Friday, December 23, 2005

Catching up on things
Eighteen days and no posts. I can almost hear the blog screaming at me ... "Stop ignoring me!!" ... "But I have been busy." ... "Not too busy to just say 'Hi' once in awhile." ... "Yeah, you're right, sorry about that."
But even without posting, traffic here has been pretty steady and I'm kinda shocked by that. Anywhere from 30 to 60 people on any given day stop by the site [Thanks so much for that!]. I really have to try and make a commitment to do more with it, even if just to please those 30 to 60 folks who bother to stop by each day. At one point last month, Politizine was ranked in the Top 10,000 visited blogs in the world. Pretty impressive when you consider that I will sometimes go 18 days without a post! Hah.

There has been so much to write about of late but I just haven't had the chance.
I have been named the CEO of WKXL 1450 which basically means I will be running the station after the first of the year. It will mean added responsibilities and I will have to give up most of my news gathering and managing tasks. Short-term, it will be exhausting; but long-term, I think it will be a good move for me and I have great hope for 2006.
Speaking of blogs, I find it amusing - in a good way - that Herald Media, the company I used to work for, is now promoting the use of blogs at the Boston Herald and Town Online sites. Some of the posters, like Kevin Rothstein who now covers Boston City Hall have gone full-throttle; others are just using them to post election results and noodle a bit.
I'm glad someone in the company realized that it is a great medium to instantly speak to the public in a way that daily or weekly print newspapers just can't accomplish.
On a couple of occasions during my employment, I was informed that the fact that I had a blog made some people in the company uncomfortable despite the fact that I rarely spoke about the company. Some readers from Winchester, the town I used to cover, even complained that I had a blog even though I wasn't saying anything about them or the town [and what I could have said ...]. But what business is it of theirs, I would ask. I should be able to do what I want so long as it isn't done at work and doesn't affect my production, which, it never did. If anything, work affected my Politizine production. Hah, again.
I honestly think it was a control issue. Herald Media controls the blogs that they have; if someone starts one up himself, the company doesn't control it. But I am glad they are using the technology to share tidbits with their readers. Sometimes, you can't fit everything into the paper that you need to. Sometimes, you miss something. Sometimes, things break on Friday - the day after your weekly paper has been published. And I also know how hard the journalists for Herald Media work. There is sometimes no end to the day but it is an exhilarating feeling.
No news on the sale front of the papers though. There are some investment bankers looking to cash out and it may be the end of the Purcell era soon.

Canceling Esquire
I decided to let my Esquire subscription lapse this month. Over the years, I have had an on and off relationship with the magazine and never quite understood why. I think it has always been a subliminal need to imagine how good I would look in really expensive clothes, watches, cars and babes - none of which I would ever be able to afford in my lifetime [So why support this even at $10 a year?]. Not that that is a big deal or anything. I guess I have never really liked how I looked - with the exception of that skinny curly long-haired art rocker phase I went through in the early 1980s - and if I could look at pretty guys all dressed up, I might feel better about my own potential "look." Not that I am bad looking or anything. But thinking about it now, I'm probably not the only man who feels inferior looking at all the good-looking guys in the magazine knowing that I will never look that good because it takes 15-hours to look like that! It is an unrealistic standard to hold yourself to.
And yeah, there were always some pretty good articles in the magazine too. The piece following Joe Trippi around before the Dean collapse in Iowa was great and the recent article about the end of oil was enough to make you go build a windmill and bomb shelter in the backyard to keep the power on and save yourself from the George Romero end of the world zombies who will be eating your brains after the apocalypse. But two articles in the last couple of years that were memorable? That isn't a lot. Compare that to say Vanity Fair, which has the readable - and memorable - Christopher Hitchens, James Wolcott, and countless other things every month.
Esquire, for all its pomp and circumstance, and past historical relevance, just isn't meaningful anymore. I can't recall the first time I read the magazine but I do remember an article from the late 1970s, early 1980s, about the night softball game and beer-drinking craze of the time period. The front cover had this hot chick with cleats thrown over her shoulder, complaining that her man's softball games were ruining her sex life. Yeah right. Well, that guy just didn't know how to balance the two!
And putting Bill Clinton on the cover ... when our nation is at war ... what the hell was that ... shock, horrors ...
Seriously though. It is totally schizophrenic right now. It can't decide if it wants to be a gay household table top art magazine or a frat boy FHM bikini pinup magazine or something else, none of which reflects me as a person or a man these days. I'm not 18 anymore. I'm not gay. If I want good articles to read and beautiful women to look at - with little clothing on - I will buy Playboy and get the best of both worlds!
So, as John McLaughlin would say, bahye, bahye Esquire. May you find your former place in magazine history.

