Meet the Delegates: Joe Smallhoover – Democrats Abroad

Joe SmallhooverJoe Smallhoover is the Chair of Democrats Abroad France. We tried unsuccessfully to find some time together during the convention, but finally a mutually workable time a few days afterwards.

While he lives in Paris now, Joe was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Upper St. Clair, PA. He attended Washington and Jefferson College and Duke University. He holds an MA in Germanic languages from the University of Virginia and did advanced studies in Europe on a Fullbright, as an exchange teacher before returning to the US to obtain a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He has lived in Paris since 1985, and has practiced law in France, Belgium and Germany.

DocJess: Where did you get your interest in politics?

Joe Smallhoover: I have been involved since I was in diapers. My grandfather was the Chair of the Allegheny County Commissioners from 1934 until the late 1950’s and active in the Democratic Party all his life. I grew up in that household and was treated to seeing state and local dignitaries on a regular basis and learned the ins and outs of politics.

DJ: Democrats Abroad is a group of ex-pats…

JS: Let me stop you. Often people say “ex-patriots” instead of “expatriates” as if we are not patriotic Americans. We certainly are patriotic, and one of the ways we show that is by voting. We just happen to be living outside the country and prefer to be called Overseas Americans or Americans Abroad.

DJ: Sorry, I meant no disrespect.

JS: I know. It’s a common theme we deal with.

DJ: So. If I lived outside the country, how would I join Democrats Abroad? What exactly do you do?

JS: Democrats Abroad (DA) is recognized as a state party by the Democratic National Committee and we even have our own primary. The French and English groups are the oldest within the umbrella of DA, both chapters having been formed in 1964. We have committees in 41 countries, active but less organized committees in another 20 countries, and members from 160 countries.

If you are an American abroad, you can vote in the state primary of the state you lived in just prior to moving overseas, or you can participate in the Democratic primary as a part of DA.  Democrats Abroad, by the way, also participates directly in the DNC, with seats on various committees.

DJ: Is that true for the general election?

JS: Overall yes, in most cases. Federal law says that Americans living abroad can participate in Federal elections. There is a Federal ballot that can be used, or in some states, Americans abroad can file an absentee ballot for that state which would include all the offices on all the other ballots for that state.

However, some states will make you pay state income taxes if you vote on the state ballot because it establishes part of a residency requirement. Some states won’t charge taxes. It’s a fluid situation as states do change their rules over time. I lived in California just before I moved to France, and it used to be that you had to pay state taxes to vote absentee in state and local elections, but that was changed a few years ago.

Many states have an overseas ballot that is a Federal ballot. These ballots are both for civilians overseas as well as uniformed (military) voters. The rule is you can file one ballot or the other, not both.

DJ: What do you do to encourage voting?

JS: In France, we have an event every week across the land. We have multiple talks on issues that affect people. We also have caucuses, such as the Minority, Women, LGBT, and Youth. We have programs to discuss topics like the environment, economy, etc. We hold dinner debates, as well as social events. We are active and embedded in the American community overseas.

I started an internet site close to 30 years ago, before it was popular, after someone complained he couldn’t find Democrats Abroad. It was a nascent, flat site, but it was a start and I saw the benefit of early adoption. Now, we’re active on our websites, and we leverage social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to do as much outreach as possible so people can find us easily.

DJ: Do the Republicans have something similar?

JS: They tried, but they were more about fundraising. They’ve dissipated. They’re smaller than DA by at least a factor of 10, and they are not active in as many places. We have precincts and wards and a “county/state” structure while the Republicans have some elections but they’re relatively small, and most of their folks are involved by appointment and not election.

DJ: Was this your first convention?

1928-democratic-national-convention-ticket-valueJS: No. A member of my family has been present at every convention since 1928. I have attended all the conventions since 1996.

DJ: What did you think of Philadelphia?

JS: Each convention is a little different because of the dynamics of delegates, candidates and the city itself. Philadelphia was very welcoming. It was a wonderful feeling, being a native Pennsylvanian. The convention was smoothly organized. There were very few glitches that make being and attending difficult. Except meals were difficult. The lines were long and once you were in the arena there weren’t any other nearby options. But that’s to be expected and taken in stride.

