Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tasers vs. high school students

Tiny Revolution shares this "There's a brewing controversy on this now in Wichita, Kansas, which I learned about from Jake Lowen of the excellent organization Hope Street Youth Development. Here's the timeline he sent:

February: Wichita Police introduce tasers into schools.

Early March: Students at Wichita West High School discover this and are understandably concerned. Organized by Hope Street, they gather 250 signatures on a letter to the school district asking about health effects and the district's use policy.

March 16th: A 15 year-old student is tasered during a confrontation at another high school, Wichita North. However, no one except those involved know at the time because the school district covers it up.

The next week: The tasering becomes public thanks to an anonymous tip from a teacher. The Wichita Eagle criticizes the school district for trying to hide it.

Today, March 30th: The Wichita Eagle reveals two other attempts to taser students, including a 14 year-old girl.

TCJ Picks up on Ryun sweetheart deal

Chris Moon in Thursday's Topeka Capital-Journal

"Ryun says home buy wasn't sweet deal"

Kansas Congressman Jim Ryun on Wednesday was trying to clear himself of political allegations he was involved in a dubious real estate deal five years ago.

The matter is part of the fallout from recent ethical scandals that have shaken Washington, D.C.

Ryun, R-Kan., purchased a Washington townhouse in 2000 from a nonprofit organization that had close ties to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who are at the center of a federal ethics shake-up.

The question is whether Ryun got a sweetheart deal on his townhouse, where he lives while in Washington.

Real estate records show he bought the home for $19,000 less than its sale price from two years earlier, despite escalating property values in the nation's capital. Since then, its appraised value has ballooned to $764,000.

Democrats pounced, implying the sale was a favor from corrupt characters in Washington.

"It's been said that you can judge a person by the company they keep, and this shows what kind of company Jim Ryun keeps in Washington," said Mike Gaughan, director of the Kansas Democratic Party, who sent a statement Wednesday blasting the Republican congressman from Lawrence.
Paul Kiel who broke the story at TPM Muckraker says
There are some gaping holes in his story.
Ryun's spokeswoman told the AP that "Ryun 'was not specifically lobbied by USFN' and that the group has not made any contributions to his campaign."

They weren't lobbied by the USFN? The USFN wasn't even a lobbying organization. Buckham's Alexander Strategy Group was, though. USFN's Chris Geeslin told us that "ASG was in charge of marketing the townhouse." Buckham used the USFN as his slush fund. So more to the point is whether ASG ever lobbied Ryun.

To bolster his argument, Ryun's office released documents showing that another home on the same block was sold for $409,000 on the same day he bought his home. Property records show the other home is on a land area about half the size of Ryun's and is now assessed at $236,000 less than Ryun's home.

If there's a good explanation for his deal, Ryun hasn't provided it yet.

Kansans like Kathleen more than George, or Sam or Pat

The latest Survey USA poll shows that Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius is more popular in Kansas than President George Bush or GOP Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts.

Sebelius Approve 60% Disapprove 34% Net Approval 26%
Brownback Approve 52% Disapprove 37% Net Approval 15%
Roberts Approve 50% Disapprove 38% Net Approval 12%
Bush Apppove 44% Disapprove 52% Net Approval -8%

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ryun's Sweetheart Deal from DeLay Front Group

Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker reports that Topeka Congressman Jim Ryun bought a Washington DC townhouse in 2000 at substantially under market value from a lobby closely connected with indicted Congressman Tom DeLay and corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramaoff

D.C. property records show that the townhouse was sold to Ryun for $410,000 on December 15, 2000. According to the Post, the USFN (US Family Network) purchased the townhouse for $429,000; the deed was signed January 12, 1999.

“Property sold to a member of Congress at substantially under market value can, in some instances, be construed as a de facto gift. In this case, that would be from the Buckham-controlled and Abramoff-client-funded front group USFN to Rep. Ryun,” writes Kiel

Naomi Seligman of CREW told that Ryun's house deal should prompt a House Ethics Committee investigation. "Who else in America has lost money on a real estate transaction except [Cunningham contractor felon] Mitchell Wade?"

U.S. Family Network (USFN)has been described as a "slush fund" for funds from special interests to DeLay projects.

