Friday, June 15, 2012

Does Chris Christie Want the State Government to Shut Down?

Like his comrades in the national Republican Party, Chris Christie puts his own political ambition ahead of what's good for his constituents. And shutting down state government for a week or so will endear Christie in the eyes of his government-hating fellow travelers. If there's no budget in place by June 30, that's what will happen.

Never mind the fact that a shutdown will cost the taxpayers more in the long term. Never mind the fact that only essential services like State Police and Atlantic City gambling inspectors (yes, they are on the "essential" list) will continue on the job. Never mind the added inconvenience, pain, and misery that a shutdown will impose on "non-essential" workers and the general public. A shutdown will endear Christie to the skeptical Tea Partiers of the GOP going into the Tampa Convention.

Of course, Christie can't make his plan that obvious. So he will continue with the kabuki dance with the legislature, saying that he's willing to compromise out of one side of his mouth while drawing a line in the sand on rescinding the tax breaks that were given to millionaires.

We need a governor who governs. The next election can't come soon enough.

Cross-posted from

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Photos from Netroots Nation

Seamus, Mitt Romney's dog, at the debut of Jeff Santos' Real Romney Tour

The Rhode Island Convention Center

Occupy Providence, in front of the Providence Journal building across the street from the convention center

Providence Mayor Angel Tavares

Unionized hotel workers presenting an award to Adam Bonin of Netroots Nation for support during a labor dispute 

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards

Tammy Baldwin - the next senator from Wisconsin

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on stage and on the big screen

Comedian and Campaign Manager Joey Novick at the Laughing Liberally Comedy Show

Education panel

Darcy Burner - a dynamite candidate for Congress from Washington State

Elizabeth Warren - the next Senator from Massachusetts

Senators Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse at a panel discussion on Citizens United

Panel on upcoming Supreme Court decisions

Van Jones

Comedienne and Writer Lizz Winstead

Television commentator David Shuster

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Domestic Workers' Advocate Ai-Jen Poo

Panel on the Right Wing Assault on Education

Rapper Jasiri X

Rashad Robinson of Color of Change

Panel on Criminal Justice

Friday, June 8, 2012

Netroots Notes - Friday, June 8

A daily diary from the annual Netroots Nation conference

Two amazing women highlighted the second full day at Netroots Nation. Following the standard morning comedy panel emceed by Lizz Winstead, I attended a breakout session "What Progressives Can Do to Stop the War on Public Education. One of the panelists was Diane Ravitch who can best be described as a public education activist. I had the pleasure of speaking with her prior to the start of the session about Marie Corfield's campaign for State Assembly. The other panelists were John Jackson from the Alliance for Excellence in Education, and Kenneth Bernstein, a public school teacher and blogger.

Ravitch talked about the great school privatization effort sponsored by ALEC and how schools don't matter to the hedge fund managers that are behind that effort. "Sadly," she lamented, "the Obama administration supports a big part of this agenda" and there are few people in leadership postions that are defending public education. Ravitch called the evaluation of teachers using test scores "junk science."

Jackson pointed out that we are re-litigating issues in America that were settled long ago - issues like unions and citizenship. "The public education system works, but as Blacks and Latinos are becoming the majority in urban areas, there's action to kill it." He said we need to increase support for initiatives that work such as early childhood education, and kill programs that don't work like out-of-school suspension. "We are trying to determine if students can swim by throwing them in a pool with no water," he said.

Bernstein told the audience that over 20% of students attend rural schools and these districts are generally ignored. Educational outcomes are highly correlated with other needs such as nutrition and even the availability of affordable dental care.

The consensus among the panel was that we need to ramp up parent involvement in the future of public schools, and make better use of the Netroots to promote the agenda.

It was made clear that the panel is not against all charter schools. They would support non-profit charters that serve underserved constituents on a case-by-case basis.

The next session I attended was a panel of three women running for Congress. Darcy Burner is a former software engineer running for the House of Represenatives in Washington State, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono is running for Senate in Hawaii, and Elizabeth Warren is vying to replace Scott Brown in that upper chamber.

Burner, who worked for Lotus and Microsoft in the days of the office apps wars pointed out that while Lotus had the better products, Microsoft understood the game better. She used this to analogize the Democrats to Lotus and the GOP to Microsoft. We may have the better policies, but the Republicans know how to game the system.

Hirono faces a Blue Dog Democratic challenger in Hawaii, but she pointed out that she fills four diversity categories - she's a woman, an immigrant, an Asian, and a Buddist. She said that when she pointed this out to someone, they asked if she was also gay, and her answer was “nobody's perfect!”

