Saturday, October 30, 2010

The South Bend School Board Elections -analysis

Don Wheeler

In the background installment of this series, we explored local issues leading up to where we are now.  In part two, outside influences were explored.  Now I’ll attempt to tie these factors into the current race for school board trustee seats.

Three seats are contested this year:  The Adams High School District (District 1), the Riley High School District (District 2) and the Clay High School District (District 5).

As previously alluded to, this race features a slate of candidates sponsored by local Democratic Party regulars.  Since I hail from the Chicago area originally, I’ll use the term “machine” for convenience.  The machine candidates have been provided significant resources – both in terms of money and organization.  Should we worry about this?  Maybe.

If we think (and are given evidence) that the sponsoring organization has identified candidates who are clearly superior to their opponents and are beholden to no one, then this looks pretty good.  But one needs to consider the merits of both the sponsors and the candidates.  Clearly caveat emptor should apply.

The machine sponsored candidates are Jay Caponigro (Adams), John Stancati (Riley) and Michele Engle (Clay).  Caponigro has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Leucke has sponsored at least one fund-raiser for Engle, and my wife and I recently received a letter from Roger Parent strongly endorsing Stancati.

It’s interesting that the Chamber only endorsed in one race.  (It was explained that endorsements must be unanimous.)  Even more interesting is the local NEA (our teachers’ union) has been silent.  The South Bend Tribune endorsed the machine slate recently – without offering much reason to agree with them.

There is certainly room for discussion about how much influence a city Mayor should have on a School Board and/or Superintendent.  Though it’s fashionable these days, the actual results are highly mixed.  Further complicating things, because the borders are different, many school corporation constituents aren’t eligible to vote in South Bend mayoral races – thus, the Mayor cannot be held to account by these folks.

Last July, Trustee Roger Parent had a Viewpoint article published in the Tribune entitled School trustee hopes to build on lessons of first 18 months which had to be viewed as a campaign piece.  That seemed curious, since he’s not up for election until 2012.  He indicated his purpose was to the outline the difficulties he’d encountered, identify what he felt he’d accomplished, and …?  Mostly he stated things nobody would disagree with while gently criticizing many oft heard points of view.  Political strategists would refer to this as “building value”.  If you view this July 2 piece, note the use of “I”, “I’ve”, etc., about a dozen and a half times - then do a word search for “we”.  Good luck on the latter.  In retrospect, it appears Parent wants to make this election about him and his allies.

So let’s do that.  As mentioned in an earlier installment, Parent raised and spent an unheard of amount of money for a non-paying Trustee position.  (Indications are machine candidate spending are at similar levels this time around).  Parent often made it clear that his campaign was a typical political race when it came to money – and seemed to exclude other considerations.  For example, when I complained that a local radio station was insisting on a $100 fee for attendance to what was being advertised as a candidates forum (a clear violation of equal time requirements), Parent’s take was that one had to spend money in campaigns.

Also mentioned previously, Parent was one of the few candidates to oppose the strategy of a deliberate search for a new Superintendent.  Robert Zimmerman had been dismissed – which had much of the citizenry in an uproar – but the naming of James Kapsa as Interim Superintendent had mollified many of these folks.  Now having the gift of some time, the School Board voted narrowly to do a conventional, nationwide search for a permanent Superintendent.   Outside funding was offered and under consideration.  At the time, no one knew whether Mr. Kapsa was interested in the permanent post – but I don’t think anyone thought he should not be eligible.

Parent was adamant that Kapsa should be named, which didn’t make any sense.  If Kapsa turned out to be the best choice after completing the search -and wanted the post - then fine.  But to not consider any candidates with actual track records before naming a permanent Superintendent seemed irresponsible at best.  A cynical person might wonder if Mr. Parent calculated Kapsa would feel beholden to him, if Parent engineered the appointment.  That’s not something any of us can know, obviously.

From the Parent Viewpoint:  “With the help of many people I was able to ‘encourage’ trustees to establish a New Tech high school.”  I like the use of quotations on 'encourage'.  It shows honesty.

The Trustees had been considering a New Tech program for years.  Current and prior Board members had visited operating programs, worked on many proposals and locations for a SBCSC program – but securing funding AND a solid concept simultaneously had eluded them.  Still, the general sentiment was to keep trying.

As agreement by a narrow majority of Board members seemed imminent, word has it Mr. Parent lost patience.  It was at that point he revealed his intention to “go it alone” (with backers) on a charter school based on the program.  This was enough, reportedly, to turn one Trustee’s vote from yes to no.  By this account at least, New Tech was delayed by Mr. Parent’s actions – rather than achieved.  Many would argue it was implemented in spite of him.

I want to stress that I believe Mr. Parent has good intentions.  But I have concerns, obviously.

The next installment will address the current races, and the folks in them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some thoughts on the South Bend School Board elections - part 2

Don Wheeler
In the background piece, I tried to set the local stage to where we are now.  Complicating matters, lurking on the periphery is one Tony (or is it toney) Bennett.

This Tony Bennett is not the renowned singer; rather, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana.  His conduct would seem to indicate he aspires to higher office than the one he holds, however.

Mr. Bennett is full of righteous indignation about the state of public education.  He blames local school boards and teachers unions for gross dereliction of duty and characterizes their decision making as being self-serving.  He claims he can swoop in and make all things as they should be.  His forums are characterized with catch phrases and zingy one-liners.  They are just for show.

