31 October 2007

Vote Early, Count Often

By Jonathan Soros
New York Times
New York, New York
30 October 2007

THE system we use to select the major-party presidential nominees in this country is badly broken. That New Hampshire may move its primary into 2007 should be evidence enough. But focusing on the absurdity of the primary calendar obscures a problem of greater significance: not all voters are equal. To correct that sad truth we must change the way we select candidates.

The only solution that treats every voter equally would be to establish a true national primary, with every state voting on the same day. Unfortunately, this format would eliminate the essential “retail” politics of small-state primaries and turn the contest into a nasty televised slugfest among the candidates with the most money.

There is, however, a simple way to establish a national primary and yet still allow retail politicking to meaningfully affect the course of the campaign over several months: allow early voting, with regular reporting of the tally.

Here’s one way it could work. Set a national primary date of June 30 and create a window for early voting that opens on Jan. 1. The early votes would be counted and reported at the end of each month from January through May.


30 October 2007

Baseball and Global Warming

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
Oakland, California
29 October 2007

With the long, long baseball season finally over, I now reflect on a visit to Washington, DC a while back. I stayed with an old flying buddy who is an Air Force Academy graduate, has a strategic planning job as a GS-14, and holds the rank of full-bird colonel in the West Virginia Air National Guard. After an afternoon of walking the Manassas battlefield in the sweltering Virginia summer, we talked about Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and global warming over an Italian dinner.

"It's not greenhouse gases," Mike said in a matter of fact manner, "It's baseball."

It was only due to my military training that I avoided spewing cabernet all over the good colonel. "Baseball?"

"Baseball. Nature is a baseball fan. She's warming up the planet so that more baseball can be played in more places and for longer seasons."

Needless to say, I was skeptical, but as we explored Mike's theory, I saw that the logic was inescapable.

"In temperate climates, baseball is played from spring to autumn, but not in winter. But, look where the winter leagues are... in the tropics: Mexico and the Caribbean. It's warmer there. And where are all of the spring training camps? Arizona and Florida. Hot there, right?"


29 October 2007

The 2008 Presidential Primaries: Another Inconvenient Truth

By Thomas Gangale

California Progress Report
Oakland, California

18 December 2006

Berkeley Daily Planet
Berkeley, California

19 December 2006

Marin Independent Journal
Novato, California

29 December 2006

The 2006 elections are over, and the 2008 presidential race has begun. Most news coverage will focus on personalities, and once in a while on issues. What will go mostly unreported is the fact that we have a serious structural flaw in the presidential selection process that renders the issues and personalities almost superfluous. The "inconvenient truth" is that the primary/caucus system is an unfolding disaster, a bad process that produces presidential nominees who are less than America's best.

The problem is that every state wants to be first on the calendar. Being first means that all of the candidates desperately want to win your state to claim the mantle as the front-runner. Being later in the season means being ignored by the candidates; by then, one of them has locked up the nomination, and the campaign is already over.

Of course, as states shift their primaries and caucuses earlier in the calendar, Iowa and New Hampshire move their respective caucuses and primary forward to stay ahead of the pack. In 1972, New Hampshire held its primary on March 7. In 2004, the primary was held on January 19.

It's going to get worse before it gets... even worse. Earlier this year, when a bill was introduced in the California legislature to move its presidential primary ahead of all other states, to as early as January 2 if necessary, New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner threatened to thrust his state's primary into December. The best idea the Democratic Party can come up with to fix the problem only adds to it. In 2008, it is allowing Nevada's caucuses and South Carolina's primary to move near the front of the calendar.

So what? Why should you care when presidential primaries occur, or when the parties' nominees are determined?

In 1976, there were four months of competitive campaigning. The delegates from every state had to be selected before it was determined that Gerald Ford had survived Ronald Reagan's challenge. In 2004, when Dean suspended his campaign, only about one-fifth of the delegates had been selected from a handful of states. To eighty percent of the country, the Kerry nomination was a fait accompli. That's not democracy.

A shorter campaign season also means that any grassroots campaign operating on a shoestring budget is doomed from the start. There is no chance to score a few, early victories in small states where campaigning is inexpensive, leverage these to bring in more media attention and more campaign contributions, and thereby grow the campaign to be competitive in the later, larger, mass-media markets. The real campaign is not about courting votes, it's about counting cash. A Republican National Committee report lamented in May 2000, "It is an indisputable fact that in every nomination campaign since 1980, in both parties, the eventual party nominee was the candidate who had raised the most money by December 31 of the year before the general election." The early primaries dutifully rubber-stamp the decision of the donors. That's not democracy.

So, about a year from now, on December 31, 2007, the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties will be determined. Just count the money, then indulge in New Year's revelry as you may. The primaries and caucuses that follow will be an empty sham.

