Archive for October, 2006
Another publication has tapped Dennis Rehberg over Monica Lindeen. This time the Billings Gazette. Again the reasoning is weak, and the criticism for Lindeen non-existent.
So, why is the Gazette backing Rehberg?
Rep. Denny Rehberg could be accused of working around the clock. He’s on the House Agriculture, Appropriations and Transportation committees, a member of the Rural Health Caucus and a founder of the Rural Education Caucus. He’s been involved in writing the multiyear highway bill that funds roadwork in Montana and across America as well a writing the multiyear farm bill that can make or break some Montana commodity growers.
Again it’s likely Rehberg will be a minority member of the House next year. And it’s not like he’s demonstrated any willingness to work with Democrats. He’s a social conservative radical who will be relegated to the role of bitter critic in a Democratic-led lower house. You think Democratic leaders will want to reward Rehberg’s years of partisan bickering with juicy appropriations?
The Gazette also bravely tried to portray Rehberg as an independent-minded lawmaker who’s not afraid to take on the President. (Yeah, I heard Rehberg claim that, too.) So…how did he oppose this President? Does he oppose torture? The current losing strategy in Iraq?
Rehberg, for example, has argued for expanded U.S. agri-trade opportunities with Cuba, which puts him at odds with the White House. And he’s defended the national country-of-origin labeling program, which has been repeatedly delayed at the behest of Texas cattlemen, packers and their White House and Capitol allies.
How courageous! Of course, if you don’t support Montana farmers and ranchers, you don’t serve public office in this state. Plus, as a rancher himself, it seems that particular legislation actually helps himself.
But what apparently put Rehberg over the top for the Gazette was Rehberg’s commitment to alternative energy and high-tech business, exemplified by his tour of the state in a biodiesel-fueled bus. Okay, I’m joking about the bus, but the reasons for which they picked Rehberg are actually the platform planks of Lindeen’s campaign. This election I’ve watched Rehberg distance himself from his record and paint himself as a Democrat – and apparently it worked on the Gazette.
But the truly odd thing is that the Gazette’s endorsement mentioned none of the issues that Montanans and Americans are passionately concerned with: health care, Iraq and national security, and corruption.
Let’s face it: the newspaper business is a business. Period. Last thing the Gazette editors and publishers want to do is say or do anything risky. Like endorse a candidate behind in the polls because of divisive issues playing out in the community. That’s a good way to lose subscribers, no matter who you back.
On the other hand, what is the media for if not that?
—Posted by touchstone
New York Times reporter Stephen Labaton has an excellent article on how a group of powerful business executives have gotten together–with the blessing of the Bush administration–to gut regulations designed to improve the transparency of corporate finance that were created in the wake of Enron and Worldcom since, according to members of the group “corruption cases like Enron and WorldCom are falling out of the news.” Even Ben Stein, former Nixon speechwriter and current Republican activist, is pissed.
The proposals would make it more difficult to criminally prosecute corporate malfeasance and make it nearly impossible for shareholders to file civil suits alleging fraudulent investor relations. They are being timed to avoid public scrutiny as much as possible–“People involved in the committees said that the timing of the proposals was being dictated by the political calendar: closely following Election Day and as far away as possible from the 2008 elections.” They are also being crafted to avoid as little oversight as possible: “Most changes will be proposed through regulation, said [committee member and Columbia Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard], because ‘the current political environment is simply not ripe for legislation.’”
The proposals resemble an inside job. Treasury Department official Robert K. Steel, the brand-new deputy secretary for domestic finance, was on one of the private sector panels formulating policy changes until he was sworn into his new job last week. In his new post, he’ll be evaluating his own recommendations. Steel was appointed by the new Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs who’s already spoken favorably about the plans to change the regulations.
The really amazing thing about all this is that it represents a move by the most well-off–Wall Street financiers and big-name accountants–against the slightly less well-off shareholders whose scrutiny and potential litigation the big names are looking to avoid. Talk about class warfare: how about a brazen use of political influence to increase the power of the very few at the expense of the more numerous but less well-connected? It’s enough to cast the whole enterprise of government into shadow.
—posted by readbetween
The latest Rasmussen poll is out and its results are interesting, to say the least. Tester: 51%; Burns: 47%.
The difference between the two candidates is, as always, in the margin of error.
The thing I find interesting about this poll is the small number of undecided voters: 2%. That gibes with the feeling I got when walking around my neighborhood ringing doorbells. People have heard enough. People have heard too much. They’ve mostly made up their minds.
It’s also nice to Jon break the magic 50% barrier. But the Rasmussen trend also shows Burns’ numbers steadily growing, up from around 42-3% where he’s been hovering for months.
But remember, this is a poll, only a poll. They are known to be wrong. Use it as inspiration. Don’t let it make you complacent. This final week is critical. There are just a handful of voters still undecided, and they may swing this election.
Here’s what we all need to do: we need to get out there and put a face on Tester-mania. If you haven’t volunteered yet, do it. Now. Put aside your doubt and insecurities. It’s believing time. It’s not often you can say you stood up and spoke out and made a difference. Now’s that time.
—Posted by touchstone
For the first time in my life, I got off my *ss and canvassed for a candidate. For you, Mr. Jon Tester. I rang doorbells, knocked on doors, and stuffed envelopes into doorknobs. I met up with a few dogs and not a few of my neighbors. Four hours on Saturday, another couple on Sunday. My feet hurt.
The good news is that the overwhelming majority of my neighborhood is pulling for you, Jon. But that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a left-leaning city. Even Republicans are voting for you — some grudgingly — because character matters to a lot of people, and Conrad Burns’ antics sickens them. The bad news is a lot of people are getting tired of the over-saturation of ads and vitriol and accusations. (I could go into a rant here on public service and trying to reach disinterested voters, and why the number of commercials is really their fault — after all, if everybody followed the issues, nobody would need the bombardment of ads at election time? But a fact’s a fact; they’re just plain tired of hearing the spin.)
