Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Other 1600 Pennsylvania Avenues

I happened across this post at Ironic Sans which has Google street views of other 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue locations across the United States. It's rather fascinating. I'm pretty sure I prefer the one in the nation's capitol.

Friday, December 19, 2008

From George W to George W

It's been about 20 years since I've stepped foot in the National Portrait gallery but it has always remained by favorite museum. Their collection of presidential portraits has always fascinated me. Today, another was added to the collection as George W. Bush's portrait, painted by a Yale classmate, was unveiled along with a portrait of First Lady Laura Bush. Quipped the president: "That means this exhibit now has an interesting symmetry. It starts with George W. — and ends with George W."

Though the painting represents a strong likeness of the president, I am bothered that it was not a formal pose like that of the other 41 presidents, with the president lacking a coat and tie. I find this somewhat ironic in that the Bush White House is rather formal and President Bush is rarely seen in the West Wing without a coat and tie (unlike his immediate predecessor). According to the AP, "Bush wanted painter Robert Anderson, a Yale classmate of the president's, to give him a more informal look for his likeness at the National Portrait Gallery. Anderson painted the portrait to engage viewers with the president in a 'personal and conversational manner,' according to an event program." He got his wish.

Big 3 Finally Get Their Pittance


According to the Detroit Free Press: "President George W. Bush this morning announced plans to immediately extend $13.4 billion to struggling Detroit automakers, adding that in normal times it is a step he would be unlikely to take. It signals the end of an anxious week for Detroit’s auto industry, with worries that the Bush administration might not move fast enough to keep General Motors and Chrysler LLC from collapsing, which both said could occur if they didn’t receive a quick infusion of capital. The terms of the loans authorize $4 billion each for GM and Chrysler on Dec. 29 and another $5.4 billion for GM on Jan. 16....In the end, Bush felt he had no choice – he said in his statement this morning that the necessary legal and financial preparations for an orderly bankruptcy were not in place and a disorderly one could have disastrous effects – and authorized the $13.4 billion from the Wall Street cash."

From President Bush's statement this morning: "This is a difficult situation that involves fundamental questions about the proper role of government. On the one hand, government has a responsibility not to undermine the private enterprise system. On the other hand, government has a responsibility to safeguard the broader health and stability of our economy.
Addressing the challenges in the auto industry requires us to balance these two responsibilities. If we were to allow the free market to take its course now, it would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers. Under ordinary economic circumstances, I would say this is the price that failed companies must pay –- and I would not favor intervening to prevent the automakers from going out of business. But these are not ordinary circumstances. In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action. The question is how we can best give it a chance to succeed. Some argue the wisest path is to allow the auto companies to reorganize through Chapter 11 provisions of our bankruptcy laws -– and provide federal loans to keep them operating while they try to restructure under the supervision of a bankruptcy court. But given the current state of the auto industry and the economy, Chapter 11 is unlikely to work for American automakers at this time. American consumers understand why: If you hear that a car company is suddenly going into bankruptcy, you worry that parts and servicing will not be available, and you question the value of your warranty. And with consumers hesitant to buy new cars from struggling automakers, it would be more difficult for auto companies to recover.

The restructuring will be painful for the companies that take the loans--GM and Chrysler for now--and for the UAW. According to The Hill: "Bush said conditions for the loans were similar to those considered by Congress, where a bailout package was approved by the House last week but was blocked in the Senate by Republicans. The president stated that companies accepting the loans would have three months to offer plans for restructuring themselves into viable companies. Those that fail will have to repay the loans by March 31, he said. Bush said the timeframe would also give companies time to draw up orderly plans for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. He said the credit crunch troubling the wider economy, which has led to the weakest auto sales since World War II, meant auto companies had not had time to prepare for an orderly bankruptcy. Last week’s package collapsed in the Senate over GOP demands that the UAW agree to a date certain in 2009 when U.S. worker wages, benefits and pensions would be leveled with those paid by foreign auto companies producing in the U.S. The UAW said it could agree to such a date in 2011, when its current contract expires....On Friday, Bush said workers would have to agree to wages competitive with foreign companies, but he did not mention any specific date."

I've said before--why are the Big 3 American automakers being held to a different standard than the financial companies? Over the last several months, "the Bush Administration returned $158 billion to taxpayers in the form of rebates to try and stimulate consumer spending. It also provided a $29 billion loan so that JP Morgan Chase would rescue Bear Stearns; bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the mortgage giants, AIG the world's biggest insurer; rescued Citigroup and earmarked $700 billion of taxpayer money to protect Wall Street from collapse." (For a nice commentary on where the $700 billion TARP money is going, see this article in Salon). AIG alone has gotten $150 billion, no strings attached even as their executives are cashing in. I just don't get it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

As Detroit Burns...Our Government Fiddles

We are a week out from Christmas, two weeks out from the New Year, and the Big 3 American automakers still wait for a crucial lifeline from the federal government. The Democratic-led Congress tried and failed last week to deliver a much needed shot of capital to Detroit. Meanwhile, President Bush says he is still weighing his options, including a "managed bankruptcy."

As options are weighed, the crisis for GM and Chrysler, in particular, deepens: "GM and Chrysler have said they need at least $8 billion by the end of the month to avoid bankruptcy and at least $14 billion to get through the first quarter. Chrysler said Wednesday it would shutter all 30 of its factories for one month and idle 46,000 workers, while GM said it was delaying a key supply plant for the Chevrolet Volt, as both attempted to avoid imminent collapse while the Bush administration pondered its rescue. Chrysler's move signals the first of a cascade of dire actions that will result if the automakers don't receive government aid. Following a 47% decline in sales last month, some Chrysler plants will be closed until February. While the company has a swollen inventory of new vehicles, it records revenues when a vehicle leaves the factory." If either GM or Chrysler fail, Ford is likely to follow shortly thereafter.

