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.

14 May 2008

Night of the Living Dems

by Thomas Gangale
14 May 2008

About 15 years ago, when I was working for a small company in Brisbane, a coworker about ten years my junior laid a pearl of wisdom upon me in a political discussion, making reference to "fascist leftists."

"Pray tell, what is a fascist leftist?"

He drew himself up all self-righteous, "You don't want to save the whales? Fuck you, man!"

In other words, if you aren't with my political agenda, you're not a real progressive.

As a hopefully former member of the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee (I say "hopefully former" because, against my better judgement, I'm on the ballot seeking another term), I've come to understand the profundity of that apparently flippant characterization by a thirty-something: If you're not with a self-anointed "progressive's" program, you're a DINO (Democrat in name only).

In my nearly two years on the DCC, I have had the misfortune to become acquainted with the most willfully ignorant, narrow-minded rednecks in a supposed liberal bastion. They flatter themselves "progressives" because it's cool to say you're one. A friend of mine from South Carolina refers to them as the lint in the cosmic navel. She may not be able to define rednecks, but she knows them when she sees them.

One night last winter, the chair of the Democratic Central Committee of Marin, a self-described meeting junkie, came to one of our meetings, soon to his regret. He tried to leave the meeting early, only to find several tobacco addicts taking in the adulterated evening air outside the Rattigan Building, who accosted him with tales of past internecine wars on the Sonoma County DCC. I told him the next day, "It's not safe outside of an SCDCC meeting after dark! The next time you come up here, bring some wooden stakes."

Would that I had taken my own advice, for last night was another "Night of the Living Dems."

As a bit of background info, you should know that almost every county in California has a Democratic and a Republican central committee (Alturas is in a different star system). All of them register voters, mount "get out the vote" efforts, and support their local candidates--they all want to win--but what most distinguishes Democratic from Republican central committees is that nearly all Democratic and hardly any Republican committees have policy arms. They may be called Resolutions committees or Issues and Legislation committees, or something like that, but in a nutshell, Democratic party policy begins at the grassroots, while most Republicans are content to receive the revealed word from the state party... or higher.

Last night, the SCDCC took a step to the right. It voted to limit the number of issues that its Issues and Legislation Committee could report to it in any given month, and as far as I know, no other Democratic central committee has such a restriction. This DCC wants to focus on winning elections. Well, what the hell does that matter if the party doesn't stand for issues? No wonder more people are registering as "declines to state." If your only objective is to win, what distinguishes you from any other party... or any sports team? You have made yourself value-neutral. As Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis said, "Just win, baby!" Is that what American politics should be reduced to?

The maker of this motion to limit political speech in the local arm of the Democratic Party is the same guy who, a few years ago, conned the SCDCC into passing a resolution to withhold its support to local Democratic officeholders who appointed non-Democrats to public offices. Forget about their professional qualifications, they had to pass a political litmus test. And they call this "progressive." In contrast, one of my first acts as a member of the Democratic Central Committee was to visit the Republican Central Committee. They told me this guy was the greatest gift that Democrats had ever given Republicans in Sonoma County. Unfortunately, the current local Democratic leadership has chosen to ally itself with him, demonstrating once again that the ends justify the means.

The term "progressive" has been hijacked in Sonoma County, and perhaps elsewhere. It now connotes some narrow, fringe agenda, not only saving the whales these days, but perhaps saving the light brown apple moth as well. In this county's Democratic Central Committee, one can propose an interminable string of resolutions supporting single-payer health care, ending the war, and impeaching the president and vice president, and receive unending praise, but stray outside of those narrow ideological boundaries and the so-called "progressives" go ballistic. The concept of a broad-spectrum progressive is alien. A few months ago, a motion to take positions on a couple of June ballot initiatives was objected to because, as proposed amendments to the state constitution, these were matters too weighty for the DCC to weigh in on. Never mind that any yokel registered voter, high school diploma or not, is going to vote on it. Man, is that leadership or what? Sadly, the maker of this motion tries to lord it over her credulous colleagues on the committee by repeatedly reminding them of her Harvard master's degree. Well, the current President of the United States has one, too. I guess Harvard isn't what it used to be. Glad I went to San Francisco State.

13 May 2008

Results are in-- Democrats NOT being hurt by longer nomination process

By Rob Richie
May 5th, 2008

Many analysts are taking the position that the ongoing presidential nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is a gift to likely Republican nominee John McCain. Worried Democrats and gleeful Republicans are a regular feature of the horserace drumbeat.

I don't think so. And there's some good evidence to suggest I'm right.

Sure, many Democrats can rightly worried about the tenor of the campaign, but there are two basic points to keep in mind: 1) Democrats are engaging far more voters than Republicans as the primary season continues; 2) there's plenty of time to heal wounds.


