Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chief of Staff in doo-doo over Senate-for-sale scandal

First hints were a small story in taloids: "Rahm Emanuel mentioned 21 times in Blagojevich tapes." (paraphrased)
Now, the wire services (Associated Press) have bitten hard on the story, of Chief-of-Staff to-be Rahm Emanuel's connection with the Rod Blagojevich senate seat for sale scandal:

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich is legendary in Illinois political circles for not picking up the phone or returning calls, even from important figures like the state's senior senator, Dick Durbin.

But there was always one call Blagojevich regularly took, say his aides, and that was from Rahm Emanuel — his congressman, his one-time campaign adviser and, more recently — and troubling for Emanuel — one of his contacts with President-elect Barack Obama's transition staff.

The friendly rapport Blagojevich and Emanuel shared over the years has suddenly become a troubling liability for Emanuel and the new president he will serve as chief of staff.

Emanuel and Obama have remained silent about what, if anything, Emanuel knew of the governor's alleged efforts to peddle Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Emanuel did contact the governor's office about the appointment and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn't have to compete with her in the White House for Obama's attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. The person was not authorized to talk about the governor's discussions regarding the vacancy and requested anonymity.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel's motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor's then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

Emanuel's refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel's ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he'll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors. Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama's promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.

Obama has said he will release a full accounting of his transition staff's interaction with Blagojevich and his aides over his Senate replacement once he receives the OK from prosecutors sometime this week. Until then, Obama has said it would be inappropriate for him or his aides to comment further.

Prosecutors refer in the 76-page complaint to the governor's discussions on FBI tapes about a "president-elect advisor," believed to be Emanuel, but they do not specifically cite contacts with Emanuel or anyone on Obama's transition staff.

Instead, the taped conversations reveal Blagojevich telling others to float his idea by the president's adviser of forming a nonprofit that he hoped would, with Obama's help, receive millions of dollars that the governor could tap later.

Blagojevich said he didn't want the idea associated directly in conversations about the Senate appointment or filling Emanuel's seat in the House, according to the complaint. However, Blagojevich is quoted as saying "I want it to be in his head" for later discussions about Emanuel's successor.

It was Blagojevich who, seemingly out of nowhere, yanked Emanuel into his scandal when answering reporters' questions the day before his Dec. 9 arrest, invoking his name in an apparent attempt to shrug off any perception of wrongdoing.

He said he wasn't concerned about a report in the Chicago Tribune that confidant and former aide John Wyma's cooperation had helped lead federal prosecutors to tape the governor's conversations.

Big deal, Blagojevich said. He said he's "always lawful" whenever he speaks, and he was confident Wyma has been "an honest person who's conducted himself in an honest way. That's the John Wyma I know and it's the John Wyma that Rahm Emanuel knows and a lot of other people know."

Blagojevich is right. Wyma does have ties to both him and Emanuel, those close to both have said. And Wyma's clients contributed to both — more than $100,000 to Emanuel's campaigns and causes, and more than $445,000 to Blagojevich's, according to campaign finance records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Wyma and his attorney, Zachary Fardon, did not respond to interview requests.

Emanuel's defenders say he is hardly an ally of Blagojevich.

"They were in different worlds personally and politically," said Peter Giangreco, a political consultant on Blagojevich's 1996 congressional campaign and his two gubernatorial races. "They only dealt with each other because they occupied the same political geography."

Emanuel's effort to promote Jarrett or anyone else for Obama's vacant Senate seat was more a part of his new job description and less a reflection of close ties, Emanuel's supporters have said.

But there was more to their relationship than a polite acquaintance. The two share a political past, rooted on Chicago's North Side, and a friendly relationship — although not a close friendship — that made Emanuel the obvious choice to push Obama's preferences to fill his vacant Senate seat, current and former Blagojevich aides said.

They at times joined forces politically, like in 2005 to promote importing prescription drugs from Canada and in 2006 to push for an increase in the state's minimum wage. Blagojevich, his aides say, wasn't shy about seeking the help of Emanuel, referred to in a 2006 Tribune article as his "Washington-based mentor."

Blagojevich was a congressman before he was governor and he represented the Fifth District, a small but heavily populated district in Chicago's northern and western suburbs, not far from O'Hare International Airport. His rise to Congress has been well documented of late, including the help he received from powerful Chicago Alderman Dick Mell — his now-estranged father-in-law.

When Emanuel returned to politics in 2002 after some years spent in investment banking, he targeted Blagojevich's Fifth District seat as he launched his reformist campaign for governor.

Due to his personal wealth and his national fundraising base dating to his work in the Clinton administration, Emanuel didn't have to go to Mell or to powerful unions because he already had acquired political clout.

Nancy Kaszak, who ran for Congress against Blagojevich in 1996 when both were state representatives and had a nasty battle against Emanuel in 2002, said she believes Mell quietly backed Emanuel. On Election Day that year, she recalls, Mell's poll workers passed out literature for both Blagojevich and Emanuel. Mell declined to be interviewed for this story.

Emanuel has described himself as a one-time adviser to Blagojevich. David Wilhelm, one of Emanuel's close friends who worked with him in the Clinton White House, informally assisted on that campaign for Blagojevich.

Emanuel, who has declined to comment since Blagojevich's arrest, told The New Yorker magazine over the summer that he, Wilhelm and Obama met once a week during the 2002 race to plot campaign strategy for Blagojevich. Wilhelm has said Emanuel overstated the group's role.

Also, Emanuel, Blagojevich and Obama all have hired David Axelrod, the Chicago political consultant who helped engineer Obama's presidential victory. Axelrod helped Blagojevich in 1996 and Emanuel in 2002.

The coming days will offer the first answers about Emanuel's recent interaction with Blagojevich and discussions about filling Obama's Senate seat.

Obama already has insisted that his aides did no bartering with Blagojevich to advance candidates for the appointment. But refusing the deal is only the first step to fighting corruption in a political culture that promotes it when others look the other way, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said earlier when announcing the charges against Blagojevich.

"We're not going to end corruption in Illinois by arrests and indictments alone," the prosecutor said. "What's going to make the difference is when people who are approached to 'pay to play' first say no, and, second, report it."

Charles Krauthammer, columnist skewers legacy/ dynasty candidacy of Lady Kennedy

Bravo to Charles Krauthammer, columnist of Wash Post, for his column:
My opinion Charles Krauthammer : Caroline Kennedy bid reflects disturbing trend
My opinion Charles Krauthammer
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.19.2008
"I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are. Except that she has name recognition, but so does J-Lo."
— U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.
Right idea, wrong argument. The problem with Caroline Kennedy's presumption to Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat is not lack of qualification or experience. The Senate houses lots of inexperienced rookies — wealthy businessmen, sports stars, even the occasional actor.
The problem is Kennedy's sense of entitlement. Given her rather modest achievements, she is trading entirely on pedigree.
I hate to be a good-government scold, but wasn't the American experiment a rather firm renunciation of government by pedigree?
Yes, the Founders were not democrats. They believed in aristocracy. But their idea was government by natural — not inherited — aristocracy, an aristocracy of "virtue and talents," as Jefferson put it.
And yes, of course, we have our own history of dynastic succession: Adamses and Harrisons, and in the last century, Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushes.
Recently, we've even branched out into Argentine-style marital transmission, as in the Doles and the Clintons.
It's not the end of the world, but it is an accelerating trend that need not be encouraged. After all, we have already created another huge distortion in our politics: a plethora of plutocrats in the U.S. Senate, courtesy of our crazed campaign finance laws.
If you're very very rich, you can buy your Senate seat by spending as much of your money as you want.
Meanwhile, your poor plebeian opponent is running around groveling for the small contributions allowed by law. Hence the Corzines and the Kohls, who parachute into Congress seemingly out of nowhere.
Having given this additional leg up to the rich, we should resist packing our legislatures with yet more privileged parachutists, the well-born.
True, the Brits did it that way for centuries, but with characteristic honesty. They established a house of Parliament exclusively for highborn twits and ensconced them there for life. There they chatter away in supreme irrelevance deep into their dotage.
Problem is that the U.S. Senate retains House of Commons powers even as it develops a House of Lords membership.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy. She seems a fine person. She certainly has led the life of a worthy socialite helping all the right causes.
But when the mayor of New York endorses her candidacy by offering, among other reasons, that "her uncle has been one of the best senators that we have had in an awful long time," we've reached the point of embarrassment.
Nor is Ms. Kennedy alone in her sense of entitlement. Vice President-elect Biden's Senate seat will now be filled by Edward Kaufman, a family retainer whom no one ever heard of before yesterday. And no one will hear from after two years, at which time Kaufman will dutifully retire.
He understands his responsibility: Keep the Delaware Senate seat warm for two years until Joe's son returns from Iraq to assume his father's mantle.
This, of course, is the Kennedy way. In 1960, John Kennedy's Senate seat was given to his Harvard roommate, one Ben Smith II (priceless name).
He stayed on for two years — until Teddy reached the constitutional age of 30 required to succeed his brother.
In light of the pending dynastic disposition of the New York and Delaware Senate seats, the Illinois way is almost refreshing.
At least Gov. Rod Blagojevich (allegedly) made Barack Obama's seat democratically open to all. Just register the highest bid, eBay style.
Sadly, however, even this auction was not free of aristo-creep.
On the evidence of the U.S. attorney's criminal complaint, a full one-third of those under consideration were pedigreed: Candidate No. 2 turns out to be the daughter of the speaker of the Illinois House; Candidate No. 5, the first-born son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Caroline Kennedy, Beau Biden and Jesse Jackson Jr. could some day become great senators. But in a country where advantages of education, upbringing and wealth already make the playing field extraordinarily uneven, we should resist encouraging the one form of advantage the American Republic strove to abolish: title.
No lords or ladies here.
If Princess Caroline wants a seat in the Senate, let her do it by election. There's one in 2010.
To do it now by appointment on the basis of bloodline is an offense to the most minimal republicanism.
Every state in the union is entitled to representation in the Senate. Camelot is not a state.
Write to Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post Writers Group at

Lady Kennedy answers questions from the NY Times

Lady Kennedy, duchess of Hyannis, of the dynasty of Kennedy, aspirant to receive her duly endowed legacy position of Senator from Gov. David Paterson, has answered (generally, brief) questions, from the NY Times, so as to appear to be speaking to we, the commoners:

Q. Does she support state or federal legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage?

A. Caroline supports full equality and marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.

Q. Would she oppose legislation that would require minors to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion?

A. Caroline believes that young women facing unwanted pregnancies should have the advice of caring adults, but this should not be required by law.