In such a scenario, how much unemployment insurance would have to be paid? How could states such as Ohio, currently facing a $7 billion deficit over the next years, possibly afford the deluge it would face in the unemployment lines? Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), echoed these sentiments on Sunday's Face the Nation: "We’re already in a deep recession in my state, as we are in most of the 50 states....And this would just plunge us deeper into economic problems, into a hole that it would take a long, long time to extricate ourselves from."

It is time for our elected officials to stop fiddling--Rome is burning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eliminating White House Homeland Security Adviser and Council Shortsighted

Is this the end of the short line for the White House homeland security adviser (HSA) and Homeland Security Council (HSC)? I hope not. However, according to Shane Harris of the National Journal and others, the incoming Obama administration is seriously considering doing away with both post-9/11 creations. In my opinion, this is a grave error and one that should be thought through more carefully.

A Little History

On October 8, 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13228 which created both the HSA and HSC, as well as the now-defunct Office of Homeland Security, the pre-cursor to the Department of Homeland Security. According to Section 5 of E.O. 13228, the HSC "shall be responsible for advising and assisting the President with respect to all aspects of homeland security. The Council shall serve as the mechanism for ensuring coordination of homeland security-related activities of executive departments and agencies and effective development and implementation of homeland security policies....The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security shall be responsible, at the President's direction, for determining the agenda, ensuring that necessary papers are prepared, and recording Council actions and Presidential decisions." The HSC was modeled after the National Security Council and the HSA was modeled after the National Security Adviser.

Why They May be Harder to Kill than First Thought

Reorganizing the White House by folding the Homeland Security Council into the National Security Council and doing away with the Homeland Security Adviser position altogether will be much more difficult than speculation suggests. Why? Because the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security also made permanent the HSC and HSA. Public Law 107-296 (Sect. 901) provides statutory authority for the existence of both the Homeland Security Council and Homeland Security Adviser. In fact, the National Security Adviser and Homeland Security Adviser are the only two White House commissioned officers mandated by Congressional statute (the NSA and NSC were created as a result of the National Security Act of 1947 and subsequent legislation). Thus, a president cannot just choose to disband the HSC or not fill the position of HSA--though he can ignore them as Harry Truman initially did after the NSC was foisted upon him by Congress. An Act of Congress would be necessary to reorganize the homeland and national security machinery and this would not be a slam dunk by any means.

Why Keep Both?

Though the HSC and HSA were created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, their value lies not in coordinating in the counter terrorism area. This is something that the NSC could likely handle as counter terrorsim has a foreign policy/national security component anyway. Rather, it is in areas such as response to natural disasters (such as hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods), man-made accidents (such as chemical spills, nuclear reactor meltdowns), and public health emergencies (such as SARS, avian flu) that the HSC and HSA are critical components to a White House advisory system inherently biased toward the sexier problems of foreign policy and international intrigue. In fact, events in these areas--particularly natural disasters--will occur on President Obama's watch at a much more frequent rate than the occasional terrorist incident. Just look at the path of destruction, human and economic, produced just in the 2008 hurricane season alone ($54 billion in property damage).

In the Clinton years, the head of FEMA, James Lee Witt, was Bill Clinton's emergency management point person, had cabinet-level status, and was given carte blanche in terms of resources and access to the president. As is well-known, FEMA and it's director were downgraded in status in the early Bush 43 years and eventually enveloped into DHS upon its creation in 2003. In the place once occupied by a strong FEMA and well-respected FEMA Director resides the HSA and HSC. Downgrading and/or eliminating these young institutions would be the equivalent of what happened in 2001 to FEMA. Can the National Security Adviser really add more responsibility to his/her portfolio? They are already responsible for coordinating policy and advice about everything happening outside of America's borders--do they need to be responsible for everything happening inside as well? Even if you create two strong deputy national security advisers responsible for domestic (including homeland security) and foreign issues respectively, they will lack the authority and status of their boss. Could the deputy NSA for domestic affairs really command the attention or have the necessary access to the president or even the NSA on important homeland security matters? And what if the NSA completely devalues the role and import of homeland security matters or simply defines it as counter terrorism, as is often the case, to the detriment of emergency preparedness and disaster response? Hurricane Katrina showed the danger of a homeland security system slanted toward prevention of and preparedness for domestic terrorism at the expense of natural disaster preparedness and response. I hope this country and the incoming White House don't repeat the same mistakes. But I fear they are about to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bowling Over the Obama White House

Even in during the primary campaign there was talk, spurred on by the candidate himself, that a President Obama would consider replacing the White House bowling alley with a basketball court. I suspect there is not enough space to put in a hoops court--particularly height-wise. The current one-lane bowling alley is located under the driveway of the North Portico. It was installed by Richard Nixon--he and Pat were avid bowlers. The first bowling alley was built as a present to Harry Truman (who was not a bowling fan) in the space now occupied by the Situation Room.

Which brings us to today. A coalition of bowling organizations are offering to completely renovate the White House bowling alley and bring it into the 21st Century. According to their press release: "The enhanced ultra-modern lane would include a completely new technology surface, cutting-edge bowling balls, a top-of-the-line high definition scoring system and light display, a digital stereo sound system, club seating, Bowlopolis kids digital graphics, and modern electronic bumpers."

The current alley is in dire need of a face lift. Such a renovation would be a win-win for the declining bowling industry as well as the White House and the President-elect himself who clearly needs a little practice at the game (he scored a 37 in a March campaign appearance at a Pennsylvania bowling alley). I'm sure there are other spaces inside the White House or elsewhere on the grounds where an indoor basketball court could be constructed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

C-SPAN's White House Week

For all White House aficionados, C-SPAN is broadcasting a week long series of documentaries about the White House this week. So pop the popcorn or program the DVR if you are fascinated by that famous home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Thoughts on the Shoe Attack

The first time I saw the video I was struck by 3 things:

  1. That President Bush is very spry--he avoided not one but two shoes hurled at him at close range--and did so easily. Not bad for a man in his 60s.
  2. That the Iraqi journalist who hurled the shoes was able to get a second throw off--it seemed to take way too long for all, especially the U.S. Secret Service, to react.
  3. That no one grabbed the President to hustle him out of the room. This is the prime example of opening up yourself to a secondary attack--as everyone is focused on the shoe thrower, it opens up all sorts of opportunity for a second attacker to take advantage of the hullabaloo.
Press Secretary Dana Perino was injured in the attack--the victim of getting hit in the eye by a microphone.