Founded as a non profit in 1996 by Edwin Buckham, the USFN claimed to be a conservative grassroots lobbying organization created to promote "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." But its donor list suggests otherwise. Nearly the entire organization was funded by a few corporate and special interests that had no incentive to promote the USFN's purported goals. Most were also clients of Jack Abramoff.

Update #1 from TPM Muckraker

Don Boucher, an appraiser who focuses on residential properties in the D.C. area, said that the property should have appreciated “about 15% or more during that time period, meaning that it would have sold around $500,000.

Another appraiser, who preferred to remain anonymous because he often works with members of Congress, said that the townhouse should have appreciated "by $100,000 at least." He said the low sale price "wouldn't make sense at all unless there was a fire and the place was gutted." He added, "It looks like they gave it away."

There's also a question of whether the house was ever actually formally put on the market as opposed to being sold to the Ryun's in a private sale.

Update # 2 from Thoughts from Kansas

Using data from the US Government, we find that, given what was happening in the DC housing market, a house bought for $429,000 in Q1 of 1999 would have appreciated to about $530,000 by Q4 of 2000. That matches the intuition of DC area assessors.

By that standard, the house could have been worth as much as $1.2 million by the end of 2005. The DC assessor's office tallied it as worth about $920,000 for 2007 tax purposes.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What the Next Left Won't Look Like

An interesting web essay on the temptations facing the American left by Daraka Larimore-Hall

This is a tough time for the American left. We have seen a series of crushing electoral defeats and gains made by an increasingly bold far right. ... there is no real sign that the country can be turned around any time soon. Add to this the overwhelming feeling that huge swaths of American public opinion favor the repeal of the 20th Century, and it is easy to sink into defeatism, cynicism and frustration.

Nonetheless, opinion polls continue to point to solid majorities behind progressive reforms, in health care and education, and opinion tracking on gay rights and other social issues are, in general, trending our way. More people vote Democratic than Republican for the House and Senate, and the Republican edge in Presidential elections is miniscule, even if our electoral system makes it decisive. These are things to build on, to utilize as building blocks for a new progressive movement that is broad, multi-faceted, strategic and visionary. How, exactly, do we do this? To paraphrase Michael Harrington, if I knew this I would be President of the United States. I don’t know, and chances are any answers will emerge from trial and error as well as scholarly and popular debate- even blogging.

Below, however, is my attempt to outline a few of the tendencies which exist on the left which are decidedly not helpful: Minimalism, Denial, Sectarianism and Conspiracy Theory.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Progressive pocketbook issues not seen as "liberal"

David Sirota has an especially intriguing and important paragraph in a recent interesting column on the Working Families Party.

First, the background. The WFP is a "third party" in New York where the electoral laws permit "fusion" voting. Under this arrangement, more than one party can nominate the same candidate and votes under the various labels will count. Historically, the "American Labor" party was a fusion ticket pon which many socialist garment workers were able to vote for FDR in 1936 without voting for the dreaded Tammany Hall Democrats. Today, there are a number of fusion tickets in NY, including Conservative, Right to Life, and Liberal. The WFP is the newest.

Now, for the interesting paragraph

Voters in two of the most closely-decided Bush states were read a description of the WFP as a party that fights on "pocketbook" issues "like the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, the cost of prescription drugs and increasing the minimum wage." Voters then rated the party on a scale where 1 was extremely liberal and 9 extremely conservative. Fifty-seven percent of voters labeled the WFP at 5 or above.

Hmmm, maybe if the Dems pursued a strategy of "pocketbook" progressivism/populism, they might just have the potentional to garner a fair share of votes from "non-liberal" working class voters.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Iran's Brutal Assault on International Women's Day

From Doug Ireland's blog.

The following news report put together by Iranian feminists in Tehran and asked me to publish it.. It describes the Ahmadinejad regime's brutal assault yesterday on women celebrating International Women's Day in the Islamic Republic of Iran. So far, this asssault has been blacked out in the mainstream press:

Tehran, March 8— (Note: the photos below of the march and demonstration, all taken before the police charged, were supplied by Tehran feminists; the originals may be seen by clicking here.)

