Friday Mashup (4/23/10)

April 23, 2010

  • 1) Oh noes! It looks like the Dems are in trouble for the fall!

    I mean, Little Petey Beinart says so here. And he has to be right, doesn’t he?

    NEW YORK – Yes, the Democrats are going to get throttled this fall. But Obama has had so much success that he can afford spending a little time playing defense.

    It’s a strange moment in Washington. With the stimulus bill and health-care reform now law, and serious financial regulation gaining momentum, Democrats are witnessing the greatest run of policy success of my lifetime. The victories have been so large that I suspect some liberal wonks are actually having trouble adjusting. As a liberal (not to mention a Jew who grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox) I know that when you’ve grown accustomed tragedy, and built an entire communal identity around it, triumph can be destabilizing.

    When it comes to politics, however, an arena where Democrats were actually growing comfortable with success after the landslides of 2006 and 2008, things are ugly. President Obama’s approval ratings, which belly-flopped to less than 50 percent over the course of 2009, have been treading water there ever since. Despite some liberal wishful thinking, in fact, Obama and his party’s fortunes now look even worse than before health care passed. On April 12, Gallup recorded Obama’s lowest approval rating ever (47 percent). The next day, it reported that Republicans have opened up a lead in generic congressional balloting (“Which party’s candidate would you vote for if the midterms were held today?”). Intrade now predicts that Democrats will lose seven seats in the Senate and 36 in the House.

    In the matter of Obama’s approval numbers (and of the polling I’ve seen, the lowest is 46 percent), that still puts him at roughly twice the number of his predecessor for about the last 2-3 years of his wretched reign. And as noted here, if the 2012 presidential election were held tomorrow – and no, I cannot stomach that at the moment either – he would still handily beat presumptive nominees Willard Mitt Romney and a certain former Alaska governor who quit so she could cash in.

    Also, I have hardly seen this Gallup/USA Today poll mentioned anywhere from about a month ago, which shows that those polled favored health care reform by a 49-40 percent margin.

    But of course, this is to be expected I suppose from Beinart, who has already blamed Obama for “(failing)” in his effort to be “the nonpolarizing president” here.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall, because it’s still a long ways off (we haven’t even made it through the primaries yet, people). Will the Dems lose seats? Probably, but that depends on how much they ignore the dreaded “conventional wisdom” and run on their accomplishments instead.

    If they campaign with guts, the losses will be manageable. If they campaign like they’re afraid of their own collective shadow, they’ll lose big. And they’ll deserve it.

  • 2) And in the matter of what happens when an indecisive base sits on its collective hands and lets a Repug seize the momentum and win an election instead, I give you the following on the recent school district votes in New Jersey (here, and once again, I apologize for not getting to this video sooner so I could put it up before the vote)…

    (Wednesday), New Jersey voters did something they haven’t done in more than 30 years: defeated a majority of school district tax levies. [Note: I’m calling them “levies” here because that is more accurate. Voters don’t really have a say on the spending portion of the operational budgets of their local schools. They only get to vote on the amount in property taxes that the district proposes levying for the year.]

    They also turned out in record numbers. The final statewide vote count hasn’t been compiled, but it is somewhere north of 20% of all registered voters. That may not sound like much, but the previous high for school elections, going back to at least 1976, was 18.6%. 1976 was also the last time a majority of school levies failed. That year, 56% went down. This year, it looks like 59% have been tossed out by voters.

    A Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey Poll released last week found that 29% of registered voters – if they did vote – would support their local school levies, while 37% would oppose them. Based on a sampling of county returns, it looks like that 8 point margin may hold up in the final statewide vote.

    There are some other interesting findings as well. Taking Middlesex County as just one example, compared to the April 2009 election, turnout in this one county was up by 65%. The number of “No” votes went up by 90%. But the number of “Yes” votes also went up, albeit by a lower 40%. In other words, turnout increased on both sides of the issue.

    So what does this all mean?

    Chris Christie and his supporters have claimed victory, saying that New Jersey voters sided with the governor in his battle with the state teacher’s union, the NJEA. However, the governor urged voters to defeat budgets in districts where the teachers made no concessions – and a good number of these actually passed. On the flip side, in the few districts where teachers actually agreed to wage freezes or other concessions – the districts one would expect to be rewarded if voters were out to show support for the governor – a good number (anywhere between 6 and 13 depending on what you count as a “concession”) of the school budget levies failed.

    So, here’s what we know about the New Jersey public:

    1. They think the size of the cuts in state aid to local schools is unfair.
    2. They think the teachers’ unions should be willing to come to the table and agree to a wage freeze and benefit contributions.
    3. They don’t want educational programs cut.
    4. They don’t want their property taxes raised.

