Tuesday, November 25, 2008

president de facto -almost; tackling of econ "starts today".

Times of London:
Barack Obama effectively took control of the US economy - two months before he takes office - by declaring that his plan to confront the financial crisis "starts today".

As he unveiled his new economic team, Mr Obama struck a very different note from the diffident election winner of three weeks ago who stressed that America is led by only "one president at a time".

Today, he appeared fully aware that the US and global markets are looking to him, not President Bush, for solutions to the deepening crisis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Curious geographic pattern in Bush's pardons

Is it just me, or has anyone noticed that there is a disproportionate pattern of pardons for people from former Confederate states in the pardons of out-going President George W. Bush?

The Associated Press reports today that Bush has pardoned 14 individuals. Of those individuals, only 5 people are from states or territories outside the Confederate South, Illinois, South Dakota, Missouri, California and Oklahoma. (Aside from the 14 pardoned individuals, 2 persons were given commuted sentences.)

Biden's Senate replacement

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Vice President-elect has passed the baton on to a longtime aide, Huffington Post reports:
WILMINGTON, Del. — Edward "Ted" Kaufman, a former aide to Sen. Joe Biden, was named Monday by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to fill the Senate seat Biden is leaving for the vice presidency.

Kaufman, co-chair of Biden's transition team and an Obama-Biden transition project advisory board member, plans to serve until the 2010 election, when a new senator is elected. He said he is comfortable stepping down after two years in office.

"I don't think Delaware's appointed senator should spend the next two years running for office," Kaufman said. "I will do this job to the fullest of my ability, and spend my days focused on one thing and one thing only: serving Delaware."

Speculation on Biden's successor had centered in recent weeks on his son, Attorney General Beau Biden. But last week the younger Biden announced that he planned to fulfill his National Guard duties and wouldn't accept an appointment to his father's U.S. Senate seat.

Biden is a prosecutor for the 261st Signal Brigade, which left for Iraq last week. The unit is due back in September 2009, in time for Biden to run for his father's Senate seat.

The elder Biden said in a statement, "It is no secret that I believe my son, Attorney General Beau Biden, would make a great United States Senator just as I believe he has been a great attorney general. But Beau has made it clear from the moment he entered public life that any office he sought he would earn on his own."

Just before announcing Kaufman as the appointee, Minner acknowledged speculation about the younger Biden being picked for the post and said she would have strongly considered him.

"The fact that Beau Biden is committed to fulfilling his obligation and not seeking appointment to this office tells us everything we need to know about his character," she said. "Should Beau choose to run for this office in 2010, he will _ as will whoever runs _ have to earn on his own the trust of the people of Delaware."

Click here for the full story from Huffington Post.

* * *
Now, we are just waiting for other replacements:
--the Senator from Illinois to replace Obama
--the senator from New York to replace Hillary Clinton (if all goes as planned, for her taking the Secretary of State post)

RNC candidate in racially exclusive club? --I'm shocked

Recall, the collaborationist French head of the local police, Captain Renault in "Casablanca," with his disingenuous "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here"?
My sarcastic shock arrives to this case of Katon Dawson, a candidate for the Republican National Committee. Talking Points Memo reports that he has an unsavory past, particularly, membership in a whites-only country club. As the author, Greg Sargent notes, this kind of information does nothing to dispel the association of the GOP with insensitive, small-minded racism of the past, rather than a modern expansive posture, welcoming people of diverse backgrounds.
Now here's a good way for the GOP to make the case that it hasn't been reduced to a southern regional rump party that's held hostage by intolerant crackpots: Elect as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee a southerner who just resigned a longtime membership in a whites-only country club.

Katon Dawson, the South Carolina GOP chairman, announced his candidacy for RNC chair yesterday.

And guess what: Back in September, when Dawson was first quietly laying the groundwork for his RNC run, The State newspaper [of Columbia, South Carolina] reported that he resigned his membership in the nearly 80-year-old Forest Lake Club. Members told the newspaper at the time that the club's deed has a whites-only restriction and has no black members.

Dawson claimed to the paper that he'd actually been working since August to change the club's admission practices after reading about them in the press. Nonetheless, his membership could become an issue in the RNC chair race.

After all, the paper says he was a member for 12 years, so it seems like a pretty fair question to ask whether he started working to change the club's rules this summer, and then resigned, in preparation for his RNC chair candidacy.

That seems like a particularly relevant question when you recall that the case some GOPers made against Obama over his ties to Reverend Wright was that his supposed silence in the face of Wright's rantings should raise questions about Obama's patriotism.

What's more, The State said that Dawson resigned the club after it became known that the paper was getting ready to report his membership.

Either way, it's hard to see how it sends a winning message for the GOP to pick as its chief strategist and public face someone who was a member of a club where the first African American president in history apparently need not apply. Ah, those good old Repubs.

Obama announces economic team; immediate task: stimulating economy

Today President-elect Barack Obama announced his new economic team:

As has been already known, Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve, will be Secretary of the Treasury.

*Lawrence Summers --White House economic director, coordinating economic policy
*Peter Orszag --head of the Congressional Budget Office, will be charged with assembling the new president’s budget
"Chief Economist
Christina Romer
, a University of California, Berkeley, professor, will head the Council of Economic Advisers."
"Melody Barnes will be domestic-policy council director, Obama said today." --Bloomberg News

* * *
National media outlets have emphasized the Obama administration's imminent economic stimulus program. Washington Post, datelined tomorrow, Tuesday, November 25:
In announcing the picks, Mr. Obama made it clear that his team's first job will be preparing an economic stimulus package of unspecified, but probably enormous, size. As he noted, this is now the consensus prescription of economists across the ideological spectrum, notwithstanding the fact that it could expand the federal deficit to well over $1 trillion. In fact, the whole point is to increase the deficit at a time when potential private-sector sources of economic life, whether consumers or businesses, are tapped out.

Perhaps as important as the plan's size is its timing and composition. No doubt the economy is in such bad shape that it could use what Mr. Obama called a "jolt" right away, under President Bush and the lame-duck Congress. But given the magnitude of federal borrowing Mr. Obama is likely about to seek, and the risk that funds allocated in haste could be inappropriately targeted, he is right to try to give his advisers until after the New Year to craft a program and get it to the Congress that will be sworn in Jan. 3. Alas, the recession will still be around, as it will be when the new president takes the oath of office Jan. 20. Better to take a few weeks to devise the best possible mix of tax breaks, infrastructure spending and energy investments than to rush out a suboptimal one.

Mr. Obama wisely observed yesterday that budgetary "reform" must be part of the package, "so that we have a path towards a sustainable and responsible budget scenario down the line." We hope that what he has in mind goes beyond an attack on wasteful congressional "earmarks" and other pork-barrel spending. Important as those items are, Mr. Obama properly noted during the campaign that they constitute only a tiny portion of the federal deficit. The structural deficit, caused by uncontrolled entitlement spending, especially for Medicare, is the real menace. A credible blueprint for long-term entitlement reform would go a long way toward ensuring the viability of Mr. Obama's short-term anti-recession efforts, both politically and economically. The macroeconomic repairs Mr. Obama has in mind won't last unless he can also eventually put the federal government's finances back on a sound foundation.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Interpreting Obama's cabinet picks

Today's "New York Times" has a lead analysis piece, interpreting President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet choices as indicating a pragmatic, rather than ideological, direction: "Obama Tilts to Center, Inviting a Clash of Ideas".

I would say that this holds for some posts and not for other posts. In this tumultuous economic crisis period, he is inclined toward finance choices that are not lurching into new directions. His choice of New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner for Secretary of the Treasury is representative of these choices. (Note conservative commentator Larry Kudlow's gushing over Geithner over this choice. --"Lawrence" at his blog.)

And, yes, centrism and continuity is at work in Obama's choice of defense choices:
"[T]he names racing through the ether in Washington about the choices to follow also suggest that Mr. Obama continues to place a premium on deep experience. He is widely reported to be considering asking Mr. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to stay on for a year; and he is thinking about Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine Corps commandant, for national security adviser."