And there are still undecided voters. You’d think by now they’d all have chosen sides, but something funny has happened along the way. Burns has gotten under their skin. Not with his message about appropriations or that you’re a “liberal,” but that a lot of people don’t trust you, Jon. Conrad’s lowered the bar and his rhetoric has convinced them that you’d be no better.
Here’s how I talk to people I meet who doubt your convictions. I tell them I’ve met you. I’ve met your wife, Sharla. I’m met your mother. I’ve shaken your hand and looked in your eye. I’ve talked with you and the people you grew up with, your friends, and your most ardent supporters, and we all come away saying the same thing: he’s for real. This is not an act.
I tell them about the farm. I tell them about your experience as a butcher. I tell them you weren’t the guy the DC insiders were pulling for in the primary, that they were p*ssed as all h*ll, and they wanted to run your campaign for you, and you said “no thanks,” and have run a Montana campaign, by Montanans, and for Montanans. And you’d say “no thanks” to them again when you got to Congress.
Well, I gave this speech to one undecided voter. And he looked at me askance. He wasn’t sure. Finally he said, “give me your number.” He would vote for you, but he wanted my name, number, and address so that if you weren’t for real, if you sold us out in Washington DC, if you’re just another player looking to score big with the parties and trips and perks of the office, he’d call me.
I gave him my number, Jon.
If you’re ever at your desk in Washington, and someone offers you a deal you know isn’t right — even if it’s something that we won’t notice, even we bloggers with nose for scandal and a thin skin for impropriety — I want you to think about that neighbor with my telephone number tacked to his wall.
We’re out there risking our reputation in our communities. We knock on our neighbors’ doors and we tell them that they should vote for you, not because of your policies or your politics, but because we trust you. Their co-workers. Their neighbors. Their friends.
And if you ever take a little, or cut some corners, it’s not just you who’s responsible. You wouldn’t be hurting just yourself. You’ll be hurting each and every one of us who walked the streets and dialed the telephone for you. While you can skate by on the power and privilege of your office, we can’t. We’ll still have to live here and suffer your shame in our communities.
Conrad Burns has forgotten that. You won’t. I trust you.
—Posted by touchstone
This week, Missoula’s gave some thought to how two of its main streets are going to look in the future. Tuesday was the beginning of the West Broadway Charrette process promised by Mayor Engen as a way for Missoulians to talk out their hopes and fears for that stretch of road along the river from Orange Street to out past Russell. Thursday evening was a chance to look at what’s in store for Russell Street south to Mount Avenue. I’ll start with Russell Street, which won’t even get started until 2010, because it’s an argument for the importance of getting involved with West Broadway early, like it isn’t early already.
Potentially eye-glazing content warning: For those interested in the details of the preliminary preferred alternative, read this paragraph (local knowledge required); to just get the larger point about transportation planning, skip down to the next paragraph. The plan is to make Russell Street into a four lane road with a median that breaks for turn lanes. There will be a stoplight at Wyoming Street and Mount Avenue as well as double lane roundabouts at Third, Fifth and Eleventh streets. Also, there will be sidewalks and bike lanes along the length of the new road as well as a pedestrian underpass for the Milwaukee Trail and connections for the river trail system. The plan calls for making Third Street from Russell to Reserve a three lane road with three single-lane roundabouts though I can’t recall where they all are.
The biggest stink that was being made was about the decision to expand Russell Street to four lanes with a turning lane. The consultants said that it had to be done in order to accommodate the anticipated volumes of cars. Lots of people in the audience expressed concerns about higher speeds, higher volumes and the like, preferring a two-lane Russell Street. (See all the alternatives and potential configurations for bike/pedestrian trails here.) Now, in all fairness, these were folks who have never seen a four-lane road they like. They are, perhaps, reacting with jerking knees. But they have a point in one important respect: arguing that even if the government says a road has to have a certain capacity to meet projected volumes, we the people of Missoula could decide we value something else instead and just opt for the smaller road.
As a philosophical point, that’s true. But, practically speaking, it’s not exactly so. $38 million of the anticipated $40 million price tag for the road work comes with conditions set by the feds. One of those is that the project meet needs and purposes established at the outset of the appropriations process. One of those had to do with accommodating massive volumes that are projected, perhaps in error, by the consultants. So, though the constraints that demand a four-lane road are ultimately arbitrary, they are necessary insofar as they are built into the structure of the project’s mission. This ball was set rolling long before the meeting to which the public was invited.
In fact, through some oddity of bureaucratise, public participation in transportation planning is supposed to be finished by the time that a project gets to what’s called the design phase. In fact, environmental review is the place where all the conceptual work about how many lanes and traffic lights and medians–the real questions of how the road will look–gets done. And even then, many of the constraints that really yield the answers are already given. This leads to the second issue that came up.
Someone in the audience spoke up and said, “I have a business on a corner where you drew a roundabout. How much of my land are you planning to take?” And the consultant answered, truthfully, “Well, we’re still at a conceptual phase here. We can’t work out those details with you yet.” They get worked out when the city negotiates right of way, long after the feds sign off on the environmental review and the conceptual work, as well as the public participation, is done. So she can’t have her say now and she can’t have it later. (In all fairness, the environmental impact statement is supposed to include details on property conflicts so her input should be factored in for what they call “mitigation” but that doesn’t mean she gets to have a say with full knowledge of what her answers entail.)
I see a commonality in these cases. In both, the process was elbowing the public participants out of decisions that are critical to the future of the place where they live and, even, their livelihoods. That’s not what a public participation process is supposed to do but it is often how transportation planning functions. And it’s why it takes a long time to see your say make a difference. But it’s also why people get angry when changes to roads happen: by the time there’s anything solid on the page, you are supposed to have had your say.