A number of Iraqis and Arabs across the Middle East have expressed pride over the attack on the American president. Given the controversial war and the large numbers of Iraqi dead and wounded, this reaction is to be expected of some. I am, however, disappointed but not surprised that so many Americans take such joy in seeing an American president attacked on foreign soil (oh, and I do think it was an attack--those shoes were not lobbed at the president but thrown full speed at his head). Regardless of what anyone thinks of President Bush, no one--Iraqi, American, or anyone else--should condone what happened. I hope the shoe thrower is prosecuted to the fullest extent of Iraqi law.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Western White House for Obama

Modern presidents often have a secluded place to vacation away from the White House. Although all presidents have the benefit of a short helicopter trip to Camp David to go to, most of our modern presidents choose to go to their personal residences or summer homes for as much of a vacation as they can get. In fact, George W. Bush, the current president, has spent a record number of days on vacation: almost 900, most of them on his ranch in the very secluded Crawford, Texas. I would argue, however, that presidents are never on vacation and that because of modern technology and communications, where they are located is relatively irrelevant. George H.W. Bush would often spend his down time at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Ronald Reagan vacationed often at his California ranch. Bill Clinton is the only president in the last 30 years not to vacation at his family estate--because he didn't own one having moved right from the Arkansas governor's mansion to the White House.

Which brings us to Barack Obama. Reports are that Obama and family will achieve their R&R at their Chicago home, deep in the heart of Chicago's South Side. In fact, Obama will be the first modern president to have his primary "vacation" home in a large urban area which will cause challenges for the U.S. Secret Service as well as for the First Family's neighbors. According to the AP: "For security reasons, the Obamas' urban oasis already has changed. Their large red brick house doesn't have the benefit of being surrounded by acres of land like other presidential retreats, so the city streets near it look like a military zone with blocks-long metal and concrete barriers. Secret Service agents and police patrol the area." As someone who has driven through Chicago many times and dealt with the frustration of gridlocked interstates and even more gridlocked city streets, I feel for the residents of Obama's neighborhood. However, he and his family have earned the right to return to their real home as often as they wish; I'm guessing most of his neighbors will understand.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you today to ask that you, Treasury Secretary Paulson, and Fed Chairman Bernanke do something that Southern Republican Senators are unwilling to do: help save the American auto industry. America is depending on you. Though your retirement is just over a month away, you are still the president and you have all the powers of the office. The problems the Big 3 face are beyond petty party politics. It goes beyond the GOP trying to deal a death blow to the UAW. It goes beyond regional politics--North versus South, American car companies versus foreign transplants.

I know it's going to cost money, a lot of money. But the financial industry was worth saving and that cost tax payers twenty times what the Big 3 are asking for. The financial industry doesn't make anything--it moves paper around. Our auto makers are the manufacturing backbone of our nation. Could we really call ourselves a superpower anymore if we don't make are own vehicles? Will our Army Jeeps be made by Toyota? Honda? Kia? VW?

Ten percent of the American economy is dependent upon the auto industry. If our Big 3 go under, the ripple effect will be astronomical and will cost our economy much more than the tens of billions needed to prop up the industry. Think of all the unemployment payments that will be paid out when that happens. Oh, and those American parts suppliers that the foreign transplants use for their plants in places like Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee won't be there. Guess where those transplants will shift their manufacturing--back to their home countries.

So Mr. President, I am asking you, imploring you, to give the car companies the life saving shot of capital they need in this woeful economy. GM is already on life support having announced it will mothball 20 factories in early 2009 and cutting 250,000 vehicles from production. This goes beyond our auto industry though, the American economy is reeling. If the Big 3 go under, our economy may plunge into hardship not seen since the 1930s.

It's up to you and your team Mr. President. The Congress tried and failed. You are the last hope. Please don't let us down.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yet More Members of Congress Dogged by Scandal

Charlie Rangel (D-NY), the 78 year old chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is the latest Democrat reeling from an ethics investigation. Rangel came to Congress after defeating longtime incumbent Democrat Adam Clayton Powell in 1970 in a five way primary and went on to win the general election in the Harlem district with 88% of the vote. At the time, Powell was reeling because of ethics issues). The House Ethics Committee is looking into several questionable actions by Rangel including "whether Rangel helped preserve a lucrative tax break that benefited an oil-drilling company last year, while its chief executive was pledging $1 million to a college center named in the congressman's honor. The ethics committee also is looking at Rangel's use of congressional stationery to ask foundations to support the school project; using four rent-stabilized apartments in a Harlem apartment building; and not reporting or paying taxes on $75,000 in rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic." House Speaker hopes to have the investigation wrapped up by January 3, when the 111th Congress will begin.