Q. Does she support any state or federal restrictions on late-term abortions?

A. Caroline supports Roe v. Wade, which prohibits third-trimester abortions except when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

Q. Do you support amnesty for undocumented workers?

A. Caroline believes all undocumented workers should be required to legalize their presence in the United States and that we must create a way for them to do so. Undocumented workers should pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line behind those who came here legally.

Q. Has the North American Free Trade Agreement worked?

A. Caroline believes that Nafta has had unintended, negative consequences in some regions of New York, and that is why she agrees with President-elect Obama that we need to take a careful look at the agreement and pay particular attention to its impact on jobs and wages in American manufacturing communities. She also believes that we must ensure that American communities and workers benefit as we craft new trade agreements.

Q. Do you support any federal or state restrictions on gun ownership? If so, which ones?

A. Caroline Kennedy is a strong supporter of gun control. She supports New York City’s and New York State’s gun control laws. On the federal level, she support the Brady Law, and other measures to keep guns out of the hands of minors and criminals.

Q. Do you believe that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel?

A. Yes, Caroline believes that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel.

Q. Do you support the auto industry bailout package passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month?

A. Yes, Caroline supports the auto industry bailout package passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Q. Should there be a cap on local property taxes in New York State?

A. Caroline believes that is an issue for the legislature and the governor to decide.

Q. The president-elect proposes higher taxes on the wealthy to help pay for government programs. Governor Paterson is opposed to increase the state income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Who is right?

A. Both President-elect Obama and Governor Paterson are showing tremendous leadership during these tough times. David Paterson has led the fight in Washington to increase aid to the States. If his efforts are successful it may change the tough choices that he currently has to make in terms of budget cuts and revenue increases. In terms of specifics of the Governor’s budget, it was just released last week and Caroline believes it is up to the Governor and the legislature to work out the details.

Q. Do you support a two-state peace solution for Israel?

A. Caroline supports a two-state peace solution for Israel, so long as there is a true partner for peace in the Palestinians, and so long as Israel’s security is assured.

Q. Do you support the federal Employee Free Choice Act, otherwise known as the "card-check" bill?

A. Yes, Caroline supports the federal Employee Free Choice Act.

Q. Do you believe that school vouchers should be offered to parents of children in New York City public schools?

A. Caroline’s priority is to help the public schools improve so that all children have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. She does not support private school vouchers.

Q. Do you want to maintain mayoral control of New York City schools as currently practiced, or do you favor modifying it? If the latter, how?

A. Caroline supports maintaining mayoral control and believes the mayor should be held accountable for the education that our children receive. She is always open to new ideas on how to make the law better so long as they don’t prevent the Mayor from taking the actions he thinks are appropriate and for which he will be held accountable.

Q. Do you support closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant?

A. Caroline supports the state’s efforts to close Indian Point, while recognizing the need to develop alternative sources for the critical energy it currently supplies to New York City and the Metropolitan area.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

FDR Didn't Govern from 'the Center' -- Neither Should Obama

From, another articulate voice calling on President-elect Barack Obama to govern in a progressive direction, not from the cautious, timid center:

Gray Brechin, "FDR Didn't Govern from 'the Center' -- Neither Should Obama":
We can't forget what bold and ingenious leadership can accomplish against the caution of low expectations in harsh economic times.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasted no time cautioning Americans that they should not let their hopes run away with them just because the Democrats scored an electoral landslide. Calling herself a "proud progressive," Pelosi advised president-elect Obama's supporters to exercise the diminished expectations of political prudence: "The country must be governed from the middle," she said a day after his victory.

November marked the 75th anniversary of one of the least known relief agencies to come out of the New Deal -- the Civil Works Administration. At a time when the press regularly fuses FDR's jaunty image with that of Barack Obama's -- and when the president-elect himself vows to create 2.5 million new jobs within two years as "a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face" -- we should remember how much more one short-lived agency accomplished through the winter of another economic crisis.

The Speaker, whose father represented Baltimore as a New Deal Democrat, must know that Franklin Roosevelt did not govern from the middle. He chose a Midwestern social worker steeped in the Social Gospel movement at Iowa's Grinnell College to run his relief programs, Harry Hopkins knew that legions of impoverished Americans could not wait for the cautious policies of Harold Ickes' Public Works Administration to provide them with jobs. Neither could his boss.

On November 9, 1933 President Roosevelt issued an executive order creating the Civil Works Administration. He did so by moving $400 million ($6.4 billion in today's dollars) previously allocated to the PWA into the CWA account. A meeting of governors, mayors and other public officials six days later at Washington's Mayflower Hotel effectively launched the agency.

Five days later, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted a White House gathering to organize women's participation in the program. Three days after that -- with the Government Printing Office working round the clock to cut checks -- CWA workers shared wages of almost $8 million. On November 28, Hopkins created a Civil Works Service to employ white collar workers as teachers, surveyors, artists, nurses, librarians, musicians, and other public servants.

By December 7 -- less than a month after Roosevelt's executive order -- the CWA had two million Americans working on a vast array of socially beneficial projects. By January 18, employment had doubled to more than four million. U.S. population was then less than half of today's.

Hopkins likened the CWA workers to foot soldiers with the difference that, "The results achieved have been the reverse of those usually brought about by old-style wars." The CWA's work was, like the title of a famous William James essay, "the moral equivalent of war." As such Hopkins noted that "Hardly a community but can show some lasting benefit derived from Civil Works activities: a street paved, a school-house reconditioned, a nursery school installed, a new playground."

CWA workers toiled through a hard winter building and repairing 244,000 miles or roads, laying water and sewage mains, constructing 350 swimming pools and 4000 athletic fields. Their jackhammers broke frozen ground to make Newark's airport, one of a thousand built around the country. New York Park Commissioner Robert Moses set three shifts of CWA crews working around the clock to renovate Central and Prospect Parks. A team of artists painted frescos in San Francisco's Coit Tower while CWA orchestras and bands performed concerts free to the public. The agency employed as many as 50,000 teachers and built or refurbished 4000 schools to revive the nation's dying public education system. CWA workers restored historic buildings and launched the Historic American Building Survey which continues to meticulously record historic structures for the Library of Congress 75 years later.

Hopkins and Roosevelt intended the CWA only to bridge an emergency. It was terminated on March 31, but the Depression, unfortunately, was not. A year later, the more famous Works Progress Administration picked up where the CWA had left off, employing 8.5 million people in its seven productive years. Harry Hopkins ran that as well.

Hopkins hoped that "Long after the workers of the CWA are dead and gone and these hard times are forgotten, their effort will be remembered by permanent useful works in every county of every state." Alas, he was wrong, though as he predicted we "ride over bridges they made, travel on their highways, attend schools they built, navigate waterways they improved, do [our] public business in courthouses and state capitols which workers from CWA rescued from disrepair."

Unlike the WPA, the CWA left almost no markers to commemorate the achievements of four and a half months of heroic activity. We unwittingly take the achievements of the CWA -- like so much else of the New Deal -- for granted while the New Deal's eternal enemies echo the fable that federal workers did little but lean on their shovels. But as winter approaches, the CWA's record reminds us of what bold and ingenious leadership can accomplish against the caution of low expectations in harsh economic times. Indeed, it must.

Jello Biafra asks Obama to go progressive

Jello Biafra, formerly leader of the Dead Kennedys,
has fittingly written an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama.

He has called on him to reform our foreign policy away from imperialism, replace a regime of torture with the rule of law, and so on.

These things are all good. However, as many American leftists, he first off devotes his attention lengthily to the above-mentioned foreign concerns. Since the 1960s American leftists have given second (or sixth, more likely) thought to economic justice.

I print Biafra's economic justice planks that he calls on Obama to follow. As I have earlier complained, the Obama administration is ignoring progressive economist voices, such as Joseph Stiglitz. He has adopted --almost entirely-- the old Carter/Clinton coterie of mainstream corporate/ Wall Street types. The economic justice portions of his open letter to Obama:

I'm glad there seems to be a sense up top that national security, the economy, climate collapse and the environment are all intertwined. Think about it. No rogue state or terrorist threatens our national security nearly as much as our collapsing economy. The growing gap between the rich and poor is what is tearing apart the lives of average Americans and their families.

