Friday, February 29, 2008

Welcome to the machine

Missouri, as many of you know, had it's primaries as part of the "Super {fill in your own superlative here} Tuesday" at the beginning of this month. Well, in usual confusing political style, Missouri Democrats also hold caucuses to pick the delegates to go to the state and national conferences. And guess what. It's not talked about almost anywhere...

Fortunately my wife is much more up on these matters and found out that the caucuses were being held yesterday evening so we decided to go and check out the process. Neither one of us has been greatly politically active, but we were both curious and this year has gotten us (and many many others) much more interested in what is actually going on.

Given that last fact, we expected there to be a large number of people showing up at this, even though almost the only places you could find any information was on the MO DNC website, with barely a mention in the local news. Doors were to open at 6 and the "festivities" were supposed to start at 7:30. To our great surprise, when we showed up at 7, there was almost nobody, just one older gentleman that I couldn't tell if he was affiliated with the caucus or just with the school where it was being held. It turned out that there had been one other person there who had been waiting since 6:30, but had been in his car when we got there.

After about 20 minutes or so two more people showed up, one of them being the person in charge, our local councilman as it happened. This gave us, with that first person, who turned out to be one of the heads of the county election board, a total of six people. As we were getting set up, our councilman got a call from another nearby township's caucus saying that they had one of our people at their caucus and that she was on her way over to us. This gave us the seven people we needed to meet our delegate quota.

So it looks like our curiosity was the only thing that made sure we were going to actually send all the delegates from our township that we were supposed to. According to the councilman, if there hadn't been enough people at the caucus for each candidate (there might not have been, depending on whether or not the election committee person can be a delegate for a candidate, as he and the first person were the only two that chose to be delegates for Clinton) those delegate seat(s) would have been "open" (your guess is as good as mine what that means).

Anyway, it looks like I'm now officially a delegate for Obama.

Now is when the procedures get really confusing. First, late in March, the congressional caucuses are held. During that, anyone who was picked as a delegate on the township level can be nominated to be a national delegate, about 2/3rds of our state pledged delegates are picked during these. If you can't make it to that, or just prefer to run during the state-wide caucus, you need to file paperwork by the middle of March, and you can try to get nominated in May. Even if you don't want to be a national delegate, if you are picked as a township delegate you are still supposed to show up at the state convention.

Does anyone else think this is a very complicated way to get your vote counted?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Everyone Has Rights

Or why we should have more than two parties

Last Sunday, Ralph Nader declared his candidacy for president this coming election. This has started a hail of denigrations and personal attacks on him, largely from Democrats and other groups on the left.

All I can say to these groups is shame on you! You stand up for civil rights, but when someone else exercises their civil rights in a way you don't like, you want to revoke them. The tactics taken on their behalf to remove his name from the ballots in key states back in 2004 were horrible. Everyone, whether as part of a party or not, has the right to be a part of the election.

As has been said in some free speech debates "To stand up for your right to free speech, you must defend the speech you hate." If anyone is allowed to arbiter who gets to say what because the general public doesn't like it, it is a very short step for that person/group to say I can't speak freely as well. The same thing goes for the right to run for president. It is a very short step for one group to go from blocking one person's right to be on the ballot to blocking someone else they don't like.

These things also remove our ability to argue morality on civil rights. We cannot in good conscious say that one set of rights we like and support, but these rights, or this person's rights, we don't like and so they shouldn't be allowed.

Addressing Nader's candidacy directly: Do I support him? No, but I fully support his right to run. Do I support his positions? Some, but others go too far in a direction I don't approve. I will, after the Democratic nominee has been selected, do a break down on all three major presidential candidates positions, similar to what I have already done. Am I afraid Nader will "steal" this election for the Republicans? No, Nader did not cost Gore the election in 2000. That election was won, by all counts, by Gore. It was handed to Bush by the Supreme Court. Take out your anger there. He had no effect on the election in 2004.

What we need to do is show how our candidate is better than the others, not denigrate the opponents or say that a vote for them is a vote for "the enemy" or other fear tactics like this. I believe that the Democratic candidate can win even against 100 Naders.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Say it isn't so...

Democratic supporters in 2004 remember the spurious 527 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. This group formed during the presidential campaign between Kerry and Bush for the purpose (it claimed) of standing up for veterans' affairs. The group had to claim such a purpose because election law restricted organizations like this to only talk about a policy issue, not about any candidate. The reasons for this and other restrictions are because donations to these political organizations are effectively unrestricted. One person could donate $5 million dollars to such an organization if so desired. We all know how well those rules and restrictions turned out.

It worried me slightly then, when I heard that such an organization might be forming during the Democratic primary. This organization, the American Leadership Project, is fully financed by Hillary Clinton supporters who have maxed out the donations they can make to her campaign. They are asking for 100 donors to fill their coffers with $10 million. In and of itself, this should not be an issue; after all in supporting free speech I need to support all speech. But this organization goes beyond 527 rules, potentially breaking some of them.

