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The Nation

"He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor."

In this era of ever-more-cautious electioneering, when consultants counsel contenders to stick to the safe, narrow and drab on the warped theory that the lowest common denominator is dull, the art of political sloganeering has hit something of a dry spell.

It may well be that the last really great -- or, at least memorable -- slogan was the one used by supporters of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, a man who had faced more than his share of corruption charges, in a 1991 contest with nuevo-Klansman David Duke: "Vote for the Crook. It's Important!"

But 2006 will be different. Country singer and novelist Kinky Friedman's campaign for governor of Texas has already produced the best bumpersticker slogan that the American political landscape has seen in years: "He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor."

Friedman's also got the best counter to the Bush administration's failed education initiatives. A campaign t-shirt declares: "No Teacher Left Behind."

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Running as an independent who must petition his way onto the fall ballot (his campaign is gearing up to collect signatures from more than 45,540 registered voters beginning March 8), Friedman's pitching a serious set of progressive education, health care and energy policy reforms. Two separate polls released in recent days have Friedman garnering around 10 percent support, behind the ridiculous incumbent, Rick Perry, and his chief challenger, State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn -- a Democrat turned Republican who is now running as an independent with the support of her youngest son, embattled White House spokesman Scott McClellan -- but quite close to overtaking the two Democrats who are trying to mount campaigns. (Perry, who inherited his job when George W. Bush was handed the presidency by the U.S. Supreme Court, may yet prove to be vulnerable. A recent Dallas Morning News poll found that, when asked to name the governor's most important accomplishment during five years in office, 70 percent could not think of anything.)

Even as his campaign gains the sort of attention and support that often causes candidates to put their personalities on hold, the man who once fronted the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys can be counted on to keep the Texas race worth watching. His campaign manifesto -- which begins by announcing: "Why the hell not?Texas politics stinks" -- makes that clear. "Texans are the most independent people in America, and if we're going to be inspired, the inspiration will come from someone unafraid to deal in new ideas and honest answers, an independent leader who lets the people call the plays instead of dancing to the tune of the money men," it explains. "That kind of leader is never going to look or sound like a politician. He won't steer by image polls, speak in hollow phrases approved by focus groups, or show up in hand-tailored suits."

For the record, Kinky wears blue jeans (faded), a black shirt (untucked), black books (slightly muddied), a black cowboy hat (beaten up a bit) and a Montecristo No. 2. cigar (ever present).

Happiness Means... Being At That Stones Concert In Rio

There's this Pew report out about happiness. (Don't you think that the very idea of quantifying happiness threatens it?) The report explains how happiness correlates with religiosity, marriage and wealth. My definition of happiness, as of midnight Sunday, in arctic New York City: On the beach in Rio, one of thousands, listening to Mick in that extraordinary, free Stones concert.

California Going Indie?

"California voters are shedding their identification with the two major political parties so rapidly that if current trends continue, independent voters could outnumber Democrats and Republicans in the Golden State by 2025."

That's a pretty bold statement coming from David Lesher and Mark Baldassare writing in this past Sunday's L.A. Times.

Whether or not they're over-stating a trend, these two guys are definitely onto something here. The drift away from partisan party-identified politics can go a long way to explain what some think the inscrutable quirkiness of Kahllyfornia voters (as a certain Governor would say).

The independent trend noted in the Times piece has been underway for more than a decade. Today almost 20% -- about 3 million registered California voters--have categorized themselves as "independent" or "decline to state." And these are, by far, the fastest growing sectors of the state electorate. Almost 80% of new registration falls into these categories. Nor does this burgeoning group fit neatly into a liberal or conservative box. Lesher and Baldassare write:

Polls show that about 60% of California independents favor tougher environmental regulations over economic growth, support a ban on offshore oil drilling and believe that global warming is a serious problem. Independent voters are also among the strongest supporters of such social innovations as medical marijuana use, assisted suicide for the terminally ill, the morning-after pill and hybrid automobiles. They back gay and lesbian marriage by a 20-point margin and a woman's right to abortion by 3 to 1.

At the same time, independents are largely responsible for keeping Proposition 13's anti-tax feelings alive. Most say they believe that government "wastes a lot of taxpayer money" and that Proposition 13 was a "good thing," according to the institute's surveys. Philosophically, independents split from Democrats by favoring smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. Still, an institute poll in January found independents supporting more money for education and health programs as well as proposed ballot measures to generate funds for healthcare and preschool.

