Friday, February 20, 2009

Abel Maldonado

California has finally approved a budget that will (hopefully) carry the state through the next 17 months. The process was a case study in the extreme partisanship that has polarized (and paralyzed) the California legislature for years. Although there are a number of factors that are responsible for creating this polarization, it is clear that the system, however it came about, is broken.

Some blame direct democracy, specifically the initiative process, which allows us (the people) to make law, institute spending requirements and revenue restrictions with little or no consideration to other budgetary realities. Three strikes, Prop 13 and First 5 are just a few examples of cleverly campaigned initiatives by well-organized groups that appealed to “the people.” One of the initiatives that was designed to remove lawmakers who have taken up permanent residence at the Capitol was term-limits. A good argument can be made that what appeared to be the panacea to the career politician in California only created a deeper rift between the parties.

Is there no hope? Is California at the mercy of the extremist, the ideologues of the two parties? Soon, maybe not. Along with this budget comes a state constitutional amendment proposal. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican senator from California’s 15th District representing San Louis Obispo County and parts of Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Santa Clara County, has won a concession from the Democrats that neither party really wants. It will put an amendment on the ballot that will create open primaries. In the process, he has managed to enrage his Republican cohorts and possibly committed political suicide by voting to approve the state budget.

Currently, the closed primary plays to the advantage of the extremists. To win the party nomination of either party, the candidates must appeal only to members of his or her own party. The pool of available voters runs from the middle to the extreme left or right, depending on party. In this system, a moderate doesn’t stand a chance against an ideologue. In an open primary, the candidates must appeal to the all voters, the top two candidates will advance to the general election, regardless of party. Since most voters reside somewhere other than the two extremes, the chances of electing moderate representation is greatly enhanced.

With more moderate (read reasonable) representation, perhaps the legislature can begin to function again. The initiative will likely face stiff opposition from both parties, but I sincerely hope that the people will see through the partisan bickering and act in the best interest of the state, not some extreme ideology. Maldonado might have signed his political death warrant – if the initiative does not apply to state-wide offices (such as governor), he likely would not be able to attract the partisan support necessary to win a state-wide primary. And he is termed-out of the senate in 2012.

But if successful, his legacy could possibly immortalize him as the man who saved California - from itself.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Friends...

Now that the second of three presidential debates is history, the mud slinging can resume. It’s true, debate mud slinging was nowhere to be found. Despite what many have called a “heated” debate in which the candidates called attention to each other’s respective records as well as the liberal interpretations of each one’s positions, this is not mud-slinging in a presidential debate. It is, in fact, fair game.

The rhetoric coming from the two campaigns of late, however, is a much different story. From the obliteration of facts to the exploitation of past associations on both sides, there is nothing cordial about the race’s recent past. It is unfortunate, but certainly not unexpected. McCain is losing ground and it has little to do with what he says at this point… with every downturn in the economy, be it record unemployment or a tanking stock market, McCain’s numbers go down. Maverick or not, he is a Republican - the same party that has control of the executive and until the 2006 midterms, both houses of congress.

There are not enough “my friend’s” in the world to stave off disaster in November. Compounding McCain’s problem is an acute lack of understanding of what is really going on with the economy, though to his credit he’s an expert next to his running mate. Although he might have a slight edge where it comes to foreign policy, the world has changed so much in the last 20 years that only current knowledge and expertise has any real meaning. Add Obama's youth and intelligence to the equation and it reduces McCain’s odds even more.

Look, we all know John McCain is a war hero. He has served his country admirably all of his life. He climbed the ladder by staying in the game and never giving up. Given all of that, isn’t it his turn? Shouldn’t he have his chance? Hasn’t he earned it? Um, no. He deserves to be first runner up, maybe some lovely parting gifts… and he gets to keep his cushy seat in the U.S. Senate. He will make the history books. He will be looked upon as a good senator and an American hero. That should be enough for anyone and it will have to do. This job is not about rewarding heroism, it’s about steering a nation of more than 300 million citizens; it's about keeping our best interests at heart.

It’s not about winning at any cost - even if, paraphrasing a McCain official, if the we don’t move off the economy, we will lose. This country needs more than an overly experienced senator in the White House. We need a visionary. We need a president who will move the people, instill confidence and re-energize us. Sometimes it is about speeches and well-spoken words. It’s time for some new blood… and his name is Barack Obama.

