Easy on Readers (1939)

Found in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, September 21, 1939 (page 4)–just as World War II was beginning:

McComb, Miss.–AP–The McComb Daily Enterprise gives confused readers a hand up by labeling each war story.

Its four symbols and their meaning
V — Verified.
OP — Official propaganda.
A — Seems authentic.
R — Rumor.

Good system. Everyone should adopt it for all political news.

Pensioned Off

Some notes for my last day of work.

Age 53: Identification

Michigan’s Governor and Legislature have claimed that a major portion of this season’s balanced budget charade was achieved by something they called Pension Reform. This is only half true, as the reform in question actually dates from 1997, when new state employees were first required to enroll in Defined Contribution (401k) plans. This year’s development is that the state government’s remaining Defined Benefits (traditional) pension employees are being encouraged to retire, which will reduce (at least for the short-term) our budget impact. I’ll leave the long-term impacts of the incentive’s pension increase, and the fact that my pension seems not to be properly funded, as an exercise for the reader. I offer a word to describe this political half-truth behavior, though: Irresponsible.

I’ve been a Michigan public servant for 33 years, and my responsibilities for the past twenty have mainly involved reducing governmental costs and improving our response times. I’m actually quite good at this, and one of the reasons is experience. I understand how the work flows in our department. I’ve considerable experience with designing, specifying, testing, and implementing systems (computer and otherwise) to simplify and automate paper-bound processes. I’ve helped move much of our business to the web–and a pair of web projects which have dominated my past year are scheduled to debut before the year’s end. I’ve worked with other departments to reduce friction on shared processes. My hypothetical replacement has valuable skills, but lacks my years of experience. She’ll bring a new perspective to the job, and that’s beneficial, but she’ll also make mistakes I’d have avoided.

Multiply this effect by thousands. Our Secretary of State Branch Offices (Driver License Bureaus, for those who aren’t from Michigan) will have fewer staffers, and on average those workers will have less experience. Joan’s sister’s a prison guard; her job’s risks will increase. This retirement rush is taking effect just as Michigan’s Treasury Department gears up for the annual tax rush. If your business calls a government office, expect the phone queues to lengthen; the person who answers the call will more likely be frazzled and less likely have your answer at his fingertips. Offices performing necessary inspections–in factories, on farms, of bridges–will be short-staffed and less knowledgable. Nearly every state office will lose staff, and the resulting stress will be visible.

Michigan’s state bureaucracy employs many folks who’ve spent thirty or more years in public service. Many of us were planning to retire in the relatively near future, with or without incentives; inevitably we’d be exchanging experience for youth in the process. On the whole, this is a good bargain. But this year’s incentive distorts the hiring pattern, as well as the retirement plans, and the impacts will be more obvious than they might otherwise have been. Again, a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.

Enough. I’m outta here.

Blind Ambition by John Dean: a review

An interesting read, and more readable than I ‘d anticipated. Dean (or perhaps his ghost writer; there’s a bit of dispute) paints a believable portrait of a hard-working, ambitious politico who gets entangled in Watergate. The book makes no excuses for Dean, and comes very near to directly implicating the president.

Dean was a central player in the cover-up, and paints interesting portraits of the other players. Worth reading just for that; he’s got a good eye for character. That his version of the story is close to the one we “know” is likely inevitable; his narrative shaped the Ervin committee’s hearings. Since the story-as-told is neither obviously self-serving nor protective of the president, I’d be willing to treat it as a key research source were I researching these events. Others, I’m sure, differ.

And one last note: This is perhaps the worst-proofed book I’ve ever read. Typographical errors are common.


This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Akers Memories

My family was active in a Kalamazoo area political action group called Action Now. A fairly careful web search found only one mention of the organization. So I’m following up on that site’s mention today.


