Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Strickland's Big Blink

Governor Ted Strickland announced today that he will seek to postpone the last installment of personal income tax cuts to plug the budget gap now that the video slots idea is in danger. Modern has a liveblog of the press conference and some reax. Some thoughts.

Republicans immediately fell upon the governor like hyeanas on a rancid zebra carcass, calling this a tax increase. Leaving the tax rate where it is does not constitute an increase. They will continue to say it's an increase because it's what they do, and every time they do it will kill brain cells in every sentient being within earshot. But please try to remember that no matter how loud they scream that 2+2=5, it's not an increase.

This is the probably least worst of a number bad choices -- including the video slots. The State, local governments and schools are already cut to the bone. Cutting more would fall on schools and could do long term irreparable harm. Plus more cuts means more unemployment -- another term for a government job is a job.

Of the possible tax changes, it certainly is the best. Strickland is right that raising the CAT would renege on the agreement hammered out with the business community during the tax reform debate that brought us to this point.

And a sales tax increase would be doubly bad. For one thing, sales taxes disproportionately affect working and lower class people. For another, state income taxes are more easily deducted against Federal income taxes. That means that funding through income taxes keeps more money in the state -- for every dollar the state takes in, Ohioans pay some fraction like 70-80 cents. The Feds absorb the rest in lower tax revenue. One legacy of the Taft years is that we bumped the sales tax up a half penny, then dropped the income tax. We increased relative taxes on those least able to pay them and sent more Ohio money to Washington. Brilliant.

Anyway, I have issues with how Strickland has handled the spending side of the budget crisis (about which more anon), but he's right that something needed done on the revenue side. It took a while, but he has made the right choice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In re Rifqa

Later this month judges in Ohio and Florida will step into the culture war skirmish that is the Rifqa Bary case. If you haven't heard about the case, the facts outline as follows. A teenage girl of immigrant parents gets involved with things the parents aren't wild about. The parents find out, harsh words are exchanged and the child thinks she's been threatened.

So far this is a case I saw more than once in my days as a prosecutor. I've seen cases where I sympathized with the parents (child acting sexually precocious, running with a criminal element) and with the child (child dating someone of a different race.) The Bary case worked its way into a national story of sorts because in this case Rifqa's means of pissing off her parents was converting from Islam to Christianity.

One of the few facts in the case which everyone agrees on is that Rifqa got interested in Christianity by meeting Christians at school and online, converted and kept it hidden from her parents. She claims that when her father found out, he picked up a laptop, threatened to hit her with it and threatened to kill her. She left home and somehow got a bus to Florida where she was sheltered by a Christian pastor and his wife.

So far a difficult but still less than Earth-shattering case. Enter the right wing blogosphere. Righty bloggers have elevated the case to no less than a referendum on America's willingness to stand up to the apocolyptic threat that Islam poses. They say.

The conservative attorneys on Rifqa's side argue that Rifqa's life is in danger if she is returned to her parents and to the Muslim community in suburban Columbus. They base the claim on the alleged threat from her father and the alleged ties of the mosque they attend to radical Islamists. They also note the thread of Islamic thought calling for death to apostates, and the threat of honor killings.

The stance of the right wing bloggers (and the more nutty elements of the right-wing media that have picked up the story) is remarkably -- but not surprisingly -- anti-family. If the term pro-family means something other than code for anti-gay, it presumably means that policies favoring keeping families intact are better than those that don't. But the pro-Rifqa side of the debate has argued consistently that she should be kept in Florida, well away from her parents.

To be sure, one does not need to be a right wing Islamaphobe to have concerns about the case. Regardless of whether killing apostates is a core belief of Islam, it certainly is true that a fair number of Muslims believe it. Similarly, honor killings are a real phenomenon. (Though I must ask here whether they are a real phenomenon in Sri Lanka where the family originates. My understanding is that honor killings are more a matter of custom among Arabic tribes than a feature of Islam. The custom extend to Sri Lanka -- I just don't know.) And frankly the apologists on the left go too far in pretending such threats do not exist.