The peaceful gathering of women's rights activists, women's groups and human rights defenders who had gathered in Park Daneshjoo (Student Park) yesterday, in commemoration of March 8th, International Women's Day, ended in violence, when they were attacked and assaulted by plain clothes militia, special anti riot forces of the Revolutionary guards, soldiers and police.Intl_womens_day_logo

Tehran_womens_march_1 Approximately 1,000 women had gathered in Park Daneshjoo on the occasion of the International Women's Day to emphasize their stance in support of women's human rights and peace. The ceremony which started at 4:00 pm, and was scheduled to last one hour, was charged by security forces shortly after it began, who relentlessly beat the protesters, in an effort to disperse the group.

The sit-in, which was organized by independent women's groups and activists, wasTehran_march_2 supposed to be carried out silently, with protesters holding signs reading some of the following statements and slogans: discrimination against women, is an abuse of their human rights; women demand their human rights; women oppose any form of forced aggression or war; Iranian women demand peace; injustice means discrimination against women, etc.

Ten minutes into the protest, after security forces had managed to fully film and photograph the protesters for follow-up and interrogations at a later time, the women were asked to disperse, on the grounds that their assembly was illegal and did not have a permit. At this point, the protesters started singing the Tehran_march_3 anthem of the women's movement, which again calls for changes in their human rights status. At 4:20 the final statement of the sit in was read, during which the security forces dumped cans of garbage on the heads of women who were seated in an effort to prevent easy dispersal. The security forces then charged the group and began beating the protesters. Even after the protesters had dispersed many were followed by the security forces and beaten. Some of the female protesters were beaten repeatedly with batons, and some male protesters were beaten severely by security forces who administered the beatings in teams.

Click this link for more of the report.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mo and Kansas Dems are upbeat

St. Louis Today ( Post-Dispatch) on Missouri

Smelling the prospect of victory in this year's elections, Missouri Democrats used their annual Democrat Days as a platform to launch bare-knuckled jabs at the Republicans now in charge of the state and the country.

State Auditor Claire McCaskill announced Saturday that she firmly opposes a contract, backed by President George W. Bush's administration, that would allow state-owned Dubai Ports World to take over operations at six U.S. ports.

She said the Middle Eastern country of Dubai had too many troubling ties to terrorism. She then contrasted her stance - "I'm not questioning it, I'm opposed to it" - to that of the Republican she seeks to replace, U.S. Sen. Jim Talent.

McCaskill accused Talent of waffling on the subject because he has raised concerns but not taken a firm position.

McCaskill's campaign workers distributed posters that portray Talent as a "half-baked waffle," while various Democrats poked at Talent's decision to drop his support of a bill to outlaw embryonic stem-cell research.

State House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the Republicans have two candidates running for the U.S. Senate: the Jim Talent who supports stem cell research and the Jim Talent who opposes it.

The Kansas scence from Steve Kraske, political correspondent for the Kansas City Star in the Wichita Eagle

The crowds. The enthusiasm. The hordes of young people. And to top it off, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the rock star of the Democratic Party.

For Kansas Democrats gathered Friday in Topeka at their annual convention, the scene was like a blast out of the very distant past.

More than 1,100 party faithful squeezed into the Ramada Inn's biggest convention room, as 200 more watched on a TV nearby.

The last time Democrats gathered in numbers anywhere close was back in the early '80s, when Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., spoke in the state capital.

To be sure, the GOP remains the dominant party in Kansas. But internal strife has taken a toll. For the first time in years, the Democrats have the mojo.

"Maybe we're the cool party," mused longtime Democratic activist Glenn Staab of Hays.

For so many years, these Democratic Washington Days "celebrations" were desultory affairs. Democrats were like the losers you knew in high school. Republicans had the juice, the deep pockets and seemingly all the winners.

Now, it's different.

A New History of Haymarket

Hisotrian James Green has written a new history of the Haymarket tragedy. It won't replace Paul Avrich's definitive 1984 history, but it probably deserves a place along side it.

Caleb Crain reviews it in The New Yorker.

Green explains why he wrote another book on Haymarket on the History News Network

I was less concerned with retrying the case by revisiting the crime scene and courtroom than I was with creating new contexts for the Haymarket story.

The first context was the Great Upheaval in working class America that centered on Chicago during the 1886 struggle for the eight-hour day. I wanted to tie Haymarket to the birth of the nation’s first labor movement with all the dreams and hopes, passions and tensions it aroused. My editor and I believed that the reading public--historically-minded people who purchase and try to read huge historical biographies of presidents, generals and tycoons--had simply never encountered this story, or this kind of story, in reading popular non-fiction. I had long believed that labor history, though a somewhat marginalized field within the profession, was the repository of some of the most dramatic, even epic, stories in U.S. history.

