - not even after the disputed 2000 presidential election in which Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner, even though Democrat Al Gore received the most popular votes.


02 September 2007

The Primary Problem

The Primary Problem
The New York Times
2 September 2007

This is shaping up to be an ugly presidential primary season, and the candidates have not even started getting ugly yet. The Democratic Party is vowing to strip Florida and Michigan of their delegates if those states insist on pushing their primaries up to January. The Republicans are also threatening to take delegates from Florida and Michigan, along with three other states. Iowa and New Hampshire, whose laws require them to vote before other states, may respond to the interlopers by moving their own primaries into early January, or even late 2007.

The presidential primary system is broken. For years, the nominating process has unfolded in an orderly, if essentially unfair, way. The schedule has worked very nicely for early-voting states, which have had a steady stream of would-be presidents knocking on their doors, making commitments on issues like the Iowa full-employment program, also known as the ethanol subsidy. The losers have been states like New York and California, which have often gotten to vote only when the contests were all but decided. Issues that matter to them, like mass transportation, have suffered.

There have long been calls for reform, but the national parties have been reluctant to tinker with the system. The Democrats made a small change this time around, allowing Nevada and South Carolina to join Iowa and New Hampshire in selecting delegates before Feb. 5, the end of a protected window for early-state voting. The parties, however, have resisted more ambitious overhauls that have been proposed.

Many worthy reform proposals are circulating. One calls for dividing the nation into four regions and having them vote in sequence: one in March, another in April, and the last two in May and June. In future elections, the regions would vote in a different order. Unfortunately, a leading version of this plan calls for Iowa and New Hampshire to keep voting first. Another appealing idea, the “American Plan,” starts with small states and moves onto larger ones, so long-shot candidates can build momentum, but it does an especially good job of ensuring that voters from all states have a reasonable chance of voting early in the primary season.

The two parties should begin a discussion of the best reform proposals now, and plan on having a new system in place for 2012. The presidential nominating process is too important to American democracy to be allowed to descend into gamesmanship and chaos.


01 September 2007

News of the Week on Presidential Primaries

DNC Strips Florida Of 2008 Delegates
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post
26 August 2007

G.O.P. Plans Early-Primary Penalties
By Marc Santora
New York Times
29 August 2007

Wyoming GOP Moves Vote to Jan. 5
By Mead Gruver
Associated Press

Get in line, Florida
LA Times
30 August 2007