I don’t think I knew Brian Dana Akers in the 1970s, but since I was working closely with his brother and knew his parents socially it’s pretty likely I met him once or twice. Anyway, he’s grown up to write science fiction and has a lengthy online autobiography on his personal website. About a quarter of the way down the page is a word portrait of his father, Owen, which includes Action Now in a long list of organizations Owen participated in. Brian’s father was as remarkable as the portrait suggests. What I think the portrait misses is that Owen’s heavy workload was fairly seamless; I had contacts with him in several of his roles and he was always the same person, working on the same causes, and finding reinforcement from his friends and colleagues as he moved from meeting to meeting. A strenuous life, yes, and not everyone loved Owen Akers, but many did.

Brian’s summation is all too true:

When someone like this dies, it’s like standing on the rim of a huge crater. Only as the crater recedes into the past do the survivors comprehend the size of the hole in their lives, appreciate the death’s force of impact, and realize all that was vaporized.

More, though. Owen was an inspiration to his friends, and to some of his opponents. That did not end when he perished.


I spent years doing political organizing. Brians’ brother, David, was one of my colleagues in those efforts–he was the key voter registration and get out the vote organizer whose activities complemented our voter contact efforts in the early 1970s. That I had his respect was always a source of satisfaction, for Dave’s commitment to the work was far greater than mine. David Akers was a formidable organizer, bringing talent and passion to everything he touched. David was quite different from his father, but equally committed to his father’s causes.

We lost contact when I moved to Lansing. I’m saddened to learn that he died fairly young.


Postscript: While I was working on this essay, iTunes delivered Rhonda Vincent’s performance of Carl Story‘s If You Don’t Love God:

If you say you love Him while you hate your neighbor
then you don’t have religion. You just told a lie.

Fitting.

Rog

Not so long ago, folks whose political involvement was driven by faith tended to support liberal causes–equal rights, school integration, and ending the Vietnam war.  Dad fit that profile.  Those issues took over his life for a few years in the late sixties and early seventies and he was heavily involved in a non-partisan local political group called Action Now.  Definitely a different time.


Dad passed away fourteen years ago today….

GOTV

Twice today I’ve hung up the phone on volunteers from the Kerry campaign, and I expect to have more opportunities before the day ends.  I’ve caught a cold, don’t feel well, and really don’t want to talk to ’em.  But it’s set me to remembering….

I’ve done Get Out the Vote (GOTV) from nearly every side.

  • I’ve helped recruit volunteers for GOTV efforts.
  • I’ve assigned folks to do door-to-door GOTV activity.
  • I’ve written scripts for folks making GOTV phone calls.
  • I’ve supervised a GOTV phone center.
  • I’ve spent the day making those phone calls (surprisingly, this came after supervising a GOTV effort).
  • I’ve helped prioritize campaign GOTV budgets.
  • I’ve sat in polling places as a Democratic Party poll watcher.
  • I’ve staffed the phone in the party office, answering the questions of GOTV workers and poll watchers, and collecting the results from the callers as the polling places closed.

I’ve even organized the post-election party for our GOTV workers….

Fun times, mostly, but I don’t miss them.


This is democracy at work, friends.  It’s not pretty, and it’s really quite messy, but it’s part and parcel of making the nation work.  Gonna vote–for John Kerry and a bunch of other folks–in a few minutes.

Contacting Voters

PIRGIM–that’s Public Interest Research Group in Michigan–has been conducting a voter registration drive for the past few weeks and drawing some unwanted publicity because they’ve submitted fairly large numbers of bad registrations to Michigan’s county clerks.  Here’s their statement of intention:

PIRGIM’s Community Voters Project is working to break this cycle of mutual disinterest [between politicians and the poor] by facilitating increased voter registration and turnout.  In early June, PIRGIM’s Community Voters Project opened a full-scale canvass office in Lansing.  The trained, dedicated canvassers in this office hit the streets of Lansing every day, finding, registering, and educating thousands of new voters.  [emphasis added]

An excellent intention, though obviously something went wrong.  A few notes….


