Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Moving Massachusetts Forward

After a quiet couple of weeks, it looks like the Reilly campaign has regrouped, rebounded, and is ready to answer alot of the questions that have been asked of it. One recurring question I've heard from some is "what's Attorney General Reilly's vision for the Commonwealth?" Fair question, and it looks like the answer is here.

Thus far, the AG had been fairly quiet on policy proposals, but thats no longer the case. The S.M.A.R.T. Initiative seems like the level headed, pragmatic proposal we'd expect from Reilly (further highlighting that January and February were an aberration). Before Patrick supporters jump, I know Deval Patrick has his own education plan, and it's just fine too. The point here, is that, in a rush to pile on in previous months, many have wrongly claimed that AG Reilly was running for the Corner Office just to run, and not because he had new ideas to get Massachusetts moving in the right direction ... forward. This plan, and the others that are to follow show thats not the case at all. Personally, it seems pretty S.M.A.R.T. to me.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The 'Cause I Can Candidacy ...

Many things can be forgiven in politics, except for being petty. Which is why Chris Gabrieli is making a serious mistake trying to line up the necessary delegates to appear on the Democratic ballot this fall.

If it had been Gabrieli's intention all along to run for the Corner Office, I would not characterize his actions as such. Rather, his entrance in to the race would have been welcomed. His past experience, although entirely unsuccessful, would make him a formidable opponent and his finances would ensure that if all else fails his message would have been heard and his face would have been seen across the Commonwealth.

However, its quite clear that Gabrieli's intentions, perhaps since as early as December 2005, as rumored by David Eisenthal, were to use his financial clout to secure a spot on a Democratic ticket with AG Reilly. When that failed, Gabrieli seemed to take it personally. I can see why ... our current LG never proved the ability to win even a State Rep's race, why should he be held to a higher standard?

Gabrieli's "campaign," if it amounts to that, is the culmination of much of whats wrong with politics, especially in Massachusetts. A campaign for the highest office in the state should be neither an afterthought, nor a vendetta. Gabrieli's is both. Further, the main argument in support of his candidacy is "Patrick can't win and Reilly slipped up." Well, Deval Patrick has proven he deserves more respect than that and last time I checked Chris Gabrieli's human too, so I'd simply say, "people in glass houses" Chris. Finally, lets try and follow the logic of the Gabrieli candidacy, "Patrick can't win and Reilly slipped up, THEREFORE ... I can" Anyone else notice the leap.

C'mon Chris, you're better than that, you're better than this. You've worked for good causes and done a lot of good for the party in this past, don't tarnish all that with a petty campaign that could eventually cost us our best shot at the Corner Office since I've been able to walk and talk.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Co-Equal Branch

Karl von Clausewitz was a Prussian general who lived from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. He held many important positions in the Prussian military, from aide-de-camp, to chief of staff, ending his career as a major general. While von Clausewitz participated in many important battles, he is best known for his military treatise On War. The Prussian general famously wrote that "War is the continuation of politics by other means;" herein is the lesson.

One of the great cliches of the post-Vietnam era in American politics is that when the U.S. military is in conflict, it must be supported wholeheartedly. Were I a betting man, I'd have no problem wagering my life savings on the proposition that every member of congress has made some statement to this effect. In one sense, I have to agree with them: if you're going to vote to send military forces into battle, you ought to be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to make that battle successful. However, the belief that inquiry and investigation into military policy is somehow unpatriotic reveals just how neutered the once-proud people's branch has become.

If one accepts von Clausewitz' notion that war is politics using other means, why ought the politicians abdicate their responsibilities to participate in this process? A general from one of the most war-oriented states since Sparta ought to be a relatively good source for understanding warfare's implications. That isn't to say that Joe Q. Representative should be calling special-ops command demanding that they change their priorities, but blind acceptance of the requests and strategies of military leaders is a dangerous notion. Political leaders from the legislative branch have a duty to look toward military policy with a critical eye. The question then is why they fail to do so.

Congress does not exactly have a reputation for benevolent power sharing. If there is power to be had, and Congress has the means, you can count on them aquiring it. Why then do so many members, Republican and Democrat alike, blindly accept that once at war, questioning military leaders is inappropriate? The answer is an old one, the military industrial complex. No less a general and leader than Dwight Eisenhower warned us about it nearly fifty years ago. It was a concern great enough for him to mention in his last message to the American people, and it has certainly not abated.

The story is all too familiar, defense officials moving to positions as defense contractors, defense contractors appointed as defense officials. It is an incestuous world that few have access to. A cursory glance at the campaign finance reports of members who sit on the defense subcommittees of both the senate and house appropriations committees bears out the influence of the defense industry.