The State of Indiana has many policies which make things very difficult when it comes to educating our young.  I’ve written a lot about this in the past.  As evidence, compare Indiana’s student outcomes with those of other states and it is pretty clear that our local challenges are not unique in the state.  But Mr. Bennett never discusses anything the state legislature can do correct this situation. Instead (as far as state policy goes), he’d prefer to distract us by screwing around with teacher licensing and things of that nature.

Mr. Bennett would have us believe that if his department takes over management of our High Schools on Probation, dramatic improvement will occur as a result.  He doesn’t explain how this magic will occur, but since he’s not a particularly imaginative fellow and pretty representative of the Daniels administration, he’ll likely pick an approach which is considered fashionable.  The most likely:  He will retain a for-profit management company to run the schools.  (This would be consistent with the Daniels strategy of privatizing seemingly everything).   Less likely, but possible, he’ll appoint some Hotshot who reports directly to him.

There’s a lot that could be discussed about these types of approaches – they’ve been attempted many times in recent years.  For an exhaustive analysis, I’d refer you to The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch.  Anyone who cares about public education - what works and what doesn’t - should read this book.   Spoiler alert:  The approaches described above have (up to now) not benefited children’s overall education.

There are two aspects shared by imposing these outside management strategies I think people need to consider carefully.  The first is that both are top-down concepts which, for the most part, leave the people actually working in the buildings out of any role in policy making.  Secondly, these typically make operations nearly opaque to citizens and the people in charge don’t have to answer to anyone locally.

I think it very likely Mr. Bennett will intervene.  My guess it’s in his political interest to do so.  So it becomes important to consider who sits on our school board in this context.

More to come…

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some thoughts on the South Bend School Board race - background

Don Wheeler

It’s pretty well known that I was one of fifteen candidates for two at-large School Board seats in 2008.  I was also seriously considering a run for a district seat in 2010.  That turned out to be too difficult with my other responsibilities.  But before I came to that conclusion I prepared myself for a run by watching local events, and reading about what other communities have attempted, and how those attempts worked out.

It’s easy to understand citizen frustration with our public school system, but in some ways this frustration lags behind events.  Test scores have generally improved and last years High School graduation rate was around ten points better than the year prior. 

Unfortunately, this frustration seems to have offered challengers the strategy of being “change agents’, without offering any serious proposals likely to create improvements.  The chorus seems to be “things are bad, but I’ll do better”.  They’d have us believe that they are inherently better, more capable people than those they would replace.   But they don’t offer much evidence they’re right about that.

In my view the operating problems of the South Bend School Board are unlikely to be mitigated by the results of the upcoming election.  But the possibility exists they may be exacerbated.

Despite the calls for a “vision” or similar expressions, the fundamental problem the School Board faces on an operational level is that they have no functional decision making model.  Instead, complicated, important, (generally) expensive proposals are rolled out piecemeal and in isolation.  In roughly a year’s time the School Board pondered the questions of The Early College program, the New Tech High School Program, shifting school scheduling from semesters to trimesters, and funding full day Kindergarten.  Again, all these were discussed independently- and outside the context of the already passed budget.

I don’t see how coherent policy can be made this way.  The Board needs to adopt a mechanism - which parallels their budget process – for policy.  There are organizations that specialize in helping governing boards do this sort of thing, and one should be retained for this purpose.

As to the issue of who sits on the Board, one member has consistently served as an agent provocateur.  Bill “Common Sense” Sniadeki has engaged in a stunning level of bad behavior – and he’s not up for re-election.  Unfamiliar with conventionally accepted civil discourse, disdainful of parliamentary procedure, Mr. Sniadeki was particularly disruptive when Sheila Bergeron chaired the meetings as President.  I was in attendance at two meetings where there seemed to be some choreography in the audience.  The group was appreciative when Bill S spoke and vocally disdainful when other members spoke in opposition.  These were like no business meetings I’d ever witnessed.

Mr. Sniadeki has voted in opposition to state law – he won’t vote in favor of low bids when the company bidding is not local.  (State law requires School Boards to accept low bids).  Mr. Sniadeki is known to leak information from Board Executive Sessions, (which is illegal), and security personnel are always just outside the door of these sessions, because at least some fellow Board members fear his temper.

The case of Roger Parent is far more complicated.  Former South Bend Mayor Parent raised and spent around $37,000 to win his seat on the Board.  The darling of the local Democratic Party machine, many people fear he intends to put together a cabal for which he is the leader.

Two-plus years ago the South Bend Community School Corporation Board narrowly decided to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for Dr. Robert Zimmerman – having already named James Kapsa as Interim Superintendent.  The reasoning was that the SBCSC had some seemingly intractable problems, and it made sense to many of us we should seek someone with experience dealing with similar situations.  Funding for such a search was offered from an outside source.

Mr. Parent, however, campaigned against such a search – insisting Mr. Kapsa was what we needed.  Though Mr. Kapsa had Superintendent Credentials, he’d never been one.  Also, as an insider, he seemed unlikely to shake things up in a way that most folks thought needed to be done.  To be clear:  No one suggested he was not a good administrator.

The other eventual winner of an at-large seat, Stephanie Spivey, campaigned advocating for the hiring of what she called a “turnaround specialist”.  She was adamant about it.

There had always been strong sentiment by some Board members to name Mr. Kapsa to the post permanently, and since the decision to search had been a narrow one, the sitting Board consulted the incoming Board members about the issue.  Obviously I was not in on these private discussions, but Ms. Spivey assured me her position had not changed – up to and including the day of the Board meeting.

She and I walked into the building together.  We parted company in the lobby – she to huddle with the Board members and I to find a seat in the gallery.  Imagine my surprise when the motion to name Mr. Kapsa (permanent) Superintendent came up, to hear Ms. Spivey speak in support of it.

