19 October 2008

Smashmouth Economics

by Thomas Gangale
California Progress Report
12 October 2008

George W. Bush pushes a $700 billion "rescue package" of government money to shore up the markets. Henry Paulson announces that the government will use some of the money to acquire stock in banks. John McCain proposes that the government buy up the bad paper on your home. And any number of deregulationist Republicans are now tripping over each other to step up to the pulpit and preach the need to replace our outdated, 20th century regulatory structure with a newfangled system for the 21st century. All of which leaves the Republican Party with about as much philosophical underpinning as the Communist Party in China, where capitalism is cleaning our clock. Perhaps the Communist Party and the Republican Party ought to swap names, for the GOP is now espousing the sort of capitalism that Karl Marx would have loved.


Contrary to popular belief, Marx was not an enemy of capitalism. His magnum opus, "Capital," fills a library shelf, the product of a lifetime of studying capitalism. If he was a critic of capitalism's excesses, given what has occurred in the past few weeks, is criticism such a bad thing? But Marx also gave capitalism its due as the most efficient mode of production ever devised. The problem, as Marx saw it, was that an economic system based on competition necessarily produces winners and losers. It creates wealth, but it creates it unevenly. What about the losers? Aiding society's small-time losers is called "welfare;" aiding its major league losers is called "rescue." By any name, both are socialism.

That's such a scary word! Worse than visions of doling out Cadillacs to the underclass, it conjures up your having to give half of your paycheck to everyone else, and if that were the case, no one would want to work very hard. I mean, just suppose that the 49ers have another disastrous season and end up at the bottom of the heap? Do they deserve to get the top draft picks in the college draft? When they go on the road to get creamed by the Dallas Cowboys, do they deserve to get 40% of the gate receipts at Texas Stadium?

That's right, the National Football League, one of the most successful capitalist enterprises in history, is socialist in its structure. Long ago, the team owners agreed that although competition was a good thing and the American way, driving each other out of business was bad business. What they wanted was "parity," to keep all of the franchises stable, to punish winners and reward losers, to limit the lifespan of team dynasties, to increase competition by constraining competition, to increase the creation of wealth by redistributing wealth. Without revenue sharing, the Green Bay Packers would be only a fond memory from the days of leather helmets. NFLism's merger of capitalism and socialism is as American as soccer-style place kickers, and it's the best of both worlds. Its socialist net makes the league safe for smashmouth capitalism. And everyone in it works very hard, because Americans always want to win.

Forget about the self-regulating "free market." It doesn't exist, it never has, it never will. The free market religion has a number of central tenets, a couple of which are demonstrably false. First of all, it assumes that everyone participating in the marketplace is rational; writing subprime loans was rational? Secondly, it assumes that rational actors have perfect information; how good was Lehman Brothers' information?

What has emerged in the American economic system over the decades is a sort of disaster socialism: government intervention to pull the economy back from the precipice. And it's a form of socialism that historically turns a profit. Bailing out Mexico, the savings and loans, Chrysler, and Lockheed, the American government made money every time. We're smarter socialists than the Soviets ever were. Recognizing that there is no free market that some preach, and being honest about the disaster socialism that we practice, we need to take the next step toward NFLism. Our current crisis of capitalism wouldn't be as dire if socialist intervention had been more timely, and had it been more timely, the intervention would have been so tiny as to be unremarkable. The free market coaches knew they had lousy field position, but they keep wanting to run up the middle on fourth down and long yardage anyway. We can do better, and we already know how to do better. NFLism runs capitalist and socialist plays like a smart coach uses the ground game and the air game, knowing when and how to use each. If salary caps for football players is a good idea, why not for CEOs as well?

So, let's go, America. We're getting blitzed, but we can get back in the game. Maybe John Madden will draw some yellow circles and lines on the NASDAQ board for us.

31 August 2008

Backers of GOP Primary Rules Overhaul Decry Resistance From Campaign

By Kathleen Hunter
CQ Politics
27 August 2008

Republicans performed an about-face and nixed a plan to dramatically reshape the party’s primary process in 2012, with proponents of the plan accusing the McCain campaign of working to derail the overhaul.

“Once again the presidential nominee has killed any reform of the primary process,” said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett, the architect of the overhaul proposal.

The plan rejected Wednesday by the Republican National Committee’s rules-making panel was the same one the panel had endorsed in March as a way to establish a more orderly, drawn-out election schedule in 2012, with the goal of easing the “front-loaded” primary schedule that has developed in recent campaign cycles, while promoting more one-on-one interaction with voters.

Bennett and other supporters of the so-called “Ohio plan” accused the McCain campaign of launching a full-court press to persuade rules committee members to adopt a far more modest proposal.


28 August 2008

Democrats Move to Fix Primary Scramble

By Kisten Wyatt
Associated Press
23 August 2008

Democrats moved Saturday to change the way they nominate presidential candidates and avoid a repeat of this year's primary scramble.
But they shied away from substantive debate such as whether to take away Iowa and New Hampshire's jealously guarded status as the nation's first vetting grounds for presidential candidates.

As a rules panel within the Democratic National Convention Committee voted unanimously Saturday to start talking about how to avoid a repeat of this year's jammed up primary schedule, party leaders sought to put off substantive — and divisive — talk about how to do that until after this is year's campaign.

"No state was left behind in the primaries," Democratic Chairman Howard Dean told the rules panel, Dean said earlier this month that the party needed to review its primary and caucus rules and reduce the number of superdelegates.

There appears to be broad consensus among Democrats that the nomination process needs to be reformed in light of this year's seismic battle between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and nominee-to-be Barack Obama.


02 August 2008

Obama Says He'll Support NASA Programs

By Eun Kyung Kim
Gannett News Service
29 July 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged his commitment to NASA in a statement his campaign released Tuesday congratulating the agency on its 50th anniversary.

The declaration may surprise many NASA supporters. Earlier in his campaign, the Illinois senator said he would rather see money budgeted for Constellation, the program to replace the aging shuttles, go instead toward education reform.

Yet, Obama said he would support the agency if elected this fall.

“I believe we need to revitalize NASA’s mission to maintain America’s leadership, and recommit our nation to the space program, and as President I intend to do just that,” he said.



A Letter to Lynn Woolsey on the 2008 NASA Authorization Act
Space Exploration: A Progressive Investment
A Progressive Vision of Human Space Exploration
Libertarianism Reaches for the High Frontier

27 June 2008

Thirty Seconds Over Doolittle

By Thomas Gangale
9 October 2006

With eight-term California Congressman John Doolittle sinking in the polls, key figures in the GOP (Greedy Old Perverts) recently flew into the Sacramento area on a rescue mission. Dozens of high donors turned out for the $2000 a plate event. About a dozen of those, who happened to be hungry and wanted some food on their plate, paid an additional $2000 for a smoked weenie on a toothpick. A cheese cube was 50 cents extra... if you pre-qualified.

"It's not about the money," famed lobbyist "Casino Jack" Abramoff told a cheering audience. "It's about access."

"Absolutely!" agreed fellow California Congressman Richard Pombo, who is facing his own tough reelection race. "John even treats his closest friends this way. Everybody has to pay for access. His own children have to pony up to get an appointment to see John." He shook his head in admiration. "By God, that's integrity!"

"Anyway, everyone knows you can't buy votes," former Texas Congressman Tom Delay grinned photogenically.

"I've known John since he first got into politics," said former Florida Congressman Mark Foley, principal cosponsor of No Child's Behind Left. "He was a cute kid. I'm here to give him a boost."

"I want the record to show that I am cooperating fully with this campaign," retiring Ohio Congressman Bob Ney declared to thunderous applause.

Former California Congressman "Duke" Cunningham, who was unable to appear in person due to a previous commitment lasting the next eight years, was patched in by video link. "We are here to lend our reputations to John. We want everyone to know that John Doolittle is one of us. Always has been. John will always have a place in our midst." Unfortunately, Cunningham's message suffered due to bad acoustics at his location.

"To call John 'Doolittle' is really doing him an injustice," Delay said. "As far as I know, John's done nothing at all." At that point, Delay covered the microphone while Ney whispered in his ear. After conferring briefly with Abramoff as well, Delay back-pedalled, "On the advice of counsel, I wish to retract my previous statement. I was making a joke, and I wouldn't want my remarks to be misinterpreted. There are a few things that John may have done, and for which he may be indicted."

The audience was also treated to appearances by members of the hastily-formed "Veterans Against Veterans" committee, who lauded Doolittle for having one of the worst voting records on veterans' appropriations. They also wowed the crowd with vague and unsubstantiated accusations against Doolittle's Democratic opponent. "I'd like to know how the hell Charlie Brown got his Distinguished Flying Cross... dogfighting with the Red Baron?"

"Charlie Brown can't even pronounce Vi-et-nam!" another member of the group shouted. "He calls it 'VEET-nam,' so that makes me question whether he was ever in-country. For all I know, he was stateside the whole time, ducking the Air National Guard and snorting coke with George W... well, as I was saying...."

With this, a sullen muttering rippled through the crowd. A third veteran quickly stepped into the breach. "Don't pay Slick much attention, folks! He's probably just having one of his PTSD flashbacks. Thanks to John Doolittle, VA services aren't what they used to be."