Yet, as one blog noted, the appointment of Tom Daschle (former senator from South Dakota) has been over-shadowed by the all-but certain appointment of Senator Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to Secretary of Commerce, I would add. Obama's choosing Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services indicates an interest in a progressive, "change"-oriented (to use the slogan/tired cliche from the campaign) approach to the health care crisis.
Note Dashle's phrase "we can't afford not to" [cover everyone] below, quoted in a "Publisher's Weekly" review:
The U.S. is "the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee necessary health care to all of its citizens," and as former senator Daschle observes, "Skeptics say we can't afford to cover everyone; the truth is that we can't afford not to" because U.S. economic competitiveness is being impeded by the large uninsured population and fast-rising health costs. Daschle's book delineates the weaknesses of previous attempts at national health coverage, outlines the complex economic factors and medical issues affecting coverage and sets forth plans for change. Daschle proposes creating a Federal Health Board, similar to the Federal Reserve System, whose structure, functions and enforcement capability would be "largely insulated from the politics and passion of the moment," in addition to a merging of employers' plans, Medicaid and Medicare with an expanded FEHBP (Federal Employee Health Benefits Program) that would cover everyone. "There is no more important issue facing our country," Daschle asserts, "than reform of our health-care system," and the book's "health-care horror stories" bring this immediacy home.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More on Darling-Hammond, Obama education working group head

Here are more findings on Linda Darling-Hammond, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for his education policy working group. (Incidentally, in addition to being an education professor, she is a former high school teacher.)

Darling-Hammond is leading one of seven policy working groups. Corine Hegland at "National Journal Online", introduced an overview of the heads of several work team leaders,
The Obama transition team has announced policy working groups in seven areas: economic; education; energy and environment; health care; immigration; national security; and technology, innovation and government reform. Full biographies of the lucky wonks leading the groups are up on the Change.Gov Web site.

Darling-Hammond' bio at the President-elect's official website on Policy Working Groups:
Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she has launched the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network. Her research, teaching, and policy work focus on issues of school reform, teaching quality and educational equity. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the executive board of the National Academy of Education. She has been a leader in the standards movement, chairing both the New York State Curriculum and Assessment Council as it adopted new standards and assessments for students and the Interstate New Teachers Support and Assessment Council (INTASC) as it developed new standards for teachers. From 1994-2001, she served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a blue-ribbon panel whose 1996 report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, was named in 2006 as one of the most influential affecting U.S. education, and Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy. She received her BA from Yale University, magna cum laude, in 1973 and her Doctorate in Urban Education from Temple University in 1978. She began her career as a public school teacher.

Darling-Hammond's bio at wikipedia.

Dana Goldstein, in the headline to her post at "The American Prospect" website yesterday afternoon interpreted the Darling-Hammond as an effort to avoid conflicts with unions.
In comparison [to Tom Daschle, Obama's appointee to head Health and Human Services], the choice of Linda Darling-Hammond to lead the education working group is quite conservative. Not ideologically conservative, but rather, conservative in terms of what it says about Obama's plans for education. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform -- which favor charter schools and merit pay -- have been hoping for Obama to embrace their agenda. And indeed, early in the primaries, Obama was booed at a teachers' union event for saying he supported merit pay. But since he clinched the nomination, Obama's statements on education have been more circumspect. The appointment of Darling-Hammond, a teacher quality expert who opposes merit pay and is more critical than supportive of NCLB, signals that Obama wishes to avoid a fight with the unions. He'll spend his political capital on energy and health care instead.

All that said, Darling-Hammond, currently a Stanford professor, does have impressive qualifications and some great ideas. Known as a onetime harsh critic of Teach for America, she is absolutely correct to push for teacher recruitment reforms that professionalize the job and seek candidates ready to spend long careers in schools. She refers to education as a "civil right" and said on the campaign trail that the Obama team is committed to equalizing resources between poor and affluent schools. There may be education fights down the road in the Obama administration, but it's reductive to believe the only fight worth having is on merit pay, which pits certain progressive interest groups against one another. Darling-Hammond is unlikely to pick that particular fight -- but when it comes to school funding and other crucial issues, she'll be a powerful advocate on behalf of poor children.

Duane Campbell, the author of the leading Internet petition of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, cited Darling-Hammond in a September blog-post headline, in the context of promoting Obama.
He linked to Darling-Hammond's September 22 endorsement of Obama, "Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama," in a blog post at edwize.org . The bulk of her post is featured below.
In a nutshell, educators should support Obama because:

Obama will provide schools and teachers the tools they need to educate all students.

He understands that No Child Left Behind left the money behind, while setting unrealistic goals and providing little support to reach them. In addition to boosting funding, he has promised to overhaul the accountability and assessment provisions of the law so that students are not “spending the year bubbling in answers on standardized tests” but are instead are challenged to think critically, conduct research, engage in scientific investigations, read and write for genuine purposes, and master the skills needed in the 21st century. He wants to be sure that schools are able to teach a full, rich curriculum that includes science, technology, history, the arts and music, as well as reading and math.

He will use a continuous progress approach to evaluating students and schools — one that assesses special education students and English language learners more appropriately and funds stronger services and more productive school improvement efforts. By contrast, McCain is content with No Child Left Behind as it is; he has no plans to increase funding for the law, which he voted against, along with his votes against hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes and funding teacher training.

Obama plans a major technology initiative to put computers, connectivity, and courseware within the reach of every student and teacher, incentives for redesigning middle and high schools, and expansion of after-school and summer enrichment programs, especially for students at risk of dropping out. Obama understands that educators deserve support for their own learning. His plans invest in high-quality preparation for both teachers and principals, service scholarships to underwrite preparation for those who will become teachers, mentoring for all beginning teachers, and useful professional development — not the drive-by workshops or “spray and pray” approaches that most teachers have learned to dread. His plans provide incentives for schools to set aside time during the day for teachers to collaborate.

Obama understands that teachers and schools cannot close the achievement gap by themselves, and there needs to be a broader effort by government and society to support children’s health, welfare, and learning.

With nearly a quarter of our children living in poverty — far more than any other industrialized nation in the world — Obama’s plans to address health care, housing, and employment needs are critically important.

Educators who work in low-income communities know how important it is that Obama will provide health care for all children and families (don’t look for anything meaningful on this score from McCain), as well as preschool education and services that support parenting from 0 to 5. His $10 billion investment will enable 700,000 children to attend Head Start and Early Head Start. Meanwhile, McCain offers empty rhetoric about the importance of preschool, pledging only $200,000 per state, if funding is available — enough for about 20 more children per state.

Obama supports education reforms that are designed in partnership with educators, not imposed on them.

His career ladder initiative will encourage districts to develop innovative compensation plans in conjunction with teachers. These plans should support higher base salaries and approaches that encourage teachers to continually improve their skills and share their expertise with others, for example, by serving as mentor teachers. Recognition for knowledge and skills and for excellent teaching that supports student learning can take many forms, like the career ladders developed with teachers in Arizona, New Mexico, Rochester, New York, Cincinnati, Ohio and Helena, Montana. Meanwhile, McCain’s plan to impose merit pay across the country, without working with teachers to avoid the many failures of the past, will be funded by raiding most of the current Title II funds for professional development and class size reduction.

Obama supports public schools and opposes vouchers.

Whereas McCain plans to expand vouchers, Obama has been a consistent and outspoken opponent of vouchers that would drain money from public education. Twice in the Illinois State Senate, Senator Obama voted against bills that would have created tuition tax credits for parents to use for private and parochial schools — legislation that he believed would create “backdoor vouchers.” In a major speech in July he noted, “The ideal of a public education has always been at the heart of the American promise. It’s why we are committed to fixing and improving our public schools, rather than abandoning them and passing out vouchers.” Obama’s School Innovation Fund will support new school designs launched by teachers, administrators, and parents in public school districts. He will also expand accountability along with funding for public charter schools, so that public funds go to support successful schools that serve all students equitably.

Obama would launch the most comprehensive supports for public education we have seen the 1960s, and he will help develop a 21st century system that can ensure quality schools for every child, every year, in every community. The choice for education could hardly be clearer.

Obama, Education Secretary; petitions for, against

Wednesday afternoon, November 19, 2008, it became official: Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond is leading President-elect Barack Obama's education working team.

Gotham Schools interpreted her ascendancy as a rebuke to the policies of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and New Leaders for New Schools CEO Joe Schnur.
Her opponents include the unnamed “reformers” that today some GothamSchools readers have commented should be called “idealocrats” — people like Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and New Leaders for New Schools founder and CEO Jon Schnur who support high-stakes testing, alternative teacher certification programs, and other efforts to shake up schools.

