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.

Obama Wins an Electoral Vote in Nebraska

President-elect Batack Obama keep adding to his electoral vote total. Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, anchored by the city of Omaha, has gone to Obama--the first time in 44 years that a Democrat has won electoral votes in the Cornhusker State. In 1964, Nebraska was part of a landslide victory for Lyndon Johnson. In 2004, the 2nd Congressional District easily went to President George W. Bush who garnered 61% of the vote there.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that do not award electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis, instead parceling the votes by congressional district, with 2 votes being awarded based on the statewide tally. Nebraska has used this sytem since 1991 and this is the first time that not all the electoral votes went to the Republican candidate.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mr. Lincoln, Meet Mr. Obama

I absolutely love this cartoon from the Plain Dealer's Jeff Darcy. So simple and so poignant.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Race and the History of the White House

The New York Times has a brilliant piece tracing the history of African Americans and the house where presidents work and play. It is a stark reminder of America's troubled history of race. The fact that a black president will be sworn-in January 20 is even more amazing given the history of the White House--a place where no African American stayed overnight as a guest until Sammy Davis Jr. and his wife did so during the Richard Nixon presidency.

As the article points out: "The house itself was built by crews of black laborers — both slave and free. In 1801, a year after it opened, Thomas Jefferson brought nearly a dozen slaves from Monticello, and slaves would constitute much of the house’s staff until the death in 1850 of Zachary Taylor, the last slaveholder to be president." When President Teddy Roosevelt dined with Booker T. Washington in the White House in 1901, it was roundly criticized throughout the country, one newspaper calling it a "damnable outrage." "Eleanor Roosevelt, who was Theodore’s niece as well as Franklin’s wife, famously included African-Americans among her many guests at the White House, and she, too, was criticized — including when she invited Marian Anderson to follow her concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 by singing at the White House before the king and queen of England."

So when Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, and moves into the White House thereafter, I hope Americans of all races appreciate the significance of the moment. It has nothing to with party or ideology--it would mean the same thing if an African American Republican would be taking the oath. It has everything to do with the history of America and this country's struggle with the issue of race from the beginning of the republic.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Harry the Butcher to Start Chopping GOP Committee Seats

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will start chopping Republican committee seats to reflect the new ratios in the 111th Senate. When all the recounts are done and the official results are in, Democrats are expected to have at least a 57-43 advantage in the upper chamber.

Before Republicans start getting apoplectic about this issue, this is common practice in both chambers following an election in which a number of seats have changed parties. The greater the overall seat advantage of the Majority Party in the chamber as a whole, the greater the Majority Party ratio will be on committees.
A spokesperson for Reid said the 103rd Congress, in which Democrats held a similar advantage, will likely be used as a model. According to the Hill, "Democrats may chop additional Republican seats if they expand their majority control to 58, 59 or 60 seats, depending on the outcome of undecided races in Georgia, Minnesota and Alaska."

George W. Bush: The Memoir

I was always disappointed that George H.W. Bush chose not to write a memoir, instead letting history make its own judgement. A lot happened in those four years from the Persian Gulf War, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the crumbling of the Soviet empire. It would have been nice to view those events through the eyes of the man in the Oval Office at the time.

I am glad George W. Bush seems willing to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), though publishers are advising him to wait a few years until his popularity bounces back. Love him or hate him or something in between, the last eight years have been filled with events of great historical magnitude: the 2000 election, 9/11, The Afghanistan War, The Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis of 2008. I hope we get an honest recounting of the last eight years from his perspective, not a sanitized version of history so common from ex-presidents, their families, and their staffs, Democrats and Republicans alike.

Musical Committee Chairs in 111th Senate

Senator Bob Byrd (D-WV), the longest serving Senator in American history, is voluntarily giving up his chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee amid reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants him to relinquish his gavel. Byrd's leaving is setting off a chain of events on the Democratic side of the Senate.

According to The Hill, "Byrd’s health has been a question all year. He was hospitalized three times, prompting some of his colleagues to question whether he was up to one of the most demanding and important roles in the Senate.In April, Byrd moved to quell his critics by chairing a hearing on the Iraq war and afterward telling those who questioned his capacity to 'shut up.'" The soon-to-be 91 year old Byrd will be replaced by the youthful Daniel Inouye (D-HA), only 84, who will be moving from Commerce.

