Saturday, November 30, 2002

IS FOUR YEARS TOO LONG TO PLAN?

The following remarks are my own opinion, as always, and not those of anyone else.

I had a nice chat with Mike Meister yesterday. Remember him? He's the guy who ran against Jon Bruning for AG. I worked with Mike on his campaign in a small way (mostly providing him with a place to stay when he was in Lincoln and accompanying him to a few events, and listening to him brainstorm with his campaign manager on his campaign and lack of money). That gave me my first inside look at a statewide campaign. It also gave me the first inclinations of what have become my beliefs of why the NDP did so pitifully this year.

A few statistics are worth looking at: Who got most of the state Democratic party money this year? Stormy Dean, in his last-minute campaign for governor. Who got the overwhelming bulk of NDP support for his race this year? Same person. Who drew the highest percentage of votes of any Democratic candidate for state constitutional office? Mike Meister (34%; Stormy got 27%).

So should the Demos have punted the gubernatorial race and put their support behind Mike's race for AG? Hard to say. I think that's the net effect of what happened, except that they wound up punting not only the governor's race but the only race where the GOP was vulnerable. Now Jon Bruning is in a position to make a record for himself and move up to governor in four years.

But we can begin preparing to stop him, if we start preparing now.

Mike ran on the position that he would be a full time attorney general, and he meant it. But he's not the AG. This means his political energies are freed up to build strength to run for governor against Bruning in four years. And let's face it, he's still got much more substance than Bruning will ever have. He's a good attorney; he's a good speaker; he's a good family man; and he's got good ideas. All he needs is some support beyond that of his family.

Are you listening, Central Committee? We can't pretend he doesn't exist. What other choices do we have? Name me five...no, three...no, one other credible candidate for governor right now!

Friday, November 29, 2002

CAN THE GOP TAKE OVER LINCOLN?

The GOP has targeted the Lincoln mayoral race to make sure that some GOP candidate (they haven't quite decided who, yet) takes over for annoying Democrat Don Wesley. ("GOP targets mayoral contest"). I suspect they think he's vulnerable. And he is. As I've said before, Don has annoyed many people, including me, because of his blatant political payoffs and his arrogant style. It's far too late for him to reinvent himself and become the nice guy we thought he was before he was elected four years ago. So what is the Democratic leadership to do?

Well, one thing it damn well better not do is wring its hands, cry "woe is us" and watch Jon Camp get elected. Don may be an arrogant politician, but Jon Camp is every bit as bad, if not worse. And at least Don makes an effort to keep most voters happy; Jon Camp is completely bought & sold to the developers. He will not turn one whit of attention outside the Haymarket and Southeast Lincoln. That is the message that the Democrats need to publicize if Jon Camp is the choice of the GOP in this allegedly nonpartisan race.

Glen Freindt would be a whole different issue. Glen comes across as a really nice guy -- much different from both Camp and Wesley. And he probably would make an effort to reach out beyond the areas of current development. So why is he a problem? Simple: because if he is the choice of the GOP -- if he is elected because of GOP money and influence -- he would be beholden to the GOP and the GOP's current agenda in Lincoln.

What is the GOP's agenda in Lincoln? Here's my bet, and this is what, in my humble opinion, the Democrats should be talking about now rather than waiting:

- Further tax breaks for businesses under the excuse of "incentives" -- at the expenses of private property owners already overburdened
- Further cuts to the University, with resulting cuts to jobs and money going into the Lincoln economy
- Increased development to Lincoln's southeast and east, and decreased investment in West Lincoln and Airpark
- An attempt to bring school vouchers to Lincoln and to degrade Lincoln Public Schools

No one has suggested the last one, you say? Perhaps not. But considering that this is a major agenda item of the GOP elsewhere, and as city after city falls to the GOP it becomes an agenda item in each newly conquered city, it is not unreasonable to suspect that this issue is lurking in the wings. Make the GOP come out early and irrevocably on the issue of school vouchers, and then blast them on it no matter what. Put them in their box, rather than wait for them to put us in a box.

Once again, it's time to go to the barricades!