On the other side of the aisle, Don Young, Alaska's lone House member, has stepped down from his position as ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee after pressure from House Minority Leader John Boehner. Young, who "once said Alaska national parks and wilderness areas were for 'jet-setting hippie backpackers', being probed by grand juries in Washington, D.C., and Alaska, mainly for earmarks during his tenure as chairman of the House Transportation Committee." has a great description of the mercurial Young: "Self-described as 'the congressman for all Alaskans', Young was elected to Congress in 1973, and is the second longest serving Republican member of the House. He is best known in the 'lower 48' as champion of the 'bridges to nowhere,' federal pork barrel projects that would have linked Anchorage and Ketchikan to sparsely populated destinations. In Alaska, Young is famous for malaprops (e.g. 'bladderdash'), faithfully recorded by 'The Ear' column in the Daily News. The 'alpha wolf,' as Young once called himself, has been a mean man with whom to tangle. He has made not-infrequent threats against fellow members on the House floor.Young once waved a walrus' male sex organ in the air at a House hearing. On another occasion, the congressman put his hand into a leg trap, supposedly to demonstrate that it was a humane way to capture and kill wolves. And, most famously, he denounced National Endowment to the Arts funding while speaking to a high school assembly in Fairbanks. Pressed to give reasons, he cited a proposed grant to the late homo-erotic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The kids pressed further, and Young used a obscene expression for gay sex to describe scenes from Mapplethorpe's photos. Apologies followed."

Priceless. Expect Young and Stevens to be rooming with each other soon at a Federal penitentiary, unless they can cut a deal of course...

"I Come From Michigan"

Truly one of the best speeches I've seen delivered by a member of Congress fighting for his constituents. Thaddeus McCotter, Republican from Michigan's 11th District, spoke in support of the $14 billion auto industry bridge loan. The legislation passed the House late yesterday 237-170, but faces a massive uphill climb in the U.S. Senate due to resistance from Senate Republicans many of whom are Southern legislators whose states are populated by foreign automakers. McCotter's impassioned 8 & 1/2 minute speech is all the more impressive since it was delivered extemporaneously.

If the embed below isn't working, here is a link to the video.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Move Over George Ryan

The alleged (and I use that term loosely) corruption charges facing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich reminded me that Illinois politics is old school. However, in the new era, old school politicians often end up in prison. Since 1972, three Illinois governors, Otto Kerner, Jr. (D), Daniel Walker (D), and George Ryan (R) have ended up in prison all for some form of corruption. I hope Governor Ryan is ready for a roommate...

For Sale: U.S. Senate Seat in Illinois

Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, was taken into custody early this morning on federal charges of corruption. Though most of the rest of the country was surprised by today's developments, Illinoisans likely were not considering the fact that the highly unpopular Blagojevich has been under investigation for three solid years. Among the jaw dropping charges against Blagojevich are attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, trading jobs and favors for campaign contributions, and attempting to pressure the Tribune Company to fire editors hostile to the Governor.

According to the AP: "Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges he brazenly conspired to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder as part of what federal prosecutors called a 'political corruption crime spree'....Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in an attempt to strong-arm the newspaper into firing editorial writers who had criticized him. The 51-year-old Democrat was also accused of engaging in pay-to-play politics - that is, doling out jobs, contracts and appointments in return for campaign contributions....Federal investigators bugged the governor's campaign offices and tapped his home phone, capturing conversations laced with profanity and tough-guy talk from the governor. Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said even seasoned investigators were stunned by what they heard, particularly since the governor had known for three years was under investigation for alleged hiring fraud."

The Blagojevich, William Jefferson, and Ted Stevens scandals demonstrate that corruption is a bipartisan affair. It's a shame that the great majority of public servants are tainted by the brazenly arrogant, morally challenged, parasitic narcissists who work among them. I am just glad that Blagojevich proved that his IQ is smaller than his shoe size, thus ensuring his arrest and public flogging before he could appoint someone in Obama's place. How can a guy that knows he is under investigation, and has been for three years, act in such a blatantly self-destructive and arrogant manner? If the charges are true (and it looks like it has all been recorded), Blagojevich will be heading to the Federal penitentiary. Perhaps he could room with Duke Cunningham. Considering the circumstances, pressure will mount to call a special election to fill the seat rather than have Blagojevich appoint someone. One question that will be worth watching in the next several weeks: did any of the prospective Senate candidates talk with Blagojevich and agree to bribe him for or bid on the seat. Stay tuned...I have a feeling this is all just the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hey Dr. Phil, Still Think We're Whining?

It was only five short months ago that former Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), an economics professor by trade, VP of UBS Investment Bank, and adviser to Senator John McCain, told an audience that the United States had become a "nation of whiners" and that America was only suffering a mental recession, not a real one. For the record, McCain quickly repudiated Gramm's remarks but the damage had already been inflicted on his campaign as most Americans knew that Gramm had his head firmly implanted in the sand.

Well the numbers are out for November and I think I can safely say that this whole recession thing ain't in our heads. Last month alone, 533,000 Jobs were lost in the U.S.--the biggest one month drop since 1974. Over the last year, the country lost 1.9 million jobs, 1.2 million of which were eliminated since just September. Although some point to the 6.7% unemployment rate to argue that things aren't that bad, that figure is misleading: "The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent, up just two-tenths of a percentage point from October, but up six-tenths over the last three months. More than 420,000 men and women who had been working or seeking work in October left the labor force in November. More significantly, the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November, up 1.5 percentage points since September."

I knew I wasn't imagining it...

Voters Defrost Freezer King

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Caroline, JFK Jr., and Twists of Fate

Politics, like life, is driven by individual human decisions, actions, and external happenings. Often, it is the twists of fate that shape the political and societal landscape. Earlier events and decisions affect everything that comes after. An assassination, a decision to go to war, a stock market crash all impact decisions and events which come after. In this context, the potential of Caroline Kennedy to hold a senate seat from New York reminds me of events which occurred almost decade ago.

On July 16, 1999, John Kennedy Jr., Caroline's brother, decided to fly his wife and sister-in-law to his cousin Rory's wedding in Hyannis, Massachusetts. They never made it--the plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all aboard. The 38 year old Kennedy was primed to enter the world of politics at the time of his death. In 1995 he had launched a chic political magazine, George, and was very much in the public eye.