That said, West Broadway is at a much earlier stage. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was just to demonstrate that something was happening. The real sit down and hash it out business will take place on Nov. 16 when people sit down with maps and markers and lay out what they want the corridor–land use as well as road design–to look like. (Links to the project forthcoming when the project has some sort of web presence.) Of course, that’s been done already in the Northside/Westside Neighborhood Plan, which hasn’t exactly been followed to the letter by the city, but now’s the time to do it again, apparently. And, when it’s done, many of the constraints that will determine decisions about lane configurations and road design will be set, long before anyone gets anywhere near scheduling those projects.
What a city looks like and how its citizens live depend on the roads that run through it but the aesthetic and community values people want to see expressed need to be incorporated in the constraints that engineers translate into design. What’s important to how your roads look are embedded constraints that are in place long before the consequences are evident. But what’s embedded can be changed with sufficient foresight and even more patience.
Missoula has hired someone to help the public get involved–Transportation Information Specialist Amber Blake–so get on her mailing list and get yourself involved. It’s not going to take the engineers out of the way but it eventually will make them obey.
–posted by readbetween
Yesterday the Montana Supreme Court upheld Judge Sandefur’s ruling that Howie Rich’s terrible trio of initiatives are invalid:
“If the initiative process is to remain viable and retain its integrity, those invoking it must comply with the laws passed by our Legislature,” Justice Patricia Cotter wrote for the court. “We can neither excuse nor overlook violations of these laws, for to do so here would confer free reign for others to do so in other matters.”
Jaime has the blow-by-blow account.
Trevis Butcher, of course, will have none of this. His response? A threat against the justices who decided against him:
“I’m sure many Montanans who were already concerned that we have corruption and problems within our state government certainly will feel that this is just another example of the need for reforms,” he said.
You might remember that one of Butcher’s initiatives was intended to make judicial recall laughably easy.
I take away the opposite conclusion from this decision that Butcher did. The system worked. The courts protected the state from a fraudulent, out-of-state big-money operation from buying its slate of social engineering experiments onto our ballot.
—Posted by touchstone
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!:
But let me suggest something here. Run adams’ piece [on Walter Schweitzer] by Ochenski and see what he says about it. If George says it’s a good story, I’ll accept it.
If anything is evident from Adams’ story, the blog comments, and the e-mails flying around the capital that the public will never see, it is the need for, at a minimum, full disclosure and clarification of Walter’s role. Without that, the climate of fear that permeates the issue will continue—and Montanans deserve better than to be afraid of their own government.
Now you know where I stand on Adams’ accusations. I don’t have a problem with Walter Schweitzer, I don’t have a problem with a strong arm in the Governor’s office, and I think that maybe the problem here is Montana’s nepotism law that forces Walter to stay off the official record.
I also think — judging by the comments on my and Ed Kemmick’s blog — that most people had no problem with Walter Schweitzer participating in policy or “bullying”; but that they did have a problem with accountability and oversight, as did Ochenski. I’d have to agree.
As for why Montana’s other papers didn’t run with this story — other than an apparent policy to never touch anything the Independent or a blog touches first (kind of like Ms. Marvelous and food) — there’s really not much substance to the article other than a couple of complaints from disgruntled party members and activists and an possible opposition candidate. There are a lot of questions, yes.
Ultimately Adams’ story and the outpouring here and at Ed’s is a gift, an opportunity for the Governor to do a little self-correcting. Keep Walter, just make him transparent. As Keenan demonstrated, the GOP is ready to play ball with this issue in the 2008 elections. Let’s not give ’em anything they can sink their claws into.
—Posted by touchstone
So the Billings Outpost endorsed Tester:
We need a senator who will stand up for a balanced budget, even if that means voting against money that would line the pocket of his constituents. We need a senator who will stand up for the civil liberties that have made this country worth fighting for. We need a senator who resists ill-conceived attacks against foreign nations. Sen. Burns has demonstrated, amply and repeatedly, that he is not that senator.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Outpost also endorsed Rehberg – even after admitting our Representative shares many of the same failings as our junior Senator:
Sadly, much of the criticism of Sen. Burns above could also be applied to U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg. Like the senator, Rep. Rehberg has been willing to sacrifice liberty on the altar of the war on terror. If he has a better plan for handling Iraq than we have heard in the other house of Congress, then we haven’t run across it.
Moreover, he has a dismal record on environmental issues, and he has backed dubious constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage and prohibit flag desecration. This is government at its most intrusive, running roughshod over the rights of states and of citizens to direct their own lives and loyalties.
The Outpost then admits Lindeen is “articulate and focused.” So…um why is the Outpost plugging Rehberg?
Still, we are not quite ready to cast Rep. Rehberg aside, especially since it seems likely that we already will have a freshmen senator in Congress. While we don’t like everything Rep. Rehberg does, we do like the way he handles himself and his office. We watched him grow as a candidate, from an inept race against Max Baucus for the Senate to a well oiled campaign against Nancy Keenan to reach to the House. He is personable and diligent, and he has managed as much as possible to avoid antagonizing groups that disagree with his votes.
I’m a little flabbergasted. The Outpost is endorsing Rehberg because of pork and because he’s a slick campaigner who avoided airing his views in public? You’re rewarding him for that? You’re throwing US soldiers, our public lands, and the Constitution under the bus because Rehberg looks good in a suit???
First, on the pork. In all likelihood, Rehberg will be a member of a bitter and caustic minority party in the House after November. (He better be, I’ve got five bucks riding on it.) He won’t get his appropriations any more! If elected, Monica Lindeen would have more say in the House than Dennis Rehberg will next year.
