Non-Partisan Elections = Dumber Voters?

Aaron Rutkoff | Wall Street Journal

The push for nonpartisan elections is back. But reformers better watch what they wish for: an academic study warns that nonpartisan elections create a less informed electorate, resulting in less competitive local elections.

Voters handily defeated the initiative in 2003, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg put big money behind a push to abolish party primaries in New York City. But the Charter Revision Commission is once again considering placing the proposal before voters this fall and will convene a panel on the subject tonight.

As The Journal’s Michael Howard Saul reports, three possible Democratic contenders for mayor in 2013 — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer — are speaking at a rally today in opposition to the nonpartisan proposal. A fourth top Democrat and possible mayoral candidate, Comptroller John Liu, is also part of the effort to defeat the measure.

For these top Democratic office holders, the incentive to keep partisan primaries is clear: the current system has put these politicians near the top of the heap. Bloomberg, as a self-financed political outsider, has an equally clear motivation for seeking to end the current primary system. He became a Republican before his first run for mayor because he had virtually no chance to win a Democratic primary.

But what the rest us non-candidates? What would nonpartisan elections do for us? According to David Schleicher, a law professor and native New Yorker who has studied municipal elections, nonpartisan balloting would make city voters less informed, less likely to vote and would create a less competitive atmosphere in down-ballot races.

Schleicher, who teaches at George Mason University Law School, is no fan of the status quo. “The current system of local elections is a disaster,” he says of New York City. “But nonpartisan elections take a bad situation and make it worse. In general, nonpartisan elections are a terrible idea.”

Read more…

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Rand Paul Remarks Lead Kentucky Legislature To Adopt Civil Rights Legislation

This dude is friggin’ scary!

The Associated Press

The Kentucky Senate, reacting to a divisive comment by Republican Rand Paul, has adopted a resolution declaring any form of discrimination to be inconsistent with American values. Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal introduced the resolution Friday during a special session on the state budget. It was adopted without objection in the predominantly Republican chamber. Neal, Kentucky’s only black state senator, said he took personal offense at the comment made last week by Paul, a U.S. Senate candidate, who was criticizing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul said in an MSNBC interview that the federal government shouldn’t have the power to force restaurants to serve minorities if business owners don’t want to. Neal said Paul’s “extreme belief” has made Kentucky “a laughingstock.”

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Wall Street Strikes Back

Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

It’s early May in Washington, and something very weird is in the air. As Chris Dodd, Harry Reid and the rest of the compulsive dealmakers in the Senate barrel toward the finish line of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act – the massive, year-in-the-making effort to clean up the Wall Street crime swamp – word starts to spread on Capitol Hill that somebody forgot to kill the important reforms in the bill. As of the first week in May, the legislation still contains aggressive measures that could cost once- indomitable behemoths like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase tens of billions of dollars. Somehow, the bill has escaped the usual Senate-whorehouse orgy of mutual back-scratching, fine-print compromises and freeway-wide loopholes that screw any chance of meaningful change.

The real shocker is a thing known among Senate insiders as “716.” This section of an amendment would force America’s banking giants to either forgo their access to the public teat they receive through the Federal Reserve’s discount window, or give up the insanely risky, casino-style bets they’ve been making on derivatives. That means no more pawning off predatory interest-rate swaps on suckers in Greece, no more gathering balls of subprime shit into incomprehensible debt deals, no more getting idiot bookies like AIG to wrap the crappy mortgages in phony insurance. In short, 716 would take a chain saw to one of Wall Street’s most lucrative profit centers: Five of America’s biggest banks (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup) raked in some $30 billion in over-the-counter derivatives last year. By some estimates, more than half of JP Morgan’s trading revenue between 2006 and 2008 came from such derivatives. If 716 goes through, it would be a veritable Hiroshima to the era of greed.

“When I first heard about 716, I thought, ‘This is never gonna fly,'” says Adam White, a derivatives expert who has been among the most vocal advocates for reform. When I speak to him early in May, he sounds slightly befuddled, like he can’t believe his good fortune. “It’s funny,” he says. “We keep waiting for the watering-down to take place – but we keep getting to the next hurdle, and it’s still staying strong.”

