Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From New York Times: A Race to the Bottom

December 23, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
A Race to the Bottom

Toward the end of an important speech in Washington last month, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said to her audience:

“Think of a teacher who is staying up past midnight to prepare her lesson plan... Think of a teacher who is paying for equipment out of his own pocket so his students can conduct science experiments that they otherwise couldn’t do... Think of a teacher who takes her students to a ‘We, the People’ debating competition over the weekend, instead of spending time with her own family.”

Ms. Weingarten was raising a cry against the demonizing of teachers and the widespread, uninformed tendency to cast wholesale blame on teachers for the myriad problems with American public schools. It reminded me of the way autoworkers have been vilified and blamed by so many for the problems plaguing the Big Three automakers.

But Ms. Weingarten’s defense of her members was not the most important part of the speech. The key point was her assertion that with schools in trouble and the economy in a state of near-collapse, she was willing to consider reforms that until now have been anathema to the union, including the way in which tenure is awarded, the manner in which teachers are assigned and merit pay.

It’s time we refocused our lens on American workers and tried to see them in a fairer, more appreciative light. Continue reading at New York Times

From New York Times: Looking Back, Bush and Cheney Reveal Different Views

December 25, 2008
White House Memo
Looking Back, Bush and Cheney Reveal Different Views

WASHINGTON — President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been unusually talkative in recent weeks, sharing candid thoughts in a string of exit interviews. But after eight years of a tight partnership that gave Mr. Cheney powerful influence inside the White House, the two are sounding strikingly different notes as they leave office, especially on one of the most fundamental issues of their tenure: their aggressive response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Bush defends his decisions as necessary to keep the nation safe, yet sounds reflective, even chastened. He has expressed regrets about not achieving an overhaul of immigration laws and not changing the partisan tone in Washington. And the man who got tangled up in a question about whether he had made any mistakes — he could not come up with one in 2004 — recently told ABC News that he was “unprepared for war,” and that “the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.”

Mr. Cheney, by contrast, is unbowed, defiant to the end. He called the Supreme Court “wrong” for overturning Bush policies on detainees at Guantánamo Bay; criticized his successor, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and defended the harsh interrogation technique called waterboarding, considered by many legal authorities to be torture.

“I feel very good about what we did,” the vice president told The Washington Times, adding, “If I was faced with those circumstances again, I’d do exactly the same thing.” Continue reading at New York Times

From Obama's five rules of scandal response

Obama's five rules of scandal response
By: Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown
December 24, 2008 10:44 AM EST

Tuesday's report from the transition, detailing contacts between members of Obama's inner circle and embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and concluding that "nothing at all inappropriate" was discussed, won't be the final word on the subject—but it did provide some telling insight into the way the White House's new occupant will operate.

Here are five rules of Obama scandal-management based on his team's handling of its first post-election crisis.

1 - Be transparent, to an extent

Obama's internal review was entirely voluntary and intended to demonstrate that his team had nothing to hide, and was committed to its pledge to run "the most open and transparent transition in history."

But after announcing the review, his team declined to reveal who would conduct it, who would be interviewed or whether the resulting release would include any transition e-mails or records to support its conclusions.

The review itself answered just one of those questions — we now know that White House Counsel Greg Craig led the review, which didn't include any documentation of what materials it went over — but it raised others, among them: Why did Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett communicate with Craig through her lawyer, whom the report does not name; how many conversations did incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have with Blagojevich; and why was Obama himself interviewed by prosecutors?

The report says Emanuel urged Blagojevich to tap Jarrett for the Senate seat during "one or two telephone calls." But in the next paragraph, it refers to "those early conversations with the governor," and in a conference call unveiling the report, Craig said Emanuel "had a couple of conversations with the governor."

"We asked each individual who we thought might have had some contact or some communication that would be meaningful" to reconstruct "any contacts or communications, and that would include checking cell phone records or e-mails, and we inquired about that," Craig said. He added that "we've got the information that is required," and said he didn't know of any written communications.

Also, the report revealed that prosecutors interviewed Obama, and did so after he had publicly declared he had been unaware of Blagojevich’s alleged plot to sell off the Senate seat Obama had vacated after winning the presidency, raising questions about why they took the unusual step of interviewing the president-elect, what they asked him and whether he was under oath.

2 - Don't let the news cycle dictate response

Freed from the rapid fire back-and-forth of the campaign, Obama, a stickler for preparation, resorted to his methodical instincts in trying to create order amidst the swirling scandal.

But in taking his time, he's let the story linger into a third week.

After drawing criticism for a listless initial response the day Blagojevich was arrested and accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect, Obama went a step further the next day by calling on the governor to resign. On the third day of the story, he announced the internal review. By the next week he acknowledged frustration over not being able to clear up inaccuracies about the case.

Still, Obama resisted the temptation to spout off and stuck to the original plan: He would allow a written report to speak for him.

When the transition released the five-page review Tuesday, the day before Christmas Eve, Obama was far removed from the action as he relaxed in Hawaii with his family. The physical distance served the same purpose as the report itself, separating Obama from the swirl of scandal

3 - No freelancing

The report suggested Obama wants his advisers to get his permission before even ostensibly private conservations with outsiders.