Green's website is also worth a visit.

Chairman of the Senate Coverup Committee

Think Progress Nails Kansas Senator Pat Roberts

As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Pat Roberts’s (R-KS) duty is “to provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States” and “to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” But on the most important intelligence issues facing Americans – such as the manipulation of Iraq intelligence, warrantless domestic spying, and torture - Roberts has transformed his committee into a “Senate Coverup Committee” for the Bush administration.

Lot's of details. Someone should reprint it and distribute it widely.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Neo-cons and Shachtmanites--Not

Norm Geras recommends a new blog by Dave Osler. Dave's Part looks like a very fine blog and Dave seems to be a fellow with good politics, left, but anti-democratic centralist.

Norm steers us to Dave's post on Neo-conservatives which offers a critique of Adam Curtis’s television documentary series, 'The Power of Nightmares'and makes some valid points. Including this

No serious account of of the doctrine can fail to address the inputs of Max Shachtman and Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. But astonishingly, Curtis rates neither as worthy even of a name check.

Unfortunately, Osler mangles the details when he writes
A number of prominent neocons were associated with Shachtman in their youth, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
This is completely wrong. I don't think Kirkpatrick, Perle, or Wolfowitz ever met Shachtman who died in 1972. Some of his followers. most prominently Tom Kahn supported Henry Jackson in the Democratic primaries that year and probably came into contact with Perle at about that time.

So the influence of Shachtman on neo-conservativsm is much more indriect and convoluted than Osler paints it.

Ralph Seliger has an accurate account of Shachtman, his followers, and neo-conservatism in the first issue of Engage's journal. Seliger knew many of the younger generation of Shachtmanites before they become neo-cons. And Ben Ross discusses the Shachtmanites and Straussians in Dissent.

Another reliable account is Bill King's "Neoconservatives and Trotskyism." King is a conservative, or at least his essay appears on a conservative webstie. But he has a solid knowledge of the left's intellectual history.
despite its current popularity, the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion contributes nothing to our understanding of the origins, or nature, of neoconservatism. In fact quite the opposite. While it is based on elements of truth, the assertion for the most part consists of exaggerations, misrepresentations, and even outright falsifications whose end result is a thoroughly distorted view of the history of neoconservatism.
King concludes with this ironic paragraph
What makes all this so ironic is that it is the paleoconservatives and anti-neocon liberals themselves who not so long ago marched together with Trotskyists -- the real ones that is -- in opposition to the toppling of Saddam's dictatorship in Iraq. Even more, they have featured articles attacking US foreign policy by prominent long-time Trotskyists on the very same web sites in which they have accused neoconservatives and the Defense department of… Trotskyism! Amidst the shrillness of their accusations one thing is certain: the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion is without a doubt one of the major oddities of recent American intellectual life

Strangely enough, Osler despite the slip above, ends his blog entry on a similar note

in the final analysis, whether America’s post 9/11 foreign policy can be labelled distinctively neoconservative or not is a point of crucial importance to perhaps two groups. The first is the hardened factionalists jockeying for position on the US right. The second is that section of liberal opinion that - to invert a Straussian idea - needs the neoconservative threat as a ‘necessary myth’ to rally its forces.

It looks Dave's Part will be blog worth following.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Washington Day interviews

Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas interviews Barak Obamma before his speech at the Kansas Democrat's Washington Day event and 3rd District Congressman Dennis Moore.

Obama sold out the banquet fundraiser, so the Dems set up a rally with a lower ticket ($20 vs. $100+) and that sold out too.

Challenger for BOE Radical

Hutchinson News editorial

Ken Willard, one of the Radical Six on the Kansas Board of Education, will face a primary challenger this election cycle.

Donna Viola filed last week as a Republican candidate.

That will pit Viola, president of the McPherson USD 418 Board of Education, against Willard, former president of the Nickerson-South Hutchinson USD 309 Board of Education, in the District 7 race.

Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, has played an integral role in advancing the state board ís increasingly radical agenda for education in Kansas since being elected in 2002.

