Tuesday :: Jun 13, 2006

An Actor Will Lead Them?

by pessimist

The only hope for America, considering the sorry performance of both major political parties, will have to come from outside the corrupt system of political cronyism. There is no way to know exactly where those outsiders will come from, but could it be that we are seeing one such?

Redford To Democrats: Show More Courage
June 12, 2006

"Democrats need to regain the courage that's lost with political compromises over the last few years," actor and environmental activist Robert Redford said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. "They've got to get it together. If they don't, it will not only be a tragedy for them, but a tragedy for the country."

Redford argued that Democrats who take a strong stand are often tarred as radicals, but they're just being reasonable. "Republicans are not about substance, they're about strategy, and they're good at it," he said.

"Democrats could learn a lot from the Republicans about strategy."

Democrats could also learn a lot from ex-Republicans running as Democrats.

John Kerry endorses ex-Republican Webb in Va. Senate race
By Bob Lewis, AP Political Writer
June 2, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. --In a U.S. Senate primary measured largely on the power of endorsements from Democrats, former Republican Jim Webb landed the biggest name yet Friday with the backing of John Kerry.

Kerry is the seventh U.S. Senate Democrat to back Webb, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Three former Democratic senators have also endorsed him, including former Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Max Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam vet. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) ... endorsed Webb's candidacy under the belief that only he can run competitively against Allen in the fall.

"Jim Webb quit the Republican Party over the Bush Administration's incompetence and malfeasance in creating a mess in Iraq that has cost lives and weakened our security. For Jim, this is personal," Kerry said in a statement distributed by his political action committee.

"I dare any Republican to question this man's courage, character, or moral authority on questions of war and peace," Kerry wrote.

"Why do we keep trying to nitpick the service of someone 35 years ago
when we are not holding people accountable for what they are doing today?"

Webb asked.
The crowd responded with roars of applause.

That's one good lesson that the Democratic Party can learn from an ex-Republican. Unfortunately, they didn't learn another - don't succumb to hubris:

Webb's rival in the June 13 primary, Harris Miller, however holds far more endorsements from key Virginia Democrats, and on Friday received the endorsement of The Washington Post. He also had nearly double the cash available to him at the end of May than Webb, a figure inflated by $500,000 of Miller's own cash he gave his campaign.

Miller's campaign spokeswoman, Taylor West, said Miller respects Kerry, "but John Kerry doesn't know Virginia, and among those elected officials who do, Harris has overwhelming momentum."

It looks like the Democrats are learning that lesson about hubris:

Dem Senate Primary has abysmal turnout, big pricetag
Jay Warren, WSLS NewsChannel 10
Jun 13, 2006

Senate hopefuls Jim Webb and Harris Miller cast their votes this morning and they'll need it as the rest of Virginia stayed home Tuesday.
Voter turnout was abysmal in the Democratic Senate primary.
By 10am, just 0.75% of registered Roanokers had voted. By 11am at the Wasena Precinct only 25 people had voted out of more than 1,000. Frank Roupas has worked the polls at Wasena for 35 years. He says this race "is the slowest we've ever had."

At the Highland Park One Precinct they have 770 registered voters. As of noon, three of them had shown up to vote. There are more poll workers than voters.

And those workers come with a price. It's costing Roanoke City a whopping $45,000 to conduct this primary. Taken in another way, if 3% of the registered voters come to the polls in Roanoke City, you'd have roughly 1500 votes. That means the city spent $36 on each vote cast.

Roanoke County spent $20,000, Montgomery and Henry Counties spent $15,000 each, and Lynchburg spent $16,000.

This is just the cost of democracy right? Not exactly.
The parties have done conventions in the past, paid for by the parties. That's how the Republicans picked Mark Earley for governor in 2001. This spring, the parties in the 5th, 6th, and 9th Congressional Districts also had conventions to pick their nominees. But this year, the Democrats went with a primary. So the localities went along, threw an expensive primary and no one showed up. That's democracy and your tax dollars at work.

This was an incredible screw-up on the part of the Democrats, in the sense that the party didn't know that they weren't reaching the voters. But there were clear signs they must have ignored that this was the case. Kerry raised only $32,000 for Webb through his national e-mail list, and Miller ran his campaign largely on roughly $1 million in personal donations.

This oversight doesn't bode well for the Democrats, not in Virginia, and maybe not nationally, as this was seen as an important vote for the fall campaign.

UPDATE: Webb Wins Virginia Primary

Jim Webb is George Allen's worst nightmare. [Kos, via BuzzFlash]

But things aren't so rosy for the Republicans elsewhere. It seems that maybe some in The Sunflower State may have read What's The Matter With Kansas - and didn't like what they learned:

In Kansas, a Troubling Fissure for GOP
By Nicholas Riccardi, Times Staff Writer
June 13, 2006

TOPEKA, Kan. — Mark Parkinson got his start in Republican politics at age 19, as a precinct committeeman. He served six years as a Republican state legislator, eventually becoming state Republican chairman.
But two weeks ago, Parkinson announced he was running for lieutenant governor — as a Democrat.
He said he no longer felt welcome in the increasingly conservative Kansas Republican Party. "A lot of people in Kansas are feeling lost right now," said Parkinson, 48, who was invited onto the ticket by popular Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. "I decided I'd rather spend time building great universities than wondering if Charles Darwin was right."