Of course the rock star at this session was Elizabeth Warren. When she came to the podium in a darkened auditorium, people rushed to the front of the stage, cell phones in hand to snap a photo, and the scene where dozens of people were holding phones with lighted screens in outstretched arms looked just like a rock concert.

Despite a failing voice, Warren's message was powerful and resonated with the crowd. She told the group how it was important to change the national conversation and bring attention back to the middle class.

Some of the progressives that Warren hopes to join in Washington were part of an afternoon panel. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) were joined by former Virginia Congressman Tom Periello, elections attorney Trevor Potter, and activist Becky Bond to discuss Citizens United. Of the three senators, only Brown is up for re-election this year, and he is being outspent 6 to 1 by the Koch Brothers and their ilk. In fact, he pointed out that about half of the money that his opponent has raised has come from only 17 people.

Merkley pointed out that Citizens United effectively modifies the preamble of the Constitution from “We the People” to “We the Powerful.” Just the threat of big money to the opposition tends to intimidate some elected officials.

Potter, who works for the Stephen Colbert PAC, told the group that Citizens United does not even work the way the Supreme Court intended. The court's decision was based on transparency, but the billionaires have found ways to circimvent that.

Bond, who runs a progressive Super PAC, will use that group to support candidates who oppose Citizens United and who will help reverse it.

My next breakout was a panel discussion on the Supreme Court – decisions that will be announced this term and what's on the docket for next term. The moderator, Nan Aron, President of the Alliance for Justice, said that the behavior of judges have been outside public purview and need to be examined. She specifically mentioned the proactive involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia in extremist right-wing groups.

Dalia Lithwick of Slate pointed out that several sitting justices are in their late 70s, so this election will be important in shaping the court in the decades ahead. This court is one of the most conservative in a generation and each member replaced someone who was less conservative. Fully one third of the federal court system is populated by appointees of George W Bush – mostly young conservatives -and the country will feel their impact for a long time.

Debo Adegbile of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund discussed the Arizona “papers please” case which will be decided soon. “There's always a rationale in support of a ruling” he asserted. There's also a higher education diversity case that may chip away at Affirmative Action, and a voting rights case that is pending.

Lani Guinier of Harvard said it's time for people to get involved in pressuring SCOTUS to make it's operations and decisions more understandable and transparent. She said the public has a role to play in influencing their decisions.

Tomorrow is the last day of sessions, and they'll announce where next year's Netroots Nation will take place. It's gone by fast.

Netroots Notes - Thursday, June 7

A daily diary from the annual Netroots Nation conference

The day at Netroots started and ended with comedy, with a whole lot of advocacy in between. There was a lot happening - here's a summary of my day.

As is the custom, the day started with a morning roundup of the news - a toungue-in-cheek review by several pundits, hosted by Daily Show writer Lizz Winstead. One highlight was the revalation that in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder, the NRA is now offering "stand your ground" insurance in states like Florida. So these "pro-lifers" will insure a small number of  people who shoot first and ask questions later, but are against health insurance for the vast majority of Americans. On the Senate's recent rejection of equal pay for women, Alaskan pundit Shannyn Moore listed  the professions where women are paid, on the average, more than men - baker, pre-school teacher, dietician, clerk, manicurists, bussers, and teaching assistant. So there!

I attended a breakout on legal issues facing advocacy groups (lots of leagaleze and taxation issues regarding the differences between 501c(3)s, 501c(4)s, 527s, PACs, SuperPACs, etc. If there's a bright side to the Citizens United deal, it keeps tax lawyers employed. The Alliance for Justice ( has a on-line digital advocacy guides in this area. That's a good thing, because the two lawyers on the panel answered most of the audience's questions with "it depends."

The right wingers have always seemed to have the upper hand when controlling the language of the debate, so a session "How Progressives Get Narrative Wrong and How to Get it Right" sounded intriguing. It was not quite what I expected - more high level and generic, and more focused on the advertising side of messaging than the message itself. The comparison of Obama's messaging technique to that of a superhero was worth the price of admission. Another was the discussion of how a television program like All in the Family helped reshape Americans' attitude toward tolerance. The new buzzword i learned was "transmedia." Look it up.

After that, I listened to a discussion about the movie Bully. In addition to the movie's producers, some of the kids who appear in the movie were on the panel.