The curious thing is that so few have noticed that the real decision has been taken out of the hands of the voters. If, in one quadrennial cycle, was had gone from the campaign calendar of 1972 to that of 2004, we would, as Al Gore's frog, have immediately jumped out of the boiling pot. However, we have sat in that pot for thirty years without noticing that our democracy was slowly being cooked.

26 October 2007

New Hampshire's turn as leader may be up

By Roger Simon
24 October 2007

At this point, the presidential nominating calendar for 2008 is more easily deplored than described.

Somebody is going to go first. We know that.

Maybe it will be New Hampshire. Or maybe not.

Maybe New Hampshire will go in December. Or maybe not.

After that, it gets kind of confusing.

I went to the Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday to hear Carl Levin speak.

Levin is the senior Democratic senator from Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and an expert on both foreign and domestic affairs.

He talked very knowledgeably for more than half an hour about Iraq, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, missile defense deployment in Europe, CAFE standards (which, interestingly enough, have nothing to do with cafes) and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

I didn’t pay any attention.

OK, I paid a little attention. I took notes (just in case any of it is on the final), but I had come for something far more important than things like war, peace and the environment.

I had come to hear Levin say bad things about New Hampshire.

Levin hates New Hampshire. Not the people or the foliage, just the fact that New Hampshire holds the first primary in the nation. (Levin also hates Iowa because it holds the first caucus in the nation, but he hates New Hampshire more.)

Levin has argued for years that New Hampshire is a small state that is not representative of the nation and it would make more sense for some other state — Michigan, for instance — to begin the nominating process.

By general agreement, the other 48 states allow New Hampshire and Iowa to go first because when those two states feel threatened, they go absolutely ballistic and vow to halt syrup and ethanol production and possibly form their own nation.


25 October 2007

Primary Season Has Already Passed Us By

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post
Washington, DC
25 October 2007

Any minute now, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will head to the polls and select the presidential candidate who cooked them the best dinner and did the best job ironing their shirts.

The personal attention candidates for the highest office in the land are lavishing on citizens of those two small states -- the wannabes have made, I kid you not, at least 1,448 appearances in Iowa and 691 in New Hampshire this year alone -- contrasts rather sharply with what we get here:

Total appearances by all candidates in Virginia: 40. In Maryland: 16. And most of those were fundraisers for high rollers.

When it comes to picking the nominees for president, Virginia, Maryland and the District have about as much say as Finland.


24 October 2007

Republicans Move to Punish 5 Early-Contest States

By June Kronholz
Wall Street Journal
New York, New York
22 October 2007

Republicans "always believe in redemption," Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan told reporters today. But barring that, he added, the party will strip New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan and Wyoming of half their convention delegates next summer.

Their sin: scheduling their presidential primaries or caucuses outside the six-month delegate-selection window set by the party in 2004.

Duncan announced the punishment during a break in a party meeting on the "call to convention." That call, which will be issued after the 2007 elections, will detail how many delegates-and votes-each state will be allotted when Republicans hold their national convention in St. Paul, Minn., next Sept. 1-4.

It also comes amid weeks of confusion and one-upmanship as a few states have attempted to raise their visibility and importance in the presidential-selection process by leapfrogging ahead of each other. As a result, the primary calendar is still in flux just weeks before the first votes are expected.

Republicans agreed at their 2004 convention that states should hold their primaries and caucuses between Feb. 5 and July 28, 2008. States voting outside that window were to lose half their delegates, a threat that hasn't deterred some. As it is, Wyoming will hold a delegate-selection convention on Jan. 5; Michigan will hold a primary on Jan. 15; South Carolina's Republican primary is Jan. 19 and Florida's primary is Jan. 29. New Hampshire, determined to retain its first-in-the-nation claim, hasn't set a primary date yet.

Iowa's Jan. 3 Republican caucus seems safe because it's not much more than a presidential beauty contest; delegates will be chosen at a party convention in June. Nevada's Jan. 19 caucus is in the same boat.

The party won't bring down its wrath on candidates who want to campaign in those five states-unlike the Democratic candidates, who have pledged not to campaign in any state that has jumped the party gun.

It's not too late for states to reschedule their contests and retain the delegates, Duncan added. The end may be near, but all could be forgiven, he added.


23 October 2007

Starting Gate: Not Waiting For ’08?

By Vaughn Ververs
17 October 2008

Now that we can start making our plans for New Year’s Eve, it’s time to think about where we’re going to be spending Thanksgiving. Dixville Notch anyone?

Iowa Republicans have made the decision to move their caucuses up from January 3rd, a week and a half earlier than previously planned. Iowa Democrats could follow or keep theirs at the original January 14th date. Now, the ball is in New Hampshire’s court and that means Secretary of State Bill Gardner. He alone has the power under state law to set the primary date and he’s making it clear that the possibility of moving it to December is no idle threat.