The first thing is that such organizations need to be established lobbying organizations focused on policies in Washington. This group is brand new, first formed on Feb. 15, not even a week ago.

These organizations also cannot be for the advancement of any single candidate, but for a policy. This group is only advertising in states Clinton is campaigning in and is echoing her talking points.

These two things, coupled with who the financiers are, show that this organization is at best walking the line of the law, and potentially have crossed over this line.

Please, Sen. Clinton, separate yourself from this group or call them off. Actions like these tarnish everything we have stood for. We cannot become the monster we are fighting against, not for ANYTHING.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tenth Amendment? Bah!

Ever since the Civil War, this amendment has been more and more marginalized. In three cases ruled on today by the Supreme Court, it has effectively been thrown out the window. The basics of this amendment say that any power the Constitution doesn't give to the federal government, or doesn't explicitly ban, belongs to the states and the people. This gave the states final word on a large number of topics, but kept them from removing civil rights from the people.

Slowly this has been eroded. Recent laws like this include the CAN-SPAM act, which overruled much stronger state based anti-spam laws, throwing out lawsuits that were in court at the time. There are also the medical marijuana laws in California and Oregon that are completely overruled by FDA and other federal blanket bans on the use of it. Today, using the same premise as was used in these cases, the Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings against medical equipment providers. These rulings were prosecuted in state courts on state laws that were more restrictive than FDA and related rules. These infractions caused serious damages to the litigants. The Supreme Court decided that the lesser restrictions provided by the federal government (you know, the FDA that took 5 years to remove heart attack inducing drugs from the market) overrule state laws and indemnify the corporations.

This is a clear violation of the tenth amendment. The states have a very clear law on this and the Constitution doesn't cover this area of law. If there were no state laws and the federal government did have one, the federal law would hold sway. But the Constitution is very clear whose laws take precedence. Our laws and courts should not take away citizens' rights, yet time and again under this administration we have suffered. It is time for a real change.

Duty calls

Ah, XKCD, you know me so well....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Integrity and Courage

A lot of noise has been made in the past year about Barack Obama's "present" votes in the Illinois state Senate. The Illinois chapter of NOW has recently joined the Clinton campaign in implying that Obama's present votes on certain bills while in the Illinois state legislature mean he is weak on women's rights; on the contrary, Barack Obama received a 100% positive rating from Planned Parenthood during his state senate career, and has consistently received 100% positive ratings from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL since being elected to the national Senate. Anyone who knows how the state Senate works in Illinois, however, realizes that Present votes are merely procedural votes, and are usually actually a sign of support for the bill . These assertions that Obama is weak on women's rights were so fallacious that former Chicago NOW president (1995 - 1999) and strong Hillary Clinton supporter, Lorna Brett Howard, publicly changed her affiliation and now supports Obama and is now being slimed by NOW and the Clinton campaign.

These tactics are bad enough on their own, but something that happened today in the Senate slams home the irony. Many of you know I have been supporting Sen. Dodd's fight against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that assisted the government in illegally wiretapping American citizens. This fight has been delayed time and again through numerous procedural tactics, even though Democratic Majority Leader Reid fought hard to bring it to a vote. A civil rights betrayal succeeded today in the Senate when a version of the FISA bill including immunity provisions passed despite Senator Dodd's objections (fortunately the House did not pass the retroactive immunity clause so the fight does go on). In the vote for cloture (end the debate) only 29 people voted against, among them Sen. Obama. Also voted on at the same time was an amendment proposed by Sen. Dodd to remove the retroactive immunity; this vote failed 67 to 31, again with Sen. Obama voting to remove the immunity.

Sen. Clinton on the other hand didn't even have the political courage to vote "present"; she chose not to be there at all.

It doesn't take much integrity to twist your opponent's votes in such a way as to make him appear weak on women's rights. It takes a complete lack of integrity to launch such attacks when you aren't willing to put your voice on either side of the debate for everyone's rights. Sen. Obama has fought for 26 years, from the beginning of his public career for women's, minority, and everyone else's rights - from his time as a community organizer in Chicago, through his time as a civil rights lawyer to his state and federal Senate positions. It takes true political courage to stand up for what is right when it is not popular.

As a side note, my local Senator, Claire McCaskill (also an Obama supporter), voted to bring cloture and against the anti-immunity amendment, a vote which seriously lessens the likelihood of my voting for her again two years from now. We'll have to see.

The EFF has much more information on what the FISA provisions mean for you; check it out and while you are at it throw them some support.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is the world nuts?!

I just turned on my TV to watch a movie we got from the library and as I was going to put it in, I noticed that rather than the standard mid-writers' strike trash on TV, it was news. I watched for a minute and found out that, in a pretty quiet suburb nearby, a man barged into a public works meeting, shot seven people, and was eventually himself shot and killed. Five of those he shot are now dead, including two police officers, and two are in the hospital.

