November 08, 2006

Going Forward

Congratulations, Speaker Pelosi and (please) Majority Leader Reid. Congratulations definitely to Howard Dean for ramping up DNC presence all over the country, putting the groundwork in place that let Democrats be competitive in surprising places. The DSCC and DCCC worked hard and volunteers all over the country were canvassing and calling until the last possible minute. I don't know if it was standard operating procedure everywhere, but the Burner campaign sent people on foot through all their precincts twice yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised that even those who'd been visited twice were mostly just glad to see someone willing to be out in the rain to ask for their vote. And now, it's time for something completely different.

The minimum wage hike initiatives that passed in evey state where they were on the ballot were a definite thumbs up for at least one part of Pelosi's first 100 hours plan. I think everyone who isn't a disgraced Republican congresscritter would like to see the 9/11 Commission's recommendations enacted, as per that same plan, as well as get rules in place to thin out the connection between lobbying and legislation.

Further, with a partially netroots-powered majority in place in the House, I'm guessing that challenges to net neutrality are stone dead for the time beang. Long live the internet and the marketplace of ideas.

Subpoena power can be a beautiful thing, and the specter of it had to have been part of the motivation for Rumsfeld's removal. There will be hearings, oh yes, there will be. Of course, there's a lot of work that needs to get done. There are two things I'd like to see pushed more, and about which I'll be badgering the office of whomever's district I happen to live in.

Top on my agenda: Election reform. Public financing sounds better every cycle. I also like Ron Wyden's vote by mail plan a whole, whole bunch. Oregon has over 80 percent voter turnout, voters have more time to research what's on their ballots, and many of the possible points of failure in terms of vote fraud are entirely eliminated. We've got something similar in Thurston Co., WA, where I live. All the vote is by mail, there's time to go to the auditor's office and fix problems, and there's no need for anyone to wait in a line or trust the discretion of a hastily trained volunteer poll judge. There's always a paper trail and time to fix problems before election day.

Of course, the ballots still have to be counted. After seeing Hacking Democracy the other day, I'd like to see it made illegal to use proprietary systems to count votes. If any county decides that they need to use electronic voting, the code should be either open source or readily available for public review. It should be unacceptable to have a voting system without a hardcopy trail of individual votes that are reviewed by the voter as they cast their ballot.

Democracy begins at home.

Second issue: Agricultural reform. The 2007 Farm Bill looms. Do you know what the Democratic or Republican parties' agriculture platforms are? Neither do I. It's an issue so thoroughly and utterly neglected that the only time we hear about it is when the Republicans trot out the mental imagery of the family farm to drum up support for ending the estate tax on billionaires or kill needed environmental management rules.

Meanwhile, real family farms are falling to the ax because they can't support themselves anymore. The sewage pollution and infrastructure demands of large agribusiness concerns are alternately poisoning rural communities and bleeding their coffers dry. Food quality is declining. The companies who make chemical fertilizers load them up with industrial waste that doesn't have to be named on the label, then unknowing farmers spread that waste on their fields where it gets onto, or into, the food that winds up on our table. Rocket fuel from military bases has contaminated the water that grows most of the country's lettuce. Our topsoil is washing away down the Mighty Mississippi, along with enough agrochemical pollution to create a huge ocean dead zone, an area of oxygen depleted water in which no marine life can survive, in the Gulf of Mexico every year. Droughts seem to be an ongoing problem and given the global weather picture, are probably just going to get worse. We may need to look at a way to nationally fund more efficient farmland irrigation.

If the Democrats can come together with a cohesive way to talk about agricultural policy that ties in to their environmental stances, much the way Montana Democrats have joined in environmental solitude with hunters and fishers, it will go a long way towards defusing the partisan divide on these topics. There are a lot of successful, grassroots programs and environmental tourism projects that are making small farms a part of the solution to these dilemmas, even bringing them on board as active stewards of wetlands and wilderness corridors.

This is an issue that nobody talks about but everybody should. In my not especially humble (about this) opinion. Democrats took major steps yesterday towards being a national party again, not just a party of the coasts and the cities as it was becoming easy to label them. Get a substantial farm policy going, nationalize that dialogue in a way that pulls in support from the traditionally Democratic environmental voters, and we could see rural red counties go blue with a quickness.

Issue the third: Connect politics back to the community. Devilstower wrote a diary the other day about changing the political game. In addition to moving towards public financing of campaigns, he suggested that part of a candidate's job should be to raise money for charity, instead of solely for their own election efforts. I think that's a great idea, and some supporters of Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential primary set similarly to work with great results, but I think that doesn't quite go far enough.

We've got this great 50-state strategy plan as a party. Compete in every district. Leave no state behind. Talk to voters everywhere. What if raising money for charity was an integral part of that? What if, during non-election years, the party faithful were asked to continue their involvement through donation drives and volunteering for community service work parties?

The Democratic party has a problem in that a too significant part of its urban base is composed of people who are essentially rootless. The nation has a problem in that aging members of the population are increasingly disconnected from their communities and feel unwanted, though they have more time and are more willing to be involved in community-building activities like political organizing and volunteering. Young people, and this is a problem that knows no boundaries, are too often disastrously bored and feel excluded or dismissed.

No one group's organizing activity is going to fully address these problems. Though a political party that cuts across all these demographics and acted to address them head on through promoting useful work and community involvement could prove all day long that they were interested in fixing them. When election seasons came around, the same volunteers that go out canvassing would then be running across people they'd worked with at a soup kitchen or a Habitat for Humanity project. They might visit the home of a family whose kids got school supplies this year courtesy of a Democratic Party donation drive.

That would be a revolutionary change in the political conversation. It would be a huge step towards getting people to viscerally understand the Democratic party's commitment to the value of public service and the public good. And it wouldn't be terrible if the Republicans tried to copy it, but could create a rare, virtuous circle.