Moves by Michigan, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida have complicated the primary process for New Hampshire and Iowa to the point that making such a drastic move may be the best way to ensure the traditional roles Iowa and New Hampshire have become accustomed to. Gardner could decide to set the primary date for January 8th but that may not be acceptable from his perspective.

First, Wyoming Republicans have scheduled their nominating convention for January 5th, and the 8th would technically leave New Hampshire as the third contest. Practically speaking however, Wyoming appears to pose little threat to New Hampshire’s importance in the process. When’s the last time we saw a campaign ad in Cheyenne? A more important consideration may be space and time.

Holding the primaries on the 8th (putting it by rule a full week before the Michigan primary) means that candidates, at least on the Republican side, will have just five dasy in between Iowa and New Hampshire instead of having a full week or more. And that means less time, attention and money flowing into the state. Campaigns and the hordes of media that follow them spend hundreds of millions in the state each four years and a sizable chunk of it comes in the week or two leading up to the primary. If the state becomes sandwiched in between other contests, it may mean all that is literally here today, gone tomorrow.

Holding the primary in December (Gardner has hinted at a date as early as the 11th) could once again put the state in the center of the political universe for a sustained period of time – from Thanksgiving to the primary date. The state would literally be the only game in town unless Iowa Republicans sought to move again, something they’ve said they will not do.


22 October 2007

Primary mystery proves curiouser and curiouser

By Paul West
Baltimore Sun
Baltimore, Maryland
17 October 2008

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first - verdict afterwards.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'

When it comes to nonsense, Lewis Carroll’s got nothing on the folks who are bringing you the ‘08 campaign.

How about staging a nomination campaign before you know when the elections will be? The candidates have no choice.

Consider: With wide-open races in both parties, the Republican and Democratic contenders have spent the past several years traveling the country, raising and spending tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of the presidency. They’ve aired thousands of TV ads already, put hundreds of advisers and field workers on the payroll and participated in countless debates, forums, TV interviews, webcasts and grassroots events.

And yet, none of the candidates, at this very late date, knows when the first vote will be cast. That’s a rather significant problem, one that greatly complicates their efforts to devise a winning strategy.

Is the first primary two and a half months away? Or will it be in a matter of a few weeks? Will the big states of Michigan and Florida stage showdowns in January? Or, if they are only symbolic "beauty contests," will they matter?

How about little Iowa and New Hampshire, whose symbiotic relationship has outsized influence on the final outcome? Remember Howard Dean’s scream last time? The one-time frontrunner howled in Iowa and was effectively finished, eight days later, when he failed to take New Hampshire. This time, those two states are likely to be closer together than ever before, with unpredictable consequences.


18 October 2007

States' presidential primary process flawed

By Ron Eachus
Salem Statesman-Journal
Salem, Oregon
15 October 2007

States are acting crazy. Like children shoving and pushing to get to the front of the line, they've been rearranging their presidential primaries and creating a chaotic process even more dependent on finding the big bucks to win the big states.

The nominating process traditionally starts with the January New Hampshire primary -- which, under that state's law, must be seven days before any similar election -- and the Iowa caucuses. The Democratic and Republican parties have allowed Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primaries before Feb. 5 to add more diversity to the early process.

This year, jealous states began leapfrogging. Florida moved to Jan. 29. South Carolina Republicans jumped to Jan. 19 to be the first in the South, so New Hampshire had to move up at least a week.

Michigan then moved to Jan. 15. Wyoming Republicans jumped to the front by moving to Jan. 5. California and New Jersey moved to Feb. 5, when 20 states now will hold primaries or caucuses.

Many of these moves are contrary to Democratic and Republican party rules.

The Democratic National Committee says it won't seat delegates from Florida and Michigan. Florida Democrats are suing the party.

The major Democratic candidates have pledged not to campaign in Michigan, and all but Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have taken their names off the ballot.

The Republican National Committee also is threatening sanctions against Florida, Michigan, Wyoming and South Carolina.


17 October 2007

Primary Calendar: What A Mess

By Domenico Montanaro
17 October 2007

Believe it or not, we're inside of 80 days and the candidates still don't know when all of the January (or even December) election days are going to be. Last night, this is what we learned:
-- Iowa Republicans will hold their caucuses Jan. 3
-- South Carolina Democrats will hold their primary Jan. 26
-- Nevada Democrats will hold their caucuses Jan. 19.