12 May 2008

Zigzagging Toward November

New York Times
5 May 2008

As the Democratic presidential contest slouches forward, the Republicans are wise to look ahead to 2012 and try to invent a better mousetrap than the jumbled primary system that they find occupying, if not entombing, the Democrats. The G.O.P.’s rules committee has offered a plan that attempts to find a better balance between “retail” politicking in smaller states and the inevitable big-money, heavy media campaigning in larger states.

The goal of a more measured and conclusive pace is well worth pursuing. But the scheme is already in doubt as Republican leaders in the larger states denounce it in advance of debate at the party convention in September.

Consider the crazy-quilt experience this year, in which a glut of states rushed forward to attempt a de facto national primary in February. Record turnouts have been followed by increasing confusion as various “showdown” votes roll forward three months later for the two Democratic finalists.

Twenty-year-old Democratic rules, rooted in arcane formulas about past Congressional turnouts, have awarded caucus and primary delegates proportionately, with, so far, a winner never quite winning and a loser never quite conceding. By now, the vaunted Democratic superdelegates are wary of their grand power to play Solomon by settling the competition in late August.

The Democrats cannot rewrite their rules in midrace, but voters must hope that some lessons are being learned and that appropriate changes will be attempted the next time around. In the Republican plan, the sticking point is that smaller states representing a quarter of the Electoral College clout would always vote first as a group (with, yes, Iowa and New Hampshire retaining their prom-queen status as separate openers). Three balanced groups of larger states would follow, rotating their positions in subsequent elections.

This, at least, is closer to a rotating regional primary system as proposed by the National Association of Secretaries of State — the model this page endorses.

Efforts to devise a better system may well founder in the tooth-and-claw state of politics, and with separate state parties and legislatures willing to freelance parochially this year against national party plans. Still, if only in the name of democracy, voters and candidates are entitled to dream of something better.

11 May 2008

Dean: Nomination Process Should Change

By Kristin Carlson
WCAX News, Washington, D.C.
9 May 2008

As the Democratic presidential fight continues, Party Chair Howard Dean says that, before the next election, the nomination process should be changed.

The race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been going on for months. Although Obama has a lead, many Democrats are still worried there will be a nomination fight at the convention, which could divide the party.

To try and avoid that, Dean has asked superdelegates, who can vote for either candidate at the convention, to declare who they support. But overall, it's a complicated system, one that Dean says needs fixing.

"I think we could readjust the superdelegates, make them fewer, or something like that. There are changes we could make, but I don't see any major changes. I would like to move the primaries back and not have people freezing in January, and campaigning over Christmas in Iowa," Dean said.

Dean says he's already talked with the Republican National Committee about making changes together when it comes to the primary schedule.

10 May 2008

Primary Care

By Thomas Gangale
28 September 2005

Throughout all of history's republics, various means have been contrived to advantage a few over the many: sometimes by geography, sometimes by ethnicity, sometimes by theology; by tests of property, loyalty, or literacy.

In ancient Rome, for instance, voting was conducted by tribes: one tribe, one vote. The catch was that the upper classes were apportioned many small tribes, while the lower classes were aggregated into a few large tribes. In our present republic, we have many low-population states who dominate the Senate to the detriment of the few populous states: one state, two votes. Since each state has two electoral votes in addition to those apportioned by population, this inequity colors our method of electing presidents as well.

Another device that was used in ancient Rome to extend the political power of the economically privileged was that the tribes voted in a prescribed order, the tribes of the upper classes always voting before those of the lower classes. Quite often, enough tribal votes were counted to elect a candidate before the lower classes voted, thus they were effectively disenfranchised. Similarly, in the current presidential primary system, certain states are guaranteed the privilege of voting before all others. When Howard Dean suspended his campaign in February 2004, only one-fifth of the American electorate had spoken. Just as during the civil rights era, it was said that "justice delayed is justice denied," a vote delayed is a vote denied.

This is a civil rights issue and a voting rights issue, yet it goes almost entirely unaddressed in public discourse. It is an issue that crosses boundaries of race, region, and religion, and of political persuasion, economic class, and gender. The current system enables an injustice that is so pervasive, and has grown worse by imperceptible increments over so many decades, that most of us are blind to it. It is like the object that fades from view as one stares at it steadily, yet the object is still there. Similarly, injustice persists in the absence of our perception of it. Indeed, it flourishes ominously.

The Democratic National Committee's 2005 Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling recommended only small changes to the 2008 presidential primary calendar, "minor surgery" in the words of DNC chair Howard Dean, MD. If his metaphor was apt, it was only because the cancer was inoperable, and in the past few months we have seen it metastasize. The time is long past when an ounce of prevention might have been effective. The commission's tragic misdiagnosis will doom the body politic to suffer needlessly for a few more years.