He was joined by a fourth brother-in-arms. "We had a saying in the military: 'There's always ten percent that doesn't get the word.' Veterans Against Veterans stands up for that principle. We're all ten-percenters, and we're damn proud if it!"

At this point, the mood began to lighten again. Julie Doolittle, the congressman's wife, supervised the serving of refreshments. Several people remarked on the fact that their glasses appeared to be precisely 85% full. "Well, there are the ten-percenters, and then there are the fifteen-percenters," she quipped breezily. "Don't you know? I always take fifteen percent off the top!"

John came over and put his arm around Julie. "That's right! In the old days, Julie used to cut my hair, and she always took fifteen percent off the top!"

Casino Jack joined in the fun. "This one always gets a few titters," he smirked, barely containing his glee. "Didja hear about the campaign consultant who decided to go to medical school and specialize in breast reductions? He always took...."

So the event turned out to be a huge success. How could it not? It probably won't save the Doolittle campaign, but John and Julie are laughing all the way to the bank. Seriously, folks.

25 June 2008

The Whole Man

By Thomas Gangale
Petaluma Argus-Courier
Petaluma, California
27 April 2006

In the Air Force, we used to joke about its four great myths: "the real Air Force," because wherever you were stationed was somehow unrepresentative of the service as a whole; "the regular crew chief," because anyone you went to for a solution was not in a position to provide it; "the big picture," because no matter the pay grade, no one was ever high enough to see it; and "the whole man," because no one had the requisite breadth and depth of skills and experiences to qualify for this description. It was axiomatic that you could serve an entire career and never come across any of these things.

A few days ago, I attended a campaign rally for Charles Brown, LtCol, USAF (Ret.), one of the "Band of Brothers," now 72 strong, veterans who are running as Democrats to take the Hill and win back Congress for the people of the United States. Also speaking at the event was Max Cleland, Capt, US Army (Ret.), former senator from Georgia. I had seen him only once on TV, when he had been head of the Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter, and I remembered the astonishing sight of a triple-amputee playing basketball. But on this day, I got to meet him and to hear him speak, and I was astonished several more times and on much deeper levels. The first surprise was to see Charlie lean over Max and put his arms around him, and my first thought was that Charlie was going to lift him out of his wheelchair... surely not! But no, it was a hug, a hug of comradeship, one Vietnam veteran to another.

The second jolt was when it came time for me to meet the senator, to shake his hand, and to mouth the conditioned-reflex platitude of what an honor it was, and he leaned forward and pulled my arm toward him, and I realized that I was about to hug him, too. Does your senator hug you? Driving home from the rally at the Fair Oaks VFW post and the fundraising reception afterward, it occurred to me that with only his left hand remaining to him as his primary means of touching the world, it makes sense that Max compensates by pulling the world to his breast and enfolding it with his soul.

But I have jumped ahead of my story, for it was an absolute joy to hear Max speak, and to spend some time becoming acquainted with him. Here was a man of great warmth, humor, compassion, and wisdom. Here was a man who had been blown to bits serving his country in a dubious cause, and who had never stopped loving it or serving it. Here was a man, who in the prime of youth and vigor, must have spent some time wondering whether he was going to live, perhaps some time wishing that he hadn't, then some time struggling to build meaning into whatever life he had left.

Mindful that we live in a time not only when, as George Orwell predicted, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength, but under the malevolent manipulations of Karl Rove and the like, falsehood is truth, courage is cowardice, and loyalty is treason, I can do no more than to let Max Cleland's record of service speak for itself. As to the man himself, I can say that as I got to know him, my dominant impression was of a man whose strength of spirit has healed his soul and triumphed over the loss of much of his body. Incredibly, the more time I spent in his presence, the less noticeable became his physical disability. At length I realized that there really had been only three myths, for I had finally met "the whole man."

Welcome home, Max.

24 June 2008

Southern Strategy

By Thomas Gangale
12 June 2003

If you’re one of those whose eyes glaze over the moment someone starts to tell you about his dream, skip on to the next item without reading further.

I've been cautioned not to work too hard at this international relations and political science stuff. Perhaps, when the alarm wakes you out of a dead sleep at 5am and a few seconds earlier you were been riding around in the back of a limo with Richard Nixon, it's time too heed that advice.

In my dreams, as the saying goes, I was engaged in conversation with Tricky Dick, still alive but looking a hundred years old (which would be about right), and several other dignitaries in the limo. At one point, Pat Nixon, who was riding up toward the front, turned around to ask me if the president was still smarter than a Marine guard and his dog, alluding to an intruder incident that had been mishandled by the official security.

I responded, "I wouldn't care to comment on the Marine, ma'am, but the dog still has a way to go."

There was an awkward silence.

I had tried to make a joke, putting the Marine's intelligence below that of the dog. No former Air Force officer would have missed a chance to disparage the Marines, I'm sure. But in the process I had also implicitly compared the president's possibly waning mental faculties to the dog's intelligence in a manner that was certainly less than a ringing endorsement.

Thus the awkward silence. If Nixon doesn’t think it's funny, it isn't funny.

I had to come up with something to recover gracefully, so I continued, this time with a hint of a drawl, "Howevah, as a yellah dawg Democrat, Ah'd still vote foah the dawg."

The ancient Nixon laughed. He knew a Southern strategy when he heard one.

22 June 2008

An orderly presidential election process

By Todd Rokita
Indianapolis Star
22 June 2008

Although Americans have turned their attention to the heated race building toward November, we still have many lessons to learn from the history-making 2008 presidential primary.

For such a nation-shaping decision, the method through which we select our candidates for commander in chief is in dire need of improvement. Our primary process is too front-loaded -- 34 states plus the District of Columbia voted in January or February, more than three times the number that did so in 2000. This not only creates a prolonged campaign, our current primary schedule also runs the risk of disenfranchising almost half the population.

In recent years, a number of plans for reform have emerged, such as a national primary, the "Delaware Plan" or a graduated random presidential primary system. Each strategy shows promise, but none provides a comprehensive solution that will ensure an equitable way to select hopefuls for our nation's highest office.

As president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, I'm an advocate of our own solution to the problem -- the NASS Rotating Regional Primaries Plan.


19 June 2008

American Plan Support

By Dwayne Hunn
People’s Lobby Executive Director

In 2008 almost every state played an interesting and, in the Democrats race, significant role in determining our presidential candidates. Excepting maybe Iowans and New Hampshirites, most Americans, who follow how we determine who will be the last suits standing to be CEO of what was once the world’s most respected power, do not think we have a fair, logical nominating process.

So how do we devise a better nominating process?

Well, for balance you’ll probably need someone who is a registered RepubDemoInde, or at least who has been registered with the Republican, Democratic, and Independent parties. He or she should also have some military training, so as to develop and stand by a disciplined approach to problem solving. Then, he/she should also be heavily trained in the math and sciences, so as to support a fairer nominating plan with math and graphs.

And guess what? Thomas Gangale, author of From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America's Broken Presidential Nomination Process fits all those criteria. He Has Been an Independent, Republican, and Democratic. He is a scientist who loves math. He produces plenty of graphs.

To fix the nominating process, Gangale warms us up as he mixes it up. In each nominating stage, he juggles the small states and different regions to get as close as possible to fair and even. Consequently, an unknown with little money has a chance to establish himself and perhaps move up into the medium-sized juggled states to see whether he can compete there too. Gangale has brought common sense, fairness, science, and math to give us a much fairer process.

Just because you may have enjoyed the 2008 nominating process doesn't mean we shouldn't fix a nominating highway that is dated, dented, and needs more than just pothole repair.

Read Gangale’s book. Then write your Congressperson, so that they can vote to bring a saner nominating process to your hometown next time. With all the challenges our political process has lined up on our horizon, America needs all the common sense it can garner in its nominating process.

18 June 2008

Bush's Fun House Mirror Vision for Space

by Thomas Gangale
18 June 2008

Monday's Office of Management and Budget statement opposing H.R. 6063, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2008, is as full of deliberate distortions as a fun house mirror. Naturally, it sticks up for the President's "Vision" to end the Space Shuttle program as quickly as possible, despite the fact that the Administration never came up with a plan to keep American astronauts commuting to the mostly-American International Space Station during a five-year gap while a new manned spacecraft is developed. It also sticks up for the President’s decision not to fly an already-built billion-dollar instrument.

Congress intends to restore three Space Shuttle flights. Since the bill anticipates that the three flights will occur in 2010, it is not "effectively superseding the 2010 Shuttle retirement date that is a critical step to enabling successful development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle." The OMB statement is clearly false, given that throughout 2007, NASA's schedule held firmly to a retirement date of July 2010, and this year NASA actually pulled that date ahead to April 2010. What are the odds that in the remaining eight months of 2010, NASA could get three "additional" missions off the pad?

Not bad, I'd say... especially since two of them have been on the launch schedule for four years.