Longtime Obama family friend Eric Whitaker seemed to follow this rule when he was approached by Blagojevich deputy Louanner Peters asking who could speak for Obama's preferences for the Senate seat.

"Dr. Whitaker said he would find out," according to the report. After Whitaker was told by Obama that "no one was authorized to speak for him on the matter," the report states Whitaker "relayed that information to Deputy Governor Peters" and "had no other contacts with anyone from the governor's office."

On the other side of that ledger was Emanuel, a much newer member of Obama's inner circle, who broke the rule by calling Blagojevich and recommending he tap Jarrett for the seat.

"He did so before learning -- in further conversations with the president-elect -- that the president-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate," according to the report. Later, when Emanuel chatted with Blagojevich's then-chief of staff, the report indicates it was "with the authorization of the president-elect."

4 - Aides take hits to protect the boss

Twice in handling the Blagojevich scandal, top Obama lieutenants were singled out for botching the message.

The report makes clear that Emanuel was the only person in Obama's transition who had any contact with Blagojevich about filling the Senate seat and that his contact wasn't authorized by Obama.

And Obama political guru David Axelrod made a public mea culpa after his boss contradicted a statement from an interview he gave last month, before the governor's arrest.

In it, Axelrod unambiguously described a conversation between Obama and Blagojevich about filling the seat, saying, "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

But after Obama declared he hadn't spoken to Blagojevich, Axelrod issued a statement saying, "I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the president-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy."

5 – Shy away from even justified fights

It seems only logical that Obama would want a say in picking his successor in the Senate, since the next junior senator from Illinois will represent the president-elect’s home and could be an important congressional ally.

But Obama, whose penchant for avoiding tough stands on controversial issues frustrated opponents trying to land a clear shot in the presidential race, also steered clear of the Senate-seat derby, according to the report and Craig’s teleconference.

Craig said Obama “was not engaging on this in any personal way and had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process.”

The report says Obama talked with his top aides about a range of prospective Senators, but never winnowed down the group, dispatching Emanuel to relay a list of acceptable candidates to Blagojevich’s office.

And according to the report, Obama was ambivalent about the Senate aspirations of Jarrett, contradicting the widely reported claim that she was his top choice for the Senate seat. Rather, the report says, Obama’s “preference (was) that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House." But it also states he made clear "he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy."

To the extent that the report succeeds in its goal of establishing the distance between Obama and Blagojevich, it necessarily raises the question: Why was the president-elect and leader of the Democratic party playing no role in a key appointment to national office being made in his home state, and by a Democratic governor?

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

Sunday, December 14, 2008

President Bush Attacked By Shoes - MSNBC via YouTube

This video of President Bush being attacked by an Iraqi reporter is bizarre. Say what you might about President Bush, it does make you worry about the safety of any US president. Shoes? really?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Associated Press: Obama moving step by step to create his Cabinet

Actually, Obama just made this announcement today:


Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.


Obama moving step by step to create his Cabinet

By The Associated Press, Associated Press
December 10, 2008

Day by day, name by name, President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet is taking shape, and other top jobs are being filled.

A look at who has made the list and who is being talked about for jobs that are still open:


TREASURY SECRETARY: Timothy Geithner, president of Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

SECRETARY OF STATE: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general.

DEFENSE SECRETARY: Robert Gates, a holdover from Bush administration.


NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Retired Marine Gen. James Jones.

COMMERCE SECRETARY: Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.

NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary.

OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: Peter Orszag, director of Congressional Budget Office.

VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.




Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.


John Gannon, former deputy director for intelligence at the CIA during the Clinton administration.

Jami Miscik, former head of CIA's analytical operations.

Steve Kappes, CIA's current No. 2.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who now heads House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

John McLaughlin, former interim CIA chief.


Denny Blair, retired admiral and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Don Kerr, No. 2 official in Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jami Miscik, former head of CIA's analytical operations.

Former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind.


Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.


Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.

John Berry, National Zoo director, former executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation


Lisa P. Jackson, former commissioner of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.


Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta.

Adolfo Carrion Jr., borough president of the Bronx, N.Y.

Renee Glover, head of Atlanta's housing authority.

Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Bart Harvey, former chief executive of Enterprise Community Investment.


Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.


Ed McElroy, former president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, former AFL-CIO vice president.

Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work.

Maria Echaveste, former Clinton White House adviser.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich.


Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of Chicago public schools.

Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver public schools.

Jon Schnur, founder and chief executive of New Leaders for New Schools.

Paul Vallas, superintendent of Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Linda Darling-Hammond, education professor at Stanford University.


Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mortimer Downey, former deputy transportation secretary.

Steve Heminger, executive director, San Francisco Bay area transportation commission.


Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania agriculture secretary.

Tom Buis, president of National Farmers Union.

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas.

Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

Former Rep. Jill Long Thompson, D-Ind.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

From Wall Street Journal: U.S. Says It Will Bail Out Christmas

U.S. Says It Will Bail Out Christmas
Easter and even Valentine's Day might be next.