Thursday, November 28, 2002

NEBRASKA PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CASTIGATES WEALTHY

I stumbled across this series of remarks made a while ago by a Nebraskan running for President as a Democrat. He made his comments in response to accusations that he and his fellow progressives were challenging the interests of business. I hope we will hear his name more frequently in the days to come, and especially as we resurrect the core beliefs of the Democratic party:

When you come before us and tell us that we are about to disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your course.

We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The man who is employed for wages is as much a business man as his employer; the attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the cross-roads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, who begins in spring and toils all summer, and who by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of the country creates wealth, is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain; the miners who go down a thousand feet into the earth, or climb two thousand feet upon the cliffs, and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured into the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who, in a back room, corner the money of the world. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.
It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defence of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!

The gentleman from Wisconsin has said that he fears a Robespierre. My friends, in this land of the free you need not fear that a tyrant will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand, as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of organized wealth.

The income tax is just. It simply intends to put the burdens of government justly upon the backs of the people. I am in favor of an income tax. When I find a man who is not willing to bear his share of the burdens of the government which protects him, I find a man who is unworthy to enjoy the blessings of a government like ours.

Mr. Carlisle said . . . that this was a struggle between "the idle holders of idle capital" and "the struggling masses, who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country"; and, my friends, the question we are to decide is: Upon which side will the Democratic party fight; upon the side of "the idle holders of idle capital" or upon the side of "the struggling masses"? That is the question which the party must answer first, and then it must be answered by each individual hereafter. The sympathies of the Democratic party, as shown by the platform, are on the side of the struggling masses who have ever been the foundation of the Democratic party. There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.


You probably figured out who said this: William Jennings Bryan, of Lincoln, Nebraska, at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. The speech is better known because of its closing words: " You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Although he was speaking against the gold standard and in favor of free silver (I had to look that one up myself) he could just as easily have been talking about corporate welfare today. More importantly, he was unafraid to be a partisan politician.

Maybe we need a William Jennings Bryan society. If only he hadn't argued against the teaching of evolution in the Scopes trial...

SENATOR, YOU SUCK AND HERE'S WHY

My 28 year old son lived with us during his early twenties. He shares our love of music, especially the "album-oriented" rock of the late 60s and early 70s. He also likes the late 90s female singers such as Allanis Morrisette. His characterization of most of her direct music was that it tells men "You suck, and here's why!"

Leave it to another woman to take such a direct approach to politics. Although it's nothing new, Molly Ivins has taken the Senate to task for the last-minute removal of the Wellstone amendment from the so-called Homeland Security Act. "A GOP Reward for Fleeing Taxes" This provision, you will remember, would have prevented any US company with an overseas tax shelter address from getting a government contract. Trent Lott and Tom Delay pulled that provision out at the last minute, despite a very weak protest from Chuck Hagel. Ivins lets us know what this midnight skulking really means:


Here's Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts on how it works: "Let's take Tyco, formerly of New Hampshire, now of Bermuda, for example. Tyco avoids paying $400 million a year in U.S. taxes by setting up a shell headquarters offshore, but it was awarded $182 million in lucrative defense and homeland security-related contracts in 2001 alone. If Tyco had just paid its tax bill, Congress could easily have paid for 400 explosive detection systems (EDS), which are badly needed to protect U.S. travelers at airports around the nation.

"Or let's examine corporate expatriate Ingersoll-Rand, formerly of New Jersey, and now also in Bermuda. Ingersoll-Rand earned as much last year in U.S. defense and homeland security federal contracts as it avoids in U.S. taxes annually merely by renting a mailbox in Bermuda and calling it 'home.' If Ingersoll-Rand paid its U.S. tax bill, Congress could easily afford to fund the Cyberspace Warning Intelligence Network, estimated to cost $30 million, or it could also buy 400,000 gas masks for American citizens."


This is not patriotism. It's treason.

This presents us with another possibility for raising hell with the GOP we just elected. Here's what to do:

1) Cut out the Ivins article from your local paper (the Journal Star ran it on Thanksgiving; I don't know if the World Herald has run it)
2) Highlight the provisions I just cited.
3) Ask your target politician if he supports treason.

Once again, we need to be putting the GOP on the spot. It's time for us liberals and progressives (what the hell is the difference, anyway?) to get off the defensive and go on the offensive. And this loophole is as offensive a provision as we will see.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

LOCAL ACTIVIST OPTIMISTIC ABOUT TAX CUT PLAN

Wait a minute. A liberal in favor of tax cuts? What the hell is the deal here? Aren't liberals supposed to be against tax cuts and in favor of tax increases to pay for all the socialist programs they want?