NASA's Consolidated Launch Manifest lists ULF-4 and ULF-5 as contingency flights, under review, to establish a six-person crew capability on the ISS. Gee, might it make sense to fly a couple of shuttle missions to double the size of the ISS crew from 2010 to 2016 and beyond, and do a lot more science during that period than three people can do? I guess so! Also, there's nothing new that Congress is adding in this bill... except money; it is only restoring what Bush's "Vision" forced NASA to roll back from "no foolin', we're gonna fly 'em" missions to "contingency" missions, meaning "it sure would be nice if Congress would give us the money." These two missions were part of the baseline flight manifest at least as far back as 2004, around the time that Bush was off somewhere having his "Vision." So, just what exactly are the risks of turning contingency missions that were originally baseline missions back into baseline missions again, other than to the Administration's credibility? The bill provides new money to fly these missions, rather than robbing the Orion program to pay for them, so why would this delay "the operational capability of the Orion CEV?"

The other "additional" mission isn't really an addition, either. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer cost a billion dollars to build, so maybe spending a few million dollars to actually fly the thing would be a prudent use of taxpayers' money, huh? How much science are we getting out of it while it sits in a clean room?

Back in December, the Fox Business Channel brought me into a San Francisco studio at 4am to have a goofy debate with Ed Hudgins, formerly of the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, now the executive director an Ayn Rand cult called the Atlas Society. I wonder how long this guy can keep stepping to the right before he falls off the planet. The occasion was the scheduled launch of STS-122, which at one time was intended to carry the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS. Naturally, it being "fair and balanced" Fox, it was an ambush. The moderator let Hudgins rant repetitious slogans about the grounding of the spectrometer as an example of government waste, and as I was gearing up to verbally beat Hudgins' arguments to a bloody pulp, what do you know, Fox was suddenly out of time. Even the studio technician was startled. "Man, that was a hard 'out!'" Anyway, I confidently predicted on-camera that Congress would come up with the money to fly the spectrometer, and it has made a brave beginning to do that. Gangale 1, Hudgins 0.

Of course, the NASA authorization bill has only been reported out of the House Science Committee, so it has a long way to go before it reaches the President's desk. Still, if these courageous provisions survive in the bill, a presidential veto of a NASA bill would be a shocking historical precedent. I say to Congress, hang tough, you're doing the right thing with the people's money, call his bluff.

However the NASA authorization bill ends up, funny thing about these "government is the problem" libertarians... if the government writes off a billion-dollar spectrometer, they call it waste; when the private sector writes down a hundred billion dollars in sub-prime loans, they call it a business decision. Could this be why Atlas shrugged?

17 June 2008

Well-Regulated Arms

By Thomas Gangale
17 June 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see a gun nut rant about the Second Amendment passed around via email. It was little more than a string of sound bites thrown together in no particular order, which is a poor substitute for a logical progression of statements in support of a conclusion. In any case, one of these slogans was the less-than-clever rhetorical question, "What part of 'shall not be infringed' do you not understand?" I forwarded this and the whole set of goofiness to a few people, with my own commentary.

I would like to ask, "What part of 'well-regulated Militia' does the NRA not understand?" Conveniently ignored is the concept of regulation, which is explicit in the Second Amendment. Furthermore, there is the premise of a "Militia being necessary for the security of a free State," which defines the context of "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms." The Second Amendment establishes the right of a free state to maintain its security by providing for itself the capability for organized use of force in the form of a "well-regulated Militia;" it says absolutely nothing about individual citizens providing for their own security through the use of force. To claim that an assault rifle is necessary to the security of a free citizen is a ludicrous misconstruction. It should also be understood that the Second Amendment, along with the other nine in the Bill of Rights, were written and ratified with the intent of limiting federal power over the states; accordingly, states reserve the right to regulate their militias, and to regulate the conditions under which its citizens may keep and bear arms for the purpose of maintaining the state militias.

Rights must always be understood in a specific context; they are never absolutes, because each government--federal, state, and local--and each citizen is a sovereign, and if sovereignty were absolute, there would be anarchy. Anyone who fails to understand this is most certainly unarmed in the intellectual sense, and ought to be disarmed in the interest of the security of a free state. Anyone who does not wish to be considered in this category can begin by reading and comprehending one complete sentence in its historical and legal context: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

One response I received was, "I've been educated and proud to be a gun owner. I believe you forgot 'Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People!'"

Great, I thought. Here's a guy whose only reading material is on the freeway at rush hour.

Yes, you certainly dazzle me with your intellect by repeating what you read off of someone's car bumper. I'm happy for you that you are a gun owner and that you are very proud of that! I happen to own a firearm as well, but I don't go around patting myself on the butt about it, I simply exercise my constitutional right quietly. What you apparently fail to understand is that this right, like all rights, has limitations, because other people have rights as well. Their rights end where yours begin, don't they? Then the reverse is also true.

But really, there's nothing like a nuclear weapon for home defense. I separated from active duty at the end of the Cold War, when a number of strategic arms treaties were negotiated. I found it incredibly easy to convince neighbors that I, a former air force officer, had been entrusted with basing a nuclear warhead in my garage to avoid it being reported as required by the treaties. If you ever saw the clutter in my garage, you would immediately realize that there was no possibility of either verifying or falsifying this claim. It was my grandparents' house, so there was stuff all the way back to the 1930s. No one threw anything away during the Great Depression, nor afterward either. The Site Selection Team's inspection report gave it an "outstanding" rating. For some reason, during training for the program, we didn't refer to the warheads themselves, but to the keys, I suppose because it sounded so innocuous. During the Cold War, the nuclear strategy was called Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. The program I participated in to clandestinely re-base warheads was called Basing Of Nuclear Keys to Evade the Reporting System, or BONKERS. I recall that my neighbors accorded me a certain deference. You see, security is not necessarily a matter of firepower, but of deterrence.

Have a nice, bright day.

Then a neighbor wrote, "Tongue in cheek, right?"

I mulled this over. "Could have been, in which case I own him an apology. I took him seriously... seriously stupid."

"No, I meant to ask if your answer was tongue in cheek --- basing a nuclear warhead in your garage, etc."

Not to worry. The site was inactivated several years ago and the "key" was relocated. When I was debriefed from the BONKERS program (and, for that matter, when I was briefed into the program), I was not required to sign a nondisclosure statement. "Tell anyone anything you want. Most people will think you're having them on, but eventually your story and those of others who are participating or who have participated in the program will get picked up by our potential adversaries, and it will introduce an element of doubt in their minds." Sun Tzu wrote, "All war is based on deception." Make the enemy think you are in his front when you are not, make him think you are elsewhere when you are in front of him. Always give him cause to doubt your capabilities and intentions. Perhaps this was the real "key" to the BONKERS program. It could be that the program gave me no warhead at all, just an empty reentry vehicle. After all, in a number of strategic weapon systems there are decoys that deploy among the actual weapons to ensure their survivability, so it makes sense to me that some BONKERS sites were decoys. I suppose that we will never know for certain until the program is declassified someday and someone files a Freedom of Information Act request for program documentation.

16 June 2008

Obama: Inspiration Lost in Space

by Thomas Gangale
16 June 2008

According to Senator Barack Obama, "NASA is no longer associated with inspiration." If so, I wonder why NASA websites have scored billions of visits while the rovers Spirit and Opportunity have traveled across the surface of Mars.

Senator Obama has also said, "I do think that our program has been stuck for a while - that the space shuttle mission did not inspire the imagination of the public."

What could be more uninspiring than a program that boldly goes where hundreds have gone before? What's the mission we're flying next? STS-124... STS-125... or is that the number of sheep I've been counting as the space program has been putting me to sleep? Yes, the space shuttle program is boring, but it was designed to be. It was supposed to provide routine access to space, and except for the losses of Challenger and Columbia, it's been pretty routine. STS-126... STS-127.... are we inspired yet? The most famous astronaut in recent times is Lisa Nowak.

The space shuttle program was so uninspiring from the very beginning that NASA wasn't even inspired enough to give it a name like Apollo. But then, the American public was already bored with the Apollo program by the time an oxygen tank exploded on the third lunar landing mission. As Marilyn Lovell remarked when the Apollo 13 crisis erupted, the media hadn't cared that her husband was going to land on the Moon, but suddenly cared that he wasn't going to land on the Moon. And Jim Lovell was one of the men who had captivated the world by reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve only a year and a half earlier as Apollo 8 orbited the Moon.

So, I can forgive Senator Obama for sounding like Kurt Cobain when talking about the space program: "Here we are now, entertain us!" It's not just a Generation X thing.

However, it's curious that Americans are looking to him for inspiration while he is looking to the space program for inspiration and not finding it. It's also curious that his proposed cure is to make the patient sicker. He plans to delay Project Constellation--a space program with a real name and real destinations to the Moon and Mars--for at least five years, putting the saved money into a new $10-billion-a-year education program. President Bush has already killed the space shuttle program to help pay for the Constellation program, and with a President Obama, we may not have that either. This is of special concern to California in view of its large aerospace industry, including the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft, Sunnyvale-based Lockheed Martin.

With space shuttle flights ending in 2010, and the first Constellation mission not scheduled until 2014, American astronauts face a planned four-year gap during which they'll be forced to hitch rides with the Russians--or even the Chinese--to get to and from the International Space Station, which is mostly American. That's a bad plan to begin with because development programs always slip a couple of years. As a new program, the space shuttle was supposed to fly in 1978; its first mission wasn't until 1981. So, I'll bet that even if fully funded, Constellation will fly no earlier than 2016. An Obama administration would add another five years to the delay, so it could be eleven years between the last space shuttle mission and the first Constellation flight.