This endorsement smacks of the Outpost’s attempts to remain “objective.” If you endorse two Democratic candidates, then you’re at risk of being labeled a “liberal” paper. So you endorse Tester, then find some reason to like Rehberg, even if you have to throw the country to the sharks in doing so.
Or maybe the Outpost likes a safer bet. You want to stay on your Representative’s good side, right?
Seriously, if the Outpost couldn’t think of one negative quality for Monica Lindeen, why did it endorse her opponent who it already accused of endangering our civil liberties and contributing to the Iraq War mess? I wish they had the courage of Kansas’ The Johnson County Sun, who boldly claimed “the Republican Party has changed, and it has changed monumentally,” and stood by its principles, appearances be d*mned.
Enough of the mealy-mouthed platitudes towards “balance,” “objectivity,” or futile gestures to a non-existent “center.” Just vote your principles. Do the right thing.
—Posted by touchstone
Well, here’s an interesting rumor that’s worth passing on to you: an indictment is waiting in the US Justice Department for our very own Conrad Burns.
Rumors flying out of the US Justice Department say that…new indictments in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal are now prepared, but are being held back until after Election Day…The two about to face the music are Senator Conrad Burns of Montana and Congressman John Doolittle of California according to sources inside Justice…
But far beyond that, the last thing the Republicans need is more news stories about corruption in Congress. The question know is, have Bush and Rove interfered in an ongoing Justice Department investigation because of a political agenda?
So it looks like somone’s playing politics with the US Justice Department, and it ain’t the Democrats. Well, I’ve been saying for months that Burns is likely headed for the ‘pen, and it looks like his time is approaching.
It’s ironic, then, that Burns’ supporters are touting seniority as the reason we should vote for him. Take Brad Franklin’s endorsement of Burns in the Sidney Herald:
Conrad is on the committee on appropriations; committee on commerce; committee on science and transportation; committee on energy and natural resources; committee on small business; and the committee on aging. Max is on the finance committee; environment and public works committee; and the agriculture, nutrition and forestry committee. Denny is on the committee on appropriations. I have not included their sub-committee positions.Finance and appropriations committees in Washington, D.C., relate to financial benefits received by all Montana residents.
We, in Montana, cannot afford to lose the above positions, of which, the first criteria is longevity/seniority. Consequently, as I see it, we must re-elect Conrad Burns and Denny Rehberg in November 2006, and Max Baucus, if he runs, in 2008.
Remember, all you Republicans and Democrats, we have people in majority and minority positions of power, no matter if the majority is Democrat or Republican in the Senate.
Why would any Montana voter, regardless of political preference or whether you like or dislike the candidate personally, vote to lose our envious positions in national politics?
Besides being completely amoral, this line of thinking was well countered by Matt in a post today about this very issue of seniority. Basically he argues that both Burns and Baucus aren’t much longer for the Senate so in 8 years (tops!), we’ll have to start fresh anyway. Why not start building seniority now before Baucus retires?
Of course, if Conrad wins the election, it appears that this is the most likely scenario:
Burns Gets Reelected, Gets Indicted, Resigns: In this scenario, we’re in the absolute worst case we could be. Whoever gets appointed to finish Burns’ term doesn’t go in tied with his or her fellow newly elected Senators for seniority, they’re always a step behind. That will matter. And there’s no promise from caucus leadership for a seat on approps, so kiss that committee behind, if it’s truly a big deal to you.
Remember, if Burns loses his office, it’s the Governor who gets to name his replacement. If appropriations are your gig, it’s better to vote for Tester and allow him to racking it up right away rather than wait until Burns dons the orange jumpsuit.
—Posted by touchstone
Chris Bowers of MyDD has created a “Google bomb” project. Basically, he’s set up a series of links of Republican candidates for Congress and confirmed traditional media stories that are “negative.” (E.g., Burns’ link goes to his anti-firefighters’ remarks.) As bloggers copy to their site these links, the linked-to stories will rise to the top of Google searches when folks enter the candidates’ names into the search engine. The idea is that, when undecided voters search Google for information on their candidates, they’ll see the negative story.
It’s one of these new-fangled Internet political tactics that conservatives pioneered in the 2004 election against John Kerry. And while some may consider it under-handed, it’s important to note that the stories are confirmed and from mainstream publications. They’re true, in other words.
Conservative bloggers are responding, too. And while doing so, conservative John Hawkins noticed something funny while Googling the candidates:
As an aside, while I was researching articles for this Googlebomb, I noticed something interesting: most Republican candidates, for whatever reason, already had at least one negative article up on the front page of Google. On the other hand, again, for whatever reason, it was not unusual for me to go 3 or 4 pages deep into some of these Democratic candidates without finding a single, negative, article about them. So, ironically, we may have a good opportunity to make a much bigger impact than the liberal bloggers with this Googlebomb. We’ll see.
Got that? Apparently Republicans already have more dirt on them than their Democratic counterparts!
But wait! It gets better! A quick look through Hawkins’ links shows that the articles are hardly damning. In fact, as in the case of Jon Tester, they may actually help the Democratic candidate. The link that Hawkins chose for Tester is about his opposition to the Patriot Act – only the Patriot Act ain’t all too liked by many here in Montana! H*ll, some Montana conservatives are talking about creating their own Republican caucus to protect individual liberties.
NY 26 Democrat, Jack Davis’ link takes you to his Wikipedia page, which, if anything looks like it would sway conservative-leaning undecides. The negative link against Ned Lamont is actually about a blogger who supports Ned Lamont. Other links take you to primary opponents’ attack ads. A number of important Democratic challengers don’t even have links – like Wyoming’s Gary Trauner and Idaho’s Larry Grant. In short, there’s little substance here.