    All of these are reasons why Garden State voters voted yesterday. They are the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “No.” And they are also the reasons why more people than usual turned out to vote “Yes.”

    Anyone who claims with certainty that any of these reasons is the main factor behind a majority of school levies going down yesterday is just blowing smoke.

    And all of this has managed to deflect attention (for the moment) from the following about Christie’s budget (noted here)…

    Here’s the concern: The federal government pays 65 percent of the tab for NJ FamilyCare. When we cut people from the program, they often wind up in emergency rooms where the cost is picked up by the state and by insured patients. Sen. Joe Vitale, the Legislature’s leading voice on health policy, says this cut will wind up costing New Jersey more than it saves.

    Democrats should ask other questions as well. Christie would raid a clean energy fund that subsidizes solar and wind power, and energy conservation efforts. It is paid for by ratepayers on each month’s electric bill, and it’s not clear that the state has the legal authority to grab it for other purposes.

    Do we really need to cut money to food pantries now, or can Democrats find a substitute cut?

    And can we soften these cuts by reducing the planned state surplus of roughly $500 million? Or by reinstating the income tax surcharge on families earning more than $400,000, which would bring in about $300 million during this fiscal year?

    And when asked about the tax surcharge, Christie said the following here…

    “They (the Democrats) made a political judgment: it was either raise the tax, or we could have the issue to use against a Republican governor,” Christie told reporters, referring to Democratic Party lawmakers.

    “They chose the issue over the revenue,” he added. “Well, they got the issue. They’re not getting the revenue.”

    Spoken like a true Repug.

    Christie is nothing but a bully looking out for his pals and sticking it to everyone else, people (and let’s not forget this either, by the way…Update from 4/24/10: The AP has since corrected itself and said that Christie’s people make collectively about $440K more than Corzine’s, not $2 million).

  • 3) Finally, yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the ATF raid that took Elian Gonzalez from the home of a Florida relative so he could be reunited with his father in Cuba (as noted in this Wikipedia article, the whole affair generated a truly rare moment of wisdom from the WaPo’s Richard Cohen, among other things).

    I don’t have anything particularly brilliant to add here, only to point out that the issue should have been about reuniting him with his father and absolutely nothing more, especially considering the circumstances under which he was taken by his mother from Cuba to begin with.

    However, even this story can generate some partisan mythology, as noted here…

    More than 300 protesters were arrested in the hours after the raid, and the community’s outrage did not subside. Al Gore, the sitting vice president, lost Florida that November to George W. Bush by a mere 537 votes, and with it the White House. Many pundits said the Elian debacle made the difference.

    Watch the movie “Recount” with Kevin Spacey as Gore attorney Ron Klain and take note of the final shot of the movie – namely, all of the boxes of uncounted Miami Dade County votes sitting in a warehouse – and then try peddling that nonsense to me again.


  • Thursday Mashup (4/22/10)

    April 23, 2010
  • 1) Occasionally the Bucks County Courier Times experiences a journalistically lucid moment, and they did so yesterday here in an editorial about departing County Operations Office David Sanko…

    Sanko, an ex-big wig with the GOP, was hired in 2004 at $125,000 a year, not exorbitant for the chief executive of a large organization. But let’s remember that his was – and remains – a government job, which means the benefits are good and holidays plentiful.

    When Sanko resigned five years later, he was earning $140,688. Again, not outrageous. But during that time Sanko also drove a county car, compliments of taxpayers. And, it turns out, he received a sweet retirement deal – also compliments of taxpayers.

    How sweet became clear this week when the county revealed that Sanko received $76,500 – the amount the county deposited into a “457” retirement fund for Sanko over his tenure. Unlike the shrunken 401(k) retirement accounts most people in the private sector have, Sanko did not have to deposit any of his own income into the account, according to the county finance director.

    That’s not how it works for other non-union county workers. Their 457 retirement plans are built on the employees’ own contributions; the county doesn’t throw in a dime. That Sanko’s retirement deal turned the formula upside down made it unique in Bucks County, the finance director said.

    Uniquely generous!

    In fact, when taxpayers file their federal income tax returns next year, they might consider claiming part of Sanko’s retirement as a charitable contribution. Or maybe they should consider it a political contribution.

    Either way, taxpayers’ charity doesn’t end there. The “deferred compensation” Sanko received is just part of his retirement deal. When Sanko reaches 60 he’ll be entitled to pension payments of $18,000 a year – for his five years of service here.

    The editorial points out that Dem Bucks County Supervisor Diane Marseglia has quite rightly said that a deal should not be signed for a new supervisor unless the compensation for this individual is held up for public scrutiny.

    Well, given that Director of Finance and Administration Brian Hessenthaler was promoted yesterday to fill Sanko’s job (supported by all three commissioners, as noted here), I think any hint of controversy has been avoided for the moment at least (Hessenthaler deserves the benefit of the doubt, though I’d be curious to learn more about the other job applicants).

