27 December 2007

Iowa And New Hampshire: Same Old, Same Old

By G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young
27 December 2007

One definition of crazy is to keep doing diligently the same thing over and over when it's not working. By that definition America's presidential primary system is seriously loony, for with respect to developing a democratic process to nominate candidates for president, we have been doing the same thing over and over again for more than 60 years and it's not working.

The glaring evidence of that failure looms before us as the nation awaits the imminent Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary now scheduled for early January--both nomination events take place in small unrepresentative states that will largely dominate if not determine the rest of the primary process. Iowa and New Hampshire were supposed to be the warm up acts for the remainder of the primaries, but instead they have once again become the main event.

It is now too late to change this process for 2008. But it's exactly the right time to consider changes for 2012 and beyond. The time has clearly come for an overhaul of the entire chaotic process.

Two major options exist. One would produce a national primary while the second option provides for the adoption of regional primaries. A real national primary with every state participating on the same day has been proposed since at least 1916 when Woodrow Wilson advocated it. Its major strength is that potentially all Americans would have some role in the process.

Several versions of regional primary plans also have been proposed. Common to all the regional plans, a designated region of the country (i.e. northeast, south, west and central) would vote in alternate months beginning in February of the presidential year.

One regional plan, the so-called American plan would give small and medium states earlier primaries and larger states later primaries. A competing plan known as the Delaware plan would create regions by allocating each state into one of four population clusters based on population.


21 December 2007

Who Elected Iowa?

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post
19 December 2007

KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- It isn't until his seventh stop, almost two hours into his work on an icy Sunday afternoon, that James Ahn hits pay dirt, in the form of Jennie and Arvin Van Waardhuizen.

So after a series of fruitless knocks at empty homes, after talking fast through a barely opened door to a woman whose commitment to Clinton -- or to caucusing, for that matter -- seems doubtful, Ahn has finally made it into the Van Waardhuizens' cozy living room, where Santa figurines line the mantel.

Within minutes, Ahn has given his basic, don't-let-the-process-scare-you spiel: Get there by 7, stand in Clinton's corner, make sure you're counted. He has jotted down that Arvin wants to see Bill Clinton and has delivered a requested yard sign.

In a mass-media age, there is something charmingly anachronistic about the small-town way presidential politics is practiced here. Iowa and New Hampshire are valuable in preserving the ability of voters, at least some voters, to get to know candidates as more than flickering images on a screen or talking heads in a televised debate.

And yet, to join Ahn on his appointed rounds is also to reinforce doubts about a system of irrationality layered on irrationality. The caucuses draw a small, unrepresentative sample of a small, unrepresentative state. While nearly 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2004 New Hampshire primary, just 6 percent went to the Iowa caucuses, according to data compiled by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald. The 2000 turnout figures were even more skewed, 44 percent in New Hampshire compared with 7 percent in Iowa.


20 December 2007

Iowa’s Undemocratic Caucuses

By Gilbert Cranberg, Herb Strenz and Glenn Roberts
New York Times
18 December 2007

Des Moines - THIS year, a dozen polling organizations have conducted about 70 separate polls about the candidate preferences of Iowa caucus-goers.

The polls essentially are counts of votes by likely caucus attendees. If a poll is done properly, its measure of opinion about the candidates should be similar to the tabulation of votes on caucus night. But if a poll does manage to precisely forecast the results of the Jan. 3 caucuses, that is probably more coincidence than polling accuracy.

That’s because Iowa Democrats shun public disclosure of voter preferences at their caucuses — something not generally reported by the press or understood by the public.

An early order of business in each Democratic precinct caucus in Iowa is a count of the candidate preferences of the attendees. For all practical purposes, this is just what the polls try to measure. But Iowa Democrats keep the data hidden. The one-person, one-vote results from each caucus are snail-mailed to party headquarters and placed in a database, never disclosed to the press or made available for inspection.