I doubt none of this is new to anyone, which is quite sad. It's a reality we seem to have resigned ourselves to. The solutions to these problems are difficult: campaign finance reform combined with competitive house districts to weaken the advantages of incumbency. A new attitude about war as a sign not of our national might, but the failure of our power to work with other countries.

War is politics. The men and women we elect have a substantive role in it. That role ought to reflect a diversity of constituent opinions to include those defense contractors who employ thousands, but more importantly reflect the views of those who don't stand to profit, and the feelings of those who might have to risk their lives.

The legislature is a co-equal branch and it's time they began to act like it.

What DCCC Really Stands For

The Democratic Congressional Coulda (Woulda, Shoulda) Committee.

Why might you ask? Because unless State Senator Charlie Wilson finds a loophole that no one has found yet, he won't be on the ballot this fall (via Hotline). The magic number just bumped up to 16 for the House to flip. Wilson was seeking the seat vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland (D -OH-6), who is a cadidate for Governor. It's a district that leans Democratic ... if it has a candidate. C'mon Rahm, who's running the show down there?

And if you think I'm disappointed, I've got nothing on the national media, who probably had the "Charlie Wilson goes to War Again" headlines ready (explanation here).

Monday, February 20, 2006

When Speech Isn't Speech

"There is a cancer on the body politic: money" - former Senator and Governor Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC)

Money hasn't always been an issue in politics, but it has always been an issue in modern politics. Over the past century, money has grown from one of many issues to consider when running a campaign to the issue to consider when running a campaign, when thinking about running a campaign, and when wanting your consideration about said campaign to be taken seriously. This isn't what the founders wanted and its nothing they could have had the foresight to prepare the Republic for. There's was a time when candidates were put up for office by others, then stepped aside as they were campaigned for and against. Ideas and arguments won campaigns, not individuals and bank accounts.

However, nostalgia will not solve our problems. To address the pervasive, negative influence money has on our political process elected officials of all stripes must come together around a simple idea: our political process is enhanced, not detracted from, when the playing field is leveled and elected officials are less concerned with the size of their campaign accounts and PAC contributions. Certainly, debate over campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, and perhaps even how legislators use their personal PACs to win seats on "select" committees, will lead to heated debate and solutions that do not entirely satisfy some, but the dissatisfaction of a few is far superior to the continued destruction and decay of our political process for all.

Now if only we had a leader capable of striking the right balance, able to allay the concerns of those on either side, and ensure the legitimacy of our democracy. Paging the junior Senator from Illinois.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Count the Ways ...

The crew over at Under the Golden Dome have a great post up that caught my eye as I was scanning the blog-wire pre-gym. And in the best tradition of lazy fridays, I decided to put off the gym for a bit and tackle a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately - Why am I a Democrat and What's right with the Democratic party.

I'll admit, I've been thinking about the topic on and off since college, but refocused after watching former Governor Mark Warner give his patented "Why I am a Democrat" speech the other week in Manchester, NH. Read it, listen to it, and if you don't get chills, or at least get inspired to think about why you're a Democrat, you should probably double check your pulse.

So why am I a Democrat? I'm a Democrat because the Democratic party is the only party that can play to society's highest ideals instead of its lowest common denominator and push our nation forward, together.

I'm a Democrat because thanks to a polio stricken President, a determined First Lady, and a batch of Southern populists who I'd more often fight against than agree with, millions of senior citizens were lifted out of abject, isolated poverty, and have stayed out of it since.

I'm a Democrat because it was a Democratic president that said "we shall overcome" and made sure we did - - signing the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, all while waging a War on Poverty.

I'm a Democrat because "the cause endures, the hope lives on and the dream shall never die."

I'm a Democrat because The Peace Corps reaffirmed our commitment to service worldwide, Americorps reaffirmed our commitment to those less fortunate within our borders, and the good work of the thousands who have volunteered in these programs started as a ripple, but became a mighty current.

I'm a Democrat because government isn't always the answer, but it is part of the equation if we want to move toward the more perfect Union that we all hold as our common goal.

I'm a Democrat because in a world of imperfections, no one can expect a party to be perfect, but we can demand that a party constantly work for to improve the lot of those who have been left behind, never forget those who came before, and always think of those who will come later. That is the mission that drives our party and we must never forget it.

Finally, I'm a Democrat because no matter how many statistics, figures, or proofs you show me for why one path is better than the other, none of those matter half as much as the look on the face of grateful student, the smile on the face of a newly employed father, or the relief of a mother who's child has returned home from protecting their nation in these dangerous times. So long as those faces are among us, in their sundry forms, it is our solemn duty to serve them, and I think we'd all agree that the Democratic party is the best vehicle to do just that.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New Equilibrium?