Random clips
I honestly don't want to go into the domestic spying stuff. I will lose a gasket and this screen will remain blank for many more than 18 days. I am infuriated beyond words. It is so damn unAmerican it isn't even funny. Plus, I think former Sen. Gary Hart says it best here: ["Intelligence Abuse Deja Vu"].

R.I.P. Jack Anderson: ["Crusading journalist Jack Anderson dies"]. Boy, they just don't make them like that anymore, do they? With columnists selling their space to lobbyists and other such nonsense: ["Op-Eds for Sale"], it is amazing this guy was even in the field. What character. I remember watching him on "Good Morning America" when I was a kid. I always thought he was an interesting story-teller and had these scandalous little tidbits about stuff going on in Washington. As I grew up and started reading newspapers, I found similar things out from Jack Germond and Robert Novak, and eventually became a journalist myself. He was one of the greats in the field.

Bill Weld, New York governor? Yeah right, stranger things have happened. The enjoyer of amber-colored spirits everywhere will have an easy time relating to the common man of the state. Although, he wasn't such a bad governor when I lived in Massachusetts, especially compared to how the Democratic nominee in 1990, nut John Silber, could have potentially ran the state! However, he is being taken seriously which means that the media there - Boston viciousness on 'roids with even more pompousness than the clowns on Morrissey Blvd. - will be coming after him. Like, say, this: ["Ghosts of a Shuttered College Follow Weld"]. Weld's campaign site is here: [Weld for New York]. Damn. Doesn't he look like shit? Too much good living in dreary ole Manhattan.

Earlier I was talking about blogs and I did want to remember to note this interesting article about citizen journalists in metro Massachusetts: ["Citizen journalists fill a niche with e-news"]. This could be where it is all potentially going: People with full-time or part-time jobs also taking on the part-time responsibility of covering their towns for the Web, so that everyone can connect themselves to what is often a disconnected town or city government.

The coming end of classical music in Boston?: ["Sale signals classical music's swan song"] and ["Greater Media, Charles River In Exclusive Negotiation"]. There has been a ton of gossip about this radio sale on the Web but it will be interesting to see how much it fetches. The rumor is somewhere in the $100 million range. Can you imagine that? Insane, for sure.

This didn't get as big a play as it should have: ["Family Upset Over Soldier's Body Arriving As Freight"]. MSNBC's Keith Olberman had it on but it was ignored by everyone else [I wonder why]. How reprehensible. You lose your kid and the military ships the body back to you like passenger baggage.

Nick Zampiello, who has mastered a bunch of my recordings over the years, was featured in this Boston Herald article about the gentrification of my old Fenway neighborhood: ["Sound of silence: Fenway music scene drowned out by gentrification"]. Of course, the Herald is about 10 to 15 years too late for the big story about real estate in this area. But it was nice to see that they were acknowledging all these business folks losing their space.

This was a very cool find: ["Subway Workers Unearth N.Y. History"]. Imagine that. A fort wall sinking into the ground over a few hundred years. Isn't it amazing how the earth works sometimes?

Monday, December 5, 2005

Echos of a Bunnyfan
Delfin Vigil published this concert preview in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week. This is the kind of article I like because it is from a fan's perspective. Sure, reviews are good, but those are often just an opinion of something and are not always positive [This, coming from a person who used to review a lot of music, slaying many a talented artist with the written word].

In seventh grade, I wrote an essay titled "Why Echo & the Bunnymen are the Greatest Band in the F -- World."
I expected either an A for coherently writing about what I passionately believed in or an F for failing to follow directions. I'd have been happy with either grade. But the teacher simply drew a big question mark above the crossed-out swear word. Like so many others, she didn't know what to make of Echo & the Bunnymen.
As the Liverpool band's singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant set sail into the turquoise lights of San Francisco's Fillmore on Monday in support of "Siberia" -- their 20th album together (and sometimes apart) since the band formed in 1978 -- that question mark seems to stick around like a prickly porcupine. How is the world supposed to honor a group whose songs would be an inspiration for Coldplay, the Flaming Lips and films like "Donnie Darko"?