With the government on the brink of rescuing the U.S. auto industry, we have learned that the Treasury Department is drawing up plans to bail out Christmas. "We have reason to believe," said a person close to the matter, "that without an immediate capital injection, Santa Claus will fail before December 24." Mr. Claus could not be reached for comment.
[Wonder Land] M.E. Cohen

Government officials are said to be concerned at the risk that the collapse of Santa Claus could pose to the nation's intricately related system of holiday happiness. Though a failure by Santa Claus poses the largest systemic risk, the government is also prepared to step in to bail out Christmas trees, caroling parties and mistletoe producers.

President-elect Barack Obama has been briefed on the initiative, and through a spokesman was quoted as saying, "I'm OK with bailing out Christmas."

Inside Treasury, some officials privately worry that such a precedent could result in the nationalization of Santa Claus, leading to similar calls for help next year from the Easter Bunny and even Valentine's Day. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson personally concluded, however, that "Santa Claus is too big to fail."

Daniel Henninger on the upcoming winter Wonder Land bailout.

Indeed, the situation was considered sufficiently dire that Mr. Paulson agreed to travel to the North Pole to speak to Mr. Claus. A Treasury official with knowledge of the situation agreed to provide this reporter with an account of the meeting. "Secretary Paulson," this person said, "has had a lifetime belief in Santa Claus and firmly supports what he represents."

Last Saturday morning, Mr. Paulson flew by government plane to meet with Santa, though a spokesman would not disclose the exact location of the famed toymaker's North Pole workshop. Mr. Paulson's plane landed on the polar ice cap, and then the Secretary was taken the final 300 miles in a sleigh pulled by Santa's fleet of reindeer. In deference to Mr. Paulson's unfamiliarity with sleigh-riding at altitude, Mr. Claus ordered his assistants to bring the Treasury department party overland.

The picture of Christmas painted for Mr. Paulson by his rosy-cheeked host was bleak.

Apparently Santa's difficulties in "producing product," as Mr. Paulson described it, originated in a poorly understood aspect of the jolly elf's current operations known as "Christmas list swaps," or CLIPS.

Mr. Claus said that going back as far as anyone can remember, Christmas lists had been handled in the traditional manner. Children would draw up lists, which were left out in the evening with a glass of milk for collection by Santa's elves; other lists would be exchanged with siblings, cousins and loved ones.

Several years ago, according to a participant who requested anonymity, some of Santa's elves were contacted by representatives from Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, who persuaded the elves of the benefits of an elaborate scheme of Christmas-list securitization.

As outlined to the elves, the idea worked like this. Brokers would break each item on the Christmas lists into separate pieces and repackage the requests as securities, using a formula known as a "benevolence diffusion algorithm." This would guarantee happiness for everybody in the world on Christmas morning. No one would lose.

At first Santa was doubtful of the plan. Mrs. Claus was especially skeptical, pointing out that in her experience with baking Christmas cookies, a seemingly foolproof enterprise, a failure rate of 5% was not uncommon. "There is simply no historical data to suggest the whole world can be long Christmas," Mrs. Claus said. "No scheme will ever rid the world of bad little girls and boys."

According to a person with knowledge of the North Pole couple's affairs, Santa received a call from a Franklin Raines, who identified himself as the president of a "government sponsored enterprise" known as Happie Mac. Santa apparently became convinced that Happie Mac sounded similar to his own business of free giving, and so agreed to the proposed system of Christmas list swaps.

Difficulties emerged when a CLIPS salesman from AIG called a senior elf to say that a large number of the Christmas list swaps had ended up in the hands of Russian billionaires with links to former Russian president Vladimir Putin. "These plutocrats don't even believe in me," Santa was heard to say as Mr. Paulson's sleigh rode out of sight.

On returning to Washington, Mr. Paulson's plan to bail out Christmas immediately ran into problems. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose great-great uncle is rumored to have been an elf, pointed out that Santa Claus might not qualify for a TARP loan. According the Fed's analysis: "Santa Claus belongs to the people. Any bailout must pass through the appropriate committees of the House."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, notwithstanding that she is the mother of five children, has reportedly told Mr. Paulson that Congress will bail out Christmas only in return for a promise from Santa Claus to "go green." Speaker Pelosi said the Environmental Defense Fund has long complained about Santa's eight tiny reindeer and that Mr. Claus would be asked to appear this Tuesday before Rep. Barney Frank's committee with a plan to reduce the sleigh's carbon footprint.

With only 13 days remaining for a Santa rescue, Mr. Paulson and Speaker Pelosi are said to be discussing the appointment of a Christmas czar. The leading candidate is Oprah Winfrey.

Write to
(Or better yet, write to Santa who needs the support.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich: One Son Illinois is Not Proud Of

We all know Chicago politics is tough politics, heck FOX News tried to remind us that every chance they got during the campaign. But Obama trudged on and won the Presidency bringing much respect and redemption to the city of Chicago and state of Illinois. Since November 4, Chicago had become the new center of the universe, all eyes were watching Obama. From the moment he stepped out to the podium that Tuesday night with his beautiful family and gave a speech watched by people all around the world, Chicago has basked in the glory of its new favorite son. That all ended Monday with the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich.