Darling-Hammond opposes those policies, according to an earlier article at Gotham Schools:
Darling-Hammond has been consistently skeptical of the nameless movement’s efforts to shake up public schools. She has criticized Teach For America, the alternative certification program for teachers; criticized high-stakes testing, and criticized No Child Left Behind for narrowing the curriculum.

A petition against Klein as education secretary is leading a petition for Darling-Hammond as secretary, by a ratio of 3 to 2.

The selection of Darling-Hammond, to lead the education working team is a step in the right direction. She agrees with educators and parents that view policies such as NCLB as misguided. Thank you, President-elect Obama.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama tightens margin in Missouri vote count

Barack Obama has tightened the margin in Missouri, between his votes and those for John McCain.

However, McCain still leads in the state. The latest news on the ballot count, from "The Kansas City Star":
The Kansas City Election Board certified its final results Monday.

Barack Obama picked up 491 votes from provisionals and other adjustments in the city; John McCain picked up 123 votes (from unofficial returns released election night.) That's a net gain for Obama of 368 votes in Kansas City.
Overall, the Missouri Secretary of State says Obama trails McCain by 4,716 votes as of 2:30 p.m. Monday.

(UPDATE: The margin moved back to 4,780 at 3:15.)
Final certifications are due with the SoS Tuesday, although the state has until early December to certify its final totals.
Incidentally, Kansas City reported 23,344 absentee ballots this year -- more than double the absentees in 2004.

From fivethirtyeight.com:
Why The Networks Haven't Called Missouri

From turnout guru Michael McDonald, who is in a position to know:
As someone who works in the quarantine room on election night at Edison Media Research, I can tell you that we will not make a call if a race has the potential to be in a recount situation. In a close race, we review the recount procedures and consider what we believe to be the outstanding absentee and provisional ballots before we are willing to make a call. It is not the job of the media to prejudge the election process when there is a possibility for recount procedures to take place. Think: Florida 2000.
If the Obama campaign makes a formal statement that they concede Missouri, then I would expect the media would call the election outcome. My guess is that they will wait until the results are certified to make a decision if they will request a recount. As we have seen in Minnesota, there can be human errors lurking in the results reported to date.
The big picture: the Obama campaign has every right to a recount if they want one, and the networks aren't presuming to make that judgment for them. There is also a small but tangible chance of a material human error in the vote tabulation.

NYC site advising on proper employment agencies

"What You Need to Know About Employment Agencies." --By New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs.

Foods for pre-bedtime

If you must eat before bedtime, here is a site with recommendations:

"FOODS THAT HELP YOU SLEEP" from "Ask Dr. Sears."
Just a thiumbnail from Dr. Sears' article:

Foods that are high in carbohydrates and calcium, and medium-to-low in protein also make ideal sleep-inducing bedtime snacks. Some examples:
apple pie and ice cream (my favorite)
whole-grain cereal with milk
hazelnuts and tofu
oatmeal and raisin cookies, and a glass of milk
peanut butter sandwich, ground sesame seeds (It takes around one hour for the tryptophan in the foods to reach the brain, so don't wait until right before bedtime to have your snack.)

Potential Agriculture Secretary, Michael Pollan, great writer, thinkier on food policy

A crucial person for Secretary of Agriculture would be Michael Pollan. He is someone that makes the connections between the economy and healthfulness of certain diets (diets in the sense of eating regimens).
He was interviewed yesterday on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.

Here is an open letter that he wrote to the next president, published in October, in "The New York Times Magazine." As in the Lehrer Show interview, in the Times article, he connected the policy of cheap --but unhealthy-- food and bad diets.
He cites the connection of pesticide use, food growing with fossil fuel burning and climate change:
Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign. Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them. Let me explain.

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

Food prices, the governmental endorsement of the growing of certain foods arise:
It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

The bad and the good news, in the connection to food policy:
It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food — organic, local, pasture-based, humane — are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform. Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that “this is a conservative cause if ever there was one.”

He cites post-World War II policy as the foundation for the food and energy dilemma we have today:
This did not occur by happenstance. After World War II, the government encouraged the conversion of the munitions industry to fertilizer — ammonium nitrate being the main ingredient of both bombs and chemical fertilizer — and the conversion of nerve-gas research to pesticides. The government also began subsidizing commodity crops, paying farmers by the bushel for all the corn, soybeans, wheat and rice they could produce. One secretary of agriculture after another implored them to plant “fence row to fence row” and to “get big or get out.”

The chief result, especially after the Earl Butz years, was a flood of cheap grain that could be sold for substantially less than it cost farmers to grow because a government check helped make up the difference. As this artificially cheap grain worked its way up the food chain, it drove down the price of all the calories derived from that grain: the high-fructose corn syrup in the Coke, the soy oil in which the potatoes were fried, the meat and cheese in the burger.

Subsidized monocultures of grain also led directly to monocultures of animals: since factory farms could buy grain for less than it cost farmers to grow it, they could now fatten animals more cheaply than farmers could. So America’s meat and dairy animals migrated from farm to feedlot, driving down the price of animal protein to the point where an American can enjoy eating, on average, 190 pounds of meat a year — a half pound every day.

But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant — factory farms are now one of America’s biggest sources of pollution. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.

What was once a regional food economy is now national and increasingly global in scope — thanks again to fossil fuel. Cheap energy — for trucking food as well as pumping water — is the reason New York City now gets its produce from California rather than from the “Garden State” next door, as it did before the advent of Interstate highways and national trucking networks. More recently, cheap energy has underwritten a globalized food economy in which it makes (or rather, made) economic sense to catch salmon in Alaska, ship it to China to be filleted and then ship the fillets back to California to be eaten; or one in which California and Mexico can profitably swap tomatoes back and forth across the border; or Denmark and the United States can trade sugar cookies across the Atlantic. About that particular swap the economist Herman Daly once quipped, “Exchanging recipes would surely be more efficient.”

(Credentials might be a problem to appointing him to be Agriculture Secretary. He is very wise; but his credentials would be unorthodox: he is the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at University of California-Berkeley, rather than an agricultural professor.

Nonetheless, there is a petition circulating for appointing Pollan as Secretary of Agriculture.

To: President-Elect Barack Obama

We citizens of The United States of America request the appointment of Michael Pollan to the Office of Secretary of Agriculture of the United States of America.

Through his academic lectures and papers, published books and articles Mr. Pollan has proven capable of gathering wide-ranging research, organizing it into a coherent whole and reaching non-biased conclusions. This research has provided him a unique understanding of the history, development, and contemporary practices of U.S. Agriculture and its relationship to the health of the citizens of The United States. He is singularly qualified to identify inefficiencies and present improvements in production, nutrition, and our problematic reliance on petroleum and petro-chemical based fertilizers, for the benefit of food producers and consumers both. As an academic and journalist, Mr. Pollan is free of the type of conflicts of interest rampant in the current administration which have led to abysmal performance and deficient oversight of industry at the expense of the people.

It is our belief that this scholarly approach coupled with his unique ability to synergize and coherently communicate to a wide audience makes Mr. Pollan the best choice for Secretary of Agriculture in an administration whose stated goals include affordable health and healthcare for the citizens of this nation and wholesale change from the practices of the Bush administration.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stevens still losing to Begich (Alaska Senate seat)

2008, the election that keeps on giving . . . .

"The Anchorage Daily News" reports (as of Sat., 11/15/08, 4 AM EST) that Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich' lead over incumbent Senator Ted Stevens grown to 1,022 votes. Click here for details on Democrat Begich's continuing lead position over veteran Republican Stevens, in the battle for the senior Alaska sentator's seat.
By this point, over 90 percent of the ballots have been counted.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama Sen. resignation, Biden mum; Stevens' pledge

President-elect Barack Obama will step down as the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.

Governor Rod Blagojevich will have the authority to replace him with an interim successor to serve out the remaining two years of Obama's term.

John McCormick and Rick Pearson at the Chicago Tribune added the following observations this afternoon:
The decision adds to the pressure on Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, who under state law has the sole responsibility for naming a successor to Obama, the only African-American in the Senate.

I would concur with this sentiment. African-Americans form twelve percent of our nation's population; it is appropriate to seek out an African-American replacement for Obama.
McCormick & Pearson's speculation (11/6) of possible replacements:

• U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who has established himself admirably in the House.
•Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, whose popularity and job performance make her a lethal threat to Blagojevich in 2010.
• State Comptroller Dan Hynes, a sure hand who wants to be Illinois' next governor.
• Paul Vallas, whose background in public finance, education and other policy realms qualifies him for a Senate seat.