Heaven up here
Kevin Keiper, the cool kid down the street, got me hooked. It was 1987. I was 12 years old, sifting through Kevin's "modern rock" record collection, which included the Cure, the Smiths, Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen. The Cure was cool, but I couldn't wear the requisite lipstick and fluorescent makeup without getting smacked across the face by my father. The Smiths had something to say with "Meat Is Murder," but life seemed incomplete without carne asada. And Joy Division's Ian Curtis clocked out too early to light up my life.
That left Echo & the Bunnymen. On their record sleeves, they looked more like longshoremen or merchant marines than mere rock stars. McCulloch, the tipsy captain, led his men with guts and passion, making city after city and stereo after stereo just a little more magical and romantic year after year.
Between 1980 and 1984, Echo & the Bunnymen recorded four albums, each more critically successful and hit-filled than the last. Their greatest moment, I'd say, was "The Killing Moon," a song so perfect and timeless it sounds as if it could have been written a hundred years earlier, maybe on a ship lost at sea.
But soon after I jumped onboard, the ship sank. Drummer Pete de Freitas died in a motorcycle accident, and McCulloch sailed off on a solo career. After the mutiny, the Bunnymen Bounty voyaged on with a fill-in singer. As a stowaway fan, I felt I had to do something to save all of our souls.

King of kings
We were waiting with our best suit coats on. My best friend, K.C., and I cut class at Benicia High School to catch a glimpse of McCulloch heading into a sound check for his 1991 solo gig at Slim's in San Francisco. After we'd been waiting several hours, a taxi pulled up and out stepped our hero into the fog-filled South of Market afternoon to shake our hands and sign our records like a slugger heading to batting practice.
The conversation was short, and so were we.
"Lovely weather we're having, eh," said Mac, towering over us. I pumped my fist and whispered to K.C.: "Yes! He loves cold weather."
The conversation quickly ended, but the night of our lives had only just begun.
McCulloch performed a semi-acoustic but completely romantic set that included a Leonard Cohen cover and three Bunnymen classics. I stole his guitar pick and set list and drank his glass of "water," which turned out to be vodka.
But something was missing.
"Where's Will? He misses you!" I shouted, knowing full well that the two no longer spoke.
"Will? I haven't seen him in years."
His long pause and the fact that he'd answered my question made me believe that Mac still cared about his fellow Bunnyman, and maybe my good vibes could help them reconnect. At least I hoped so.

Don't let it get you down
When Echo & the Bunnymen came to California in 1992 without McCulloch, I had mixed emotions. But more important, I had a mission: I believed I could help get the real Bunnymen back together.
The problem was that they were playing a cheesy club called the Rage, in a Sacramento strip mall. It was 21-and-older only, and I was 16. I called the club in the middle of the afternoon and said I was a friend of the band.
Before long, original Bunnymen bass player Les Pattinson was on the phone, laughing at my scheme. Impressed with my passion, Les said he'd put me on the guest list -- as long as I promised not to drink.
The first thing I noticed when I showed up was that no one in the crowd was wearing any cool Bunnymen coats. One guy actually danced around in a white rabbit costume, waving around a carrot as if it were a cigar. Blasphemy!
Toward the end of the set, during a rendition of "Silver" -- a sacred song from 1984's "Ocean Rain" album that McCulloch rarely sang live -- the club's electricity went out. Noel Burke, the replacement singer, joked that it was "an act of God."
"You're damn right it is!" I shouted, apparently the only person sober enough that night to know something wasn't right.

Show of strength
At the encore, I raced out of the club to grab my rare Bunnymen records out of my friend's car, hoping to have Les and Will autograph them. On my way to the tour bus, I felt a fist hit the side of my head. Then another in my stomach. Two thugs had left a gin-and-juice parking lot party to mug me.
"Grab his bag," shouted one.
In a fight-or-flight moment, I pressed the fight button. I was ready to die for my Bunnymen records that night, kicking and punching with all of my colors.
Either they figured I wasn't worth it, or maybe they already had a limited-edition picture disc vinyl bootleg of Echo & the Bunnymen live in Milan 1984. They let me go, and I slowly approached the Bunnymen bus with a big black eye, bruises on my body, blood on my face -- and records in my hand. Pattinson opened the door.
"What the hell happened to you, kid?" He let me in, and for the next three hours told me tales of touring the world with the original Bunnymen.
Sergeant was there, and at one point I played a copy of my band's demo for them. They listened to the whole thing and smiled. It was great, even though the music wasn't.
Just before I left, I told Les what I really believed: "You've got to get the Bunnymen back together with Mac. It might not last forever, but I bet there's still some magic left." My eye had puffed out further and blood was still dripping down the side of my mouth.
Pattinson laughed and wiped the blood from my face with a cold rag. "Thanks, kid," was all he said.