But the rightysphere allows for no grey in this story. The parents are Muslim and have attended a mosque in which people have spoken who associate with people who associate with people in the Muslim Brotherhood, so case closed. The parents claim, in the first instance, that they aren't all that devout and only attend the mosque infrequently. While we can question the extent to which a threat assessment should take into account the associations of a parent's place of worship, we really should be concerned if the parents are the equivalent of C&E Muslims.

Voices in the right in this debate are -- OK I've said it once, so let's not mince words -- are mostly whack jobs. For example, one of the lead bloggers on the story is Pamela Gellar from Atlas Shrugs. Check out this piece she did on Obama's speech before the NAACP, contrasted with the actual speech. You can't argue with a piece like that. Either her perception of reality is hopelessly skewed or mine is. I prefer to assume my own sanity.

The customary procedure for a case like this is to put the child in foster care and begin a series of supervised visitations to a) try to reunify the family and b) continue to assess the threat to the child. The best first step would be transferring the case (and Rifqa) to Ohio. Hopefully the judges will put the holy war nonsense aside and do what's best for this girl and her family.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tom Ganley Leads Off APC Senate Candidate Programs

The Akron Press Club will host all four major candidates for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat this fall. This Thursday, Oct. 1st auto dealer and candidate Tom Ganley will speak. Details and reservation info here.

OK, some may argue about whether Ganley is a major candidate. But hey, Bay Buchanan has endorsed him. So now he has that going for him. Which is nice.

The rest of the fall schedule goes as follows:

Oct. 29, Ambassador Rob Portman
Nov. 5, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner
Dec. 8, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher

Sunday, September 27, 2009

RIP William Safire

Former Nixon speechwriter and op-ed columnist William Safire died of pancreatic cancer at 79. As the obits are noting, Safire was the first conservative columnist employed by the New York Times (Reasonable Right holdout David Brooks now holds what could be called the William Safire chair.)

After last week's rant about the craziness of the modern Right, it's worth remembering how Safire went about his business. Early in the Clinton years, Safire wrote a column complimenting the administrations dialogue on race. During the fallout of the Bush warrantless wiretapping revelations while much of the conservative commentariat condemned the Times for publishing them, Safire condemned the wiretapping. His column was personal -- he had been wiretapped while in the Nixon White House.

Safire both cast the mold of conservative commentators and deviated from it whenever moved to. In today's conservative movement, such deviation from orthodoxy wouldn't be tolerated. But Safire's willingness to deviate from the party line made him more credible to those of us who didn't share his views. Safire, along with contemporaries like Jack Kilpatrick and (before he sold his soul) George Will challenged me. Sometimes I had to think about why I believed differently. Sometimes I was persuaded to change my views.

In contrast, today's conservative "commentary" is easily dismissed cant. The conservatives are right that it does no service to the country when only half the political spectrum is represented in the media. It's a similarly bad thing that half the spectrum has no credibility outside of its core believers.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I'm trying to blog daily but it's Friday night and I'm tired. So I'll let the MP3s do the talking tonight.

  1. New Pornographers, "All for Swinging You Around"
  2. Charles Mingus, "Open Letter to Duke"
  3. Yo La Tengo, "The Story of Jazz"
  4. Elvis Costello, "Less than Zero"
  5. Shelby Lynn, "Life Is Hard"
  6. Bela Fleck, "Blue Mountain Hop"
  7. Jimmy Cliff, "The Harder They Come"
  8. Bright Eyes, "Poison Oak"
  9. Modest Mouse, "Bukowski"
  10. Lucinda Williams, "Concrete and Barbed Wire"

See you tomorrow. Hopefully.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Not Racist So Much As. . .

Professional Chatterers and bloggers have been going on for a couple of weeks now about whether attacks on President Obama are motivated by race. Pretty much every news1 story about opposition to Obama includes the question now, though the answer varies. Obama in a show of sportsmanship says it's not about race. Liberals are unmollified. Etc.

I submit that the venom directed at Obama is related to race in the same way that the full political contact directed at Hillary Clinton in the primary and the derision of Sarah Palin in the general are related to sexism. Which is to say that, all other things being equal, a whole lot of that negativity would have been directed against its subjects regardless of group identification, BUT that the passions involved allow various unpretty isms to come to the surface as well.