I've omitted Obama confidente Valerie Jarrett. The businesswoman has said that she is not interested in the position, according to sources close to the President-elect.

Delaware Senator Joe Biden must also resign. Delaware law stipulates that when a senator resigns, the governor selects a successor, who serves until the next election, which will be in 2010, as in Obama's case.
However, Biden has made no announcement regarding his resignation --as of 6:20 PM EST.
Delaware's new governor, Jack Markell, is a Democrat, so the seat will remain in Democratic hands. Kenneth Walsh in U.S. News and World Report on November 11 speculated that Biden's son, Beau, stands a good chance of getting the appointment. However, the younger Biden, the state's attorney general, is performing National Guard duty in Iraq. So, a bit of delay will ensue, given, at least, transportation logistics.
Sen. Ted Stevens still pledges to hold onto his seat. On the vice presidential campaign trail Gov. Sarah Palin said that he should resign. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) also urged Stevens to resign.
The tide of the slow vote count has changed. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich now leads Stevens, by 814 votes, per Politico.com, at 6:00 PM. This figure does not clearly resolve the situation. Thousands of ballots remain to be counted. The gripping drama over the partisan fate of this Senate seat will continue until the conclusion of ballot counting on Tuesday.
If Stevens prevails, the drama could drag out. As PR Watch notes, he has been indicted --not convicted-- of felonies. Expulsion from the senate would require some senate cooperation: a vote by 2/3 of the senate is required to expell him.
Gov. Palin would then appoint a successor. Under Alaska law, the interim replacement would hold the seat on a very temporary basis: a special election must be held 90 days after the appointment of the interim replacement. And Palin has "sounded open" --according to The Hill-- to running for the seat herself.
* * *
SO, in contrast to the Obama and Biden departures, the Stevens/ Alaska story offers potential suspense. As I noted earlier, Chambliss will probably inherit the Libertarian third party candidate's votes. --No drama in Georgia. Fianlly, in Minnesota, the Norm Coleman-Al Franken recount drama proceeds slowly . . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Notes on remaining counts/recounts: Maryland, and so on

As I noted earlier, Barack Obama won Nebraska's Second District. In 2004 George W. Bush beat John Kerry with 61 percent of the vote in the district, as CQ Politics reported, this morning, November 11, 2008.

Congressional races:
Maryland: Democrat Frank Kratovil has ratcheted up 2,154 votes over Republican Andy Harris. This seat was a long-GOP-held seat.

Congressional races with margins less than 1,000:
Ohio: Republican Steve Stivers is leading Mary Jo Kilroy.
Virginia: In a western VA district, "Democrat Tom Perriello, an organizer of faith-based groups, has declared victory over six-term Republican Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr," according to CQ Reports.

Senate races:
Democrats are leading with 55 seats, plus two allied independents. (Obama is advocating retaining Lieberman in the Democratic caucus.)Georgia's Senate race is heading to a run-off. It is one of the few states that mandates that candidates gain a majority in order to win offices. The Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss clearly defeated the Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. Libertarian Allen Buckley's votes will likely go to Chambliss in the run-off.
In Oregon conservative Constitution Party candidate Dave Brownlow played the spoiler role. Jeff Merkley, Democrat has defeated incumbent Gordon Smith, 48 percent to 45 percent.

Races heading for recounts:
Alaska: Democrat Begich challenged Republican Ted Stevens. Stevens leads by 3,257 votes according to The Juneau Empire this morning, so this race is not settled.

Minnesota, Senate: Democrat Al Franken is challenging first term Republican Norm Coleman. CQ reported that Coleman's "advantage at the moment is one one-hundredth of one percentage point." The election will head to a recount.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Krugman for a economic progressive Obama/ What progressives must do

{{First: a Times reader put it very succinctly: "Barack Obama does not need to move to the center. He needs to MOVE the center. The times demand it." Artie Gold, Austin, Texas}}

Friday, NY Times economics columnist Paul Krugman, in "The Obama Agenda" defended the interpretation of the election as a mandate for progressive change:
"Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won."
"Since then [2004], Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign."

And --excepting LBJ's 1964 victory-- this was the biggest Democratic presidential victory in the last 60 years.
(Robert Borosage and the Campaign for America's Future have
documented how voters gave a mandate for progressive change.

Here is the link to the entire CAF report.)

And Krugman gave the pitch for Keynesian economics to restore the nation's economy:
"What about the argument that the economic crisis will make a progressive agenda unaffordable?" . . . .
"But standard textbook economics says that it’s O.K., in fact appropriate, to run temporary deficits in the face of a depressed economy. Meanwhile, one or two years of red ink, while it would add modestly to future federal interest expenses, shouldn’t stand in the way of a health care plan that, even if quickly enacted into law, probably wouldn’t take effect until 2011.
Beyond that, the response to the economic crisis is, in itself, a chance to advance the progressive agenda."

Click here for link to the entire column.

Recalling the Clinton administration-supported legislation that led to financial troubles
The Clinton administration supported the Financial Services Modernization Act (FMSA, or in its legislative form, Gramm-Leach-Bliley) in 1999. The act essentially repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. The act served to put up a wall separating investment banking and commercial banking. And it mitigated against insider trading.
(Incidentally, the Center for Responsive Politics noted that there was large gap in financial industry contributions to the Congressmen that supported the act and those that opposed the act: "[T]he Democrats who supported the Financial Services Modernization Act had received an average of $179,920; . . . the 59 Democrats who opposed it received just $83,475.")

From Daniel Gross, "Shattering Glass-Steagall: Lehman's failure marks the end of an era" in Newsweek, Sep. 15, 2008:
Glass-Steagall was one of the many necessary measures taken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress to deal with the Great Depression. Crudely speaking, in the 1920s commercial banks (the types that took deposits, made construction loans, etc.) recklessly plunged into the bull market, making margin loans, underwriting new issues and investment pools, and trading stocks. When the bubble popped in 1929, exposure to Wall Street helped drag down the commercial banks. In the absence of deposit insurance and other backstops, the results were devastating. Wall Street's failure helped destroy Main Street.

* * *
What Progressive should do: take pages from the New Deal and the 1960s
Let's clearly recall the history of the passage of progressive legislation under Franklin D. Roosevelt (Social Security, ending child labor, public works programs) and Lyndon Johnson and civil rights and the "Great Society" (desegregation, restoration of voting rights, Medicaid, Medicare) came after activists outside of those administrations advocated change. Those activists were not cowed by fear of being called radical, they did not buckle under obligations to be nice centrists or moderates. We got Obama elected. It is activists' task to press Obama to have the progressive economics that America voted for.
It is about doing the right thing, not buckling under to tradition and convention. We need leaders that will hew to principle, rather than to expediency. Let's recall Johnson's signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964: "We lost the South for a generation." He signed the bill, doing the right thing, even though he suspected that this would hurt the Democrats for decades.
The current crisis is the product of center-right economics. George W. Bush was not the only figure responsible. The patterns of policy reach back deep into Bill Clinton's administration. The new president must depart from the center-right policies of both of those presidents.
Again, "Barack Obama does not need to move to the center. He needs to MOVE the center. The times demand it."

11/10: Radio for your Obama cabinet obsession

For those who are obsessing: Will Obama be a centrist? -will he be a progressive [i.e., left-liberal] -or a liberal?
For the always intelligent, timely discussion and analysis, tune in to WNYC radio's Brian Lehrer Show, November 10, 2008, 10 AM. Peniel Joseph, Brandeis professor and PBS "Newshour" consultant and Tim Noah of Slate.com will weigh in. Joseph on the historical persepective, and Noah on the possible cabinet choices.
Tim Noah made several good arguments in "The Uncabinet: A guide to key appointments Obama should resist" as to why President-elect Obama should not appoint Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, John Kerry, Anthony Lake, Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Arnold Schwarzenegger and on and on. Some of his criticisms strike me as a bit cynical, but his article is worth the read.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Petition assails Summers over deregulator role / Kuttner touts Bair as alternative

Click to the following direct link at "Open Left."

This petition cites Lawrence Summers' centrist policies and philosophies while in Bill Clinton's second term --as Treasury Secretary in the last year and a half of his presidency.

The petition at Open Left asks Barack Obama to refrain from appointing Summers for a second stint as Treasury Secretary.

The petition notes:
"In 1999, Summers was a proponent within the Clinton administration of the Gramm bill to deregulate the banking industry, and as such, bears responsibility for the current environment."