So now, the only hope of a cure is in a full protocol of chemotherapy. It will not be easy, and it will not be pleasant, but it is imperative to our health and survival as a republic. Several systemic solutions have been discussed, some in scholarly journals, others only in the popular press. What is needed is for a panel of specialists in electoral reform to consult on this case, separate science from folk medicine and patent elixirs, and give us their prescription for the best course of treatment. Furthermore, so that we, the patients, can give our informed consent, they must disclose the probabilities of potential side effects and strategies for relieving them.

Then, let America take its medicine, and let us get well.

09 May 2008

Will States Fix the 2012 Primary Process?

By Pamela M. Prah
6 May 2008

What if the presidential primary worked more like a lottery with all the states having a chance at the ultimate prize of being first to vote in the nominating schedule, ending the coveted tradition of New Hampshire and Iowa leading the pack?

That’s a simplified version of one of several ideas being considered by top party and state officials, who aim to prevent a repeat of states’ helter-skelter scramble for early presidential primary dates in 2008.

While voters in Indiana and North Carolina go to the polls today (May 6) to help Democrats pick Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as their nominee and Republicans rally behind John McCain, party insiders and state election officials are in informal talks to improve the presidential nominating contests for 2012 and beyond.


08 May 2008

GOP seeks order to primary chaos

Roger Simon looks at this year's extended presidential nomination race between Clinton and Obama and concludes that there is nothing wrong with the process. And if one stands in Buffalo on a cold, windy day, one may conclude that global warming is a myth. This is the fallacy of seizing on a single data point; it is not valid reasoning. --TG

By Roger Simon
5 May 2008

In past elections, most of the stuff discussed would have been considered "deep in the weeds," but this year there has been an intense concentration on the process itself.

Is our current system of selecting presidential candidates doomed?

It certainly is under attack. And that’s because it has become so messy.

It often starts with a fight over whether Iowa and New Hampshire will go first, and then the rest of the states jostle and elbow each other to move up close behind them.

This year has been downright chaotic. We have two "rogue" states on the Democratic side that have been stripped of all their delegates, and five "semi-rogue" states on the Republican side that have been stripped of half of them. And the Democrats are at an ethical crossroads over whether superdelegates should overturn the choice of pledged delegates.

It has all been very exhausting, which is to say fun. Though I realize not everybody has found it as jolly as I have.


07 May 2008

Who’s on First? Trying to Fix the Primary Calendar

By Katharine Q. Seelye
New York Times
April 30, 2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- For all the bellyaching about the current presidential primary system -- it starts too early, goes on too long, is insanely expensive and gives undue influence to two small states (and you know who you are) -- it is possible that the same system will be in place for the next presidential cycle.

Or it might be blown to bits.

Some of the officials responsible for setting up the Democratic and Republican primaries -- various secretaries of state, state party chairmen and national party rules officials -- met here Tuesday at Harvard’s Institute of Politics to talk about the primaries.

By a show of hands of the roughly 50 officials, most thought the current system was basically successful. States that were once irrelevant have had a voice, at least on the Democratic side. Voter turnout has soared. Whether these outcomes are the result of this particular process or are unintended consequences of it, of course, are debatable, but that didn’t stop the Democrats in particular from crowing about them.

But they also agreed that some things should change. The official start date should be moved back to at least late February, even if the next campaign starts unofficially the day after Election Day.

They would also spread out the primaries to eliminate what David Norcross, chairman of the Republican rules committee, called the February "clutter." On Feb. 5 alone, 22 states held contests in what amounted to a national primary. This meant that many states didn’t see the candidates, didn’t have their issues discussed and didn’t get the media attention or the economic boon that they hoped for.

And after all, it is about the states and what they perceive as their best interests.

Determining that has been a vexing process for decades. But "fixing" the system means different things to different people. And it is clear from the discussion here that some states are ready to repeat last year’s “gold rush” in which everyone flocks to be first -- and try again to snatch the early attention from Iowa and New Hampshire.


06 May 2008

GOP Proposes New Primary Calendar

By Stephen Ohlemacher, AP
2 April 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Republican Party rules committee voted Wednesday to allow small states to hold nominating contests before big states in 2012, which would preserve the traditional roles of Iowa and New Hampshire as the earliest voting states.

Larger states would be placed into three groups that would rotate the dates of their nominating contests.

With this year's GOP nominee chosen, Republicans already are moving to regain control of the presidential primary calendar four years from now. Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett, who developed the plan, said a coordinated primary calendar is necessary because so many states were moving their primaries earlier.

"Nobody wants a national primary," Bennett said in a telephone interview from the GOP meeting near Albuquerque, N.M. "When you have a national primary you eliminate retail politics. You eliminate the ability of candidates to sit in somebody's living room and talk to them."

Bennett said he accepted the special early voting status for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as a political reality he cannot change.

This year, Iowa started the voting with its caucuses on Jan. 3, and more than 20 states staged a de facto national primary on Feb. 5.

Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't be allowed to vote first just because they have in the past.