As much maverick as McCain claims to be, he still represents the old guard and where it applies to foreign policy, he might as well be Bush. Although McCain can rightly claim ignorance regarding the financial meltdown, his party had a major hand in it. Yes, the Republicans and McCain’s people say the Democrats, under Clinton, put the disaster in motion. But it is difficult to explain away more ten years of Republican congressional control, six of those with a Republican in the White House. McCain’s biggest albatross is his own party - the one he ironically enough claims to have stood up to time and time again.

What’s that old saying about payback?

It's a pitbull with lipstick.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Let's Get Real

It would appear that John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and I have something in common. We are both self-proclaimed “realistic idealists.” I am so defined by the starry-eyed idealism of my youth tempered by real world experience gained through the years since. In his speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles last Wednesday, McCain said, “I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist.” Although I think I said it first, the term is far too general to be claimed by any one person; I cede it to the public domain. I would be tickled pink if it turned out McCain read my stuff, let alone appropriated it, but I don’t think that is the case. It remains true, however, that his self-definition has struck a chord with me. It was not the first.

They used to call McCain a maverick; a renegade; a loose canon; at times even, God forbid, a liberal. Although perhaps not as rebellious as his reputation would have us believe, there is a streak of independence in his thinking and his action that appeals to me. He has not been one that could be counted on to carry the party line just because it is the party line and, again, that appeals to me. Not just because it gives some Republicans the consternation that only they can know, but also because I admire freethinkers. That does not make McCain always right - not by a long shot, but it does make him his own man. A man that has far more noble and admirable characteristics that our current Commander in Chief, AKA “Cheney’s man.”

So he has admirable traits, ok. He is not an ideologue, good. He has a backbone, which should not be confused with what Bush calls “resolve,” excellent. Bush’s idea of strength is nothing more than blind obstinacy at best and arrogant stupidity at worst. And it is that special brand of arrogance that has, so far, cost more than 4,000 American service men and women their lives, many more “ancillary” and civilian deaths, created tens of thousands of war injured (injuries that will never go away) and has put us untold billions of dollars in debt. “Staying the course” means only more of the same for the foreseeable future. There is no end in sight. And McCain’s platform, in this one respect at least, foretells more of the same.

There are other planks in McCain’s platform that represent a radical split from that of the current administration. McCain talks about “international good citizenship” and “being good stewards of our planet.” He even acknowledges global warming and the importance of international cooperation in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases. He addressed our relations with Latin America as well, saying they should be based on mutual respect, not an imperial impulse. Indeed, his appeal in many ways is in stark contrast to Bush’s imperialism… let’s just call it what it is - dominion.

Ideology aside (realistic or otherwise), there is one key factor that will hopefully determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election - Iraq. Although McCain gives us a different and perhaps more palatable take on our continued presence in the region, he still has us there. Hillary Clinton says she will begin to withdraw troops, but I still don’t get that she thinks her vote to authorize force in the first place was a mistake and she is way too wishy-washy to make me believe she really wants out. The war is an issue that outweighs the economy, housing and much of everything else because it, in the end, encompasses it all. If we don’t cut our losses, this war will be paid for by our offspring that have not even been born yet. We can’t afford it; they shouldn't have to. You think the economy is bad now? Just wait until the chickens come home to roost.

This election is about the war. Once it becomes other than, McCain and the Republicans stand a chance. I don’t care much about whether Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright are friends and I don’t care if Clinton embellished her Bosnia story. I care about who is going to end the war. Because the war is the key issue, Clinton’s vote to authorize it and her hesitancy to admit in no uncertain terms that her vote was a mistake becomes a pivotal argument as to who is best suited to get us out. I willingly concede that there are many other issues that are of vital importance in this campaign, but all three candidates are capable - with good appointments - of dealing with them.

It’s still about Iraq. It’s still about the war. It’s still about getting the hell out. It is a time to be realistic.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Political Paradox

I suppose I should have something to say about the presidential race. I don’t know that I do. I think I have an idea of how it will fall out, but even if I’m wrong, I can only be half-wrong. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, John McCain will be running against either Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton. At first, and before anyone knew that come-back, um… kid McCain would cement the Republican nomination, it appeared as though Clinton was destined to be the Democrats’ choice. Then, after a stunning 11 state sweep in the primaries, Obama stung the Clinton team and sent it into overdrive. Now it is looking like it will come down to the super-delegates - which means it’s anybody’s guess.