And it notes Summers' position on the free trade agreement, NAFTA:
"I think the decision to support NAFTA was a crucial one because it was really a watershed as to whether America was going to stand for larger markets, was going to stand for forward defense of our interests by trying to have a more integrated global economy [in] which countries were growing."

It closes by noting Summers' description of Africa as "under-polluted" and his statements on women's ability to study science.

* * *
Instead, Obama should select a more progressive figure. One figure is Timothy Geithner, suggested by Robert Kuttner, in "Meet the Next Treasury Secretary," in October's "American Prospect." Another figure he suggested is Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
Newsweek interviewed her in July, as the financing crisis grew, "Is Your Bank at Risk? A Q&A With FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair."
As the magazine summarized Kuttner, "The best person for the job will have establishment credentials and understand that the solution is re-regulation." Others that Kuttner recommends for the Treasury post include Jon Corzine, Daniel Tarullo or Roger Altman.

Secret Service blames Palin for Obama death threats

The UK's Telegraph reports:

"Sarah Palin's attacks on Barack Obama's patriotism provoked a spike in death threats against the future president, Secret Service agents revealed during the final weeks of the campaign."

"The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling "terrorist" and "kill him" until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric."

The Secret Service should step up its vigilance against threats on Obama. The election does not thwart threat possibilities.

Clinton III: Obama's economics and energy choices likely to make left unhappy

The Democratic Party's left flank is already getting uncomfortable.

When President-elect introduced his economic advisors, the effect would dispel two fantasies,
(1) the right's fantasy that he is a socialist,
(2) progressives' fantasy that he will change everything, that he will implement their dream policies.

The profile of his advisors suggests an establishment, centrist, neo-liberal administration. Yes, his team is fronted by Chief of Staff -to be Rahm Emanuel, reputed to be a pitbull. Yet, there are the figures from the second half of Carter's term and Clinton's two terms that alienated (and infuriated some) progressives:
Robert Rubin, Laura Tyson, Paul Volker.
And most of all, the anticipated Treasury Secretary possibility, Lawrence Summers.(--Or Paul Volker, as Melbourne, Australia's Herald Sun suggests.) In short, Oblama's administration is shaping up to be, as Rachel Maddow said, Thursday night, Clinton-Term III.

This important article in today's NY Times, by Jackie Calmes and Ben White, "Obama’s Possible Treasury Choices Draw Criticism," covers the essential points.

CHICAGO — Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, a member of the new economic advisory board that met with President-elect Barack Obama here on Friday, is also a leading candidate to be the next Treasury chief.

That prospect has critics of Mr. Summers, particularly on the Democratic Party’s left, reviving old controversies in hopes of dooming his chances. In the days since Mr. Obama was elected, liberal bloggers have sought to ignite an online opposition by recalling the rocky five years Mr. Summers spent as president of Harvard, where he angered many women and blacks before resigning in 2006.

Reaching back farther, other Web sites have resurrected a 1991 memorandum that Mr. Summers signed as an economist at the World Bank that suggested parts of Africa could be repositories for toxic waste.

Mr. Summers, 53, left the meeting on Friday with Mr. Obama without answering a question about the controversies, and Obama advisers declined to discuss them.

The main rival to Mr. Summers for the Treasury job, according to Obama advisers, is Timothy F. Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and a Treasury staff member under Mr. Summers when he led the agency in the final two years of the Clinton administration.

But Mr. Geithner presents a different problem for Mr. Obama, who staked his campaign on a call for change in Washington, especially in areas of economic policy.

Though a nonpartisan Federal Reserve official, Mr. Geithner is tightly linked with the policies of the current Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., and the Bush White House. Among the public, there remains deep skepticism over the wisdom and fairness of the bank bailouts.

Many on Wall Street still question Mr. Geithner’s role in allowing the investment bank Lehman Brothers to collapse into bankruptcy, an event some believe exacerbated the financial crisis. Some also say Mr. Geithner relies too much on financial executives for guidance and, except in the Lehman case, is too quick to come to their rescue.

“He is too tied to Wall Street and too tied to this administration,” said Joseph Mason, banking professor at Louisiana State University and a critic of the bailout plans.

The simmering opposition to Mr. Summers and Mr. Geithner is typical of post-election transitions, when various groups weigh in for or against potential recruits.

Mr. Summers is widely known to want another stint in the job he held in 1999 and 2000 at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration.

But in angering feminists, blacks and environmentalists over time, Mr. Summers has hurt himself with three groups that make up much of the base of the Democratic Party — making him a prime example of the constituent politics that Mr. Obama must maneuver around in coming weeks.

While at Harvard, Mr. Summers sparked a furor by suggesting that innate factors might help explain why more men than women go into scientific fields and excel there.

“There is no need for Obama to open that can of worms and court controversy when there are other good people” who could lead the Treasury, said one Democratic source who asked to remain unnamed. While Mr. Summers could weather the attacks, he also faces skepticism among colleagues, even those who admire him as an outstanding economist with a successful record at the Treasury, as being arrogant and sometimes condescending.

But Mr. Summers has influential promoters, not least his predecessor as Treasury secretary, Robert E. Rubin, for whom he served as deputy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, through a spokesman, on Friday also praised Mr. Summers as “one of America’s leading economic minds” and “a valuable resource to House Democrats” as they have sought ways to address the economic crisis.

Typical of the material on the Internet about Mr. Summers, on the morning after the election, the Huffington Post reported that Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, had contacted the Web site to register her “mixed feelings” about his rumored prospects.

A day later, the site posted the private memorandum from 1991, when Mr. Summers was chief economist at the World Bank, that suggested dumping waste in underpopulated and “underpolluted” African countries.

The issue was raised in 1993 at Mr. Summers’s Senate confirmation hearings to be under secretary of the Treasury at the start of the Clinton administration. He was confirmed then and two more times, as deputy and then as secretary.

One Obama adviser counseled against interpreting Mr. Summers’s inclusion on the 17-member economic advisory board that Mr. Obama announced on Thursday, and Mr. Geithner’s absence, as indicating anything about their relative chances.

Mr. Geithner is a sitting Federal Reserve official, while the Obama board includes former government officials like Mr. Summers and Mr. Rubin and corporate leaders.

Like Mr. Summers, Mr. Geithner served at the Treasury under Mr. Rubin, helping manage the Russian credit crisis in the late 1990s.

Mr. Geithner, 47, also played a role in the bailouts of Brazil, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico and Thailand. And he spent two years in Tokyo in the early 1990s, where he studied Japan’s economy, later urging Mr. Rubin to assist in lifting that country out of its long financial malaise.

He is widely liked and admired across the financial industry as a tough but fair regulator with a keen understanding of the ways of Washington and Wall Street.

“He is very smart and very thoughtful and listens very, very carefully and is able to earn the trust of everyone he deals with,” said Peter G. Peterson, senior chairman of the private equity firm Blackstone Group. Mr. Peterson led the search committee that selected Mr. Geithner for his job at the Federal Reserve.

In addition to his ties to the current administration, some critics say Mr. Geithner’s quiet persona — he is rarely one to dominate a room — could be problematic for a position that demands a statesman capable of advocating the position of the United States before world leaders.

Mr. Peterson, however, dismissed the idea that Mr. Geithner shrinks from confrontation, noting that he discussed the issue with Mr. Rubin and Mr. Summers in 2003 when considering Mr. Geithner for the Federal Reserve job.

“They rather smiled when I asked the question,” Mr. Peterson said, “and said that Tim can be very, very direct when he needs to be.”

And the above cited Herald Sun article raises rumors by Politico.com that Obama will nominate California Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as Secretary of Energy.

"And there's more": "There is also speculation he will retain Republican Robert Gates in the job of defence secretary, to ensure a smooth transition in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," according to the Melbourne Herald Sun, date-lined for tomorrow, November 9.

* * *
Obama's landslide vote suggested a shift to "the blue," to liberalism. Will Obama govern with this in mind? The potential economic team choices instead suggest that he will govern from the center, representing purple politics (Democrats and Republicans blended).

Progressives have been pining for the evisceration of moderate, Democratic Leadership Council types. Let's hope that Obama fulfills the dream of a progressive departure form the centrism of the Clinton years. The first indications of Obama's economic team are not encouraging that dream.