The convention itself was absolutely spectacular. The speakers were tremendous and there were a number of surprises like Khizr Khan. When he held up a copy of the Constitution, it was one of the most powerful things I’d ever seen at a convention.

I also appreciated Gabby Giffords. I’d met her in Paris before she’d regained the power of speech, and to see her take the podium, and speak, well, all I could think was if she could do this with her limitations, imagine how much brilliance must be locked inside of her.

DJ: And Larry Sanders?

JS: We had all seen him tear up in private, and were overwhelmed by the pride he had for his brother. It was very powerful, and then, we got to see his brother react. It was a moment that won’t soon be repeated.

DJ: One last thing. Some of my readers either live overseas or have kids who live overseas. How do they connect with you?

JS: Our site is www.democratsabroad.org and if they need to register, they can go directly to www.votefromabroad.org/vote. As long as someone makes the deadline, which differs in the various states, a ballot should be automatically sent, although one can download a Federal write-in absentee ballot as a substitute. All the instructions are available on the website.

See our full series of delegate interviews.

Giffords Receives the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

— by John Tackeff

Last weekend, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented former Representative Gabrielle Giffords with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In her remarks, Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, praised Giffords for her acts of courage and commitment to public service:

Today, we honor a woman who inspires the entire world, Gabrielle Giffords has turned a personal nightmare into a movement for political change. After an assassination attempt ended her Congressional career and left her with grave injuries, she fearlessly returned to public life as an advocate for new legislation to prevent gun violence. When others would have withdrawn from public life, she has challenged us all to reengage in the political process. When others would have given up hope, Gabby has been unwavering in her belief that politics can solve problems. When others would have looked for excuses, Gabby has inspired action. She perseveres not just for herself, but for Newtown, and Aurora, for Chicago and Tucson.

More after the jump.
Giffords released a statement thanking the Kennedy Library for the recognition of her work:

It is such an honor to receive the Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Library. I believe we all have courage inside us, even when it’s hard to express. I want to keep working to make the world a better place, and I am so grateful.

Fmr. Rep. Giffords At Gun Violence Hearing: “We Must Do Something”

— by David Streeter

Former Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who was wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, delivered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Giffords said in her impassioned and moving opening statement:

Thank you for inviting me here today.

This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.

Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.

It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.

Profiles in Absurdity


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) escorts Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) into the House of Representatives for the 2012 State of the Union

Part 3 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives
— Allen West’s belated Valentine’s Day message to colleague Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

To revive the economy, a majority of the House slashed  $126 million during February 2011 from the National Weather Service, the agency which operates the Pacific Tsunami Warming Center in Hawaii, which in turn issued warnings minutes after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

“The nation is in an historic fiscal crisis, and it is imperative that the Congress roll back spending in virtually every area — including NOAA — so that we can help our economy (get) back on track,” explained Jennifer Hing, GOP congressional spokeswoman

Tea partiers ignored safety concerns when they eliminated $61 billion in expenses. The House passed a bill slashing $61 billion, but the Democratic-controlled Senate disregarded the legislation.

More after the jump.
A union representative, quoted by the Associated Press, said the proposal could lead to furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices, which might in turn impair the center’s ability to issue warnings comparable to those issued on March 11. “People could die,” said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The weather service cuts were part of $454 million in reductions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, asserted the need for the warning system, AP reported. “This disaster displays the need to keep the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fully funded and operational,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I hope my Republican colleagues in the House are now aware that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.”

Hing, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, insisted that House members understand that critical lifesaving and safety programs are maintained, according to AP. She said funds for a network of buoys to detect tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean will be retained.
It would be devastating if Hawaii and California were struck by a tsunami without an opportunity to minimize the damage. Hawaii is a tourist mecca and California is our most populous state, home of countless, innovative industries.

One would think the Republicans are anxious to preserve that part of our economy.


Our system has produced many members of the House and Senate who have done well, and there have been times they disgraced their office. A few samples of the latter, mainly Republicans:  

John A. Boehner infused three odious attitudes into this Feb. 15, 2011, sound bite:

Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke.