So there’s a case to be made that the public should be somewhat wary when it appears that a highly influential person is attempting to “stack the deck” on a governing board, while arguably having the Chief Administrator in a position of at least some obligation.

This continues.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Asking Experts, Part Two, Or, What's An LBGT Voter To Do?

It’s been a few days now since we began a conversation that addresses the issue of how frustrated some number of LBGT voters are with the Democratic Party this cycle; this because they find themselves either frustrated at the lack of progress on the civil rights issues that matter to them, or because they see both the Democratic and Republican Parties as unreliable partners in the struggle to assure equal rights for all.

In an effort to practice some actual journalism, I assembled a version of an online “focus group” at The Bilerico Project (“daily adventures in LBGTQ”), with the goal of gathering some opinions on this subject in the actual words of those frustrated voters.

Part One of this story focused on “stating the problem”, and today we’ll take on Part Two: in this environment, with Election Day staring us in the face, what is an LBGT voter to do?

As before, there are a variety of opinions, including a very informative comment I was able to obtain from a genuine Member of Congress, Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th District, and that means until the very end you won’t hear much from me, except to help “set the stage” for the comments that follow.

A monk asked Ma-tsu [Baso]:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is Buddha”

A monk asked Ma-tsu:
What is Buddha?
Ma-tsu replied: “The mind is not Buddha”

--From the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

We’ll begin today’s discussion with a housekeeping note: in order to keep the story moving in a linear fashion, from one topic to the next, in some instances I edited portions of multiple comments from the same person into one comment. I also edited some comments for length.

The disclaimer out of the way, let’s start the conversation with Zoe Brain, who sums up Part One rather neatly in one comment that absolutely did not have to be edited together:

We had a Dem super-majority in the Senate.
We had a Dem majority in the House.
We had a Dem president.

It wasn't enough. We need more. So let's use the only weapons we have for behaviour modification; our money and our votes, to make sure that the next time this can possibly happen, around 2020 (though 2028 is more likely), we won't have a repeat performance.

Andrew W responds with a bit of legislative “nuance”...and in doing so, he makes the point that looking beyond Democrats for solutions may be the way to go:

A "Democratic Super Majority" is different than an LGBT-Majority. We have never had an LGBT super majority. In the current US Senate we have only 56 votes. After November we will have 51 or 52 votes.

Stop saying "Democrats." It misses the point. Our challenge is to find 60 US Senators that support our equality.

SoFloMo makes a similar point:

Perhaps we have become too comfortable surrounding ourselves with other gay folks and straight allies. We're terrified of losing the only friends we've had in politics, so we cling to them despite the abuse.

We need to encourage one another turn our outrage into concrete action. Just feeling bad won't do any good.

Here’s some more from Andrew W:

We spend way to much talking about the "Religious Right," bigotry exists in anyone that accepts the traditional Christian belief that we are wrong. That's 70% of Black voters and they are primarily Democrats...

... We need people as our allies, not organizations. We need to educate, enlighten and enroll our neighbors, friends, co-workers and even strangers. Two-thirds will support our equality - especially if we leave religion and politics out of the conversation. Both religion and politics divide people - we just want to ask people to stand for one thing, our equality.

Try it out over the next week. You'll be surprised.

So let’s get to the big issue: vote, or don’t?

Here’s Bill Perdue’s take on the question...

On Tuesday, November 2nd, left or cast your protest vote by sitting it out (barring important referenda, propositions or initiatives).

The only good vote is a protest vote. In a system run by competing gangs of like minded hustlers voting is not important except as a way of validating that system....

...It's a fool's errand to believe that participation in a rigged electoral system is the way to change. It's the road to perpetual lesserevilism, betrayal and defeat.

Elections can be used to organize and educate movements in struggle but elections don't bring change except in the sense that they (rarely) ratify changes forced by mass actions in the streets, workplaces and barracks. Those are the kind of battles we can win and those are the kind of battles that produce fundamental, permanent change as opposed to hopey-changey.

...followed by Andrew W:

While "mass demonstrations" may sound appealing or possibly effective, they aren't going to happen. The biggest crowd in D.C. is likely to be for two cable-tv comedians at the end of this month.

Polling data indicates the religious grip on "beliefs" (including the traditional Christian belief that homosexuality is wrong) is weakening. Of all those that define themselves as "religious" only about one-third are "literalists" and I would suggest their beliefs are virtually unchangeable. I'm not suggesting we try to change those minds, but rather we marginalize them by enrolling the other two-thirds. Most of them will put equality before religion.

The other dynamic is age - we are much more likely to get support from those under the age of 40 because they are less religious.

We need the young people that put Obama in office to turn out on November 2nd. Unfortunately, many in this audience have heard the GetEQUAL [a pro-civil rights group] narrative that "Obama didn't keep his promises." Young people are likely to believe that "we're angry" and not vote...

GrrrlRomeo has some thoughts as well:

The second thing I'd tell them is don't think of it as voting for Democrats, think of it as voting against conservatives. Look, anti-gay Christian conservatives have no problem holding their noses and voting for a Republican just to vote against gays or abortion.

I'm sorry that people were under the impression that we could really get this stuff done in 2 years. There are 420 bills backed up in the Senate. It's obvious to me that the Republicans were doing everything they could just to make the Democrats fail so that the progressive base would throw one of our predictable tantrums and not turn out.

I do understand. I was with the Green Party in 1996 and 2000 as I was unable to forgive Clinton. But whatever Obama hasn't done...he has not done anything so unforgivable as Clinton signing DOMA [the Federal Defense of Marriage Act].