The current controversy regarding Obama and his long-time association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright should have been predicted by the Obama campaign and certainly by Obama himself. The fact that it seems to have caught his team by surprise is the real news. We all have skeletons. That they weren’t better prepared is, in my view, far more disturbing. This is the big league and it is not about just the candidate, but the team he or she has assembled. On this one, team Obama has dropped the ball. Whether the Clinton team is the recipient of a fortuitous break or this was a cleverly designed offensive play is not important right now… Obama has lost valuable yardage, especially with the super-delegates.

Even if the Clinton campaign didn’t drag this little mess to the spotlight, McCain’s would have. This is how the game is played… the stakes don’t get any higher and the tactics have always risen to the occasion. Indeed, overzealous candidates have been known to stretch the envelope well beyond what is legal to win the ultimate prize. Does anyone remember Watergate? Although this campaign has not been subject to such egregious techniques yet (as far as we know), if Clinton or McCain thought it could be done with impunity, I don’t think ethical concerns would stand in the way. And Obama should have the experience to know at least this.

The transparency and openness of his candidacy is admirable; it is a breath of fresh air in an arena that is still ripe with stale cigar smoke. It might, however, prove to be naïve. If he doesn’t at least vigorously and preemptively defend himself, the Clinton juggernaut will steamroll him. And McCain’s army is at least as well prepared. If Obama is unable to get out from under this and soon, I am afraid he will not be able to go back to his message. It is a message that is more than simply change, but rather a paradigmatic change. But the paradox is unavoidable… he will have to engage in conventional politics to deliver. Let us hope that if successful, he will not be too sullied by the game that his style of change is no longer possible.

Obama is a visionary and he has an uphill journey. He has traveled farther down that road than anyone in else in recent history. The institution stifles visionaries; it stifles anything that goes against the status quo. McCain talks about “straight talk,” but Oboma talks straight. One gets the idea that what you see is what you get. Yes, I know of the inconsistencies that he has walked into of late - conservative talk radio calls them lies - perhaps, but not unlike the damage control of many other politicians from both sides of the aisle. Obama has been walking a fine line between business as usual and what has really ignited so many of us - being sick and tired of the same old song and dance.

We have a choice between the old guard and something different. Young people are coming out in droves like never before. Pundits and polls are being proven wrong over and over again. Could it be that we have finally reached critical mass? Is it time that the government of the people and by the people is once again for the people? Can we reclaim ownership of what is rightfully ours or will we allow the spin-meisters to once again tell us what is best for us? Obama can do this, but it will take a little bit of guile - guile that I hope he forgets as soon as he occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is time to take our nation back and Obama could be the leader of a new era.

But he has to learn how to fight.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitting Into the Wind

Oh, where to begin…

New York politics, at some level, affects the entire nation. Both the city and the state are constantly under a magnifying glass and perhaps justifiably so. Even at 2,808 miles away from my home in the sleepy Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks, the shock waves of the recent tumult can be felt. Once again a corrupt politician has given all politicians a black eye. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has the dubious distinction of being the latest public servant to be caught with his pants down – quite literally.

The tightrope between power and service is a line all elected officials must negotiate. Although I sincerely believe the vast majority of elected and appointed officials enter public service for altruistic reasons, there are a great many equally civic-minded individuals who wouldn’t touch politics with a 10-foot pole. For those who voluntarily subject themselves to the rigor and scrutiny of public office, there must be something more. To some extent power and ego must come into play.

This is not a bad thing and certainly not all politicos are power-hungry egomaniacs. However, the lure of power and prestige cannot be discounted; it is a necessary component. If Lord Acton is correct that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then Spitzer’s recent trouble shouldn’t surprise us. We are rightfully outraged, indignant, even pissed-off, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Yet we still are. We still expect our public officials to behave as we are expected to. Although the headlines never read “Politicians do not break the law today,” this is in fact the norm.

With Spitzer it goes beyond simply having sex with high-priced hookers. I think many of us could forgive him for that. Some would say it's nobody else's business. And although still considered immoral in even the most liberal circles, infidelity is not illegal. We could even argue whether prostitution should be illegal. These are not factors in Spitzer’s little faux pas. His violation is of a much more primeval nature. He is guilty of hypocrisy.