A promise
Years went by with little music coming from either the Mac or Will-and-Les camps. Eager to find out what was going on, I called McCulloch's record company in London. WEA Records executive Phil Knox Roberts, a friendly fellow, picked up, and I explained my reason for calling.
"This must be your destiny because I never answer this phone," he said. "Looks like you'll be the first to know that Mac and Will are back making music together again. Nobody really knows about this but, believe me, the Bunnymen will be back."
It was my first scoop.

Never stop
In 1997, the three original members of Echo & the Bunnymen released their comeback album, "Evergreen," complete with a United Kingdom Top 10 hit, "Nothing Lasts Forever." My mission was complete.
The group toured several times after I graduated from high school and spent the next 10 or so years in community college. Each time I'd finagle a way backstage or to the after-party and buy my heroes an Anchor Steam (Will) or a Tequila Sunrise (Mac). The last time I saw them offstage was in November, in back of an Indian restaurant in New York after a phenomenal gig on the current "Siberia" tour. I was invited to do a 29-minute interview. But we sat all night around the table, with them listening to a montage of my memories growing up as a Bunnyfan. Vaguely remembering me, Mac and Will seemed both fascinated and freaked out by my fanaticism.
Having traveled across the country mostly to thank them, I had only one real question to ask in the "interview," one I'd first thought of back when I was 12. "Are you guys happy?"
"Am I happy?" asked Mac. "I'm happy today. Are you happy, Will? I'm happy if you're happy."
Sergeant, staring at the table like a stoic Inca warrior lost in space, nodded his head. Then they both headed out into the stormy weather of New York.
These stars are stars 'cause they shine so hard.

ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN 8 p.m. Mon. at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. $25. (415) 346-6000,
E-mail Delfin Vigil at

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Who is more influential: Rush Limbaugh or the New York Times?

A lot has been said about the mainstream media's influence over the American people ... about how they lie, corrupt, and only tell half the story, that they are a bunch of kiss-ass liberals, etc. and this has been talked about over and over again, without much agreement from any side.
Over the years, I've had a number of deep discussions with all kinds of different people about the influence of the media and whether or not it actually is as powerful as we may think and whether or not people are actually being given "the truth" in news and all that encompasses that statement.
Working in the media and being critical of the media at the same time is a fine line unless you work very hard to put out the best product you possibly can. I do believe I am doing this in my work time. But in my play time, I like to look at other things like this.
As we know, from studies by liberal groups like FAIR and others, the corporate entanglements of the news business has been very effective at censoring serious and important stories about the way we live, the food we eat, the capitalist system, and other things too long to go into in one sentence. We all know about stories which were killed because of the corporate implications of a story; we all know powerful people who have been able to keep things out of print; we all know that newsrooms have been decimated to preserve profits to the point where few people get much red meat in their news anymore.
As we know, from studies by conservative groups like AIM and others, many reporters and journalists tend to be socially-liberal politically and in their text, tend to label conservatives more stringently than others - Sen. Jesse Helms was always labeled as an "arch-conservative" but Sen. Edward Kennedy isn't always labeled as "liberal" ... calling folks "anti-abortion" instead of "pro-life," etc. [In columns, Teddy is often called "the liberal lion," but that is a term of endearment so it doesn't count. We are talking about the news].
Essentially, both opinions are correct. But the honest truth is that in politics, you can't get people to act unless you motivate them to the Nth degree - scaring them with twisted words either one way or the other. FAIR and AIM are both guilty of this.
But is the mainstream media really that influential from the alleged left compared to talk radio which is definitely right of center? More specifically, who would you guess is more influential: Rush Limbaugh or the New York Times?
Well, the latest talk radio listening figures are out from Talkers Magazine, posted here: ["Latest top host figures"]. Now Talkers, being a rah-rah for syndication and other foolish things over the years, isn't as good a source as say a legit accounting firm or the folks who count the Academy Award votes. But, they are all we have to look it from this perspective. And this list tells us a lot about what is going on in the radio world. Limbaugh - or Limboob as I call him on some posting boards, much to the chagrin of his fans - is the top radio talk show host with 13.75 million listeners according to some creative tinkering of the Arbitrons rating system. So, at any given time, potentially, as many as 14 million people are listening to his radio show every day. It could be more; it could be less. But this is a base figure used for advertising and bragging rights. This is down from a peak of about 20 million listeners during the height of the Clinton years, when Limboob was too busy being funny instead of popping pills.