More on the subject, from symbiote

I would tell a frustrated gay voter this: Own it! You vote. You make your choices. You allow yourself to be lied to, over and over, in a repetition of craving. It is time to look for candidates who support equality for all, and vote for them--even if they don't win. It is a natural consequence of change that the first people for whom we vote will lose.

But if continue to vote for people solely on the idea that they are "electable," then we will never build support for candidates that share our views, and thus, we ourselves destroy their "electability."

Andrew W opines further on what a voter should expect from a politician—and what they shouldn’t:

... After reflection, I would add this: tell this "democratic voter" that there is no "promise" in politics, only "hope." As in life there are no "guarantees." All we can do or expect is our best efforts. The idea that politicians have "let us down" is not the exception, it is the rule. We should learn from that. We should understand we cannot "hire" politicians to save us - we need to do it ourselves.

Politicians are motivated by their constituents beliefs - it is what gets them elected. That is OUR job - changing minds. Instead of expecting politicians to handle the job, we should simply do it ourselves. We've spent 40 years betting on politics and we have little to show for it. That should make all of us think twice about continuing to believe "somebody else" will save us. Our equality is our responsibility...

... Our only political hope is targeting a few States where public opinion could change enough to turn the tide. Senators will either reflect the views of their constituents or they will be replaced. We need to change those views.

An additional question I had for the “focus group” was what you say to voters who do not differentiate between “the Democrats” or “Congress” and supportive and unsupportive legislators?

Here’s what Tim W’s thinking:

I would tell them the same thing I have said many other times. If the Democrat is a true ally in actions and not in words then they deserve our vote. If not I will be voting for someone who is. We are where we are because the Democrats feel we have no where else to turn to. The politics of fear that we aren't as bad as the Republicans doesn't cut it anymore...So the old scare tactics don't work. Democrats need to be held responsible for their actions.
We definitely should not be giving money to the DNC [Democratic National Committee], DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], OFA [Organizing for America, the Barack Obama campaign’s “legacy” organization], or the newest branch of the Democratic Party the HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights group]. That money is being wasted to elect the Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincolns of the world. Give money to candidates that are pro-gay be it Dem, Rep, or Green.

Bolton Winpenny offers another perspective:

I recently started publicizing the idea to stop supporting democrats that don't support us...While I understand the risk of giving republican's power, I don't think we have much gain that warrants a large risk. This conversation, along with the Get Equal campaign, "We'll Give when we Get" and other similar sentiments makes a big statement that the Democrats will hopefully listen to...Things are changing in the Republicans where they seem more interested in anti-abortion and anti-Christian than they are anti-gay...

What does work is spreading awareness and education... Shortly after LGBT Freedom Week 2010 a PA [Pennsylvania] senate subcommittee voted down 8 to 6 (tabled) a move to add "one man and one woman" into our constitution. Two years prior, the same committee, with only one member change, passed a similar bill 4 to 10.... Four votes changed after a state-wide campaign to spread awareness and education over the LGBT plight for equality.

Bill Perdue would tell you that, in some instances, you just won’t find any supportive legislators:

If they're in unions or one of the other struggle movements they should be encouraged to break with the Democrats and move left.

Their real incentives come from corporations so we have to provide an counterbalance of mass movements and mass demonstrations to get concessions. When the profit margin hits the fan, as it does in the case of ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and equal wages, expect no concessions.

Still another topic from the group: what’s to come after this election?

Deena has a theory:

Bielat will defeat Barney Frank and Pelosi will no longer be speaker of the house when Republicans win the majority. In one sense that will be tragic yet in another it will set the tone for 2012 when progress can be made. I think it is the best change in recent history because the house will know lip service is what it has always been -- BS. Obama will also have to pay attention or he is toast in 2012.

As does Bill Perdue:

The next anti-incumbent Congress will do no better than the last anti-incumbent Congress and in 2012 the Republicans will suffer for it. They're as rancid and rightwing as their Dem cousins and even less popular, because they don't bother lying about it...

And now: a point of personal privilege.

I have kept my opinions out of this discussion, because it really wasn’t about me, but as we close out this conversation—and the election cycle—I am going to tell you that there was one comment that struck me as being the closest to what I might say if I was a voter in this situation; it comes from John Rutledge, and it required no editing at all:

I have been in the same angry place as the writer before and will likely be again. After all, this is personal. This is our lives.
I just read the Obama interview in the Rolling Stone. I hear a brilliant mind, fair and balanced. Possibility is alive, like never before. It is also close to passing us by with the upcoming elections. Now is not the time to indulge in wallowing. I now this fight is tough, but we just can not give up. We have to continue to push. Being resigned and cynical is only being that. It makes one useless to bring about change. So choose. Go home and bitch to whoever is willing to listen, be ineffectively righteous, or suck it up and get in the game. Grow or blow.

Finally, as I promised, we’ll wrap all this up with a comment from Congressman Patrick Murphy (PA-08), who has been absolutely supportive of advancing civil rights for LBGT citizens, despite the fact that he’s a freshman in Pennsylvania, which kind of makes him “double vulnerable”.

I managed to catch up with Murphy on a live chat at Bilerico, where I asked him what he would tell voters who see Democrats as unreliable partners and don’t recognize that some Members are more supportive than others.