Here's what we don't know:
-- will the Iowa Democrats join the Iowa Republicans on Jan. 3?
-- will the New Hampshire primary accept being on Jan. 8, or somehow jump into December and risk some candidates skipping the contest?
-- will the two parties have two different January calendars? As it stands now, Republicans could start on Jan. 3 in Iowa, head to Wyoming for a Jan. 5 caucus, travel to New Hampshire for the Jan. 8 primary, then participate in a Jan. 15 Michigan primary, a Jan. 19 South Carolina primary and end in Florida on Jan. 29. The Democrats are ONLY committed to participating in contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, with Iowa and South Carolina on different January days from the Republicans.
-- If Iowa Democrats are convinced that by going the 14th, they’ll preserve their first-in-the-nation status for 2012 and 2016, they'll do, mark our words on this one.


13 October 2007

New Hampshire's Peculiar Institution

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
Oakland, California
13 October 2007

Two centuries ago, when southern statesmen wanted to defend the indefensible and mention the unmentionable, they referred to their states' enslavement of African Americans as their "peculiar institution;" peculiar in the sense that it was specific to the economic needs of the agrarian South and to the historical development of its culture. It was perfectly legitimate. After all, slavery had been practiced all over the world at one time or another.

However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, moral norms were changing. The Enlightenment had brought forth the concept of human dignity, and the founders of the American republic, being children of that Enlightenment, had brought forth a government dedicated to human equality. In this changing world, any argument in favor of privilege based on history and ancestry was increasingly indefensible.

Today, the white homeland of New Hampshire argues for its continued privilege of holding the first presidential primary of the campaign season. It argues for keeping the rest of the nation in political second-class status. It clings to this position on the basis of tradition in the face of a changing America, a more diverse America that legitimately calls for opening the political process to broader participation, broader both ethnically and geographically.


12 October 2007

A December Primary in New Hampshire? It's His Call

Secretary of State Alone Will Decide, But He's Not Saying

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post
Washington, DC
12 October 2007

The New Hampshire primary, crowded by other wannabe primaries and caucuses, may be shifted from January to an unprecedented date in early December. It all depends on the calculations of one man.

"I have a lot of discretion," said Bill Gardner, the 16-term secretary of state of New Hampshire, who is invested with what amounts to dictatorial power to set the date under state law. "We are prepared, if it needs to be early December, it can be early December."


10 October 2007

Are politicians really idiots?

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
Oakland, California

Mark Twain once said, "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."

Are politicians really idiots? In order to prove that proposition, one would have to subject a statistically significant sample of them to IQ tests, and of course, they would have to be idiots to comply with such a testing program. It is better to be thought a fool than to be proven one.

But they really do appear to be idiots. Write a letter to one sometime and see if you get a response. Chances are you won't, but if it's your lucky day, you'll receive a bland acknowledgement that in no way addresses the issue you raised in your letter. In fact, you'll wonder whether they actually wrote to you or they mis-addressed their unresponsive response that was intended for some other hapless constituent.

A former Senator, cabinet secretary, and national party chair once chided me, "Do you really think people read their mail?" Stupid me! No, I think their staffers read only enough to figure out what the issue is according to some vague metric, then they weigh all the letters they receive about that issue on a postal scale. Below a certain weight threshold, it's not an important enough issue, so they do nothing.

Now, repeat the experiment. Write another letter, but this time include a $2000 check. Of course, the change in response isn't proof of intelligence... even a plant turns toward the sun.


09 October 2007

Rules of Engagement

By Thomas Gangale

It seems that a pink slip is never a good omen, even when the pink slip isn't meant for you. This particular pink slip appeared to be innocuous at first glance. It was a Notice of Attempted Delivery from the post office. It was easy to see how the attempt failed. The intended address was a hundred yards up Magnolia Avenue. So I did what any good citizen would do; when I had a spare moment, I hiked up the street, past the sheep pasture and the horse corral and the baying bloodhounds. I found the right mailbox, and put the pink slip in it.

Mission accomplished.

Well no, not quite. You see, I had gone into action without first devising an exit strategy. Never a good idea. Just as I had delivered the pink slip to its rightful owner, a woman stepped out of the house across the street. "What are you doing messing around in my neighbor's mailbox?"

"The letter carrier mis-delivered a piece of mail...."

"You know, that's a federal offense!"

"Well, as I was explaining, ma'am...."

"In fact, I could shoot you. I've got a gun in my house."

A poster child for the Second Amendment. I thought to myself, what would Charlton Heston do? "All right, let's see it."

This staggered her. "What?"

"Your gun. Go and get it. Let's settle this thing right out here in the street. If you want to spend the rest of your life in prison, what the hell do I care?"

She crossed her yard toward me, stepped up to her fence, and pointed at me. "Who are you?"

I crossed the street to her fence and pulled out my wallet. I didn't immediately see one of my business cards, so took out the handiest piece of identification: my long-expired Air Force ID card. "That's me. Gangale, Thomas E., Captain, USAF. A few years back, but that's me. My hair hadn't turned white yet."