Sidebar: I want to concentrate the bulk of this on the Limbaugh vs. Times issue but the other numbers from Talkers are pretty striking if you consider the overwhelming number of conservatives on the air and their influence over the public. Of the top radio talk show hosts, only a handful are non-conservatives. Howard Stern, tied for fourth, is politically libertarian but also has swings to the left on some issues. And his content is reprehensible at best. Doug Stephan is a political-moderate, although on business issues, he tends to swing right of center. George Noory does Art Bell's show and doesn't talk much about politics, from what I have heard. And Kim Kammando, Dr. Joy Browne, Dave Ramsey, and Jim Rome have specialized shows. The other 14 host rounding out the Top 10 list are decidedly right of center and conservative. All these hosts have a potential audience of more than 76 million people who could be clearly influenced by their shows and opinions during any given broadcast. Now, this is just the Top 10. This doesn't go down from there counting the other shows, like Howie Carr, Jay Severin, or others in local markets from which we know that conservatives outnumber liberals. A truly liberal host doesn't make it until Number 13 with Al Franken. Tom Leykis used to be considered a liberal but now all he talks about is sex.
Yet, compare these figures to the number of people reading newspapers. I posted them here: ["Newspapers"]. The combined daily readership of all the Top 10 newspapers is 9.9 million readers meaning Limbaugh tops all the newspapers combined. As well, some newspapers have liberal editorial boards and some have conservative ones. For example, the Number 2 paper, The Wall Street Journal, has a circ of more than 2 million readers. The New York Daily News and the New York Post also have conservative slants. This brings the openly conservative papers up to a circ of about 3.3 million. The Number 1 paper, USA Today, at 2.3 million circ, gives dual editorials, often representing both sides of an issue.

Now, let's look at the latest figures from the New York Times circulation numbers, posted for investors at its Web site: ["Circulation Data"]. Clearly, things are mixed for the old grey lady: home delivery numbers are down but single copy sales are up over the last year. The Sunday numbers are pretty even.
But the point of the comparison is this: On any given day in the Fall of 2005, there were 14 million people listening to Rush's show; on any given day in March 2005, there were 1.14 million copies of the Times in circulation. Even if you said two or three people read one issue of the Times, that would still leave the potential audience numbers at about four to one [Rush listeners: 14 million; Times readers: 3.5 million].
Now some will say that the Times influences other reporters, editors, and some of their articles are syndicated, so that influence trickles down to other newspapers and readers. I can buy that. It is clear that Judith Miller fudging the weapons of mass destruction story, for example, was spread throughout the country and affected more readers and definitely had an influence over public policy and public opinion. Fair enough. So let's double the Times readership and influence to 7 million folks daily, just for the heck of it. Well, that still only amounts to half of Limbaugh's daily audience.
Some might say that Rush is only on five times a week while the Times publishes seven times a week. OK, but that doesn't account for Rush's rebroadcasting either, which is on at night in smaller markets and repeated on weekends in edited format.
Another person might say that Rush has a strong, loyal following, so those folks have their minds made up politically already, whereas the Times only reaches those people who don't have their minds made up and therefore can be influenced or brain-washed by their supposed liberal bias. But, you know what? That is a bunch of bunk. Limbaugh has liberal listeners just like the Times has conservative readers. Both are influential over the public; the key is that one is more influential than the other, clearly: A guy who talks to 14 million people a day is more influential than a newspaper which sells 1.14 million editions a day. As well, the Times, as bad as it may be, doesn't pound away at its readers with opinion on every single page, every waking minute. Most of its opinion is on the editorial page and sometimes on the front page. With Limbaugh, it is for three hours straight of pounding away opinion.
So it is crystal clear that Limbaugh - and other talk radio hosts - is much more of an influence over the public than mainstream media outlets.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Catching up on headlines