About the time of JFK Jr.'s death, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced he would not seek reelection to the New York Senate seat he had held since 1977, and Kennedy was a presumptive front-runner to replace him (a Guardian article reported a 65% approval rating for Kennedy at the time). Based on his family name and lineage, his popularity, his comfort in the spotlight, he would have been a shoo-in for the seat, even if Hillary Clinton had decided to challenge him in the primary (which would have been doubtful she would have even considered it if JFK Jr. were in the race). Assuming he would have won the seat in 2000 and had a scandal-free eight years, it is conceivable that Democrats would have looked to him in 2008 to run for president. Perhaps we would be discussing Kennedy's transition right now and there would be umpteen stories about the third son to follow a father to the White House.

Instead, on that foggy night almost 10 years ago, the world of politics--and perhaps the world--changed when John Kennedy Jr's plane plunged into the cold waters of the Atlantic. Rather, we are talking about his sister Caroline being appointed to the seat John may well have won in 2000 and used as a stepping stone to the presidency.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Trouble Up North

It is amazing that citizens in the United States could be unaware that Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, is going through historic tumult with regards to its political system. Of course, the American media has yet to really focus on the crisis as it dissects every last angle to the Hillary Clinton nomination as Secretary of State.

Seven weeks ago a national election was held--in Canada. The conservative party won a plurality of the vote, 38%, and Stephen Harper became prime minister. Now, the minority factions have banned together in a coalition to unseat the prime minister and call for a no confidence vote. Harper has responded by suspending parliament.

I'm guessing that some in the United States are secretly hoping for Quebec to split off and for Canada to break up. I have long heard of American secret and not-so-secret plans to annex parts of Canada should this happen. In fact, this is not recent, post-9/11 exercise. Plans have existed for decades. For interesting reading on the topic, check out the following WaPo article titled "Raiding the Icebox."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Big 3 Bringing Tin Cup Back to The Hill, Hopefully by Coach

The Big 3 automakers are coming back to Capitol Hill this week in an effort to get Congress and the President to loan them $25 billion. The House Financial Services Committee is scheduled to hold hearings to review restructuring plans of the Big 3--part of the song and dance the Big 3 must go through before getting their money (funny, I don't recall AIG or Citigroup officials being forced to dance for their money).

In anticipation of their Beltway maneuverings, it is being reported that General Motors is actively considering shedding several brands: Pontiac, Saab, Hummer, and Saturn. It wants to sell the Hummer brand and I would assume it would be able to do the same with Saab, a relatively recent acquisition. I don't quite get the reason for the bullseye on Saturn which seems to have more life in it than Pontiac or some other GM brands not on the chopping block like Buick. Speaking of, how often do you see someone younger than 60 driving a Buick? And, they usually drive it for 20 years. Heck, not even Tiger Woods could sell the dang things and now he's been let go as spokesman. Maybe Wilford Brimley would be a better spokesman for that demographic.

Ford's plan is to apparently not cut executive compensation. CEO Alan Mullaly only received $22 million in total compensation last year, a year in which Ford lost $2.72 billion, so you can totally understand why he would resist having his $2 million salary reduced to $1--because people like him care nothing for their own company or stock holders. It's all about their own pocketbook and perquisites.

As I've state before, I do hope the Big 3 get help and survive--they are too important to the fabric and economy of America to go under. However, I hope that as part of the condition of "tax payer compensation", the executives of the Big 3 are forced to give up their ridiculous compensation packages and that Ford and GM replace their CEOs with people with less hubris (Chrysler's CEO works for $1 a year currently until Chrysler is sold).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dying to Shop in America

What's wrong with us? By "us" I mean humans.

At a Wal-Mart store on Long Island, New York, a 34 year old Wal-Mart temp was trampled to death in a stampede: "Shoppers started lining up late Thursday night at the Wal-Mart, at the Green Acres Mall on Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream, not far from the Queens border, where DVDs, flat-panel television sets and other entertainment items were discounted to attract crowds on the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season. Mr. Damour, 34, who was known to his friends as Jimbo, or Jdidread because of his dreadlocks, got his job at Wal-Mart through Labor Now, an agency for temporary workers. He had been trying to hold back a crush of shoppers pressing against the store’s sliding-glass double doors, the authorities said. Just before the store’s scheduled 5 a.m. opening, they said, the doors shattered under the weight of the crowd. Mr. Damour was thrown to the floor and trampled."

I'm pretty sure this is not what Jesus had in mind. Seriously though, as Americans watch the unimaginable carnage that took place at the hands of a handful of insane terrorists in India over the last few days, let's not forget that three people died from shopping Friday in this country. Is it really worth it to risk your life for discounts on electronic goods? Insanity abounds.

Freezer King Primed for Reelection...Before Ending up in the Big House

So, who cares? Well, Jefferson has been indicted 16 counts of assorted criminal charges and is infamous for the $90,000 Justice Department officials discovered wrapped in foil in his freezer as part of a bribery and corruption investigation. Jefferson is also known for commandeering National Guard troops to bring him to his Hurricane Katrina-damaged house to gather belongings while survivors waited on their sweltering rooftops hoping to be rescued.

According to CQ: "The 61-year-old Jefferson is awaiting trial on federal bribery and corruption charges. Even before his indictment in June 2007, the House Democratic leadership removed him from the prestigious Ways and Means Committee — prompted by the Justice Department investigation into his activities, which included a highly publicized allegation that Jefferson had foil-wrapped $90,000 in bribe money and stored it in a freezer. The 16 counts on which Jefferson stands indicted include soliciting bribes, corruption, money laundering, obstruction of justice, wire fraud and racketeering. The case centers on an accusation that he sought and accepted bribes to be paid to a family member in return for his official assistance in promoting business deals in Africa." Jefferson's brother, sister, and niece have also been indicted in the case.

Even if Jefferson wins reelection, he may not survive the 111th Congress if he is found guilty of any of the charges pending against him. As I said before in the Ted Stevens (R-AK) situation, it's hard to cast votes from a jail cell.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Turkey Day

Happy Turkey Day to you and yours. May your holiday be better than the bird you consume!!!