Well, maybe. I do believe that if we as a society want a certain number of services and are unwilling to give up on them, then those services have to be paid for, OR you have to cut services. Where the disagreement with my conservative bretheren comes is which services get cut. I believe, as many liberals and progressives do, that people programs are the last to get cut. Conservatives these days believe that corporate welfare should be the last to get cut. Witness the reluctance of our esteemed governor to cut LB 775 payoffs to corporations in this year of tight belts, but eagerness to slice the budget for the University of Nebraska.

But I've stumbled across a tax cut that I can get behind. One of my heroes, Robert Reich (the Antichrist of conservative economists) has proposed a pretty hefty tax cut in the most recent edition of The American Prospect, in his article, "Whose Tax Cut?" Reich is proposing something radical:

"Starting as soon as possible, you'll be relieved of payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of your annual income. The tax holiday will last two years. Ballpark cost to the government: $700 billion. We'll pay for it by repealing Bush's estate tax cut, which will also cost around $700 billion. "

I'll let you read the rest of the article. You decide what you think. What do I think it means? It means, as best as I can figure, that no taxes, FICA, Medicare, or any other withholding is held from your paycheck for the first $20,000 you earn. That first twenty grand is yours, free and clear. Reich estimates this means an additional $5,000 to each family per year. Not a nice one-time check for three or four hundred bucks. (Note that there is virtually no income tax paid on that amount of income, anyway).

I do have some unanswered questions. For example: if we do it for two years, as he proposes, who is going to want to go back to paying payroll tax after the first two years? Nobody in their right minds. Maybe this is putting the nose of the camel in the tent.

Also, there is a potential PR problem: if we stop collecting FICA, the conservatives will have a field day accusing us of funding retirement for the many from the sweat of the few. Not that I personally think that's a bad thing. Or true. But it's the kind of thing that plays well in Peoria.

Still, it's an example of what's been called "bubble up" economics, which I like a helluva lot better than trickle down. And, as Reich points out, it will "force Republicans into a Democratic box. Make them choose between a payroll tax cut for more than 130 million American working families, worth about $5,000 to each family, or a tax cut for the richest 2 percent of American families, worth millions to each of their do-nothing kids. If Republicans are too dumb to choose a payroll tax cut over an estate tax cut, Democrats should blast them. Use it as ammo for 2004. Make it a central part of the Democratic message. Yell about it on television, radio. Bellow about it from rooftops."

For a month now we've been screaming for issues. Here's one. Let's grab it and start bellowing.


Monday, November 25, 2002

LOCAL ACTIVIST'S FRIEND ALSO SPARES CHILDREN
The following was provided to me by our friend Laura Nettland and is reproduced here by her permission.

KIDS IN STORES:
Last week, I stopped in one of my favorite stores, Target (pronounced: 'Tar-jay', with a soft 'J'). While I was looking for a specific item or two, other things kept whispering to me from the shelves that I needed them, they needed to go home with me too, can't live without them. As I listened to them convincing me to abuse my credit card some more, another din in the store started to distract me. Oh brother! My favorite! Children being loud, disruptive and out of control in a public place! I tried to stay focused on deciding which over-the-door-clothes-hooks to buy but the ruckus became more invasive. It got to the point I couldn't help but hear what the rapscallions were saying. " OK your turn! See if you can catch me!!" (run run run run) "You missed! Now I bet I can get you!!" (run run run run), followed by sliding, yelling, crashing, shouting... things I never would have dreamed of doing in a store when I was a kid. Trying to shut them out, I stared harder at the hook thingies and went into my muttering diatribe: "I can't believe they are being allowed to act like that! When I was a kid,.. never would have had the gall! But of course I had parents that cared how I acted in public, is that breed gone now?! Yes, I think it's parking lot time...I know that's where I would have ended up. 'If you can't act right, you're going home!' What has happened those days!?" I couldn't seem to find the right door hook (it should be such a hard decision) so I went on to the next thing I could dream up. As I walked on, I could still hear them running and behaving atrociously. I thought, "Should they happen upon where I am walking, I will NOT move out of their way, justifying the way they are acting. I'm the store patron. They're mis-behaving. They run into me...they get what they get..." Sure enough, the paths crossed...