Here are some articles I have missed recently and are worth taking a second look at.
First, finally, the Sex Pistols will be acknowledged for their "legacy": ["Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath, and Lynyrd Skynyrd finally in US rock hall of fame"]. Finally, finally, finally .... Yes, yes, yes! Rock and roll baby! Kerraaang!
Speaking of the Sex Pistols, Johnny's fave trousers have been banned in Winona: ["Minn. high school bans 'bondage' pants"].
First, there was the death of the LP. Then, live bands and freeform radio. Then, the record business in general. Now, it is the DJ: ["Jukeboxes, DJs being pushed out by iPods"]. In some ways, this is a cool thing because it empowers people to be creative. On the other hand, it is costing a DJ a job. But, on the flip of that, DJs put a lot of live bands out of work so ...
Guess who likes to fly on the cuff, paid for by big business?: ["Sen. Bayh ranks 4th in privately paid trips"]:
"Bayh reported a total of 44 privately paid trips since 2000. Twelve foreign trips accounted for more than 60 percent of the private money spent for Bayh's travel.
Trips to China cost $40,524."
Eh, what the hell is he doing in China? Oh yeah, he's a man of the people. I forgot.
Speaking of men of the people, here's one challenging Hillary: ["Ex-Green Party Member to Challenge Hillary"]. It's pretty good that this guy even got on AP.
Then, there is this, about an aggressive [female] reporter covering a local beat here in New Hampshire and being driven out of her job: ["A small-town tale"]. What is interesting about this is that most newspapers would KILL to get a reporter like this for the local beat! There is so much corruption on the local level and exposing it sells papers. Plus, Mark Jurkowitz does a really good job of telling the story here - although no one seems to want to tell the whole story.
Fifth, ah, the tracking issue again: ["CDC Proposal Would Help U.S. Track Travelers"]. I don't understand why we just don't ban people from infected areas from coming into the country! That seems like the simplest solution.
Lastly, who says you can't succeed in this world? Lisa Carver ... zine publisher, mom, and now, a published author for the third time. What a shock: ["A scum-shock queen grows up"].
I first met Lisa back in 1985 or 1986 when she was this crazed teen fronting her own band Suckdog. She would run around at all ages shows in ripped up pantyhose, screaming into microphones like she was on some sorta psycho rampage. Her sexually-charged performances were dark but kind of a turn on at the time [Hey, I was 22, OK?]. But I wouldn't go near the girl because she was clearly disturbed. Plus, she was always stomping on my gear which really ticked me off! Not a good way to make friends.
At the time, I was "playing" guitar in Jim Hildreth's noise band called Insanicide. I say "playing" because actually all I would do is kinda stand there, chain-smoke clove cigarettes [no alcohol was allowed in the halls; we drank from our cars], strum some chords or pluck the strings, and let the guitar sound just kinda wash over everyone, through these weird effects and this really cool Roland Super Cube amp I had at the time. This little 60 watt amp used to shake the walls it was so loud. The amp had this really great distortion and reverb patch which gave it this deafening howl of a sound. And after going through the rack mount I had, there wasn't much left of the actual music. Imagine if whales were soldiers being tortured at the Hanoi Hilton. That is kinda how I would describe the sound.
Insanicide had two or three demo tapes released which were destine never to be played on radio. But the layered feedback noise thing we were doing at the time was actually pretty original and cool. Andy Smith, the other guitarist in the band [Jim played bass and "sang"], would later put out this brilliant seven inch single of noise called "Boneyard," which I think I still have somewhere. In fact, I believe I still have some of the Suckdog performances from those shows on tape somewhere [I'm notorious for saving just about everything audio]. Maybe I will have to find them and send them to her. Yeah, I'm gonna buy Lisa's book. Why not? She's a mom now and has to pay the rent like everyone else!
Also, Jim Hildreth, if you are out there, please touch base with me!

Friday, December 2, 2005

NH Dems submit '08 primary plan
Cross posted at DailyKos

The following was sent out this week to news organizations by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, in attempt to preserve the state's First in the Nation primary status.
As an aside, I would also suggest the following recent books to read about the history of the New Hampshire primary:

"Why New Hampshire?" by SOS Bill Gardner and the late Hugh Gregg.
"Primary Politics" by Charles Brereton.

Personally, as an award-winning radio and print journalist, political junkie, voter in N.H., and now a radio program director for a news/talk station, I appreciate what state officials are trying to do in preserving our state's First in the Nation status. I have written extensively about the issue on my own blog and, like others, have come up with my own solutions.
While some people may feel it is time to take this away from New Hampshire, it is important to understand that our state created the process and we should be allowed to work on fixing what both political parties, candidates, the boatloads of money, special interests of all shapes and sizes, have done to screw the process up.
I personally would like to see Iowa and New Hampshire preserved as the first and then work on ways of bringing the New Hampshire and Iowa experience to other states. That can only be done with a lot of thinking, planning, and time spent on design. Our state's governor, John Lynch, a Democrat, wrote a critical - and dead-on correct - letter to Chairman Howard Dean this week, clearly noting that the commission has lost its way. Having watched their talks on C-Span and follow the process, this is clear. But that doesn't mean that folks like us can't come up with our own ideas on how to fix the process.