Personally, I thought last week's state house news poll was going to be as far as AG Reilly would drop, post-Caucus, post-St. Fleur (or "Fleuriasco" as BMG has dubbed it), apparently, I was wrong. A quick look at the numbers seems to say that Patrick picked up the 14% of undecideds who made a decisions between September 2005 and February 2006, which is impressive to say the least. Further, if Patrick did get all 14%, he still had to gain another 8%, meaning virtually all of the support that AG Reilly lost had no qualms supporting Patrick. If you're Chris Garbielli, this has to be the last thing you wanted to see. Your candidacy, if there even is one, or ever was, was based largely on the theory that Reilly supporters would be looking for non-Patrick option. Based on these numbers, this constituency doesn't seem to be forming.

More later.

UPDATE: I've been thinking about this poll all day, trying to figure out what it means. There's a few conclusions I've come to. First, there's no more campaigning solely against Kerry Healey. The remaining undecideds are not going to be won over easily and they will not be won over merely by a laundry list of whats been done wrong since 2002. The facts they know, now they want to see what AG Reilly and Patrick have to offer, and apparently, they haven't been sold by either yet. Like I said earlier, I don't think they necessarily want an alternative (Gabrielli), but they do want a compelling reason why either candidate will break the Republican hold on the corner office and move Massachusetts forward. Second, despite the best efforts of Andy, Lynne, and others, I think we've seen the last of the caucus bounce. For good or for ill, we're in a little bit of a dry period in the campaign now. Odds are both candidates will take the following month(s) to flesh out their visions, make themselves known, reintroduce themselves to voters and prepare for the conventions. If this poll means nothing else, it means we're in for a real fight over the next few months, one that can only make us stronger going into November.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Knowing What We Know Now ...

You've got to feel bad for Harry Whittington's family. Here's hoping he has a speedy recovery ... so we can really laugh.

Best quote by a bald faux-news reporter on the whole situation:

Everyone believed there were quail in the brush and while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he would still have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.
—"Vice-presidential firearms mishap analyst," Rob Corddry (The Daily Show)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Real Deal

If I were a Republican, and yes, thats about as big an "if" as there is out there (followed only by, "if I was a Yankees fan" and "if I could just give up on the Celtics"), I'd be doing everything I could to get my party to nominate Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) in 2008. I've always had a soft spot for Hagel, if for no other reason than because he's more consistent in his beliefs than any other member of his party and has no problem speaking up to the Administration (as he's done on Iraq, Climate Change, and the deficit), but Joseph Lelyveld's mammoth bio ("The Heartland Dissident") on the Senator in Sunday's New York Times Magazine sealed the deal.

Think: McCain - Ego - baggage = Interesting candidate.

Then again, it seems the current GOP likes big names and small thoughts (see: Allen). It's a pity. Of course, Hagel would make a great Ambassador to the UN or Special Envoy to the Middle East in a Democratic Administration. Let's make sure he gets that chance.

Leading by Example

It's tough for me to not write about sports more often in these pages. For as long as I can remember, sports have been a gigantic part of my life. Whether it was a short lived little league career, a club soccer trip across the pond, or a mid-summer game in Fenway, sports have been a part of my life so long as I can remember. While the people I would describe as my heroes are no longer athletes, there is one athlete who has broken through and I had never even heard his name until I woke up this morning.

Joey Cheek is a 26 year old, gold medal winning, Olympic speed skater. And after 70 seconds of brilliance on the ice in Torino, Cheek took his moment in the limelight point out the ongoing suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan. Cheek did so, not in an incriminating fashion, but in an unassuming, humble, and thoughtful way. In the ultimate moment of personal vindication, individual triumph, and personal success, Cheek chose to look outside himself. During his post-victory press conference, Cheek announced he'd be donating his bonus ($25,000 from the USOC, which a speed skater could surely use) to a group working with refugees in Chad. Shortly thereafter, Nike came forward and said they'd be matching Cheek's donation and would be working with him on the venture, and I'd hazard a guess that they won't be the last Olympic sponsor to jump on the feel good story.

But before this snowball becomes an avalanche of cross-training shoes, shorts, and t-shirts headed for war torn West Africa, lets remember how it all started. A single young man took the greatest opportunity of his life, perhaps the one time the spotlight will be on him, and instead of soaking it all in and getting all he could, Joey Cheek chose to give back. As Cheek himself said, "The best way to thank someone is by helping someone else." Thank you Joey Cheek, you're an example to us all, and a reminder of how sports can bring out the best in all of us.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Irrational Exuberance

In a recent poll concerning Massachusetts' 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary, one candidate was supported by 39% of voters, one was supported by 30%, and 31% of Democratic voters were as yet undecided. The poll raised a few eyebrows and for good reason. The frontrunner dropped by 19% and his challenger jumped up 12%.