She look at my green military ID card and said, "I was CG," which I took to mean Coast Guard, and she gave me some rating that must have been an enlisted rank. We didn't have too many boats in the Air Force (but the few we did have were pretty nice).

"All right. Are you ready to hear my story or what?"


So I finally got the chance to get my story out. "Are we cool now?"


"Outstanding. Now, where's your salute?"

For all I new, this might have made her snap all over again and this time she really would get her gun, but I was willing to risk it for a little payback on what she had just put me through. I was surprised that she snapped a smart salute. "Sorry, sir," she said with proper contrition.

I returned her salute. "As you were." As any officer understands, one must maintain good order and discipline.

After that, the conversation turned friendly. In fact, it turned very friendly very quickly. It wasn't long before she grabbed my arm and asked me, "You aren't married, are you?"

08 October 2007

The presidential primary scam

Why the game is rigged, and why true democracy is only a secondary factor in the nation's rush to nominate the next president.

By Michael Scherer
8 October 2007

It's far worse than you think -- worse than hanging chads, faulty Diebold machines, and billionaires who bankroll last-minute attack ads. The American system for nominating a presidential candidate has about as much in common with actual democracy as Donald Duck has with a lake mallard. It's not just that this year's primaries have been further front-loaded, or that the early primary states aren't representative of the nation at large. There is only passing fairness. There is only the semblance of order. There is nothing like equal representation under the law.

The whole stinking process was designed by dead men in smoky parlors and refined by faceless bureaucrats in hotel conference rooms. It is a nasty brew born of those caldrons of self-interest known as political parties. At every stage, advantage is parceled out like so much magic potion. "The national interest is not considered in any form," says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "Everything is left up to an ad hoc decision. It's chaotic."

That is not an exaggeration. Consider this: If you are a Republican, your vote for the presidential nominee will be worth more in Tennessee than in New York. If you are a Democrat, your vote in the primary will not count in Florida and is unlikely to count in Michigan. If you are a Republican in Wyoming, you probably won't get to vote at all, since only party officials have a say.

And it gets worse. This election cycle, a top Democratic candidate shaking someone's hand in Miami before the end of January is breaking the rules, unless that someone is handing the candidate a check at the same time. To put it another way, Democrats' communicating with voters has been barred in Florida, but taking money from voters is OK. To put it a third way, the system is not only irrational but offensive to the nation's most basic values. "The only way that you can hear a candidate campaign is if you are willing to pay a campaign contribution," explains Steven Geller, Florida's exasperated state Senate Democratic leader. "It is astounding."


07 October 2007

Primary (Reform Under False) Colors

In 2005, the Democratic Party had an opportunity to make improvements to the presidential nomination process. It did worse than nothing... it took a broken process and broke it even more!

By Thomas Gangale

Berkeley Daily Planet

Berkeley, California
26 August 2005

The greatest political issue of 2005 is flying under the public's radar: how shall we decide who gets to be on the November 2008 ballot? Ah! To nominate or not to nominate, that is the question!

In 2004, Iowa and New Hampshire nominated John Kerry, then it was all over but the shouting. The voters in later states didn’t really matter. By the time Howard Dean threw in the towel in mid-February, only a fifth of the American electorate had spoken.

In 2008, California will have no voice. The state legislature has moved the primary to June. That'll be about four months after the shouting, unless there is a complete redesign of the nomination process.

The Democratic National Committee has a commission studying possible reforms. How are they doing? An eye-witness to the DNC commission’s July 16 reported, "At one point a commission member noted they didn't have a clear idea of what question they were supposed to be answering." After seven months of work, the commission is still looking for a mission statement.

Taking a look at the commission's website, most of the links on it result in a "Page Not Found" error. There is no way for the ordinary citizen to know what the commission has done, is doing, or will do. Also, this commission was supposed to hold meetings around the country and get lots of input, but all of its meetings have been meeting in Washington. The new DNC chairman Howard Dean has promised a more open and activist Democratic Party, but this commission is the blackest of the black holes, the smokiest of the smoke-filled rooms. The analysis and decision-making that go into determining how the 2008 primary schedule will be laid out ought to be conducted in the full light of day, which as much participation as possible by the party rank and file. This is an issue that all Democrats own, yet it might just as well be locked away at Guantanamo Bay.

This year's Democratic commission may not have the depth of knowledge on this issue that Republicans acquired through dogged experience, so they might well repeat the error that a Republican commission made in 1996 and recommend half-hearted measures, rather than go for a systemic solution as another Republican commission did in 2000 (which George Bush helped to shoot down). If so, then another blitzkrieg campaign looms in 2008, and a small portion of the American electorate will be buried in the rubble of sound-bite rhetoric, while the majority--including all Californians--will be left politically orphaned.