Byrd's actions have set off a game of musical committee chairs for the Democrats as Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) will jump from Intelligence to chair Commerce, and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) will take over at Intelligence. This in turn will open up the chair of Rules and Administration for Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Vice President-elect Joe Biden's departure from Foreign Relations could mean that John Kerry (D-MA) or Russ Feingold (D-WI) could end up chairing that panel. Expect all the changes in Senate chairmanships to be informally in place well before the 111th Congress comes into session January 3.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Neanderthals with a Keyboard in "Post-Racial" America

There has been much talk about a "post-racial" America in the age of Obama. Well, that would be nice, but it isn't so. I've been reminded of this countless times as I scan blogs about the election. The amount of racism and biggotry dripping from the fingertips of anonymous commenters is stunning, disheartening, and alarming.

One only need read the article and comments from a post which appeared in the Plain Dealer's blog "Openers" about Butler County, Ohio, a Republican stronghold in Southwest, Ohio. For example, in the article, a waitress at a local diner said "My boyfriend is so upset, he said he's going to go over to Kentucky and join the Ku Klux Klan.... My boyfriend said now the world is going to end in 2012 and that Obama is the antichrist." More disturbing are many of the comments to this particular article. Let me give you a small taste:

by maltlicka

at 10:12AM

*hand on heart* I swear allegiance to the flag of the United Socialist
States of America. And to the republik for which it stands one nation, under
Barack, who's guided by Satan, to deliver food stamps and healthcare to all.

And, how about this little nugget of joy:

by JamesVIII
on 11/06/08
at 6:43PM

There is a difference between the strength of a trait in the
general population and strength of that trait they may be found in a particular
individual. There is no doubt a few very good white basketball dunkers out
there. But if you expect to find the best dunkers go to the black race....We
have many fine highly moral, hard working intelligent blacks in America.
However, they are a distinct minority and they do not exert a notable influence
on the general black population.

Wow, that was educational.

I am hopeful that America can come closer to a "post-racial" society but am not optimistic it will happen soon. It is encouraging that a majority of people in Tuesday's election were able to cast their ballots for a non-White person--something that would not have been likely a generation ago. Perhaps Obama's election will move this country toward that ideal. It will also, unfortunately, increase the tenor and frequency of the intolerant and biggoted in America, especially as they tap away furiously on their keyboard.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Schooling (or Lackthereof) of Sarah Palin

As a political scientist who studies the organization and functioning of the White House and teaches a course on the American Presidency, I had serious reservations about the pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by Senator John McCain as his 2008 runningmate. It had nothing to do with ideology of party ID; rather, I felt she was wholly unqualified for the post. One year and a half as governor of one the least populous states in the country, preceeded by her stint as mayor of a small town in Alaska, was not the resume of a vice president. Couple this with McCain's advanced age and dubious health and I was troubled to say the least.

Well, with reports streaming out of the warring camps of the failed McCain campaign over Palin's excessive shopping spree and lack of preparation in the very basics of American civics, it looks like my fears were confirmed. Perhaps the most shocking revelation comes from Fox News Carl Cameron who reports that Governor Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent or which countries composed NAFTA--you know, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Most 3rd graders could tell you that Africa was a continent and probably name several countries. Same goes for North America.

Though the Palin story has provided some very interesting gossipy inside baseball reading for politics-watchers, there is an important sober lesson to be learned: presidential candidates need to pick a highly qualified person for the job. Ideology and geography must be secondary considerations. VPs, afterall, are a mere heartbeat away from the presidency. One out of four presidents have not finished out their elected term. It's a deadly serious issue. All presidential candidates should put their country first, not their campaign, and pick the very best person for the job.

First Dog Shows Frustration Over Election Result--Barney Bites Messenger

Though President Bush seems at peace with the 2008 election result (see previous post), First Dog Barney hasn't taken it so well. Barney took out his frustration on Reuters television White House correspondent Jon Decker, biting him on his right index finger, breaking the skin, and causing the White House physician to administer antibiotics.

There is no truth to the rumor that Decker was wearing a "Yes We Can" sticker on his lapel. Barney could not be reached for comment.