So, what does it all mean? Well, we're about a week removed from the LG/tax/financial mess and AG Reilly is still, yes still, 9% ahead of Deval Patrick. Imagine a worse month for the Reilly Campaign. Can't do it? Neither can I. But here's the flip side, imagine a better month for Deval Patrick to make inroads. Imagine a month where he could have had everything break his way. Can't do that either? I thought so. This is informative. Prior to the St. Fleur mess, 24% of Democratic voters were undecided, after the incident, 31% were undecided. This means that not only did a 19% drop for Reilly only equate to a 12% bump for Patrick, but it also meant that the original 24% either paid no mind to the mess, felt it didn't matter, or didn't think it mattered enough for them to choose to support Mr. Patrick.

Before others raise their dissent, as I am sure they will, let me say that I am in no way arguing that bad news of weeks past is not pertinent, salient, or in anyway "good" for AG Reilly's prospects, but I am saying that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Patrick's supporters were making a little much of it. Yes, Mr. Patrick did do better than AG Reilly in the caucuses, but the 35,000 participants in the town and city caucuses make up (and someone correct me if my numbers are off here) roughly 5% of voters in the Democratic primary (based on 2002 turn out). So before we write candidates off, claim candidates are flawed, or make prognostications that would make the Bush budget seem modest, lets take a step back and see the whole picture. It's a long way to September, let alone November.

Creativity, Innovation, Progress and Reform: It's Do or Die Time for the Donkey

Much has been said, and will continue to be said, about the future of the Democratic Party. This ongoing dialogue is a good one, if for no other reason, because it promotes the kind of thoughtful debate and discussion which is needed to address the many failings of the Democratic party over the past 12 years. Since John Kerry's 2004 election loss, many "single bullet" theories have been proposed, claiming to explain away the Democratic woes with one fell swoop. Thankfully, the shortcomings of these theories have been exposed. There is no single fix-all for the Democratic party, but there are many good starting points (most of which serve as the foundation for those fix-alls).

Yes, Democrats do need to better articulate an alternative national security strategy to that of the current administration. As Senator Evan Bayh has rightly pointed out, "Educating our children, providing quality health care and securing retirement are all critical challenges -- but the American people will not trust us on any of those issues if they don't first trust us with their lives." However, the desire to look "tough" has too often left Democrats supporting or backing down to the current administration's foolhardy foreign policy misadventures.

Yes, Democrats do need to frame issues better and to avoid using Republican frames that force us to play on "their turf." As George Lakoff says in the introduction to Don't Think of an Elephant, "our job is to frame our own values, vision, and mission, and avoid attacking theirs, because if we do, it only keeps their ideas in the forefront." However, Lakoff's theories and lessons are a dangerous elixir for Democrats, telling them, "just learn how to talk different and you'll be fine." Certainly, framing matters, but what are we framing, what are the values, what is the vision?

Understanding that the way forward for the Democratic party is not necessarily a clear one, with many competing interests vying for prominence within the party, it is vital for the leaders of the Democratic party and the rank & file, to adopt a message and vision that appeals to the widest possible swath of the voting public. Perhaps the only message that can bring together the disparate interests within the Democratic party and help them move forward together under a common banner is a simple message: Reform and Progress.

Why Reform? First, every progressive, liberal, moderate, centrist, and blue dog Democrat can agree that the past 12 years of Republican control of Congress and especially the last 6 years of Republican control of EVERYTHING has left our government in shambles at all levels. If you are a Democrat whose chief concern is the environment, look at what the Republicans have done to the EPA, Interior, Energy, and our environmental regulations. If health care is your thing, well, do I even need to get into it. And if you consider yourself a "national security" Democrat, wouldn't you like to fix the Armed Forces that the current majority party has stretched thin, failed to modernize, and forced to rely on more out of date weapons systems? Why Reform? Because we all agree its necessary, because it can apply to everything, and because no matter what the final product of reform is, its got to be better than the current state of things.

Why Progress? For good or for ill, part of the great American story has been a sense of continuing progress in our nation's history. While the "progress paradigm" ignores many of the gritty details of our nation's history, it is deeply embedded in who we are as a people and as such, must be tapped for electoral success and in developing public support for policy. Having spent the past 2 years as an aide on Capitol Hill, I know full well the bunker mentality that House Democrats have been forced to take. When everything you believe in, or have worked to build, is under attack, the first and proper reaction is do everything in your power to hold the line. However, such a defensive posture, although necessary, places Democrats on the wrong side of the progress paradigm. Karl Rove even went so far as to declare that Conservatism had won a victory in the Social Security reform (small "r" when the reform is useless, regressive, and doesn't fix the fiscal underpinnings) because Democrats appeared to "be obstructionist, oppositional, and wedded to the past instead of the future - and thats not a good place to be in American politics." Clearly, Democrats were right to block the President's Social Security proposal, and in this case, it looks like Rove was wrong, but his thoughts shed light on an important political reality.