National security means:

• Everyone has a home.

• Everyone has enough decent food to eat.

• Everyone can drink the water without having to buy it in a bottle from Coke or Pepsi.

• No one has to worry about getting their hand cut off at work or having their job outsourced overseas.

• Everyone can be who they are without fear of being detained and tortured without trial.

• Everyone can vote without fear, knowing their vote will be counted—accurately.

• Every woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body.

• Everyone has enough money for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

• Everyone, even if they don't have money, has the right to see a doctor if they're sick or hurt. In so many other countries this is a guaranteed human right by law.

Stimulating and reviving the economy will only succeed from the ground up. This means getting a lot more money quickly to the people on the bottom who need it the most. When they finally have some cash in their pocket they will be more than eager to spend it. Stores perk up, jobs are saved, and the train is finally rolling out of the station. This is why leaders as diverse as Martin Luther King, Milton Friedman and even Richard Nixon have at different times proposed a guaranteed annual income so that everyone can participate and keep our economy humming. Raise the minimum wage to a living wage: $9.50 an hour helps, but $12 an hour is closer to a true living wage. Welfare should not be a dirty word, especially after PBS reported last month that if you count all the Americans who have given up looking for work because they can't find any and dropped off the radar screen, unemployment is actually around 12%! So please remove the time limits on unemployment compensation, welfare benefits and Aid to Families with Dependent Children that were slapped on the least fortunate during the Clinton years.

But where will the money come from when we burn it all up shoveling it down the mouths of the dragons on Wall Street? You are right to point out that trickle-down supply-side economics never trickled down. It wasn't supposed to. How will this be any different? To the average taxpayer this so-called bailout looks more like the last great looting of our treasury before Bush and his cronies get the hell out of dodge. There is also growing concern about the appearance of self-dealing by officials with connections to Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

So far your own economic team seems alarmingly slanted toward the robber barons who helped create this mess in the first place. Where is Joseph Stiglitz? Where is Robert Reich? Are we still all in this together? Your Economic Advisory Council is supposed to be a council, not a choir! You say you want a support staff that debate and give you diverse ideas. So even if you do not agree with them, how about adding William Greider or Doug Henwood or even Naomi Klein as well?


Let's move even faster on climate collapse. The clock is ticking…

Your proposal to spend $150 billion on our crumbling infrastructure is a good beginning. But it is only 10% of the $1.5 trillion in urgent repairs the American Society of Civil Engineers says we need right now to avoid more disasters like the freeway bridge collapse in Minnesota. This does not even account for restocking the Bush-depleted Superfund to clean up toxic waste, or creating affordable housing for everyone. Your plan states, "We'll put people back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel efficient cars and the alternative energy technology that could free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead." Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to spend whatever it takes to weather-strip and winterize old homes and buildings now if the owners can't afford it. It will reduce our swollen carbon footprint dramatically and save tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few years. How about aid for solar panels? Home windmills too? Not just tax breaks, aid. Most people just don't have the money for this. Time magazine reported in 2001 that an American farmer could get $50 for an acre of wheat and $2000 for an acre of wind power. We either pay to do this now or pay a lot more later. Europeans are already way ahead of us on this one.

Also, look for ways to accomplish two or three things at once with every renewal project. Replacing the water or sewer lines? Lay fiber optic cable! Our not-so-liberal mayor in San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, nixed that idea because there was not enough graft in it for telecom companies. His own silly plan for wi-fi towers fell on its face, so a smart opportunity was wasted.


Ever seen a documentary film called Who Killed the Electric Car? They worked so well their owners did not want to give them back. But when their leases came up, Detroit snatched them away and destroyed them. Now Detroit wants a great big handout? Then another? Then another? There should be no bailout for carmakers if all they are willing to offer in return is more fuel-hogging clunkers like the Ford Flex. No aid until they bring back the electric cars! If the Chevy Volt is so great, why aren't they selling them now? For almost 30 years, people who go to design schools have told me that the car designers almost always pursue jobs overseas because Detroit is still unable to adapt as quickly to fresh ideas for the future.

So far "clean coal" seems to be about as clean as our mountains of "clean nuclear waste." Again, no aid to big coal companies unless they end their environmentally devastating "mountain top removal" plundering once and for all.


Another crucial way to fight global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to wake up and get serious about a nationwide high-speed rail system and better rapid transit in the cities. Again, Europe, Japan, and even China are way ahead of us. When I do my speaking tours in Europe it is so much easier and less expensive than traveling here: Just take my backpack and go. Even a normal train is often faster than flying. No traffic jams getting to the airport, no long security lines, no baggage claim wait, no traffic jams back into the next town. I just get on the train and get off the train, right downtown. The scenery is pretty cool too.

Amtrak has hemorrhaged money year after year. But ridership is finally going up, in spite of the decimated service. People have finally grown so fed up with traffic jams, fuel prices and the arrogance of our bumbling airline industry that a proper train system would now do very well. Just ask former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, another intriguing choice for a high position in your administration. Californians finally passed a bond issue to begin work on a long-overdue bullet train system between San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles. People I have talked to in random conversation are almost as excited about this as they are about your own election. A similar initiative passed in Florida in 2000, but Governor Jeb Bush impounded the funds.

Surely we can find the money by canceling a few aircraft carriers, tanks and planes we don't need, and by shutting off the faucet for the hundreds of billions wasted on Reagan's star wars fantasy—now known as "missile defense." Are those new installations in the Czech Republic and Poland really worth all the grief they're stirring up with the Russians? The Czech and Polish people don't even want them there!

Green energy technology should also be shared, even given, to the Chinese ASAP. Here on the West Coast I have to wipe a brown sooty film off my windshield every couple of days—and my car is in a garage! It is coal dust from Chinese factories. They open a new coal plant ever few days. According to Mother Jones, sustaining an American lifestyle for a Chinese middle class predicted to reach 600 million will require the resources of several more Earths!


Other countries prefer a healthy workforce and are willing to pay for it. Here we stick our workforce with fat, greedy insurance companies who serve no purpose but to act as a tollbooth or a gatekeeper and charge exorbitant fees before a person can even see a doctor. The result, of course, is the most expensive healthcare system with the least benefit for the buck of any in the industrialized world. You say the big insurance companies "should have a place at the table." Aren't these companies the problem?

Other counties want their workforce to be as well-educated as possible to better care for themselves and compete in the global economy. So they are willing to pay to make sure this happens, instead of kicking them in the face with back-breaking student loans and cutting school funding to the bone.

Other countries want their children to grow up well-nourished and loved instead of dysfunctional. They are happy to pay welfare for single parents to stay home with their little ones, and for 12-18 months maternity leave with 80-90% pay for either parent to make sure no child is left behind.

Traveling overseas it is not hard to notice that many European countries, and not just Scandinavia, have a higher standard of living than we do, and the gap is widening. The reason is they are willing to pay for it.


Please do not break your promise to raise income taxes on the wealthy and close those Titanic-sized loopholes that allowed two-thirds of US and foreign corporations who do business here to pay no tax at all between 1998 and 2005. We used to have a tiny tax on security speculation and stock transactions. Britain still does. If the annual amount of wheeling and dealing in the stock market really amounts to the reported $500 trillion a year, a mere 1% tax could raise $5 trillion per year and Wall Street would not even feel it! Other ways to raise badly needed revenue without hurting Joe the Plumber would be to tax companies who pollute, divert funds overseas, and ship jobs out of the country, as well as taxing stock windfalls rewarded by Wall Street for balancing the bottom line with employee layoffs.

Last September the Bush administration quietly dynamited Section 382 of the tax code allowing big banks to run off with as much as $140 billion dollars in new tax breaks that many suspect are illegal. Was this illegal? Please enforce the law and stop the bleeding now.

We could also follow the lead of Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, and even the state of Maine and encourage cities to start their own municipal or community banks. Being a non-profit, these banks would provide low-cost loans for homes and small businesses. They would also save cities millions of dollars apiece that they now waste on private banking fees.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D - IL) proposes generous tax breaks and shareholder advantages to "patriotic corporations" who limit management salaries to 100 times the lowest-paid fulltime worker. I think 10 times is better. Shareholders need better legal tools to limit runaway CEO pay and looting by top executives.

Schakowsky would also give tax breaks to corporations that: produce at least 90% of their goods and services in the United States; spend at least 50% of the research and development budgets here at home; stay out of employee organizing drives; are clean with the EPA, OSHA and the NRLB; and provide their employees with generous and portable pension funds and health insurance. They must also agree not to price-gouge consumers.

So how do we convince Americans that it is in our best interest to help pay for all of this? It would help if you use your power to inspire and persuade, to get through to people in this country that not all taxes are automatically bad, especially when spent in a way that benefits them directly. Starting with the Boston Tea Party in kindergarten, it is drilled into us that taxes are this terrible violation of our freedom. As adults we have had 30 plus years of media sermons from both parties that we are no longer a community, but a marketplace, and that competitiveness is more important than caring about one another. Isn't it interesting that the people least interested in paying taxes are often the first to complain when a government service they take for granted doesn't work any more?