Sebelius, whose Cabinet includes a former Republican governor, said she contacted Parkinson because she knew him from his time in the Legislature, not because of his party. Democrats in Kansas, she said, have a natural inclination to reach across party lines.

"Even if 100% of Democrats vote for something," Sebelius said,
"it won't happen unless you can draw out Republicans."

That is certainly one of the lessons the national Democratic Party leaders need to learn. They might pay attention to the Kansas Democrats, who are clearly drawing out Republicans:

Parkinson became the third Republican politician in the last nine months to startle this red state by switching to the minority party. The other two are targeting GOP incumbents in the attorney general's office and in the state House of Representatives.
Political observers say the fracture within the Kansas GOP
may foreshadow the future for the national party.
In 1994, when the GOP won both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, a group of religious conservatives in Kansas ousted the moderates who ran the party. Today, websites for some county branches of the party instruct on how to identify RINOs — Republicans In Name Only — and keep them from gaining influence. Social conservatives have solidified their power over the party and are especially influential in low-turnout primaries and local elections.
Increasing numbers of moderates like Parkinson are saying they've had enough.
"I'm absolutely fed up with the conservative Republicans," said Richard Meidinger, a retired physician in Topeka.

Martin Hawver has a name for lifelong members of the GOP like Meidinger: 'failed Republicans'. The editor of a respected Kansas political newsletter, Hawver's Capitol Report, Hawver counts himself among their number, occasionally doing the unthinkable and voting Democratic.

"It used to be you could never go wrong with voting for who the Republicans nominated,"
Hawver said. "But that's changing now. People are a little uneasy."
Cindy Neighbor is one of them. A veteran member of her local school board and a moderate, Neighbor, 57, unsuccessfully ran against a conservative for an open seat in the statehouse in 2000. She narrowly lost, but won in 2002. Neighbor wasn't long for Kansas Republican politics, however.
She backed an education bill that could have raised taxes,
and party conservatives told her there would be retaliation.
She lost the next primary to the same representative she'd ousted two years earlier. Another moderate Republican who'd co-sponsored her bill — Bill Kassebaum, the son of former Kansas U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker — was ousted at the same time. "It was, 'If you don't like this — goodbye,' " she said of her struggles to stay in the Republican Party.
Now Neighbor's running for her old seat — as a Democrat.
As a Democrat, Neighbor added, "you can still have your ideas and you're accepted."

The division between moderates and social conservatives is expected to define the contest for the party's 2008 presidential nomination. "The state is kind of dividing up," said Alan Cigler, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

"It's the Christian right versus the business interests of the Republican party.
That's what Kansas is all about now."

That's what America is about now. Which way it goes will determine what kind of nation we become.

Luckily, the choices aren't limited to these two radical positions:

Time to change the world? Durango's People of Conscience think so
May 29, 2006

Nearly four years ago, through a letter in the newspaper, Ron Margolis invited people to gather at Rotary Park. Everyone anxious about this country's buildup to war with Iraq, or the growing power of its corporations, could share their thoughts.

People of Conscience meets once a month at a member's house. While People of Conscience has not changed the world - yet - it has made a local difference. At a meeting earlier this year the group discussed hunger. Someone suggested opening the Manna Soup Kitchen on Sundays. Maria Cristina Grabiel helped arrange for about 12 different groups to cover Sundays, and now it's open every day of the week.

"The (Cuban) government cares if someone goes hungry - and won't allow it to happen," said Grabiel, who spent her first 10 years in Cuba before emigrating. She returns periodically to visit family. In Cuba, "It's about, 'How do we care for each other? How do we support each other?'" We have a long way to go in the United States, she says.

Can they change the world?
Can they make the United States see
that its ways of virtually unlimited consumption are about to end?
Can they even get their neighbor to recycle a few bottles?
Under stewardship of the low-key Margolis, People of Conscience is not a rabble-rousing, stone-the-establishment type of gathering. It seeks to find common ground rather than promote divisiveness. It seeks to educate, to show people, for instance, that the rate of energy consumption in the United States is not sustainable.
Americans use 48 times that of a person in Bangladesh, according to one estimate.
"We're going to have to reorient," said Margolis, 58, a Georgetown University law grad and former lawyer with the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. Assuming a great technological advancement does not hugely increase the supply of energy, "I think we're going to have to make a shift in what's important."

"We need to change," he said. Going to war with Iraq was partly about oil, he believes. And as natural resources dwindle under a growing rate of consumption, battles over those resources will intensify. "We have to change to avoid this."

So, how to create this change? People won't change until a crisis is in their face, said one woman.
Margolis offered his take on American values - the three Cs: consumption, convenience and comfort. The three Cs require utilizing an immense amount of energy per person.

Tom Bartels, former owner of the Abbey who now co-hosts the environmentally oriented "Good Dirt" radio show, said many people are unaware of the impending "peak oil" situation: The world's production of oil will peak while demand will continue to increase, creating a shortage. Some predict that will happen in 2008.