The only thing more uninspiring than the space shuttle program would be no manned space flights at all, and on the Obama plan, that's what the next generation of American youth will get. We're already calling them Generation Z. Zzzzz.

Getting back to education, let's do some math. Senator Obama proposes to fund a new $10-billion-a-year education program by cutting back the $2.5-billion-a-year Constellation program. OK, and I suppose I can pay my $10,000 federal income tax bill with a check for $2,500? People's eyes glaze over when hearing about billions of dollars, so let's scale down to everyone's everyday experiences. Today, the federal government will spend $26.21 of my taxes. The entire NASA budget will cost me $0.16. I can afford that.

In an era of secretive government, the best-kept secret is how inexpensive the space program is. Polls taken over the decades consistently show that a majority of Americans overestimate NASA's share of the federal budget at anywhere from five percent to 25 percent. Would you believe it's only six-tenths of a percent? It's the best deal in the solar system.

I hope that this won't be viewed as a hit piece against Senator Obama, but as a friendly nudge, and I hope that he will understand that nothing could give a bigger boost to education than an inspiring space program. In the Apollo years, the number of students graduating with advanced degrees skyrocketed (no pun intended), and the nation has reaped the benefits of that Apollo inspiration throughout the decades of their productive lives.

Let's give the next generation something other than violent video games and other virtual-world fantasies for their entertainment. Let's inspire them to excel with a vision of the future that promises peaceful adventures on many worlds.

14 June 2008

Dumbed Down Democrats

By Thomas Gangale
Berkeley Daily Planet
12 June 2008

One of my international relations instructors at San Francisco State knew the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of Massachusetts, and characterized him as a raging alcoholic. OK, I’m Irish on my mother’s side, that goes with the territory. But, he also said that Moynihan was smarter dead drunk than most of his colleagues were sober. Would that we had more Democrats like him these days.

I’ll fess up: I just lost the election to the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee. Hell, I haven’t won an election yet. Now, you can chalk up my attitude to sour grapes. I don’t care. Jesse Unruh said, “Winning isn’t everything, but losing is nothing." Right, so why should I cry over nothing?

And, what a nothing the Central Committee is. I was in the office of one of our senior ranking elected officials the week before the June election, and a staffer declared loudly, “The Central Committee is a joke!”

How much of a joke?

One of last week’s winners is someone who a couple of years ago got the Central Committee to pass a resolution to ban from the committee’s sponsorship lists any local Democratic officeholder who “has publicly endorsed or supported non Democratic Party candidates or incumbents for an elective office, including non partisan offices,” or “has supported the appointment of a non Democrat to any commission, agency, committee, or other group." Shortly after I was appointed to the Democratic Central Committee a couple of years ago, I paid a courtesy call to the Republican Central Committee headquarters. They told me that this individual was the greatest gift that Democrats had ever given Republicans in Sonoma County. And, since he’s been reelected, he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

This guy seems to be mostly about restricting what other people do. Late last year, he threatened to bring a motion before the Democratic Central Committee to enjoin me from advertising my book in the signature block of my own email messages. So much for freedom of speech. Last month, he got a majority of the Central Committee members present to agree to restrict the number of resolutions that its Issues and Legislation standing committee can report each month. That standing committee has been far too productive, and it has thrown more issues at the Central Committee than it can stand to think about.

And he calls himself a “progressive.”

I was chair of that Issues and Legislation Committee, for which I became much disliked. Among my many transgressions was to ask the Central Committee to take positions on a couple of proposed amendments to the California Constitution. I met with vehement resistance. They were too much for the former mayor of Sebastopol to handle. “These issues are too complex and confusing for us to take a position on!" The issues in question were Propositions 98 and 99, which appeared on the June 3 ballot. Never mind that any high school dropout who was registered to vote could take a position on these. She likes to impress her colleagues on the committee by claiming to have a master’s degree from Harvard. Well, so does George W. Bush. I take it that Harvard isn’t what it used to be.

And she calls herself a “progressive.”

But this last one takes the cake. This weekend, another of the recent winners asked me about a Central Committee member who won reelection, but who has accepted a job as a Department of Defense contractor and who will soon deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan. Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores couldn’t find a job in academia in this state, so in her mid-50s, she is going to war, to be embedded with troops one-third her age. But she’s tough; 35 years ago, she was the Army’s first female infantry soldier trained for arctic and mountain combat. I said, “She’ll do all right. After all, she served under Norman Schwarzkopf.”

The newly-elected Central Committee member, no spring chicken herself, replied, “That doesn’t mean anything to me." I looked at her with astonishment. When I saw the deer-in-the-headlights glaze in her eyes, I realized that she wasn’t being rude or flippant.

“You know, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded American troops in the Gulf War?”

“I wasn’t paying attention." I might as well have been talking about Caesar’s campaign in Gaul. She says that she wants to work on issues that are important to Sonoma County residents, and she calls herself a “progressive.”

I suppose “progressives” might support our troops... if they knew where they were.

When one loses to people of this caliber, it really is nothing. Well, perhaps it’s a bit of a repressed grimace, followed by an unrestrained belly-laugh. I take it as an article of faith that the democratic process works in the long run, but neither have I any doubt that in the short run it produces sub-optimal outcomes. Just look at who’s in DC and Sacramento. In any case, I never really lose; if a path before me closes, there are still so many others that are open. I have some more books to write, and perhaps the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee has furnished me with some useful material.

Meanwhile, I’ll drink a toast to Pat Moynihan. Maybe two.

13 June 2008

The Race Is Over... Now What?

By Thomas Gangale
13 June 2008

Now that the Clinton-Obama drama is over, in the calm before the national conventions and the kickoff of the autumn campaign, pundits will cast about for some other presidential election issue to fill up air time and column space. Some will reflect on this year's nomination process and schedule, on what went right and what went wrong, and on what changes might be made for 2012. There are a lot of voices out there for changing the process, and I'm one of them, but each of us has his own set of assumptions and conclusions.

The front-loaded schedule, with so many states voting on the first Tuesday in February, should have determined the nominees of both major political parties very early. In part, the schedule was actually designed to do that, although it is also true that the schedule is in part a "tragedy of the commons" result of states pushing and shoving to the front of the calendar. So, regardless of one's opinion on front-loading, this year's calendar was a partial success and a partial failure. John McCain sewed it up early, Barack Obama didn't. Why such different outcomes?

A quick victory like McCain's has become the norm over the past 20 years; it was the Obama-Clinton saga that was the fluke. No one predicted that the Democrats would have two such evenly matched candidates. But, removing the element of random chance, what made the difference was the winner-take-all contests in the Republican Party, which magnified McCain's advantage over his rivals. In contrast, the string of victories that Obama racked up wasn't enough to put him over the top early, for in every state that she lost, Hillary Clinton took a big bite of delegates. As a result, there is some grumbling among top Democrats about going back to winner-take-all contests, which the party began phasing out in 1972. In other words, the solution is for the Democratic Party to operate more like the Republican Party. That's not the Democratic Party I would want.

On the other hand, some Democrats have concluded that the system worked well this year, that the protracted struggle between Obama and Clinton was good for the party, and that no changes are necessary for 2012. They stayed in the media limelight while McCain was relegated to the shadows. They rained punches on each other and got into condition for the main event, while McCain has yet to take a hard blow. I agree, but after March 4, Clinton and Obama were really just sparring partners. With most of the primaries and caucuses behind them, barring a catastrophic gaffe or scandal, Clinton had no chance of overtaking Obama in the dribble of remaining contests, so the next two months were an empty charade.

So, a structural change in the nomination system is necessary, but Democrats don't need to revert to winner-take-all. In a way, the calendar needs to be inverted, "back-loaded," if you will.

One good feature of the present system is that it begins with a few small states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. In theory, this would allow small, underfunded campaigns to take on the big dogs in small venues where money is less of a factor than in mass media markets. However, there is no good reason why it should be these four particular states leading the pack cycle after cycle. Other small states are just as deserving, so the selection should be by lottery. Also, a Super Tuesday on the heels of the first few small states magnifies their importance. Landing one-two punches in Iowa and New Hampshire virtually assures victory on Super Tuesday, so that's where the big money gets spent, and the underfunded candidate is blown off the field. So, let's put Super Tuesday at the end of the calendar rather than near the beginning. This would allow for true "retail politicking" at the beginning of the calendar, giving small campaigns an opportunity to grow from early victories and compete with the well-financed campaigns in later, bigger states. Also, a protracted contest would have real meaning right up to the end, when the big prize of delegates would be waiting to be taken. Again, the states participating in Super Tuesday should be determined by random selection, as should all of the states at the beginning and in the middle of the calendar. This way, over several cycles, the advantage of one state of another cancels out, and voters across the nation are treated fairly.