President Bush Promises Cooperation

In order for there to be a smooth transition to a new president, the previous president and his staff has to be dedicated to helping his successor. Public statements by President Bush indicate that he is dedicated to just such a smooth transition. In a speech today to employees of the Executive Office of the President, President Bush remarked:

This peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a true democracy. And
ensuring that this transition is as smooth as possible is a priority for the
rest of my presidency. We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a
new President settle in. This will also be America's first wartime presidential
transition in four decades. We're in a struggle against violent extremists
determined to attack us -- and they would like nothing more than to exploit this
period of change to harm the American people. So over the next 75 days, all of
us must ensure that the next President and his team can hit the ground running.
For more than a year now, departments and agencies throughout the federal
government have been preparing for a smooth transition. We've provided
intelligence briefings to the President-Elect, and the Department of Justice has
approved security clearances for members of his transition staff. In the coming
weeks, we will ask administration officials to brief the Obama team on ongoing
policy issues, ranging from the financial markets to the war in Iraq. I look
forward to discussing those issues with the President-Elect early next week.
Offices within the White House are at work preparing extensive transition
materials. We're preparing career employees throughout the administration to
take on added responsibilities to help prevent any disruption to the essential
functions of the federal government. Taken together, these measures represent an
unprecedented effort to ensure that the executive branch is prepared to fulfill
its responsibilities at all times. As we carry out this transition I know that
you will continue to conduct yourselves with the decency and professionalism you
have shown throughout my time in office.

So far so good with the Obama transition: a new chief of staff on board and the current president pledging his cooperation.

Obama Needs to Draw on Clinton Veterans

Although many are calling for President-elect Obama to bring new voices to his administration and turn away from experienced Clinton White House and administration veterans, this would be a grave error. There is a steep learning curve in the White House if you have never worked there before--particularly for the person that occupies the Oval Office. If the president's inner circle of advisers, headed by the chief of staff, do not have Washington or White House experience, serious errors will be made. One need only look at the chaotic early years of both the Carter and Clinton administrations to see that a new administration needs to draw experienced voices into high levels of the White House and administration.

If Rahm Emanuel does take the job he has reportedly been offered, this would be an excellent start to the transition. Emanuel is a White House and Congressional veteran. There is perhaps no better organized, more disciplined, more savvy Democrat in the Beltway. If he comes aboard, look for the senior positions in the White House to be filled quickly and have a number of Clinton veterans among them. Although some worry (including myself) that Emanuel's hard edge could cause problems within the White House (he is nicknamed "Rahmbo" afterall), Emanuel would be a loyal and fierce guardian of the president--perhaps the most underrated but most important role a chief of staff plays in a White House.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chief of Staff Emanuel

I've already posted on this topic so I won't bore you again. However, reports are that President-elect Obama has asked Congressman Rahm Emanuel to be White House Chief of Staff and that Emanuel has said yes.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports that a close ally of Obama's stated that "Obama likes the fact that Emanuel knows policy, knows politics, knows Capitol Hill.
Obama has told associates that he knows that Emanuel will 'have his back

UPDATE I: Emanuel says yes.

UPDATE II: Here's a nice biographical piece about Rahm Emanuel and his brothers from the Washingtonian, published May 2008.

The Face of Change

Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, liberal, moderate, or conservative, Black or White, Asian or Hispanic, Christian, Jew, Hindu, etc., you have to admit that the face of American politics has changed forever. Any African American who grew up in the days of segregation and overt racism and biggotry, were turned away from the polling booth, lived through the struggles of the civil rights movement, witnessed the killings of MLK, Medgar Evers, and others, has to be filled with such surprise and pride today. 143 years after the end of slavery, 53 years after Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, America has elected an African American to the highest office in the land. A truly historic election indeed.

UPDATE: President Bush weighed in on the historic nature of the 2008 election: "No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a President whose journey represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism, and faith in the enduring promise of our nation. Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes -- and four decades later see a dream fulfilled....It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House. I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited so long."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Historic Election, Regardless of Outcome

The 2008 presidential election is an historic election--providing lots of "firsts" no matter who would win. Here's a few, though this is not an exhaustive list.

If McCain/Palin Win

  • John McCain would be the first septagenarian (72) and oldest to be elected.

  • McCain would be the first Vietnam vet elected to either to the presidency or vice presidency.

  • McCain would be the first Arizonan to win the presidency or vice presidency.

  • Sarah Palin would be the first female vice president.

  • Palin would be the first Alaskan to win the presidency or vice presidency.

If Obama/Biden Win

  • Barack Obama would be the first African-American to be elected.

  • Obama would be the first President born in Hawaii.

  • Joe Biden would be the first Roman Catholic vice president.

  • Biden would be the first president or VP from Delaware.

2008 Bellwether States to Watch When the Polls Close

Two sets of states will tell the story early on for the 2008 presidential election. This is not an exhaustive list, just a focus on those critical early states.

Early Bellwethers

These early bellwether states include: Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. If Obama wins any of these, particularly one or more of the first three, it will be a blowout. Even if Obama is close in a place like Georgia, that is a good sign for him. If McCain can hold Obama off and sweep those states, it will likely be a much closer election than most pundits think.