If it's clear "Why Reform?" and "Why Progress?" and we can debate "what Reform is" that leaves one major question, "What is Progress?" This is where the FUTURE of the Democratic party will be determined. In the next 7 months, the Democratic leaders and candidates need to articulate what their first principles and values are, and how those principles and values build a foundation for their vision of American progress in the 21st century. I would argue that the most important driving forces behind any proposals put forth by the Democratic party must be creativity and innovation in government. Gov. Tom Vilsack has started to hit on this point, and in so doing, he has inoculated himself from some of the predictable criticisms of Rove & Co. Emphasizing creativity and innovation helps Democrats break free of the past and become the party of progress, idealism, and a better future; a "more perfect Union" as Lincoln said, and Clinton repeated, time after time. Speaking of creativity and innovation forces Democrats to their money where there mouth is, as Senator Barack Obama and Representative Jay Inslee have done with their "Health Care for Hybrids Act."

Rhetoric, such as that used by Gov. Vilsack, and ideas, such as those put forth by Sen. Obama and Rep. Inslee, are just the start. If the Democratic party is to gain control of Congress and the White House, it must dedicate itself to both a consistent defense of its principles, which I think we all believe are the foundational principles of the American experience, and a consistent campaign for progress, reform, creativity, or innovation. If the party leans to much towards the offense it will fall prey to attacks, and if leans too much towards the defense, it will become the party of the past. Balance is key in all things, but it is a necessity if the Democratic party is to become the governing majority in this country in the coming years.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gulf Coast Update

I've decided that at least once a week, I'm going to try and do a post focused on the Gulf Coast recovery, if for no other reason than because I feel a deep and abiding obligation to the people of the region. Ideally, there will be some good news mixed in with analysis of how things are going, but based on the papers this week, and especially today, it might be a stretch to promise anything.

"The supply of trailers is not the issue; we have plenty of trailers" - Nicol Andrews, FEMA spokesperson.

If you haven't clicked on the link above, please do. Now, if you haven't punched a hole in your computer monitor, or spilled coffee all over your keyboard after slamming your desk, congratulations.

Now this ...

Apparently, then FEMA Director Michael Brown and DHS Sec Chertoff's Chief of Staff both knew by the night of August 29th that, "(conditions) far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."

Alright, first things first. RE: FEMA trailers. According to the article, some 135,000 trailer requests have been made and roughly about 50% of those request have been filled. Even if Ms. Andrews is correct, which is suspect considering the article mentions only 19,000 unclaimed trailers thus far, that does not make the bureaucratic mess and lack of inaction any better. There are people who want to move back, want to get on with their lives, and need a trailer to do so (Note: this isn't a luxury trailer. From personal experience, I can say, the trailers at Spartan at best, cramped & barely livable at worst). It's time to cut through the red tape and stop the bickering between federal, state and local officials. They need trailers, you've got trailers, in the spirit of the region, "get 'er done." Now. (A little leadership would help ... say, maybe more then 146 words in a 5,000 word speech)

Moving on to the investigations into the inept immediate response to the disaster... if the findings of the investigators and the committee are true, and the White House knew of the gravity of the situation, but it "did not register" - - well, not that the excuses worked the first time around, but they certainly don't carry ANY weight any more. The President felt the region had "dodged a bullet" and Sec. Chertoff (who I had thought would be the best of the second term cabinet) kept his regularly scheduled briefing on the avian flu, in Atlanta.

This most recent revelation (and what should be its public airing at the Senate hearings today) puts a further dent in the White House message that "mistakes were made at all levels." Yes, they were, but leadership was absent at the mostimportantt level. That's what this really points to, a lack of leadership. Ultimately, the White House did respond, but it was only after severe public criticism and public outrage over the images from a ravaged New Orleans. Leadership isn't reactive, its pro-active.

The Gulf Coast region will rebuild and it will rebound, but in order for it to do so in the most equitable, fair, and democratic fashion, its the responsibility of all to scrutinize the process, push it forward, and hold leaders at all levels accountable. The residents of the region wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Empty Earmark Evangelism

Somehow, most of the debate around lobbying reform and the culture of corruption in Washington, D.C. has shifted to earmarks. Earmarks, for those who ignore John McCain or his followers, are literally legislative language inserted into spending bills that directs or "earmarks" federal funds for specific projects in a Representative's home district or a Senator's home state. While the debate around earmarks seems to be an all-or-nothing one, let me explain why I don't think its all that simple.