12 June 2008

The Feinstein Censure Resolution Is Alive, But Is It Kicking?

by Thomas Gangale
12 June 2008

Last November, a resolution to censure Senator Dianne Feinstein was brought to the Executive Board meeting of the California Democratic Party. The resolution cited the senator's vote to confirm the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey as United States Attorney General, "thereby elevating to the highest position in law enforcement a man who refused to renounce the right of the President to resort to torture and who refused to recognize waterboarding as a form of torture." Also cited was her vote to confirm Judge Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit "despite his clear record of racism and gender discrimination."

The resolution was late in terms of that particular CDP E-Board meeting, thus according to the party rules, the resolution required the unanimous consent of the Resolutions Committee for it to be considered by that body. It didn't get anywhere near unanimous consent. There was some shouting and shoving over the next couple of days, including a classic "blocking the camera" cameo appearance by Bob Mulholland in the meeting's general session, but party rules provided no procedure for bringing the resolution to a floor vote.

However, a resolution that is late for one meeting is automatically timely for the next one, and the next CDP E-Board meeting is this weekend. The Resolutions Committee resolution will consider the resolution, and it will probably vote it down. The CDP rules provide a recourse for a timely resolution that has failed in the Resolutions Committee: 135 Executive Board members, or 40% of the members, whichever is fewer, may sign a petition to bring the resolution to a vote in the general session of the meeting. So, this is the next hurdle that the resolution must pass.

The question is, should it pass?

The resolution has the support of the Courage Campaign, MoveOn.org, Progressive Democrats of America, at least three caucuses of the CDP, at least three county Democratic central committees, and more than 30 Democratic clubs. These censures sent a strong message to Senator Feinstein. She appeared to get the message. While the storm was brewing last November, she reversed her position on a bill that would have given telecom companies retroactive immunity when complying with warrantless federal government spying on Americans. She took the next available turn to the left.

A lot of California Democrats believe that Senator Feinstein should make a number of additional left turns, and we certainly need to hold her accountable for her votes in the Senate. However, seven months have passed since the censure resolution was first brought to the E-Board. Has it served its purpose? Does it make sense to continue scrapping with an elected Democrat as we march toward the autumn campaign season with the purpose of electing many more Democrats? Is it time to move on? E-Board members should reflect on these questions as they consider signing the censure resolution petition this weekend.

11 June 2008

A Letter to Lynn Woolsey on the 2008 NASA Authorization Act

Dear Representative Woolsey:

Thank you for seeing me in your Santa Rosa office a couple of weeks ago. As you pointed out during our discussion on space policy, in principle we are not so far apart, rather it is a matter of emphasis and priority. Once again, I urge you to consider that, given wise programmatic decisions, NASA funding returns far more to the American people than the outlay, and it is an investment in our future. It deserves high priority because it augments many other positive goals. In the military, we have the concept of key war-fighting technologies as "force multipliers." I see key space technologies as "future multipliers." They provide us with more and better options as to how we will continue to exist on our own overburdened planet.

In reading the 2008 NASA Authorization Act that was just reported out of the House Science and Technology Committee, I was particularly gratified to see that it provided funding for a Space Shuttle mission to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. Last December, on the Fox Business Channel, I confidently predicted this during a discussion with Ed Hudgins of the Atlas Society (formerly of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation), who was decrying the grounding of the spectrometer as another egregious example of government waste. When the government writes off a billion-dollar spectrometer, they call it waste, and when private enterprise writes down ten billion dollars in sub-prime loans, they call it a business decision.

I hope that you will add your name as a cosponsor of the 2008 NASA Authorization Act. I will continue to do my utmost to articulate a progressive vision of human space exploration.


Thomas Gangale
Executive Director, OPS-Alaska

10 June 2008

Primary Reforms

New York Times
8 June 2008

The strange ritual of the Iowa caucuses, the fight over the Michigan and Florida delegations, the battle over the superdelegates ­ it has been a colorful nominating season, but not the most democratic one. It takes nothing away from the achievements of Barack Obama and John McCain to take note that the system for choosing the parties’ nominees is seriously flawed.

The Senate is planning hearings on the subject, and both parties are talking about reform. We hope a better system will be in place by 2012.

A guiding principle behind American democracy is "one person, one vote." All voters should have an equal opportunity, regardless of who they are or where they live, to affect the outcome. The process should be transparent, the ballot should be secret, and there should be no unnecessary barriers to voting.

Tested against these principles, both parties' systems fall short.

Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate rules committee, which has jurisdiction over elections, says she wants to hold hearings next month on rotating primaries and related issues. Ideally, the parties would fix the process themselves, but insiders do not always have the interests of ordinary voters at heart. Whoever takes action, the goal should be a new and improved nominating process that reflects the will of the people.


09 June 2008

Florida-Michigan Fight Not About Clinton v. Obama

By Paul Hogarth
28 May 2008

But the more important question is what comes next …

Already, efforts are underway to plan the 2012 primary schedule in a way so that we don’t have these problems in the future. There are different ideas in the works, but all involve some national co-ordination of the primary process. If we respect that process, no state will get to hi-jack the schedule for its own benefit. My favorite is the American Plan, which creates a mathematical formula that selects each state at random on who gets to go first – but other solutions should be actively discussed.

But if the DNC Rules Committee doesn’t enforce its own rules on Saturday, any future effort at reforming the primary process down the road will be pointless.


08 June 2008

Ruminations on reactions to my "CounterSpin" appearance: parties need a fair schedule

By Rob Richie
27 May 2008

Last week I taped a short radio segment with CounterSpin, produced for national distribution by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. My subject was how many journalists have over-hyped recent Democratic primary results, not recognizing how predictable they largely have been in a race whose basic outlines were established by February 6th

During the broadcast, I commented matter-of-factly that the Obama-Clinton race is very close, but that Obama is ahead by several different measures, including the national popular vote. For me, this is a simple fact, as the only way Obama can be said to be behind in the popular vote is to count all votes cast in Michigan and Florida in January contests that the party had rejected months before. The only way Clinton can be said to lead in the popular vote is to count all votes cast for her in Michigan and keep Obama’s Michigan total at zero, given that he was not on the ballot. You can see all the ways of counting the popular vote tallied helpfully at Real Clear Politics

Perhaps I should have realized that this comment would draw some reaction, but I still was surprised at some of the vitriol in some blogs. My comment had no partisan intent, but this debate is a hornet’s nest.

This got me to thinking about why the Obama-Clinton contest has gotten as ugly as it has in recent weeks, with tensions mounting. What reinforces for me is the value of the major parties having a schedule of contests that ensures all states and territories have a crack at a meaningful contest, particularly if the nomination race is close.

Polls consistently show that Democrats want this contest to cover all states, but since March 4, Clinton has mathematically had no real chance to win a majority of pledged delegates barring a massive shift in voting patterns — there simply weren’t enough states left. With three more months of contests and most Democrats wanting a 50-state nomination, Clinton had every reason to keep campaigning hard. But to justify her candidacy her campaign has had to make arguments that can get both sides riled up — fighting over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida, for example, and starting to highlight the symbolis national popular vote.

In a better scheduled system, the pledged delegate contest would have not have been decided with three more months of voting in such a close contest. There would have been enough states voting at the end of the process for the race to be in play.

There are various ways to structure such a process, although they all require that states play by the rules that the party establishes. See our FixThePrimaries website for different proposals; my favorite continues to be the American Plan or some variant (such as ending with a national primary between the top two candidates or possibly top three candidates using instant runoff voting.)

07 June 2008

Democratic nomination rules debate shows value of National Popular Vote plan

Rob Richie
12 May 2008

Former president Bill Clinton’s one-time chief of staff Leon Panetta is among those suggesting that Democrats would be better served by going to winner-take-all primaries where the candidate who wins a state takes all of that state’s delegates no matter how close the contest. As Bill Clinton himself has pointed out, Hillary Clinton would be far ahead with this rule, given her victories in states like Texas, California and New York.

Setting aside the debate over allocating delegates by proportional representation versus winner-take-all for the primaries (a debate where I think proportional representation wins hands down, as previously argued) and other issues like the impact of the Democrats’ schedule of primaries, consider the lessons for how winner-take-all would have played out in the Democratic primary for how best to elect the president in general elections.

In general elections, we currently have winner-take-all, state by state rules (Maine and Nebraska allocate delegates by winner-take-all in congressional district, but have never divided their electoral votes since adopting their approach and are highly unlikely to do so this year either). As we can learn from appplying this rule to the Democratic nomination contests, winner-take-all rules means that:

* The winner in the national popular vote is more likely to be defeated: HIllary Clinton wouldn’t need delegates out of Michigan and Florida to win if winner-take-all had been used even though she’s behind in the national popular vote and behind by more than 2% in the national vote without Michigan and Florida.

* Big states count more than small states: Barack Obama has won nearly twice as many states as Clinton, but she has won more of the big state. That helps explain why contrary to what some misinformed people contend, the current Electoral College system doesn’t help small states. It in fact makes the swing voter in big popular states far more important than anyone else.

* Close states count far more other states: The current Democratic system is essentially a national primary contest unfolding state by state. Getting more votes in every state matters, no matter how close, even if the media likes to obsess over who wins states as if the results were winner-take-all. In contrast, if winner-take-all rules were in place, the candidates would completely ignore states they couldn’t win or were sure to win. That’s sadly just what they will do in general elections this fall, as revealed over the weekend in the New York Times. Our Presidential Election Inequality report presents powerful data from 2004 about 99% of campaign resources going to 16 states in the campaign’s peak season.

