Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why I like Jenny Oropeza

So I really like Senator Jenny Oropeza of California's state senate. She's smart, she's a firecracker. She's been a vocal advocate in her district of Long Beach for the environment, transportation, health, and election reform. Most importantly, she's done some great things for Long Beach's school system. Personally, I'd consider her for Secretary of Education. Here's why:

Oropeza was a member of the Long Beach School Board from 1988 to 1994. Oropeza helped create the policies and programs that turned around the Long Beach School District. Today the district, which was awarded the 2003 Broad Prize for Urban Education, is nationally recognized as a model for reform and academic success. Oropeza led the effort to close the achievement gap and focus resources on underserved communities. She worked to create the highly regarded and innovative International School in her district, as a joint use project with the city.

From Wikipedia.

I find that very impressive and think she could be up to handle the job of reforming our national education system. I think she could really focus on improving urban schools and help put much needed focus on the issue. In addition, I figure if she can improve a district that was hurting that bad, she could perhaps bring that to the national stage. But, what do I know?

Also, check out this great clip. A little insight into why I call her a "firecracker".

And the nominees are.....

After my last rant, I have a bad taste in my mouth. So, I'm going to do something fun. I'm gonna talk about who Barrack Obama is going to pick as his running mate. There are a number of contenders out there. However, after discussing it with my resident political expert (Barrett, my boyfriend), we the pundit-class, have come up with our "short-list".

Without, further ado, here are our top choices.

1. Governor Kathleen Sebelius (KS). Well, I must say I had my doubts, her response to Bush's State of the Union, while a good speech, didn't have the most effective delivery. I wasn't sure she would be tough enough. Then, I learned somethings about her time as Governor of Kansas. She won the governorship partially due to a great divide in her state's Republican party between moderates and conservatives. Perhaps most important is she is credited with vast improvements in Kansas' economy. She created two years of job growth, didn't increase taxes, didn't cutback basic services, and balanced the budget.
"A commission that Sebelius appointed to find government waste discovered that the state owned hundreds of cars it didn't use. So she sold 700 of them and forbade state agencies to buy more. The money earned from the car sale was small, but it showed that the new Governor was determined to find savings anywhere she could, from having all state agencies join together to bid for computers to asking state housekeeping workers to wear their own pants instead of government-issued ones."
Very impressive! I like her style.

Also noteworthy is that her husband is a Republican in the KS House, her father was governor of Ohio (where she has strong ties and is a big swing state this year), and she was the chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association, giving her strong ties to the governor's of various states throughout the country.

Education is her other major issue in Kansas. She has increased funding for K-12 by $1 billion for the next three years in her state, with Republicans in control of the House and Senate no less.

She has had some trouble with a concealed-weapon law in her state. She vetoed it, but her legislature overrode her decision. She was adamant that the law could harm children. She did however, repeal a law that prohibited civilians from owning machine guns, since it affected law enforcement officials ability to attain them for themselves. So she has been on both sides of this issue.

The conversion of several Republican politicians to Democrat in the Kansas government cannot be overstated, as the same thing has been evidenced in the voting populace in Kansas. The ability to have this effect on Republicans, to cross the aisle, to get Republicans to vote Democrat, to sway Independents, is a great weapon to have. I underestimated Sebelius earlier, I won't ever again.

2. Governor Bill Richardson (NM). No talk of an Obama V.P. cannot include Richardson. His endorsement was well-timed and helped Obama through a tough time, to say nothing of making headlines for turning against his history with the Clintons.

Richardson is gravitas. He undoubtedly has the best portfolio of the contenders for the position. Richardson is a governor, has run for the presidency, and served in the House. He was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and the Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton. He has been chairman of the Democratic National Convention (2004) and of the Democratic Governor's Association (2005-2006), in which Dem's took the majority of the governorships in the country.

All this means he has ties throughout the country and at various levels of government. He has foreign policy credentials, energy credentials, and the two put together is a very good thing considering the predicament we are in right now with our dependence on foreign sources of energy (oil). He would greatly improve our standing in the world. He has experience coming out of his ears, having served at the state, national, and international level. He also has served as a negotiator, dealing with Saddam Hussein of all people, in releasing hostages. The importance of this story, both as evidence of heroism, leadership, and diplomacy cannot be understated.

In the House, he was very interested in Native American and Hispanic/Latino issues. As Ambassador to the U.N. he is known for his work with peace between Israel and Palestine and the environment and ecology. His tenor as Secretary of Energy did have one notable negative, the Wen Ho Lee nuclear espionage scandal, where he was a bit slow in releasing information.