Obama leading in Omaha; victory lauded by state's Democratic Senator

Barack Obama is leading by over 1,200 votes in unofficial figures for Nebraska's Second Congressional District, which contains Omaha.
The Lincoln Journal Star cites Obama has having more than 134,000 votes in the district; this would mean that he would have a lead of 1,260 over John McCain.

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson lauded Obama for his victory in the eastern Nebraska district.
"Today, Nebraska's 2nd District voters added an 'Obamaha' shaped exclamation point to Barack Obama's historic election. It really is a new day in America when he even picks up an electoral vote in Nebraska.

Nebraska and Maine have unique laws allowing electoral votes to be apportioned to different candidates; votes are split by Congressional District. This occasion is the first since 1964 that a Democrat earned an electoral vote in the state.

The state's other senator, Chuck Hagel traveled with Obama to Europe this summer; Hagel's wife, Lilibet, endorsed Obama last month.

This brings Obama's electoral count to 365, to McCain's 162. Complete results will not be known until next week. Obama won North Carolina; Missouri results remain undetermined.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The last electoral vote anticipated (it's not Missouri)

Forget Missouri; it is narrowly going to John McCain.

48 hours later and we are still awaiting the final word from Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska (along with Maine) apportions its electoral votes separately, in contrast to the rest of the nation, which apportions electoral votes in a winner-take-all fashion.

Various outlets, e.g., KPTM-TV and Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com are reminding us that final returns have not been released for Omaha area Second Congressional District.
Fivethirtyeight.com is predicting the Omaha district will choose Obama. He cited a report by "The Omaha World-Herald," of early ballots for Obama. (The rest of the state of Nebraska has gone for McCain.)

Unofficial New York City returns; 4 of 5 boroughs for Obama

In some cases, the results are coming in late (Missouri's presidential vote, most notably). In the case of New York City, we are still waiting for complete official returns.
On a blog at "The New York Times" Jonathan P. Hicks reports that the Bronx chose Barack Obama, with 88 percent favoring, 85 percent in Manhattan, 79 percent in Brooklyn and 74 percent in Queens. In Staten Island 52 percent of voters chose John McCain.

A Democrat in Staten Island
In a big break from tradition, Staten Island chose a Democrat for Congress, Michael McMahon, a City Councilor. This was the first time that a Democrat won a Congressional seat in that borough in almost 30 years. He defeated the Republican nominee Robert Straniere with 61 percent of the vote.
From Tom Wrobleski's entry in "The Staten Island Advance":
Once in office, he said he wants to ensure that ordinary Americans get a boost from the $700 billion federal bailout package.

He also said he would look to secure a spot on the House Transportation Committee, an assignment he spoke of frequently during the campaign.

Veteran GOP leader Guy Molinari attributed the Republicans' loss of the seat to local party leaders, criticizing their selection of Straniere. "That seat was given away," he said.

Norm Coleman campaign alleged to have interferred with election

A reporter for the progressive online journal, "Minnesota Independent," has reported that a paid staffer in Senator Norm Coleman's (Minnesota) campaign steered voters to choosing Coleman, under the guise of providing Somali translation assistance to voters. Al Franken, author, Air America Radio host, and Saturday Night Live writer and performer, challenged Coleman, as a Democrat, for the senate seat.

"Secretary of State’s office says laws may have been broken in Somali translator voting incident" --post this afternoon.

The summary from democraticunderground.com:
Allegations have surfaced of voter irregularities involving a paid staffer of Norm Coleman, and the ramifications could have a profound impact on the outcome of Coleman's race against Al Franken.

A reporter for the Minnesota Independent, a progressive online publication, was working on a story about voter turnout when she overheard that Republican poll challengers monitoring voting at the precinct had brought in Mahamoud Wardere to help voters translate.

The Coleman campaign confirmed that Wardere is a paid member of their staff

"I had already spoken to at least three people who told me that translators were telling them to vote for Norm Coleman," she said.

The issue could end up being the basis of a legal challenge. According to Prof. Joe Daly of Hamline University, state election law has a provision that if there is a deliberate, serious or material violation of state election law, a district court judge must gather the evidence and present it to the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate, who would then decide the merits of the allegations.

The Senate could even revoke the results of the election and decide who would be seated as senator.

From the Minnesota Independent article:
Minnesota statute 204C.06, regarding conduct in and near polling places, states that “no one except an election official or an individual who is waiting to register or to vote shall stand within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is located.” Fraser says that if Wardere was there throughout the afternoon and not aiding an individual voter with translation, then it’s possible laws were broken. “That is up for the county attorney to investigate,” Fraser says. “And I do not have all the facts. But if that happened, then potentially laws were broken.”

What’s more, the GOP conceivably violated election laws by at one point having three challengers as well as Wardere on site. After being asked by an election judge to leave, Wardere told the Minnesota Independent that neither he nor the election judge were certain if his role at Brian Coyle was to act as GOP challenger or translator. Wadere did not leave the building, and instead remained in the foyer or entrance of Brian Coyle Center for most of the afternoon. He later told MnIndy that he was only there to help voters with language issues. One GOP challenger, whose counterpart called in Wardere to act as their translator earlier that morning, refused to speak with MnIndy about allegations of voter intimidation or Wardere’s role at the site.

Click here for updated story, this afternoon on the Minnesota Independent site.

Read here for Al Franken's statement (11/5/08) on the recount. He says that the recount is automatic; he cites the margin of the vote between his reported vote tally and Coleman's vote tally: "a margin of just about 1100 votes out of 2.9 million cast. That’s four one-hundredths of one percent of the vote. "

The fine economic mess that Obama has stepped into

Now Obama Can Look Forward to Fixing the Horrible Economy!

Dan Amira in the "Daily Intel" column/ blog of "New York" magazine yesterday (11/5/08) offered a valuable compilation of article leads on the challenges that President-elect Barack Obama faces in dealing with the economy.

Lead examples from the column:
• Matt Cooper [in Capital/ Portfolio] expects Obama's transition to be "unlike any other since 1932, when that economic crisis dominated the transfer of power." There are many uncertainties, since "we don't really know what direction the Obama economic plan will take given the realities of the market crash." But he's most likely to "move at his briskest pace" on bringing "America's financial architecture" under federal supervision.

"Obama Sweeps to Historic Victory: Nation Elects Its First African-American President Amid Record Turnout; Turmoil in Economy Dominates Voters' Concerns": • Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler [in "The Wall Street Journal"] expect Obama to "start fast, with a large economic-stimulus package, legislation to fund embryonic stem-cell research and an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a government insurance program which will be financed with a rise in the tobacco tax." But "Democrats are divided over how to proceed" after that.

James Politi [in "The Financial Times" of London] notes the nervousness over Obama's protectionist trade rhetoric during the primaries, but says that "in Washington trade policy circles, few believe these fears are entirely justified."

If the following is true, then this would be cause for government-driven jobs programs. Obama's proposal to increase spending on infrastructure would address part of this job decline (but this is only in the construction sector). • Chris Isidore [in CNN Money] predicts that "another half-million jobs likely will be lost between now and Inauguration Day," and many economists think "there's little Obama can do to stop more job losses in the short-term, even if he's able to get a new economic stimulus package passed by the lame-duck Congress and signed into law by President Bush."
Speaking of stimulating the economy: • James Pethokoukis ["How President Obama Will Deal With the Economy in 2009" in "U.S. News and World Report"] says Obama has to "kick-start" the economy "as quickly as possible." He'd definitely be willing to sign in a $200 billion government-aid package despite "a budget deficit of $1 trillion or more next year." Why? "A rotting economy can be poison to any new administration, sapping it of public support."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Video your Vote to Monitor Equipment Failures, Long Lines ...

Video Your Vote, a joint YouTube, PBS effort, will use maps to monitor equipment failures, long lines, more.

* * *

At Youtube: a legal primer on how to video your vote.

Alternet: Some PA counties may ignore paper ballot court order

SOme Pennsylvania counties may ignore court order for paper ballots, alternet.org reports.

MI Voting Machines Fail Pre-Election Tests

From Wired, via Huffington Post:
Optical-scan machines made by Election Systems & Software failed recent pre-election tests in a Michigan county, producing different tallies for the same ballots every time, the top election official in Oakland County revealed in a letter made public Monday.

The problems occurred during logic and accuracy tests in the run-up to this year's general election, Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson disclosed in a letter submitted October 24 (.pdf) to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The machines at issue are ES&S M-100 optical-scan machines, which read and tally election results from paper ballots.