I started down a main aisle, I saw a grade school boy on the other side of it a little ways from me, obviously looking down the aisle and rows, checking to see if his game partner was in sight. He started a sprint across the aisle...towards me. Tracking him in my peripheral vision, I just kept my casual shopper's pace, " do-be-do-be-do, oh let's see, what should I buy?..." BAM!!! He ran right smack into me. Not a close call, not a bump, it was a damn near, full contact NFL body block. "SORRY!" the kid grovelled. My wicked Step Mother character lingering in the back of my mind from last summer literally got jolted to the fore-front, full bore. "WATCH yourself!! This is NOT a playground!!' I flared at him without missing a beat (I thought, "Ooooh she (step-mom) woulda been so PROUD of me!" ) I defiantly went about looking for more cool stuff I didn't need but to abuse my credit card with, because I'm the properly behaved store patron!! And as I walked, I got to processing... Before coming to this store, I had just been to PetCo to get darling foofy cat more kibble. People had their sweet doggie-kids of all ages and sizes on leashes there. And they were better behaved than the kids I ran into (literally!) in Target! Hmmm, what is wrong with THIS picture? I've never seen a dog out of control at Petco, running the aisles, yelling at their friends, snatching things off the shelf then throwing a screaming fit on the aisle floor when mom or dad tells them to put it back. One has to ponder...

I do remember the first (and last!) time I mis-behaved in a store. Don't think I was even in grade school yet. I went with dad to the good ole corner grocery store. In the midst of some discussion about something, I started either throwing a fit, getting out of control, whining and crying. Well, dad whisked me up onto his shoulder and home we went. Now, I don't recall the actual going up onto dad's shoulder. I just have one picture in my mind of being in the store and me winding up emotionally one moment....then the next, leaving the store and the neighborhood in reverse as viewed over the back of dad's shoulder at a very brisk pace. And you had that definite, very consciously clear realization of: "OH OH...I think I just crossed a serious line here!..." Then, almost worse...hearing dad tell mom in the next room about just why he was home so quickly from the store. Yep, that was the first and last time I ever threw a fit in a store...till a kid ran into me at Tar-Jay!

OH NO! Wait! I do have to confess... a couple of years ago, I (gulp) I did get kinda rowdy in KMart. Uh-boy this is hard. But confession clears the soul. Walking down the aisle with a friend, I saw a bin-full of...of...eeeesshh,....Tickle Me Elmos. Well, I had had enough of Tickle Me Elmos at the time; and feeling my oats and kinda awnry that afternoon, I said something to the effect of, "Tickle this, Elmo!" and followed that with a sharp punch in Elmo's round gut! (Oh God, I'm shaking with endless... remorse,... sure, that's what it is...) But what capped the moment was when, during my evil laughing, I looked up and caught the eyes of a KMart worker, glaring at me!! Yo-Boy! Yikes! I tucked my head, tried to look repentant enough to get by and kept walking, sputtering with suppressed laughter. I'm just glad she didn't drag me out to the parking lot.

Post script: I shared this last story with Margy Ryan [Spouse of the Master of the Barricades -- Ed.] and Stephen Charest some time ago. It was a source of comfort to find that I was not alone. She/they too, had attacked a well known and loved-by-children stuffed toy puppet character, (Barney?) in the middle of a store. [We deny this categorically -- Ed] If anyone out there is carrying the guilt and burden of having committed a heinous act such as this, or even harboring just violent thoughts against obnoxiously cute stuffed animals... don't carry it alone, there is help. We are holding monthly support group meetings for "Attackers of Stuffed Creatures Known and Loved by Children".

"Hello...my name is Laura.. and I am a stuffed creature attacker. (Hi Laura!) ...I have not attacked an obnoxiously cute stuffed critter known and loved by children for over a year now...it's been difficult...but I just take it one day at a time..."