Boehner, Speaker of the House then, was accused of lying about those 200,000 jobs and shed no tears — his specialty, remember? — over lost jobs, but what’s really incredulous is his claim that “we’re broke.” He broke the national bank, along with most of his cronies in Congress and the former Bush administration. They could have saved programs under the “human services” label by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Thank the filibuster and the Senate’s composition. The Democratic majority in December 2011 sought to restore higher tax rates for couples earning more than $250,000 yearly, but the filibuster process blocked it.

George W. Bush entered the White House with a comfortable surplus and produced a colossal deficit. In between, the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and slashed taxes for the wealthy.

Our military forces exited Iraq at the end of 2011 and, at this writing, we are stuck in Afghanistan. In December 2010, Democrats in Congress sought to revive higher tax rates for the wealthy, but Senate Republicans filibustered their way to maintain the lower tax rates.

Boehner never complained. He must share the blame now that “we’re broke.” So be it.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain reminded Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a committee hearing that his governor sent her a request to waive Medicaid requirements to save $541 million in annual state expenses. This exchange was broadcast on C-span.

In March 2010, when Obama signed the watered-down Affordable Care Act into law. McCain did his part in quashing any chance for creation of a publicly-funded health-care system.

On Jan. 19, 2011, 242 Republicans and three Democrats in the House passed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law.” Arizona’s Republican House members who voted for it were Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Paul R. Gosar, Benjamin “son of Dan” Quayle and David Schweikert, while Arizona Democrats Ed Pastor and Raul M. Grijalva voted against the bill. Of course, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was hospitalized after surviving the Jan. 8 assassination attempt.

Arizona was among 26 states challenging the health-care law in court. One federal judge even ruled the entire law to be unconstitutional. However, these challenges were expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer faced a cash-flow nightmare. Collectively, many states were contending with a budget gap estimated at $125 billion. Brewer wanted to make up for almost half the state’s deficit by dumping 280,000 Arizonans from Medicaid coverage.

She sent a letter to Sebelius asking for a waiver in the new health-care law that requires the states to retain eligibility levels if they want to receive federal Medicaid money, according to The New York Times; other governors in both parties planned to follow suit. She wrote:

Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request. However, I am left no other viable alternative.

Brewer wanted to unload 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid who were allowed eligibility as the result of a 2000 referendum. It was funded from cigarette levies and a tobacco lawsuit until 2004, when the general fund took up the slack, according to the Times.

Here was my recommended response from Sebelius, the mild-language version:

Jan, you talk about a heavy heart. You and your pals in Congress have hardened my heart. Democratic governors will get serious consideration for a waiver, but not any of you knotheads from Austin, Atlanta, Tallahassee or your beloved Phoenix. You might not have this problem if your cohorts in Congress had not obstructed a serious initiative to reform our health-care system. As my Democratic friends from the Bronx would say, waiver this! And give my best regards to Sen. McCain.

Rep. Allen B. West, a Republican, revealed serious mental-health issues when he sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a nasty personal note after she attacked his defense of a bill to reduce Medicare and other domestic spending on July 19, 2011. (Okay, so I’m not licensed to make m-h diagnoses; you judge).

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that Schultz, a Democrat, took to the House floor and said:

The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries — unbelievable from a member from south Florida.

West left the chamber immediately after his own speech, prompting Schultz’s rebuttal on the floor. He subsequently fired off this memo to Schultz and House leaders:

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!

Actually, West focuses on a different congressional district. He lives in Schultz’s district, but represents an adjacent district covering parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, though that’s a minor aspect.

In a fundraising letter, West wrote that Schultz “attacked me personally for supporting the legislation.” He has also griped about criticism for being a black conservative, sort of the Clarence Thomas of  Congress.

Schultz’s criticism of West on the House floor is known as “fair game.” Politicians habitually snipe at each other over policy issues. The grown-ups take it in stride, but West could not, well, take it.

Schultz was on target when she told The Miami Herald:

It’s not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend that. If he feels that concerned and gets that churned up over having to defend his position then he probably should reconsider his position.

Hmm… Since when was she licensed to make mental-health diagnoses?

Tom DeLay offered these words of wisdom on Jan. 10, 2011:

This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, very dangerous to our system. It’s not enough to ruin your reputation. They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family.