The logic that says the increase in earmarks is due to the increased power and influence of lobbyists is spurious. In this sense, the Republican spin on Abramoff is, and this is only by accident, true. Abramoff's ability to pile up large sums of money, thanks to his direct and unfettered access to former Majority Leader Tom Delay and his staff, was an aberration. For the most part, lobbyists are lucky if they can get their clients in to see the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committees which control their desired pot of gold. Further, even when they do get in to see these powerful members, normally meaning those on the bodies Appropriations committee, that does not guarantee support of their project or cause.

How though, you might ask, could a member of congress afford to ignore the influence and desires of a powerful lobbyist, what with the lunches they offer, and the box seats to the Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins game. It's pretty easy and simple actually. The federal budget is the scarcest of scarce resources. 99.9% of members would never waste their precious few earmarks (members of the house, especially more freshman members who sit on relatively unimportant committees especially get few, if any, earmarks) on "pork." Now, that leads to a legitimate debate over what precisely pork is. Looking at a list of earmarked projects, I could quite easily assume a project in South Dakota is pork, but I don't know that, and neither does the federal bureaucracy. Deference, with regards to the interests and needs of a local district, is paid to that districts representative, as it should be.

Which leads to the most intriguing part of the earmark debate. Those who crusade against earmarks are reliably conservative lawmakers, who are looking for some piece of the reform mantle to call their own. Some, like Representative Flake and Senator McCain have been calling for the removal of earmarks for some time now and their desire for change is not being questioned. However, I do question what their final goal is. If the power to direct spending, to earmark, is taken from Congress, those earmarked funds would not go to offset the deficit, rather, they would go directly to the federal agency charged with overseeing the program out of which the earmarks have been removed. In other words, lets take the decision-making process out of the hands of elected officials and give it to bureaucrats. Personally, I don't have a big problem with it, but it seems to go directly against the conservative dogma of less control to Washington.

As bogus as some of them are, earmarks are here to stay. Yes, the presence of earmarks will continue, as will, to some degree, the role of lobbyists in government. But here's another secret of the earmark trade that lobbyists probably don't want you to here ... lobbyists, for the most part, don't matter. Sure, they might get you in the door and they might rack of a big bill, but in the end, if the project doesn't serve a compelling local interest, its not going to cut muster. Just remember what Tip said, "all politics is local" ... whether it takes place in Washington, on K Street, or in your congressional district.

UPDATE: After I wrote this, I got to thinking about ways that Democrats could use the debate over earmarks in the 2006 campaign. Thankfully, before I got too frustrated, something came ot me. Democrats should call for the removal of all earmakrs from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and any other national security related agency. Further, Democrats should insist that the Department of Homeland Security's budget remain free of earmarks (under a gentleman's agreement between the House and Senate, earmarking the DHS budget has been taboo thus far). There is no room for pork when it comes to national security ... I'd like to see the Republicans run against that.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Federal Budget 101

Having spent much of my two years after college and before grad school parsing through the federal budget, I take a certain type of sick joy in listening to the spins surrounding the President's budget. Will the President's budget cut the deficit in half before he leaves office? The answer is "yes" if you're Josh Bolten, OMB Director at the White House, and "no" if you're the Congressional Budget Office. Both are right, and neither make their predictions based on anything approaching political reality. This is just the type of beltway dilemma that leaves more people with headaches, than with any idea of how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent. While the mainstream media enjoys pointing out specific cuts, and trust me, there's enough specific cuts to keep the articles rolling 'til the House and Senate vote on their packages, very little attention is paid to the overall budget picture. Appreciating this, I thought I'd take a run at cutting through some of the budget-speak, Washington-lingo, and flat out spin, to see where we really are. Or in "blogosphereic" terms, its some reality-based commentary on our current fiscal woes.

The first, and most glaring, misunderstanding in the general public, focuses on the role the President plays in the budget process. Since the 1974 Budget Act (see: good bedtime reading if you are having trouble sleeping) was signed into law, the President's role in the budget process has been a guiding one. He/she submits a budget proposal to Congress and the proper committees in both bodies act on that submission. Within the President's budget are a host of legislative, regulatory, and other assumptions (Ex. drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is said to raise $4 billion, up from last years assumed total thanks to the spike in oil prices). These assumptions are the President's wishlist for the year. The final numbers administration officials are using now (claims surrounding what the President's budget would do to the deficit) are based on Congressional approval of ALL of the President's proposals. This includes, but is not limited to, moving control of the Community Development Block Grant to the Dept. of Commerce, closing down the National Civilian Community Corps, and cutting some 100 other programs (as the Presidents budget claimed to do last year also). One tiny problem there ... most of those proposals, many of which Bolten, et. al rely on to chip away at the deficit are DOA at the Hill.