Voter turnout efforts generally have three prongs:

  1. Voter registration campaign. 
    • Although there are partisan activities in this arena, funding availability and reporting requirements generally push these efforts to organizations which are nominally non-partisan.
      • Since both major parties work with “non-partisan” allies, finger-pointing about it is not really common.
      • Abolishing this practice might be desirable.
    • There are also genuinely non-partisan activities in this arena.  Most people have no difficulty telling the two varieties apart.
  2. Likely-supporter identification efforts.
    • This is where the partisan voter-contact money and effort mainly goes, and was where I worked when I was politicking.  Voter contact activities tend to occur concurrently with voter registration efforts but are a separate activity with different leadership (not so true of the worker bees, though).
    • This effort is mainly about identifying the likelihood that a voter household will support a candidate or a ticket.  In general, this is accomplished by interviewing household members by going door-to-door or by telephoning the home.  There may or may not be an explicit campaign effort attached to the voter contact.
    • Voter ID is a separate organization from the main campaign effort, but generally works closely with candidate organizations.
  3. Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities on election day.
    • Everybody gives lip service to high voter turnout.
    • Everyone works to get their own voters to the polls.  That’s why we’ve spent months identifying our supporters, and where those efforts pay off.
      • Attempting to discourage the other side’s voters is not unheard of, and takes many forms.  While some of these discouragements are more honorable than others, all corrode the process.
    • Again, there are truly non-partisan groups working in this arena.  Those are upstanding folks, and virtually everyone admires them.

In this schema, PIRGIM counts as a nominally non-partisan group doing voter registration–though they style themselves as genuinely non-partisan.  The clerks who’ve received the bad registrations are reporting a failure of training and supervision, not one of intention.  The PIRGIM canvassers were apparently paid by the signature, a payment scheme which invites fraud.  The canvassers who created the problem were likely convinced that the faked registrations were harmless, and may have believed they were actually doing something good.  Presumably they didn’t expect they’d be caught.  My experience is that enthusiasts can be idiots about this sort of thing–and trust me, folks who run these programs try to hire enthusiasts.

It’s still fraud, though, albeit small-scale and individual rather than large-scale and organizational.  The effect  is about the same; the sponsor’s credibility takes a hit, as does the election process.  Nothing undermines the credibility of an election like the appearance of dishonesty.

If I’d been running the operation, those documents would have been checked before they got passed to the county clerks.  Since the clerks are consistently reporting that the fraudulent registrations are obvious forgeries, that check shouldn’t have required great effort.  Supervision, guys.  Due diligence.  Simple caution.


Notes

  • Historically PIRGIM’s a Naderite organization, and not particularly a Democratic Party ally  This sort of dissonance makes life interesting.
  • Been there.  I helped run a county-wide voter contact campaign for the Kalamazoo Democrats in 1972.  Part of the effort was coordinated by a student group whose only real interest was the presidential contest.  A quick glance at the voter survey sheets returned from the campus made it clear that only the McGovern ratings could be trusted.  Since we caught the fraud before passing the forms to other organizations, the faked forms mainly made my sister angry.  Very angry.

Stopgap Solutions

The Harvard study concludes that these deficits have become structural, that is, the states are obligated to provide more services than they can afford.  This has been said about the Michigan situation for the last several years, but it has not been addressed.  Instead, quick-fix and stopgap solutions have been used to keep the books balanced.

The authors trace the problem to the 1990s boom when many states, again Michigan included, had the wherewithal both to increase spending and cut taxes.  But they did not sock away enough money for the inevitable recession that followed.  As tax revenues sagged, the states quickly drained their reserves and have since been living in a sort of payday-to-payday manner.

Detroit Free Press/July 17, 2004
/States like Michigan need bolder budget vision
my thanks to my employer’s clipping service

The editorial staff at the Freeps, like me, thinks it’s about time we rethought the structure of the state’s fiscal compact; since I’ve already commented on that, I’ll not repeat myself.  This paragraph, though, caught my attention:

Few states have shown the political will for the overhaul that is obviously required, in both taxes and services.  States such as Michigan with term-limited public officials minding the store are perhaps the least likely to make bold changes.

While I really dislike the short term limits we’ve put on the legislature, I don’t see this connection.  Methought one purpose of the term limits was to reduce the proportion of career politicians in office, thus reducing those officials’ institutional commitments and freeing up the creative juices.  That objective was certainly worthwhile, and ought to still apply.

Regardless, I don’t think we’ll see a legislative solution.  It’s likely time for a new Con-Con.