Saturday, May 9, 2015

Uh oh . . this isn't going to help Jeb

Reported by the Washington Post's Robert Costa and Matea Gold:

"After spending months distancing himself from his family’s political legacy, Jeb Bush surprised a group of Manhattan financiers this week by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor on U.S.-Israel policy.

“'If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,' Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered investors at the Metropolitan Club . . . . The remark came as part of an answer to a question about Bush’s political aides and their policy views . . . ."
Now this may have been an anticipated question and a considered answer, because George W. was a strong supporter of Israel.    But I'm not sure that it's a good idea to associate himself with his brother's policies at all.    Remember what he said in his February speech:
“I love my brother. I love my dad.   I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.”
Jeb isn't exactly setting the political world on fire, despite his capacity to raise huge amounts of money.     And he continues to seem like a bumbler -- one step away from a "47%" moment.

To acknowledge taking your Mideast advice from the man who led us into the Iraq quagmire on false pretenses does not seem very smart.


Friday, May 8, 2015

The case for a parliamentary system

  In the British parliamentary elections on Thursday, P.M. David Cameron's Conservative Party surged to a comfortable lead that projects them to win around 316 seats, just 10 short of an abolute majority.   It will be easy then to form a coalition with another party to form a government.

Overall, Labor Party candidates were the disappointing losers;   Liberal Democrats lost some seats as well.

The big news was the rise of the Scottish National Party with 55 seats  

I find the parliamentary system very interesting, with its encouragement for multiple parties -- and, especially, the quickness with which a new election can be called when the old one is being ineffective.    Think what could happen in the U.S. if we could have had an election last fall (2013), when the partisan gridlock had already paralyzed congress, instead of having to endure gridlock for four years.

More evidence that American voters are smarter than pols think they are

Much as I deplore the obscene amount of money flooding political campaigns, there are some small victories.     This latest example is from Alaska.

In Tuesday's runoff election for mayor of Ankorage, the state's largest city and home to 40% of the state's population, Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz had a commanding lead of 59% over his radical, right-wing opponent, Amy Demboski's 41%.

My interest in this comes from the fact, as reported by Daily Kos, that the loser had financial backing from Koch money, as well as support of several evangelical preachers.

There seem to be two possibilities for getting out of this mess created by uncontrolled amounts of money:   (1) a constitutional amendment to put in controls;  or (2) a more naturalistic solution where total saturation of political ads no longer works;   people just ignore them.

I would love for it to be the latter.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Netanyahu finally manages to forge a coalition -- but big troubles await him . . . and Israel

Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party was the top-vote getter in the election six weeks ago, but not win a majority.   Likud won 25 of the 120 seats in parliament.  So, as often happens in multi-party Israel, he had to forge a coalition with other smaller parties in order to form a government.

It had seemed relatively easy until just days ago, when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman unexpectedly pulled his support.  Netanyahu lost the 6 seats of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, and thus his majority coalition.

Netanyahu finally managed to form an alliance with the Jewish Home party, which has close ties to the settler movement.   With Likud's dominating hard-liners, and two other small Ultra-Orthodox partners, their slim majority of 61 seats will only increase the growing discord between Israel and the U.S. and the international community.   

Certainly there is no hope for any peace talks or solutions to the conflicts with Palestine, and two votes can derail any legislation in parliament.   Unless Netanyahu's can fulfill his promise to convince other small parties to join his coalition.

Yair Lapid, one of the leaders for reform in the outgoing government, said there was no cause for celebration:   "A narrow, suspicious and sectoral government is on its way."    Lapid vowed to fight the attempts to undo the reforms.

Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition Zionist Union party, called this coalition "a national failure government . . . an embarrassing farce . . . the narrowest [margin] in Israel's history."

It's questionable how long such a fragile coalition can last.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Politics and money in Britain

Since Citizens United essentially ended any control over political contributions in the United States, political fund-raising has become obscene and disgusting.    The going rate for a presidential campaign seems to be in the range of $1 billion.

In contrast, Great Britain is in hotly contested parliamentary elections (which will also determine the next prime minister).   By law there, each political party is limited to spending $29.5 million in the year prior to the election -- and that's for all their candidates for seats in parliament.

One of the biggest differences is that their election laws prohibit commercial televised political ads.   Instead, the parties are given free broadcasts on both commercial television and on the BBC.

In the interest of "free speech" (aka big money interests), we've tried the opposite of regulation -- and it has proved to be a disaster.   Maybe we should pay attention to our big sister nation across the pond.   

The problem now is that it's very hard to put the toothpaste back into the tube.  It will probably take a constitutional amendment.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Deal's way or the highway"

For anyone interested in Georgia politics and government, this column by Jay Bookman in the AJC is worth reading in full.    He exposes a pattern of Gov. Nathan Deal's usurping power unto himself as governor.   All the examples put together add up to a shocking array of similar moves -- the next big one being the proposed constitutional amendment to give the governor power to take over any school system that he deems "failing."

"Deal's way or the highway"
Jay Bookman, AJC, May 3, 2015

As Dink NeSmith tells it, he was removed from the University System’s Board of Regents a year ago because he was insufficiently submissive to Gov. Nathan Deal. In a newspaper column this week, Smith accused Deal of violating the independence guaranteed to the regents by the state constitution, calling the Deal administrationthe most domineering and arrogant” in the state’s history.