The Triad

You've heard of them before: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If Obama wins two of three of these states, check mate. McCain needs a victory in all three, but a win in Ohio and Florida is a must. If he wins all three, throw all the conventional wisdom out the window.

Monday, November 3, 2008

U.S. Senate Races to Watch

The presidential election is not the only thing happening November 4. There are a number of races at all levels of government happening throughout the country. Of particular interest are U.S. Senate races as Democrats try and gain nine seats--enough to claim a 60 vote filibuster-proof majority. What follows is a run-down of those toss-up senate seats with my prediction of what the Senate will look like when the smoke clears.

Alaska (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Ted Stevens (R) vs. Mark Begich (D)
Predicted winner: Begich
Observation: Stevens is likely headed for prison. Hard to cast votes from a jail cell. 'Nuff said.

Colorado (Open Republican Seat)
Matchup: Bob Schaffer (R) vs. Rep. Mark Udall (D)
Predicted winner: Udall
Observation: Colorado is trending blue all the way. Udall is a well-respected name in the West

Kentucky (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Mitch McConnell (R) vs. Bruce Lunsford (D)
Predicted winner: McConnell
Observation: Senate Minority Leader in serious trouble. Hangs on by a finger nail; Kentuckians like the earmarks.

Georgia (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Saxby Chambliss (R incumbent) vs. Jim Martin (D)
Predicted winner: Chambliss
Observation: Incumbent hangs on in surprisingly close race. If Chambliss loses, it will signify a rout for Obama and Dems.

Louisiana (Democratic Seat)
Matchup: Mary L. Landrieu (D) vs. John Kennedy (R)
Predicted winner: Landrieu
Observation: Only Democratic seat in jeopardy no longer in jeopardy.

Minnesota (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Norm Coleman (R) vs. Al Franken (D) vs. Dean Barkley (I)
Predicted winner: Coleman
Observation: 3-way race makes prediction difficult. Coleman hangs on in nail-biter.

Mississippi (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Roger Wicker (R) vs. Ronnie Musgrove (D)
Predicted winner: Wicker
Observation: Mississippi is still deep red. Musgrove will come close though.

New Hampshire (Republican Seat)
Matchup: John E. Sununu (R) vs. Jeanne Shaheen (D)
Predicted winner: Shaheen
Observation: In a normal year, Sununu hangs on. 2008 is not a normal year.

New Mexico (Open Republican Seat)
Matchup: Steve Pearce (R) vs. Tom Udall (D)
Predicted winner: Udall
Observation: Sibling tandem in U.S. Senate? Yep.

North Carolina (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Elizabeth Dole (R) vs. Kay Hagan (D)
Predicted winner: Hagan
Observation: "Godless" ad will backfire on Dole.

Oregon (Republican Seat)
Matchup: Gordon H. Smith (R) vs. Jeff Merkley (D)
Predicted winner: Merkley
Observation: Incumbent GOP Senator running ads touting ties to Obama, Biden and Dems? Not a good sign.

Virginia (Open Republican Seat)
Matchup: James S. Gilmore (R) vs. Mark Warner (D)
Predicted winner: Warner
Observation: Virginia electes a different Warner, different party.

Final predicted tally: Dems +7. With Lieberman possibly forced out of Democratic Caucus, he switches to GOP or at least caucuses with them.

Final predicted composition of Senate (currently 51-49 Dem control): Dems 57-GOP 43

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The 269-269 Nightmare Scenario

Of all the silly quirks of the Electoral College, the fact that it can result in a tie is a most absurd, but very real scenario. This is due to the fact that the total number of electoral votes is an even number (538). Above is the electoral map from 2004. Here were the results:
  • George W. Bush: 286
  • John Kerry: 252
Now, most all of the current polls are showing Barack Obama comfortably ahead in the 2008 electoral vote race. However, it is very possible that with the polls tightening, as they usually do in the final days before an election, 2008 may not be the blowout some people expect.
Could Tuesday night end in a electoral vote tie?
Yes, and here's one path to that nightmare scenario. The map stays the same in 2008 from 2004 except:
  • Obama wins Iowa, Colorado, & New Mexico.
  • McCain wins New Hampshire.
What would happen next?
The election would be thrown into the Congress. The 111th House would vote on a one vote per state basis for president; the U.S. Senate, one vote per senator, would vote for VP.
The Nightmare Scenario