Meanwhile, a quick look at some of MyDD’s links (see below) and you’ll find an endorsement for racial profiling (Peter King), a cover-up for a child sex predator (Dennis Hastert), accusations of involvement in bank fraud (Charles Taylor), and earmarks aimed at campaign donors (Steve Chabot).
In the end, these competing sets of links should clearly illustrate the GOP’s culture of corruption.
And here they are!
–AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
–AZ-01: Rick Renzi
–AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
–CA-04: John Doolittle
–CA-11: Richard Pombo
–CA-50: Brian Bilbray
–CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
–CO-05: Doug Lamborn
–CO-07: Rick O’Donnell
–CT-04: Christopher Shays
–FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
–FL-16: Joe Negron
–FL-22: Clay Shaw
–ID-01: Bill Sali
–IL-06: Peter Roskam
–IL-10: Mark Kirk
–IL-14: Dennis Hastert
–IN-02: Chris Chocola
–IN-08: John Hostettler
–IA-01: Mike Whalen
–KS-02: Jim Ryun
–KY-03: Anne Northup
–KY-04: Geoff Davis
–MD-Sen: Michael Steele
–MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
–MN-06: Michele Bachmann
–MO-Sen: Jim Talent
–MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
–NV-03: Jon Porter
–NH-02: Charlie Bass
–NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
–NM-01: Heather Wilson
–NY-03: Peter King
–NY-20: John Sweeney
–NY-26: Tom Reynolds
–NY-29: Randy Kuhl
–NC-08: Robin Hayes
–NC-11: Charles Taylor
–OH-01: Steve Chabot
–OH-02: Jean Schmidt
–OH-15: Deborah Pryce
–OH-18: Joy Padgett
–PA-04: Melissa Hart
–PA-07: Curt Weldon
–PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
–PA-10: Don Sherwood
–RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
–TN-Sen: Bob Corker
–VA-Sen: George Allen
–VA-10: Frank Wolf
–WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
–WA-08: Dave Reichert
—Posted by touchstone
Somebody once suggested there is an inverse relationship between the importance of a political issue and the pettiness involved in its disposition. Don’t take my tales of the Missoula City Local Government Study Commission (LGSC) as an argument for the premise, but it could certainly be a data point in the analysis.
The City LGSC–taking care to distinguish it from the county LGSC, to be addressed in a later post–started meeting in late 2004 and, within months, had already descended into contention. In the end, the LGSC wound up with a two-member minority whose work is not going on the ballot. However, understanding the dynamic created by the minority is important to understanding why the majority acted the way that it did.
The minority’s leader is Jane Rectenwald, a sort of passive-aggressive poison pill dead set on replacing the mayor with a city manager. Her main method of argument is faux-humble questioning meant to lead you right to her conclusion. She was a disagreeable presence at most meetings, ignoring responses to her points and continually trying to hijack the process by , for instance, hanging posters declaring the foregone sensibility of her opinion at every meeting, even when it was clear the majority of the LGSC had zero interest in a city manager, having examined the question at some length with outside experts.
And the majority was right to be uninterested. Rectenwald advocated switching to a city manager on the premise that a city manager constitutes professional management and the current administration of the city is unprofessional because it is political. The argument is flawed, and one doesn’t even have to examine the competence of current city administration to debunk it.
Leading a heterogeneous city is inherently political, requiring choices among competing and often incommensurable values. Mayors are elected to make such choices; city managers pledge to be apolitical administrators. That works if there is general consensus on the course the city should be charting. If there are differences, and there are those in Missoula, the city manager will become a focus for discontent. Mayors get zapped for making politically unpopular choices all the time but that’s the design of the political system.
City managers are sworn to be something like municipal eunuchs, excised of political preferences. Simply the accusation of playing politics is enough to ruin a city manager’s career. Anyone who knows Missoula city politics knows such an accusation will not be long in coming.
But Rectenwald never gave up her advocacy of a city manager, even when it became clear the rest of the LGSC wasn’t inclined to concur. In the end, one other member, Alan Ault, joined her in a minority report. His move seemed motivated as much by the increasing animosity on display in the meetings as any strong sense that a city manager would fix the problems Rectenwald maintained were pressing.
Rectenwald did, however, succeed in poisoning the atmosphere of the LGSC so much that the meetings became almost intolerable. As a result, the recommendations that came out of the majority do not appear to be the result of good policy-making but rather a political hatchet job dressed up in some flimsy rhetoric about improving public attitudes toward city government.
Chairwoman Sue Malek deserves the biggest part of the blame for that. Quite simply, Malek was a terrible choice to chair the LGSC; she does not know how to run a meeting in which competing views are aired. As the term of the LGSC wore on, her interactions with Rectenwald turned openly hostile; Malek often interrupted Rectenwald, it appeared, simply because Malek couldn’t stand the sound of Rectenwald’s voice. At one point, the LGSC had to hire a professional facilitator because Malek couldn’t even pretend to fairly chair an important meeting. As a result of her dismal leadership, the minority’s accusations that the majority was just there to railroad policy through took on an increasing appearance of veracity.
Malek’s most egregious offense took place after a group containing majority and minority members of the LGSC got together and wrote an information pamphlet that was mutually agreeable, no small feat considering how uncivil things had become by that point. Malek disbanded the pamphlet-writing committee, recreating it with only members from the majority, producing a document that did nothing but make the majority’s case. She showed contempt for debate, preferring to rig the information in her favor and appearing to fear that the majority’s proposals could not stand up to counter-arguments.
She might be right to fear that. But it is also the case that poor procedures do not necessarily yield poor policy. It might be possible to separate the commissioners from their work and endorse their recommendations regardless. Next up, a look at the LGSC’s main recommendation–rearranging Missoula City Council.
—posted by readbetween
Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t, but Monica Lindeen and Representative Denny Rehberg assessed the situation in Iraq. When I saw these articles, I got pretty excited; after all, last time Rehberg left his views on Iraq, it was pretty durn bloggable.
