As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Villager Backscratching

Ed Rendell likes him some Chris Matthews for Senate in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell gave Chris Matthews a glowing endorsement for his potential Senate candidacy today, calling the MSNBC host the “strongest Democratic candidate without any doubt” in an interview on Bloomberg TV.

Rendell added that he doesn’t “really know” if Matthews has made a decision to run yet. And he cautioned that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) would be a formidable opponent because of his strong ties to independents and moderate Democrats.

Rendell's longtime political consultant, Neil Oxman, has been talking with Matthews about running for Specter's seat and is encouraging him to jump in the race.

Not surprising. Tweety has been fellating Rendell for the past year, giving him all kinds of face time, particularly throughout the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary, when he was practically on every day. It's been the most gruesome and blatant suck-up session I've ever seen in public. Here's some of it:

* During the 6 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC's November 4 presidential election coverage, during an interview with Rendell in which Rendell said, "We're doing especially well in the Philadelphia suburbs, which you know have always been a swing area," Matthews replied: "Well, that's the Rendell strength you've just described. That's where you've always done incredibly well: the suburbs of Philly, the city itself, of course, where you were mayor." Matthews later said, "Well, you're the best political analyst in Pennsylvania, Governor."

* During an interview with Rendell on the October 23 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Matthews prefaced a question by saying, "I want to run this by you because you're the best pol in the state."

* During the April 2 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House with David Gregory, Matthews said of the Pennsylvania governor: "I think Eddie Rendell is the smartest politician in this state, as we know."

* During an interview with Rendell on the March 31 edition of Hardball, Matthews asked Rendell: "Would you be available ... to be a running mate with [then-Democratic primary rivals Sens.] Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?" Matthews later went on to say, "I think you'd be a great running -- I understand the situation at home and your responsibilities to the commonwealth. Anyway, I'm here to build you up because I do think you're the best pol around." He added: "[Y]ou're running a hell of a campaign for Hillary Clinton."

* During the opening of the February 13 edition of Hardball, during which he teased an upcoming interview with Rendell, Matthews said: "We'll ask one of the smartest people in politics, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who's on Senator Clinton's side in this fight."

* During the 8 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC's January 8 presidential primary election coverage and during an interview with Rendell in which Rendell and Matthews discussed potential vice-presidential choices for the Democratic ticket, Rendell said: "[T]here are a wealth of good candidates. I mean, if Barack Obama was our candidate for president, I think Joe Biden with his foreign policy and terrorism experience would be perfect. I mean, we've got a whole host of good candidates." Matthews replied: "No, you'd be actually better, because you're very good at slicing up the opposition." He went on to say, "You'd be a great VP running mate."

I don't think Rendell's vain enough to be swayed by simple flattery. But he has a history of playing kingmaker in Pennsylvania since he was mayor of Philadelphia when I lived there, and all the time on the teevee feted as the grand poohbah of politics in one of the most important swing states in the country certainly has a salutary effect for his public profile. And it's rubbed off on him. This week he pontificated on Obama's "mishandling" of the Blagojevich scandal like a good little Villager.

Rendell's got some candid observations here too about President-elect Barack Obama and his mishandling of the state scandal now surrounding his former political ally, Blagojevich.

Rendell's pointed criticism of Obama: Perhaps because the new president has never had any executive-level experience, as with a governorship, he's let the issue of any Blagojevich connection or non-connection with his team hang around way too long.

Could have made it a one-day story by saying: "I never talked to the governor, but, of course, my staff did on this day, this day and that day. But as you can tell from the governor's swearing about me, we were never a part of any dealmaking. Period."

Thanks so much for perpetuating the non-story and demanding the answering of more meaningless "questions," Eddie! You're the best pol in the state!

The Matthews thing is just one Villager paying off another.

P.S. Rendell's such a paragon of honesty himself, and so smooth with the press, he's perfectly qualified on this issue.

Back in the day, when Eddie was America's Mayor, his temper and passion for Philadelphia were spicy hot. Once, after a particularly stressful day, the Mayor encountered Amy Rosenberg, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer who was brazen enough to ask a question his Honor didn't like. What was she thinking?

Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who chronicled Rendell's first mayoral term in his book, A Prayer for the City, described the scene. "Suddenly and impulsively, he threw out his arm and grabbed the reporter by her neck and shoulders as they continued to walk, almost as if he was putting her in a vise. The look on his face, inches from hers, was a lock-jawed grimace, and he spit out his words as he muttered at least one obscenity. He looked frightening."

Yet, here comes the strange part of the story. Ed Rendell, our former D.A., never was charged, never hired an expensive attorney and never endured bad press. He apologized to Amy and later Amy's boss sent Rendell a letter thanking him for the apology but reminding him that the Inquirer still felt it was "inappropriate behavior" to manhandle reporters. Ouch, that must have hurt. "The paper was mercifully kind the next day in its reporting of what had taken place," Bissinger wrote.

Maybe that happened when Rendell didn't have any executive-level experience.

What a jerk.

Labels: , , ,


Doing What's Right

Yesterday, George Bush gave a commencement speech at Texas A&M where he focused on always being true to self.

A reflective President George W. Bush told graduates of Texas A&M University on Friday that popularity is capricious and what matters is whether they think they've done what is right.

In the final commencement address of his presidency, Bush commiserated with graduates who don't have a job, spoke wistfully about his affection for Texas and described the "tremendous privilege" of serving as president for two terms. He briefly became emotional when he talked about his 84-year-old father, who introduced his son [...]

"Remember that popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind. Character and conscience are as sturdy as the oaks on this campus," he told the graduates and their families at Reed Arena. "If you go home at night, look in the mirror and be satisfied that you have done what is right, you will pass the only test that matters."

Here's an example of Bush doing what's right, particularly for children:

No one knows why but when the Obama's asked to stay in Blair House during the transition so that they could get their kids enrolled in school, as is traditional of most incoming presidents, the current White House said "no."


White House officials declined to disclose specifically who is using Blair House during that period, for what purpose or how they could take precedence over the president-elect of the United States when it came to government housing; one White House official would say only that it had been booked for “receptions and gatherings” by members of the departing Bush administration. Those receptions, the official said, “don’t make it suitable for full-time occupancy by the Obamas yet.”

Always do what's right.

Labels: , ,


Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Random Ten

Here are the songs you need. Also,
please take my Blog Reader Project survey.
This offers a lot of demographic information to advertisers (not with your name attached, of course) that helps me with my ad sales, and it only takes a couple of minutes. So if you can, throw me a bone and fill it out. Thanks.

Smile Like You Mean It - The Killers
13 - Sylk130
How Many Cans? - Soul Coughing
Privately - Guided By Voices
Fire - The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Same Old Show - Basement Jaxx
I'm Slowly Turning Into You - The White Stripes
Breakin' - The Music
Sweet Little Angel - B.B. King
Two Words - Kanye West feat. Mos Def

Once again, take my Blog Reader Project survey.

Labels: , ,


These Aren't The Dead Zimbabweans You're Looking For

I guess when delusion has kept you in power for 30 years, you keep going with it:

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe declared Thursday that a cholera epidemic in the southern African nation had been "arrested," even as the United Nations said deaths from the illness had risen to 783.

In a speech at a funeral for a ruling party official, Mugabe credited the World Health Organization for helping contain the outbreak in Zimbabwe, which last week declared a national health emergency.

"Now there is no cholera, there is no cause for war," Mugabe said, according to news service reports. "We need doctors, not soldiers."

Mugabe's assessment of the outbreak was disputed by health-care organizations, which have flooded the economically devastated country in recent weeks with supplies and personnel. On Wednesday, the United Nations called for an additional $6 million to tackle cholera, which it said threatens "the well-being of thousands of people."

Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, told the Bloomberg news service that Mugabe's claim was "clearly madness."

This is beyond the point where anyone can shake their heads. People are dying because of Mugabe's fictions. The international community must come to their rescue.

...the latest claim from a Zimbabwean minister is that the UK used bioterrorism to cause the cholera outbreak. It wasn't the grinding poverty and dysfunctional government leading to disease. Nope.