“This criminalization of politics” did not disturb DeLay when he engineered the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 because the president lied about…his sex life.

DeLay felt far differently about it when Travis County Court Judge Pat Priest in Austin sentenced him to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy — the result of his role in channeling corporate donations to Texas state races in 2002, according to the New York Times.

The evidence presented at the trial showed that DeLay and two associates routed $190,000 in corporate donations in 2002 to several Republican candidates for the state legislature, using the Republican National Committee as a conduit. Texas law bars corporations from contributing directly to political campaigns.

DeLay and his Republican friends pushed for Clinton’s impeachment on grounds that he lied in court about sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern. There were suggestions that Clinton’s denial did not constitute perjury. Clinton did nothing that affected his presidential duties. However anyone regards Clinton’s behavior, what’s the difference in terms of his job?

It was petty stuff, which is what DeLay claims about his conviction and sentencing. In fact, he charges that the Democratic district attorney was using the law to avenge his empowerment of Republicans.

DeLay was not using the power of impeachment to avenge Clinton’s empowerment of Democrats?

DeLay’s hypocrisy surfaced then, but his abuse of the Constitution’s impeachment clause was offensive.

Impeachment is briefly covered in Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

.

The framers of the Constitution had higher purposes for the impeachment clause than settling political scores. Now DeLay, who appealed his sentence, felt victimized by an unfair legal situation. Bad law or not, he was still convicted of violating it.

Next excerpt: To change policy, change the system

Gabby Giffords Resigns From Congress

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ): Arizona is my home, always will be. A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together. I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice. Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week. I’m getting better. Every day, my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.”

Reaction from NJDC after the jump.
 The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) reacted today to the news that Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) will be stepping down from her seat in Congress representing Arizona’s Eighth District. NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley and Vice-Chair Marc Winkelman said:

“We are so tremendously proud of the remarkable determination and resiliency that Gabby has shown in her amazing recovery; indeed all Americans have watched in awe as she has taken her first steps and grown stronger and stronger. While we have all eagerly hoped for the day that Gabby would rejoin her colleagues on a daily basis on Capitol Hill, it’s a sign of how highly she values her constituents and her district that she has made this very difficult decision to step aside. We thank Gabby for her more than ten years of public service representing Arizona’s needs and progressive values — first in the Arizona legislature and then in Congress since 2007. We wish her continued quick healing on her path to recovery, and we look forward to the occasion when we can welcome her back to public life.”

 

Gabrielle Giffords Update

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is improving steadily. Her warmth is evident and she quickly bonded with the medical staff at TIRR. She can sit up, smiles to greet people who come into her room, and she understands the nursing staff whether they speak to her in English or in Spanish. Gabby has a very long road ahead of her, with daily physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.  It is very hard work, but for Gabby, hard work is nothing new. We remain hopeful about her recovery, which continues on a steady upward trajectory. Her parents are with her now, and she is responding to their presence and to the love pouring in from across the country, especially from Arizona.

Her husband Astronaut Mark E. Kelly spoke yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. See video to the right.

NASA announced yesterday that Mark will rejoin the STS 134 space shuttle crew that is scheduled to launch on April 19. Gabby has always been a strong supporter of Mark’s work for NASA and our country. Mark and his crew have trained for the past 18 months.  

Messages in the Mayhem

Rabbi Avi Shafran

You’ll log many a mile to find someone more disapproving than I am of the anger and vilification that characterize so much of American political discourse.  But to lay the tragic January 8 shooting rampage in Tucson on the doorstep of politicians or pundits is silly, and no less incendiary itself than any firearms metaphor.  To be sure, political opponents should not be compared to Nazis or have crosshairs superimposed on their faces.  But because such things are ugly and sophomoric, not because they induce violence.  

More after the jump.
Yes, there have certainly been politically and ideologically motivated murders, but much mayhem has also been visited on public servants by actors impelled not by creed but craziness.  