We are a nation of laws. You hear our leaders say it all the time when comparing our society to autocratic and oppressive governments. They will often trumpet this ideal in conjunction with the idea that no one is above the law. When individuals who are placed in positions of power and trust and then abuse that trust and violate the law they have been charged with upholding, we get angry.

Spitzer is an attorney, a former district attorney and prior to governor, he was the New York state attorney general. In 2004 he was credited with busting up a prostitution ring in Staten Island. Not nearly as high class as the hookers Spitzer patronized (reported to be upwards of $1000 per hour), a mere $250 would purchase the services of a girl from the Staten Island ring. It is reported that Spitzer has been patronizing his particular service for up to six years and perhaps for as long as 10. I guess that busting up a prostitution ring is hard work… what better way to unwind than in the company of someone who is paid to say “yes.”

Now that Spitzer has been caught, he is sorry. Of course he is… very sorry he got caught. There can be no question that he knew what he was doing was wrong on so many levels. The one that is most compelling, and the one that makes this our business is its illegality. Spitzer has a reputation for being an as…, um – heavy-handed. He made some enemies along the way. It is interesting to note that he doesn’t have anyone rushing to his defense now. He was getting no love from the state assembly, which demanded his resignation within 48 hours. He famously tried to discredit his chief Republican rival Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Guess who would lead impeachment hearings if Spitzer did not resign? Even the U.S. Attorney’s office issued a statement saying there were no deals made with Spitzer.

Like a rat caught in a trap, Spitzer is squirming. Although his wife has been silently standing by his side, one can only wonder when that will come to an end. I’ll go out on a limb here… she was not the last to know. I’m thinking she has known of her husband’s extracurricular activities for some time. I feel most sorry for his three daughters. Not only has their father fallen in disgrace, their father is indeed disgraceful. And maybe he has learned his lesson. If there is any justice, he will have a very long time to think about it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Unnamed Sources

The New York Times today ran a story pointing out some of John McCain’s inconsistencies between his rhetoric and his actions. These comparisons are, of course, fair game and should be carefully scrutinized. The article goes into great detail (and after topping out at about 3,000 words, one might say too much detail) about past ethical liberties taken by McCain. Although the timing of this article should not raise many eyebrows, the initial attack on McCain in the story's lead certainly has. It puts me in the unenviable position of defending McCain and, to a much lesser extent, criticizing the New York Times. Indeed, the Times should be getting used to questions about its judgment.

The article is ostensibly about where McCain’s loyalties lie: With the lobbyists or his constituents. It is a question that should be asked of any public servant. However, the Times didn’t lead with the possible inconsistencies of McCain; they lead with innuendo. Sexual innuendo… unproven and categorically denied rumors of infidelity from the 2000 presidential campaign, to be precise. Of course the story cited “unnamed” or “anonymous” sources, a metaphorical fire that has burnt the Times before. But even if the sources were reporting the truth, the truth they are reporting is only allegations… even the sources don’t know if an inappropriate relationship existed. Yet the Times, in their infinite wisdom, lead with this old and largely discounted rumor.

In the Times defense, the alleged alleged affair was used to segue into a more pressing issue - McCain’s judgment regarding appearances and assumptions. It proceeded to look at some instances that would portray McCain as a “business as usual” politician - and at a time when he would like to be viewed as a reformer. His experience, like Hillary Clinton’s, shows that the lure of the lobbyist’s money has more pull than any desire - genuine or not - to truly change the rules. McCain-Feingold did change the campaign cash game… but only after McCain had availed himself of it for many years. But all of that has little to do with the deliberate and direct attempt by the Times to sully McCain’s reputation.

The strange thing is that the Times didn’t need to drag up dead issues from the past. Let’s get real here - all 3,000 or so words of the Times epic was old news. All of it. Why not take a closer look at McCain’s current position on - oh, I don’t know… maybe the war. Although it is true the war has faded in prominence behind the economy, it is still moving along as if on autopilot (a thinly veiled commentary on the intelligence behind the entire affair), it is also true that McCain is the only viable candidate that would not only “stay the course,” but also quite probably accelerate it. A presence in Iraq for 100 years? He said that - and recently, too.