We’ll close out this conversation by giving him the last word on the subject:

...Some of you have brought this up today and I couldn't agree more. The far-right wing and hate mongerers are coming at me with everything they have because they know that if they knock me off, no member in a tough district will stick their neck out for DADT or other LGBT issues for years. I need your help to win this thing and show these guys that we won't back down from doing what's right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

On "Military Endorsements", Or, Another Weird Christine O'Donnell Story

I have a ton of things on the desk at the moment, and I don’t have the time to really run out this story before Election Day, but I want to bring to your attention something very strange that I found on the 2008 “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page.

What it basically comes down to is that the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army are “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace friends, or that there are persons who have created United States Army and USMC MySpace pages that purport to be official that have “befriended” her candidacy. There’s also a Navy page that appears to emanate from a US Navy recruiting office in California on her ’08 campaign’s “friends” list.

At a minimum, all of this would seem to be a combination of inappropriate behavior and poor management of social media; at worst, you have activity that is “some kind of unlawful”, either on an administrative or civil level.

I’ll make this fast...but I’ll also make it interesting.
Follow along, and you’ll see what I mean.

So here’s the deal: as I mentioned, Christine O’Donnell, perennial Senate candidate from Delaware, has a “Christine O’Donnell for Senate” MySpace page associated with her 2008 Senate campaign, and she has a “Friend Space” on that page.

As of the evening of Saturday, October 23rd, right there in the middle of the second row of friends, immediately below the National Republican Senatorial Committee and “Rush”, are “Marine Corps”, “U.S. Army”, and “U.S. Navy”.

Click on the Army page ( and the Marine page (, and they appear to be official US military pages, with the full set of “enrichments” that you would expect on a professionally created page.

The Navy one is a bit different, starting with the address (, which is clearly not as succinct, if you will, as the other two. It’s also not as graphically rich, and it appears to be a lot more “homemade”.

If you look at the address, after the slash you see “nrselkgrove”. It turns out NRS Elk Grove is a Navy Recruiting Station in Elk Grove, California, a Sacramento suburb. I called the phone number I found, and sure enough, the phone message seems to confirm that this is correct.

I left a message identifying myself, explaining the situation, and offering the folks on the other end of the line a chance to contact me for comment; as of now that has not occurred, and if it does I will be the first to let y’all know.

I sent a message to the Marine Corps press folks asking for some kind of explanation a few days ago, they have also not responded as of this writing.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, right off the bat, the Hatch Act says that Federal executive branch employees cannot engage in politics while they’re acting as Federal employees, and this kind of looks like that, at least as far as the actions of the Navy recruiter who apparently created that Web page are concerned.

The Naval Inspector General says that:

When acting in their official capacity, service members may not engage in activities that associate the Navy with any partisan political campaign or election, candidate, cause, or issue.

And that makes perfect sense: obviously we don’t want members of the military services giving the impression that those services endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office; the Navy recruiter's MySpace page befriending the Senate Candidate's MySpace page surely creates that impression.

Of course, it is possible that someone who has nothing to do with the Navy created the page, that’s true of the Army and Marine pages as well...but if that were true, there are additional concerns we can easily see.

If the three services are totally and completely disassociated from those MySpace pages, then does the military have an issue with anyone at all creating “official” pages on their behalf and then doing things with the pages that the services would not be allowed to do...and if they don’t have an issue with it, don’t you think they should?

Thanks to the experimental work of FNS Chief Social Media Correspondent Blitz Kreiger (who is an actual person with a nom de plume), we do know for a certain fact that the Army and Marines' pages will "friend" anyone, automatically. To confirm that, visit the MySpace page of "Osama Sodomy Laden", who was able to "befriend" both the Army and Marines instantly.

It would appear, at an absolute minimum, that some kind of safeguard is needed so that NAMBLA, or Osama Sodomy Laden, or...”Christine O’Donnell for Senate ’08”...doesn’t put a huge chunk of the US military on their friends list.

Finally, it’s possible that the various military services have policies galore to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but they are unaware of the existence of these MySpace pages. It would be kind of embarrassing...but it is possible.

So let’s sum up what we have:

There are a series of three MySpace pages, each purporting to represent a military service; each has a prominent place on the Christine O’Donnell ’08 campaign’s MySpace friends list.

I did not take the time to determine the “ownership” of two of those pages; the third is associated with a Navy Recruiting Station in California.

It's possible that various military regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Hatch Act, or a series of bad decisions relating to how you manage social media are implicated in the presence of the services as “friends” on the Senate Candidate’s page; if not we have to consider another question: what happens if a disassociated third party uses your marks and logos to create a Web page that you’re either unaware of...or that you allow to exist, even after you become aware of it...and that page is used in a manner that creates the appearance of impropriety?

Since I'm 0-2 when it comes to getting someone from the military to answer my questions when I ask them about it, I can't tell you exactly which explanation is correct, but obviously it’s not a good thing when the appearance is created that the military supports specific candidates, and it’s something that should be fixed as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Asking Experts, Part One, Or, Do Democrats Really Understand Their LBGT Problem?

Stories begat other stories, or at least they do for me; this two-part conversation came from a comment that was made after I posted a story suggesting that voting matters this time, especially if you don’t want environmental disasters like the recent Hungarian “toxic lake” that burst from its containment and polluted the Danube River happening in your neighborhood.

Long story short, we are going to be moving on to ask what, for some, is a more fundamental question: if you’re an LBGT voter, and the Democratic Party hasn’t, to put it charitably, “been all they could be” when it comes to issues like repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” or the Federal Defense of Marriage Act...what should you do?

Now normally I would be the one trying to develop an answer to the question, but instead, we’re going to be posing the question to a group of experts, and we’ll be letting them give the answers.