He has written on and researched North Korea extensively, and has been part of the Bush administration's delegation on dealing with their nuclear problems. He has also been key in negotiating some cease fires in the Darfur region, Sudan, while also governing NM. He is pro-gay rights. He has a history as a stockholder with various energy companies, though he sold all of his stock when he ran for President starting in 2007.

Richardson's time as governor of New Mexico has also been distinguished. He has proposed and passed personal income tax cuts. NM became the first state to offer life insurance up to $400,000 for active National Guard personal, which 35 states have since followed through on. He formed Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership (GRIP) in 2003 with the help of the NM legislature which works on highway and infrastructure projects throughout NM. He also passed a concealed weapons law and a medical marijuana law in NM. The Cato Institute has called him one of the most fiscally responsible governor's in the U.S.

Wow! That is quite the list, hard to overlook that as well.

Overall, I feel these are the two candidates to beat. Both offer Obama more executive experience. Sebelius offers "crossing the aisle" appeal and has been proven in doing not only that, but in getting Republicans to vote Democrat. Richardson offers foreign policy and energy policy credentials, which is an understatement. He's that qualified. Sebelius would help turnout the woman vote, Richardson the Hispanic and Native American vote. Both are very popular in their states and could help lock them in for Obama. Sebelius would be the riskier of the two as far as locking in Kansas goes since it is very Republican, though still a swing state. New Mexico would definitely break heavily for Obama-Richardson, as Richardson is very popular there.

Finally, I want to leave you with my first pick and the outsider of the group. However, his credentials and, more importantly, what he represents definitely leave him a definite possibility.

The third, my first pick and the final nominee:

3. Senator Russ Feingold (WI).

I have to admit my bias here. I am a native son of Wisconsin, and I am very proud that Russ Feingold represents my home state.

Obama is running on a message of "new politics" and "hope". I get both from Russ Feingold. He is cut from a different cloth than most on Capital Hill. It's called integrity. Feingold has it, he's kept it, despite being on the Beltway for going on 15 years now. He has served as the junior Senator from Wisconsin since 1993.

Furthermore, Feingold brings "grassroots" cred. I don't think any candidate would fire up our grassroots efforts more than Feingold. He would ignite our new and growing "activist" base. Perhaps that could be construed as a bad thing, you know, "too liberal". I can't argue against that. However, Independents do like him. One additional note to consider is Feingold's multiple divorces- which could be spun in a bad way. Of course, it didn't seem to hurt Giuliani too much when he was running.

Feingold is of course the key engineer, along with Senator McCain, in bringing about the Bipartisan Campaign Act or McCain-Feingold bill. The new politics Obama is speaking about began right there, I believe. A very revolutionary bill at the time, it reduces the amount of "soft money" campaigns receive as well as prohibiting corporations from putting out polical ads. Certainly, it has improved our political campaign process and discourse, balancing the playing field. Feingold would agree that much more can be done. To that end, he has worked on a bill banning lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators and requires more disclosure from legislators of their accounting. This bill is currently awaiting a vote. He also opposes pork barrel spending. Of course, McCain vs. Feingold on the campaign trail could be gold, since McCain has been a flip-flopper on campaign reform since their work together. I'd love to see Feingold call him out on it.

Also, important is his opposition to the war in Iraq since the start, he voted against the authorization for force against Iraq, stood up for our privacy rights and voted against the Patriot Act, has opposed NAFTA and similar trade deals, and has voted for immigration reform, including bill S.2611 which doubles the amount of work visas to the U.S. I'm sure Lou Dobbs hates that one. He is pro-universal healthcare though opposed the Clinton plan in the 90's saying it was a hand out to the corporations. He has authored a plan called the State-Based Health Care Reform Act. He supports legalizing gay marriage. Gun rights are a mixed bag with Feingold.

He is a budget hawk and has been endorsed by Libertarians, which could have appeal among Independents and some Republicans.

Ultimately, I believe it is things like this that would be used against him (which is really sad):

"Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group that rates members of Congress on a scale of 0 to 100, with zero being completely conservative and 100 completely liberal, gave Feingold a lifetime average rating of 98. The American Conservative Union ranked him a 12, where 0 is most liberal and 100 is most conservative. In 2004, the NRA gave him a grade of D (with F being the lowest grade and A the highest). . . . .The ACLU gave him a score of 89 percent."
(From Wikipedia).