"It's important to educate yourself on what it is" and what the effects might be, Bartels said. "We're victims of comfort. Because we're comfortable we don't think anything's coming, and we're resistant to change."

"People dealing with this 'impending doom' were not feeling like we had a way of making a difference," recalled Louise Edwards, who said she "caught on fire" with antiwar feelings about the same time Margolis did in the fall of 2002.

It's a diverse group, Edwards said, including seniors, college students, soccer moms, even an ex-Republican. And there's the Edwards type - the Vietnam generation back with a new cause.

"It gives us a sense of community and camaraderie," she said. It gives those uncomfortable with this country's policies a venue for at least talking about change and educating themselves on what's going on.

"I walk away feeling heartened that I'm not alone."

I began this post with quotes from an actor. I end it the same way:

Actor Warren Beatty gives some advice
Adapted from Warren Beatty's remarks to the Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley, May 21, 2005

I grew up a nice Southern Baptist boy in Virginia. My parents and grandparents were teachers, and I became rich and famous 46 years ago.

I can tell you with no hesitation at all that the most striking perk of fame and fortune is access. Not only access to people and pleasure and privilege and places, but to podiums. And since I've been lucky enough to have an unusual amount of access beginning in my early 20s, I've always thought it's a shame not to use it to learn from those in power and then, with humility and civility, irritate, agitate, inform and even once in a while encourage them with unsolicited advice. Sometimes privately but I think you have to be ready to do it from podiums.

Now, with the podium of the Internet and the new technology, everybody has more access. My advice to you is that if you don't use it for more dialectic and more argument and enjoy the sound of your own voice on public policy — it's a shame, you may have wasted your time here. Because with the new access, it's difficult to ignore that, primarily because of the way our political campaigns are financed, the public policy of the world's best functioning democracy drifts further and further into a plutocracy, a state in which the wealthy class rules. And most of the public sleeps.

And with the obscenely increasing disparity of wealth, what does the wealthy class buy?
Our attention. Access. Through buying satellites and cable and television and radio stations and newspapers and magazines and direct mailings and spokesmodels and financing political candidates, it buys Access. An obscene amount of access to our opinion.
Is it hopeless to compete with this access to the public's attention by asking: "Are you aware of the effect of the right-wing deregulation and consolidation of media on public opinion and public policy in this din of the technological tornado that has miniaturized our attention span while what passes for the truth is manipulated by fewer and fewer hands and a sleepy citizenry is aroused by very little other than entertainment devices and most individual entertainer-personalities in the news media become more and more reluctant to resist the conservative politics of their employers? And that there are steps that we as voters can take to rally our legislators into action that can curtail, eliminate or at least ameliorate this movement to plutocracy?"
Difficult. But if you ask: "Can't you wake the hell up, you sleepy sons of bitches, and find out what you can do to keep these rich bullshitters from feeding you this crap and telling you what to think?"
Well, that might be a better sound bite, but it risks censorship in mainstream media as obscenity.
Justice Potter Stuart said of pornography: "I'll know it when I see it." So if we do see obscenity and we know it, what should our public policy be? Silence?
At what point should one hear the sound of one's own voice?
There are few things quite as daunting for an individual as trying to protest against the voice of an energetic marketing [person] who holds the podium of public office who's funded by a plutocracy who's willing to say whatever expedient thing works for the moment.

But it's less daunting, however, for a group — a group with conviction — who are willing to organize publicly.

As a Southern Baptist in Virginia I was taught that good public policy was "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I was taught "Love one another" was the point.

Good public policy for our economy, our culture and our safety will never fully exist without:

* First, public financing of elections.

* Second, assuring the separation of church and state.

* Third, creating a single-payer universal health care system: Medicare for all.

* Fourth, facing the value to the rich and the rest of a just redistribution of our enormous wealth with our tax policy. Concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.

And fifth: moderating against the dangers of the muscular utopianism of an empire that imposes what some call democracy on places in the world where it cannot be sustained and will lead to American decline.

Good public policy in a social democracy declares that might does not make right. Denial of this leads to totalitarianism, communism or fascism. Our silence is an anti-inflammatory, a steroid for bullies.

Bullies are basically cowards.

I say, inflame. Inflame yourself. Inflammation mobilizes. Enjoy the sound of your own voice. With humility, with affection for those who are in the dark.

With democracy, because the power of American public opinion to guide its government may be the rescue of the human race.

We can only hope. The trends haven't been so good lately.

But it is clear that there are many people out there who are aware that something is seriously wrong with America, and want to do something about it. I hope some of you are reading this - and are motivated to begin acting on your beliefs.

I got into blogging for these very reasons, but I wasn't motivated to act until I heard Jello Biafra speaking at Ohio State University on an anniversary of the Kent State shootings. The specific statement he made that got me going was "Don't fear the media - BE the media", and my participation in Beatty's 'access' as an amateur oped columnist began.

I can only hope that I can inspire some of you to do the same. The more of us who speak out, the more likely we can effect a positive change in the future direction of this nation. Only then will it be possible to "rescue the human race."

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