In the weeks leading up to the vote on the reform bill, I hear one variation or another on this same theme from Senate insiders: that the usual process of chipping away at key legislation is not taking place with its customary dispatch, despite a full-court press by Wall Street. The financial-services industry has reportedly flooded the Capitol with more than 2,000 paid lobbyists; even veteran members are stunned by the intensity of the blitz. “They’re trying everything,” says Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio. Wall Street’s army is especially imposing given that the main (really, the only) progressive coalition working the other side of the aisle, Americans for Financial Reform, has been in existence less than a year – and has just 60 unpaid “volunteer” lobbyists working the Senate halls.

The companies with the most at stake are particularly well-connected. The lobbying campaign for Goldman Sachs, for instance, is being headed up by a former top staffer for Rep. Barney Frank, Michael Paese, who is coordinating some 14 different lobbying firms to fight on Goldman’s behalf. The bank is also represented by Capitol Hill heavyweights like former House majority leader Dick Gephardt and former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein. All told, there are at least 40 ex-staffers of the Senate Banking Committee – and even one former senator, Trent Lott – lobbying on behalf of Wall Street. Until the final weeks of the reform debate, however, it seemed that all these insiders were facing the prospect of a rare defeat – and they weren’t pleased. One lobbyist even complained to The Washington Post that the bill was being debated out in the open, on the Senate floor, instead of in a smoky backroom. “They’ve got to get this thing off the floor and into a reasonable, behind-the-scenes” discussion, he groused. “Let’s have a few wise fathers sit around the table in some quiet room” to work it out.

As it neared the finish line, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act was almost unprecedentedly broad in scope, in some ways surpassing even the health care bill in size and societal impact. It would rein in $600 trillion in derivatives, create a giant new federal agency to protect financial consumers, open up the books of the Federal Reserve for the first time in history and perhaps even break up the so-called “Too Big to Fail” giants on Wall Street. The recent history of the U.S. Congress suggests that it was almost a given that they would fuck up this one real shot at slaying the dragon of corruption that has been slowly devouring not just our economy but our whole way of life over the past 20 years. Yet with just weeks left in the nearly year-long process at hammering out this huge new law, the bad guys were still on the run. Even the senators themselves seemed surprised at what assholes they weren’t being. This new baby of theirs, finance reform, was going to be that one rare kid who made it out of the filth and the crime of the hood for everybody to be proud of.

Then reality set in.

Read more…

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NY Senate Passes Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

Congratulations to the women of Domestic Workers United who have fought for nearly six years to get this bill passed. I’m truly inspired by your passion and fortitude.

State Senate Passes Housekeeper Overtime Bill

The Associated Press

ALBANY- The New York Senate passed a bill on Tuesday requiring overtime pay and at least one day off weekly for 200,000 housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers in the state. The Assembly passed a similar measure last year.

Advocates say that if Gov. David A. Paterson signs the bill, New York would become the first state establishing those rights for household workers.

Overtime pay would be required for eight-hour workdays. Federal minimum wage laws already apply to such workers.

The Senate measure was approved 33 to 28. Unlike the Assembly bill, it guarantees a half-dozen paid holidays, seven sick days and five vacation days annually. Both bills would establish collective bargaining rights.

Lawmakers will have to reconcile differences.

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Arizona – The State of Hate

Below is an piece written by my friend and RTTC colleague Marisa Franco, an Arizona native, on the immigration battle in AZ.

Marisa Franco | Organizing Upgrade

I remember a childhood of listening to the stories of my elders, sitting at a kitchen table with thick mugs filled with more milk than coffee. There was my Nana Tonia, who came in the early 1920’s with her family from Sonora, México. My Tata Emilio’s eyes would gleam as he spoke, describing the orchard trees along South Mountain and Baseline Road, the ranches, the farms all around. He loved to point out how much things used to cost in the early days, breakdown what it cost to feed his family and pay the rent and match that to the wages he made as a janitor, a musician and a groundskeeper.

Stories like theirs constitute the backbone of the history of the state of Arizona. Their labor helped build the foundation upon which the 5th largest city of the United States operates upon today.  And I wonder, what would they think about what is happening in Arizona now, days after the passage of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law?

In the Arizona of today, you can get charged with smuggling – yourself.

In the Arizona of today, the chain gangs of the Jim Crow era are alive and well.

In the Arizona of today, undocumented students are forced to pay triple tuition for a college education.

And, after the signing of Senate Bill 1070, police can stop and question you because you look illegal.