Girly Dogs Need Not Apply

The President-elect is not too hip on getting a small dog when he and his family move into the White House. Check out the back and forth between Barbara Walters and the future First Family (from Politico):
My bet is the Obama's will end up with a standard poodle (the big kind) since poodles are hypoallergenic.

Bailing Out the American Auto Industry

I've been waiting to write anything about this topic--I am not an economist after all. However, after thinking about this topic for weeks, I don't know how this country, a superpower after all, could possibly let it's domestic automakers go out of business as well as all the supporting parts suppliers dependent on the Big 3 (GM, Ford, & Chrysler). About 2% of the nation's workforce work for the Big 3 automakers alone and 1 out of every 10 American workers is dependent upon the auto industry. Three million people would lose their jobs according to one study by the Center for Automotive Research.

If the Big 3 go under, think of the effect it will have on communities all over the country. Take Lordstown, Ohio, for example: "If the industry failed, among the hardest-hit communities would be Lordstown, Ohio, a village of 3,600 people about 50 miles east of Cleveland that has been home to a GM factory since 1966. If the plant closed, Lordstown would lose up to 70 percent of its budget, a scary scenario that proponents of a multibillion dollar bailout say would be repeated across the industrial Midwest."

The fight over the American auto industry is dividing the country along sectional lines to a certain extent. Lawmakers from Ohio, Michigan, and other Midwestern states are in favor of helping the industry, regardless of party. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, makes the sensible argument that it's not just about jobs but also about national security: "If we ever need that national security production for serious defense, for any kind of significant war, it's gone." Other lawmakers, particularly those from states who are not dependent upon the auto industry, are skeptical of any help by the government. Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, Senate Minority Whip: "Just giving them $25 billion doesn’t change anything. It just puts off for six months or so the day of reckoning." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is similarly critical: "How is this money going to make a positive difference in creating a new competitiveness? Once we cross the divide from financial institutions to individual corporations, truly, where would you draw the line?"

The quote from Sessions highlights a question for me which has yet to be answered. Why the resistance to helping the auto industry, upon which so many Americans rely, when the White House and so many lawmakers seem so eager to help America's struggling financial institutions? What exactly does AIG make anyway? How about Citigroup? These paper-pushers are the recipients of hundreds of billions of dollars from American taxpayers even when their leaders are pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in executive bonuses. AIG will burn $150 billion in taxpayer money; the U.S. government will be insuring $300 billion in Citigroup assets. Yet the automakers must beg and plead for a pittance in comparison and even so, it's not clear whether they will get help or get the door slammed in their face. Why the double standard? As Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says: "It's a double standard, basically. Holy cow, AIG gets $150 billion for one insurance company that not only made mistakes but engaged in very dubious practices ... and they're bailed out? I'd love to see what their financial plans are, but I doubt they were even asked for them."

There is no doubt the U.S. automakers--their corporate leadership and powerful unions--will have to restructure and make concessions to survive. Making affordable, safe, fuel-efficient cars will be necessary in the long and short term. Not having the CEOs show up to Congressional hearings in expensive corporate jets would be another step. But it would be an American tragedy to let America's auto industry go extinct. At that point, the United States could no longer be considered a world superpower but rather a paper tiger set for a rapid and calamitous decline.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Story About Life in the World's Biggest Fishbowl

The Washington Post has a great article about the Obama's difficult transition to life under the microscope and behind the protective barrier.

It's easy to see the trappings of the White House environment and conclude it would be the coolest part of the job. The fact is, the families residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sacrifice an immense amount of themselves the minute they move in. I think too often we the people forget that these are human beings that live and work and are trapped in the biggest fish bowl in the world.

Holding a Seat for Beau

The election of Delaware Senator Joe Biden set off all sorts of speculation over who would be appointed to his soon-to-be-vacant seat which he has held since 1973. The natural replacement has always been his son Beau, the current Attorney General of Delaware. One problem: Beau was just recently deployed to Iraq for a year as part of his Army National Guard unit.

So what to do? Well, how about appointing someone as a placeholder to keep the Senate seat warm for the younger Biden. How about a current Biden staffer to fill the seat for two years until the younger Biden is back in the states and can campaign on his own. According to The Hill: "A loyal family friend was appointed to Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s vacant Senate seat Monday as an apparent placeholder until Beau Biden can inherit it upon his return from active duty in Iraq. In one of her final acts in office, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) selected Ted Kaufman, a longtime adviser and former chief of staff to the elder Biden, to be the state’s next senator." According to an LA Times political blog, Kaufman is "heading the senator's transition team for the vice presidency of the new Barack Obama administration."

Vice President-elect Biden has yet to resign his seat. That likely won't happen until sometime in January.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Which Lincoln?

As everyone knows by now, President-elect Barack Obama is an admirer of America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. One can hardly watch a political show post-election, or read an article about the transition, without Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, being mentioned, sometimes by Mr. Obama himself.

Craig Gilbert, of the nation's most underrated daily big city newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has a great piece on the complexity of Lincoln. Was he calm, mature, and wise or was he coldly calculating and Machiavellian? Was the cabinet of former opponents he assembled really a success or was it pandemonium? Scholarly opinion is divided on the topic; however, Mr. Obama's offer to Senator Hillary Clinton to head his State Department, his benevolent stance toward Senator Joe Lieberman's future in the Democratic caucus, and his intention to populate his administration with a number of Republicans makes it clear that the "Team of Rivals" concept will be put into action in short order.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turkey Pardoning Wasilla Style

I had promised myself that I was not going to make any more posts for awhile about Sarah Palin, if only to avoid the whining I would inevitably hear from my brother, the lone Palin cheerleader remaining east of the Mississippi. Well, I tried but I just couldn't--this story was just too juicy--literally.