But here is why he would be so good for Obama:

"The Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group that pushes for fiscal responsibility, placed him on its "Senate Honor Roll" every year since 1997, and ranked him in the top two every year since 1998, making their suggestion that Feingold is also one of the top budget hawks in Congress." "Feingold, who was elected to Congress on a promise not to accept pay raises while in office, has so far returned over $50,000 in such raises to the U.S. Treasury. In addition, he is notoriously frugal in his office's spending, and sends back the money that he does not use. In one six-month period in 1999, for example, his office received $1.787 million in appropriations and returned $145,000, a higher percentage than any other senator.".

(All from Wikipedia).

Finally, he has run some great campaigns. He's capped his fundraising, refused soft money, refused promotional ads from special interest groups, eschewed negative campaigning. He embraced grassroots methods, such as, when facing two millionaire opponents in his first race and on a limited budget he:

"adopted several proposals to gain the electorate's attention. The most memorable of these was a series of five promises written on Feingold's garage door in the form of a contract. These were:
-I will rely on Wisconsin citizens for most of my contributions.
-I will live in Middleton, Wisconsin. My children will go to school here and I will spend most of my time here in Wisconsin.
-I will accept no pay raise during my six-year term in office.
-I will hold a "Listening Session" in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties each year of my six-year term in office.
-I will hire the majority of my Senate staff from individuals who are from Wisconsin or have Wisconsin backgrounds.

When I saw the above in an ad is the moment when I said " I like this guy" and I've been liking him ever since. Inegrity. Honesty. Reform. Progress. That's Feingold, and that's why I wish he could be our Vice President.

Update: Other names to consider- Gov. Janet Napolitano (AZ), Gov. Bill Schweitzer (MT), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA), Sen. Claire Macaskill (MO), Sen. Chris Dodd (CT) and Sen. Joe Biden (DE). Overall, I consider another legislator to be an unlikely choice, not enough executive cred. Napolitano and Schweitzer definitely deserve another look, as do Gov. Tim Kaine (VA) and Gov. Phil Bredesen (TE). I would consider Clinton and Clinton supporters a very unlikely choice. Of her supporters, I would consider Gen. Wesley Clark to be at the top of my list. Perhaps, there are some other generals that could be on here as well.

Stupid Talk: The Race, Race, and Polls

Well, the Democratic primaries continue and quite frankly, I'm bored. I was frustrated, then I got mad and now, just bored. Barrack Obama will be our nominee, the math does not lie.

Currently, we are just waiting for that reality to sit in for some. The blog and pundit world seems to mainly consist of railing on Clinton or Clinton supporters fervently trying to perpetuate her arguments to stay in. Unfortunately, these same forums have also exploded into counter-productive talk of race. Talk of race can be a good thing in the right context. However, that hasn't been the case. Why? Race is not the only demographic that should be talked about. We are missing other important groups as well. We are forgetting about religion, age, class, and social background. All are part of the rich tapestry of America.

However, the talk this year is race and region. Namely, racial hotbeds. Racist Appalachia. The Black South. Labelling. Unfortunately it doesn't end there and many of these conversations degrade into flat out racism. All the talk seems to be about "poor, hardworking" white middle class voters, like they are the only ones that matter. (I do not want to give the illusion that I don't care or that they aren't hurting these days as well). Haven't we been catering to these voters since we started having general elections? Shouldn't there be other concerns this year? Like, maybe, say the people who actually are poor?

Of course all this talk of race is being fueled by polls. Polls that are taken and spun through regional demographics. The results are not pretty. The problem here is that we are all, and especially the pundit-class, oversimplifying and generalizing these polls and statistics. In the end we are left focusing almost completely on middle class whites. We are talking about one small segment of white voters and of course, the blacks are all lumped together. It creates an us vs. them mentality when you frame things that way. Why is there no discussion of middle class blacks or senior blacks or female blacks? Furthermore, looking at polls and people this way doesn't take into a account how truly diverse we are.

We are not discussing other important factors in the vote and how they interconnect or diverge. We are not looking at region in a full enough context. All we get is slices. Obama supposedly has a problem with middle class whites. But what about Kansas? Wisconsin? Iowa? North Dakota? To name a few. Religion is being ignored except in the most inflamatory ways possible. Age is a huge factor this year- yet nothing. Gender, largely ignored even with Clinton being in the race. Sexual preference- nada. There is some talk of class, but only in select groups (amongst whites). Hispanics are perhaps going to decide this election, yet all discussion of that demographic has died since Texas. Of course, there are no Latinos outside the Southwest! How silly of me.