Labels: , , ,


Tell Me How This Ends

Yesterday Robert Gates, on the ground in Afghanistan, discussed a rapid troop increase (around 20,000) in the country within a matter of months, and a “sustained commitment” over the next three to four YEARS (which would push our presence in Afghanistan to over a decade). Both Gates and Gen. David McKiernan, the top general in Afghanistan, sounded extremely pessimistic, but in ways that to me evoked nothing so much as Robert McNamara:

What was striking about the trip was the tone of weariness that cropped up in the remarks of both Mr. Gates and General McKiernan about the Afghan war. “Let’s put it in historical perspective — this country has been at war for the last 30 years,” General McKiernan told reporters, using the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 as the starting point. “Thirty years. That’s not going to stop overnight. So if your question is, might it get worse before it gets better, the answer is yes, it might.”

When Mr. Gates was asked here if the conflict would last 10 or 15 years, he made a comparison to the cold war. “I think that we are in many respects in an ideological conflict with violent extremists,” he said. “The last ideological conflict we were in lasted about 45 years.”

This idea that anyone, much less the Secretary of Defense, would make such an analogy between the Cold War and a regional conflict in a broken country, with all the attendant "central front in the war on terra" folderol, has to be very worrying to the safety and security of troops in that part of the world, fighting and dying for an extremely uncertain cause. Searching for meaning in Afghanistan is futile. You just have a bunch of old warhorses justifying the whole thing to themselves. Are we bringing democracy and freedom to a remote part of the world?

And then there were the daily frustrations of (British Lieut. Colonel Graeme) Armour's job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh." A week earlier, five Afghan police officers trained by Armour were murdered in their beds while defending a nearby checkpoint — possibly by other police officers. Their weapons and ammunition were stolen. "We're not sure of the motivation," Armour said. "They may have gone to join the Taliban or sold the guns in the market."

Are we solidifying a strong central government?

...once bin Laden slipped away (nice passive voice there -ed. ), the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It has been governed for thousands of years by local and regional tribal coalitions. The tribes have often been at one another's throats — a good part of the current "Taliban" uprising is nothing more than standard tribal rivalries juiced by Western arms and opium profits — except when foreigners have invaded the area, in which case the Afghans have united and slowly humiliated conquerors from Alexander the Great to the Soviets.

Are we fighting a defined enemy where we are on the side of the "Afghan people"?

It's also not clear who the United States should be talking to. A recent report by the Center for American Progress names six major Islamic insurgent groups fighting in Afghanistan--including not just the Taliban and Al Qaeda but a colorful cast of characters, such as the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan; the so-called "Haqqani Network," which recently tried to kill Karzai; and Hezb-i- Islami Gulbuddin, followers of the rapacious Afghan warlord and former bin Laden ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who once declared that, because a million Afghans had already died in civil wars there, he saw no great problem with another million perishing. The Taliban itself consists of numerous tribally oriented splinter groups with various leaders and motivations--some little more than criminal gangs who may be willing to cooperate with the United States for the right price. But the group's core leadership is not the deal-making kind. "When I was at the State Department, we had some dealings with [the Omar-led Taliban], and it always came down to 'We've got time and Allah on our side,'" says Weinbaum.

The mission is fuzzy, and thus the mistakes magnified, like the incident this week where US forces killed 6 Afghan police officers by accident during an assault on a suspected Taliban commander. When the local population has little understanding why these foreign fighters are in the country or even whose side they are on, incidents like this become more and more demoralizing and set public opinion against the foreigners with guns increasingly seen as an occupier.

Meanwhile, the commanders whose job it is to know these things understand what the commitment would have to be to even attempt what many consider to be a thankless and hopeless counterinsurgency mission.

Around the time of the November election, John Nagl, a retired Army Colonel, took a helicopter ride across Afghanistan. What he saw below worried him [...] Winning in Afghanistan, he realized, would take more than "a little tweak," as he put it to me from back in Washington a few weeks later, when he was still shaking off the gritty "Kabul crud" that afflicts traveler's lungs. It would take time, money, and blood. "It's a doubling of the U.S. commitment," Nagl said. "It's a doubling of the Afghan army, maybe a tripling. It's going to require a tax increase and a bigger army." [...]

Nagl's rule of thumb, the one found in the counterinsurgency manual, calls for at least a 1-to-50 ratio of security forces to civilians in contested areas. Applied to Afghanistan, which has both a bigger population (32 million) and a larger land mass (647,500 square miles) than Iraq, that gets you to some large numbers fast. Right now, the United States and its allies have some 65,000 troops in Afghanistan, as compared to about 140,000 in Iraq. By Nagl's ratio, Afghanistan's population calls for more than 600,000 security forces. Even adjusting for the relative stability of large swaths of the country, the ideal number could still total around 300,000--more than a quadrupling of current troop levels. Eventually, Afghanistan's national army could shoulder most of that burden. But, right now, those forces number a ragtag 60,000, a figure Nagl believes will need to at least double and maybe triple. Standing up a force of that size, as the example of Iraq has shown us, will take several years and consume billions of U.S. dollars.

Which of course is an impossible burden right now. But the questions everyone should be asking are not how we mask over that needed commitment, but: Why are we in Afghanistan, what is the desired end-state, where is the national security interest, and how can we possibly succeed? Otherwise, it becomes nothing but a resource suck. Having terrorists project power from a country where they have safe harbor is undesirable, but of course they already have that across the border in Pakistan, where the forces we're supposed to be fighting in Afghanistan are increasingly installed. Pakistan, of course, is an entirely different set of nightmares. These are complex and interconnected regional struggles, a "murky Chinese puzzle," as Juan Cole calls it, to which adding fresh sets of troops without thinking through the consequences for our military, for our hobbled finances, for our national security, seems to me unwise. The first step would be trying to actually explain why we're in Afghanistan and what our troops are expected to do there. If you can't, you ought to leave.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Workers Rising

While the job numbers are appalling and business plans to cut to the bone to survive the economic turmoil, we are seeing the rise of a new set of labor activism - workers demanding respect for the law and dignity for themselves. And they're starting to win some fights.

The employees at Republic Windows and Doors ended their sit-in strike with the bank acceding to their demands:

Jubilant workers, cheering and chanting "Yes We Can," celebrated outside a Chicago factory after approving a $1.75 million agreement to end their six-day sit-in, a dispute that became a symbol of the plight of labor nationwide [...]

About 200 of 240 laid-off workers began their sit-in last week after Republic gave them just three days' notice the plant was closing. They vowed to stay until they received assurances they would get severance and accrued vacation pay.

Each former Republic employee will get eight weeks' salary, all accrued vacation pay and two months' paid health care, said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who helped broker the deal. He said it works out to about $7,000 apiece.

That's not nothing, although of course they have no job. But it's a warning to any other company attempting to get away with stiffing their workers on their obligations.

And then there's this great achievement for the labor movement:

Workers at the world's largest pork slaughterhouse have voted for a union, ending a bitter fight and scoring a huge victory for organized labor in the South.

It was a narrow victory among the more than 4,500 employees at Smithfield Foods' Bladen County plant, who voted Wednesday and Thursday. The vote tally, released late Thursday, was 2,041 to 1,879.

"Today, justice has truly been served," said Mattie Fulcher, a nine-year employee of the plant. Fulcher, a union supporter who observed the count, said the union would protect her from a company where "the pigs mean more to them than I do."

The Washington, D.C.-based United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been trying to unionize the plant, about 80 miles south of Raleigh, since it opened in 1992. The plant's workers slaughter and butcher as many as 32,000 hogs a day.

You'll notice that it took 16 years to get the union, so, remember that the next time Republicans tell you that all they want is a democratic secret ballot for union elections. They actually want the ability to stall and delay and allow businesses to stop their workers from organizing.

A victory like this in the traditionally "right-to-work" South is doubly significant.

Don't mourn, organize.

Labels: , , , ,


California Leads On Climate Change

Yesterday's adoption by the California Air Resources Board of a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is really worthy of praise. Ignoring the bleatings of neo-Hooverists and apologists for polluters who insist that concern for the environment is a "job-killer," the board, led by Mary Nichols, put forward 31 rules designed to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This will force innovation and provide a boost to the economy and the burgeoning industry of green technology, as the Governor noted in his remarks.

The Modesto Bee has a look at some of the plans.

• Impose an emissions cap on utilities, refineries and other large industrial sources of greenhouse gases.
• Allow those large polluters to gradually lower emissions by participating in a cap-and-trade market.