Sunday, November 24, 2002

LOCAL ACTIVIST URGES REFORM IN APPROACH TO NEBRASKA WORKERS

The Nebraska Democratic Party's involvement with the workers of the state, recently, has begun and ended with the unions. That's great; that has been the traditional strength of Democratic money, organizing talent, and sweat. But let's get real: what percentage of Nebraska workers are unionized? (Let me look that up. I'll get back to you later today.) You can bet that it's substantially less than a minorty. And when you consider that efforts to unionize workers outside of Omaha and Lincoln -- especially in the industrial areas from Schuyler through Columbus to Norfolk, and along I-80 -- have been colossal failures, if you are going to stay in touch with workers in Nebraska, you need to do it outside the unions.

Does this mean I'm saying unions are irrelevant for the Democrats? Well, let's think about this. Since Terry Moore declared that the state AFL-CIO would remain "neutral" with regards to the gubernatorial elections this year, it looks like the unions have declared that they think the Democrats are irrelevant. Now, let's think what the unions have been for the NDP over the years: money (big money); votes (possibly the biggest single block of votes that anyone can deliver for the Democrats); and organization (nobody works a neighborhood like a bunch of union workers).

The Demos can replace union organizing and vote-getting with their own organizing and get-out-the-vote activity. And if the unions are going to remain "neutral," it doesn't matter whether we lose the unions anyway. What's more important is that the Democrats stay in touch with issues that are important to Nebraska workers. Here are some things that the Democrats might send some folks out to the factories to talk about -- especially to those not represented by unions:

-- Retaliatory firings for filing workers compensation claims, fear of loss of jobs for filing work comp claims, and general worry that if you exercise your rights under work comp, the company will exact revenge. Nebraska is the only state in this area with no statutory protection for workers who file comp claims.

-- Statutory protection for workers who blow the whistle on employers violating the law.

-- A "living wage" -- not a minimum wage.

-- Requiring notice for termination of jobs, and requiring statement of cause for firing, rather than firing at will.

There are others. If we take the time to send people out to hear what the workers need, we may be surprised. Let's make our party represent all workers, not just unionized workers. That will go a long way to bringing the Democrats back to where we need to be: in touch with working Nebraskans.

LOCAL ACTIVIST APPLAUDS PLAN TO INTRODUCE DEMOCRATIC GOALS THROUGH LEGISLATURE AND INITIATIVE

"The Gadberry Plan"

If you haven't met Martha Gadberry yet, you need to. She's a physically small woman: perhaps 5'2", delicate of frame, and genteel as only one raised on the Old South can be. She rarely raises her voice above a very proper level, and always has a smile on her face, no matter how angry she may be. And right now, she's plenty angry. As with many others, she's embarassed that she's been inactive in politics recently (she once was head of the Ben Nelson's Policy Research Office, among other offices). Now she's mad as hell and she's not going to take it any more.

I introduce you to Martha because at a dinner party last night she proposed an idea that the Democrats need to take to heart. Rather than weighing in on every bill that gets introduced and dissipating Democratic energy (yes, and money) over dozens of bills that, in the long run, may or may not have a direct effect on Nebraskans, the Democrats, Martha proposed, should pick three or four major issues that we want to see accomplished -- e.g. (my wife's example, not hers) repeal of LB 775 (the bill that provides reduced or no taxes for business that set up in Nebraska). Moreover, the Democrats would put the Unicameral and the people of the state on notice that if these issues don't make it through the legislature, we'll take them to the "second house of the Legislature" -- an initiative to the voters.

There are a host of issues that directly touch Nebraskans which would fit these parameters. Most of them don't require an increase in taxes, especially property taxes. For example, a proposal to make it unlawful to fire an employee who makes a claim for workers' compensation touches every working Nebraskan, since there is no such protection available now. A requirement for the Attorney General's office to actively enforce Initiative 300 (the "Family Farm Amendment" which prohibits corporate farming in the state) would also be in order, since both the outgoing and incoming AG have stated they will do minimum effort to follow this constitutional amendment. There are others out there. The key, though, is that each of these issues must be issues that touch most Nebraskans directly, not some small segment of society. Then we follow up with plenty of horsepower: grassroots stumping, pestering senators in their offices, showing up at hearings, news releases, and money where appropriate. Note that I put money last.

Thanks, Martha. It's people like you who will resurrect the progressive side of the Democratic Party in Nebraska. I'll save a spot at the barricades for you.