To wise people up and chip away at this I suggest pointing out what happened to California when voters passed Proposition 13 and gutted what was once the number one education system in the country, if not the world. It is now almost dead last. According to the ACLU, some schools in Los Angeles are not only short on books and desks, they don't even have toilet paper. Californians also voted down an initiative guaranteeing universal healthcare after the Disease Industry ran a blitz of TV ads claiming it would raise people's taxes. They banked on people failing to do the math and see how a slight tax increase would dramatically reduce their own medical bills.

Another example is the tale of two of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. In the 1990s, Rock Island, IL voters were willing to raise taxes to build a floodwall. Voters in Davenport, IA rejected a wall three times because it would raise taxes. Guess whose town was devastated the next time the Mississippi flooded? To raise local money for local and state projects voters have to be shown that it is worth raising taxes to pay for these things.

Taxes also wouldn't hurt so much if the people had more say in where their money went. How about placing 12-15 categories in US income tax forms so people can vote what percentage of their tax money they want spent where? I'll bet education, the environment, infrastructure, and services would go straight up and our bloated military cash cow would go straight down.


To fight the plague of foreclosures, I suggest following the lead of the Cook County Sheriff in Chicago by declaring a moratorium on foreclosure evictions. Debts to predatory lenders should be forgiven at once. Many families are fleeing their homes because they are so frightened of the cruel Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, they are willing to default on their mortgage just to keep up with their credit card debts. You voted against this law. Now let's get rid of it. I am inspired by City Life/Vida Urbana in Boston who have said "Yes We Can" to reviving the Depression-era practice of volunteer rolling brigades who show up to defend people's homes from eviction, and if need be take all the furniture and belongings back from the curb into the house. In addition, they alert the media to help shame the banks and predatory lenders from coming back. In many cases it has worked.

The most intriguing proposal flying around the Internet is for everyone who files an individual tax return to be given $1 million dollars on the condition that they use it to pay off their mortgage in full (thus bailing out the banks) and buy an American car within the next three years. Whatever is left over is theirs to keep and invest. Unfortunately the math does not add up. Even the staggering estimated total of $8 trillion thrown at our collapsing economy would only bring $57,971.01 for each of the 138 million individual tax returns filed each year. Too bad, it is an interesting idea.


I'm glad to hear you say that, but I keep waiting for you to expand and take it further. To point out how much it also matters who is in the Senate, who is in the House, the Governor, the State legislature, mayors, city councils, school boards, ballot initiatives, county commissioners, you name it. To say that if a person is not satisfied with what is going on in their community, they should get involved. If they are not satisfied with how they are being represented, they should consider running for office themselves. A lot of inspired people would. What else can we do in the meantime to make things better? What simple, easy steps can we take in our own lives? You have two more chances—Inauguration and the State of the Union. Before people return to the slumber of Soundbite McNews.

Bill Clinton could have won back Congress in 1996 if he had used his popularity, convention speech and pulpit for something besides his own shoo-in re-election. But he didn't. I was in the room for Al Gore's acceptance speech in 2000. He didn't bother either. It was just about one person.

I'll be amazed if Mr. Obama or anyone close actually reads this, so this last part is for you folks who have. To me, if there is an Obama movement, it is more like the Pope-mobile. You know, that cage of bulletproof glass on wheels that rolls around with the Pope inside, waving at his adoring flock, "Yo! I'm here! Look at me, I'm the Pope!" Then everybody goes home. But who is driving the Pope-mobile? Can a crowd organize to block the wrong turns and steer it in a better direction?

I did not vote for you, but I dearly want you to succeed at delivering the change you have promised. We have very little time and may not get another chance. Recent history shows we have eight years maximum before the pendulum swings back the other way—and hard. She may lose once or twice, but I fear the Pitbull with Lipstick will one day be bigger than Reagan.

In many ways, people seem to be looking to you as their new great-and-powerful Oprah as much as they look at you as their President. This can be useful too. To revive people's sense of community and what it entails. To persuade people that voting for small local tax increases brings much greater benefits for everyone down the road. To encourage people to not just recycle but look for ways to stop wasting so much. Those same European countries whose standard of living seems to be higher than ours use a fraction per capita of natural resources we do. How do they do it? Think of all the forests we could save just by showing people how much paper they can save just by writing on the other side before they throw it away? Imagine if lawyers figured this out.


Please don't ever forget why so many people who had given up hope are investing so much of their hearts and hope in you. If that hope is shattered and they feel betrayed, a great deal more will collapse for good.

So to keep your movement alive—and help it grow beyond you—keep those texts and e-mail lists alive! Keep your Blackberry. Does it matter if it all becomes public record? How about a posting a daily log of what you did and who you and your staff met with, including lobbyists. Why not keep all those campaign offices you opened all over the country alive too? Convert them to branch offices. Senators and House members have branch offices all over their districts. You now represent the whole country. Keep the branches.

Above all, be a leader, not a dealmaker. There are times when cutting a deal is the same as cutting and running. To put it mildly, we can't afford that anymore. There are no sails left to trim.

And if this is a movement about change and not just about one person, it is up to the movement to drive the President, not the other way around. Please do not stand in the way.


Jello Biafra

Monday, December 15, 2008

Further comments on SNL blind-deriding "humor" ... advocates respond

By the way, it should be pointed out:
Gov. David Paterson (New York) should be held up as a role model. He reached his place in politics, including graduating from college and law school, in spite of being legally blind.

The criticism is increasing. (I should note my disappointment: even Huffington Post jumped on the "most-people-with-a-sense-of-humor-thought-it-was-funny" bandwagon. My response: Yeah, plenty of white people thought that "Amos and Andy" was funny too, so this polling on bigotry in place of thinking about others' feelings "doesn't fly". Just because people think it is funny doesn't wash away the insensitivity of it all.) The following Associated Press report calls attention to the offense that advocates for the blind took with Fred Armisen's lampooning of the competant and accomplished Gov. Paterson:
Advocates of blind fault TV skit about NY Governor

— The National Federation of the Blind says it considers NBC's "Saturday Night Live" skit making fun of New York Gov. David Paterson an attack on all blind Americans.

Federation spokesman Chris Danielsen says the portrayal on Saturday's television show suggesting Paterson as befuddled and disoriented because of his blindness is "absolutely wrong."

The skit features SNL actor Fred Armisen as Paterson, who must appoint someone to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Armisen says he has three criteria: economic experience, upstate influence and someone with a disability and unprepared for the job — like himself. He holds up a chart illustrating the state's job losses upside down.

Paterson says he can take a joke, but adds that most blind people can't find work and the skit's "third-grade" humor won't help matters.

The press has moved beyond Huffington Post's giddy endorsement of SNL's offensive antics. The following is from "The New York Observer:"
There was also the blindness thing, which seemed preordained to cause issues. Mr. Armisen played Governor Paterson as a Mr. Magoo-like dullard. That portrayal seems to be the governor's real problem with the skit, or, at least more of a problem than all the cocaine jokes. Speaking to the Daily News he said, "I can take a joke. But only 37% of disabled people are working and I'm afraid that that kind of third-grade humor certainly adds to this atmosphere. Let's just say I don't think it helped." Ouch.

For us though, Mr. Armisen's worst offense occurred during Amy Poehler's heartfelt goodbye from Saturday Night Live. At the end of Weekend Update Ms. Poehler announced to everyone who hasn't read a news story in the last three months that she was leaving the show. As Ms. Poehler thanked everyone and seemed genuinely touched, Mr. Armisen's Governor Paterson stumbled in front of the camera and blocked her out. (Get it? Because he's blind he doesn't know where he's going! Sigh.) We're not naïve enough to think this wasn't planned, but we think Ms. Poehler deserved better than to have her final appearance on Saturday Night Live ruined by a lesser performer doing a hack bit.

Denounce the SNL skit on Paterson

The criticisms surrounding the "Saturday Night Live" skit on Gov. David Paterson (NY) do not concern the notion of whether or not it is fair game to lampoon a governor. The issue is that the dubious comedy was centered around mocking Paterson's eye movements and issues of blindness in general.
(Satirizing political figures with topical humor can be done without offending classes of people. Witness the same night's opening sketch that ridiculed the vulgarity and egocentric nature of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.). Here, the sketch did not offend Serbian-Americans.)

Apparently, we need to explain the situation to the writers of "SNL." When you can see, your eyes fixate on objects. Hence, the eyes remain with a fixed gaze upon one thing. When the seeing person shifts his/her attention to another object, the eyes pan to another location.

Now, when a person cannot see, the blind person has lost the connection with fixing eyes upon objects. Thus, the eyes appear to dart about. This is simply how things are for sight-deprived people.

This is not a laughing matter. So, why is it that "Saturday Night Live" needs to step into the gutter and have Fred Armesen mimic this aspect of Gov. Paterson?

Adding insult to the matter, Armisen held a chart upside down. In the sketch performance, the "news anchor" character guided Armesen's arms so that he was facing in the proper direction. Worst of all, a major part of the sketch was after Armesen finished his lines. Armisen blocked the camera view of the "Weekend Update" news-desk. And this poor taste joke was repeated and repeated.

Clearly, foibles of blindness were the focal point of the "humor" in the sketch.

This is sickening. Let's go back to when we were say three, four or five years of age. Remember that our mothers, fathers or schoolteachers told us that it was impolite to make fun of people's disabilities? If this argument itself was insufficient, the older, model adults explained to us that it would hurt the feelings of people with such a disability.