I, like most Americans, am relieved to know Obama did not fall for this guy's attempt to literally sell the seat to the highest bidder, but it is an unwelcome distraction to the Obama transition which has been one of the best we have ever seen, it is a shame to Chicago, and Blagojevich is the black sheep of Illinois that no one can be proud of right now.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

From Chicago Tribune: Barack Obama's Birth Certificate,0,

The Obama campaign provided this birth certificate, showing Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.


Virulent Barack Obama opponents won't go away

By Eric Zorn

Tribune staff reporter

December 7, 2008,0,5348796.story

Silly me. Here I had been thinking that the wild-eyed foamers at the mouth who were driven nearly to madness by the prospect of Barack Obama's election to the presidency were going to wait until Obama actually did something to offend them before going nuts again.

But no.

Those who spent most of the 1990s seething that Bill and Hillary Clinton were serial murderers and who devoted the entire 2008 campaign cycle to painting Obama as a mysterious radical aren't relaxing during the transition.

Much of their energy these days is devoted to the effort to block Obama from assuming the presidency on the grounds that he's not a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, as the Constitution requires. Continue reading...

From Salon
Why the stories about Obama's birth certificate will never die
Barack Obama was, without question, born in the U.S., and he is eligible to be president, but experts on conspiracy theories say that won't ever matter to those who believe otherwise.
By Alex Koppelman

Dec. 5, 2008 | Barack Obama can't be president: He wasn't really born in Hawaii, and the certification of live birth his campaign released is a forgery. He was born in Kenya. Or maybe Indonesia. Or, wait, maybe he was born in Hawaii -- but that doesn't matter, since he was also a British citizen at birth because of his father, and you can't be a "natural-born citizen" in that case. (But then, maybe his "father" wasn't really his father; maybe his real dad was an obscure communist poet. Or Malcolm X.)

You might think these rumors would have died off after Obama produced proof in June that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii to an American citizen, his mother, Ann, or after Hawaii state officials confirmed in October that he was born there. You might think the rumors would have died off after he was elected by a comfortable margin. Instead, they've intensified. There have been paid advertisements in the Chicago Tribune questioning the president-elect's birth certificate and eligibility, and one group is raising money to run a similar ad on television. The right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the issue almost nonstop. Numerous plaintiffs have filed lawsuits in various states. And Friday, the Supreme Court's nine justices will decide whether they want to hear one of those suits, which also contends that John McCain, born in the former Panama Canal Zone, does not meet the Constitution's requirements to hold the presidency. Continue reading...

From New York Times: Typing Without a Clue

December 7, 2008

Typing Without a Clue
Guest Columnist

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Next up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.

Here’s Palin’s response, after Matt Lauer asked her when she knew the election was lost:

“I had great faith that, you know, perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting a vote for us, but having to put a lot of faith in that commitment we tried to articulate that we were the true change agent that would progress this nation.”

I have no idea what she said in that thicket of words.

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

When I heard J.T.P. had a book, I thought of that Chris Farley skit from “Saturday Night Live.” He’s a motivational counselor, trying to keep some slacker youths from living in a van down by the river, just like him. One kid tells him he wants to write.

“La-di-frickin’-da!” Farley says. “We got ourselves a writer here!”

If Joe really wants to write, he should keep his day job and spend his evenings reading Rick Reilly’s sports columns, Peggy Noonan’s speeches, or Jess Walter’s fiction. He should open Dostoevsky or Norman Maclean — for osmosis, if nothing else. He should study Frank McCourt on teaching or Annie Dillard on writing.

The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.

Our next president is a writer, which may do something to elevate standards in the book industry. The last time a true writer occupied the White House was a hundred years ago, with Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote 13 books before his 40th birthday.

Barack Obama’s first book, the memoir of a mixed-race man, is terrific. Outside of a few speeches, he will probably not write anything memorable until he’s out office, but I look forward to that presidential memoir.

For the others — you friends of celebrities penning cookbooks, you train wrecks just out of rehab, you politicians with an agent but no talent — stop soaking up precious advance money.

I know: publishers say they print garbage so that real literature, which seldom makes any money, can find its way into print. True, to a point. But some of them print garbage so they can buy more garbage.

There was a time when I wanted to be like Sting, the singer, belting out, “Roxanne ...” I guess that’s why we have karaoke, for fantasy night. If only there was such a thing for failed plumbers, politicians or celebrities who think they can write.

Maureen Dowd is off today.

From Washington Post: Reluctance to Help Detroit Reeks of Class Bias

Reluctance to Help Detroit Reeks of Class Bias

By Warren Brown
Sunday, December 7, 2008; G02

It has happened repeatedly in the last several weeks -- well-paid, well-known journalists questioning the wisdom of "bailing out Detroit," of helping an industry whose union-represented workers have substantially better wages and benefits than other manual or skilled laborers, or, more precisely, who are better compensated than their nonunion counterparts working at foreign-owned rival companies building cars and trucks in the United States.