If, for example, Bill Clinton had an accomplished, RFK-type brother who ran as the establishment favorite against Obama, the Obama faithful would have pushed back. Hard. If John McCain had picked a half-term governor from a small western state who exhibited a Palinesqe difficulty with putting together a diagrammable sentence, that running mate would have been fodder for lefty bloggers and late night comics. In both cases the pushback/sport occaisionally crossed the line into sexist ugliness, but it wasn't initially caused by sexism.

That sound you hear is your False Moral Equivalency alarm going off, and rightly so. I don't mean to suggest that the opposition to Obama is the same as that of opposition to Sec. Clinton and it certainly is nothing like the criticism of Palin.2. The flaying of Obama by the right wing is far more venomous, delusional and histrionic than anything that happened in the campaign. My point, rather, is that a white President as liberal as Obama who made the same policy choices as Obama would face a nearly identically venomous, delusional and histrionic flaying. Obama's race didn't drive the far right crazy. They have been that crazy for a while and Obama just walked into it.

A couple of weeks ago during the usual All Things Considered Friday tete-a-tete between David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, Brooks implored Dionne to distinguish between "the responsible right and the Death Panel Right." Sadly, Dionne let him get away with it, failing point out that the Death Panel Right has all but entirely subsumed the right wing in American politics. Serial nut job Glennnn Beccckk hosts the highest-rated show on Fox. Conservative talk radio and conservative media are overrun with birthers, deathers and adherents to every other wack job paranoia. As far as I can tell, the Responsible Right currently consists of Brooks, Joe Scarborough and a nice kid in my Judicial Process class.

I can't claim to have predicted all of this, but none of it has surprised me. Recall that long before he was impeached, conservative mainstays were pushing the most outrageous fictions about Bill Clinton. In the age of Limbaugh, it's not enough to win and argument; a political foe must be destroyed utterly. The Limbaugh construct is that Liberals are not merely wrong, they are corrupt, disloyal, conniving, and evil. They want to take your guns, tax you into poverty, convert your son to Islam and send your daughter's rapist to midnight basketball.

That rising strain of right wing thought took over entirely during the Bush Administrations. Writers and talkers like Michael Savage and Ann Coulter trafficked in such bile with nary of rebuke from anyone on the increasingly marginalized Responsible Right. While many factors account for the re-emergence of a Democratic majority -- scandals, fatigue and the sheer incompetence of George W. Bush among them -- the fact that so many self-proclaimed standard bearers for the political right are patently wet-hen, March-hare, batshit crazy.

While the bulk of the electorate has turned away from it all, decades-long loyal consumers have been primed to lose their minds if ever a Democrat won the Presidency again. In a way it's a little silly to imagine racism as a dominant factor in all of this. The Limbaugh Nation has been eating double helpings of CrazyFlakes for breakfast every day for decades now, and we're brought up short that they seem a tad unbalanced? Really? And think it's because of race? Really?

Raising race as a prime motivator offers an implied false sense of hope; if only we can get past this race thing, we will smooth out some of these harsh divisions. In fact, what we are seeing is the inevitable result of a generation of conservatives brought up on the belief that politics is a death sport and political power is their divine right. It's bad for the country, and it's not going away any time soon.

1I'm not including Fox here; an unnecessary clarification unless you are one of those misbegotten souls who mistakes things on Fox for "news." In which case you may have wandered into the wrong blog by mistake.

2I expect this view would be shared by all but the most rabid Palinistas. If this describes you, please see note 1 infra.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2010 and the Budget

Yesterday's papers reported two stories that lay out much of the discussion for next year's gubernatorial election. In the first, social service advocates and providers and union officials are expressing dissatisfaction with the Strickland administration (from the Dispatch).

    Some of the Democratic governor's staunchest supporters, particularly leaders of social-service agencies, said their view of Strickland has been altered by the two-year, $50.5 billion budget he signed into law July 17. They concede that their enthusiasm for his re-election has waned.
Which is a worry in the sense that these folks may not go all out in the next election. It's unlikely any of these core constituencies will defect to Kasich. And he's not exactly throwing open the flaps of a big tent:
    Kasich said he has a record during his 18 years in Congress of being willing to work with advocates. But he also warned that Ohio needs major reforms, including in the social services.