Governor Palin decided to perform a presidential tradition today and pardon a Thanksgiving turkey today. Well, there is a right way and a wrong way to pardon a turkey, an act presidents have performed in one form or another since Harry Truman first began the practice (though there is some controversy about when exactly when and in what form the pardon tradition began).

Right Way: Gather reporters and photographers outside the White House, say something pithy and/or witty, smile for the camera, and walk back to the Oval.

Classic. If Alaska reinstated capital punishment on Governor Palin's watch I wonder what that would look like...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Waiting Game

President-elect Barack Obama is pulling the petals off of the flower as I type this: she loves me...she loves me not. Will she or won't she? Oh, the waiting game.

For about a week White House observers, pundits, and regular Joe Sixpacks all across the land have been wondering if Senator Hillary Clinton will be the nation's next Secretary of State. Since Mr. Obama reportedly offered the Senator the plum cabinet position in his administration, Senator Clinton seems not to have gotten past the "let me think about it" stage.

There are of course complications. President Bill Clinton's reluctance of publicly revealing donors to his foundation is perhaps the biggest obstacle. There is also the not-so-minor problem that many of the principal supporters of both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama may not be as ready to forgive each other after a particularly bruising primary campaign--and this latest drama has opened old wounds.

My guess is that the waiting will not--cannot--continue. I don't see this dragging out past the weekend. The Secretary of State position is one of the, if not the, crown jewels of all administration posts. Once that position is filled, many others, including most of the top national security positions including national security adviser, will be filled quickly. Until then, all we can do is wait.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Roughin' It

Republican Jason Chaffetz, the newest member of Utah's U.S. Congressional delegation, is just the latest member planning on living in his Capitol Hill office. Politico has an interesting piece on members who choose to save money, live within a budget, and room where they work. Although there are no official statistics on the topic, it is estimated that roughly 40 or so of Congress' 435 members decide to call their Hill office their refuge when in the District. (Ohio Democrat Jim Traficant used to sleep in his Hill office--now he sleeps in housing provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons).

Frankly, I'd choose a well-padded futon that could double as a sofa during working hours. That would probably much more comfortable at night and you could write it off as a work expense because you'd be using it during the day for business.

Obama Demonstrates How You Keep Your Friends Close

...and your enemies closer.

The Hill has a great story about the influence of President-elect Obama and his strategy of peace and reconciliation in the post-election era.

Senate Democrats were calling for Joe Lieberman's head for his active support of Senator John McCain's presidential bid and his over-the-top criticism of Barack Obama's candidacy. Possible punishments ranged from stripping Lieberman of his Homeland security chairmanship to kicking Lieberman out of the caucus. Instead, Obama made it clear behind the scenes that Lieberman gets to stay in the caucus, keep his gavel, and gets no punishment.

Senator Hillary Clinton getting offered the crown jewel of cabinet posts--Secretary of State--also is pure Obama. The primary was brutal; however, Obama is demonstrating an amazing ability to turn the other cheek--a rarity in politics.

It will be interesting to see who the next surprise is to get welcomed back to the fold or offered a cabinet post. Cheney? Naw.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama, McCain Meet in Chicago...Arm Wrestle to See Who's Stronger

Okay. So maybe they didn't arm wrestle but wouldn't that have been cool if they did? How about throwing on some boxing gloves and going a few rounds? Well, in the post-election era of bipartisan rapprochement that would be problematic.

Senator John McCain and President-elect Barack Obama did meet though to discuss policy areas where they could work together over the next four years including energy, ethics reform, and national service. I don't recall any kind of post-election strategy meeting between two former presidential rivals ever taking place in the past, at least in the modern era. Although he is unlikely to ask McCain to join his cabinet, this olive branch that Obama extended shows that he is genuine about wanting to govern in a bipartisan fashion. We'll see how long the era of good feelings lasts in the toxic environment of Washington. I give it until February 1.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cavett on the Wasilla Wordsmith

Dick Cavett has a great piece in the NYT today on Governor Sarah Palin. Which leads me to the following question: Why doesn't Cavett still have a show? The guy was great when he had one. Seriously, anyone can have a show. Dr. Phil has a show right? Maury Povich has a show doesn't he? I say bring back Cavett!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Laptop on the Oval Office Desk?

President-elect Barack Obama will be the first Internet savvy president in history. Addicted to his BlackBerry, rarely working with hard copies, and staying in contact with his friends through cyberspace, America's 44th president will truly be the first 21st century president.

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on Obama, his use of technology, and the incompatibility of being president and being on-line. The President-elect is accustomed to working in a 21st century environment, for example rarely working with hard copies on the campaign trail: "Mr. Obama’s memorandums and briefing books were seldom printed out and delivered to his house or hotel room, aides said. They were simply sent to his BlackBerry for his review. If a document was too long, he would read and respond from his laptop computer, often putting his editing changes in red type."

However, because of major challenges including cyber security and the implications of the Presidential Records Act, subpoenas and all, Obama will likely have to surrender his BlackBerry and his ability to email--a difficult move for someone so reliant on the device for work and play: "For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign....But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas."

Obama is, however, considering having a laptop in the Oval, probably a compromise his aides and the President-elect could live with: "Mr. Obama...seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so." So perhaps in a few months we all may see a picture of the 44th president, sitting at the Resolute Desk, typing away on his laptop. When that happens, we will know for certain that we really are living in the 21st century.

Fool Me Once...Boehner Likely to Hang on as Minority Leader

You know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Well, somehow, some way, John Boehner (R-OH) looks like he will remain atop the House Republican Party, this despite the fact that the GOP lost at least 20 seats in the 2008 election (with some yet to be determined). Let's not forget that Boehner was the House Majority Leader that helped steer the GOP ship into the glacier in 2006 where the GOP lost control of the House for the first time in 12 years. Roy Blunt, the Minority Whip, is stepping down.