And delusions were clearly the demons prodding Jared Lee Loughner.  Teachers and fellow students of the alleged Tucson killer at the community college he briefly attended were sufficiently concerned by his odd behavior, inexplicable bursts of laughter, non sequiturs and bizarre tirades to have raised alarms with the administration, which asked him to leave the school.  His philosophy professor said that Loughner’s “brains were scrambled” and that he had never once brought up politics in class.  The shrine discovered in Loughner’s backyard, complete with skull and candles, rounded out the picture of a deeply disturbed person, not some earnest observer of current events pushed over the edge by political ads.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t societal soul-searching to be done.  There was a time, after all, when the disgruntled, disenfranchised and demented chose to express themselves by standing on soapboxes and ranting.  Guns, knives and explosives were no less available to them than they were to the angry workers, teenage school-shooters and wild-eyed conspiracy theorists who have spilled so much innocent blood at workplaces, campuses and shopping centers in more recent years.  Why have so many citizens, whatever their emotional state, turned these days to murder to make a point?  More important: What does the turning say to America?

Any Jew who received a proper Torah education has internalized the subtle but sage concept that, although we are not prophets, we do well to seek in tragic events some message about how we might improve our behavior.

No, it isn’t, as some simpletons assume, precise cause and effect that we seek, but some message, some pointing to where we might stand to improve.  Our country would benefit these days from a similar searching of the national soul.

Even if the Tucson shooter is a nutcase, in other words, his horrible act can and should serve as an impetus for politicos, pundits and all Americans to more carefully consider our patterns of speech (and “our,” dear Democrats and Republicans alike, means “our,” not “their”).  Political epithets may not yield violence, but incivility still coarsens society.

There may, though, be another introspection-ripe place pointed to by the disregard for human life that has woven its way into American society.  

Because a subtle waning of respect for life, particularly at its beginning and end, has been evident in our society over recent years.

Well over one million abortions, for instance, take place each year nationwide.  It was recently reported that fully 41% of all pregnancies in New York City this year were “terminated.”  

American ethicists have made pronouncements about what constitutes “quality of life,” advising medical personnel when further care of patients is “futile.”  “Brain stem death,” where activity in higher parts of a brain might still be present, has become an enthusiastically embraced criterion for the removal of vital organs.  

Princeton Bioethics Professor Peter Singer considers “the life of a newborn” to be “of less value than the life of a pig” and advocates for the euthanasia of severely disabled infants.

Asked by The New York Times in 2005 what value he thinks may disappear in the next 35 years, he responded: “the traditional view of the sanctity of human life.”

People like Jared Lee Loughner may already be ahead of that treacherous curve.

And America needs to begin blocking the road.

© 2011 AMI MAGAZINE

Sarah Palin Confuses “Blood Libel” with “Libel”

Sarah Palin was recently interviewed by Sean Hannity, another host on Fox News. Hannity asked her if she knew the meaning of the term “Blood Libel” which she used to describe efforts to link conservative rhetoric with the shooting of Jewish Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson:

Blood libel obviously means being falsely accused.

According to Google:

Blood libels are false and sensationalized allegations that a person or group engages in human sacrifice, often accompanied by the claim that the blood of the victims is used in various rituals and/or acts of cannibalism. The alleged victims are often children.

whereas Google defines “libel” as

a false and malicious publication printed for the purpose of defaming a living person.

Mainstream Republicans Scared to Death by Tea Party

Several mainstream Republicans have resigned from leadership roles in Arizona’s 20th Legislative District due to concerns about the safety of their families in light of threats from the Awtaukee Tea Party, and the recent massacre in Tucson.

Anthony Miller resigned as chair of the Republican party in the 20th district along with Republican party secretary Sophia Johnson, the district Republican vice-chairman Roger Dickinson, and the district Republican spokesman Jeff Kolb.

Miller, a 43-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former campaign worker for U.S. Sen. John McCain, was re-elected to a second one-year term last month. He said constant verbal attacks after that election and Internet blog posts by some local members with Tea Party ties made him worry about his family’s safety.

In an e-mail sent a few hours after Saturday’s massacre in Tucson that killed six and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Miller told state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen he was quitting: “Today my wife of 20 yrs ask (sic) me do I think that my PCs (Precinct Committee members) will shoot at our home? So with this being said I am stepping down from LD20GOP Chairman…I will make a full statement on Monday.”

“I wasn’t going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday,” Miller said. “I love the Republican Party but I don’t want to take a bullet for anyone.”

Read more in the Arizona Republic.