And just because you, The Valued Reader, deserve the extra effort, for Part Two we’ve trying to get you a “Special Bonus Expert” to add some input to the conversation: a Democratic Member of Congress who represents a large LBGT community.

“We were liberated not only empty-handed but left in the power of a people who resented our emancipation as an act of unjust punishment to them. They were therefore armed with a motive for doing everything in their power to render our freedom a curse rather than a blessing.”

--From The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition, Ida B. Wells, 1893

So we have our question, now we need a panel of experts.

As it happens, one of the sites to which I post is The Bilerico Project (“daily experiments in LBGTQ”), so I went to the site, posted the question (What Would You Tell A Frustrated Gay Voter?), and told the readers that I wanted to stand back and let them inform the conversation so that I could pass the message on to the larger Democratic and Progressive audience.

Most of what you’ll be reading in this two-parter will be those comments; I’ll be offering a few thoughts of my own, but my main effort will be to be “set the stage” for others.

So as we said, the big take-away here is that there is a portion of the LBGT community that feels like they have been “left behind”, if you will, by the very Democrats they helped to elect; Hannah offers an example of how that thinking manifested itself in the comments:

I don't think many politicians really are pro-gay. Democrats will vote for gay issues, but the issue in question can't stand alone. It needs to be attached to military spending or to credit card legislation, so that their constituents that don't pay attention to detail will miss their pro-gay votes. When it gets there, I don't think ENDA [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] will be a stand-alone bill. I can't even think about how DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] will end.

Bill Perdue puts it a lot more strongly:

The 'progressive' wing of the Democrat party is a wet noodle. It has no - zero, nada, zilch - clout or influence. It's barely tolerated as left cover and if it gets too pushy they call the cops...

The Democrats have a long and clear history of bigotry and of doing what they have to do to appease bigots and get their votes. Democrats voted for DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and DOMA in large majorities and a Democrat bigot signed both bills.

Rank and filers and supporters are welcome to donate time and money and even attend conventions to watch their betters maneuver and scheme but they have no power.

Gina9223 picks up part of Bill’s theme and runs a bit further with it:

Between the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and HRC [Human Rights Campaign, a pro-civil rights organizing group] they both use GLBT and our struggles for gaining equal rights ONLY to generate money for their bottom line. How often have you heard or seen the some ad hack saying 'the fight has only begun and they need your dollars now!'??? A few weeks or months go by with the assurance that they're "doing everything possible" to secure the passing of ENDA, but they had to let that fall to give support to repeal of DOMA but they had to let that go to run after repeal of DADT. But don't worry, they'll come around in the bus next time to pick up our money. Just not us.

Now comes to the table Alex Blaze (who often gets stuck with the yeoman’s work of editing the things I post to Bilerico) with a bit of realpolitik:

It's a catch-22: If Dems do fine in November they'll learn that ignoring LGBT people was great and they should keep on doing it. If they lose big, then they'll think that they went too far to the left and they should do even less.

One would become suspicious about the fact that there's no situation where they become more responsive to public opinion and more queer-friendly, but we obviously can't question the Democrats' commitment to LGBT rights. That just wouldn't be polite.

Andrew W expands on Gina’s point that it’s not entirely a Democratic problem:

The frustration is warranted, but instead of simply singling out Democrats for not accomplishing something they never had the votes to accomplish, what about Gay Inc. and activist groups? A significant amount of money was spent in the last 2 years and we have nothing to show for it. GetEQUAL resurrected 1960s styled civil disobedience and protest - without any measurable results and mounting evidence that we've simply alienated our only "friends." HRC spent millions lobbying Congress and yet they cannot show us a single vote they "changed."

SoFloMo is of the opinion that a big part of the problem is staring at voters in the bathroom mirror each morning:

Too often we get indignant and then throw parties where politicians and/or Gay Inc. come to collect checks after everyone has found their way to the bottom of three or four cocktails.

I've been to events in South Florida where the house is packed to meet a gay-friendly celebrity or the head of a national LGBT organization. But few people will turn up to canvass on behalf of local candidates who have passed laws protecting LGBT rights. Few people will work the phones to defeat candidates supported by the Christian Coalition.

So I need to keep a handle on how long stories run, and “we’ve stated the problem, so let’s come back tomorrow and address some answers” seems like a reasonable plan for splitting the story in that’s what we’re going to do.

Let’s bring this Part One to a close by restating the premise: there exists some number of LBGT voters who feel they have nothing to gain by voting this time, because they perceive no available political path to achieving forward progress on civil rights issues. There’s another group who feel Democrats are not a trustworthy partner in the effort to advance civil rights, and if they show up to vote at all this time, it probably won’t be for Democratic candidates.

Just as soon as I get this posted, I’ll be assembling Part Two; with the “question now asked”, we’ll be getting to answers—and I think you’re going to be surprised at the diversity of responses.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been in touch with a currently unnamed Member of Congress who has a significant LBGT constituency over the past 24 hours, and the Press Secretary over there has indicated that they’ll try to have a response for attribution in time for Part Two.

Between now and then, try on a thought exercise and see where it takes you: put yourself in the shoes of an LBGT voter, think about this election it it’s full context, and consider what advice would make sense to you—and then, after you’ve done that, consider how you’d pass along what you’re thinking to either the Democrats or the voters we’re talking about.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halliburton Gets $2 Billion Contract For Florida "Cardboard Condos"

Miami, Florida, September 13, 2018 (FNS)—Facing pressure from voters to “do something” following the disaster caused by the privatization of Social Security, the White House today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is awarding a $2 billion contract to the Halliburton Company for the purchase of 22,000 “cardboard condos” that will be installed in public parks around the Miami area in an effort to alleviate the problem of homelessness among the impoverished elderly.