I'm not sure what the thinking here is. Party leaders are often held accountable by the membership after an election, especially one with disastrous results for the party. House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned from Congress amid threats of his ouster as Speaker following the 1998 midterms because the GOP lost 5 seats. In two elections as a leader of his party, Boehner has overseen a 50+ net seat loss to the Democrats. How in the world is he managing to hang on to his leadership position? Seriously, somebody please tell me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Renegade's New Life Behind the Protective Barrier

Renegade--that is President-elect Barack Obama's handle with the Secret Service--and his family have begun the personal adjustment to a brave new world of Secret Service protection following the election. (Michelle Obama's code name is Renaissance by the way). Oh, he and his family were protected before, but since his election that protection has been amped up exponentially.

The New York Times has an excellent piece of what this security burden is like for the future First Family and the residents of their Hyde Park neighborhood. Here is a little taste: "The trappings of his life are increasingly presidential. Although he does not yet have access to Air Force One, he now rides in an armored government limousine, complete with the war wagon and other motorcade vehicles zipping through red lights with traffic blocked. Although the Secret Service long ago set up concrete barriers around his house here, they expanded their perimeter by several blocks after the election and brought in explosive-sniffing dogs....The streets around Mr. Obama’s home have been closed to outside traffic. Residents show picture identification at checkpoints as officers scan lists of pre-cleared people. The K.A.M. Isaiah Israel synagogue across the street gave the Secret Service a list of 2,000 members and regular visitors, who are checked by metal detectors before services."

So goes life in the bubble. It is too bad that our First Families have to give up so much of their personal privacy and freedom; however, given America's abysmal historical track record protecting its presidents, it's a price the president and family has to pay to keep them safe.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Hoax Does not Alleviate Palin's Africa Problem

There's a great deal of hyperbole surrounding the question of whether or not Governor Sarah Palin knew that Africa was a continent at the time of her selection as John McCain's running mate. In the desperate hunt to be first to break a news story, MSNBC's David Shuster recently identified the unnamed source in the Africa story as “Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks.” The problem: Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist and neither does the Policy Institute that "employs" him, the Harding Insitute for Freedom and Democracy. MSNBC is only the latest media outlet to be duped by a pair of film makers who want to create a TV show based on the character.

The veracity of the claim that Palin didn't know Africa was a continent is still unclear. The hoax only surrounded the identity of the source, not the actual claim itself. In the end, however, it is irrelevant whether or not Palin knew Africa is a continent. There is a lot of other evidence out there that both critics and supporters will turn to to try and prove their case that Palin was qualified or unqualified to be vice presidential nominee. The hoax will do little to change people's feelings on the topic.

As I have pointed out in a previous blog post, I am unequivocally in the "unqualified" camp--and not for any reasons of ideology of partisanship. Her resume alone, irrespective of her general intelligence level, should have been enough to disqualify her. I also had numerous conversations with Republicans who raised similar reservations. And polling confirmed that a great majority of Americans, 3 out of 5, felt Palin was unqualified for the job. If Palin is set on become a national figure for the GOP, she will need to work extra-hard to rehabilitate her image. Four years is a long time in politics and she could do it. However, if the Africa story is true, I have some advice for her: buy an atlas!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Haley to the Rescue

I often wondered why Haley Barbour, the Republican Governor of Mississippi, didn't run for president in 2008. I was more astonished that he was rarely mentioned as a possible VP runningmate for John McCain, a position for which he would have been ideally suited--a governor of a Southern state with loads of Washington experience. As former chair of the RNC from 1993-97, he oversaw the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994; and as co-founder of a successful lobbying firm in 1991, he has strong connections to the GOP establishment. He also was one of the few public officials who was viewed favorably in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as Mississippi fared better relatively than Louisiana in its response and recovery efforts.

Since the guessing game has now commenced about who in the GOP will run for president in 2012, the same old names are being bandied about: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal. My question: what about Haley? Barbour was in fact asked about 2012 recently: “Oh, man,” drawled Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, when asked about 2012 and specifically his own interest in a possible presidential run. “I’m going to tell you something. One of the worst things that can happen to the Republican Party in our effort to rebuild is for a bunch of people to start running for president. Anybody harboring that ambition needs to squelch it until after 2010. … Anybody out there running for president is undercutting what’s important. You do this against your own interest.” Sounds like a shrewd answer. Look for him to announce his candidacy shortly after the 2010 midterm election.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rahmbonics and the Art of Metaphor Mixing

Carol Lee of Politico has an amusing story up about Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Apparently, the Congressman is slightly verbally challenged, especially under the klieg lights, as illustrated by his mangling of the "kick the can" metaphor this past weekend on Face the Nation and This Week. Thankfully, the ability to not mix-up your metaphors is not a necessary quality for an effective chief of staff.

Note to Rahm: I feel your pain. I've been known to mix a metaphor or two in both everyday conversation, lecturing to my students, and being interviewed. Kick the bucket, can of corn, who cares? Just remember, when you get to the White House, the grass is always greener on the other side of the mountain...or is that pillow?

The Gestapo are Coming, The Gestapo are Coming, Warns GOP Congressman

Well, apparently Georgia Congressman Paul Broun didn't get the memo from President Bush, Senator McCain, and others that now was the time for bipartisanship and support for the new president. As an AP story reports, Broun thinks the U.S. under an Obama presidency is heading for creation of a Gestapo-like civilian national security force: "It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he's the one who proposed this national security force. I'm just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may — may not, I hope not — but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism."

Crazy? Off base? What would make him think that? But it gets better.

Oh, and the coup de grace:

Okay, so your not calling the president-elect Hitler, you're just saying he has the "potential" to become like Hitler. Memo to the GOP--you need to move quickly to contain this and point out the obvious--that Congressman Broun does not speak for the party and that he is an obvious nut-job.

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