• Put into effect a 2002 California law requiring automakes to produce cleaner vehicles. The Bush administration has blocked the law, but state regulators expect President-elect Barack Obama's administration will back it.
• Require fuel companies to reformulate fuels so they are a combined 10 percent less carbon-intensive by 2020.
• Give local governments incentives to curb urban sprawl and reduce how far people drive to work or school.
• Require cargo and cruise ships to turn off their engines while docked.

• Require utilities to generate one-third of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020.
• Strengthen energy-efficiency standards for appliances, as well as for existing and new buildings.

The fact that a renewable standard, cap and trade, green building, smart growth and development, energy efficiency and clean fuels are all combined into this large agreement is very hopeful. While the political sector is a mess, this is truly one area where California can become a model for the nation. And while there will be up-front costs, those can be mitigated by expected federal attention to renewable energy and green jobs, which could allow consumers to be eligible for federal tax incentives to implement these ideas. What's more, as Nichols argued, this is a big-picture savings over the long term.

But Air Resource Board chairwoman Mary Nichols said California's plan would save its residents and businesses money in the long run.

"We believe that California, again and again, has pushed for higher levels of efficiency in our electric sector, our buildings and appliances, and time after time it turns out efficiency measures have not only saved us money but leaped our economy ahead," Nichols said after the vote.

A board report found that the average household would save $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and living in more energy-efficient homes. And already, private investors have given more than $2.5 billion this year to new companies that have sprung up in California, in part to respond to the state's environmental goals, said Bob Epstein, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs.

"Our president-elect has called for stimulating our economy," said Bill Mcgavern, director of California's Sierra Club. "I think he and the Congress will be looking to the state of California, and these measures can serve as a model for the rest of the country."

This is one area where we can be proud to be Californians. The SacBee has more.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Because We Need Less Political Media In California

Looks like PolitickerCA is going down.

Twelve Politicker political news sites around the country, including in Colorado, were shut down and their reporters unexpectedly laid off Friday morning. The sites, billed as “Inside politics for political insiders,” covered news in 17 states around the country and are owned by the Observer Media Group, based in New York. sites in New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania will remain operating, according to a source with the company. Sites in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington state will disappear.

The sites were put up in a very aggressive way and appear to be coming down even more aggressively. PolitickerCA will definitely be missed. Their morning link-fest was perfect to keep up to date, and they had decent political reporting. But online media, always shaky in terms of their financial model, is likely to cut back very severely in the current environment.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the decisions made by government leaders in the state and the lack of news outlets reporting from Sacramento and throughout the state on local issues is in direct proportion.

Labels: , , ,


United Front Against Climate Change

In what is some big news out of Poland, developing nations are agreeing to sharp emissions cuts in the next Kyoto-style agreement.

POZNAN, Poland -- Several major developing countries that had long resisted making specific commitments to combat global warming are laying out concrete plans to curb their greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations climate conference here, a shift that could mark the most positive development in the slow-moving negotiations.

Getting the emerging economies -- such as China, Brazil and South Africa -- to limit their escalating carbon footprint has been seen as crucial to the prospects for a future global climate pact. For years these nations have argued that the industrial world must first own up to its historic responsibility and commit to binding cuts, while the United States and other developed countries have countered that they cannot afford to limit emissions until their international economic competitors do the same.

The past two weeks, however, have seen an easing of that impasse. Brazil has pledged to cut its annual deforestation rate by 70 percent by 2017 -- which could reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 45 percent over the next decade -- and Mexico has vowed to bring its carbon emissions to 50 percent below their 2002 levels by 2050.

China, South Korea, South Africa, India and even Kazakhstan are also planning cuts (I like!).

Now, in some ways, the lower emissions are a fait accompli given the global economic slowdown. Global oil use was down this year for the first time since 1983, and will probably continue to fall in the near term. But it's important that the slowdown be used as a moment to increase competitiveness along green energy lines, and spur the kind of innovation needed to maintain a carbon lifestyle without carbon usage. This can be done through increased energy efficiency and hard emissions targets. Thankfully, we will have a President committed to those steps, and an Energy Secretary who understands the science and technology needed to make great advancements, and who knows the engineers can do it if the lobbyists get out of the way.

Add in a little environmental activism and you have the ingredients for a very real global focus toward mitigating the worst effects of climate change. In these bleak times, at least this is encouraging.

UPDATE: The EU put together a big climate change pact today as well.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Some Other Clever Use Of Rod Blagojevich's Name As A Title

Rod Blagojevich is a marked man, but there's a right way and a wrong way to remove him from office. We have trial by jury in this country, and a legal effort to remove him by fiat as "unfit to serve" seems to me to be extra-judicial and just a way for the Attorney General of Illinois to grandstand a little bit. As her father is the head of the State House, and seems to be a little wary of impeachment, it looks to me like he's deferring to his daughter to allow her to get the credit. The much more responsible option is to go through the impeachment process and have this handled by the people's representatives.

Meanwhile, the continued drip-drip-drip of allegations are threatening to swallow up more people who came into Blagojevich's orbit. The man who replaced Obama in the Illinois State Senate, Kwame Raoul, explained to the New York Times that it was an "open secret" that Blago wanted something for the Senate appointment.

In a rare firsthand account of how Mr. Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat, went about the selection process, an Illinois state senator said in an interview that he had felt pressured to respond to the governor’s interest in him with a quid pro quo agreement and has withdrawn his name because of increasing wariness about the process.

The state senator, Kwame Raoul, who represents the South Side of Chicago, offered few details of his interaction with the governor’s office but said he received a call about a month ago confirming that he was under consideration. Soon afterward, however, Mr. Raoul said he ran head-on into another message: that the governor was looking for a candidate who offered something of tangible value to him.

“It was open knowledge among people in and around Springfield,” Mr. Raoul said. “Legislators and lobbyists alike openly talked about the fact that the governor would want to appoint somebody who would benefit him. I can firmly say that I’ve had these conversations, that I’ve spoken with both legislators and lobbyists who felt that that would be the consideration in his appointment.”

Mr. Raoul would not specifically say what the content of the conversations were, or whom they were with, except that the initial inquiry from the governor’s office was made by Victor Roberson, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs. Interest in his candidacy died on both sides, Mr. Raoul said, adding, “Obviously, the perception was that I didn’t have anything to give other than my service.”

That should completely exonerate Raoul, and it looks to me like the Obama campaign had the same kind of diffident response to Blagojevich's offer, yet the notion of any contact at all has the whiff of impropriety to a scandal-hungry media. And so Rahm Emanuel is taking heat for possibly taking a phone call to the Governor, to which he said "No" pretty firmly. That's pretty unfair to him. The Fox affiliate in Chicago is claiming they did talk, but what's more important is what was said.

Meanwhile, the questions around Jesse Jackson Jr. continue to swirl.

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich was trying to pick Illinois' next U.S. senator, businessmen with ties to both the governor and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. discussed raising at least $1 million for Blagojevich's campaign as a way to encourage him to pick Jackson for the job, the Tribune has learned.

Blagojevich made an appearance at an Oct. 31 luncheon meeting at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg sponsored by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak, a major Blagojevich supporter who also has fundraising and business ties to the Jackson family, according to several attendees and public records.

Two businessmen who attended the meeting and spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson's bid for the Senate.

Uh-oh. Suffice to say that I don't think Jackson's getting the Senate job anytime soon.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Senator Al? Why Not?

From an email by Al Franken's campaign:

We got some great news in the last hour.

The state canvassing board has soundly rejected the Coleman campaign's attempt to disenfranchise 133 voters in Minneapolis whose ballots were lost during the recount, unanimously deciding to count those votes. In addition, they urged Minnesota's 87 counties to identify, open, and count absentee ballots that were wrongly rejected.

This is a huge win for us, because our position has always been the simple principle that every lawful vote should be counted.

Eric Kleefeld estimates that this affects nearly 1,600 absentee ballots - and if they come in the way they've been coming in throughout the count, Al Franken has a very good chance of winning. I would expect Norm Coleman to sue, and eventually this whole thing might get decided by the courts. Of course, Coleman is already going to be busy in the courts, it appears.