Which brings us to important point #2, which is really the correlate of point #1. If the President only guides, or makes suggestions and proposals to, the budget, who is really pulling the strings? Congress. Yes, the same people that brought you Abramoff, Delay, Terri Schiavo, and turned a $236 billion surplus (for as far as anyone's budget forecast could see) into yearly deficits in excess of $400 billion and a national debt of $8.3 trillion (oh yeah, the debt limit will get raised in the next few months too ... and all of us in Massachusetts thought Marie St. Fleur was bad!). Congressional control of the federal budget has its positive and negative aspects. Long time committee chairs and ranking members are loathe to see programs within their jurisdiction slashed. While Republicans have been able to demand loyalty in the Delay era, there is little reason to believe that post-Delay, in an election year, and in dire need of good news, there will be 100% party loyalty. For individual programs, this is good news. Find the right ear, and you might just live to see FY 2008. Overall, though, Congressional failure to enact some of the President's proposals, only worsens budget forecasts and our current fiscal standing. This is where the Congressional Budget Office's work is informative.

CBO has a legislative mandate to produce budget predictions based only on current laws. While OMB assumes everything (and right they should, since they are the President's budget men and not the budget watch dog for the legislative branch), CBO assumes nothing. For this reason, you will see many of the Democratic leaders on the budget refer to CBO baselines and projections. Additionally, Republicans and Democrats who fear the crush the retire of the baby-boom generation will put on our federal entitlements (see: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid ... also referred to as non-discretionary spending, since their spending levels are not controlled by Congress, but are tied to demographic indicators), will refer to CBOs projections for those programs, since they give us a fair look at where this spending will head if nothing is done.

So where does that leave us? Unfortunately, as so often is the case in Washington, truth is neither black or white. Like Mac Bundy, NSC Director of JFK and LBJ said, "Gray is the color of truth." Some of the President's proposals will be adopted, but their total effect on our current deficit and debt will be miniscule at best. While President Bush is right to warn of the effect the baby-boom generation will have on non-discretionary spending, his warnings ring hollow considering the opportunity he had in 2000 to secure retirement of this generation, reform these programs, and erase the federal debt. Instead, we are back where we were in the early 1990s.

After a decade of "voodoo economics," Americans are being rudely awaken from the dreamy slumber of "have-your-cake-and-eat-it- too" conservatism. The federal budget, no matter how you parse it, analyze it, or spin it, is a statement of our nation's priorities and values. In the proposal President Bush has put forward, which will be largely mirrored by Congressional Republicans, the only priority is political expedience. Instead of leading Americans, of all political leanings, to a better future, President Bush has chosen to lead our nation down a perilous path, the end of which cannot be seen, but the ramifications of which will be felt for years.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mumbles Mumbles

Dear Mayor Menino,

Let me first say, I'm a fan. I like the work you've done in Boston. And, although I'd like to see you more actively addressing violent crime, I think you've got a good chance to go down as one of the better Mayors the Hub has seen in this half of the century. One of your strongest suits, I thought, was loyalty and your "buck stops here attitude." Apparently, I was wrong.

Now, I completely agree with your assessment that the St. Fleur choice was Tom Reilly's "alone." However, attempting to wash your hands of a situation that has your finger prints all over it looks petty and supremely disloyal. Since you announced your support for the Reilly campaign it's been quite clear that you have a say in the major decisions being made. And while you may claim you were "never lobbying" for your close friend Marie St. Fleur, well, that dog won't hunt Mr. Mayor.

Whether politics is your strong suit or not, we all know that there are few people you can trust in this business. If you're a real friend to the AG, Mr. Mayor, and you want to see him nominated and elected to the corner office, you'd be much better served saying you were disappointed Marie St. Fleur couldn't take advantage of an incredible opportunity for personal reasons, etc. Not too tough, right? Sure, you might not come out pristine, but this is politics, not ballroom dancing. If anyone should know that, you should.

Here's hoping those Boston delegates are a bit more steady in their support than their leader has appeared to be.


Your friends on the other side of the Charles

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Candidate Strangelove (or How I learned to stop worrying and turned around a campaign)

Strange or surreal would probably be the best way to describe what the past 2 days have been like for the Reilly for Massachusetts campaign. All campaigns have peaks and valleys, some have mortal spins. This isn't the latter, yet, and to make sure it doesn't become that, here's what I would do, if I ran the show.

(1) Get out on Caucus day and work like you never have before. No big busses, nothing planned other than a rented van, a few staffers, some Dunkin Donuts coffee and the most comfortable shoes you can find. Hit every town caucus you can find. Shake every hand thats extended (including those with Deval Patrick stickers). Offer to sit down and talk to people about the past month, explain to them that you know mistakes were made, but thats behind you now, you've learned from it, and you're a better leader for it. Reach out. Listen to everyone. Be the Tom Reilly they voted for to be their top law enforcement official in the state, twice in a row.