Johnson worried that such problems -- linked tentatively to paper dust build-up in the machines -- could affect the integrity of the general election this week.

"The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results each time," she wrote. "This begs the question -- on Election Day, will the record number of ballots going through the remaining tabulators leave even more build-up on the sensors, affecting machines that tested just fine initially? Could this additional build-up on voting tabulators that have not had any preventative maintenance skew vote totals? My understanding is that the problem could occur and election workers would have no inkling that ballots are being misread."

Tuesday's election is expected to be the busiest ever, and ES&S tabulators -- both touchscreen machines and optical-scan machines -- were responsible for counting 50 percent of the votes in the last four major U.S. elections, according to the company. The company's optical-scan machines are now deployed in 43 states.

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, said that "four of our communities or eight percent" had reported inconsistent vote totals during the logic and accuracy tests with the ES&S machines. She also said that conflicting vote totals had surfaced in other areas of Michigan as well, though she didn't elaborate on this in her letter. "While problems with performance and design with the M-100s have been documented, this is the first time I have ever questioned the integrity of these machines," Johnson wrote in her letter.

According to news stories, a race in the August Republican primary in one Michigan township did have a discrepancy in tallies that were counted by hand and by ES&S optical-scan machines. The clerks race in Plymouth Township was recounted after the losing candidate requested it. The initial machine count had showed Joe Bridgman defeating Mary Ann Prchlik by 1,920 to 1,770. But the hand count narrowed the margin to 1,885 to 1,727. Officials attributed the discrepancy to "smears and marks" on the ballots, which skewed the results when they were run through the machines.

(and the article continues . . . .)

BREAKING NEWS: Massive vote machine failures in NV

The following is an exclusive from Brad Friedman's Brad Blog:

EXCLUSIVE: Obama/DNC Incident Report Database Reveals Startling, Wide-Spread Voting Machine Problems Across Nevada During Early Voting
Presidential Race Missing on Ballots; Machines Go Down; Votes Not Recorded; Printers Jam
Attorneys Decline to Take Action
to Remove Machines From Service, Ensure Paper Ballots for Voters...

Wide-spread voting machine failures have been reported to the Obama/DNC election protection hotline in Nevada since early voting began more than a week ago in the state, The BRAD BLOG has learned. All voters who vote in person in the crucial battleground state are forced to cast their votes on 100% unverifiable Sequoia EDGE touch-screen voting machines with the VeriVote "paper trail" printer add-on.

Attorneys monitoring the incident reports coming in to the hotline have taken no action in regard to removing the failed machines from service, despite reports of the presidential race not appearing at all on some ballots; voters having problems selecting their preferred candidates; machines not starting up at all; "paper trail" printers jamming or running out of paper, and; a number of machines at a number of sites which refuse to work at all.

And this is just during early voting. A number of those startling reports are posted at the end of this article...

Democratic Officials Refuse to Impound Machines, Despite Myriad Failures...

We've been reporting for weeks about the lack of action being taken by the Obama campaign and the DNC in regard to wide-spread voting machine problems across the country (e.g., detailed story on that here, Obama attorney responds here).

We've noted that while Obama/DNC has, this time around at least, compiled a sophisticated "election protection" database in each state, their continuous assertions of "thousands of attorneys on the ground on Election Day if anything goes wrong," is both too little and too late, as well as being precisely what we heard from Kerry/DNC in 2004 before they failed to take appropriate action with failed machines. They then quickly conceded the race just hours after polls in Ohio finally closed.

The Obama/DNC response to wide-spread problems with voting machines failing in state after state has been no better than Kerry/DNC's, in that failed machines have been allowed to stay in service, and their attorneys have not fought for paper ballots for voters instead.

In fact, in Pennsylvania, state Democrats have been fighting against paper ballots. Even after the NAACP successfully sued the state Dems (who were joined for a time during the case by state Republicans) to require them to have some emergency paper ballots on hand, it's become clear that county officials in that crucial battleground state are likely to not have enough paper ballots at polling places for voters in the completely-predictable event of voting machine breakdown. PA also uses 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems across most of the state.

We've urged the Democrats to take action to remove problem machines from service, such as those flipping votes on screens in so many states and even failing to register Oprah's vote. We advised them to impound such machines rather than dangerously calling for them to be "recalibrated" in the middle of the election. They have not done so. Anywhere.

The following reports from the Obama/DNC "Atlas Voter Protection" database in NV, concerning the state's faulty, error-prone, hackable, 100% unverifiable Sequoia touch-screen systems are remarkable. These are the same machines that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) recently said voters in his state were "fortunate" to have, during a radio interview in Reno. (3 minute MP3 here.)

The senator was convinced that the "Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail" printed by the machine somehow offered protection for voters, even though the paper trails on such systems often fail and are not properly verified for accuracy by a majority of voters. Moreover, the "paper trails" on these machines can be hacked as well, in such a way that the tampered totals would match the internally tampered numbers, even if officials bothered to count them, which they don't. (See UCSB's video demonstrating how to hack such machines in seconds, in such a way that even a 100% hand-count would be unlikely to reveal the tampering.) . . . .

The BradBlog report continues here.

Dixville, NH, for Obama, first Dem in a generation

The unique hamlet in New Hampshire, Dixville Notch, had its midnight vote last night. The majority vote for Barack Obama, 15 to 6. This was the first time that the town voted Democratic since 1968. Neighboring Hart's Location chose Obama over John McCain by 17 to 10.

Vote Working Families Party line for Obama

NYS' progressive Working Families Party supports progressive candidates and policies in Albany. Please select the WFP line for Obama. Selecting WFP instead of Democratic for your candidate shows your support for greater attention to issues such as health care, jobs, education, veterans' care and transportation.

Fusion Voting

New York is one of the few states with “fusion” voting, where one candidate can be endorsed by multiple parties. It gives voters a way to “vote their values” without spoiling an election.

Working Families Party's 2008 endorsements.

Monday, November 3, 2008

BREAKING: Federal Judge Compels GOP IT Guru Mike Connell To Give Deposition in Ohio '04 Election Case

From Brad Friedman's Brad Blog, on impending testimony today, compelled from Mike Connell, IT expert in Ohio 2004 election:

Contentious Hearing Today Results in Order For Republican 'High-Tech Forrest Gump' to Testify Under Oath on Monday
Appearance to Answer Questions on 2004 Election Scheduled Just 24 Hours Prior to Election 2008...

Guest Blogged by Steve Heller of VelvetRevolution.us

The Republican IT guru, recently described as a "high tech Forrest Gump" for his proclivity to be "at the scene" of so many troubling elections since 2000, and even at the heart of the "lost" White House email scandal, has been ordered by a federal judge to appear for an under-oath deposition next Monday in Ohio.

The BRAD BLOG has learned that Mike Connell, the Republican IT guru whose company, GovTech Solutions, created Ohio's 2004 election results computer network, appeared in federal court today, as compelled, and has been ordered to appear for his deposition on Monday, November 3, just 24 hours before Election Day 2008.

Today's court order came after a contentious hearing, at which Connell was present. The hearing was part of a long-standing voting rights violations lawsuit, King Lincoln v. Blackwell, as previously covered by The BRAD BLOG and by Velvet Revolution's Election Protection Strike Force here and here.

Though Connell's attorneys have fought to quash the subpoena, recently issued after the judge lifted a stay on the case several weeks ago, it looks like his options to avoid testimony, or at least jail for avoiding it, may have come to an end. The attorneys in the case have said that Connell's testimony may well lead to the subpoenaing and under-oath questioning of Karl Rove, who, they say, would be unable to use Executive Privilege as an excuse to avoid such a subpoena in a civil RICO case...

For more details on Connell, and his role in the '04 election and within the GOP, see the video clip at right from John Ennis' recently-released documentary Free For All.

The issues in the King Lincoln v. Blackwell suit are complex, but in a nutshell, some Ohio voters filed a lawsuit alleging voting rights violations and election irregularities in the 2004 Presidential election in the Buckeye State. Taking the sworn deposition of Connell, the man who set up the computers for reporting election results, and re-routing them through his company's own Tennessee servers late on the night of the '04 election, has been a high priority for Election Integrity advocates and attorneys in Ohio.

While this story is still breaking and developing, from what we've been able to learn so far, sources tell us that Monday's depo will have a time limit of two hours. Any information gathered regarding trade secrets related to Connell's company, GovTech Solutions, will be under seal, as per the judge's order today.