2008 is the grand opportunity. For the first time since 1928, no incumbent president is running for re-election, and no sitting vice-president is running for the top job. The planets are all lined up, and the Democrats are acting like they’re not ready to launch.

A systemic solution is possible, but it must be fair to populous states even as it preserves "retail politicking" in the intimate venues of low-population states in the early part of the campaign season. It would be far better for the two parties to take this leap of faith, if not simultaneously, at least with some confidence that one will follow the other. We, the people, deserve this. The report of the bipartisan Miller commission stated:

"No political process in the United States is more important than our method of nominating presidential candidates, yet none has given rise to so much dissatisfaction. From both ends of the political spectrum come demands for change. A growing resolve on the part of concerned Americans to find a solution to this problem unites Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.... This new movement knows no partisan cast, nor does it seek to benefit any one candidate or faction. It is motivated solely by the belief that the public interest is ill-served by the current nominating system. Its conviction is as simple as it is significant: there must be reform."

That was in 1982. My watch says, "Half past 2005." How about yours?

06 October 2007

Slaving for the Progressives

By Thomas Gangale
Berkeley Daily Planet
Berkeley, California
17 May 2005

Petaluma Argus-Courier
Petaluma, California
1 June 2005

Remember the old progressive values: better working conditions, shorter work weeks, higher wages? These issues hark back to the capital "P" Progressive Era, when workers struggled to win decent wages and working conditions from the Robber Barons. The movement made great gains in the early and middle 20th century, and fell victim to its own success as its core values became less important, nearly forgotten altogether. These issues ought to be front and center on the progressive stage once again. American middle class incomes have been stagnant for 30 years, and income inequality is the highest it’s been since the Gilded Age of laissez faire capitalism.

Sure, we’re all for saving the whales and the spotted owls and the snail darters and the medflies. Sure, we want clean air and clean water. But meanwhile, we all have to eat and pay the bills.

If you think that the main problem in American society is economic justice, take a look at Boston-based Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., which has offices in major California cities. Their motto is "Building grassroots support for progressive candidates, parties, and campaigns." And, they have been spectacularly successful at it. In 2004, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. had a target of raising five million dollars for the Democratic Party. They ended up raising $22 million!

How did they do it? By exploiting their workers to a degree that would make John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie beam with approval. The starting annual salary at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is $24,000.

But, as they say on late-night TV, "Wait, there’s more." More, more, more hours of toil. For this princely sum of $24,000, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. expects its employees to work 60 to 70 hours a week, seven days a week. This works out to an hourly rate that is barely above the minimum wage in Massachusetts and California, and well below San Francisco’s "living wage."

Worse working conditions, longer work weeks, lower wages. Right on, man!

For all its political rhetoric, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is like any other business, but instead of the profits going to the shareholders, they go to the Democratic Party. In Marxist terms, GCI was able to hand over $22 million to the party instead of the targeted $5 million by extracting surplus labor value from its workers. Obviously, the less you pay the workers and the more you work them, the more money you get to keep for your own purposes. But of course, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is fighting the good fight for the progressive cause--for the party--and we must all make sacrifices for the revolution, comrade. The ends justify the means, as usual.

I recently attended what I expected to be a traditional job interview at GCI’s offices in Berkeley. Instead, it turned out to be a mass indoctrination session, where we were told how wonderful it was going to be to adopt this "lifestyle choice." Now if that isn’t Doublespeak, I don’t know what is. You have the "freedom" to choose "slavery."

Most of the attendees either had or were about to receive political science degrees, so they should have had a course in political economy somewhere along the way, and they should have learned all that Marxist stuff about surplus labor value and rates of exploitation. I guess they didn’t let all that education go to their heads. But I’m an old horse, and when they saw that I wasn’t buying the Party line, they whisked me out of the building as though I had a plague that was about to spread to the rest of the herd.

For my money, these so-called progressives at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. are worse than the capitalists.

Farms? In Berkeley? You bet... Animal Farm.

05 October 2007

The Myth of the Rational Iowa Voter

By Paul Waldman
The American Prospect
3 October 2007

Do the supposedly wise and deliberative citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire take their responsibilities seriously? And if they don't, what does that say about the way we're choosing the next leader of the free world?

In the past week or so, lots of wise and serious commentators have started to say that Hillary Clinton's victory in the Democratic presidential primaries is all but inevitable. She is repeatedly described as having "solidified her lead," not only because of her strength in national polls, but due to the fact that she now leads in New Hampshire by a healthy margin and is in a virtual three-way tie in Iowa. And after all, we know Iowa and New Hampshire voters aren't fickle like those in some other states. They're serious and studious, applying their down-home common sense and refusing to vote for anyone unless they look them in the eye and get a sense of the person behind the politician.