(2) Work to repair relationships with the 4 candidates for Lieutenant Governor. They're pissed, you're bruised and battered. Meet with each of them, hear them out, explain the process you went through, why you did it, and what you've learned. Humility is key, especially with these 4. You had the upper hand, now, in a lot of ways, they do. Offer to work with each and schedule events with each, all across the state. Fundraisers, coffee hours at their neighbors place, pulling BINGO numbers at the Local Elks Club (c'mon, its politics, its fun).

(3) Get with the ex-officios and elected officials EVERYWHERE. Their organization is your organization, and an organization without a fire lit under it does no good when it comes to getting the votes out (see: Menino and Finneran holding back the horses on Harshbarger). Same as with the LGs, hear them out. They've got a lot of griping to do, some warranted, some not, but most importantly, they want to be reassured. They don't need to hear your bio, but they do need to see that the ship has been righted, the course has been set, and the worst is behind them.

(4) Become the underdog. No, not the cartoon. How does Bill Belicheck get the Patriots to keep winning (forget about this season for a second)? He convinces them that nobody thinks they can do it, nobody thinks they have the most talent, the best players. He gets them mad. Now, I assume you're probably mad right now, but don't let that become self-loathing anger. Use it to fuel the comeback. Get out there and tell everyone that you know that Deval Patrick is the front runner now, that you know some people are thinking about jumping ship, but thats not going to stop you from working to earn the vote of every Massachusetts citizen from Pittsfield to Provincetown, Montague to Marblehead, Williamstown to Wellesley. Tell them you know the Republicans are laughing now, but they won't be laughing so hard come November, when we've sent them packing from the Corner Office and started running the Commonwealth in the interests of the greater good, not the special interests.

(5) Finally, don't forget anything you've learned the past month. Mistakes have been made and they can either be hidden in a closet, or used as lessons. Real people make mistakes all the time, real people understand mistakes. What they don't understand is political posturing, what they don't understand is backroom deals, and what they don't understand are candidates who care more about fundraising numbers than their problems. Meet real people everywhere you can, on the way to an event, get out, get a coffee and talk to the people in line, ask them what they care about, what they need, what bothers them. Each time you get up to speak, remember their voices, their desires, and their dreams for the Commonwealth. Do that, and in November, we'll be looking back on January and February like most New Englanders do, saying, "what a dark dreary winter that was."

I think you can do it. I think you think you can do it, so get out there and prove us right.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ask Not

History isn't about opportunities missed, its about opportunities taken, and for that reason alone, our 43rd President won't be considered in the company of the greats who have had the privilege to lead this nation. Last night, again, President Bush missed an opportunity to bring together a country that is painfully seeking unity, progress, and a better, safer tomorrow.

The power of rhetoric, combined with leadership, to inspire and drive nations to great heights has been proven throughout the course of history. Lincoln's steady hand and words preserved a Union that seemed bent on self destruction. Roosevelt's rhetoric inspired a nation to come out of its isolationist past and respond to the threat of totalitarian fascism in Europe. Kennedy's rhetoric drew multitudes to service for the greater good, in belief of something beyond themselves. While President Bush may wish to be remember in the same breath as these great leaders, he has missed what may be his last great chance.

It would have been foolish for anyone to expect the President to stand up at last nights State of the Union and call for universal health care or a new war on poverty, but there was a great deal the President chose not to say, or only pay lip service to, that he could have said. On energy independence, President Bush is uniquely positioned to call for sacrifice from the oil industry, auto industry, and American people alike. His background, much like that of LBJ in the push for civil rights, gives him credibility with these important players and provides him room to help our nation break free of what the he has now admitted is an "addiction to oil." Instead of calling for stricter CAFE standards or a new "freedom tax" on gas/SUVs/anything that indirectly supports radical Islamic regimes, President Bush took the easy route, talking about technology and possibilities for the future. Offend no one, challenge no one, ask nothing of a great nation that is ready to give.

There are other examples of missed opportunities, but they'll be documented throughout the mainstream media and in the blogosphere (left and right alike). President Bush was right when he said one thing, "the state of the union is strong." However, our union is strong, not because of its leadership, not because of the policies of this administration, and not because of our fiscal or moral standing in the world. The state of our union is strong because the spirit, will, and determination of the American people is absolutely unassailable and resolute. The strength of America rests not in its institutions, traditions, or position in the world. Rather, our strength is derived from the hardworking people in the Gulf Coast who are trying to rebuild their communities. The strength of our union comes from the Mom and Dad who are taking the overtime shifts to make sure their kid can afford to go to college. The strength of our union is drawn from the family farmers, small business owners, and teachers, who get up each day, go to work, and try and provide for their families and maybe, if they get the chance, make the world a better place.

The strength of our union has never been in question. But that strength has not been tapped by our current leadership, for one simple, obvious reason: they never asked.