I just wanted to add my voice to those giving condolences and prayers to all involved.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Blog Roll Amnesty Day

Gotta love internet holidays right?

Fortunately I have about 20 more minutes to get this in before I'm late (whew, made it with 5 minutes to spare). I am not a deeply read blogger by far yet, but I have a few that I follow daily (and some I even respect ;) ), and this is a good excuse to get me off of my rear about updating my blogroll.

Of course, first there is my beautiful, brilliant wife over in the State of Discontent. I have a couple local friends that inspired me to join up - Trip Down the Rabbit Hole, and more recently found TomKro. No blog roll would be complete without my favorite antagonist BAC at Yikes. We may not always agree on how a political campaign should go, but she has a great insight on many topics and is someone I have great respect for. Thanks to her blog I have also been pointed at some other great political bloggers Dr. Zaius of Zaius Nation and GMB of I Can't Believe It's Not a Democracy. One blogger from the other end of the aisle that I enjoy reading regularly, although she hasn't blogged much recently since Thompson's drop out, is Freeman Hunt. To finish out my regular reads I have Worth the Lack of Sleep, Teller of Truths, and Beyond Satire.

Thank you guys all for always giving me something new to think about.

As a quick note, I do not use SiteMeter or any other tracking tool on my blog, due to the fact that as a rule I block most JavaScript and cookies and so would would be pretty hypocritical to expect others to not do so on my site. As such, I don't see incoming links except on sites I already read. I will add you though if you leave a comment or throw me an email with a link to your blog.

On Redefining "Universal"

As can be seen throughout the media and on a growing number of blogs, the Democratic candidates' health plans is drawing a lot of attention. There is, however, one word that is drawing this attention more than anything else - "Universal". The meaning of the word, in this usage, is to mean that everyone will be covered. However, both candidates miss that mark and instead redefine it in significantly different ways.

Going back over the basics of their plans they are very similar: Both want to offer plans similar to the Congressional insurance plan (no specific information found about the coverages). Both want to expand Medicaid and SCHIP. They will both give subsidies and tax credits to help people afford the premiums. And both will force the removal of "pre-existing condition" clauses. These plans are an attempt to make insurance coverage more affordable and available to everyone.

Unfortunately, because insurance companies are for-profit and beholden to their stock holders to keep increasing those profits, these plans will never push the citizen payout to zero (at least not without bankrupting the government [further] and making it a short lived program). This means that there will be those who: can't afford one more bill, don't believe that the insurance companies that have screwed so many people over time and time again deserve their hard earned money, or are healthy and never see a doctor anyway who don't think they need to pay for health care when they can buy something they want/need. These people will not automatically be covered under the cores of these candidates' plans.

This is where Barack Obama has chosen to redefine "universal" to mean "universally available". He has said that he will make it affordable enough that anyone who wants insurance can get it easily. To make it even easier, he intends to set up a national institution to allow people to compare coverage side by side and get the plan that best suits their needs, if any. But he does not provide insurance to everyone. He has said in debates, speeches, and interviews that he doesn't want to fine people who can't afford it. And when someone uninsured does show up at a hospital or doctor's office needing care, they will likely face fines or have to pay back premiums - to keep everyone else's premiums down.

Hillary Clinton, however, does go another step. She believes that in order for her plan to be "universal", everyone has to pay for an insurance plan. This is how she changes "universal" to "universally enforced". She as yet has not explained how this will be enforced, but if her interview with George Stephanopoulos is any indication, if someone doesn't choose their own plan, one that matches the premium the government believes they can afford will be chosen for them and they will have to pay for it (either through garnished wages as former Senator Edwards proposed or fines/taxes - again, a very vague, dodgy answer).

Unfortunately, both candidates miss the real problem - although Obama comes closer in some of his related proposals (see the Providers heading on my previously linked chart). The problem isn't just getting insurance. I have insurance, and half the time I feel I would be better off without it. The problem is quality of insurance. It's all well and good for me to be able to say I have insurance, but if my deductible is $2,000+, I'm still bankrupt at my first medical emergency.

Just to throw some real numbers in here, lets say my premium is $200 per month (lower than what I expect the lowest rate they will get for middle income earners) and the limit of my health care needs is going to see a doctor once a year for an annual physical. I just wrote a check for $2,400 to an insurance provider (plus $20 to my doctor, who gets maybe $50-$100 more from the insurance company). Now, taking the long view, that $2,300+ is supposed to go to help Joe down the street when he is diagnosed with cancer and has to get treatment, but 1) there are, roughly 250 more "me"s than there are Joes (otherwise this would be an idiotic business model), and 2) Joe's coverage has an upper limit of (for the sake of argument) $500,000, even though his treatment is going to cost $1,000,000.

No matter which candidate wins the debate over this, who do you think is the real winner?

P.S. Don't even get me started on the Republicans' "plans"