It seems like just yesterday that the reporters and pundits who live for the quadrennial marathon of pandering and debasement that is the campaign for the White House were complaining that things were starting way too early. The first primary contests were over a year away, they groaned, yet the candidates were already tromping through the early states, forcing themselves upon us like dinner party guests who show up at noon when the table isn't set and the food is half-cooked. Yet now that some actual votes are but a few months away, reporters are ready to declare the race all but over.

If there is any consolation, we are told, it is that the wise and deliberative citizens of the early states take their responsibilities so seriously. But do they really? And if they don't, what does that say about the way we're choosing the next leader of the free world?


04 October 2007

Over Before It Has Begun

The presidential primary season turns 'goofy' in a sea of money, ego, and hubris

Andrew Gumbel
Los Angeles City Beat
4 October 2007

Many of us may think the season for nominating presidential candidates has barely begun. In fact, though, it is almost over.

The word “season” is generous to the point of absurdity. What we’re looking at is not so much a process of debates, ferocious campaigning, candidate meltdowns and dramatic reversals of fortune like the ones we remember from presidential races past. Instead, it’s going to be more like the opening weekend of a big-budget Hollywood spectacular.

It’s not going to be about quality. It’s not going to be about enduring appeal. It’s going to be all about money and marketing, image-making and branding, and the brute act of getting as many bodies to the polls as humanly possible between dawn and dusk on Tuesday, February 5.

After that, any outstanding questions about who is going to run in November will be academic. Almost exactly half the states are holding their primary that day, including most of the biggies like California and New York. Only the best-funded candidates have a prayer of competing in any meaningful sense, because they – or at least their campaigns – will have to be in several places at once.

There is of course a remedy to the escalating madness. A Marin County political scientist called Thomas Gangale has worked out a whole system he calls the American Plan, whereby the primary season would be composed of eight or 10 key dates starting with the smaller states and building up to the largest states. The exact order would vary from election year to election year, to keep things fair.

The idea is that candidates, even the less well funded ones, would have a chance to do some “retail” politicking in the smaller states and earn votes on the merits of their platforms. If they did well, they could then raise more money and be in a position to compete in the larger states. The better funded candidates, meanwhile, would have to work harder – simply bombarding the airwaves with negative ads won’t cut it.

The idea has been endorsed by the electoral reform group FairVote, among others. Theoretically speaking, there is little to dislike. Even the two major parties acknowledge the primary process is spinning out of control – the former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, now a DNC official, recently described it as "goofy."


02 October 2007

All Politics Is Glocal

By Thomas Gangale

"All politics is local" was "Tip" O'Neill's famous aphorism of the 1980s. However, in the globalizing world of our new century, politics no longer flows in one direction, downward from the national and state levels; politics also now flows upward to the international level. All politics is now global as well as local, a concept that Roland Robertson's term "glocalization" captures adroitly.

The network of an increasing interconnected planet empowers us to take the local to the world; an event in our town can be broadcast around the globe at the speed of light and can become an issue of global concern. Conversely, to be fully empowered, we must bring the global to the village; for example, we must be aware of disputes before the World Trade Organization and how its rulings affect our livelihoods.

Meanwhile, who are these people from the other side of the planet who are moving into our neighborhood? And, how may I direct your call... here in Bangalore?

Global consciousness is an essential survival tool of the 21st century. Globalization has not been working well for everyone. It works best for those who understand its nexus of processes and who are in a position to steer its course to their advantage.

There is no real mystery here... knowledge is power. So, should you take the time and effort to become globally consciousness or not? It seems to me you just have to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel powerful today?"

Well, do you, punk?

01 October 2007

Libertarianism Reaches for the High Frontier

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
1 October 2007

No one who has read the opinion editorial I co-authored the day after Mike Melvill became the first human to reach outer space in a privately-financed spacecraft and launch system should doubt that I view the growth of free enterprise capabilities in space as positive. Burt Rutan, financed by Paul Allen and Sir Richard Branson, is doing fantastic, innovative work. After several decades of waiting, human spaceflight may be entering an entrepreneurial barnstorming era, and I look forward to it with excitement.

However, there is a disturbing political undercurrent running through the cheer-leading section of enthusiasts that hypes privately-financed operations in outer space. They are convinced that the reason it is so difficult for free enterprise to take all of us into space for vacations at hotels orbiting Earth or on the Moon, or to mine the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids for industrial raw materials, is that the international law of outer space that has developed during the last fifty years is a barrier to space entrepreneurship.

I just returned from the space industry's preeminent annual symposium, where, as usual, I present several papers, to find that, sure enough, someone is yammering about that bad old Outer Space Treaty. This time it's an associate professor of Government and International Studies at a small Georgia college. He repeats the same old silly story about how Lyndon Johnson was frightened into signing an anti-capitalist treaty with the Soviet Union in 1967 out of fears that the Evil Empire would reach the Moon first and claim it as sovereign territory.