Instead, the Democratic Party releases the percentage of “delegate equivalents” won by each candidate. The percentage broadcast on the networks and reported in the newspapers is the candidate’s share of the 2,500 delegates the party apportions across Iowa’s 99 counties, based on Democratic voter turnout in each of the 1,784 precincts in the two most recent general elections. So, the turnout for a candidate in a precinct caucus could be huge, yet the candidate’s share of the delegate pie could be quite small — if that precinct had low voter turnout in 2004 and 2006.

Under the formulas used to apportion delegates, it is possible that the candidate with the highest percentage of delegate equivalents — that is, the headline “winner” — did not really lead in the “popular vote” at the caucuses. Further, it is possible that a second or third-tier candidate could garner a surprising 10 percent or 12 percent of the popular vote statewide and get zero delegates. (That’s because to be in the running for a delegate a candidate must have support from at least 15 percent of the people at a precinct caucus.) He or she may have done two or three times as well as expected among Iowa’s Democratic voters and get no recognition for it.


08 December 2007

Top 7 Questions on Florida and Michigan Primaries

By Rachel Kapochunas
Congressional Quarterly

1. What are Florida and Michigan’s 2008 presidential primary dates and how and when were those dates finalized?

On May 21, Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation into law designating Jan. 29 as the state’s presidential primary date. The primary had been previously scheduled for March.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm signed legislation into law Sept. 4 establishing Jan. 15 as the state’s presidential primary date. But, lower courts in Michigan ruled that the primary process was unconstitutional because Michigan political parties would obtain information regarding voters’ political affiliation through the primary process and that information would not be made public. Voters do not register by party in Michigan. But the State Supreme Court decided Nov. 21 to overturn those rulings and allow the Jan. 15 date to stand.

2. Why did these states and others schedule earlier delegate selection contests?

There is no heir-apparent for either party’s nomination and states are eager to exert influence over the nominating process. In past elections, the opportunities provided by early contests for candidates to gain momentum has resulted in more attention being paid to those states. Other candidates have stumbled in early contests and had to drop out. By the time other states held their primaries, the nominee was already apparent.

The desire to play a role in the nominating process has been so strong that more than 20 states have scheduled one or more party contests on Feb. 5, the earliest date permitted by both parties on which states may hold a contest without penalty.


06 December 2007

Judge won't force DNC to seat delegates

By Bill Cotterell
Florida Capital News
6 December 2007

Not wanting to spark "a free-for-all" of states leapfrogging each other in the presidential campaign, a federal judge Wednesday refused to make the Democratic National Committee seat Florida's 210-member delegation to next summer's nominating convention.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that parties may set their schedules and enforce penalties against states defying them, as Florida did by setting a Jan. 29 date for its presidential primary.

Hinkle granted DNC Chairman Howard Dean's motion to dismiss the legal challenge brought by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings. Nelson and his chief lawyer said they won't appeal.

"It's OK that the national party has allowed certain states to go first," Hinkle said after an hour of arguments. "There is nothing in the Constitution that mandates a free-for-all that lets every state do what it pleases."


04 December 2007

A Progressive Vision of Human Space Exploration

By Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
4 December 2007

George W. Bush’s "Vision for Space Exploration" is well into its third year. While a welcome departure from Bill Clinton’s zero vision, and the elder Bush’s tragicomically fumbled Space Exploration Initiative, Dubya’s vision is... well, the Texans have a saying: "Big hat, no cattle."

He wants Americans to return to the Moon, but it’s going to take longer to get there than it did the first time under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. To boldly go where Democrats have taken us before, only slower. George W. wants to take us to Mars as well, but when that will happen is anyone’s guess... before or after we get win the War on Terror? The old saying in the aerospace industry is, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers," and George W. hasn’t requested much from Congress to fund his vision. It's vision on the cheap, like buying a pair of reading glasses at a supermarket.