ST. PAUL (FOX 9) -- The timing and cost of Sen. Norm Coleman's home renovation has again raised questions about allegations that an Edina, Minn. businessman funneled money to Norm Coleman's wife Laurie.
Video: Coleman Home Renovations

The FBI is now reportedly investigating the allegations that Nasser Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 in campaign contributions through the Senator's wife. By why would a U.S. Senator, who makes about $180,000 a year, need the money?

Norm Coleman's home in St. Paul's Crocus Hill neighborhood is not lavish -- but it's a lot nicer than it used to be, thanks in part to contractor Jim Taylors, who helped remodel the home two years ago.

"Put in a second floor master bedroom/bathroom, the bedroom was there, we just added a bathroom and closet and a kitchen remodel, actually turned into half the house remodel by the time we painted and refinished floors and did some landscape work," says Taylors.

The remodeled kitchen was the backdrop for some of the Senator's campaign commercials. FOX 9 learned the woman in charge of the project was Shari Wilsey, an interior designer. Wilsey, along with her husband Roger, are longtime friends of the Coleman's and financial contributors to the Senator's campaigns.

So does Coleman have separate lawyers for all this stuff?

Labels: , , , ,


TARP To The Rescue

It looks like Treasury is going to step in and provide the Big 3 with bridge loans, using the TARP money authorized by Congress.

WASHINGTON — The White House and the Treasury gave strong indications Friday that the U.S. government, at least temporarily, would help prop up the American auto industry.

"Because Congress failed to act, we will stand ready to prevent an imminent failure until Congress reconvenes and acts to address the long-term viability of the industry," Treasury spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said.

And, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it is considering using the Wall Street rescue fund to prevent the USA's strapped carmakers from failing.

Perino, speaking aboard Air Force One as President Bush flew to Texas for a commencement speech, said it would be "irresponsible" to further erode the economy by allowing failure in Detroit.

If this indeed does go through, it would have to just be a loan, with little or no strings attached. Instead of following through with a tough negotiation, Senate Republicans get nothing. If this was a game of chicken, Harry Reid played it pretty nicely, actually. He must have known that there's still a whiff of self-protection in Bushworld and that they don't want to be compared with Hoover (even though they will anyway).

As for Senate Republicans, the full story of what they did is astounding.

They were invited, repeatedly, to participate in more than a week of negotiations with a Republican White House. They declined.

They were asked to provide an alternative bill. They refused.

Finally, one of their members - Senator Corker of Tennessee - participated in a day-long negotiation with Senate Democrats, the UAW, and bondholders. Everyone made major concessions. Democrats gave up efficiency and emissions standards. UAW accepted major benefit cuts and agreed to reduce workers' wages. Bondholders signed off on a serious haircut. But when Senator Corker took the deal back to the Republican Conference, they argued for two hours and ultimately rejected it.

Why? Because they wanted the federal government to forcibly reduce the wages of American workers within the next 12 months.

I guess the UAW agreed to rollbacks over 3 years, but not in 2009. That was the dealbreaker. Amazing.

Though not the best method, this is the best possible outcome, if it goes through.

However, I understand the GOP's long game here. They can now ramp up their "blame the union" strategy, say they weren't willing to "give in" to them, and roll that into the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act. If the auto companies survive, they did it on the dole and they're not a viable business. If they don't, they can say "I told you so" and blame the unions some more. It all exists in a vacuum, without the caveat that we're in the midst of a credit crisis and that the UAW already agreed to concessions which will factor in next year and that Ford, in particular, was making very good decisions until they ran into the brick wall of a global economic slowdown,

...I'd like it explained to me how Bob Corker becomes a Senate star in this scenario. He was sent out to break the union and cut the wages of millions of people in the Midwest. Do you think they'll have a lot of goodwill?

Labels: , , , ,


Thursday, December 11, 2008

There Now, Be A Good Little Unitary Executive

The auto rescue is dead. Notice how the AP blamed it entirely on the UAW in the lede, and not the neo-Hooverist Republicans who want to blame workers for the sins of executives, and boost the heavily-subsidized foreign auto companies making cars in their home states.

A $14 billion emergency bailout for U.S. automakers collapsed in the Senate Thursday night after the United Auto Workers refused to accede to Republican demands for swift wage cuts.

The collapse came after bipartisan talks on the auto rescue broke down over GOP demands that the United Auto Workers union agree to steep wage cuts by 2009 to bring their pay into line with Japanese carmakers.

Here's Harry Reid's statement:

"Given the unhappy choice between a bridge loan and bankruptcy, Democrats have always believed that we must give the Big Three and the millions of Americans they employ every possible chance to succeed.

"By rejecting every good-faith bipartisan compromise – including those from the White House and Senator Bob Corker – it is now abundantly clear that Republicans have no interest in keeping the Big Three from collapsing.

"Because Republicans failed to act, three million Americans are more likely than ever to lose their jobs and our economy is at risk of suffering even greater damage. Our hearts go out to those families who will now have to deal with this burden as the holidays near.

"Republicans may think that rejecting this legislation sent a message to the auto industry. Instead, they sent a message to every single American that they are more interested in settling scores than solving problems."

They took a cloture vote tonight, which failed 52-35. You'll notice that bipartisan maverick John McCain voted no. The 52 votes don't include Biden, Kerry (in Europe, I believe), Kennedy and Wyden (?). Add in those 4 plus Reid (who voted no for procedural reasons) and you're 3 votes away. Lame ducks Gordon Smith, John Sununu and Series of Toobz Stevens sat this out by not voting. Merkley, Shaheen and Begich would be likely to vote Yes, and add in Biden and Obama's successors (whenever that is) and you have the votes to pass this come Jan. 6 when the new Congress is sworn in.

But we probably don't have that kind of time. And so the only hope for GM and maybe Chrysler is for the Treasury Department to use some TARP money for the loans.

The proposal to loan $14 billion to Detroit's struggling automakers collapsed late Thursday night but the Big Three may get some money anyway.

Bush officials warned wavering GOP senators that if they didn't support the legislation, the White House will likely be forced to tap the Wall Street bailout to lend them money, two Republican congressional officials told CNN earlier.

This is a noteworthy change since the White House and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have previously refused to use bank bailout funds to help General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) and Chrysler LLC.

The sources asked not to be named because of the sensitivities of private conversations.

This probably plays well to Bush's inner decider. He gets to walk out and scold the Congressmen who didn't do his bidding and put it into law by executive fiat. And as much as I don't want to imbue the President with MORE executive power, at this point he already has it (in fact, Bernanke could hand out this money tomorrow), and faced with 3 million unemployed middle-class workers, I can handle my discomfort with the obliteration of checks and balances for just a few days longer. So I join the Democratic leadership in asking the Decider to go ahead and decide.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank today sent a letter to President George W. Bush to again urge him to use the authority provided under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) of 2008 to provide limited, temporary assistance to the automobile industry during this financial crisis. The letter notes that the failure of the Big 3 would have a major direct and negative impact on the financial sector, not just on the economy as a whole. The Treasury Department has stated that funding from the EESA should only be used to protect the U.S. financial sector.

In the letter, they further state: “Your decision to utilize the TARP funds, or to work with the Federal Reserve to make available assistance through its existing lending programs, or both, are essential to the Congress’ ability to address this critical economic situation in a timely manner, and would also eliminate the uncertainties inherent in the legislative process.”

If he's going to do this, he ought to do it EARLY in the day. Like before 9:30am. Between the imminent collapse of the domestic auto industry and this $50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme the SEC just uncovered, Wall Street is just going to be awful tomorrow.

In a crisis, we're all liberals. Make us proud, unitary executive.

...oh boy...

General Motors Corp. has hired bankruptcy counsel and restructuring advisers to prepare for a filing if Congress does not authorize $14 billion in emergency federal loans.

"The Board is meeting frequently and is monitoring the situation closely and is considering all options, as is management," GM spokesman Steve Harris told The Detroit News tonight. "And they have engaged appropriate advisors for all contingencies."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Legacy Of Ashes

The Bush Legacy Project is off to a rough start. Despite a fresh set of talking points and a round of gauzy interviews, the public doesn't want a damn thing to do with this guy anymore. What has been done cannot be undone.