Here is what the NH Dems released this week:


Dear Commissioner,
Throughout the Commission's meetings and hearings, there have been two critical concerns about the current nominating calendar: frontloading and diversity.
Addressing these two challenges is critical to our party, our future nominees and our ability to motivate our supporters and attract additional voters. All of us want to resolve these concerns with an approach that will utilize our resources and build on our strengths to achieve electoral success in 2008 and beyond.
Throughout the life of this Commission, New Hampshire has been an engaged, cooperative partner in the effort to improve the primary system. We have embraced efforts to move diverse states to the front of the calendar.
However, we have become alarmed at recent press reports about the possible direction this Commission may take in drafting its final report. We are concerned that the problem of frontloading could be exacerbated - making the process narrower and less democratic - with devastating consequences for the swing states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Any primary calendar that leads off with new caucuses at the font of the calendar and before the New Hampshire primary would explode the very problem of frontloading. It will result in decreased input from regular people and grassroots activists. There could also be serious future political damage to the Democratic Party in New Hampshire - which has a newly-elected Democratic governor and was the only state to turn from red to blue in 2004.
There is a better alternative - a compromise that adds diversity and decreases frontloading. At the October 1 Commission meeting, New Hampshire offered a compromise proposal that was distributed as a scenario outline to Commissioners at the meeting (a complete version of the proposal is attached). This proposal would add early diversity and decrease frontloading by scheduling one or two new contests in a prominent position at the front of the presidential nominating calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state. It also calls for extending the calendar backward - to give all states more influence in the nominating process and help our Party nominate a candidate who has been thoroughly tested by voters across the nation.
The proposals being discussed in the press have the dangerous potential of making any problems with the Party's nominating calendar worse, just to move other states early. We appreciate your consideration of the attached alternative proposal and look forward to discussing it in more detail with you.

Kathy Sullivan
NH Democratic Party Chair


Nominating Calendar Proposal:Greater Diversity, More Participation, Less Frontloading


This proposal is designed to advance the objectives of electing a Democrat to the presidency, encouraging increased voter participation in the Democratic presidential nominating process, turning out an increasingly diverse and representative Democratic voter base, and facilitating grassroots organization and party-building that will help elect Democrats at all levels of federal and state elections in 2008.


This proposal rests on two conceptual changes to the presidential nominating calendar that, working together, will preserve the historic strengths while addressing most of the key criticisms of the current system. The two proposed changes are:
1. Add one or two contests to a prominent position at the front of the presidential nominating calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state. These contests would occur in states whose voting public displays substantial racial, ethnic, religious or other key diversity characteristics
2. Reverse the frontloading trend by creating a series of sanctioned dates on which states could hold presidential primaries or caucuses, beginning on or about the first Tuesday of February and ending on or about the second Tuesday in June, wherein the DNC Rules would set the number of delegates that could be chosen on each sanctioned date, thereby limiting the number of states that could hold contests on each date.
The two challenges posed by the current presidential nominating calendar are: (1) the need for increased voter diversity at the front end of the process, as early states are not as diverse or "representative" of the larger electorate as they could be; and (2) the calendar is far too front-loaded.