The questions are tinged with outrage and ridicule: Why should Americans who earn less, have inferior pension and health-care plans, help the United Auto Workers union? Why can't the UAW be satisfied with the same pay packages given at Honda, or with an even less-expensive compensation agreement for workers at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala.?

The queries often come from people who earn substantially more than the estimated $71,000 annually in wages and benefits paid to UAW members. They come from people who, having reached upper-middle-class status by virtue of their college educations and communication skills, certainly wouldn't settle for earning less.

So, why are the questions being asked?

Might I suggest class bias?

There is a feeling in this country -- apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit's automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill -- that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?

Let us stipulate for the record that both Citigroup and GM have made their share of management errors. Citigroup made loans it should not have made and sold lots of commercial paper it should have trashed. But Congress offered barely a whimper of protest to the government's emergency action granting Citigroup $25 billion in bailout money. Similarly, the Mob of Pundits seemed not to care much that many of Citigroup's managers remained just as rich after the federal bailout as they did before receiving the government's aid.

What Citigroup manager was dragged to Capitol Hill to publicly present a long-term plan for business profitability and viability? Did I miss something?

Now comes GM, Ford and Chrysler -- supplicants all, companies that bet wrong on U.S. gasoline prices (the same error made by Toyota with its Tundra pickup, by the way) and that were as shocked as the rest of us by the fiscal carnage caused by bad loans made by banks such as Citigroup.

It apparently matters not that the domestic car manufacturers account for 3 million to 5 million U.S. jobs. It matters not that, despite some bad guesses on product development, they've remained engines of U.S. innovation. (Their work with biologically derived fuels and emergency communications systems are examples.) Nor does it matter that they pulled us through several wars and one terrorist attack (GM's zero-percent financing plan after the Sept. 11, 2001, horror).

And, of course, it does not matter that the domestic manufacturers for decades have been operating in a country wide open to foreign competition, but bereft of anything resembling a sensible industrial or energy policy. That's quite different from Japanese car manufacturers that have benefited mightily from financing and cooperation via Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

No. The only thing that matters is that Detroit's automobile workers have earned enough money to allow their families to dream, to send their children to the colleges and universities from which many of their critics in the media graduated. How dare they!

Implicit in the criticism of UAW compensation packages is that union-represented automobile workers are being paid above their social class. Greedy, bad people. They are supposed to be satisfied with wages that cover only the basics -- food, acceptable clothing and housing. They are not supposed to receive pay that allows them to aspire to or dream of more. They should be happy with the development of America's Wal-Mart economy, one in which less-expensive skills, talents, products and services are imported to satisfy the American consumer's insatiable lust for the highest-quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices.

That is what stuff-makers and other manual laborers deserve. Wall Street's money people and well-paid journalists, on the other hand, deserve much better. They studied, went to college. They use their brains. They should be paid more.

So, let Detroit's automobile companies slide into bankruptcy. We'll lose a few million more jobs. But those of us lucky enough to remain employed will still be able to buy cars from Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota. Or, if we are doing quite well, we can snatch something from BMW, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz.

What the heck? If things get really rough, we can always catch a sale at Wal-Mart. Citigroup most certainly would be willing to finance our purchases at favorable interest rates. What a country! We once rejoiced in building things, innovating, racing to the top. Now, at least for the people who use their hands to make this country go, we're celebrating a mad dash to the bottom.

Are we not better than this? Is this the America we want to be?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Obama Picks Shinseki In A Not-So-Subtle Blow to Bush Administration!

AWESOME! Back long ago when the talk of war in Washington was that it would cost only $50 billion mostly paid for by Iraqi oil and we wont need that many troops to secure the country, one brave General stood up and bravely said we will need more. For that brevity, hew was shunned and awarded with 'early retirement.' Today, Barack Obama brings back Shinsheki as the new Secretary of Veteran Affairs - awesome move!

Sometimes war is just unavoidable, but perhaps next time we plan to go to war, before we lose thousands of brave American men and women, before we plunge trillions of dollars in some war that doesnt do much for us while our economy stutters, perhaps we will be more careful and ask the right questions.

Obama's cabinet is shaping up nicely, I am sure he has disappointed a lot of people on the left, but if you are in the middle you ve gotta love the picks from Clinton to keeping Gates. People on the right are just dumbfounded. After all, Obama was supposed to be this extreme liberal that will bring a liberal agenda to Washington and pal around with his terrorist friends - I wonder if Gates counts as one?

December 7, 2008
General Critical of Iraq War Is Pick for V.A. Chief

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, elevating the former Army chief of staff, who was vilified by the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war for his warning that far more troops would be needed than the Pentagon had committed.

In his choice of General Shinseki, which Mr. Obama will announce here on Sunday, the president-elect would bring to his cabinet someone who symbolizes the break Mr. Obama seeks with the Bush era on national security. The selection was confirmed by two Democratic officials.

General Shinseki, testifying before Congress in February 2003, a month before the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, said “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. In words that came to be vindicated by events, the general anticipated “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems,” adding, “and so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

The testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, whose war plans called for far fewer troops. Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked General Shinseki’s comments as “wildly off the mark,” in part because Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.