While the public is giving Obama a nice honeymoon, it’s finalizing its divorce from President Bush. A whopping 79% in the poll say they’re not going to miss him when he leaves office. That’s compared with 55% who said the same of Clinton in December of 2000. Moreover, almost half (48%) think that Bush will go down as one of the worst presidents in our history. Just 18% said that of Clinton and only 6% said that of Bush 41. But Bush 43 isn’t the only Republican who has taken a hit in the new NBC/WSJ poll. Dick Cheney leaves office with sporting an all-time low in his personal rating. And the Republican Party’s fav/unfav is 27%-52%, which is its lowest rating ever in the poll (by comparison, the Democratic Party’s is nearly reversed, 49%-28%).

The hubris of these people, thinking they can throw around a bunch of shady facts and figures and bamboozle the public into loving George Bush again. That ship has sailed. People may not know every single outrageous assault on the dignity of this nation perpetrated over the past eight years, but they certainly have a sense of the broad strokes - the failed wars, the economic collapse, the destruction of at least one American city (and Detroit is on the brink). Not to mention that there's no contrition or even connection to current world events in these Bush "exit interviews." They are as devoid of humanity as they are of substance. Ezra Klein had a good piece on this in the LA Times.

Asked to reveal what would surprise us most about his presidency, Bush replied that "every day has been pretty joyous." That is indeed surprising. Asked if Barack Obama's victory wasn't a repudiation of Bush's presidency, Bush allowed that some people may have voted for Obama in reaction to his presidency, but overall, "most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living room for the next four years explaining policy."

The most galling answer, however, came when Gibson asked if Bush had any regrets. "The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," he said, entirely in the passive voice. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington, D.C., during the debate on Iraq. ... I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess." In other words, Bush did not let the American people down. The intelligence community let Bush -- and, let's not forget, lots of others -- down.

Nixon decided to give the country closure. That meant sacrificing the comfort of hiding behind partisanship, and it meant admitting the failures of his presidency. To date, Bush shows no such inclination. And on this, he retains agency. Conflicting evaluations of his presidency will simply collide in the postmodern thunderdome of contemporary partisanship. "I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history," he said to Gibson. "I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it." Then he laughed, even though it wasn't very funny.

See, Nixon, in his Shakesperian way, admitted his crimes. Bush gave a medal to Chuck Colson.

Actually, to me the Condi Rice interview on NPR was even more galling, considering that she had the nerve to offer a defense of the Administration on torture:

Q: And Guantanamo wasn’t sort of the only issue that tarnished the U.S. image. There is also the treatment of terror suspects, waterboarding, other methods of torture or –

RICE: Well, you know that I’m going to have to object, because the United States has always kept to its international obligations, which include international obligations on the Convention on Torture. The United States, the President, was determined after September 11th to do everything that was legal and within those obligations, international and domestic laws, to make sure that we prevented a follow-on attack.

They keep insisting that the ends justify the means, that the only focus in the minds of the top officials in the Administration was to "keep the country safe," and thus they had to commit the war crimes. At the same time, they try to pin the abuse on a "few bad apples," saying their actions are inconsistent with the comportment of the United States in meeting its international obligations.

The two statements are incompatible.

The physical and mental abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was the direct result of Bush administration detention policies and should not be dismissed as the work of bad guards or interrogators, according to a bipartisan Senate report released Thursday.

The Senate Armed Services Committee report concludes that harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA and the U.S. military were directly adapted from the training techniques used to prepare special forces personnel to resist interrogation by enemies that torture and abuse prisoners. The techniques included forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, and until 2003, waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning [...]

Administration officials publicly blamed the abuses on low-level soldiers-- the work ''of a few bad apples.'' Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called that ''both unconscionable and false.''

''The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees,'' Levin said.

Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, called the link between the survival training and U.S. interrogations of detainees inexcusable.

''These policies are wrong and must never be repeated,'' he said in a statement.

(That's right, man of honor and integrity John McCain popped up on this one. He has no right to say a word about it.)

And I should add, if the epitaph for the Bush Administration, so we are told, is "he kept us safe" (I guess every President has a 9-month mulligan on that), how can this be reconciled?

The military ignored steps before the invasion of Iraq that could have prevented the staggering number of casualties from roadside bombs, the Pentagon's acting inspector general charged Tuesday.

The IG's report says that the military knew years before the war that mines and homemade bombs, which the military calls "improvised explosive devices," would be a "threat . . . in low-intensity conflicts" and that "mine-resistant vehicles" were available.

"Yet the military did not develop requirements for, fund or acquire" safer vehicles, the report says. The military invaded Iraq in 2003 "without having taken available steps to acquire technology to mitigate the known mine and IED risk to soldiers and Marines."

Even after the war was under way, as the devices began taking a deadly toll and field commanders pressed for vehicles that were better protected from roadside bombs, the Pentagon was slow to act, the report says.

People may not know all the details, but they're very clear on their feelings. The Bush Legacy Project mirrors the Bush Presidency Project: a failure. That's not accountability, of course, and unless we start sending some people to jail these criminals will return like zombies to feast upon the body politic. The Bush reign isn't even over and some of his favorite Democrats are calling to retain all of his intelligence officials, which is disturbing beyond the point of reason.

I think we need our own "Legacy Project" to fill in the details and make sure this never happens again. The public is on our side and willing to listen.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


The Gitmo Random Ten

At the intersection of music and torture comes this list of songs played by interrogators at detention facilities around the world:

“Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera
“F*ck Your God,” Deicide
“Shoot to Thrill,” AC/DC
“We are The Champions,” Queen
“I Love You,” from “Barney and Friends”
“Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen
“Babylon,” David Gray
“White America,” Eminem
“Sesame Street” theme song

Other artists included "Aerosmith, Britney Spears, Don McLean, Lil’ Kim, Limp Bizkit, Matchbox 20, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tupac Shakur."

I'm just not seeing a lot of rhyme or reason here. Britney and Bruce should never be on the same list. And Don McLean is pretty soothing. Maybe the common thread is who gets the royalties. Can we chalk this up to Bush Administration cronyism? Follow the money!

(Yes, it's a serious subject, but any list with "Dirrty" in it doesn't get that treatment.)

...on a completely unrelated note, the baby from the Nirvana "Nevermind" cover is trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame. Despite the fact that we've all seen his penis.

Labels: , ,


Health Care "This Year"

In between fielding another pointless round of questions on Rod Blagojevich, Barack Obama used today's press conference to introduce Tom Daschle as the next Health and Human Services Secretary and to signal that he would move early in his term to reform health care.

"Some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our health care system. Well, I ask a different question -- I ask how we can afford not to....If we want to overcome our economic challenges, we must also finally address our health care challenge [...] This has to be interwoven into our economic recovery program. This can't be put off because we're in an emergency. This is the emergency!"

It's a very important way to look at the health care crisis, which is destroying both American families and American business with its twin outrages of soaring costs and reduced care. The key point, as Ezra Klein notes, is that Obama said he would seek to reform the system "in my first year." That suggests he is determined to move quickly on health care, which is exactly what is needed to secure passage. There are going to be a lot of neo-Hooverists out there calling for delay, but if Obama sticks with his solid rhetoric, he should parry those calls pretty easily. It's amazing what you can accomplish if you take the long view of the subject. If health care costs continue to expand at their current rate, today's recession will look like a small bump in the road.

Nobody really knew what Obama would spend his political capital on early in his term. If it's health care, I'm very pleased.

By the way, Daschle wasn't the only appointee on stage.

He also introduced Jeanne Lambrew's appointment as Daschle's deputy. Lambrew is an incredibly talented and knowledgeable health wonk, and her involvement should cheer liberals. Unlike during the campaign, when Obama's health care team seemed heavy on relatively cautious academics, Lambrew has long White House and executive branch experience, and comes to health care as a crusade as much as a topic of study. As Jon Cohn says, the importance of her presence "goes beyond the fact that she happens to know a heck of a lot about health care. She, too, has a strong commitment to what you might call the 'social justice' side of the debate."