He lobbied the Legislature to undermine local authority and establish statewide standards for a suitable education. He supported efforts to relax rules for charter schools in Kansas. He expressed interest in school vouchers. He voted for science standards adopted after contrived hearings before a three-member subcommittee of the board. He voted to overrule local boards with a statewide policy allowing parents to determine whether their children would enroll in sex education classes. He voted to hire someone without any experience in education or public administration as Kansas education commissioner.

Moreover, in meetings with local boards and in conversations with constituents, Willard defends those controversial actions with evasive answers and disingenuous claims.
Four of the five BOE incumbents up for re-election in 2006 are part of the radical majority. In the 2002 general election, one was elected with no opponent and two faced only write-in opponents.

This year there are already declared Demoratic candidates in two of those districts with moderate GOP alternatives in one of those and one other. Here's what I understand to the the BOE election situation as of now.

District 1 Janet Waugh D incumbent moderate unopposed

District 3 John Bacon R incumbent radical opposed by
Harry McDonald moderate Republican
Don Weiss moderate Democrat

District 5 Connie Morris R incumbent radical opposed by
Sally Cauble moderate Republican
Tim Cruz moderate Democrat

District 7 Ken Willard R incumbent radical opposed by
Donna Viola Republican moderate

District 9 Iris Van Meter R incumbent radical opposed by
Dr. Kent Runyan moderate Democrat

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hope for Kansas Dems

An interesting article by the Eagle's Alan Bjerga gives an upbeat picture for Kansas Dems. This is probably close to the conventional wisdom. Most informed observers of Kansas politics wouldn't disagree much.

Traditionally outnumbered in a majority-Republican state, Kansas Democrats tend not to have much firepower when trying to gain more votes at the ballot box.

This year they have a governor, and they're running with it.

Kansas Democrats gather in Topeka today for the party's annual Washington Days convention to build up a party they're boosting through Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who so far is favored to win re-election this November.

Sebelius dwarfs her Republican opponents in funding and name recognition. None of those candidates has emerged as the clear leader in the race to face her this fall.

Republicans are putting less energy into defeating incumbent Rep. Dennis Moore, the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation. Instead, they're focusing more on defending Attorney General Phill Kline. He faces a strong challenge from Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison, a Republican who switched parties to face Kline.

Sebelius said she's involved in recruiting candidates for the Legislature.

What did stand out was this extreme statement from Republican State Chairman Tim Shallenberger.
"Democrats don't want people to know where they stand," he said. "They won't talk on social issues, they won't talk about (labor) unions, they'll hide from their national leadership. The Democrats have no morals."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

National Journal Ranks Senate and House

The National Journal has just released their 2005 rankings of Senators and Represenatives. The NJ rates votes as liberal or conservative and provides a further breakdown into three components.

It's a pretty neat tool, with on-line sorting available.

Here's what it says about my home state of Kansas

Sam Brownback scores 79 percent conservative and 21 percent liberal. That makes him only the 21st most conservative Senator. That's the mirror image of Hilary Clinton who scored 79 percent liberal and 21 percent conservative.

Brownback's component scores were Economic 80 Social 64 and Foreign 74.

Since Brownback is considered the darling of the social conservatives, I'm not sure what to make of this.

Pat Roberts scored 31.5 percent conservative and 68.5 percent liberal. That makes him the 38th most conservative Senator.

Roberts' components were Economic 72 Social 62 and Foreign 65.

Todd Tiahrt (R-4th District -Wichita) tied for 15th most conservative Congressman with a Conservative score of 92.

Jim Ryun (R-2nd District-Topeka) was only a little behind Tiahrt scoring 90.5 on the Journal's conservative scale.

While Tiahrt and Ryun scores reveal them to be extreme Conservatives out of touch with their constituents (both districts have elected moderates Democrats in the past), the state's other two Congressmen Jerry Moran and Dennis Moore are shown to be a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat respectively. In fact, their scores are almost mirror images.

Jerry Moran (R-1st District Western Kansas) scored 66.7 on the conservative scale.
On the economic component his conservative score was 68. The social component was 78 percent and the foreign component was 53 percent

Dennis Moore (D-3rd--Kansas City and Johnson County) scored ranked 38 percent on the conservative scale (which is 62 percent on the liberal scale). Interstingly, that's the same score as Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha. Moore's component scores were 37 conservative on economics, 35 percent conservative on social issues, and 42 percent conservative on foreign.

The NJ explains its methodology here. The Senate votes are found here and the House votes here.