    Oh, and in the story about Hessenthaler’s promotion, we also learn the following…

    Commissioner Jim Cawley said there has been an unfair implication that Sanko’s benefits were concealed, when, in fact, his contract was a public document from the moment he was hired.

    Well, I don’t know where this public document supposedly is. I just spent a few minutes here looking for it, and I’ve come up empty.

    And I’m sure Hessenthaler will represent an improvement over his predecessor, who is recalled not so fondly here.

  • 2) Also, I stumbled across this item in which Fix Noise pokes fun at another Democrat, in this case Harry Reid for not returning a campaign donation from Goldman Sachs (I’m not thrilled about him receiving a donation like that either, though there a lot of corporate malefactors out there besides them; Lloyd Blankfein and his pals are particularly bad, I’ll admit)…

    It’s no secret that politicians constantly travel to Wall Street to raise money from the deep-pocketed financial industry executives. It happens all the time, and the financial crisis didn’t change much. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-CT, recently reiterated that this is a good reason to enact public financing of campaigns!

    I assume that the nameless individual behind this commentary doesn’t fancy the idea of public campaign financing, hence the exclamation point. However, the following should be noted in response (here, from January)…

    WASHINGTON (AP) — About 40 current and former corporate executives have a message for Congress: Quit hitting us up for campaign cash.

    In a letter to Congressional leaders on Friday, the executives urged Congress to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They sent the letter a day after the Supreme Court struck down limits on corporate spending in elections.

    “Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors,” the letter said. “And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court’s decision, the fund-raising pressure on members of Congress will only increase.”

    The companies represented by the executives who signed the letter include Playboy Enterprises, the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, the Seagram’s liquor company, the toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines, Men’s Wearhouse, the Quaker Chemical Corporation, the Brita Products Company, San Diego National Bank, MetLife and Crate and Barrel.

    They sent the letter through Fair Elections Now, a coalition of good-government groups that has long lobbied Congress to pass legislation establishing public campaign financing.

    This also takes you to a site where you can learn more about public campaign financing, including an interactive map to find out what your state has done on this important issue.

    You want to get rid of the Michele Bachmanns, Jim Inhofes, Steve Kings and Louie Gohmerts out there, people? Limit the election cycle to 30 days, keep the corporate money out of it (tough, because a lot of people make a lot of dough out of this stuff, including the broadcast networks), and force these people to run on their accomplishments, or lack thereof (my grand and glorious plan also depends on an informed electorate, though, I realize).

    And if you think they look silly now…

  • 3) Finally, we recently observed the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, but we’re also a week beyond the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. And with that in mind, I give you the following USA Today story from last December…

    Administrative buildings began shutting down nearly 90 minutes before the first campuswide alert about the April 2007 shootings that eventually left 32 students and teachers dead.

    According to the report, two unidentified university officials notified their own family members of the first shootings more than an hour before the first alert was issued at 9:26 a.m., April 16.

    Campus trash collection was even canceled 21 minutes before students and teachers were warned.

    One of the two officials also alerted a colleague in Richmond more than 30 minutes before the campuswide alert but cautioned the colleague “to make sure (the information) doesn’t get out” because the university had not made an official announcement.

    The first warning came more than two hours after the first shootings and 14 minutes before Seung Hui Cho continued the rampage in a classroom building where some students were shot at their desks in the most deadly campus shooting in U.S. history.

    “What happened at Virginia Tech is by its very nature inexplicable, and we may never fully understand the tragic events that transpired that terrible day,” (former Governor Tim) Kaine said in a written statement Friday. “However, the Commonwealth has remained committed to providing as accurate a factual narrative as possible.”

    After reading this account, I have a question; why isn’t a grand jury looking into this (I’ve looked around and found no news story on that)?

    Why was campus trash collection, for example, halted before the entire campus was notified that a shooter was on the premises (allegedly)?

    Oh, I forgot – Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is too busy suing over health care reform as part of burnishing his conservative bona fides (as noted here) to do the job he was tasked to do by Governor Bob McDonnell (who isn’t far behind him in the winguttery brigade).

    I have no doubt that Virginia Tech is, among other things, a wonderful community of individuals of all kinds of ethnicities, life experiences and skills. And it is a tribute to the talent and resiliency of the school’s students, faculty and other personnel that it has come back from one of the darkest experiences surely that any institution of learning could imagine.

    And that makes it even more of an almost unspeakable travesty that the shootings that very nearly tore it apart have not been investigated as fully as possible as part of every effort to ensure they never occur again.

  • Update 5/25/10: More bang-‘em-up pro-gun antics from McDonnell – somehow, I’m sure he knew what he was doing by allowing the name of the non-existent group here.


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