More from Jon Cohn and Robert Pear at the NYT. a side note, one of Obama's core ideas to lower health care costs is electronic medical records. Ezra spells that out pretty nicely here. You wouldn't think that you could achieve as much savings just by putting health records online, but it turns out that the Veteran's Health Administration has gone electronic, and they save $33,000 a year per nurse practitioner, according to this study. That's pretty amazing. And we're finally at a moment where we can swallow the up-front costs:

But the problem is the upfront costs are quite high. Around $50,000 per physician. And that's not to include the time it takes to learn the system, or a doctor's preference for the way he's always done things. Which is why fewer than 20 percent of physicians have adopted the technology. At this point, it's clear you'd need some coordinating authority to help pay some of the upfront cost, and ensure standards and interoperability among systems. An authority like...the government. Even Kevin MD, as free market as they comes, agrees. "The ball is in the government's court. If universal electronic records are the happen, they have the ability to make it so." And now the government, under Obama, is planning to make it so, including real money for health information technology in the stimulus package. This is how the stimulus should be used: To make necessary and needed investments that will have lasting beneifts.


Labels: , , , , ,



I haven't seen the circus-tent media reaction to Obama's latest statement on Gov. Blagojevich, but hopefully this will calm the hounds for a while:

At his presser today, Barack Obama said he'd directed his advisers to assemble all the information about any contacts his team might have had with Governor Blagojevich about his Senate seat, and reiterated that he'd not had any direct contact with Blago himself.

"I've asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so that we can share them with you over the next few days," Obama said [...]

"I am confident no representatives of mine would have any part in any deals related to this seat," Obama said.

That this even has to be said is depressing. Blago asked for money or a spot in the cabinet or a spot for his wife on a state board in exchange for placing Obama's preferred candidate in the seat. He was rebuffed. He called Obama a motherfucker. Then Valerie Jarrett took her name out of consideration. How could anyone with Obama have any part in deals related to the Senate seat when they shut Blago's request down flat?

Meanwhile, Howard Dean has now joined the chorus calling on Blagojevich to resign. This, of course, proves that the Democrats are completely in the tank for the Illinois governor.

UPDATE: Shorter Ed Morrissey: Here's a picture of a two-second handshake at a Governor's meeting where every Governor and Barack Obama was present, PROVING that Obama and Blagojevich were scheming to trade 80,000 pounds of gold buillion and a pancake recipe for the Deputy Undersecretary for National Parks and Monuments! UPDATE to the UPDATE: Here's an undated photo sent out by Blagojevich after the election proving, once and for all, that at one time, the junior Senator from Illinois and the Governor of Illinois talked to each other!!!!

Labels: , , , ,


The Status Quo, Corruption, And Crisis

When Josh Richman, the fine reporter for the Oakland Tribune, called me for comment yesterday on the breaking news that Don Perata transferred $1.5 million dollars the day after the election from an IE account intended to elect Democrats to the State Senate and wage initiative campaigns into his personal legal defense fund, my initial reaction was "I'm not surprised." My slightly longer reaction is captured in the article:

David Dayen, an elected Democratic State Central Committee member from Santa Monica, blogged angrily this summer about his party's contribution to Perata's legal defense fund, contending the money would've been better spent on legislative races. The same goes for Leadership California's money, he said Wednesday; despite a Democratic presidential candidate carrying California by the largest margin since 1936, Democrats netted only three more Assembly seats and none in the state Senate.

"Every time I asked the California Democratic Party about getting more active and involved in local elections, they said the state Senate and the Assembly control those races "... and we don't have a lot of flexibility. So Perata, at that time, and Nunez or Bass had the authority to run those elections," Dayen said. "Now we see what happens when you vest power in these closed loops — suddenly self-interest becomes more important than the good of the party."

He believes this is why Perata didn't step aside as Pro Tem earlier, as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez relinquished his post to Karen Bass in May: "Darrell Steinberg was sitting there ready to go "... and we were all like, 'What the hell is going on?'

"We speculated it had to be that he still needed the leverage to make the calls to raise money for himself."

I want to expand on that. The behavior of Don Perata can be directly tied to the continuance of a status quo that has failed and is failing California families. At no time is the way elections are run - without transparency, without accountability, without meaningful checks on the potential for corruption - questioned by the powers that be. It is enabled through a shrug of the shoulders and the words "that's the way things are." What Perata did was perfectly legal, although that is subject to change, as the state Fair Political Practices Commission votes today on making such transfers illegal. But as Michael Kinsley famously said, "The scandal isn't what's illegal; it's what's legal." The bigger scandal is that there's no desire or even interest at the top to see that change. And why not - it suits them just fine.

California has 63% majorities in both chambers of the legislature, has just seen a 61% share of the vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate - and yet this state is completely, inescapably and hopelessly beholden to right-wing interests, as a function of a backwards set of governing rules that have climbed the budget hole over $40 billion dollars, without any reasonable hope of getting out of it. It's been beyond clear for several years now that the ultimate solution will come at the ballot box, and yet the state party has entrusted the most crucial elections, the ones that could net a working 2/3 majority in the Senate, to someone more concerned with saving his political hide. And so Hannah-Beth Jackson, who came within 1,200 votes of flipping a Republican seat, reads a story like this in shock and anger. And the citizens in SD-12, promised a recall of Jeff Denham; and those in SD-15, expecting a candidate in their majority-Democratic district to take on Abel Maldonado; they are similarly angry. Money they had every right to expect would go to help them now goes to help one man.

(By the way, the alibi from the defenders of Perata on this doesn't scan at all. First of all, nobody begrudges him from raising money in his own defense - the problem lies in taking that money from an account intended for campaign work. And second, if this is a "political witch hunt," as they say, why would he need this lump sum of money 75 days from the time when a Democratic Administration with no inclination to prosecute Democrats on allegedly bogus charges is about to be installed? It's either a witch hunt about to end or a going concern. The alibi is pathetic.)

But the larger point is that the status quo, the closed systems at the top of the Democratic leadership, the lack of transparency and accountability, create the crises we see in our state, or at least disable anyone from reacting to them. And this is not likely to change. John Burton is going to be the next state CDP Chair. He's been in politics for 205 years, and he's basically muscled out the competition for the job. Does anyone think that a lifelong pol, with a long history of backroom deals, the guy who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's cigar-smoking buddy (that seems like a good profile for the opposition party chair), gives a damn about urgently needed reform? He's making sweet little noises about turning red areas blue, but there's absolutely no hope that he will provide any change from the insular, chummy, mutual backscratching society that exists in Sacramento. Grassroots activists should be furious that, in the wake of seeing countless opportunities wasted and crises lengthened, we're boldly taking off into the future with a Party Chair who was first elected in 1965.

The future of California is a mystery right now, because there is a crisis of leadership and an unwillingness to reform. At the very least, activists should look to electing Hillary Crosby as State Party Controller so that someone in the room will have a reform message that can spark a modicum of change. But until the fundamentals are altered, we will lurch from one disaster to the next.

Labels: , , , , , ,


My Foreign Investor, Right Or Wrong

As Digby noted yesterday, the auto industry recovery package looked to be on life support. Looks like Mitch McConnell pulled the plug:

The Kentucky Republican, with a large auto presence in his state, had been seen as a potential ally for the industry, and he provided crucial support for the Treasury Department's financial markets rescue fund this fall. But he has since endured a punishing reelection fight. And faced with strong resistance in his caucus, he said that the bill "isn't nearly tough enough" and that he could not ask taxpayers to "subsidize failure." [...]

While not entirely surprising, the Republican opposition stands in contrast to what have been significant concessions by Democrats to try to move the bill forward.

"Much of this bill is dictated by the president. It is a stunning vote of no confidence," [Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)] said of the Republican opposition.

I think the first mistake was making a "deal" with the loathed President Bush and expecting that to hold.

But let's be clear what's going on here. A bunch of Southern-state Republicans (including, amazingly, Diaper Dandy David Vitter), from right-to-work states, want to push GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy to bolster the foreign auto presence in their home states. Kentucky has a Ford factory but they also have a Toyota plant in Georgetown, so McConnell's on board.

Last week, Jane Hamsher explained the conflict of interest for Bob Corker in Tennessee:

He hasn't mentioned the subsidies his own state of Tennessee has given to foreign automakers, making it harder for the Big 2 1/2 to compete:

Tennessee offered its richest incentive package — and perhaps the most government assistance and tax breaks ever for an American automobile plant — to lure Volkswagen to Chattanooga.

But the state’s chief business recruiter said Wednesday that the benefits from VW’s $1 billion assembly plant far will exceed what could top $500 million in government assistance and tax breaks for the project.