I wasn’t disappointed this time, either.
Once again, our Representative urges us to “stay the course”:
Accomplishing this mission can, at times, be a frustratingly slow process, especially when our young men and women are in harm’s way. But our troops understand that the importance of this mission is worth traveling the difficult path to success. Our men and women in uniform are working side by side with the Iraqi security forces to bring stability to the country. Slowly but surely, the Iraqi army and police forces are taking the lead in providing security.
And just think, earlier in this piece, Rehberg claims to take pride in staying up on the issues! Considering that recent efforts to secure Baghdad have failed and even Bush is comparing Iraq to Vietnam, Rehberg’s position seems to be dangerously out of touch.
It gets better, of course. Take his attempt to make parallels between Iraq and WWII:
We must not allow the culture of criticism and pessimism to distract us from the main focus in Iraq. Iraq continues to be a central front in the war on terror. In World War II, our country lost a generation of Americans because our leadership saw a threat and did not react quickly enough. How much shorter could the war have been, how many fewer lives would have been lost, if America had acted swiftly against the looming threats posed by Japan, Germany and Italy? Unfortunately, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor forced us to act. Today, we are in a similar situation in the war on terror. For far too long, we ignored the growing threat presented by terrorism. Sept. 11, 2001, forced us to rethink this threat. To ensure that we do not lose another generation of brave, young Americans, we must continue to fight terror wherever it resides and provide our soldiers the resources they need to carry out the tremendous job of keeping America safe.
I agree we didn’t take terrorism seriously enough before 9/11, but I’d also argue we’re not taking it seriously in 2006, either. I mean, why waste all this time in Iraq? Why craft heinous legislation intended to steal our civil rights first, “anti-terror” tactics that have no discernable effect in catching terrorists? “Staying the course” is the worst sort of time wasting: it means more unnecessary American and Iraqi deaths while ensuring the conditions in Iraq deteriorate.
But the biggest load of cr*p is this continuing effort to make the current war on terror the equal of WWII. If so, where’s our enemy state? If so, where’s the conventional army to fight? If so, why did we do the pre-emptive strike? Seriously, there’s no parallel to be made. In 1936, you had one of the most powerful states in the world with millions posed to expand its power. In 2001, you had a few thousand Islamic radicals scattered around the world. On September 12, these few thousands were extremely vulnerable with governments across the globe willing to give the United States a hand in destroying al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
Most egregious is Rehberg’s claims he’s interested in the condition of the average soldier:
I am 100 percent committed to ensuring that our troops have the best equipment and resources they need to get the job done and return home safely.
We cannot forget that our obligation to our troops doesn’t end when they get back home.
Unfortunately for Rehberg, his voting record is available to the public.
Monica, on the other hand, cites the facts:
Over 2,700 American heroes have lost their lives – 70-plus in just the past two weeks. Twenty thousand have been wounded, and half of those injuries are critical. Over 600,000 Iraqi citizens have died. Sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies report that the war in Iraq has fueled terrorism and increased sectarian violence. Two billion dollars a week and almost half a trillion taxpayer dollars have been spent.Six out of 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S. troops. Four of five say the U.S. military presence in Iraq provokes more violence than it prevents. An overwhelming majority, 70 percent, wants the Iraqi government to ask U.S. troops to leave within a year, and two-thirds favor an immediate withdrawal.
Boom! What more do you need to know?
The bottom line is that the current policy isn’t working. Rehberg has done nothing to speak up against President Bush and his policies. Nothing.
If the mission ever had a chance to be successful, the administration needed to use skillful diplomacy, needed to understand Iraq and its culture, and needed to rebuild a functional Iraqi society from within on Iraqi terms, and absoutely, positively needed to keep big US corporations out of the rebuilding process.
Guess what. The administration fouled up every diplomatic and political component of the war, and Montana Representative Denny Rehberg was there rubber-stamping Bush’s failed policy.
—Posted by touchstone
Kos reads the profile of Jon Tester in The Weekly Standard, and is taken aback by its objectivity. He highlights some of the better passages, including one on the emerging Western Democrat, and found even the coverage of the Daily Kos’ involvement in the race to be thoughtful.
The post is definitely worth a read, especially after the ominous undertones in the recent Senate polls, which show Burns sneaking back into this thing. Kos, as usual, remains determined and upbeat. Take what he says about Montana’s local blogs:
The big omission in this piece is the work done by the Montana bloggers, which drove just about every bit of my coverage on this race. All successful Netroots efforts — be they Montana, Connecticut, Virginia, or anywhere else start at home, with activists on the ground. This site was the megaphone, amplifying the real work being done in Big Sky Country.
It’s nice to feel that all this blogging has an effect, but it’s also good to remind ourselves that it’s you, the reader, who applies our messages of urgency and activism into actuality through donation, volunteering, even water-cooler talk at work about the merits of Tester. That’s what it will take to win this thing, and I think we can if we continue to translate hope into action.
And what’s nicer to know is that insider pundits still see positive signs in the recent polls. Congressional Quarterly, for example, upgraded the Senate race from “No Clear Favorite” to “Leans Democratic,” a shift whose lateness reflects the periodical’s conservative approach to forecasting, and whose timeliness should give everybody renewed hope.
Remember, these last weeks are when undecideds and the politically disinterested will be making their decision. Let’s be there with our message when they do.
We can win this thing. We will win this thing.
–Posted by touchstone
Montana’s 1972 constitution is just packed full of interesting provisions–the right to a clean and healthful environment, the right to privacy, or, my favorite, the right to know (“No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions.”).
One unique provision of the constitution allows a city or county to elect, at ten year intervals, a commission to study the form and powers of the government. Sort of like a minature constutuional convention on the local scale, shorn of the powdered wigs and knickers.