As I sit here composing my thoughts, I can hear the lead story coming from Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News on the TV in the next room. Guess what it’s about? That’s right, but the story has morphed. Although McCain has not escaped the innuendo, the story is now joined at the hip with the one regarding the Times’ agenda. If the goal was to shed light on McCain’s questionable judgment, then they have succeeded in that endeavor. But at what cost? Can the Times really afford another hit to its already failing reputation? Perhaps the nation’s de facto agenda setter is losing its grip on the real world. Maybe its judgment has become just as clouded as those they are questioning.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Surprise, surprise!

It’s not that I haven’t been following the goings on in this presidential race. My silence on the president’s State of the Union Address isn’t indicative of complacency or disinterest necessarily. No, it’s more of an acknowledgement that there have been no real surprises. Everyone involved, from the candidates to the pundits to the president himself have behaved entirely predictably… and as such, I have not been compelled to say much. I knew I would, for in this race, history will be made - I was just waiting for something a little more compelling than the painfully obvious to write about.

Tonight, it has happened. But before I get to the event the got my literary juices flowing once again, let us briefly look at what should have surprised no one - the race thus far. Actually, on second thought, that is a somewhat unfair characterization, for there have been numerous paradigmatic changes in this race compared to those of the recent past. However, these watersheds are not particularly surprising and inasmuch as there is a very good chance that a white male will not win the presidency, it was bound to happen sooner or later. For now, let’s let that stand on it’s own… we’ll come back to it shortly. Further, let us not dwell on the also-rans on the Republican ticket. There are often some of these secondary players hanging on at this point in the game - and after H. Ross Perot’s challenge and withdrawal in 1992, nothing short of that kind of showing is even noteworthy.

Although, I must say I like Ron Paul’s prodding of the Republican establishment…

I’m talking about politics as usual. It's the euphemism for “anything goes” in campaign mudslinging and right up to and through the January 30 Republican debate, there have been no surprises there. Even the withdrawal of Rudy Giuliani and his endorsement of McCain isn’t particularly shocking, however newsworthy it may be. Of course, the sniping between Romney and McCain wasn’t pretty, but it was certainly expected. Oh sure, it is interesting, exciting and even amusing to witness the turn of fortune in McCain’s campaign and the consternation it has caused those among the extreme right, but it’s not entirely surprising… it is still very early. Next Tuesday will likely be the end of Romney and the others on the Republican side, but don’t bet the farm on it - there are no sure bets.

It appears as though McCain might have served Romney a sucker punch before the Florida primary, but it is clear that he has the momentum to get away with it. Romney’s crying foul probably didn’t sway anyone. He called it a “dirty trick,” and you can be sure there’s more where that came from. And don’t believe for one minute that Romney is above that kind of race. This is a race for the most powerful office in the world - kicking sand in one’s opponent’s eyes is an accepted form of campaigning. Remember, negative campaigning works. And although it might be surprising that the Republican Party, or at least its candidates for president, would continually shoot itself in its collective foot, let us not discount the lure of power.

Which brings us to tonight’s surprise - a remarkably civil exchange between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic debate. While it is true that there is precious little differentiating the two at the policy level, the predictable sniping of late between the camps - and particularly the very un-presidential like mudslinging of our former president, has become noticed. That is a surprise. Not so much that the press has picked up on it or even that “the people” are talking about it, but that the candidates themselves have taken note. And they have changed their behavior - at least for the moment. It was a refreshing change and if the détente can be sustained, it will unite the Democratic Party like never before. Indeed, the most egregious slights came from the moderators themselves.

Now a little about the history-making aspect of this campaign: It is very likely that a woman or an African American will be residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next January. It is all but guaranteed that one or the other will be the Democratic nominee. That speaks volumes, and if I might add, it’s about time we got past it. I can say I will not be voting for a man - no matter his color, or a woman… I will be voting for a candidate. Right now, it is likely it will be a Democrat, but it is way too soon to make that decision. The Republicans haven’t got any real idea what the people want. They were not listening to us in 2006 and I can say with certainty our voices will be even louder in 2008.

Surprises? Perhaps, and good news to boot, but when looking at the incompetence over the last eight years, not entirely so. The best part is the death knell of the neo-con. They had eight years to prove how right they were. We will be paying for their little experiment for generations. All that’s left is that pesky little legacy the Bush administration never talks about much anymore.

No surprises there.