I presume that network censors do not hold the place in networks that they did, say forty years ago. (We do not hear of them as much as we would have in past decades.) But they serve a necessary function. If writers and performers cannot exercise the golden rule and consider the effect of their words upon the potentially offended minority group, then network censors can enforce good manners, good judgment.

Such a skit was cold-hearted on the part of Saturday Night Live. The writers and actors do not know the frustration that sightless people feel, not being able to see for the practical purposes of sight or for the aesthetic purposes (of enjoying physical beauty).

Alas, this is not too surprising. The casting department of Saturday Night Live has not given us a representative cross-section of the diversity of society. The cast is heavily male, nearly entirely white. To my recollection, they have never had a regular member that is of Asian background. Generally, the number of African-Americans on the cast has been a token number. The fact that SNL has felt it necessary to resort to using Armisen in blackface to play President-elect Barack Obama is reflective of their negligence to have a greater number of African-American actors.

Comment too should be made on the quality of the roles that African-American cast members are given on the show. To be sure, there are inane roles given to European-American performers, but overwhelmingly the nature of the role that the typical African-American cast member is the role of the buffoon, a role perpetuating the tradition of black American as a supposedly clownish character, by her/his very nature.

Lastly, we should note that lately the show has ridiculed the gay orientation of Rep. Barney Frank. Armisen (hmm, how is that he is all of the most offensive roles??? hmmmm) a couple of weeks ago, playing Frank, told actors playing Detroit Big 3 auto executives that American cars should be "more gay." Yes, the latest offense, in the matter of Armisen/Paterson sketch, follows a defiant Seth Myers response to outcry over SNL's treatment of Frank. When faced with criticism that the sketches were insensitive toward Frank in a gay perspective, Myers replied that he would not be cowed to criticism.

We should remember not only that free speech allows us to offend anyone to any degree we wish. We should exercise self-restraint against offensive free speech, not because we are afraid of any governmental power, but because we are concerned with the feelings of potentially offended people.

Please join me in writing a protest letter to the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
Here is the contact information for NBC:
Mr. Jeff Zucker, President
NBC Entertainment
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
(818) 840-4444

Click here to E-Mail NBC.

The NBC website.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Climate, energy, environment Obama appointments

Obama has appointed a troika of officials to head energy and environment departments.

*Steven Chu, a Noble Prize winner, as Secretary of Energy
*Carol M. Browner, in the new climate czar position, or coordinator of energy and climate policy, The December 12, 2008 New York Times article on her appointment.
*Lisa Jackson, current New Jersey commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, to administer the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The green community/ movement is reported as having a split over how to assess Jackson. Article, December 12, in "The Daily Green."

Scribus, a highly recommended free desktop publishing program

Websites, and wikipedia, give strongly favorable assessments of Scribus program as a free, open source program for desktop publishing. It is an alternative to the pricey industry standard, Adobe InDesign or the older Adobe Pagemaker. The program is cross-platform: it will run on Windows, Mac OS X, and most distributions of Linux. (There is a lighter weight version, Portable Scribus, for Windows, with a link at CNET.)

One authoritative Scribus site gives recommendations of a few pre-requisite programs. These programs should be installed before installing or operating Scribus.

System requirements:

What do you need for Scribus? To use Scribus you must have installed:
For Scribus Version 1.2 and higher:

GCC 3.x+. GCC 3.2+ is strongly recommended. Scribus 1.2 will not compile on GCC 2.95.x
QT Version 3.1 or higher, Version 3.1.2 or 3.3.x is strongly recommended
Ghostscript Version 7.07, Version 8+ is strongly recommended (itself a powerful and varied function program, also with a fre, GPL license)
Postscript (Type1) Fonts (recommended) or
True Type Fonts
libart_lgpl 2.3.8 or higher 2.3.16 recommended.
Python 2.1+ and development libraries
FreeType 2.1.0 or higher, FreeType 2.1.4+ is recommended
Optional Libs for the extended Features of Scribus:
The LittleCMS Library in Version 1.09+, 1.13 recommended
(Version 1.08 won't work),
if you want to use Color management.
Some ICC-Profiles, see the Readme for further Information.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cong. Ackerman on Lady Kennedy's quest for senate

As I pointed out earlier, Caroline Kennedy is an inappropriate choice for senator, to replace Hillary Clinton, who is expected to vacate her seat, to become Obama's Secretary of State. She has no record in public service, no paper or tape trail on issue positions of the day.

She is merely a legacy candidate of the Kennedy clan, an American counterpart to the British House of Lords, a peer.

Bravo to Rep. Gary Ackerman, Democrat, representing part of Queens Borough, compared her "star power" to that of singer Jennifer Lopez. He is more qualified to fill the seat. As I noted before, veteran New York politicians must be envious and insulted to see Gov. David Paterson give serious consideration of Lady Kennedy as the new New York senator. (And kudos to WWRL radio host Errol Louis for giving attention to the debate over appointing Lady Kennedy.)
(The original article in "The New York Post," December 11, 2008)


Jennifer Lopez

ALBANY - A prominent New York Democratic congressman publicly questioned Caroline Kennedy's credentials to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying she's no more qualified to hold office than Jennifer Lopez.

Rep. Gary Ackerman of Queens, a 25-year veteran of Congress, declared in a radio interview: "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are."

"Except that she has name recognition, but so does J.Lo," Ackerman continued on Steve Malzberg's radio show on WOR. "I wouldn't make J.Lo the senator unless she proved she had great qualifications, but we haven't seen them yet."

Ackerman's interview was posted on the Web by Malzberg yesterday after being broadcast Monday.

Ackerman is the first prominent New York Democrat to question Kennedy's credentials at a time when Gov. Paterson is considering John F. Kennedy's daughter as one of a dozen potential replacements for Clinton, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of state.

Some Democratic activists have publicly questioned the fitness of Kennedy, a lawyer and mother of three who has never sought public office, for the Senate. But no prominent elected Democrat had been willing to take on a member of the powerful Kennedy clan until now.

Ackerman also joked that he had taken himself out of the running for the Senate in a way that appeared to highlight Kennedy's lack of statewide experience. He said he wouldn't want to replace Clinton "because I don't do Utica, and that's a qualification for the job."

A Marist College poll Tuesday showed that Kennedy, who lives in Manhattan, has her weakest support for a potential Senate race among upstate voters.

Ackerman's eyebrow-raising comments came as Paterson signaled his unhappiness with efforts by several prominent people, including members of Kennedy family, to lobby him on behalf of their favored candidates.

"It's important for the candidates to focus all of their activities on trying to establish that they are the best candidate, and not on trying to assert any undue influence," said Paterson.

"It's important for me to concentrate only on how the candidates will help New York if they are chosen to serve in the Senate."

Some members of the Kennedy family - including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy - have been lobbying for Caroline to get Clinton's job.

Additional reporting by Carl Campanile

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Steve Hilderbrand, William Greider Obama's economic advisors

Kudos to brother blogspot blogger at choosingdemocracy for bringing attention to Steve Hilderbrand's blog post at Huffington Post, and to William Greider's column at The Nation. (Hilderbrand's bio at HuffPo reports that he was "National Deputy Campaign Manager where he oversaw the state, field and political operations [of Obama's campaign.")

Hilderbrand asks President -elect Barack Obama's left critics to go easy on him.


In a time of economic crisis that threatens to get worse, and snowballing corporate layoffs, why should we accept Obama's economic appointments? These people are corporate neo-liberal retreads from the Clinton administration. The status quo got this economic sick.

This is the time to reverse course, not to listen to the conventional wisdom from the pro-corporate establishment.

In fact, many of these advisors are straight from the disreputable mega-banks themselves. Witness, the Citigroup connection that William Greider called attention to last month in "The Nation," "Past and Future."

An opening excerpt from the Nation opinion piece:
A year ago, when Barack Obama said it was time to turn the page, his campaign declaration seemed to promise a fresh start for Washington. I, for one, failed to foresee Obama would turn the page backward. The president-elect's lineup for key governing positions has opted for continuity, not change. Virtually all of his leading appointments are restoring the Clinton presidency, only without Mr. Bill. In some important ways, Obama's selections seem designed to sustain the failing policies of George W. Bush.

William Greider: Timothy Geithner is responsible for much of the generous deal-making now underway with Wall Street. If Obama's not careful, he will be blamed.

This is not the last word and things are changing rapidly. But Obama's choices have begun to define him. His victory, it appears, was a triumph for the cautious center-right politics that has described the Democratic party for several decades. Those of us who expected more were duped, not so much by Obama but by our own wishful thinking.
. . .
. . . . Now [Robert] Rubin is himself a Citicorp executive and his bank is now being saved by his old protégé (Geithner) with the taxpayers' money.

The connections go way beyond irony. They raise very serious questions about where the new president intends to lead and whether he has the nerve to break from the weak and haphazard strategy of the Bush administration. It has dumped piles of public money on the largest financial institutions and demanded little or nothing in return, hoping for the best. Geithner has been a central player in the deal-making, from Bear Stearns to AIG to Citi. The strategy has not only failed, it has arguably made things worse as savvy market players saw through the contradictions and rushed out to dump more bank stocks.

FBI investigating Sen. Norm Coleman ally

Page one of story in Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

"FBI investigating allegations against Coleman supporter: A lawsuit has alleged that Nasser Kazeminy tried to funnel $75,000 to Sen. Norm Coleman through a Texas company that Kazeminy controls."