The next session, "The Battle for Congress", was strictly a Q&A session with a group of political experts. And experts they were. The audience threw out questions about specific congressional races, and the panel discussed them in detail.  It seems like they were up to speed on all 435 House races and the 34 Senate races this fall.  I asked about the Adler/Runyan contest in NJ-3, and they discussed the dichotomy between Burlington and Ocean Counties, and felt the race was winnable for Shelley Adler, but it would be very close.

A marriage equality panel focused on some of the upcomng electoral contests and stragegy, especially in Minnesota and Washington State. The panelists emphasized how they are building alliances with people of color, the faith community, and even soccer moms. All agreed that President Obama's recent statements supporting marriage equality had a significant positive impact.

The evening keynote session was a parade of progressive activists, leading up to the keynote address. Providence Mayor Angel Tavares discussed why cities matter. In one of the more poignant moments of the program, Netroots Nation Executive Director Raven Brooks accepted a placque from a group of local hotel workers expressing appreciation for support during a recent labor dispute. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, delivered a passionate talk about how social media helped reverse the position of the Komen Foundation. Environmentalist Bill McKibben discussed climate change and his best line was how the first Minutemen and Tea Party activists were more inclined to shoot at the wealthy and powerful than they were to suck up to them. The folks in the audience, he pointed out, are not "radicals." Rather, the radicals are the oil companies - the ones who are willing to change the chemical composition of the earth's atmosphere.

Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the NEA, talked about teaching and the impact of extremists like Grover Norquist.

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who is running for US Senate from Wisconsin, was well-received. She was one of a handful of legislators who voted against the foolish repeal of Glass-Steigel, and if elected will be the first openly gay US Senator.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse talked about Social Security, Medicare, and Pell Grants as the pillars of America and urged progressives to be unshakable on these issues. He talked about the evil Citizens United decision.

The keynote speaker, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was a bit wonky in his briefing on movement politics. He was greeted by a small demonstration of folks carrying banners "Jail the Bankers." Schneiderman pointed out that the legacy of the New Deal was not a bunch of alphabet soup agencies, but was a transformation of ideas where Americans looked out for each other. He urged the audience to work toward a second New Deal to resurrect these ideals.

The day ended with a Laughing Liberally comedy show, including New Jersey's own Joey Novick.

Attending this series of events and gathering tons of good information was like drinking from a firehose. And there's two more days of this. I love it!

Unionized hotel workers being recognized at NN12

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Netroot Notes - Wednesday, June 6

A daily diary from the annual Netroots Nation conference.

I had a zillion Amtrak miles to use, so I decided to take the train to Providence instead of experiencing the joys of I-95. It was a great decision. The train left Trenton on time, had free wi-fi, and arrived in Providence on schedule. I took the short walk from the station, past the State House, to the hotel.

Although the event doesn't officially start until tomorrow, there was a lot going on. I went to the kickoff of “The Real Real 2012 Romney Tour”, emceed by Boston radio talk show host Jeff Santos. There, I had a nice (and timely) chat with a University of Wisconsin student who was attending Netroots on a DFA scholarship.

With guests both in person and on the phone, Santos presented a mixture of comedy and reality in pointing out who Mitt Romney really is. Actor and Comedian Frank Santorelli (“Georgie the Bartender” of Sopranos fame) was his sidekick. (They'll be in New York July 12 and Philly October 4). During the commercial breaks, we were entertained by the band Joshua Tree – a fairly decent, albeit very loud, group of musicians.

Some quotes and highlights from the presentation:

“The only good thing about Romney's tenure as governor of Massachusetts was that the Red Sox won the World Series.” - Santos

A small-town Massachusetts former mayor talked about how Romney was disconnected with the rural communities and could only relate to the Boston elite.

“Teaching is the most important profession in America.” “You cannot have a strong educational system without a strong union.” - Lawrence Purtill, President of the National Education Association – Rhode Island.

“My grandmother told me that if you can't say good things about someone, keep quiet. Mitt Romney has good hair.” - Paul Feeney, Legislative Director IBEW Local 2222

Feeney also pointed out that Romney was the first governor of either party not to meet with the president of the AFL-CIO.

“Ted Kennedy (in speaking to Mitt Romney) was right. You're not pro-choice, you're multiple choice.”

“I'm not sure what planet the Romney campaign is on if they think they can sway women voters.” - Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

“National security begins at home – educational security, economic security, health security” - former Congressman Joe Sestak

After the Santos show, I went over to a reception sponsored by the Rhode Island NEA. It's amazing how many people have heard about Marie Corfield, even if they don't know her name. And those who haven't heard about her are impressed and encouraged by her story.

Come back here tomorrow for my thoughts on the first day, including the evening keynote by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.