In Missoula, both the city and the county elected to have one of these local government study commissions (LGSC) back in 2003. In 2004, the voters picked seven candidates each from two lists of names that I’ll admit to not recognizing a single one of by way of a disclaimer for some of their behavior. And by late 2004, the LGSCs were off on their mission of hearing why people elected to study government and what they want to change. The results are a list of measures on the ballot for next Tuesday.
I followed the LGSCs closer than most people since I’m interested in structural change to political systems and how it can be accomplished. I was just tickled to think I could see it happen in my hometown. Over the next week, I aim to introduce the measures on the ballot along with whatever background info I can give from my observation of the process. As you’ll see, I have strong opinions on some of them and still haven’t made my mind up on others. So maybe some of the locals will have a piece to say.
Oh, and while I’m speaking about bringing up some local Missoula issues, tonight’s the beginning of the West Broadway Charrette process; that’s going to build some kind of consensus about that wide strip of asphalt cleaving one side of downtown Missoula from another. On Thursday, the city takes a look at Russell and Third streets, a topic dear to the blog host (and near to his home). These meetings won’t be your last chance to have a say on what these roads look like but there’s nothing like getting in on the ground floor to make public policy a real romp.
To people embroiled in debate over the great political questions of our day–inequality, civil liberties, perverts in Congress–what shape a road takes might seem like a pretty piddling matter. Well, it’s not. And there are two reasons you should care.
The first is what one of my teachers (Ever notice how students might get a degree but somehow teachers always stay teachers?) calls the Churchill principle: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” The design of a road matters concretely to the quality of life of people as they live it everyday. Build a road designed for big rigs and high volumes and that’s what you’ll get–along with bare sidewalks, occassionally pancaked pedestrians and demand for more big roads. Build a road that’s good for cars and for everything else that could use it and you’ll wind up with not just a better driving experience but also a place that invites people into it. That’s good for commerce. More important, it’s good for community.
People who see each other on sidewalks and bikes interact with one another differently than people sealed inside cars. Building roads that encourage people to leave their cars allows people to see one another as fellow travellers and not just boxy metal impediments to commuting quicker. Believe me, it changes people’s attitudes. I can tell a few stories on that score.
But I promised two reasons you should care about the meeting and I want to get back to it. So, number two, you can make a difference just by showing up. Seriously, there will be maybe one hundred people tops at the meeting tonight and, likely, even fewer on Thursday. So already, you’re one percent of the vote. Not that there will be any voting but there will be plenty of chance to be heard. And that’s hardly like bumping up against billion-dollar corporations and national party machines to have a say.
So, take a moment, my politically-immersed companions, and let the windmills alone for a minute. Your city is making policy.
–Posted by readbetween
I’ve tricked, er, recruited a good friend to blog here at 4&20 blackbirds. He’s real stubborn, loaded with original ideas, and comes with a genius streak.
Read Between will fill a huge gap in this blog and start writing mainly about issues here in Missoula. There’s a lot of important legislation coming up on the November ballot, issues of open space and changing government. And of course there are always controversies raging around development.
I’m thrilled to have him blogging here: hopefully he’ll add to the content and environment of the site.
So, welcome, Mr. Read Between!
The Big Sky Democrats are hosting a fundraiser today in Missoula at the Iron Horse Pub. Matt’s going. I’ll be there, too. Any why not? Good booze, food, company, and a chance to hobnob with our next Senator.
Where: Iron Horse Pub, 501 Lounge, 501 N. Higgins, Missoula.
When: Tuesday, October 24, 5 – 7 pm.
Suggested donation: $25.
Check out the Big Sky Dem link for more information.
I’d figure I’d blog a little about the event. So if you have any questions for the good farmer, post ‘em in the comments, and I’ll pass ‘em on to Jon.
This is your big chance to meet Tester and a couple of Montana’s finest political instigators! Come on down and rub elbows with us!
In case you haven’t seen the news recently, there’s an election coming up, and there are other things on the ballot besides a couple of fellas jockeying for a Montana Senate seat. And besides the terrible trio of Rich-funded and -implemented initiatives, there’s a couple of Montana initiatives, including CI-151, which will raise the minimum wage in the state.
Although I’ve yet to come out one way or the other on the initiative, it’s probably obvious to my readers that I support the bill. And I do. There’s a lot of noise from the folks who feel it’s their duty to protect big business to point out that, well, not too many people actually try to live off minimum wage, it’s a temporary thing, etc & co. Of course, there’s the flip side to the argument, that companies see the minimum wage as an acceptable amount to pay people because it’s within the law — while ignoring the fact that it’s not a livable wage. Big business will scr*w us if they can, and they often do.
Raise Montana has posted the MSU-Billings poll (pdf) that shows the minimum wage initiative is quite popular with Montanans (but not Conrad Burns or Dennis Rehberg), as 76.3% of respondents favor the wage increase and a meager 14.4% oppose it. So it’s not like this initiative needs a lot of support right now, but it’s a good cause and worth writing about.
Chicago blogger Mike Doyle gave me the heads up about a pretty cool project called Seven Days at Minimum Wage, a series of web-based videos hosted by Rosanne Barr about people who live on a minimum wage. The stories are pretty d*mn moving, featuring people working their *sses off just to keep afloat.
To understand the impact these stories should have, consider Doyle’s experience helping film some of the project:
I never thought I’d be called on to interview anyone. But this past week was crunch time and I had a video camera. So I mobilized my friends and colleagues and set out to find a few folks who wanted to tell America their stories of living at a wage that, though legal, is in most cases incapable of allowing anyone to pay rent. Or in the case of one woman I interviewed over the weekend, to buy food for both her and her four children.When someone not much different than you, about your age, sitting five feet away, begins to cry uncontrollably because she tells you–and maybe you’re the first person she’s ever admitted it to–that she can’t figure out anymore how to feed her family on a consistent basis and doesn’t feel like she has a future, it’s hard not to put down the camera you’ve got pointed in her face and reach out to hug her. Pretty much all you can do is cry with her too, trying to keep the picture from shaking around too badly or your own sobbing from being picked up on the mic.