With the subsequent years in which Americans battled ethnic insurgents, and after President Bush agreed to a “surge” strategy of more troops in January 2007, General Shinseki was effectively vindicated and military officials, as well as activists and politicians, publicly saluted him. By then, however, General Shinseki had been marginalized on the joint chiefs of staff and quietly retired from the Army.

When asked about General Shinseki’s early troop estimates in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC, Mr. Obama said, “He was right.” At the same time, General Shinseki drew criticism in the postwar years for not pressing more aggressively for more troops before the war. In an interview in Newsweek in early 2007, he said of the critiques, with characteristic brevity, “Probably that’s fair. Not my style.” In the past, he would say to his associates, “I do not want to criticize while my soldiers are still bleeding and dying in Iraq.”

When other retired officers publicly called on Mr. Rumsfeld to resign, he did not.

The controversy made General Shinseki popular with soldiers in Iraq and veterans of the conflict who resented what they saw as inadequate troop strength. In taking over Veterans Affairs, he would inherit an agency struggling with increasing numbers of veterans with physical and mental wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the many aging veterans of past conflicts.

General Shinseki, 66, who was the highest-ranking Asian-American in the military, also commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Like Mr. Obama, the general is a native of Hawaii. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he suffered serious wounds and lost much of a foot.

Rumsfeld critic Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs
By: Jonathan Martin
December 6, 2008 07:24 PM EST

CHICAGO — Retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki will be named as Barack Obama's Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

The surprise pick adds yet another heavyweight to the Obama cabinet, and also takes a not-so-subtle slap at President Bush's original national security team.

Shinseki served as Chief of Staff of the Army and retired a four-star general in 2003. Like Obama a native of Hawaii, Shinseki served two combat tours in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Shinseki, who is of Japanese ancestry, becomes the first Asian-American in the new Cabinet.

He rose to prominence—and become something of a hero to the anti-war left— after he clashed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz personally and professionally, especially on the Iraq war.

Shortly before the end of his term as Chief of Staff in 2003, Shinseki told a congressional committee that post-war Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. Both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz publicly scoffed at the estimate— a rare public rebuff to one of the nation's most senior generals. When Shinseki retired, no senior civilians from the Pentagon showed at his ceremony.

Iraq war critics later said it was Shinseki, not Rumsfeld, who turned out to be right about the need for more troops after U.S. forces suffered heavy losses in the post-war insurgency.

In an interview to air tomorrow, Obama praised Shinseki's judgement on the war.

"He was right," Obama told NBC's Tom Brokaw in a "Meet the Press" interview taped here Saturday, excerpts of which were released tonight by the network.

Obama also cited his shared his Hawaiian roots with Shinseki.

"I grew up in Hawaii, as he did," the president-elect noted. "My grandfather is in the Punch Bowl National Cemetery. When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and, I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart, and I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home."

Shinseki served on active-duty for 38 years, graduating from West Point in 1965 and rising through the officer ranks until he became Vice Chief of Staff and then ultimately Chief of Staff in 1999.
Shinseki Slated to Head VA, Obama Confirms
Updated 6:50 p.m.
By Philip Rucker and Thomas E. Ricks
Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki will be introduced tomorrow as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, a Democratic official familiar with the announcement said today.

Obama confirmed that Shinseki was his choice In an exclusive interview with NBC News, taped for broadcast on "Meet the Press." Obama called Shinseki "exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home."

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq.

Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki's estimate "will prove to be high," and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment "way off the mark."

Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, "General Shinseki was right." And in January 2007, President Bush ordered tens of thousands of U.S. troops back into Iraq to stabilize and secure the country.

Obama concurred with Abizaid's view in the "Meet the Press" interview, saying of Shinseki, "He was right."

Shinseki retired in the summer of 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended his farewell ceremony.

Notably Shinseki led the Army at the same time that Obama's nominee as national security adviser, then-Marine commandant Gen. James L. Jones. Both questioned Wolfowitz's presumptions, before the war in Iraq commenced, about how the fighting would go, and they argued that Pentagon planning was being too optimistic and should prepare thoroughly for worst-case scenarios.

The politics around the planned nomination are intriguing. Shinseki has maintained a near-total silence since leaving the Pentagon. However, earlier this year, a letter he wrote to Rumsfeld in June 2003 leaked. In it, Shinseki criticized Rumsfeld for not letting the Joint Chiefs of Staff "express their best military judgment as often as they should." He also said that the way Rumsfeld and other top civilian officials ran meetings was "unhelpful."

Also, there long has been speculation inside the Army that Shinseki, who was severely wounded in Vietnam, is interested in running for the Senate when Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), an 84-year-old World War II veteran, decides to retire.

Shinseki, a 66-year-old native of Kauai, told the Associated Press in 2005, "I intend to move back to Hawaii. It's just a question of when."

Since retiring from the Army, he has joined the boards of Honeywell International and Ducommun, both companies focused on military contracting. He also is on the board of the Hawaiian companies Grove Farm Corp. and First Hawaiian Bank.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Santa comes to Congress for Relief Claus

11.28.2008 9:05 pm
Horrigan column: Santa comes to Congress for Relief Claus
By: Kevin Horrigan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In perhaps the most shocking sign yet of the dire condition of the nation’s economy, Santa Claus today appeared before the House Financial Services Committee pleading for a $25 billion bailout of his North Pole-based toy manufacturing industry.