There are a lot of other important issues, naturally, and others will no doubt be addressing them at length and with eloquence. But if I had to pick only three to talk about or promote, these would be them.

Posted by natasha at November 8, 2006 04:30 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |
Comments

Hi Natasha! (We spoke at the Darcy party. I was the one live-blogging for DKos on my phone :)

It was great seeing so many people there and energized by an election. This was the first time I've ever been involved in a campaign, and now I'm hooked... let's hope that the local (and national Dems) keep building on this base of support and organization.

As you note, we have a lot of work to do in the next two years. Dems won't be able to run in 2008 on a "Bush Sucks" platform; instead, we'll have to show that we're capable of addressing and solving the big national problems.

Top of the agenda should be driving alternative energy adoption (cf. the Apollo Alliance.) That's an issue that can unite environmentalists and farmers, as well as people concerned about national security. Also, a sensible energy policy is necessarily community-based, involving transportation, zoning and taxation issues.

Posted by: Rick at November 8, 2006 08:39 PM

hi natasha! just stopped by to say congrats on all the hard work you pacviewers put into the election, and congrats to us all!

Posted by: skippy at November 9, 2006 12:20 AM

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Posted by: ccoaler at November 9, 2006 04:01 PM

Rick - I was just writing my ag prof about the Apollo Alliance, and I'm so with you on this one. But what I'd say is that you can't fix energy without fixing the food system. A lot of energy gets wasted transporting food farther than it needs to go and huge amounts of fossil fuels are needed to supply the chemical inputs for conventional agriculture. Also, yay biofuels.

skippy - THANK YOU!!! :)

Posted by: natasha at November 9, 2006 07:29 PM

You: Top on my agenda: Election reform.

Me: Good points.

Y: Second issue: Agricultural reform. The 2007 Farm Bill looms. Do you know what the Democratic or Republican parties' agriculture platforms are?

Me: The cleavage is basically little guy (Dem's position)
versus big guys (Rep. money-takers), with some
fiscally responsible Rep.s on the other side, not to
mention the usual dollup of Dem's crossing over,
too.

Most federal money goes to the way-big operators
that only really need it, in some instances, because
of foreign competition.

The little guy position is to focus federal money
on the small farmer and let the big operations make
it on their own. More little guys, healthier small
towns.

Y:...It's an issue so thoroughly and utterly neglected that the only time we hear about it is when the Republicans trot out the mental imagery of the family farm to drum up support for ending the estate tax on billionaires or kill needed environmental management rules.

Me: Much federal funding was/is tied to conservation
measures (taking vulnerable land out of production).
So, the claim is that herding the big boys away from
the federal trough would mean that a huge amount
of unsuitable land would be put back in production.

Y: Meanwhile, real family farms are falling to the ax because they can't support themselves anymore.

Me: The above fed. monies being shoveled toward the
big boy waddlers means that the smaller, leaner
operations are at a disadvantage, and hence the
famous Earl Butz quote: "Get big or get out".
This, despite the fact that smaller operations are
actually at least as efficient (see The Center For
Rural Affairs for data).

You: [Environmental issues]

Me: Taking unsuitable farmland out of production has
done wonders for reducing erosion. There's still
a lot more to be done, but solid progress has been
made.
Mega-hog operations (chickens, elsewhere) are
creeping into this area. Many communities have
fought--sometimes successfully--to keep things
smaller scale, small-town supportive and healthier.
I'm hoping that Senator-elect Tester will bring
organics to the fore. It's a growing movement, but
very small around here.

You: Get a substantial farm policy going, nationalize that dialogue in a way that pulls in support from the traditionally Democratic environmental voters, and we could see rural red counties go blue with a quickness.

Me: My own opinion is that the way out of the above
impasse (can't help smaller folk without eroding
land on big farms) is to attach ag. policy to Trade.
Maybe Senator-elect Brown can figure out a way.

My own proposal involves a tax on imports based
on labor/environmental standards (allowed under
NAFTA, I believe) whose proceeds are given back
to the nations involved, to be used to improve their
standards. This still has the effect of supporting
higher standards here in this country.

Next, I've long proposed a waiver of property taxes
on owner-occupied, small farms that meet standards
and whose owners fall below a certain income level.
Then re-imburse localities the waived property taxes
in the form of additional fed. education funding (most
years this wouldn't amount to much).

Added advantage to supporting farm incomes, rather
than prices, is that we don't kill farming in other
countries with our subsidized prices.

Plus, less competition from low-standard, overseas
producers, and agribusiness should be able to pay
more attractive wages, meaning local produce is
suddenly more competitive and there's a better
payoff for the truck-garden farmer--the way it
used to be with farmland supporting bigger
communities.

And finally, the erosion on those big spreads. With
global population surging and biofuel's demand for
foodstuff, on top food production flat-lining, there'll
soon be a need for more food and that'll mean a
temptation to plant on unsuitable land. So, it may
be we'll need to have erosion-control laws in
any case.

Y: Issue the third: Connect politics back to the community.

Me: Good luck with this.

You: ....That would be a revolutionary change in the political conversation. It would be a huge step towards getting people to viscerally understand the Democratic party's commitment to the value of public service and the public good. And it wouldn't be terrible if the Republicans tried to copy it, but could create a rare, virtuous circle.

Me: In this area the Repub.s have the time, $ and less-gov.
philosophy to do a lot of volunteer work. It may be
that this area is different, but I'd say the Repub.s are
already there to a certain extent (much of their giving
is hand-out rather than hand-up, however).

Glad to see someone with innovative ideas. And they're good!

Posted by: Jared Scarborough at November 12, 2006 11:39 AM