In 1796, due to a quirk in the electoral voting process, electors were mandated to vote for president and vice president without a separate ballot for VP. Though this was later fixed by passage of the 12th Amendment, John Adams (F-MA) and Thomas Jefferson (D-R VA) became president and vice president despite representing opposing parties and philosophies of the young republic. Four years of acrimony ensued.
Could this happen again? Although Democrats will doubtless have a clear majority of individual House members in the 111th Congress, the breakdown of party control of each state delegation is much harder to pinpoint. Take the current Ohio U.S. House delegation: GOP 11-Dem 7. If Dems take two GOP seats in 2008, which is very possible for OH-15 and OH-16, the delegation would be split 9-9. How would Ohio and other states that have evenly split delegations vote in the case of an electoral vote tie? And, what would be the national breakdown of party control of House delegations be following the 2008 election? If Republicans had a majority of state delegations and Dems had a majority of Senate seats (likely 5-9 after Tuesday), the country could be looking at a McCain-Biden presidency.

Northeast Ohio is Shaping up to be the Bullseye of 2008

As Rubber City Radio and Akron News Now's Ed Esposito points out, Northeast Ohio will be inundated with candidates over the next 48 hours: "The big push of presidential politics surrounds Akron today with Obama's in Cleveland and Palin in Canton; tomorrow McCain/Palin include Lakewood, Cleveland and Columbus while Joe and Jill Biden hit Copley High School for a Monday night quickie."

Anyone that lived in Ohio in 2004 who wasn't in a cave with soundproofed walls and no TV knows the routine. The fact that all four candidates and their spouses will be in Northeast Ohio for much of their last-minute Ohio push demonstrates that this part of the state, a Democratic stronghold, will be a key to winning Ohio.

For Obama it will be about GOTV in the urban areas and activating voter groups that are harder to activate typically: African-Americans, young people and college students, and first time voters. Obama needs to overperform in Northeast Ohio to offset losses in red Western Ohio. McCain needs to perform well in places like the Mahoning Valley and rural, suburban, and exurban parts of Northeast Ohio that surroung the urban centers. we'll find out Wednesday which campaign had a better plan to win the Buckeye State.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Staffing a McCain Administration

Although speculative reports of a future McCain administration are relatively rare compared to the flurry of Obama White House articles we've seen of late, it is worth taking a peek at the names that are emerging given the fact that John McCain is much more than a long shot to win this Tuesday. The Obama White House staff watch has more momentum because Barack Obama's chances to win are seen as greater. The fact that Obama's transition is much more advanced than McCain's has also led to more speculation.

It is interesting to note that Politco reports that McCain transition planners are focused on national security positions as a priority; domestic agencies are taking a back-seat. On the one hand, this is not surprising given Senator McCain's focus on national security issues throughout his public career. On the other hand, given the state of the economy and the Wall Street crisis, it is quite surprising that staffing positions relevant to economic issues is not priority one.

  • White House chief of staff: Lehman or longtime McCain aide and speechwriter Mark Salter

  • Senior counselor to the president: Top campaign official and personal friend Rick Davis

  • Secretary of state: World Bank President and former deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.); former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage

  • Treasury secretary: FedEx founder Fred Smith; former eBay CEO Meg Whitman; Bain Capital co-founder and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; John Thain, former Merrill Lynch CEO and now president of Global Banking, Securities and Wealth Management at Bank of America

  • Secretary of defense: Lehman; Lieberman; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); current Defense Secretary Robert Gates

  • Attorney general: Graham; former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.); former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani

  • Secretary of education: Former Arizona superintendent of education Lisa Graham Keegan

  • National security adviser: Policy adviser Randy Scheunemann

  • Office of Management and Budget: Former Congressional Budget Office director and campaign adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Two Ohio names are conspicuously absent: Rob Portman and Mike DeWine. Portman has a phenomenal amount of experience in Washington for someone in his early 50s. Portman previously served in the George Bush 41 White House as associate counsel and in the Bush 43 White House as U.S. Trade Representative and OMB Director. The White House experience bookends his 12 years in the House of Representatives. Perhaps Portman has revealed to the McCain folks that he is more interested in staying in Ohio and running for Governor or Senator should George Voinovich retire. If not, his name should be on the short list for just about any high level staff position or Cabinet slot.

Mike DeWine is a name that should also be on the list. DeWine was an early supporter of McCain's presidential bid and is a household name in Ohio. As a former county prosecutor, member of the state legislature, and two-term U.S. Senator, I would think DeWine would be on the short list for Attorney General.

Of course, half of this speculation about McCain and Obama administration personnel will be moot on Wednesday. It is fun to play the name game though.

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