Last update: December 10, 2008 - 1:41 PM

Let's Compare Minnesota and Illinois Politics

After recounting 2.9 million ballots, there are 133 missing (that's 0.0045 percent - PERCENT!) that could be considered an election recount … read more mess-up. Despite the whining about stolen elections, the recount process has been open, transparent, fast and efficient. No elected official of either party has been recorded swearing a blue streak and whining about how much money he/she should get for rigging the recount. Plus, while we don't have a real quarterback, we also don't have Kyle Orton. Yes, life is pretty sweet here in Minnesota, isn't it?

Related Content

* Nov. 9: "Money and past bond Coleman, Kazeminy"

The FBI has begun an investigation related to allegations in two lawsuits accusing a friend and political supporter of Sen. Norm Coleman of attempting to funnel $75,000 to him from the coffers of a Texas company that the friend controls.

A source familiar with the probe said FBI agents in Texas have begun contacting people associated with Houston-based Deep Marine Technology Inc., an underwater services company controlled by Nasser Kazeminy, a wealthy businessman whose flagship investment company is based in Bloomington, Minn.

Paul McKim, the founder and former CEO of Deep Marine, has alleged in a lawsuit against Kazeminy that Kazeminy directed $75,000 in payments last year to Hays Companies Inc. of Minneapolis, a large insurance agency that employs Coleman's wife, Laurie Coleman.

McKim's lawsuit alleges that Kazeminy told executives at Deep Marine that Coleman didn't make enough money as a senator and that the payments to Hays were to aid Coleman financially.

Coleman said after the election that he welcomes an immediate investigation. On Wednesday, Luke Friedrich, press secretary for the Coleman Senate campaign, said the senator had not been contacted by any investigators.

McKim said in his lawsuit that Hays did not provide insurance products or services to Deep Marine in exchange for the payments and that he blocked a scheduled fourth payment to Hays that would have been for an additional $25,000.

News of the lawsuit broke five days before the election between Coleman, a Republican, and DFL challenger Al Franken. The election's outcome is the subject of an ongoing recount.

In late October, McKim told the Star Tribune in an interview in Houston that he would welcome an FBI investigation of the payouts made to Hays Companies. He acknowledged that while he might find himself in trouble for initially signing off on the first $25,000 payment sent to Hays, it was paramount that federal authorities understand the context in which the payment was made.

Obama makes overture to Muslims

From the "Chicago Tribune" (the newspaper that Gov. Blagojevich tried to bully):

Highlights from page one of article: "Barack Obama plans to reach out to Muslim world: In exclusive interview, he says he plans to be sworn in like every other president, using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama"

Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital.

And when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20, he plans to be sworn in like every other president, using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.

"I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,'' Obama said Tuesday, promising an "unrelenting" desire to "create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together."

The world, he said, "is ready for that message."

In a wide-ranging interview with Tribune reporters, Obama discussed his strategy for his first year in office, vigorously defended his choice for attorney general and reflected on his role as the first African American to be elected president.

He also made it clear that, even as he plans his move to Washington, his heart will remain in Chicago. His "Kennebunkport" will be the South Side, Obama said, and he pledged to return at least every couple months for some family down time.
. . .

Obama said the country must take advantage of a unique chance to recalibrate relations around the globe, through a new diplomacy that emphasizes inclusiveness and tolerance as well as an unflinching stand against terrorism.

"The message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the terrorist extremism we saw in Mumbai," Obama said, adding that he plans to give a major address in an Islamic capital as part of his global outreach.

NY Times: Progressives holding tongues on frustration over Obma's centrist cabinet

Liberals Wonder When Obama’s Team Will Reflect Them

Published: December 8, 2008

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments have tilted so much to the political center that they have drawn praise from the likes of Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh. That alone would seem enough to set off a revolt in his liberal base. But a month into Mr. Obama’s transition, many on the political left are trying to hold their tongues.

President-elect Barack Obama’s team is being cast as centrist.

In assembling his team to date, Mr. Obama has largely passed over progressives, opting to keep President Bush’s defense secretary, tapping a retired general close to Senator John McCain and recruiting economists from the traditionally corporate, free-trade, deficit-hawk wing of the party. The choices have deeply frustrated liberals who thought Mr. Obama’s election signaled the rise of a new progressive era.

But so far, they are mainly muting their protest, clinging to the belief that Mr. Obama still means what he said on the campaign trail and remaining wary of undermining what they see as the most liberal president sent to the White House in a generation. They are quietly lobbying for more liberals in the next round of appointments, seeking at least some like-minded voices at the table. And they are banking on the idea that no matter whom he installs under him, Mr. Obama will be the driving force for the change they seek.

“It’s a great question — one that many of us have been trying to avoid,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, the incoming co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, when asked last week how liberals viewed Mr. Obama’s team. “The euphoria of the election is still there, and still there for me. It’s not a question of benefit of the doubt. It’s a question of trust, and I trust that we’re going to be moving in the right direction.”

As it happens, Mr. Grijalva is the focus of some of that trust. The Obama transition team has let it be known that he is under consideration for secretary of the interior, and many liberals have made that possible nomination a litmus test for whether Mr. Obama really is serious about including them in the top echelon of his government.

Others are swallowing concerns about personnel to concentrate instead on policy. Some see a New Deal for the 21st century in Mr. Obama’s plans to push an economic recovery program that would devote hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure projects, social safety-net programs and environmentally friendly industry.

“He ran on such a progressive agenda, if he’s not breaking away from that, if he’s getting centrists to implement it, we’ll take that,” said Robert L. Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future and once a top adviser to Jesse L. Jackson’s presidential campaign.

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the influential Daily Kos site on the Internet, said it was way too early to begin judging Mr. Obama. “Some people may be nit-picky about his choices but at the end of the day, he’s going to make better choices than John McCain would have made,” Mr. Moulitsas said by telephone. “There will be a time to push him, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to wait to see what it means on a policy basis, not on personalities.”

Some bloggers have been less patient. “Why isn’t there a single member of Obama’s cabinet who will be advising him from the left?” asked Chris Bowers on his site, Kevin Drum, writing on the Web site of the liberal magazine Mother Jones, echoed that sentiment: “I mean, that is why most of us voted for him, right?”

In an opinion article for The Washington Post on Sunday, David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, wrote that “progressives are — depending on whom you ask — disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” But he added that “there’s no rebellion yet at hand” because the left still is hoping that Mr. Obama will hijack the establishment to advance liberal causes.

Mr. Obama’s loyalists have appealed for calm.

“This is not a time for the left wing of our party to draw conclusions about the cabinet and White House appointments that President-elect Obama is making,” Steve Hildebrand, one of his top campaign aides, wrote on The Huffington Post in a message to progressives on Sunday. “Some believe the appointments generally aren’t progressive enough. Having worked with former Senator Obama for the last two years, I can tell you, that isn’t the way he thinks and it’s not likely the way he will lead.”

The mixed emotions on the left reflect a larger uncertainty about how to view Mr. Obama. Although National Journal deemed him the most liberal senator based on major votes and many liberals flocked to his campaign, Mr. Obama ran more on inspiration than ideology and has not always adopted the orthodoxy of the left. He proposed expanding health care coverage but does not favor a government-run single-payer system. He has criticized the Bush counterterrorism policies but voted for a compromise surveillance bill.

In the weeks since his election, Mr. Obama or his advisers have signaled that he might delay some promises that appealed to progressives, like raising taxes on the wealthy, reopening negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement and ending restrictions on gay men and lesbians in the military. While renewing his desire to withdraw combat forces from Iraq in 16 months, he has emphasized that he will listen to alternatives presented by the military.

Some liberals said they would have only themselves to blame if their expectations were not met. “So many progressives were misled about what Obama is and what he believes,” Glenn Greenwald wrote in the online magazine Salon. “But it wasn’t Obama who misled them. It was their own desires, their eagerness to see what they wanted to see rather than what reality offered.”

At the same time, Mr. Obama arrives in office at a moment when the political dialogue has shifted to the left. Ideas that used to be considered on the fringe are now much more centrist, including heavy government spending in the short term to lift the economy and addressing energy and climate change through green technology. The debate over Iraq no longer is whether to withdraw troops but how quickly.

Even some of his appointees have evolved in their views. Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary chosen to be Mr. Obama’s chief White House economic adviser, talks much more about income inequality, financial industry regulation and other favorite causes of the left. “The Larry Summers of 2008 is not the Larry Summers of 1993 or 1999,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, a liberal magazine.

Ms. vanden Heuvel has been more critical of the national security team, to be anchored by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, with Robert M. Gates staying on as defense secretary and Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser. In her magazine, Ms. vanden Heuvel asked why those who had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, as Mr. Obama did, do not seem to have a place on the team.

Yet she said liberal activists must learn to work from the inside when possible while also pushing from the outside when necessary. “Progressives need to be as clear eyed, tough and pragmatic about Obama as he is about us,” she said in an interview last week. “It’s too early to tell.”

While hewing mostly to the center, Mr. Obama did heed the left in giving up on John O. Brennan, a longtime Central Intelligence Agency officer who was in line to lead the agency, after complaints about his views of interrogation programs. Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. named a liberal economist, Jared Bernstein, as an adviser last week. And Mr. Obama said on Sunday his choice for veterans affairs secretary would be Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the retired Army chief of staff who became a hero to Iraq war opponents for his public clash with top Bush administration officials over troop levels.