* Recounts are a far bigger problem: When Hillary Clinton won Indiana by fewer than 20,000 votes, some in the media started hyperventllating about a recount. That was absurd. If Obama had won Indiana in a recount, he would have gotten only one more delegate. But winner-take-all makes artificial crises out of close results in states like Florida in 2000. The odds of a national recount being impactful with a national popular vote plan are minuscule, as demonstrated in our 2007 report on recounts.

Some might wonder why I don’t support proportional allocation of electors in the Electoral College as the Democrats use in their nomination contests. That approach would be better than winner-take-all if applied to all states, but it’s not nearly as sensible as every vote being equal in general elections. See chapter four of Every Vote Equal, the book I co-authored about the National Popular Vote plan, and our 2007 report Fuzzy Math.

Fortunately, we should have the National Popular Vote plan in place for general elections in November 2012 to correct all these defects in the current Electoral College system — the plan has passed in four states and will be debated in all other states in the coming year.

06 June 2008

Washington Post Outlook: Proportional representation a big success in Democratic nomination process

By Rob Richie
11 May 2008

This is a theme to which we’ll be returning, as debate is rising about whether Democrats or Republicans have had a better nomination process, with a focus on the winner-take-all rules for allocating delegates that gave John McCain such a big boost to the Republican nomination compared to the proportional representation allocation rules that have extended the Democratic nomination.

FairVote is firmly on the side of proportional allocation of delegates, although there are ways it could be improved. For one, it has ensured that the delegate results more accurately reflect the popular vote in contests, making the Democratic race more like a national primary unfolding state by state. If winner-take-all had been used and and the popular vote had been the same in every state, Hillary Clinton would be far ahead despite trailing Barack Obama in the overall popular vote and being swamped in number of states won — a questionable result no matter what one might think about the relative merits of Clinton and Obama.

Echoing and amplifying arguments (such as here and here) I made on this blog, see Alan Wolfe’s ode to the Democratic nomination process in today’s Washington Post Outlook. Included in his piece is this quote:

For the Democrats, proportional representation, rather than producing chaos, underscored the party’s commitment to inclusion. Democrats are more likely to speak about equality, social justice and fairness in election campaigns than Republicans, and proportional representation is more compatible with those themes than a winner-take-all method. We live in democratic times in which people get to choose the churches to which they belong and the television stations they want to watch. Under such conditions, a party that opens itself up to its members invests them in its decisions — not only in the election coming up this fall but in future contests as well. More people became Democrats in 2008 than became Republicans, and more of them were younger. Exciting and open contests can do that sort of thing.

02 June 2008

A Dialogue on the Presidential Nomination Process

At 10:40 PM 6/1/2008, Jeanie wrote:
>Thank you for this posting. I have been reading comments on Hillary's blog site. I've been listening to Obama supporters. I'm VERY concerned.
>First, let me say that I've been a Hillary supporter since 1993, when she presented her proposal on health care reform. I've said many times since then that she was right, and we're paying the price now as a nation for not listening to her. I voted for Hillary in the California primary, not because I don't like Barrack Obama - I like him a lot - but because I felt she was the best qualified, most knowledgeable of the two. That said:
>I am deeply troubled by the feverish, angry loyalty that is being displayed on her website blog. It's great for people to be inspired by a candidate, and to work for that candidate's election. And I'm sure the more involved one gets, the more emotional it all becomes. However, it is a problem for our party and our nation if people are only committed to individual candidates, and not to the principles of the Democratic Party itself. We are supposed to be choosing OUR nominee here - whichever one it is. I'm starting to feel like a lot of people are hijacking our party for the sake of their own candidate, and no one else - in both camps. The length of the divide, in terms of time, may not be a factor at all. I think it is just making the problem visible. Someone needs to get to these people, and soon. Someone they'll listen to. They need to understand that the venom in each camp is going to lead to yet another pathetic Republican administration, against the values and life's work of both Clinton and Obama.
>All right. So good luck with that! (I'll try to do my part in San Benito County. But there needs to be a national effort.)

Dear Jeanie,

You raise some excellent points. I took a long time to decide on a candidate. I decided for John Edwards shortly before the California primary, and within an hour of mailing my ballot, I learned that he had just withdrawn from the race. I am not emotionally tied to either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but only emotionally tied to the victory of one of them in November. Also, as a political scientist, I tend to focus more on the political process than on the candidates and the issues.

So, as to process, having been disenfranchised by Edwards' withdrawal, I suddenly saw the utility of having a ranked ballot for presidential candidates. There are two good reasons to support this. Increasing numbers of citizens are voting by mail, so what happened to me is likely to become a more common occurrence. Also, even if there were no voting by mail and everyone cast their vote on election day, many people would be disenfranchised because the Democratic Party requires a candidate to reach a certain threshold percentage of the popular vote, below which, no delegates are apportioned. If your candidate doesn't reach the threshold, your vote is not counted toward the allocation of any delegate, and effectively, your vote is thrown away.

The Democratic Party has another mechanism for restricting democracy in its presidential nomination system: superdelegates.

I am often asked why these antidemocratic mechanisms exist, and I think that it is important to understand the history of how we got to where we are today. As I explain in my book, it started in Chicago in 1968. When the party nominated Hubert Humphrey, a man who entered not a single presidential primary, and a riot erupted outside the convention, the party concluded that its nomination system needed a massive overhaul. The party tapped George McGovern to chair a commission to study and to make recommendations. McGovern saw where the commission was heading before it issued its report, and he left the commission to declare his candidacy for the 1972 nomination. He based his campaign strategy on his insider's knowledge of the new rules that the commission was likely to recommend and that the party was likely to adopt, thus he stole a march on all of the other candidates who were playing by the old rules and whose strategies were about to become obsolete. As McGovern foresaw, the commission recommended that states abandon caucuses and institute primaries, in order to reduce the influence of state and local party bosses and empower the rank and file party members. Also, the winner-take-all system was abolished, and from that time on, all delegates were to be allocated according to the percentage of the popular vote, with low thresholds. The modern era of presidential nomination was born, and 1972 was to be the most democratic process by which the Democratic Party would choose its nominee.

The result, of course, was an unmitigated disaster. McGovern easily captured the nomination, and lost to Richard Nixon in one of history's biggest landslides. The Democratic Party went back to the drawing board, concluding that too much democracy was not a good thing. A new commission, chaired by Morley Winograd, made a number of problematic recommendations. First, it enshrined the "first in the nation" status of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Second, it permitted the dwindling number of caucus states to raise their thresholds to 20 percent, and primary states to 25 percent. Third, it created superdelegates as 10 percent of the total number of delegates required to nominate a presidential candidate, so that party leaders would have voting power at the national convention and exert some influence over the nomination outcome.

As an aside, I should mention that a consequence of the proliferation of primary states is that campaigning is more expensive, and candidates must create huge, ad hoc political machines to compete for the nomination, and the party machinery is barely in play; thus, activists' principal loyalty is to their candidates, not to the party. So, when you say that you feel that "a lot of people are hijacking our party for the sake of their own candidate, and no one else - in both camps," this is a phenomenon that has been building for several decades, but has only now become apparent because, in a system designed to produce a nominee before most people know what's going on, we accidentally have a truly competitive nomination race in 2008.

There have been other commissions that have tinkered around the edges in the course of the intervening 40 years, lowering and raising the threshold and superdelegate percentages, but that is essentially the system we have today. Often, this tinkering has been done on the basis of the perceived self-interest of the moment, or on an incomplete and faulty analysis of the most recent election outcome, with the result that the party often bumbles from one disaster to the next. A case in point is that now, because of the protracted struggle between Clinton and Obama, party elites are grumbling about going back to winner-take-all primaries, which the Republican Party never abolished. For those who are all stoked up about one candidate or the other, my advice would be to watch what the party is going to do to the process for 2012. Is the party going to go back to the past and become more like the Republican Party? Is the solution to have an even less democratic process than we already have? I believe that such knee-jerk ideas are likely to produce future disasters for the party. I believe that the solution is more democracy, not less, an intelligently-designed system rather than a few timid ideas kluged onto a successively kluged process. The McGovern revolution solved a huge set of problems for the party, but it also produced a set of unintended consequences that the party has never dealt with in a scientific manner. I believe that the democratic solution is to return to the principles of the McGovern revolution and to craft a process that will permit these principles to be fully manifested. Let's believe in democracy, and let's practice it for change.

Best regards,

01 June 2008

Florida, Michigan delegates will get half-votes

I called it in March:

At 06:28 PM 3/13/2008, Thomas Gangale wrote:

Regarding Florida and Michigan, tell everyone to split the difference and settle. The Republicans only took away half their delegates, why should Democrats be more bastardly than they?

And again a couple of days ago:

At 07:22 PM 5/30/2008, Thomas Gangale wrote:
If it were up to me, I'd be Solomonic: let Florida and Michigan have half of their delegates, and move on to more pressing matters. This is also how the RNC Rules Committee dealt with them, so in terms of inter-party political calculation, there would be parity. Can the DNC afford to have these two states still pissed off in November?