Kinda complex, eh? One thing we know for certain from this info – as well as from recent election cycles – Republicans can't win statewide in California if they run too far to the right and alienate this vast swing constituency. But what is the lesson here for progressives? Is running as the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" the way to fire up these voters? Or are they looking for something new that transcends the current paradigm?

Listen to Fritz

Former South Carolina Senator Ernest Frederick "Fritz" Hollings came to the Senate in 1966 and retired in 2004, at the age of 82. Still sharp and spirited, he knows better than most what ails our politics today.

 

There is a cancer on the body politic: money.

 

Those words come from a lucid and must-read op-ed published today in the Washington Post.

The Senate used to be in session from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, working on the people's business. Today the average Senator spends nearly one-third of their time raising money.

 

The late senator Richard Russell of Georgia said a senator was given a six-year term -- two years to be a statesman, two to be a politician and two to demagogue. Now we take all six years to raise money.

 

Hollings's solution to this monstrous problem couldn't be more straight forward:

 

What is needed is a simple one-line amendment to the Constitution. It would authorize Congress to regulate or control spending in federal elections.

 

Because, as he notes:

 

The money crowd has the money, and representatives and senators need the money. But no one wants to touch the reason for the ethical misconduct. Excise the cancer of money, and most of the misconduct will disappear.

 

Amen.

By the Numbers

After I blogged yesterday about the shameful fact that the richest country in the world has a minimum wage that 1) hasn't budged since 1997 and 2) leaves hardworking people and families living in poverty, I came across this fact: 11,600 minimum-wage workers could be paid for an entire year from the Yahoo CEO's 2004 compensation.

Just think about that for a while. These numbers come from "By the Numbers"--a list put together by Representative Martin Olav Sabo, a Democrat from Minnesota. Sabo's Income Equity Act of 2005 would limit the tax-deductible salary of a corporation's CEO to twenty-five times the annual salary of its lowest-paid worker. Currently, that limit is set at $1 million, regardless of the salaries of the workers. There's a lot more to be done to achieve true economic justice and fairness in this country, but I say this is a proposal that Dems should fight for.

For more on how to make America help the working poor, read this powerful op-ed by former vice presidential candidate John Edwards and John Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE hotel workers union.

More Support for Impeachment Inquiry

The list of House members who have signed on as cosponsors of U.S. Representative John Conyers' resolution calling for the establishment of select committee that would examine whether President Bush and Vice President Cheney should face impeachment continues to grow. Four more members of the House have added their names to the resolution, bringing to 27 the total number of representatives, including Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who are calling for the creation of "a select committee to investigate the administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment."

The new cosponsors, all Democrats, are Wisconsin's Gwen Moore, New York's Nydia Velasquez, and John Olver and John Tierney of Massachusetts Wisconsin's Gwen Moore. Olver made his decision to sign on after meeting with Massachusetts members of the national group Progressive Democrats of America, which has been spearheading the drive to attract cosponsors.

Another cosponsor, California Democrat Barbara Lee, put the effort to hold the president and vice president to account in perspective Friday with a powerful critique of the administration's attempts to justify warrantless spying on Americans and other assaults on civil liberties and the rule of law.

"What separates us from terrorists is not simply that our principles are deeply offended by the idea of torture or the murdering of innocents, but that we are a nation of laws. Our principles are enshrined in our Constitution and a system of duly enacted laws, and in a government where all are accountable and no one is above the law," explained Lee, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"Our Constitution gives us a system of checks and balances and divided powers because our founders were bitterly familiar with dealing with an unaccountable executive and were determined that our nation should not have a king, nor any office like it," Lee added. "The president and his advisers have tried to make this a question of whether we will defend our nation. This is misleading. Democrats and Republicans alike are committed to vigorously defending our nation. The real question is whether we will just as fiercely defend those principles that define our nation and separate us from terrorists, namely our commitment to constitutional government and our respect for the rule of law."

Scooter Libby's Graymail

I just posted this at www.davidcorn.com....