“The Volkswagen investment in this community is going to have a tremendous economic gain for the entire region,” said Matt Kisber, Tennessee’s commissioner for economic and community development. “I’m confident we’re going to have a very reasonable incentive package when you look at the initial costs of what is being offered compared with a much bigger long-term return.”

Yes, that's the logic -- these incentives will bring more money to the region than they cost. But it doesn't always work out that way. As David Cay Johnston noted in Free Lunch, these kinds of subsidies frequently wind up costing communities much more than they ever make back:

Johnson writes: "The tribute Cabela's demanded from Hamburg [Pennsylvania] amounted to roughly $8,000 for each man, woman, and child in town." Johnson points out that between 2004 and 2006, Cabela's earned $223.4 million. During those years, it collected at least $293.7 million in subsidies, more than its reported profits. Meanwhile a family business selling fishing and hunting gear was driven out of business in Hamburg.

Funny nobody is mentioning this.

The GOP does a lot of chest-thumping about "Country First" and patriotism. It's fun to watch them destroy American manufacturing so they can keep Japanese and German corporate executives happy. OK, maybe not so fun.

Labels: , , , , ,



Arlen Specter is a threatened incumbent. He wants to keep his job in the US Senate, but he faces challenges from the left and the right. A threatened politician is an unpredictable one. Thus you have him trying to make hay out of Eric Holder's confirmation hearings for Attorney General and his role in the Marc Rich pardon. Nobody much likes the Marc Rich pardon, so Specter probably thinks he gets plaudits from the right for challenging their favorite subject, Bill Clinton (this time by proxy), as well as not much heat from the left. It's ridiculous for Specter to say "questions must be addressed" when he can ask Holder personally, but what he wants is a big buildup to a contentious confirmation hearing where he can rail at the nominee and look all Senatorial. Patrick Leahy is having none of it but I expect that Specter will probably get his wish, or at the very least, if he hasn't delayed the hearings, he's raised the anticipation for them.

Because Specter will be primaried, he will be unpredictable and unreliable throughout the 111th Congress. He's no "moderate" to count on for anything.

Labels: , , , , ,


The Vicious Cycle

If the no drama team is scared, then I'm scared.

It's quite unsettling to talk to members of Barack Obama's transition teams these days, especially those who are helping with the economics portfolio. Without going into details, the sense I get from them is that they are very worried that the economy will get a lot worse before it gets better. Not just worse... a lot worse. As in -- double digit unemployment without the wiggle factors. Huge declines in aggregate demand. Significant, persistent deficits. That's one reason why the Obama administration seems to be open to listening to every economist with an idea and is stocking the staff with the leading lights of the field. In one sense, the general level of concern among Obama advisers and transition staffers is reassuring; they get the magnitude of the problems, and they're not going to assume that, just because the bottom has never dropped out before -- certainly not in the lifetimes of most people doing policy these days, the bottom will never drop out.

Ambinder winds this around to the worry that an unstable nation, like Pakistan, will suffer a total economic collapse and the US won't have the wherewithal to bail them out. But I see a bigger problem - that the worldwide slowdown and drop in demand crashes China's stratospheric growth, which has been an engine for the global economy for the last decade.

BEIJING — Chinese exports registered their largest drop in nearly a decade last month, suggesting that the global recession could be far worse than many economists had previously predicted.

According to statistics released by the Chinese government Wednesday, exports fell 2.2 percent from November 2007 to November 2008 — the largest year-over-year monthly decline since April 1999.

Even at a time of increasingly dour economic news, the Chinese trade numbers stunned many economists. They struck an ominous note for China, where labor unrest has increased markedly as the economy has slowed in the last month.

Many analysts had anticipated that the monthly trade figures would show China's export machine slowing along with the global economy, but few had expected it to slip into reverse. In October, exports surged 19.2 percent year-over-year.

"We were expecting a slowdown, but the magnitude is a bit shocking," said Wang Tao, an analyst at UBS Securities.

China makes stuff that American consumers buy. When American demand drops, China has a lot of surplus labor. And their factories close. Really terrible situation.

We're also seeing extremely stable entities like the NFL and National Public Radio cut jobs and close down parts of their business (the Arena League? Gone).

In these troubled times, it's important to hold people responsible, so that as we drag ourselves out of this ditch, we never put ourselves in the same situation again. Joseph Stiglitz, who isn't on Obama's economic team right now for reasons that are inscrutable, makes the argument in this month's Vanity Fair that the problem was explicitly ideological.

There will come a moment when the most urgent threats posed by the credit crisis have eased and the larger task before us will be to chart a direction for the economic steps ahead. This will be a dangerous moment. Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history—a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it’s crucial to get the history straight [...]

Greenspan played a double role. The Fed controls the money spigot, and in the early years of this decade, he turned it on full force. But the Fed is also a regulator. If you appoint an anti-regulator as your enforcer, you know what kind of enforcement you’ll get. A flood of liquidity combined with the failed levees of regulation proved disastrous.

Greenspan presided over not one but two financial bubbles. After the high-tech bubble popped, in 2000–2001, he helped inflate the housing bubble. The first responsibility of a central bank should be to maintain the stability of the financial system. If banks lend on the basis of artificially high asset prices, the result can be a meltdown—as we are seeing now, and as Greenspan should have known.

What we ought to see here is the death of both neoliberalism and free market fundamentalism - the ideas that risk can always be managed, that asset bubbles are good when they're running so they should be encouraged, that investment banks should be unregulated and free to make big bets with other people's money, that credit rating agencies owned by the banks would be independent enough to make judgments on those banks, that tax cuts are an economic panacea, all of it. Stiglitz' final paragraph should be seared into our brains.

The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal. Looking back at that belief during hearings this fall on Capitol Hill, Alan Greenspan said out loud, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Henry Waxman pushed him, responding, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working.” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan said. The embrace by America—and much of the rest of the world—of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today.

What has me worried is that this failure of ideology will result in a very long and deep economic collapse, out of which there isn't much hope for a few years, and that Obama, not his predecessors, will be tarred with the responsibility for the problem because he could not work the country out of it, and in opposition we get the exact same failed solutions (really, Mike Pence is calling for things like a balanced budget amendment), and an American public starving for relief will buy what Republicans are selling again. That's the vicious cycle we have to avoid, and so drastic steps must be taken without worrying about the short-term political consequences.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


The Bair Essentials

Somebody help me out on this. Democratic lawmakers are fairly united in thinking that the Treasury Department is doing a terrible job helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, and they are threatening to hold back the second half of the bailout funds until something meaningful is done.

In early October, Congress authorized the Treasury to use $700 billion of taxpayer money to buy soured assets from banks to ease a financial panic. But a week later, the Treasury balked on that plan, saying it would instead try to strengthen the financial system by buying shares in the banks.

"We gave them money for one thing and then they used it for another," said Rep. David Scott, a member of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

"They said we'd have more oversight; no oversight is in place. These are lies. We've been bamboozled. The Treasury secretary owes us an explanation," said the Georgia Democrat [...]

Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who had supported the $700 billion program, pressed Kashkari for actions that would throw troubled homeowners a lifeline.

"Please don't come here and ask for another penny because if you do, I'm going to work 24 hours a day with the same people I worked with to support you to make sure that they do not support giving you another dime," she said.

(Scott is mistaken in the sense that it's a GOOD thing they didn't go forward with the initially iteration of the TARP, but he's generally right on the bamboozlement.)

But the only official in the government who is offering any kind of a plan to deal with foreclosures is Sheila Bair, the head of the FDIC. I understand why the current White House would have a problem with that:

More than any administration official, Mrs. Bair has called publicly for using billions of taxpayer dollars to finance the modification of loans threatened by default. But her advocacy has contributed to a battle that is pitting White House and Treasury officials against the F.D.I.C. and lawmakers in Congress. The discord has influenced programs that have so far proved insufficient to stem a tide of foreclosures that Moody’s expects will affect 10 million homeowners over the next five years. And it is drawing personal conflicts and animosities into the policy-making process.

White House and Treasury officials argue that Mrs. Bair’s high-profile campaigning is meant to promote herself while making them look heartless. As a result, they have begun excluding Mrs. Bair from some discussions, though she remains active in conversations where the F.D.I.C.’s support is needed, like the Citigroup rescue [...]