“Having homeless senior citizens drag their appliance boxes all over the city reduces the community’s aesthetic appeal and leads to complaints”, said Halliburton spokesman Tendei Furlough. “The new modular design, combined with our ability to print attractive images on the outside of the boxes, guarantees both increased protection from winter weather and fewer complaints from affected neighborhoods.”

FEMA’s Director of Emergency Housing Resources Spike Fromula agreed: “We thought we had a real problem with homelessness in a number of our major cities after the Social Security safety net collapsed...but now, we think...well, we think we have a way to wrap the problem up in a neat little package.”

Nearly two years in development, the new product, officially known as the Emergency Living Device, Experimental, Regular Length, Yard (ELDERLY), is a response to the 2014 privatization of the Social Security program and the 2016 stock market collapse that occurred after the secret effort to sell “futures” in Republican Party policies and programs came to light, creating a national scandal which is still having repercussions across the United States.

These two events led to almost 18 million of the nearly 60 million elderly Americans now on Social Security losing all their future retirement income; almost 3 million of that 18 million now live in the Miami area, creating a massive homelessness problem that has overwhelmed every community in South Florida.

At today’s press event, Halliburton displayed a “block” of the ELDERLY boxes, which combine various pastel colors in a manner that makes them entirely compatible with the Miami “style”, and it was easy to see how effective the design will be:

“The boxes open on both ends to make them comfortable in the summer” Furlough told me, “and the people who occupy the boxes in the middle will be very comfortable in the winter as well, thanks to the insulation provided by the boxes on the ends of the rows.”

The Social Security Administration plans to distribute “ELDERLY vouchers” throughout South Florida over the next several months in order to provide an organized path to “home ownership” for some of those who lost all they owned in the market collapse; some have suggested that this may be the only asset most of the newly-destitute 18 million Social Security account holders will ever recover.

FEMA’s Fromula was enthusiastic about the new partnership: “Once again we’ve shown, that, given a problem, the free market can provide a solution, and we are grateful to Halliburton for stepping up with ELDERLY technology, and for doing it at the very affordable contract price of under $9500 per unit, including delivery, setup, and assembly. Barring cost overruns, we expect to be able to provide a shelter for every homeless person in Florida for about $3 trillion dollars, assuming that sufficient taxpayer funding can be provided.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The fine folks at the Campaign for America’s Future are thinking about what would happen if Social Security were to be privatized because it’s something a lot of Republicans are thinking about right now...and it’s something you better be thinking about, too.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Putting a bad idea in the Constitution is a bad idea

Don Wheeler

When the push for limits on property tax rates was in full swing, the promised benefits sounded too good to be true.   It was hard for any of our representatives to vote “no”. 

The state of Indiana assumed responsibility of public school funding; thus, it would no longer be subject to the vagaries of the property tax income stream - and citizens hard-pressed to pay these taxes would be given some relief of their burdens.  So we were told.

Turns out, they got us both coming and going. 

School funding was cut when revenue from state tax collections fell.  And the people who got tax relief weren’t typically the low and middle income folks most of us hoped would get it.  Here’s why.

Most Hoosiers who own homes live in them and owe money on them.  This entitles them to two discounts on their property tax fees.  Exemptions are available for Homestead (living in them) and Mortgages (owing money on them) – which typically cut the bill by over half.  There are maximums on these exemptions, however.

Estimates vary by tax rates and other factors, but in general for owner occupants with mortgages, home value would need to exceed the $250,000 – 300,000 range to experience any reduction in their tax bill due to the 1% of value cap.  While it’s true that homes without debt would experience a discount at a somewhat lower threshold, the major discount comes from the Homestead exemption.   What is certain is that owners of pricey homes do benefit. 

You might think folks offering quality rental units in working class or struggling neighborhoods will benefit from the 1.5% cap.  After all, these homes often have fairly low market values.  Let take the example of a house my wife and I own in just such a neighborhood. 

After conducting a search of sales of comparable properties, I discovered the highest price paid in the applicable year was $34,000.  Some sold for substantially less.  Yet our taxing authority insists the value is $65,000.  How, you wonder?

Good question.  Turns out for rental property, these folks can ignore the market value in favor of some little-known rental value formula.  This makes appeals pretty difficult.  More to the point, our tenant’s rent has to cover nearly $200 per month in real estate taxes on a home worth around $40,000 tops.  This effectively shifts the tax burden to those of lesser means again.

Now we’re asked to enshrine this program into the Constitution of the State of Indiana.  And polls suggest it will happen.

Ask Californians how that worked out for them.  Public education in California used to be a model for the world.  Now it lags behind national averages.  Locking in tax rates in this manner allows no opportunity for legislatures to address changing circumstances.

It’s not as though passage of the proposal will create anything new.  What it will do is make a program, which shifts the taxation burden proportionally to those who need relief from those who don’t, next to impossible to fix.  

Fool me once – shame on you.  Fool me twice… you know the rest.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On Why Voting Matters, Or, Could You Outrun The Toxic Red Flood?

It is about a week before early voting begins for a bunch of us around the country, and that means this may be one of the last times I have to convince you that, frustrated progressive or not, you better get your butt to a ballot box or a mail-in envelope this November, because it really does matter.

Now I could give you a bunch of “what ifs” to make my point, or I could remind you how we spent all summer watching oil gush into the Gulf, and how that came to be...but, instead, it’s “Even More Current Event Day”, and we’re going to visit Hungary for a extremely real-world reminder of what can go wrong when the environmental cops are considered just too much of a burden by the environmental robbers—and if today’s story doesn’t scare you to death, I don’t know what will.