    "We can't let people who are vulnerable end up in the ditch," he said. "But I also have to tell you that we face a crisis, and we're going to have to stabilize things and there'll be nobody that is going to be a favored son."
This is less a play for those constituencies than reassuring the Republican base. Translation: You can vote for me and maybe not be completely shut out of the process, but remember that I'll answer to my actual business/social conservative/small government ideologue constituencies first and foremost.

And what does that base want? That brings us to the second story. House Republicans spent yesterday rolling out their version of an economic development package (from the PD).
    The Republicans offered up bills that would establish new tax credits, create a low-interest loan program for small businesses, allow local governments to put ballot issues up that would chop estate taxes and track exactly why exiting businesses are leaving Ohio.

    But Republicans were short on details, refusing to offer a ballpark estimate for the cost of their tax credit packages. House Minority Leader Bill Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said in an interview that most of the tax credits would pay for themselves through job creation. He also said a government reorganization plan touted by Republicans could fund the initiatives.
We have heard this before. In 2005 the General Assembly overhauled the tax code, scrapping the business personal property tax, replacing the mess of a business franchise tax with a dubious but undeniably simpler Commercial Activities Tax and setting down a schedule of personal income tax cuts. And they said that this would solve all of Ohio's economic problems. And would pay for itself with all the growth it would generate.

Kasich's vague mention of "reforms" on the spending side offers help if you ignore the vagueness. It's true that Strickland has disappointingly wasted the budget crisis. He could have used it as an impetus to push through some much needed reforms and didn't. But those battles are tough on either side, and it's unlikely the Republicans would be willing or able to institute reforms now that they didn't accomplish during their decade plus of hegemony.

And this is the dilemma facing Kasich. The dissatisfaction directed at the Governor is real. But the only policies his party would allow would only deepen that dissatisfaction.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Deeper Meaning in Akron Primary Results: Ward 8

Ward 8

First off, since posting last night I've been confronted with evidence that my assessment of Sandra Kurt's volunteer corps was off. I was out of town over the weekend and apparently they made themselves known with canvassing and live calling. Hers was the only campaign we got a live call from. She also had plenty of money and hit the mail hard as Redhorse notes in comments to my last post. On the other hand, I could have papered a room with the mailers from Bolden and Padilla as well. In the end, an appealing message plus lots of shoe leather worked.

And the result was an overwhelming victory. In a five-way race (OK, one candidate managed 37 votes, but still) she garnered almost half the total votes.

In a way Sandra's victory is a victory for identity politics. In the post-racial age of Obama, we're supposedly beyond voting based on group identification. But Sandra wasn't afraid to say that she is part of constituency that is very important in Akron politics but long neglected on Council.

I'm talking, of course, about engineers. Sandra's victory is a victory for Engineering-Americans everywhere.

OK seriously. Her identification of her profession with her problem-solving approach was a nice bit of messaging. It also had the happy effect of making her candidacy about her being a good candidate, not about prospectively being the first openly gay member of Council. This could be the way identity plays in politics. Identity motivates a base and members of the community rightly take pride in milestones. But the candidacy itself is judged on merits, not trail-blazing. Identity is more of a sidebar than the story.

Not to say this will be a seamless transition. For example, the picture accompanying the story is captioned "Sandra Kurt (right) laughs with volunteer Tina Jarosch (left) and campaign manager Shelley McConnell as they celebrate Kurt's victory" Well, OK Tina certainly volunteered, but she is also Sandra's spouse -- at least in eyes of the State of Iowa. Did the ABJ just miss that? Hard to imagine the paper not learning the spouse of a straight candidate to avoid a similar mistake. Did they take into account the fact that the State of Ohio doesn't recognize the marriage? And if so, is that a proper stance for the paper to take?

I don't mean to say that ABJ is bad, bad, bad. Just acknowledging that the media will have a learning curve when covering officials who are not only out, but also either married or civilly united.

Meanwhile, there were other candidates in the field. I hope we haven't heard the last of Bruce Bolden and Will Padilla. Both are good guys with solid credentials and a real desire for public service. Unfortunately, there was room for only one at the top.