By Nedra Pickler and Beth Fouhy
Associated Press
31 May 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) ­ Democratic Party leaders agreed Saturday to seat Michigan and Florida delegates with half-votes at this summer's convention with a compromise that left Barack Obama on the verge of the nomination but riled Hillary Rodham Clinton backers who threatened to fight to the August convention.

"Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path of party unity," said adviser Harold Ickes.

Clinton's camp maintains she was entitled to four additional Michigan delegates.

The decision by the party's Rules Committee raised slightly the total delegates Obama needs to clinch the nomination. Clinton advisers conceded privately he will likely hit the magic number after the final primaries are held Tuesday night, but said the ruling threatened to dash any hopes of a unified party.

"Mrs. Clinton has told me to reserve her right to take this to the Credentials Committee" at the convention, said Ickes, who is a member of the Rules Committee that voted Saturday.


31 May 2008

2008 Presidential Politics Simplified

by Thomas Gangale
31 May 2008

Obama: a vague promise of change.
Clinton: a dubious claim to experience.
McCain: unchanged by experience.

30 May 2008

How Professors Fight

[I had imagined that this article would be the beginning of a series of stories about her experiences during a 13-month tour "downrange," the modern military euphemism for the war zones. For thousands of years young men have marched off to war full of patriotism and a sense of adventure. Marilyn, a middle-age woman, similarly stirred by the call to duty, found that the most immediate enemy was in her own foxhole... and in the Five-Sided Foxhole on the Potomac.  --TG]
copyright © 2008 by Thomas Gangale

This week, Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores began Human Terrain Team training at Fort Leavenworth, KS. After a month there, she will go to one of three other bases for an additional three months of training, then she will deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan. When she was accepted into the program, I submitted my application, hopefully to share the danger and to watch her back, so I am still waiting on acceptance. I should hear one way or another in a few weeks, with a reporting date in late June. We have been advised to be prepared to move with the troops in 120-degree heat and wearing 40 lbs of "full battle rattle," including a sidearm. In our mid-50's, we are going to war alongside soldiers one-third our age, in the hope that they will live to be our age.

Having successively lost several academic positions on North Bay campuses during the past few years, the Human Terrain Team program was Marilyn's last, best opportunity. It is not what she would prefer; rather, it is an indictment of the deterioration of the American post-secondary education system and the militarization of the American economy. But, given the situation, and having served in the 1970s under Lieutenant Colonel Norman Schwarzopf as the US Army's first female infantry soldier trained for arctic and mountain combat, she will do what she must. Her old unit, the 172nd Arctic Light Infantry Brigade, regularly deploys to Iraq as the 172nd Stryker Brigade.

On the morning of 2 July 1863, brigade commander Colonel Strong Vincent inspected the position of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment on Little Round Top, south of Gettysburg, PA. He explained to regimental commander Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, who had been a professor of rhetoric before the Civil War, that his position was the southern end of the Union line, to be held at all cost, for to lose this position would be to lose the battle, and probably the war. "Now we'll see how professors fight."

Death Threat Tarnishes US Army Human Terrain System
Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan
Exposing the Information Operatives, Part One

28 May 2008

How soon some Democrats forget: Al Gore was not helped by easy nomination in 2000

By Rob Richie
May 10th, 2008

The conventional wisdom crowd is having a field day with misguided arguments in favor of avoiding competitive contests in presidential primaries — take former MccCain advisor Dan Schnur’s somewhat wistful analysis for the New York Times that if Democrats had had the same popular vote results in each state and used winner-take-all rules, Hillary Clinton would have a lock on the nomination despite having fewer popular votes overall. You now have Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, opining that winner-take-all is the way to go.

I’ve argued in this blog that Democrats in fact are getting a leg up over Republicans with their process — mobilizing far more voters that will help them in the fall in down-ballot races, getting far more press attention that has contributed to a widening advantage over Republicans in voter self-identification and getting more “battle-tested”, with plenty of time to heal wounds as long as the contest ends soon after the Montana primary on June 3rd.

Of course for many Democrats, they just want to make sure the process doesn’t lead to a loss in November. But they seem to be forgetting history:

* John Kerry in 2004 had an easy nomination process after his upset win in Iowa and follow-up win in New Hampshire. Then he lost a race a lot of Democrats thought they could have won.

* Al Gore in 2000 had a far easier nomination process than George Bush. After winning Iowa and New Hampshire and the onset of Bill Bradley’s heart condition, he strolled to the nomination while Bush faced a vigorous challenge from John McCain. By May, Bush was 8% ahead in a New York Times poll and went onto win a race many Democrats thought was theres. Of course the election was highly controversial, but few would argue Gore somehow was boosted by having such an easy ride to the nomination.

* Bob Dole in 1996 overcame a stumble in New Hampshire to close out the nomination relatively early under Republican winner-take-all rules. He never came close to defeating Bill Clinton’s re-election effort.

* In 1992, George Bush quickly fended off Pat Buchanan’s insurgent campaign while Bill Clinton had to fight it out for months. But Clinton won by 6% in November.

And so on. Each election has its own reasons for why the general election goes the way it does, with the most important being the public attitude toward the party occupying the White House. Having a more democratic process for choosing nominees seems to be no barrier to winning in November.

27 May 2008

Space Exploration: A Progressive Investment

by Thomas Gangale
27 May 2008

A typical reason that progressive politicians give for not supporting NASA's human space exploration program is, "we have so many issues here in our own country, and on Earth, to deal with as priorities." I first heard that argument before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, and it is as fallacious today as it was then.

We will always have issues here on Earth; where there are people, there are issues. The issues change over time, but I doubt that there is much variation in the number of issues. Frequently, when we solve a set of problems, we inadvertently create a new set; if we encounter that new set of problems at a higher standard of living, that's net progress. On the other hand, we may encounter that new set of problems simply because, having solved that earlier set, we looked around for some new challenge. Indeed, given the human penchant for problem-solving, the exhaustion of problems would itself be problematic! So, waiting for all of Earth's problems to be solved before doing anything else means never doing anything else. Also, this position denies the possibility that what we do in space can be part of the solution to our problems on Earth. In our increasingly complex and interrelated material culture, this is a demonstrably false premise. We are not thinking holistically if we fail to consider space technology in our tool kit of possible solutions.

Progressive politicians' first line of attack is often "the billions of dollars" that the space program costs. Like the late Senator Everett Dirksen, I can talk about "real money." I can also scale down to everyone's everyday experiences. Today, the federal government will spend $26.21 of your taxes. The entire NASA budget will cost you $0.16. You can probably afford that. Furthermore, NASA's Constellation program of human space exploration by itself will cost you a little more than two cents.

Let's explore how the Constellation program furthers a progressive agenda.

1) Education. Nothing could give a bigger boost to education than an inspiring space program. In the Apollo years, the number of students graduating with advanced degrees skyrocketed (no pun intended), and the nation has reaped the benefits of that Apollo inspiration throughout the decades of their productive lives.

2) Energy. The space program pioneered photovoltaic and hydrogen fuel cell technologies, which, after decades of continuing research, are now becoming affordable for diverse Earth-based applications. It was as an aerospace engineering student in the 1970s that I first learned of heat pipe technology, which is the basis for most home and office solar heating today. Space-based solar power holds the prospect of opening up a new mode of energy generation, which would need to be on an industrial scale to have any effective societal role; obviously, a space-based industry will require space-based industrial workers, which is just one reason why we must continue to perfect human spaceflight.

3) Environment. Few people are aware of the amount of environmental monitoring that occurs in space. NASA doesn't just investigate the other planets, it also investigates Earth. Furthermore, as we gain greater understanding of the natural processes that Venus and Mars -- the planets most resembling Earth -- have undergone in the course of the past 4.6 billion years, we can compare these to the processes on Earth. By studying these planets, we calibrate our knowledge of Earth, better enabling us to see where and how quickly global warming is taking us, and better informing us of viable mitigation strategies. Since Earth is a planet in space, a comprehensive environmental protection strategy must include a healthy and well-funded space program.

4) Health Issues. I myself have worn portable, heart-monitoring equipment analogous to the biosensors that aerospace medicine began developing decades ago for astronauts. Also, the technological commonality that goes into roving vehicles on Mars and electric scooters for the disabled is obvious. There are other examples too numerous to mention. Space technology touches our lives in a hundred positive ways every day; it's just that they're not advertised as such.

5) Labor. I suppose that when most people think of the aerospace industry, they think of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. When I worked in the industry, I saw machinists, electrical workers, and forklift operators. The aerospace industry and its subcontractors in various other industries employ the disparate skills of hundreds of thousands of Americans in well-paid jobs with good benefits, and in many cases these are union jobs.

6) Business. Nor is the aerospace industry confined to large corporations. They are primarily system integrators, subcontracting much of the work to smaller companies, with federally-mandated set-asides for women-owned and minority-owned disadvantaged businesses.