It ain’t Texas, but we will surely visit a Red River Valley...and you surely won’t like what you’re gonna see.

“...Oui, ma foi, c’est un bougre déterminé...”

--A sailor aboard the French ship Héros describing his Admiral, Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, 1783. Quoted from the book Command at Sea, by Oliver Warner.

So here’s the long and the short of it: Monday afternoon a sludge pond failed near the town of Devecser, Hungary. That failure has so far released about 265,000,000 gallons of extremely toxic sludge from a facility that mines bauxite as part of the process of making aluminum.

That release manifested itself as a full-scale flash flood, which (courtesy of the RT network) looks something like this:

The red lake and the red mud that you see flowing like a river in the video has killed four people so far, injured hundreds, inundated four towns, and is on its way to the Danube River if it can‘t be stopped, where it will become part of the water supply for millions of Europeans.

It turns out that bauxite ore contains alumina, which eventually become aluminum, but to get that alumina you apparently need huge quantities of caustic soda, in water, to make the extraction process work. The problem is that you extract more than just alumina: the same ore can contain lead, or cadmium, or any number of other heavy metals...including radioactive materials. The waste materials are discharged as sludge into holding ponds at the mine for further treatment, and the failure of one of those ponds is how we came to today’s story.

According to the BBC, emergency workers are pouring tons of plaster into the Marcal River in an effort to stop the flow of the liquid, and Hungarian Government experts believe the top inch of topsoil will have to be removed...from the entire land area affected by the flood.

So what’s all this have to do with the upcoming American elections?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

This is not a problem somehow unique to Hungary...nor Brazil, nor Jamaica, either. We have sludge ponds of our own, many associated with coal mining, and in fact, one of those failed in Kentucky in 2000, in a massive way, and by 2004, things hadn’t improved much at all in terms of cleaning up the mess. Others are associated with the other end of that process: coal-fired power plants have coal ash containments of their own, and they also fail. A pond failure in Tennessee in 2008 probably released over a billion gallons of waste into the local rivers.

And if our Republican friends have their way, this will continue.

Even as we speak, the EPA is considering regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste for the very first time—and if Republicans gain control of Congress, wanna guess how the considerating will come out?

Look, folks, I know we’re all frustrated that we aren’t where we want to be with this Administration, but you gotta know that if you don’t show up for this election, we are going to be dealing with Republicans who are far nuttier than what we have right now—and while I know that it was a fantastic change of pace to be able to vote for someone in ’08, the plain fact is that most of the time, you’re voting against something, and this time, that something is the insanity of the Tea Party.

These Republicans are some very determined buggers, to quote that French sailor, and we have to be just as determined to stop these folks—and to do it where it counts, in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Delaware—because if we don’t, it means another generation of people in coal towns living with water they can’t drink and cancer they can’t cure, more rivers and wetlands and aquifers destroyed all over this country...and, eventually, it means all of this contamination, one way or another, will find its way to you and your family.

Voting matters, Gentle Readers, and this is just one reason why.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

After Bathtub Accident, O'Donnell Changes Position

Dover, Delaware (FNS)—Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell shocked the crowd at a Delaware political breakfast meeting when she announced that she has changed her thinking about masturbation following a weekend bathtub “incident”.

Spike Fromula, O’Donnell’s press secretary, explained to the press gaggle today that O’Donnell now realizes that it is possible to “masturbate without lust in your heart” after Saturday night’s revelatory event, which Fromula described as a “slip and fall episode”.

“It wasn’t exactly ‘The Passion of the Showerhead’” said Fromula, in a reference to her former work as a marketing consultant to the Mel Gibson movie of a similar name, “but there is no doubt that her thinking on the issue has evolved”.

O’Donnell’s new position, said to be one of several she assumed during Saturday’s “Eureka Moment”, is that a situation such as hers in now acceptable: individuals who are either showering or bathing while thinking about policy issues or Scripture, who accidentally either drop their soap or spill a certain quantity of shampoo on the “floor” of their bathing area, can accidentally masturbate, and as long as they continue to think about either Scripture or policy issues while that happens, no sin has occurred.

This is obviously a completely different perspective on this issue than what has been reported in the past; O’Donnell is famous for her claim that is impossible to masturbate without lust in one’s heart, therefore, it’s a practice that’s forbidden by Scripture.

Efforts to reach O’Donnell herself for clarification on the issue have been stymied by the fact that she has either taken up residence in her bathroom or become suddenly far more involved in policy analysis, depending on which version of the story is to be believed; Fromula, when asked about the sudden change in her schedule, had no comment to offer.

A number of observers have questioned whether her appearance in a campaign ad directly denying that she’s a witch at the same time this announcement was made is related to fears that she may have again resumed the practice, but Fromula was anxious to deny that Ms. O’Donnell is now spending her evenings with steaming cauldrons of any sort.

It is currently unknown exactly how many other Americans who subscribe to O’Donnell’s previous views on this issue might also be open to a reconsideration of the matter, but there is the potential for economic stimulus if the demand for Jacuzzi tubs were to increase, just to give one example. Another new potential business: applying new handrails and “extra-slip” coatings to currently installed bathtubs.

“The important thing to remember” Fromula said “is that now you know when Christine O’Donnell says ‘When I go to Washington I’ll do what you do’, she’s being more truthful than ever...and that’s the kind of magic American politics needs”.

What do you think it symbolizes?