Monday, August 28, 2006

CASE IN POINT - Joe Koester, Councilman Ward 9

This is Democratic bedrock: we don’t let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying. Here on the frozen tundra of Minnesota, if your neighbor’s car won’t start, you put on your parka and get the jumper cables out and deliver the Sacred Spark that starts their car. Everybody knows this. The logical extension of this spirit is social welfare and the myriad government programs with long dry names all very uninteresting to you until you suddenly need one and then you turn into a Democrat. A liberal is a conservative who’s been through treatment.

-Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat, 2004

The past couple of weeks certainly have provided a fount of issues to write about. One of the most egregious acts was the insurance hand-out provided by the courts which ruled that insurance companies may neglect their duty of paying for home damage in the Gulf Coast area if damage was caused by waters driven by wind rather than by floodwaters or by wind itself...? This let off the hook, once again, the insurance industry which is earning record profits in spite of recent claims from storm damage. It also reflects the depths of power the giant corporations have even over the judicial branch of government.

For years, this branch of government was immune from criticism and considered removed from corruption and undue influence by powerbrokers who we know taint the legislative and executive branches of governments. More and more, our courts too seem to be guided by powerful lobbies and are in thick with corporations rather than acting out of the interest of the people.

Next, the problems surrounding, Diebold, and other such voting machines have made some national news and has received some talk on radio. Locally, at least one outspoken group tried to bring these well-documented problems to the attention of the election authority and county council. Unfortunately, the warnings brought forward by concerned citizens fell on deaf ears and we now have the very machines that have been broadly criticized for being very simple to manipulate rendering our election process dubious at best. The voting machines that are now sweeping the country have endangered fair elections and in many instances, the results will not be able to be audited to any degree of satisfaction. That is to say, if a machine has been tampered with and gives its result as programmed, the same result will be achieved every time one asks for computation. New generation voting machines are so easily hacked, it has been shown, that a high school student could tamper with the election process with no reliable way of retrieving actual voting records.

On more local issues, some on council stripped the residents of a chance to go to the polls in November and make a far more informed decision on the matter of strong mayor vs. weak mayor form of government. The matter would have gone on the ballot in November at no additional cost to the city. If one looks at the numbers of the original vote, you would see not only a dismally low turn-out but a high number of “undervotes” on the issue. These undervotes are determined by those who went to the polls but chose not to vote for an issue either way. This is usually a very good indicator that people feel uncomfortable voting because they don’t know enough about an issue. Think about your own experience, haven’t ever decided to not vote for the retention of a Missouri Supreme Court justice because you didn’t have a clue one way or another on how to vote?

Mr. Weller and Mr. Muench were two of the councilmen who decided that the voters of St. Charles shouldn’t have the opportunity to make an informed decision about the very structure of their city government.

Recently you received a nice political piece in the mail from your state senator. It was interesting to see how his letter included praise for all of his fellow legislators who are up for election this year. What a great idea to further use tax money to fund campaigns for incumbents! Again, I would call upon the Missouri Ethics Commission to do something of value and stop one-sided public financing of elections. I support public financing of elections if it is fair and allows opposition an equal chance to have their message heard, but supplementing campaign mailers with public mailings should be one of the first things campaign reformers tackle in Jefferson City if they are claiming to want real reform.

November will offer a chance for voters to voice their disdain for a system tainted by wealthy lobbies and corporate dollars. Voting for the status quo will simply be confirmation that we as an electorate do not care that our lawmakers can funnel money to finance their campaigns or that they can abuse their incumbency for their own campaigns by mailing out what amounts to endorsements and campaign literature on the public’s dime.
Recently, two prominent Republicans have publicly criticized their own party’s dishonesty. This simply reinforces what we already know about the party’s tactics in Tommy Green’s race where they sent out blatant lies about Mr. Green’s travels. So misleading were their claims that a (Republican) judge has allowed Mr. Green’s lawsuit to proceed against the Republican Party. Does telling lies imbue the family values they so often tout around election time?

Back to a national issue: the administration recently brought up the need for social security and medicare reform (i.e. dismantling) because the two programs cannot be afforded. If it isn’t blatantly obvious to you by now that our nation can afford those things it has the will to afford, then please step back and take a look at all of the things we seem to be able to afford – things that would certainly shore up both social security and medicare for many years to come. Things such as: estate tax reduction, capital gains tax reductions, income tax reduction for the wealthiest Americans, prolonged warfare and $75 dollar cases of soda provided by subsidiaries of Halliburton, a billion-dollar war on drugs that seems to throw money into an endless pit with few promising results, construction of new airports and their expansion despite the lack of a market for such, corporate welfare, foreign aid... surely our seniors, our orphans, our most vulnerable members of society should come first IF claims of family values are to be more than political rhetoric.
In one breath, we are told that economic recovery is here, and in the next news report we hear about how public toll roads are being sold to foreign countries. That’s right, Asian interests are purchasing toll roads in Indiana and in Chicago. Our tax dollars built these roads that are now being sold off! What reason is given for their sale? These governments are cash-strapped. A story on the radio today even claimed that the federal government’s highway trust fund is nearly bankrupt.

The Right is certainly moving closer to their wish of a government that can be drowned in a bathtub, only problem is, they didn’t tell you that the replacement would be their powerful friends. Look for Interstate 70 to soon become the Halliburton Highway from St. Louis to Kansas City. Besides a gas bill of $100 to drive across state, tolls may just cost you another $50.00 to boot.

Professor Terry Jones made a great point about the proposed new two-lane highway for truck usage being funded by a ten-year statewide sales tax – this tax is regressive because all of us will pay for this construction even those of us who do not drive trucks....not to mention those in our state who have no automobile at all. Instead, increase diesel fuel taxes for trucks, increase licenses for trucks to reflect the rates of all of our neighboring states. If the highway will be solely used for truck traffic, why not make those toll roads – owned by the State of Missouri, not a private corporation.
If our voting machines are not tampered with in November, I hope that election results will send a message from coast to coast that the American people yearn for good government that has vision and works for citizens rather than corporations.

I believe there are enough of us out there that still believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can be much better than what we have had for the past few years...