Last week, I suggested that Scooter Libby might be trying to orchestrate a "graymail" defense--which is based on the implied threat of blowing national security secrets. That's being a patriot, right? It seems that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald believes this is what Libby is up to. In a filing Fitzgerald submitted to the court this week (which was released today), Fitzgerald opposed Libby's demand that Fitzgerald somehow force the CIA and White House to release classified information that is tangential to Libby's defense against the charge he lied too FBI agents and Fitzgerald's grand jury. Here's an excerpt from Fitzgerald's filing:

Libby requests copies of all Presidential Daily Briefs ("PDBs"), as well as all documents provided to Mr. Libby or the Vice President in connection with such briefings (or in response to any questions Mr Libby asked) for a period of nearly eleven months. The PDB is provided to the President and Vice President each day of the week other than Sunday. While employed at the White House, Libby was provided the PDB (in addition to supplemental materials provided to him and the Vice President) six days per week, sometimes in the presence of the Vice President.

The defendant's request to compel the production of approximately 277 PDBs from May 6, 2003 through March 24, 2004 to establish his "preoccupation defense" is nothing short of breathtaking. As the defendant well knows, the PDB is an extraordinarily sensitive document which implicates very serious concerns about both classified information and executive privilege. When President Bush declassified and made available a portion of the August 6, 2001, PDB discussing Usama Bin Laden in conjunction with the work of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, more commonly known as the "9/11 Commission," it apparently marked the first time that a sitting President has made a PDB publicly available.

The defendant's effort to make history in this case by seeking 277 PDBs in discovery -- for the sole purpose of showing that he was "preoccupied" with other matters when he gave testimony to the grand jury -- is a transparent effort at "greymail." A similar effort was rejected in George where a former CIA Deputy Director of Operations tried to grant himself de facto immunity by demanding access to materials so sensitive as to preclude prosecution if disclosure were required.

Fitzgerald 32-page response whacks Libby's request in other ways. It's quite a smack-down. Fitzgerald continues to insist this is a simple case: did Libby lie to FBI agents and his grand jury. Libby is trying to drag other issues into the picture--what damage was done by the Plame leak, what top-secret stuff he was working on at the time of the leak, whether Dick Cheney authorized him to leak intelligence information, and so on. Any bets on how ugly this might get? Or is Libby's legal posse just blowing smoke at the outset?

Sweet Victory: Preschool for All

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

It is universally acknowledged that preschool plays a critical role in the educational and social development of children. Studies have shown that those who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school, and more than 40 percent less likely to be placed in a special education program or to be arrested as a juvenile. Yet not one state in the union currently offers universal pre-k.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic wants to change this. This past Wednesday, Blagojevich http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/13/national/13illinois.html?_r=1&oref=slogin ">proposed in his new state budget a provision that would grant all three and four year-olds access to preschool, regardless of income. While Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida currently offer pre-k to four year-olds, Illinois would become the first state to provide genuinely universal preschool in the country's history.

"This isn't just an Illinois story, it's a national story," says Libby Doggett, Executive Director of Pre-K Now. "This week's announcement was wonderful for the children of Illinois but equally wonderful for the children across this country…Many many families will enjoy the benefits of this far-sighted and far-reaching vision."

As Nathan Newman notes, while Blagojevich may be facing investigations for pay-to-play politics, "Illinois has been quietly emerging as a national font of progressive ideas and legislation"-such as raising the minimum wage, protecting gay rights and stengthening labor laws.

Yet with budget concerns wracking Illinois, Doggett predicts that Blagojevich's pre-k proposal will face some stiff opposition. "It will be a fight. Children don't have a lobbyist, so it's difficult to see progress in this area," says Doggett. "But Governor Blagojevich, without doubt, is the biggest children's champion we have."

To learn how you can be a part of the movement for universal preschool not only in Illinois, but nationally, click http://www.preknow.org/resource/prekresources/index.cfm ">here.


Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.

The Shame of The Nation

The shame of the nation is revealed in this week's NewsFlash from the Economic Policy Institute. "Without a wage hike," EPI reports, "this year will usher in the greatest inequality between minimum-wage and average-wage workers since the end of World War II."

The minimum wage hasn't increased since 1997, and its real value has fallen drastically--with workers earning only 32 percent of the average hourly wage in 2005.

The United States is the richest nation. It is also the most unequal society in the industrialized world. How we change that immoral condition, and ensure shared prosperity for all citizens, may be our most important task in the years ahead.