I also hope that Raymond House will take from his experience some knowledge or real-world governance. His time on Council was pretty much a rumor to those of us living in the ward. If he had reached out to constituents early and maintained contact during the campaign, he likely would have gotten the nomination -- he certainly wouldn't have finished third out of five. It's hard for academics to appreciate the importance of retail politics. Hopefully Cox has learned it, if too late.

Linkage: WKSU story here. ANN, including interview w/Sandra here. Official canvass at BoE here.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rambling Thoughts on Primary Night

Here in Akron we have primaries going for City Council races. While flocks of candidates crowd the ballot, the election actually made only moderate noise, at least in my ward. Raymond Cox sent out a couple of mailers -- and that's pretty much it. A commenter some time ago went off on what a great asset he is to Council. In terms of knowledge, sure. In terms of any kind of constituent contact whatsoever, not so much. Three other candidates burned plenty of shoe leather canvassing. There have been no Ray Cox sightings, at least not by reliable witnesses.

Incumbency certainly means something, but the race I think comes down to Sandra Kurt vs. Bruce Bolden vs. Will Padilla. All three have great qualifications and any one would be a fine representative for the ward. (For that matter, Cox isn't bad, it's just that he doesn't do much and he certainly won't let us know if he does.) I expected a bigger canvassing push from Sandra. She did plenty of work, but I expected more volunteers. Padilla and Bolden did the same. I have no idea how this will turn out.

Unlike Ward 8, the At Large race results will Mean Something. This race, more than the recall, will measure the continuing viability of the Mayor's brand. The lopsided recall result was certainly in part a vote against recalling a mayor absent malfeasance. With three candidates running on a pro-Mayor slate and two competing slates promising to be less Plusquellic-friendly, this race is much more of a test. The administration took some grief when they announced budget shortfalls just after the recall election. Tonight will tell just how badly the Mayor's stock has slipped as a result.

The real surprise this cycle has been the pretty much stillborn campaign of Kelly Mendenhall -- no signs, no mailers, no voter contact I've heard of). Recall that Joe Finley spoke out against the recall, so his slate isn't necessarily alligned with the recall folks (though Citizens for Akron would have you believe differently.) Kelly Mendenhall therefore is the only candidate running under the Team Mulligan banner. Her lackluster campaign suggests that she attracted as much donor interest as the recall did.

Turnout is reported to be light, which isn't a surprise. Things were very quiet at my polling place which houses four precincts.

will be the best place for up-to-date results, though I'm disappointed they aren't streaming video tonight.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What Kind of Democracy, Indeed?

Some time ago, in response to my post endorsing Sandra Kurt for City Council, a commenter posted:

    What kind of a Democracy is it that allows 15 Democrat PC's win the endorsement of the entire Democratic Party?
Wayne in Akron revisted the point with a link to an Eric Mansfield post.

Not for want of trying, I'm having a tough time getting lathered about this. And I think it's not just because a friend of mine has benefited from the process.

The question presented is what sort of criteria the party should have for endorsing a candidate. It shouldn't be a big surprise that at least one criterion is service to the party. As an organization the party wants people who will be loyal soldiers. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. It's like saying "OMG, the Dem House Caucus endorsed all the incumbents!!"

I'm no stranger to criticizing the local party and it's leadership. But in a way I think the fact that Precinct Chairs have gotten endorsements is a potentially more democratic result, given that the Chairs themselves are elected unless no one runs in which case they are appointed. SCPD caused a stir some years back by running in as many PC races as they could. The party establishment wasn't exactly thrilled when a bunch of them won. They didn't take over, but it did highlight at least one way regular folks could demand change within the party.

And by the way it was her involvement in that sort of grassroots insurgency that brough Sandra Kurt to the attention of the party leadership. To their credit they embraced her, her energy and the important constituency she represents. Given some of the other, very fine candidates in Ward 8, Sandra certainly wasn't the "safest" choice, PC or not.

At any rate, in response to the question posed, what kind of democracy is it? A representative one. If you don't like what elected representatives do, you vote them out. But it's rarely a direct democracy. Happily, it's only an endorsement. What really matters is who gets the votes next week.