This was my experience more than once in the past few days. In Chicago. In Hammond. Different people with different backgrounds, all united by the burning desire to get the hell out of poverty. And all uttering the words, through unexpected, bitter tears, “I hate it.”
That’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s easy to talk about abstract economic theory when opposing something like the minimum wage — or in the case of Burns or Rehberg, it’s easy to support your big-money backers — when you forget that this is an issue that is life-and-death for some people. And when you meet some of those people.
Vote for CI-151. And vote for the candidates that support it.
Update: In the comments, Jim Fleischmann warned against complacency, reminding me of the minimum 1996 wage initiative’s fate:
I don’t think that anybody in Montana should be complacent about the minimum wage’s current favorable polling. In 1995, the polling was equally “good” close to the election. Then the Montana Restaurant Association dropped a meager $250,000 on a single TV buy and we lost the initiative despite being up by about 30 points two weeks out from the election.
The Notorious Mark T posted about his experience with that effort ten years ago. It’s well worth a read.
D*mn good point. There are moneyed interests who have a vested interest in seeing this initiative go down in flames. Good ideas don’t necessarily float through the process on their own: we need to fight for them. Keep the buzz going on the street that CI 151 is the right thing to do.
Who says politics should be mendacious and vituperative?
Change all that! Now’s your chance to take politics to the next level! That’s right – I’m talking Fantasy Congress!
You’ve seen me talk fantasy baseball. You’ve seen me talk up fantasy football. Pah! Children’s games! Earn points while you watch your team literally take over the world!
I now throw down the gauntlet. I have created a league:
“ Blackbirders Fantasy Congress .” Password: “GoTester” (Apologies to my dextra friends for making you type those words…)
This is the perfect time: Congress is in recess. Let’s do it!
Update: Ugh. I guess starting a league on fantasy Congress is about as easy as getting into Congress…
Okay. Try this. League name, “Blackbirds,” password: “Blackbirds”.
Like Craig, I, too, have been recruited to post over at Gather.com my thoughts on the Montana Senate race.
But the best thing about my posts on Gather may be this picture of me and Mr. Proud practising for Little League tryouts in six or seven years:
When the Yankees dropped out of the playoffs, I crowed. The implication was, the Yanks stopped signing players with character, and started buying the “best talent.” And you need more than talent to win the post-season.
Really, that’s nonsensical sentimental clap-trap. Jerks play good ball in the postseason. Chemistry is overrated. Maybe. Whatever. What makes me say this is perhaps the smartest one-paragraph summation of what makes winning baseball in October, and why the 2006 Yanks didn’t have it. It’s from a Bill Simmons email column:
In 1996-2000, it wasn’t just that they had great chemistry (which they did), they didn’t have nearly as much offensive talent so they were forced to play true October baseball. The current Yankee lineup isn’t built for the postseason. You just can’t rely on three-run homers with the great pitching in the playoffs, while you can in much of the regular season (especially playing Tampa and Baltimore 38 times). With a great set of contact hitters and speed guys –Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Melky, Cano — this team should be hit-and-running, stealing at every opportunity, taking extra bases, bunting, etc. However, with power hitters like Sheffield and A-Rod clogging up the end of the lineup (such as Game 4, when A-Rod hit eighth), they can’t. There is actually TOO MUCH talent. Are you honestly going to bunt with runners on first and second and no one out with the 25-million-dollar man up? Of course not. But if former eighth-place-hitter Scott Brosius is up, it’s a no-brainer. So it’s not just their lack of chemistry but the fact that playoff teams thrive off role players. Even if you take a loaded team like the Mets, they still have guys like Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin and Paul Lo Duca. Baseball front offices, regardless of the payroll, should build their teams like baseball teams, not fantasy baseball teams.
Sheer brilliances. It also explains the inability of the Billy Beane ballclubs to win playoff series. Beane-ball prohibits stolen bases and sacrifices, which, according to theory, consume valuable outs. Over the course of a season – when you play the Rangers, Orioles, Royals, and Mariners a bunch of times – you need these outs, because it’s less likely that in any given game the opposing manager will pull out all the stops to beat you. He’s not going to drop in his best starting pitcher, say, in the third-inning of a two-run game on two days’ rest. So you need to save up the outs, wear down the opposing starters, exploit weak middle pitching, and win a bunch of midseason 12-10 games.
In the playoffs, however, runs are more valuable than saving outs. It’s better to sacrifice your guy to second and play for the one-run inning. Because the other guy isn’t going to let you pile up a bunch of runs.
Incidentally, wasn’t the Cardinals – Mets series the most uneventful and least exciting 7-game series you’ve ever seen? I mean, I channel surfed during last night’s game seven. I channel surfed during a 1 – 1 NLCS game seven! Face it, if you’re not a Mets or Cardinals fan, the series was a snoozer. The most exciting thing about the games was Endy Chavez’ miracle double-play in the sixth inning of last night’s game, maybe one of the best postseason defensive plays of all times. (By the way, I love Mets’ pitcher Oliver Perez’ fist pump, like he’s saying “I’m the man!”) Check out the catch if you haven’t seen it yet.
Who thinks the Cardinals have a chance in the World Series? Not me. At 83-78, this is the weakest of the Albert Pujols/Tony LaRussa teams (since 2001, 563 – 508, 5 of 6 years in the playoffs). They don’t have the pitching to hold off Detroit. They don’t have much hitting outside of Pujols.
Here’s my bold prediction: Detroit in five.