Arizona – a state built by the hands of many people, of many colors and many languages – has taken another step in the wrong direction. Since 2005, almost 6,000 immigration-related bills have been introduced in the state legislature; many have passed with examples noted above. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made it his personal mission to hunt migrants in the community and humiliate inmates in county jails. Check points are scattered throughout the state.  Others have begun to follow this example, as day laborers have been attacked as they wait for work on street corners.  Last summer, nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father were shot and killed in their home; three members of the Minutemen Militia have been arrested and charged for the crime.

The state government has been converted into a legislative laboratory and thus represents an epicenter of the anti-immigrant movement. And as a result, a veil of fear and terror has been laid upon the population.  Daily routines have become a risk.  A child going to school has to wonder whether she will see her mother or father when she comes home.  A quick trip to the store requires heavy good byes reserved for long journeys.  I was in Arizona the week SB1070 was signed into law and I heard stories of pregnant women coming in to community centers to ask if it was safe to go to the hospital to give birth.  The answer was, “No.”

The struggles around immigration are among the defining civil and human rights issues of our time, and Arizona has become the new Alabama.  Governor Jan Brewer made the choice to stand on the wrong side of history last week.  In exchange for votes she has solidified her place in history alongside segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace.  Wallace clung to the institution of racial segregation in the South, defending it by arguing for state’s rights over the federal government.  Governor Brewer and Republican politicians in Arizona will echo this argument, a general strategy of the Right wing under an Obama Administration, which emerged in the health care debates this year.

In a state nearing bankruptcy, with exploding foreclosures and growing unemployment, elected officials have chosen to target the state’s most vulnerable population instead of develop serious solutions to the state’s problems.  In this time of economic instability, people are increasingly fearful and uncertain of how things can get better.  The rhetoric behind bills like SB1070 is reckless and irresponsible, as they paint a narrative that blames immigrants for all the nations ills.  But there is a silver lining that comes from characters like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, legislation like SB1070 and politicians like State Senator Russell Pearce: they wake the people up. Because of SB 1070 the nation has turned its eyes upon Arizona. Now, the question becomes: Will the resistance multiply, or will the hate?

Read more…

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The Carlicious Summer Reading List

Developing a reading list for the summer. I don’t have a ton of time, but I do read fast so I should be able to get through a number of books. Here’s what I have so far:

1. Naked, David Sedaris

2. The Biography of Bayard Rustin, John D’Emilio

3. The World Turned, John D’Emilio

4. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

5. To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton, Huey P. Newton

6. The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

7. A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr

Any other recommendations?

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Chasing Waterfalls: Remembering T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli

TLC is my favorite musical group. Always has been and always will be.

I first heard TLC nearly 20 years ago when my family first got cable. I wasn’t allowed to watch television at the time so I would turn the volume down on the television and flip through the channels while grandmother was cooking. MTV was one of the first channels that I flipped to accidentally and I was immediately addicted. The first music video that I remember watching is TLC’s “Baby, Baby, Baby”. I fell in love with them instantly. I tried to mimick T-Boz’ deep husky voice, Left Eye helped introduce me to condoms/safe sex, and I was captivated by Chilli’s beauty. I learned every song from their first album, bought the poster, the T-shirt, and all of their magazine covers. But it was their second album that changed the way that I thought about music.

CrazySexyCool, debuted during my freshman year of high school. I have to admit, I wasn’t as impressed with the first two singles “Creep” and “Red Light Special”. But the third single “Waterfalls” – a warning about drug abuse, gang violence, and unprotected sex – delivered.  As an aspiring entertainer TLC taught me that music didn’t have to be about relationships, money, guns, or material objects (the prevalent subject matter of black music at the time). Rather, it could also have a social meaning.  Combined with gender bender performances and outfits laced with condoms, this hint of social consciousness separated TLC from their contemporaries. Every song that I’ve written since then has been informed in some way by “Waterfalls”.

On April 25, 2002 TLC’s career was cut short by the untimely death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in a car accident while vacationing in Honduras. I was devastated. The group went on to complete an album begun prior to Left Eye’s death and have since retired. Most recently T-Boz was on Celebrity Apprentice and Chilli has a Vh1 celebreality show.

Here are my top 7 TLC songs. What are yours?

1. “Damaged”, from 3D

2. “Baby, Baby, Baby”, from Ooooh… on the TLC Tip

3. “Waterfalls”, from CrazySexyCool

4. “Unpretty” from Fanmail

5. “If They Knew” from Fanmail

6. “Something Wicked This Way Goes” from CrazySexyCool

7. “Turntable” from 3D

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