Lawmakers were shocked at the sudden appearance of the right jolly old elf, who reportedly evaded Capitol Police by entering the hearing room through a chimney boarded up during the Nixon administration. “I guess he had a case of the flue,” joked committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass.

Appearing without counsel, Claus, dressed in his traditional red suit, told the committee that without the cash infusion, “Christmas will be very bleak.”

He said layoffs would be inevitable among his 300,000-elf work force and that “bankruptcy is not out of the picture.”

“I hate to be the one to break the news to you, ladies and gentlemen,” Claus said. “But Santa Claus is not Santa Claus, if you get my drift. For a thousand years, we’ve been hung out to dry with no federal or local tax support. Our labor costs are through the roof. Competition from China is very fierce. Environmental regulations are a huge added cost. And now we find that because of global climate change, we’ve had to retro-fit the entire North Pole manufacturing center on floats and pylons. We need help.”

Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the committee’s ranking Republican, was sympathetic to Claus’ complaints about the high cost of environmental compliance. “How many of your people have you lost to marauding polar bears?” Bachus asked.

“That’s the good news,” Claus said. “Technically, elves aren’t ‘people,’ so the Bush administration recently reclassified them as a food source for the bears. If there’s one bright spot to the layoffs, it’s that the bears will be eating better, even though it takes two or three elves per bear to make a meal.”

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., objected, “Mr. Chairman, I find it reprehensible that Mr. Claus is threatening to feed his elves to polar bears unless we bail him out with $25 billion in taxpayer money.”

Claus replied, “Madam, it’s not like feeding elves to polar bears will save us any money. Over the years, the United Toyworkers Union has negotiated generous labor contracts with us. Even when they’re laid off — or God forbid, even when they’re eaten by polar bears — we’re still stuck with the legacy costs of pension and retirement benefits to their families.”

“If I could say a word in the witness’s defense,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., “it would be that my children have long enjoyed the benefits of Mr. Claus’ work. And it would be a shame — no, an outrage — if this Congress can provide help for the tycoons and bankers on Wall Street and not for the small children of America.”

Clay, noted throughout Congress for his softball questioning of celebrity witnesses such as baseball stars Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens, then presented Claus with a copy of his Christmas wish list — “just in case,” Clay said.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., demanded to know “why the American taxpayer should bear the burden of bailing out Santa Claus” when Christmas is an “international celebration.”

“Is it not true, sir, that you work in many nations under a variety of aliases: Weihnachtsmann, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noel, Sinter Claus, Julemanden among them?” King said. “Are you planning to hit up the governments of Denmark and France, too?”

Claus replied, “First of all, let me say that I object to the use of the term ‘bailout.’ In fact, all we’re asking for is a loan so we can retool our operations to compete with foreign manufacturers. Secondly, our costs are high because of regulations imposed by this Congress.

“And finally, it was you Americans who started this whole Santa Claus cult with your ‘Night Before Christmas’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Before that, I could get by with a few oranges and some candy canes. Now I have to run a full-tilt, 24-7 sweatshop. And everything’s supposed to be free? What kind of business plan is that?”

The hearing had adjourned amid chaos and without a vote when news broke that ABC News had reported that Santa Claus had traveled to Washington by private aircraft.

“I’m outraged,” Chairman Frank said. “How can you ask the suffering taxpayers to bail you out the to tune of $25 billion when you’re flying down here on a private plane?”

“I wish,” Claus replied. “It’s the same raggedy sleigh and eight flying reindeer I’ve been using for centuries. In fact, if you guys ever come up with some bucks, I’m buying a used Gulfstream-IV from a guy in Detroit.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

From New York Times: It Still Felt Good the Morning After

So many ways and words to describe the Obama victory almost two weeks after. Personally, am still at a loss of words to describe what this means for America. I promise I ll get to it soon. For now, here is one of the best reflective pieces I have come across since. Its from NYT fav Frank Rich.

November 9, 2008
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
It Still Felt Good the Morning After

ON the morning after a black man won the White House, America’s tears of catharsis gave way to unadulterated joy.

Our nation was still in the same ditch it had been the day before, but the atmosphere was giddy. We felt good not only because we had breached a racial barrier as old as the Republic. Dawn also brought the realization that we were at last emerging from an abusive relationship with our country’s 21st-century leaders. The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.

For eight years, we’ve been told by those in power that we are small, bigoted and stupid — easily divided and easily frightened. This was the toxic catechism of Bush-Rove politics. It was the soiled banner picked up by the sad McCain campaign, and it was often abetted by an amen corner in the dominant news media. We heard this slander of America so often that we all started to believe it, liberals most certainly included. If I had a dollar for every Democrat who told me there was no way that Americans would ever turn against the war in Iraq or definitively reject Bush governance or elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama president, I could almost start to recoup my 401(k). Few wanted to take yes for an answer.