Having lost out in most of the top-tier positions, liberals are pushing favorites for remaining jobs: Mr. Grijalva for the Interior Department, Representative Xavier Becerra of California for United States trade representative, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts for energy secretary and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts for agriculture secretary.

“We assume that there will be a philosophical balance when we’re all through with this,” said Representative Lynn Woolsey of California.

Tim Carpenter, national director of Progressive Democrats of America, which was founded in 2004 out of frustration with Senator John Kerry’s position on the Iraq war, said the retention of Mr. Gates was “startling” and complained that as Mr. Obama builds his team, “everybody he’s bringing in is to the right of him.” But he expressed cautious optimism.

“Change is in the air,” Mr. Carpenter said. “The question is what kind of change. We hope Barack Obama will be a more progressive president.”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rich of NY Times: Brightest are not always the best

Columnist Frank Rich in the New York Times:

Note to Obama: The Brightest Advisors Are Not Always the Best

By Frank Rich, The New York Times. Posted December 8, 2008.

The media haven't asked the tough questions they should about Obama's superstar cabinet.

In 1992, David Halberstam wrote a new introduction for the 20th-anniversary edition of “The Best and the Brightest,” his classic history of the hubristic J.F.K. team that would ultimately mire America in Vietnam. He noted that the book’s title had entered the language, but not quite as he had hoped. “It is often misused,” he wrote, “failing to carry the tone or irony that the original intended.”

Halberstam died last year, but were he still around, I suspect he would be speaking up, loudly, right about now. As Barack Obama rolls out his cabinet, “the best and the brightest” has become the accolade du jour from Democrats (Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri), Republicans (Senator John Warner of Virginia) and the press (George Stephanopoulos). Few seem to recall that the phrase, in its original coinage, was meant to strike a sardonic, not a flattering, note. Perhaps even Doris Kearns Goodwin would agree that it’s time for Beltway reading groups to move on from “Team of Rivals” to Halberstam.

The stewards of the Vietnam fiasco had pedigrees uncannily reminiscent of some major Obama appointees. McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, was, as Halberstam put it, “a legend in his time at Groton, the brightest boy at Yale, dean of Harvard College at a precocious age.” His deputy, Walt Rostow, “had always been a prodigy, always the youngest to do something,” whether at Yale, M.I.T. or as a Rhodes scholar. Robert McNamara, the defense secretary, was the youngest and highest paid Harvard Business School assistant professor of his era before making a mark as a World War II Army analyst, and, at age 44, becoming the first non-Ford to lead the Ford Motor Company.

The rest is history that would destroy the presidency of Lyndon Johnson and inflict grave national wounds that only now are healing.

In the Obama transition, our Clinton-fixated political culture has been hyperventilating mainly over the national security team, but that’s not what gives me pause. Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates were both wrong about the Iraq invasion, but neither of them were architects of that folly and both are far better known in recent years for consensus-building caution (at times to a fault in Clinton’s case) than arrogance. Those who fear an outbreak of Clintonian drama in the administration keep warning that Obama has hired a secretary of state he can’t fire. But why not take him at his word when he says “the buck will stop with me”? If Truman could cashier Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then surely Obama could fire a brand-name cabinet member in the (unlikely) event she goes rogue.

No, it’s the economic team that evokes trace memories of our dark best-and-brightest past. Lawrence Summers, the new top economic adviser, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard’s history and is famous for never letting anyone forget his brilliance. It was his highhanded disregard for his own colleagues, not his impolitic remarks about gender and science, that forced him out of Harvard’s presidency in four years. Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, is the boy wonder president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He comes with none of Summers’s personal baggage, but his sparkling résumé is missing one crucial asset: experience outside academe and government, in the real world of business and finance. Postgraduate finishing school at Kissinger & Associates doesn’t count.

CLick here for entire Rich column.

Liberals waiting for a populist administration

With all of the campaign trail rhetoric steeped in economic populism, and "Main Street" over "Wall Street," liberals and progressives are wondering, where are the progressives in President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet.

Columnists at weighed in yesterday:

Liberals voice concerns about Obama
By: Carol E. Lee and Nia-Malika Henderson
December 8, 2008 03:49 PM EST

Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices.

Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left.

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

“He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it's all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment,” said Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America.

OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”

Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

Obama insists he hasn’t abandoned the goals that made him feel to some like a liberal savior. But the left’s bill of particulars against Obama is long, and growing.

Obama drew rousing applause at campaign events when he vowed to tax the windfall profits of oil companies. As president-elect, Obama says he won’t enact the tax.

Obama’s pledge to repeal the Bush tax cuts and redistribute that money to the middle class made him a hero among Democrats who said the cuts favored the wealthy. But now he’s struck a more cautious stance on rolling back tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year, signaling he’ll merely let them expire as scheduled at the end of 2010.

Obama’s post-election rhetoric on Iraq and choices for national security team have some liberal Democrats even more perplexed. As a candidate, Obama defined and separated himself from his challengers by highlighting his opposition to the war in Iraq from the start. He promised to begin to end the war on his first day in office.

Now Obama’s says that on his first day in office he will begin to “design a plan for a responsible drawdown,” as he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Obama has also filled his national security positions with supporters of the Iraq war: Sen. Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize force in Iraq, as his secretary of state; and President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, continuing in the same role.

The central premise of the left’s criticism is direct – don’t bite the hand that feeds, Mr. President-elect. The Internet that helped him so much during the election is lighting up with irritation and critiques.

“There don't seem to be any liberals in Obama's cabinet,” writes John Aravosis, the editor of “What does all of this mean for Obama's policies, and just as important, Obama Supreme Court announcements?”

“Actually, it reminds me a bit of the campaign, at least the beginning and the middle, when the Obama campaign didn't seem particularly interested in reaching out to progressives,” Aravosis continues. “Once they realized that in order to win they needed to marshal everyone on their side, the reaching out began. I hope we're not seeing a similar ‘we can do it alone’ approach in the transition team.”

This isn’t the first liberal letdown over Obama, who promptly angered the left after winning the Democratic primary by announcing he backed a compromise that would allow warrantless wiretapping on U.S. soil to continue.

Now it’s Obama’s Cabinet moves that are drawing the most fire. It’s not just that he’s picked Clinton and Gates. It’s that liberal Democrats say they’re hard-pressed to find one of their own on Obama’s team so far – particularly on the economic side, where people like Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers are hardly viewed as pro-labor.

“At his announcement of an economic team there was no secretary of labor. If you don’t think the labor secretary is on the same level as treasury secretary, that gives me pause,” said Jonathan Tasini, who runs the website “The president-elect wouldn't be president-elect without labor."

During the campaign Obama gained labor support by saying he favored legislation that would make it easier for unions to form inside companies. The “card check” bill would get rid of a secret-ballot method of voting to form a union and replace it with a system that would require companies to recognize unions simply if a majority of workers signed cards saying they want one. Obama still supports that legislation, aides say – but union leaders are worried that he no longer talks it up much as president-elect.

“It's complicated,” said Tasini, who challenged Clinton for Senate in 2006. “On the one hand, the guy hasn't even taken office yet so it's a little hasty to be criticizing him. On the other hand, there is legitimate cause for concern. I think people are still waiting but there is some edginess about this.”

That’s a view that seems to have kept some progressive leaders holding their fire. There are signs of a struggle within the left wing of the Democratic Party about whether it’s just too soon to criticize Obama -- and if there’s really anything to complain about just yet.

Case in point: One of the Campaign for America’s Future blogs commented on Obama’s decision not to tax oil companies’ windfall profits saying, “Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes - even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations - is bad for the economy.”

Yet Campaign for America’s Future will be join about 150 progressive organizations, economists and labor groups to release a statement Tuesday in support of a large economic stimulus package like the one Obama has proposed, said Hickey, a co-founder of the group.

“I’ve heard the most grousing about the windfall profits tax, but on the other hand, Obama has committed himself to a stimulus package that makes a down payment on energy efficiency and green jobs,” Hickey said. “The old argument was, here’s how we afford to make these investments – we tax the oil companies’ windfall profits. … The new argument is, in a bad economy that could get worse, we don’t.”

Obama is asking for patience – saying he’s only shifting his stance on some issues because circumstances are shifting.

Aides say he backed off the windfall profits tax because oil prices have
dropped below $80 a barrel. Obama also defended hedging on the Bush tax cuts.

“My economic team right now is examining, do we repeal that through legislation? Do we let it lapse so that, when the Bush tax cuts expire, they're not renewed when it comes to wealthiest Americans?” Obama said on “Meet the Press.” “We don't yet know what the best approach is going to be.”

On Iraq, he says he’s just trying to make sure any U.S. pullout doesn’t ignite “any resurgence of terrorism in Iraq that could threaten our interests.”

Obama has told his supporters to look beyond his appointments, that the change he promised will come from him and that when his administration comes together they will be happy.

“I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like, you'll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of way,” Obama recently said in response to questions about his appointments during a news conference on the economy.

The leaders of some liberal groups are willing to wait and see.

“He hasn’t had a first day in office,” said John Isaacs, the executive director for Council for Livable World. “To me it’s not as important as who’s there, than what kind of policies they carry out.”