The response by Deal spokesman Brian Robinson?

“This is a tantrum by another name. ... When you don’t get asked to the prom, you can be cool about it and act like you have better things to do, or you can have a public meltdown on the school PA system and make wild accusations against the person who turned a blind eye to your inviting smiles.”

That doesn’t strike me as the response of an organization trying to refute an allegation of arrogance. It is instead a trumpeting of that arrogance. But given the record, it is hardly a surprise.

In 2014, Deal forced out two members of the Department of Community Health Board who dared to question a surprise proposal to increase nursing-home rates. (The chief beneficiaries included nursing-home owners who donated heavily to Deal.)  

[ShrinkRap Note:  And I would add that the nursing home association hired Gov. Deal's son-in-law for a job he had no qualifications for.  The same son-in-law whose business failure almost bankrupted Gov. Deal.  What made the deal smell so rotten was the fact that the state pays about a billion dollars a year to nursing homes for indigent care.   Of course, they denied hiring his son-in-law had anything to do with influence from the governor's office.]

In 2011, he forced Warren Budd, a well-respected Republican businessman, from the Department of Natural Resources Board, again for daring to exercise independent judgment. Budd’s story was similar to that of Smith: Under Deal, the DNR board was no longer allowed to function as a board, with Deal’s office even dictating whom the board elected as its officers.

Robinson’s response? “If anyone on any board considers himself indispensable, this is what educators call a ‘teachable moment.’ ”

Deal’s ambitions are also redrawing the basic architecture of state government.  In 2013, Deal stripped control of an honors program for top high-school students from the state Department of Education, giving it to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. In 2012, he shifted a major workforce-training program out of the constitutionally independent Department of Labor and into the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development.

As part of his criminal justice reform package, Deal will soon sign legislation creating the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support, and Reentry, giving it duties once performed by the Department of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Juvenile Justice. He also just stripped the state Soil and Water Commission of its independence to bring its functions under his influence.

Most infamously, his office was also secretly involved in hiring a new director of the state ethics commission, a supposedly independent agency that was then investigating Deal’s political fundraising. To put it mildly, his record both as a congressman and governor is that of a man who does not respect boundaries.

And in November 2016, Georgians will vote on a constitutional amendment giving Deal the power to take full control of local schools, stripping elected officials, voters and parents of any effective voice in their operation. The legislation does call for allowing “community feedback and input,” but if you listen to NeSmith, Budd and others, I’m not sure it’s wise to take much comfort in that.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Progressive opponent for Hillary

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for president.    This is good, in my opinion, because his progressive policy ideas will help pull Hillary Clinton a bit more to the left.

Sanders describes himself as a "democratic socialist," which Jonathan Cohn contrasts with what Americans usually think of as socialism:  "Democratic socialism is a milder, more aspirational form of the ideology. Instead of actively pursuing the goal of government running large industries, a democratic socialist focuses on far less radical objectives, like making the welfare state more generous and limiting the influence of money on politics."

Sanders explains:
"Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries, obviously. The voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free. . . . "
When asked by George Stephanopolis on This Week whether he was concerned that Republicans would jump all over him for wanting us to be more like those Scandinavian countries, Sanders replied:
"What's wrong with that? . . . What's wrong when you have more income and wealth equality?   What's wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment . . .  The fact of the matter is, we do a lot in our country, which is good.  But we can learn from other countries."
Finland, a parliamentary republic, has many similarities, with progressive taxation and high levels of social spending, which includes:   free education, including graduate and professional education, subsidized medical care, family support, excellent senior care, unemployment benefits, etc.

The key in all these countries -- and what makes them such anathema to Republicans -- is that they pay for all this with high taxes and progressive tax codes so that the wealthy pay much more.   The results, however, are a higher level of education, security from childhood through old age, an infant mortality rate one-half of the U.S., and a greater life expectancy.

These four Scandinavian countries were #3, #4, #6, and #8 among the top 10 "happiest countries" that I listed in the 4/26/15 post.   The U.S. was #95.    So what's wrong with learning something from Scandinavia?   What would be so wrong with listening to Bernie Sanders?

I can see some lively debates with him in the mix.   If I voted as an idealist, I would vote for SandersBut I will still vote for Hillary, because I want the Democrats to win and to be able to govern.   I also want progressive policies to be held up for us as ideals to work toward -- and someday achieve.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

A conservative voice understands why crowds loot -- or at least he did, once.

In the wake of rioting and looting in Baltimore, just as in Ferguson and Watts and other places where angry crowds have vented their long-suppressed emotions, conservatives especially have been quick to condemn and tarnish a whole protest movement for the rioting and looting that sometime follows.

Here's one notable exception from a bona fide, law and order conservative from the past:
"While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. . . . And I don't think there's anyone in any of those pictures ... (who wouldn't) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom."
Thanks to Daily Kos contributor AnnieJo for digging up this quote from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on April 11, 2003, explaining the looting in Baghdad by Iraqis after the Saddaam regime had been toppled.

Seems very apt today where black urban communities go up in flames in response to police brutality.   It's reassuring to know that conservatives can understand the underlying causes, despite the condemnation they proclaim in public.

Or am I mistaken?   Does that conservative's empathy and clarity about underlying resentment and rage only apply to foreigners that our military has set free -- and not to urban poor people in our own country?