To put it flatly- this narrowed discussion of the varied tapestry of America through the use of polls and demographics is divisive, polarizing, and demeaning to us all. They do not, cannot show how truly diverse we as a nation are, and they cannot fully capture how we as individuals come to our choices. Trends, perhaps. But trends change, and quickly, over time.

Ultimately my final point here is that polls are stupid and useless. No poll can truly factor in all the different types of people, their places in life, their very lives, their decisions. Thus polls prove nothing. Polls are not facts. So get a grip and don't believe the hype.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't see race. I see voters. Massive Democratic turnout this year. Period.

Discussion of polls at this point is stupid. We are not even in June yet. Furthermore, these polls will change dramatically when we have ONE nominee. These polls will continue to fluctuate until the fall and probably well into it. I refuse to keep arguing about polls and demographics. It is silly and it is divisive and needlessly polarizing. We are ostercizing the many to focus on the few. Basing a whole electability plan and path to the nomination on polls is just crazy.

So knock it off! Let's look to the future and start planning to win this thing. Time to put aside petty arugments and declare a winner. Maybe the silence will be deafening to some....
"...you saw a frame that presupposed white vs. black as the operative assumption. And, in the process, we simplified what was going on. In the earlier segment, someone mentioned -- I think it was David -- that Senator Obama is having trouble with moderate voters. Imagine a discussion last night that, instead of parsing based on racial lines, asked, what are the ideological divides? Or there is a division between younger and older. Or there is a division between male and female. There is actually also a division between rural and urban. And there's a difference that is really remarkable, when you start to put those patterns together, even in the absence of race. When the media focus on "the black vote," "the white vote," and then they start to particularize the white vote within that, they invite us to see race as a defining category of analysis. That simplifies, distorts, and heightens a concept that probably is best left not discussed in this broader, complex arena, because it's missing a whole lot of what's happening with this electorate."
-- Kathleen Hall Jamieson. She's brilliant. Love her.

"I would say that we are probably feeling a lot freer to talk about something that we're no better at talking about. And I think when you look at the -- such phrases as "soccer mom," "NASCAR dad," so many of the euphemisms that we have produced, to talk about people by race or class, we're still hiding behind something other than what we're actually saying. And, journalistically, I think our responsibility is not to reflect the society on those things, but to reflect the values of journalism, which suggests precision over euphemism, for example, and accuracy vs. obfuscation. And I think we have been guilty more of imprecision and obfuscation than we have of accuracy on this front. When you look at the conversation around those euphemisms, one of the consequences is that we have reduced people, in many ways, to those categories, and allowed the public, essentially, to draw what I would imagine will always be a race-based conclusion about the group we're talking about. So, when we talk about the white working-class voter who does not vote for Barack Obama, guess what conclusion the other folks in this country are going to make about those voters? Now, we're going to conclude that they are bigots. If -- when we talk about black voters without distinguishing between one and the other, then we have a bunch of sheep running behind the black candidate because they're black, and they're not thinking, and they have no sophistication whatsoever."
--Keith Woods

Both commenting from this segment on PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Check it out!

Update: Here is an example of what I would call a fair and detailed look at demographics and RESULTS, not polls. Here you get a better example of what role race, region, and religion are playing in the race. Where is the coverage on the tee-vee like this?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Numbers hurt!

The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding (emphasis mine) the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it's virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department's brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can't be.

From this fascinating, highly informative, and mouth-frothingly frustrating article from politico.com.

A must-read.

Add an estimated $700 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (from Feb. 2008). With this number we have increased the budget 434% on the military and for the wars since 9/11. Keep in mind this number is going up daily and that we are not paying for it, but paying it forward to future generations with interest.

Monday, April 28, 2008

My Thoughts on Wisconsin and Minnesota Voters in 2008.

Here's the rub. PA is not a swing state. Either Democrat will win in November. OH and FL are swing states where Clinton runs more favorably than Obama. WI, MN, CO, IA, VA, NC, NV, NH, NM are all swing states where Obama runs better than Clinton in recent polls. Additionally, other polls have shown Obama running competitively in crazy states like MT, AK, NE, and IN (I don't think he'd win these states, but it's weird to think about). To Clinton's credit, she puts WV and AR in play, whereas Obama would get crushed in those states.

Excellent analysis by billysumday commenting at Talking Points Memo. An opinion, but one I agree with. Worth a repeat.