1. Diversity

Increasing diversity at the front end of the process is best addressed by adding a state or states to an early, prominent position in the presidential nominating calendar following Iowa and New Hampshire. Beyond that practical solution, Democrats should be wary of trying to over-engineer the presidential nominating process in an effort to produce a particular result. The law of unintended consequences will surely come into play (e.g., when the Super Tuesday southern primaries were designed to produce a more moderate presidential nominee and that did not occur). Although no single state can credibly claim to represent or be a proxy for the entire nation, some of the proposed alternatives - a national primary; multiple regional primaries; or alternating lead-off states every four years - each pose serious problems that are much more problematic than the current system.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would eliminate the all-important one-on-one, grassroots politics at the front of the process, substituting instead a campaign that takes place exclusively in television studios, on airport tarmacs, and in pre-arranged, highly orchestrated large events.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would be enormously expensive to participate in, favoring well-heeled candidates over lesser-known ones while increasing the influence of money and special interests in the nominating process.
* A national primary or multiple regional primaries would also further condense the process (to a single date, or perhaps to very few dates).
* Under a national or regional-based system, states would continue to lose influence, and only the largest states would participate meaningfully in the nominating process.
* A national or regional-based system would depress turnout because candidates would be forced to run media-based campaigns rather than voter mobilization efforts.
* Alternating lead-off status and significantly changing the order of primaries every four years would likely not conform to the Republican calendar, making the process more expensive as well as more unpredictable. Plus, individual states would only get an opportunity to go early once in a generation, after waiting for several election cycles. States can better gain influence by scheduling their contests on a particular date in a prolonged, 3-4 month nominating calendar free of frontloading.
* Predictability is an important consideration - for political parties, candidates, electorates and the media - and it would be significantly undermined if not wholly sacrificed if the nominating calendar were to be transformed each presidential election cycle.
Adding a diverse state or states to the front of the calendar, between the New Hampshire primary and the beginning of the period open to any state - as opposed to a national, regional, or alternating lead-off state system - is the best, most preferable strategy for addressing the need for greater diversity earlier in the nominating process.

2. Frontloading

The basic problem with the current presidential nominating calendar, which causes many states to lose influence in the process, has nothing to do with Iowa and New Hampshire, or with which state or states go first: the basic problem is frontloading, i.e., the process of condensing the nominating calendar to a much earlier, shorter time period.
As the Hunt Commission warned in 1982, frontloading trends then evident (and now much more pronounced):
"...threaten to `lock up' the nomination prematurely, fore-shortening the period during which candidates may be developed and issues may emerge. They make the party and its convention less able to respond to a changing political environment. And they devalue states whose primaries and caucuses come late, reducing the prospects of a meaningful showdown between major candidates at the end of the window period."
Ironically, frontloading - where states march to the front of the process in order to gain more influence - results in many states being bunched up on the same dates, whereby each actually loses influence over the nominating process.
It is frontloading - not Iowa and New Hampshire - that forces candidates to drop out and narrows the field too early, because only those with sufficient money to compete in a number of states across the country, which have bunched up (frontloaded) on the same dates soon after Iowa and New Hampshire, can credibly remain in the race.
Front-loading closes the decision-making process too quickly. Having the final decision made so early in the process/calendar decreases voter interest and participation, as voters in later states perceive that their vote doesn't count. It is also unfair to candidates who may not have the finances to compete in dozens of primaries over the course of a few short weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire.
A preferable approach is to lengthen the calendar to a 3-4 month period of party-sanctioned primary and caucus dates, beginning in February and ending in June, wherein individual states would be allowed to schedule their primaries or caucuses on dates that they can occupy alone, or share with a few other states, as DNC Rules would delimit the number of delegates that can be chosen (and therefore the number of states that could hold contests) on each sanctioned date.
A longer calendar, with a limited number of delegates chosen and states holding contests on each sanctioned date, will:
* give individual states more influence on the nominating process, as each state, either voting by itself or sharing the date with only one or two other states at most, would essentially "own" that particular date on the nominating calendar;
* allow more candidates to compete for a longer time (i.e., does not narrow the field prematurely);
* give the Democratic Party and Democratic voters across the country more opportunity to assess and reflect upon the relative qualifications, strengths and weaknesses of the candidates;
* increase voter interest, participation and turnout;
* strengthen state parties and energize voters at the grassroots level; and
* contribute to the selection of a nominee who has demonstrated sustained, broad-based support and who is therefore more electable in November.
Should a group of states wish to hold their contests on a particular date or within a particular week, and choose more delegates on that date than would otherwise be provided for in the rule, reasoning that their influence would be increased by voting in such a fashion - e.g., the currently-proposed Rocky Mountain Primary - such an exception is consistent with and can be provided for and accommodated under the rule proposed herein.


The above proposal addresses the two greatest weaknesses in the current presidential nominating calendar: (1) a lack of diversity in the early stages of the process; and (2) an overly frontloaded process. It is these problems, not the historic lead-off status of Iowa and New Hampshire, which the Commission should be looking to address. This proposal addresses these problems in a way that will not only increase diversity and better represent the views of Democratic voters nationwide, but will also encourage voter participation, strengthen state parties, provide better opportunities for presidential candidates to stay in the race longer while taking their case directly to voters at a grassroots level, and will ultimately help Democrats choose the most electable nominee.