7) Military. If you have read Chalmers Johnson's "Sorrows of Empire," you know that he despairs that nothing short of armed revolution can ever break the grip that the military-industrial complex has over our federal government. Voting against Department of Defense appropriations bills time and again is futile, since defense industry lobbyists will always find the votes they need elsewhere. You will never starve this beast. But, we may be able to tame it. Naturally, the corporations want to stay in business, and being corporations, they don't much care whether they work on missiles for attacking Iran or missions to Mars. We must establish that priority. Certainly, a limited amount of aerospace technology can be leveraged into developing mass transportation solutions and serving other social needs, but let's be frank, there isn't much of a missile in a light rail car. The most immediate and effective way to demilitarize the aerospace sector of the American economy, without inflicting significant dislocation, is to transfer funding from DoD weapon systems procurement to NASA, and if done on a one-for-one basis, there should be little resistance from industry. Absent such a conversion -- if nothing else a partial one -- dooms us to a continued foreign policy of belligerence; if you build it, you will use it.

8) Social Issues.

a) Bill Clinton, quoting from Proverbs, said, "Without vision, the people perish." Today's vision, if that's the proper word for it, is violence. For working class youth, there are street gangs; for middle class youth, there are a plethora of video games in every conceivable style and scenario of combat. Our youth are desensitized to violence and they are programmed to serve the war machine. And the people perish. I grew up during the Vietnam War, and yes, there was that pervasive image of destruction, but there was also an alternative: the was John Kennedy's vision of the New Frontier. Let's give the next generation something other than virtual-world fantasies for their entertainment and wars on the other side of the world to appeal to youth's quest for adventure. Let's inspire them to excellence with a vision of the future that promises peaceful adventures on many worlds.

b) While earlier I addressed the environmental monitoring aspects of spaceflight, there is another dimension: human spaceflight as environmentalism. Sending crews to the Moon and to Mars while containing costs mean reducing the mass that we launch into space, and the way we do that is by living and operating on the far edge of efficiency, reducing the footprint of the human support system, recycling recycling, recycling. That's how ten people will live on the Moon and on Mars, where developed resources are limited. Meanwhile, how can ten billion people live on Earth, where resources are increasingly scarce, with an advanced standard of living? The same way: with the smallest possible footprint. But, it will require a major cultural shift. Essentially, we must all learn to live like astronauts, using no more than we need. How do we progress to the astronaut material culture unless we have astronauts as prominent role models? This will require making the adventure of human exploration on other worlds part of everyday existence here on Earth. Buckminster Fuller called this "Spaceship Earth," and Archibald MacLeish called us "riders on the Earth together." Spaceship Earth doesn't need any more riders; it needs more crewmembers, and that is a culture that only a fully manifested spacefaring society can inculcate.

Again, the NASA budget costs each person sixteen cents per day. Short-changing humankind's future is not a "progressive" agenda.

18 May 2008

Woolsey's Sound Bites for Peace

By Thomas Gangale
Petaluma Argus-Courier
Petaluma, California
29 June 2005

In reading Chris Coursey's "Opposing War in Five-Minute Increments," which appeared in the Press Democrat on March 28, I gained an increased admiration for Rep. Lynn Woolsey. Her lonely evening vigil in the nearly-deserted House chamber, where she bears witness to the folly and evil of war, may seem quixotic on the surface. On the contrary, her campaign against the Iraq War is exactly the sort that one should wage against an opponent of superior force: small, incremental victories that wear down that opponent over time. It is the strategy of Fabius over Hannibal, Washington over Cornwallis, Giap over Abrams.

Nearly 2200 years ago, Marcus Porcius Cato the Censor invented the sound bite by ending every speech in the Roman Senate, regardless of its subject, with the words "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" -- "In conclusion, I believe that Carthage must be destroyed." One can imagine that Cato's colleagues thought him quixotic, and some may have laughed at him in secret when he brandished a branch of figs, allegedly of Carthaginian origin, as "proof" of Carthage's resurgence as a Mediterranean power and a mortal threat to Rome. Yet armed with this flimsy evidence, much as Colin Powell played tape recordings to the UN Security Council two years ago, Cato eventually won the day. Carthage was destroyed.

But Cato could not have foreseen the consequences of victory. Whereas many of his contemporaries were only too glad to believe that Rome's pre-emptive war against Carthage was an act of self-defense, history has judged otherwise. Rome paid dearly for its hubris; in the course of the next century its republic was battered down by its own imperialism. Rome was destroyed.

Quo vadis, America?

It is a historical fact that the persistent drumbeat of oratory can drive a great nation down the road to war. Perhaps our generation can answer this question: can the patient vigil of one person of conscience move a great nation down the road to peace?

In conclusion, I believe that Lynn Woolsey must be re-elected.

17 May 2008

David Broder's President of the Swing States of America

By Rob Richie
9 May 2008

David Broder, dean of inside-the-Beltway political pundits, often accurately captures the insiders' conventional wisdom. That's what makes his Washington Post column yesterday so reveavling. He casually calls North Carolina and Indiana "throwaway" states unworthy of the attentiont they received in Democratic primaries on May 6th.

"Throwaway"? Is this American democracy we're talking about?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Broder's appalling observation is based on the cruel reality of today's Electoral College system: a few states matter, and most states are so "unimportant" that they are "throwaways." The people of North Carolina and Indiana -- and indeed most of the nation -- may care about America just as much as the people of Ohio and Iowa, but fundamentally they are irrelevant. They live in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Broder is right that the major nominees will at most make token appearances in those states after securing their party's nomination.

Indeed, following this logic, Broder suggests these states shouldn't even count in primaries. He audaciously suggests that "In a sensible nominating system, these states would never become important battlegrounds. Lots of people complain that Iowa and New Hampshire enjoy disproportionate influence because of their place at the start of the process. But both are closely contested in November -- not throwaways."

For Broder, it's sensible that if a state is irrelevant in November it should be irrelevant in the nomination process. Long live the POTSSOA -- President of the Swing States of America.


16 May 2008

Sore Dems Want Out of Proportion Primaries

By Donald Lambro
9 May 2008

Under the Democrats' proportional system, delegates are awarded among the candidates in direct proportion to the vote each receives in the congressional districts, with some portion based on their share of the statewide vote. In the winner-take-all system used by the Republican Party, the candidate who takes a state primary, even by a single vote, wins all its delegates. But liberal Democrats are repulsed by what they consider to be an undemocratic, survival-of-the-fittest system that quickly eliminates the weaker candidates.

Throughout the year's primary battles, I always made it a habit of asking Clinton supporters whether they believed it would have been far better for their party if it had switched to winner-take-all. The answer was usually the same: no. The proportional system was "fairer," it rewarded front-runners and second-tier candidates, giving them a chance to build support as they became better known to their party, they told me.

Now, I find more and more Democrats -- especially Hillary's supporters -- regretting the present system, which produced an interminable nominating process that has proved to be costly, divisive and politically exhausting. The Democrats come off as the party who can't get its act together, struggling to produce a nominee, while Republicans have picked their strongest candidate early and are confidently gearing up for their convention and the general election to come.


15 May 2008

A plea to Clinton campaign: Don't use Florida and Michigan to block future reform

Rob Richie
9 May 2008

Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan have every reason to be frustrated about not having contests that elected delegates to the Democratic convention in Denver this August. But I hope they remember where to point their finger of blame: their state parties.

I'm a big fan of the parties establishing a rational schedule for nominating presidential candidates. My current favorite is the American Plan, perhaps ending with a single national primary the first Tuesday in June, but any number of plans are better than what we have - -see our FixThePrimaries website detailing several of them.

There's one common thread through every plan, however: the parties will need to enforce them, and states can't just move their primary or caucus to the front after the plan's been established.

That's what Florida and Michigan did in the past year. Party leaders in those states were understandably frustrated at being left out in past elections, and they didn't want it to happen again. So even though the Democratic National Committee went through a lengthy process of deciding how to modify their rules (putting South Carolina and Nevada into the January mix with Iowa and New Hampshire and having all other states wait until at least February 5th), Michigan and Florida last year passed laws establishing a January primary.

In the summer of 2007 the Democratic National Committee (DNC) made it clear that trying to establish a January primary would have severe consequences -- these states' delegates would not be seated at the national convention. The DNC offered alternatives like caucuses. But the Michigan and Florida parties essentially played chicken with the DNC, metaphorically putting their states' voters directly in front of the rushing train.

But the DNC didn't blink, so all the major campaigns swore off campaigning in Michigan and Florida.

Now that Senator Hillary Clinton is behind in delegates, her campaign is using high-toned rhetoric to urge that the January votes now be counted -- even though hers was the only major candidate with a name on the Michigan ballot and no campaign had operations in Florida Yesterday Sen. Clinton wrote: "whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will be hamstrung in the general election if a fair and quick resolution is not reached that ensures that the voices of [Florida and Michigan] voters are heard--.. The Republicans won an election [in 2000] by successfully opposing a fair counting of votes in Florida. As Democrats, we must reject any proposals that would do the same."

Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan of course matter, and I hope for their sakes that some agreement is made. But Sen. Clinton, the comparison between Florida in November 2000 and Florida in 2008 does not wash. If ever we are to have a better nomination process, states will need to abide by their national party rules -- and indeed I think they will if those rules are clearly fair. Parties can't establish a precedent of casting those rules aside when it is politically convenient to do so.