Some Democrats who would step into his shoes next year would also take up this weakly-held baton of space leadership. Dennis Kucinich has said that he would triple NASA’s budget. If that sounds extravagant, it’s not. It would return the NASA budget to about half of what it was at the peak of the Apollo program. Recently, Hillary Clinton has made some strong statements in support of the human exploration of the solar system. On the other hand, Barack Obama would delay the Constellation program by five years, which, given its already snail’s pace, amounts to a less than candid way of saying he would kill the program. Other presidential candidates, both Democratic and Republican, seem not to have given space policy much thought. Indeed, except for Clinton's, none of the official campaign websites mentions NASA or human space exploration.

As I have written elsewhere, there is a libertarian, no-holds-barred free enterprise vision of space development. There is also a neoconservative rationale for militarizing space. A progressive vision of space to counterbalance these has yet to be articulated to a comparable level of prominence. This is of particular importance to California as a leader in the aerospace and high tech industries.


03 December 2007

Oregon GOP Takes Dems off Crime List

by Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
3 December 2007

I had to read it several times before I believed it. Here was the official policy document of the Oregon the Republican Party equating the Democratic Party with organized crime, drug cartels, and terrorist networks, and openly advocating the use of the police powers of the state against its political rivals. It wasn't just hateful. It wasn't just stupid. It was so stupidly hateful that it was chilling, like a kristallnacht in November nearly 70 years ago.

I sent out a message to my email list calling attention to this outrage. A few hours later, I sent an opinion-editorial to Randy Bayne, which he posted.

The blogosphere had a field day with the story. Within a couple of days the Oregon Republican Party platform was the talk of the Internet. One of many blog entries was by Jesus' General in an open letter to ORP executive director Amy Langdon on 27 November:

How many Young Republicans can you put on the street at any given moment to shut down a Democratic meeting? Are they well supplied? Do they have night sticks, tasers, pepper spray, brass knuckles, and Mayor Rudy's Little Black Book of 911 Quotations? Are they supplied with a fetching utility belt on which to carry these tools?

However, Jesus' General noted the next day that the offending reference had been removed, and other blogs stated that the Oregon Republican Party platform was changed by the evening of 27 November. Thus, it took me only two days to change the Oregon GOP platform, apparently without a meeting of its Platform Committee. Ha! Who's the Decider now, Dubya? Of course, I had a lot of help from Jesus' General and other commanders of the blogforce.

A Soviet historian once quipped that the most difficult problem in Soviet history was trying to predict it. Likewise, the history of the Oregon GOP is being rewritten as we speak. The rumor is now spreading around the blogosphere that the Oregon Republican Party's website was hacked, and that is how the reference to the Oregon Democratic Party was inserted into the platform. Not so fast, bub. There is such a thing as the Internet Archive, and it provides irrefutable evidence that the reference to the Oregon Democratic Party was in the Oregon Republicans' platform as early as March 2007.

Now, try to tell me that the Oregon GOP website was hacked nearly a year ago, and possibly even earlier, and the Republicans never noticed it until I pointed it out. Right.


02 December 2007

I'm a Terrorist and I Vote Democrat!

by Thomas Gangale
California Notes
25 November 2007

As one might expect, the Oregon Republican Party has its platform posted on its website. What is shocking is that under Section 7, "Crimes and Justice," you will find the following subsection 7.5:

"Inter-jurisdictional agency cooperation shall be improved for more effective joint action against organized crime, drug cartels, terrorist networks and the Oregon Democratic Party."

It's certainly a new twist on George W. Bush's statement, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Evidently, in Oregon, the Republican Party equates the Democratic Party with organized crime, drug cartels, and terrorist networks, necessitating the cooperation of various government agencies for joint action against it.

It's one thing when a media creation such as Michael Savage calls liberalism a mental disorder. However, when a political party, in an official and public document, equates an opposing party to criminals and terrorists, and espouses using government agencies to suppress the opposing party's activities, we've gone far beyond the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reillys of the contemporary American political landscape, we've now crossed the borders into the horrors of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. When the stated aim of one party is to make political opposition "crimes," requiring the meting out of "justice" as defined by who else but the party, how long before a Guantanamo gulag comes to a town near you? Today Oregon, tomorrow the world.