“I’ve heard the stories of people who are suffering and can stay in their homes if there is just a small adjustment to their loans,” said Mrs. Bair, a Republican who was appointed to her post by President Bush two years ago. “There are some people in the Republican Party who resent the idea of helping others,” she added. “But the market is broken right now, and unless we intervene, these people and the economy won’t be helped.”

But last week we learned that Tim Geithner is trying to push Bair out of her FDIC post in a new Obama Administration.

I mean, it seems to me that Bair is a perfect candidate to head the foreclosure modification program, which Obama says he favors. She's a Republican who is pragmatic and wants to get something done for the average American. Obama wants to focus on "what works" instead of partisan ideology. Well, here you go. If it's a personality problem between Geithner and Bair then that's a really bad sign, because it just blows up the whole idea that personnel doesn't matter and ideas are paramount at this time.

The Times article didn't address the tension between Geithner and Bair. Someone needs to straighten this out.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Am A Scientist

(apologies to Thers for borrowing his shtick)

Here's the expected energy team for President-elect Obama:

Obama will name Steven Chu his choice for Energy secretary, Lisa Jackson for EPA administrator and Carol Browner as energy "czar" reporting to the president.

It is unclear whether the Browner position is cabinet level.

This will not be officially announced this week.

No Blagojevich in there? Proof that he was all set to hire him before the scandal broke. When will Obama resign???!!one!?questionmark???

Carol Browner is a former regulator who administrated at the EPA under Bill Clinton, and believes that government action to regulate the climate can create economic opportunity. Lisa Jackson was New Jersey's environmental protection head and then chief of staff to Gov. Jon Corzine.

But I want to focus on Steven Chu because he's something quite novel for Cabinet-level government work: a scientist.

If you look at the history of the Department of Energy, you'll find that there's never been a Secretary who actually was an expert on energy. The closest we've ever gotten was Charles Duncan who had a chemical engineering degree and had a cup of coffee out of school at Humble (later Exxon). For some reason it just never occurred to the President to install a person who was qualified for the position.

Instead we've been subjected to a long line of career politicians, military men and folks that were as far away from energy as you could get (Reagan's first Secretary of Energy was an oral surgeon) . Is it any wonder that our energy policy is set by industry since the person who is supposed to do that doesn't have a clue?

Not only does Chu have a clue, he's a Nobel-prize winning scientist and is already working under the auspices of the Department of Energy at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. A scientist, ya'll. As the Secretary of Energy. Oh. My. Gawd.

He moved from the arena of quantum physics to political advocacy for admirable reasons.

Consider this. There’s about a 50 percent chance, the climate experts tell us, that in this century we will go up in temperature by three degrees Centigrade. Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn’t seem a lot to you, that’s 11° F. Chicago changes by 30° F in half a day. But 5° C means that … it’s the difference between where we are today and where we were in the last ice age. What did that mean? Canada, the United States down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, was covered in ice year round.

Five degrees Centigrade.

So think about what 5° C will mean going the other way. A very different world. So if you’d want that for your kids and grandkids, we can continue what we’re doing. Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about ten million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.

And he is optimistic about what we can do about this crisis, through energy efficiency, through developing new technologies for fuel, through building a new energy economy at home. This is a guy who is rooting around in bug entrails looking for new sources of energy, with decent results. And this is a godsend of a quote:

Applause broke out when he described how companies, after claiming efficiency gains and lowered costs were impossible, “miraculously” achieved them once they “had to assign the jobs from the lobbyists to the engineers.”

There has been no greater sea change in Obama's cabinet selections than this choice of an engineer, a scientist, to head the Department of Energy, after eight years of an Administration that waged war on science. It's the difference between having a serious conversation with the American people about a new Apollo Project for renewable energy and a post-carbon future and "Frosty the Coalman."

Yes, that's real. Go ahead and look.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Opinion Coalesces: Mugabe Must Go

It's not often that you can get consensus on anything between Russ Feingold and George W. Bush, but Robert Mugabe is a uniter:

While Robert Mugabe continues to stall and uses bullying tactics to avoid compromise, Zimbabwe has devolved into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. A cholera outbreak has already killed more than 500 people and nearly half the country is facing starvation. The capital city of Harare is in disarray with hospitals and schools closed, soldiers looting, and union activists being beaten by police. If this deterioration continues, it could lead to a wider humanitarian disaster that costs many more innocent lives and spills into the surrounding countries.

To avoid such a catastrophe, leaders in the region and the international community must take action now to ensure that clean water, food and medication reach the most vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe, and to remove any barriers to the importation of these necessities. It is important that South Africa is sending a delegation to look at the humanitarian needs, but those efforts, while critically important, are only a stopgap measure to save lives. We cannot forget that Zimbabwe's humanitarian problems are the direct result of the lack of a legitimate government, for which Mugabe is responsible. Until he and his cohorts accept a negotiated solution that fully respects the will of the people, Zimbabwe's nightmare will continue.

Bush himself has said the same on the issue, although the African Union is resisting stronger steps.

"It is time for Robert Mugabe to go," Bush said in Washington. "Across the continent, African voices are bravely speaking out to say now is the time for him to step down."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said countries in the region, notably South Africa, should do more to speed Mugabe's departure.

"They have unused leverage, at this point, that they could bring to bear. And we would hope, that they, as well as others, would bring to bear whatever leverage, political leverage, that they might have to help the situation," he told reporters in Washington.

But the African Union made clear it did not back calls for much tougher action.

"Only dialogue between the Zimbabwean parties, supported by the AU and other regional actors, can restore peace and stability to that country," said Salva Rweyemamu, spokesman for AU chairman and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

I'm sure African nations have a healthy disrespect for the wishes of colonial powers when it comes to their leaders. It's perfectly understandable. But Mugabe is objectively allowing his own people to die and breaking every trust he's ever made with them. He has forfeited his right to govern. Hopefully more African leaders will come around to this, as Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Archbishop Desmond Tutu already have.

...the impotence of America as a force for moral leadership is on display here. The UN Security Council is looking into further action.

Labels: , , , ,


I Not Only Deny The Allegation, I Deny The Alligator

The title is an almost certainly apocryphal quote attributed to Jesse Jackson Sr. Today, Jesse Jackson Jr. held a press conference where he denied both allegations and alligator. Crooks and Liars has the vid. As I said before, the question is what is the meaning of the word "emissaries." If people empowered by Jackson were sent to Blagojevich with the purpose of setting up a pay for play scheme for the Senate seat, that's one thing. If they were people SUGGESTING Jackson would agree to such a scheme without actual knowledge, that's another. Jackson says it's the latter, and Patrick Fitzgerald doesn't have Jackson on tape, so it's largely hearsay, and what's more, hearsay from a corrupted source like Rod Blagojevich.

Meanwhile, Harry Reid is warning Blago not to make any Senate appointments and to resign immediately. The problem here is that Blagojevich is under no need to listen to Reid, and can make any appointment he wants, and while the Senate could fight it, it's unclear whether they have the authority to do so.

The solution, of course, is for not only Illinois, but every state in the union to mandate special elections for all vacant Senate seats as an acknowledgment that we live in something called a "democracy." Selection by governors is a relic from a time when state legislatures chose Senators, which ended with the 17th Amendment in 1913. That we haven't cleaned this up yet is a disgrace.

While there will be an undeniable whiff of corruption surrounding anyone Blagojevich picks at this point, there is an undeniable whiff of aristocracy surrounding our method to replace vacant Senate seats in general. Democracies elect people and vote on stuff. Monarchies and oligarchies appoint people and make decisions in small groups of elites. (And then they often make aristocratic appointments like Caroline Kennedy.)

Our Constitutional method of filling vacant Senate seats is a hold-over from a far more aristocratic version of the Senate. It was written back when Senators weren't even elected by popular vote. It's bad enough that states are granted Senate seats instead of people, thus leading to the embarrassment of our "democracy" where California (population 36,553,215) has as many Senators as Wyoming (population 522,830), where Vermont (population 621,254) has as many as neighboring New York (population 19,297,729), and Pennsylvania (population 12,432,792) has as many as neighboring Delaware (population 864,764). Click here for more population figures.

That population discrepancy is bad enough, so let's stop compounding it by appointing Senators instead of electing them. If we want to export democracy around the world, let's start by improving democracy here at home.

Right on.

...The entire Democratic caucus in the Senate has now called on Blagojevich to resign before appointing a successor for the open seat.

Labels: , , , ,