I was raised in Wisconsin and now live in Minnesota. I'm pretty biased in my perceptions, so take this for what it's worth. I can say that there is a lot of diversity in politics in both. Democrats and Republicans have much sway, and there are many variations there of, all over the scale.

Overall it seems like people are frustrated with the war(s), the economy, Bush, and the media. I think the overall frustrations that the nation is experiencing as a whole also lie here. So starting off I think the Democrats have an advantage here.

However, traditional Republicans abound, a few neo-cons, lots of Rush and O'Reilly fans. Many cut from the Lou Dobbs cloth. I think McCain will have a lot of sway as well, and we'd be stupid to underestimate him.

Most of my friends, Wisconsin and Minnesota, are Obama people. A few McCain voters. One outspoken about it to almost a caricature degree, the rest are very quiet about it (kind of weird). There are few, okay one, outspoken Hillary supporter. And the rest, just a few, who just want to vote Democrat, as an anti-Bush or anti-Same vote essentially, and don't care who the nominee is. Yes, they are my less involved friends. However, it's also important to add that they also think this whole campaign season has been inanity.

I think it's important to keep those less involved Democratic voters perspectives in mind, as well. They think all of this bickering is silly and makes the candidates, both of them, look like idiots.

I agree with them.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

An interesting graph.....

Notice how much health care is costing us? Incredible how much it has gone up the last twenty years. Amazing how much of our income is spent on that! Though not much of a surprise to any of us. More on this soon.....

Update: I've been looking at this and studying it. I've come to one conclusion. 1946 looks sweet! It seems like we were healthy, well-fed, fashionable, consumers. Small amounts for gas, cars, maintenance, housing, and medical expenses. More is spent on food and clothing.

Food and clothing surely were more expensive then due to the war and since clothing manufacturing hadn't gone overseas yet. Perhaps, consumers cut back in later generations as costs increased elsewhere, namely for health care. It's a dubious claim, but one that makes sense. The first things I cut out when money is tight are clothes, dining out, and my grocery store buying habits. Namely, I'll go less and I'll buy generic.

However, also consider that for the next ten years food and clothing dropped as manufacturing changes and prices normalized while health care only increased slightly. It looks like we were well into the 60's before health care costs really took off. Overall, it looks like a pretty good time for the American economy. Health care costs have been soaring since the late 70's. Almost doubling in the same period, even adjusted for inflation!

Irregardless of the causes of the drop in expenditures on food and clothing, it's sure is nice that health care costs are filling that potential savings we could have, isn't it?

The Real Cost of Gas

Gas will cost the average American 4% of their income, if $4 a gallon becomes the average price of gasoline over the next year. I have reached this conclusion by taking the average American mileage for 2006 (15,000 miles), dividing it by the average American m.p.g. car fuel economy for 2008 (30.1), multiplying that by $4 a gallon of fuel and then dividing the average American income for 2006 ($48,000). Finally, taking one and dividing it by the remainder, getting the percent. In this case it rounds to just slightly over 4%.

Of course, I am using 2006 numbers for the math. I have not found a 2007 number to go off of for income, etc. Of course, 2008 numbers have yet to be determined. However, I would argue that incomes have remained rather stagnant since 2006, and very probably have gone down for many. Of course miles driven, fuel economy, etc. can also effect the math. I'm sure because of prices the number of miles may have gone down as well. However, those are tit for tat arguments. I think 4% is a pretty good number to go off of.

Of course, I think many of my friends are paying much more than that. The gap between rich and poor has grown. The rich are getting much richer, throwing the average income up. In reality, I don't think the average income has gone up much. Or at all.

When compared to 1998 levels, the height of the Clinton economic expansion/bubble (which in all fairness it ended up being) and record low gas prices, we have seen gas eat up 2 and half times more of our earnings. In 1998 the average American spent 1.6% of their income on gas (now that's more like it). The average income was $38,000, the average fuel economy was 22.1 m.p.g., and gas cost an average of $1.03 per gallon, and they drove an average of 13,000 miles that year.

Of course if you take into account the good number of people who make less than $48,000, including many who commute from small towns, suburban areas, and the countryside to more urban, industrial areas for work the prices go up even further. For someone making $28,000 like I almost did in 2007, this adds up to 7% of their income. Insane, especially when one takes into account that is using average mileage. Many people commute twice that in a given year, especially many rural workers.

All this makes me incredibly glad that I now walk to work and have cut my fuel expenditure by half or more.

I think it's time for something new! How about you? Until then, the prices just keep going up...