“These aren’t out-and-out liberals on the national security team, but they may be successful implementers of what the Obama national security policy is,” Isaacs added. “We want to see what policies are carried forward, as opposed to appointments.”

Juan Cole, who runs a prominent anti-war blog called Informed Comment, said he worries Obama will get bad advice from Clinton on the Middle East, calling her too pro-Israel and “belligerent” toward Iran. “But overall, my estimation is that he has chosen competence over ideology, and I'm willing to cut him some slack,” Cole said.

Other voices of the left don’t like what they’re seeing so far and aren’t waiting for more before they speak up.

New York Times columnist Frank Rich warned that Obama’s economic team of Summers and Geithner reminded him of John F. Kennedy’s “best and the brightest” team, who blundered in Vietnam despite their blue-chip pedigrees.

David Corn, Washington bureau chief of the liberal magazine Mother Jones, wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post that he is “not yet reaching for a pitchfork.”

But the headline of his op-ed sums up his point about Obama’s Cabinet appointments so far: “This Wasn’t Quite the Change We Envisioned.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

Compuware CEO chides Sen. Shelby; highlights aid to foreign automakers in Alabama

A fellow blogspot blogger, at "For What It's Worth," has done good work in calling attention to some inconsistencies in Sen. Richard Shelby's (Ala.) criticism of the Big 3 U.S. automakers, in Friday's post, "Compuware CEO reminds Senator of Alabama's aid to foreign automakers."
Note: The following letter (pdf 19 KB) was sent on Nov. 17 from Peter Karmanos, Jr., chairman and CEO of Compuware Corporation, to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a critic of bridge loans for American automakers.

Dear Senator Shelby:

On Sunday, Nov. 16, I watched with great interest "Meet the Press," during which you and Sen. Carl Levin debated the merits of (or, concerning your position, the folly) providing financial aid to America's domestic auto industry. I must admit that I was more than a little taken aback by how out of touch you really are about what Detroit's Big Three automakers have been doing for some time and continue to do to transform their businesses to both survive in today's debilitating economic climate and thrive in the future. The steps have been extremely significant and take it from me — someone who lives and works in the Motor City — incredibly painful as well.

Frankly, I could go on for pages in an effort to educate you about these measures, but I think Senator Levin did a good job of providing the high-level facts about these transformation efforts. As the ranking member on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, I can only trust that you will take some time and conduct the proper due diligence before continuing to espouse your inaccuracies. At minimum, I believe the domestic auto industry (and its millions of hardworking, taxpaying employees), which helped make America great, deserve as much.

Don't you?

The intent of this letter, however, is not to take you to task for the inaccuracy of your comments or for the over-simplicity of your views, but rather to point out the hypocrisy of your position as it relates to Alabama's (the state for which you have served as senator since 1987) recent history of providing subsidies to manufacturing. During the segment on "Meet the Press," you stated that:

We don't need government — governmental subsidies for manufacturing in this country. It's the French model, it's the wrong road. We will pay for it. The average American taxpayer is going to pay dearly for this, if I'm not wrong.

I trust it is safe to say that when you refer to "government subsidies," you are referring to subsidies provided by both federal and state governments. And if this is in fact true, then I am sure you were adamantly against the State of Alabama offering lucrative incentives (in essence, subsidies) to Mercedes Benz in the early 1990s to lure the German automobile manufacturer to the State.

As it turned out, Alabama offered a stunning $253 million incentive package to Mercedes. Additionally, the state also offered to train the workers, clear and improve the site, upgrade utilities, and buy 2,500 Mercedes Benz vehicles. All told, it is estimated that the incentive package totaled anywhere from $153,000 to $220,000 per created job. On top of all this, the state gave the foreign automaker a large parcel of land worth between $250 and $300 million, which was coincidentally how much the company expected to invest in building the plant.

With all due respect, Senator, where was your outrage when all this was going on? Perhaps on principal you did disagree with your colleagues in the Alabama State Government over these subsidies, but I don't recall you ever going out and publicly decrying Alabama's subsidization strategy. I certainly don't recall you going in front of the nation (as you did this past Sunday) to discuss what a big mistake Alabama was making in providing subsidies to Mercedes Benz. If you had, however, you could have talked about how, applying free market principles, Alabama shouldn't have had to resort to subsidies to land Mercedes Benz.

Competitively speaking, if Alabama had been the strongest candidate under consideration (i.e. highest quality infrastructure, workforce, research and development facilities, business climate, etc.), then subsidies shouldn't have been required.

The fact is that Alabama knew that, on a level playing field, it could not compete with the other states under consideration and, thus, to lure the German car builder to the state, it offered the aforementioned unprecedented subsidies. In effect, Alabama — your state — did exactly what you said government should not do: provide subsidies for manufacturing. It's no great mystery why Alabama politicians went to such dramatic anti-free-market measures to secure Mercedes Benz — they did it for the betterment of their state through job creation and increased tax revenues. And who could blame them? Is that so different than what would occur by providing financial aid to help rescue the domestic auto industry?

Such aid would save millions of jobs and millions of dollars in lost tax revenue. Additionally, unlike the giveaways Alabama bestowed upon the foreign automaker in question, United States taxpayers would be reimbursed with interest (as they were when Chrysler received government aid in the early 1980s) for their investment in what is clearly a critically important industry for America’s present and future.

Best Regards,
Peter Karmanos, Jr. Chairman and CEO Compuware Corporation

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pondering Obama's Secretary of Education appointment

Tim Kaine of Virginia has pulled himself out of the running.
These insider columns indicate that Joel Klein is still a candidate. Given Obama's pattern of picking different voices, it is conceivable that he will have both a positive appointee (i.e., Darling-Hammond) and a negative one (Klein or Rhee).
From NY Times: David Brooks' column on education secretary choice:
As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

During the presidential race, Barack Obama straddled the two camps. One campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the reform view in the internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-Hammond, was more likely to represent the establishment view. Their disagreements were collegial (this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

In public, Obama shifted nimbly from camp to camp while education experts studied his intonations with the intensity of Kremlinologists. Sometimes, he flirted with the union positions. At other times, he practiced dog-whistle politics, sending out reassuring signals that only the reformers could hear.

Each camp was secretly convinced that at the end of the day, Obama would come down on their side. The reformers were cheered when Obama praised a Denver performance pay initiative. The unions could take succor from the fact that though Obama would occasionally talk about merit pay, none of his actual proposals contradicted their positions.

Obama never had to pick a side. That is, until now. There is only one education secretary, and if you hang around these circles, the air is thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety, hope and misinformation. Every day, new rumors are circulated and new front-runners declared. It’s kind of like being in a Trollope novel as Lord So-and-So figures out to whom he’s going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist camp by the level of nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago, Obama announced that Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team and reformist cellphones around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a sharp critic of Teach for America and promotes weaker reforms.

Anxieties cooled, but then one morning a few weeks ago, I got a flurry of phone calls from reform leaders nervous that Obama was about to side against them. I interviewed people in the president-elect’s inner circle and was reassured that the reformers had nothing to worry about. Obama had not gone native.

Obama’s aides point to his long record on merit pay, his sympathy for charter schools and his tendency to highlight his commitment to serious education reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

In some sense, the final option would be the biggest setback for reform. Education is one of those areas where implementation and the details are more important than grand pronouncements. If the deputies and assistants in the secretary’s office are not true reformers, nothing will get done.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

No Child Left Behind is about to be reauthorized. Everyone has reservations about that law, but it is the glaring spotlight that reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre schools. If accountability standards are watered down, as the establishment wants, then real reform will fade.

This will be a tough call for Obama, because it will mean offending people, but he can either galvanize the cause of reform or demoralize it. It’ll be one of the biggest choices of his presidency.

Many of the reformist hopes now hang on Obama’s friend, Arne Duncan. In Chicago, he’s a successful reformer who has produced impressive results in a huge and historically troubled system. He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Because he is close to both Obamas, he will ensure that education doesn’t fall, as it usually does, into the ranks of the second-tier issues.

If Obama picks a reformer like Duncan, Klein or one of the others, he will be picking a fight with the status quo. But there’s never been a better time to have that fight than right now.

From Associated Content, 12/6/08:
Although everyone seems to agree that America's public school system needs help, experts disagree about how to fix it. One side advocates sweeping reform; the other side favors less reform and more status quo. During the presidential campaign, President-Elect Barack Obama managed to gain the support of both sides by eluding a definitive position. Now, with the new Secretary of Education to be appointed, the suspense is whether he will choose reform or status quo?

Reform versus Status Quo

The reformers are education advocates who believe that certification programs and the teachers' unions have thwarted true improvement in education. They advocate an influx of new teachers, standardized testing, and accountability for teachers. The other side insists that raising the quality of existing teachers is the key to improving student performance. The oppose Teach for America, a program that allows top college graduates to teach in low-performing schools without certification. They oppose the No Child Left Behind program, which attempts to assess both student and teacher performance with objective measures.

To all these passionate advocates, the choice of the Secretary of Education will signal the path ahead. The nomination is not so much about a person as about a policy. The reform candidates reportedly being considered are Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, and Arne Duncan. On the other side is Linda Darling-Hammond. Ms. Darling-Hammond was an adviser to the Obama campaign and was chosen to lead the transition's education policy team. Whether her role in the transition will lead to an appointment is unknown.