This is bunk. First of all, the legal status of outer space as res communis had been established a decade earlier, both in practice by the two space launching powers of the time, and in principle via several United Nations resolutions that had the support of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Second, by the end of 1965, halfway through the Gemini program, it was clear that the US had closed the "space gap," having set new records previously held by the USSR, and that it was well on the way to landing the first humans on the Moon. The Soviets started their own lunar program so late and botched it so badly that for the next twenty years they were able to plausibly deny it had ever existed! What possibly could have frightened Lyndon Johnson?

Nothing. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Outer Space Treaty that inhibits free enterprise. Don't take my word for it, just check the cell phone in your pocket. Typical of their uncritical thinking, the space cowboys confuse coincidence with causality. The American push to the Moon in the 1960s was born of Cold War geopolitics and ended when it had served its political purpose. The treaty is not to blame for the fact that the US slashed its space budget and retreated from human space exploration. In any case, what does the rise and fall of the Apollo program, a government project, have to do with the private enterprise economy of outer space? It clearly does not, and if one removes the boom and bust spending cycles of government aerospace budgets, what is left is a fairly steady increase in the private space economy over the past five decades, with its occasional downturns attributable to the economic cycles of the global economy. This is not a mystery.

What has been going on in the space libertarian community for a decade or so is the construction of a Big Lie, a deliberate re-writing of history to make international law the fall guy for the fact that Baby Boomers didn't grow up to live and work in space as our 6th grade Weekly Readers promised us. As an aerospace engineer, I could give you a long technical explanation of why there is no spaceflight analogue to Moore's Law, why the cost per mass to orbit doesn't drop by 50 percent every few years in the same way that the computing power of microchips double every few years, but your eyes would glaze over. As would the eyes of the space cowboys, not least of all because they don't want rocket science to puncture their space mythology.

As a measure of just how far off the edge of the political charts these people are, the most violently unilateralist American regime in history--the one that has been the most destructive to international law, the one that has taken over two formerly sovereign nation-states and turned them over as profit centers for Halliburton, Blackwater, and other American enterprises--backs the Outer Space Treaty to the hilt. Now, you have to scratch your head and wonder why, if the treaty somehow keeps American capitalism from running rampant across the Solar System. Certainly, the Bush Administration has no such qualms regarding Earth! Nevertheless, space libertarians continually clamor for the US to withdraw from the treaty that this administration has called "the bedrock of international space law."

So why should you care what these space cadets say? Because a Big Lie, repeated often enough, can become the Big Truth, as this lie became the truth for the Georgia professor. Because California long has been a big aerospace state, and the Lockheed-Martins, Northrop-Grummans, and Boeings could be corrupted, even more than they already have on Earth, into serving an aggressive American militarist capitalist ideology in outer space. These corporations operate in space, but they are essential to the California economy, and they have an influence over California politics. In this sense, space is right here. The citizens of California have an interest in the character of these companies, and how that character is shaped by US policy and international law. As an Air Force officer, I worked side by side with Lockheed and Grumman engineers, and they're good people, but a military officer far above my rank and well before my time warned of the influence of the military-industrial complex. We need to keep these beasts on a leash, not set them loose to plunder the Solar System as the robber barons of the 21st century.

The space libertarian Big Lie is an easy one to repeat because after fifty years of spaceflight, most people take space-enabled technologies so much for granted that the many ways that they touch us every day is largely invisible to us. In this sense, we are living in space and we don't even know it. The space libertarians have an agenda to change the way we live in space, and therefore how we live on Earth. We ought to wake up to that agenda's ramifications, otherwise there could come a time when these people are taken seriously. They are not kooks and they are not evil. They are well-intentioned but misguided. They gaze at the possible riches of the Solar System, which have blinded them to political consequences.

I believe that it is imperative for us to explore space, not only because the endeavor calls to the better angels of our nature, not only because in the ideal it is adventure absent aggression and risk without robbery, but because in understanding the natural processes of other planets, we calibrate our understanding of processes on our own planet, and thereby gain a better understanding of humankind's environmental impact and how to mitigate it. I believe that we will exploit the natural resources of the Solar System as it becomes economically feasible and necessary, but we must do so thoughtfully, in a way that fosters healthy competition but prohibits the establishment of nation-sized, corporate-feudal estates on the Moon and Mars, where the company towns of a century ago, in which slavery was practiced in all but name, would seem like small potatoes.

About the time that the Outer Space Treaty entered into force forty years ago, Arthur C. Clarke wrote of The Promise of Space. Far more of that promise awaits than we have attained; however, there are not only technical and physical risks in how we reach for the stars, but in the course of that endeavor there are also dangers to American political ideals and economic principles right here on Earth.