Also under seal will be any and all information gathered about allegations that Connell has been the victim of witness intimidation by Karl Rove and/or Rove's associates. As reported on by The BRAD BLOG reported last Summer, plaintiff's lead attorney in the case, Clifford A. Arnebeck, had sent an email to Attorney General Michael Mukasey on July 24, 2008, stating in part:
"We have been confidentially informed by a source we believe to be credible that Karl Rove has threatened Michael Connell, a principal witness we have identified in our King Lincoln case in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that if he does not agree to 'take the fall' for election fraud in Ohio, his wife Heather will be prosecuted for supposed lobby law violations."

In related news, our friends at RAW STORY have an article today headlined "Documents reveal how Ohio routed 2004 voting data through company that hosted external Bush Administration email accounts." That company was SmarTech, Inc., and the architecture for the 2004 election results reporting system in Ohio has been at the heart of this case.

As reported by RAW's Larisa Alexandrovna today:
Newly obtained computer schematics provide further detail of how electronic voting data was routed during the 2004 election from Ohio’s Secretary of State’s office through a partisan Tennessee web hosting company. … The flow chart shows how voting information was transferred from Ohio to SmarTech Inc., a Chattanooga Tennessee IT company known for its close association with the Republican Party, before the 2004 election results were displayed online.

See her story for more, including the schematics for both the '04 and '06 web servers in Ohio. Of course, we'll continue to update this story as the case proceeds...

Additional reporting by Brad Friedman
The BRAD BLOG covers your electoral system, fiercely and independently, like no other media outlet in the nation. Please support our work with a donation to help us keep going. If you like, we'll send you some great election integrity documentary films in return.

RoveCyberGate.com: more Connell, Blackwell details


UPDATE: 11/1/08: Late yesterday, a Federal Judge in Akron, Ohio ordered Mike Connell to submit to a deposition hours before the presidential election to talk about possible election manipulations.

The full story is here. Mr. Connell, it’s time to tell the truth and get with the new dynamic, the one called accountability. Yours is the first of many depositions to get to the bottom of this shameful chapter in American democracy. You have a unique opportunity to do the right thing now. The Bush family is not going to protect you or cover for you any longer.

UPDATE: 10/28/08: Attorneys filed a motion to compel testimony of Connell to interrogate him about his knowledge of the inter-workings of the GOP computer systems. See Memo here. They included an affidavit of Spoonamore stating that the Ohio 2004 election was manipulated by a inside Man in the Middle King Pin attack. See Affidavit here.

UPDATE: 10/23/08: VR Calls For DOJ Investigation Into Why Bush/Rove IT Expert Mike Connell Asked How to Destroy White House Emails

Reporter Rebecca Abrahams wrote this week at Huffington Post that on October 11, 2006, longtime Bush/Rove IT expert Michael Connell met with cyber security expert Stephen Spoonamore to learn how to destroy data on White House computer hard drives This was during the height of the United States Attorney scandal and during the tenure of Connell's former employee, David Almacy, as director of the White House Internet and E-Communications Director.

Abrahams quotes from Spoonamore's emails which reference notes taken at the time of the meeting. Connell was accompanied at the meeting by Randy Cole, the former President of Connell's company, GovTech Solutions, now running for Ohio Congressional seat 41. When Spoonamore realized that Connell and Cole were asking how to destroy White House data, he terminated the conversation and told them that what they were asking about was illegal.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently appointed prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against those involved in the US Attorney scandal. Today, in a press release, VR called for that investigation to include what role and knowledge Michael Connell and Randy Cole have regarding the destruction of White House computer data, and, as Abrahams suggests, whether Connell knows where the White House email backup is located.

UPDATE: 10/7/08: Velvet Revolution Calls On John McCain To Fire Michael Connell For Covering Up For Karl Rove In Federal Election Manipulation Lawsuit

Velvet Revolution today issued a press release calling for Republican candidate John McCain to fire computer expert Michael Connell from his campaign for covering up alleged election manipulations of Karl Rove and others. Mr. Connell, the GOP’s top computer expert, was subpoenaed based on a September 19th court order to testify under oath in an Ohio federal lawsuit looking into serious allegations that Mr. Rove has directed a strategy to illegally manipulate elections through the use of computer technology. Rather than cooperate in the investigation, Mr. Connell hired attorneys close to the Bush/Cheney Administration and refused to appear for the deposition arguing client (GOP) confidentiality. Those attorneys have said that they will do everything possible to keep Mr. Connell from testifying before the November general election. See press release pdf.

UPDATE: 10/3/08: VR Offers 100K Reward In RoveCyberGate Case

Today, VR offered a $100,000 reward for information from whistleblowers who have knowledge of election related criminal activity by Michael Connell, Randy Cole, Karl Rove and others. You can see the full ad here. The information must result in a conviction.

UPDATE: 10/1/08: VR Calls for Special Prosecutor to Investigate Connell and Rove

In light of Mike Connell’s stonewalling of the subpoena in this case, Velvet Revolution today called for Attorney General Mukasey to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the conduct, actions and knowledge of Michael Connell and his confidential work for Karl Rove and George Bush vis a vis election manipulations and destruction of data. VR also called on Congress to hold hearings and place Mr. Connell under oath to testify about election rigging, destruction of White House emails, and spying on Congress. See PDF news release.

UPDATE: 9/30/08: Stay Lifted, Depositions Ordered, Connell Subpoenaed, Connell Stonewalls

Many new turns in this case the past few days. On September 22, the federal court lifted the stay in this case and ordered depositions to begin, starting with Bush IT Expert Michael Connell. (See Order in PDF) A few days later, Connell was subpoenaed and ordered to produce documents. He hired three high powered GOP-connected attorneys and filed a Motion to Quash (See Motion in PDF) and an affidavit stating that his information is confidential.(See Affidavit in PDF) His attorneys have refused to make him available for deposition and have indicated that they will not let him testify unless forced to by the court. Attorney Arnebeck intends to secure a court order to enforce the subpoena.

UPDATE 9/18/08: Ohio Attorneys File Papers To Take Deposition Of Bush IT Expert Michael Connell And Others-Includes Spoonamore Affidavit

Yesterday, Ohio attorney Cliff Arnebeck asked the federal court in Columbus to allow him to place Bush IT guru Michael Connell under oath to ask him about his 20 year work for the Bush family, including his work for Jeb Bush in Florida 2000 and for Ken Blackwell in Ohio 2004. “The public has a need and right to know, before the next presidential election, that the top Republican IT expert shares a concern about the vulnerability of electronic voting systems to fraudulent manipulation, and that this is not just “conspiracy theory,” Arnebeck wrote. Arnebeck also advised the court that he would seeking depositions from others, including Karl Rove. See Court filing.

Attached to the filing are two affidavits, one from cyber security expert Stephen Spoonamore and the other from analyst Richard Hayes Phillips. The Spoonamore affidavit asserts that the election computer setup used by Ken Blackwell in 2004 provided the means and opportunity for the manipulation of the election results. “ The vote tabulation and reporting system, as modified at the direction of Mr. Blackwell, allowed the introduction of a single computer in the middle of the pathway. This computer located at a company principally managing IT Systems for GOP campaign and political operations (Computer C) received all information from each county computer (Computer A) BEFORE it was sent onward to Computer B. This centralized collection of all incoming statewide tabulations would make it extremely easy for a single operator, or a preprogrammed single "force balancing computer" to change the results in any way desired by the team controlling Computer C. In this case GOP partisan operatives. Again, if this out of state system had ANY digital access to the Secretary of State’s system it would be cause for immediate investigation by any of my banking clients.” See Spoonamore Affidavit.

The Hayes affidavit asserts that after reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents, ballots and other election records, “it is my conclusion that there is so much evidence of ballot alteration, ballot substitution, ballot box stuffing, ballot destruction, vote switching, tabulator rigging, and old fashioned voter suppression, that the results of the 2004 presidential election, would have been reversed” had there been a real investigation. See Hayes Affidavit. He insists that the time is now to take depositions from those implicated in the theft of that election.

Tell Congress to investigate Karl Rove’s cyber strategy to illegally manipulate elections. Click here to send an email to your Congress Members demanding immediate public hearings on whistleblower allegations that Rove architected and directed illegal attacks on Democratic candidates through the improper use of corporate funds channeled through fake Web-based front organizations, the improper political use of the Justice Department to prosecute opposition candidates, and the use of Internet based IT networks to alter election results.