So let’s be blunt. Almost every assumption about America that was taken as a given by our political culture on Tuesday morning was proved wrong by Tuesday night.

The most conspicuous clichés to fall, of course, were the twin suppositions that a decisive number of white Americans wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate — and that they were lying to pollsters about their rampant racism. But the polls were accurate. There was no “Bradley effect.” A higher percentage of white men voted for Obama than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton included.

Obama also won all four of those hunting-and-Hillary-loving Rust Belt states that became 2008’s obsession among slumming upper-middle-class white journalists: Pennsylvania and Michigan by double digits, as well as Ohio and even Indiana, which has gone Democratic only once (1964) since 1936. The solid Republican South, led by Virginia and North Carolina, started to turn blue as well. While there are still bigots in America, they are in unambiguous retreat.

And what about all those terrified Jews who reportedly abandoned their progressive heritage to buy into the smears libeling Obama as an Israel-hating terrorist? Obama drew a larger percentage of Jews nationally (78) than Kerry had (74) and — mazel tov, Sarah Silverman! — won Florida.

Let’s defend Hispanic-Americans, too, while we’re at it. In one of the more notorious observations of the campaign year, a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, told The New Yorker in January that “the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” Let us say very carefully that a black presidential candidate won Latinos — the fastest-growing demographic in the electorate — 67 percent to 31 (up from Kerry’s 53-to-44 edge and Gore’s 62-to-35).

Young voters also triumphed over the condescension of the experts. “Are they going to show up?” Cokie Roberts of ABC News asked in February. “Probably not. They never have before. By the time November comes, they’ll be tired.” In fact they turned up in larger numbers than in 2004, and their disproportionate Democratic margin made a serious difference, as did their hard work on the ground. They’re not the ones who need Geritol.

The same commentators who dismissed every conceivable American demographic as racist, lazy or both got Sarah Palin wrong too. When she made her debut in St. Paul, the punditocracy was nearly uniform in declaring her selection a brilliant coup. There hadn’t been so much instant over-the-top praise by the press for a cynical political stunt since President Bush “landed” a jet on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in that short-lived triumph “Mission Accomplished.”

The rave reviews for Palin were completely disingenuous. Anyone paying attention (with the possible exception of John McCain) could see she was woefully ill-equipped to serve half-a-heartbeat away from the presidency. The conservatives Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy said so on MSNBC when they didn’t know their mikes were on. But, hey, she was a dazzling TV presence, the thinking went, so surely doltish Americans would rally around her anyway. “She killed!” cheered Noonan about the vice-presidential debate, revising her opinion upward and marveling at Palin’s gift for talking “over the heads of the media straight to the people.” Many talking heads thought she tied or beat Joe Biden.

The people, however, were reaching a less charitable conclusion and were well ahead of the Beltway curve in fleeing Palin. Only after polls confirmed that she was costing McCain votes did conventional wisdom in Washington finally change, demoting her from Republican savior to scapegoat overnight.

But Palin’s appeal wasn’t overestimated only because of her kitschy “American Idol” star quality. Her fierce embrace of the old Karl Rove wedge politics, the divisive pitting of the “real America” against the secular “other” America, was also regarded as a sure-fire winner. The second most persistent assumption by both pundits and the McCain campaign this year — after the likely triumph of racism — was that the culture war battlegrounds from 2000 and 2004 would remain intact.

This is true in exactly one instance: gay civil rights. Though Rove’s promised “permanent Republican majority” lies in humiliating ruins, his and Bush’s one secure legacy will be their demagogic exploitation of homophobia. The success of the four state initiatives banning either same-sex marriage or same-sex adoptions was the sole retro trend on Tuesday. And Obama, who largely soft-pedaled the issue this year, was little help. In California, where other races split more or less evenly on a same-sex marriage ban, some 70 percent of black voters contributed to its narrow victory.

That lagging indicator aside, nearly every other result on Tuesday suggests that while the right wants to keep fighting the old boomer culture wars, no one else does. Three state initiatives restricting abortion failed. Bill Ayers proved a lame villain, scaring no one. Americans do not want to revisit Vietnam (including in Iraq). For all the attention paid by the news media and McCain-Palin to rancorous remembrances of things past, I sometimes wondered whether most Americans thought the Weather Underground was a reunion band and the Hanoi Hilton a chain hotel. Socialism, the evil empire and even Ronald Reagan may be half-forgotten blurs too.

If there were any doubts the 1960s are over, they were put to rest Tuesday night when our new first family won the hearts of the world as it emerged on that vast blue stage to join the celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. The bloody skirmishes that took place on that same spot during the Democratic convention 40 years ago — young vs. old, students vs. cops, white vs. black — seemed as remote as the moon. This is another America — hardly a perfect or prejudice-free America, but a union that can change and does, aspiring to perfection even if it can never achieve it.

Still, change may come slowly to the undying myths bequeathed to us by the Bush decade. “Don’t think for a minute that power concedes,” Obama is fond of saying. Neither does groupthink. We now keep hearing, for instance, that America is “a center-right nation” — apparently because the percentages of Americans who call themselves conservative (34), moderate (44) and liberal (22) remain virtually unchanged from four years ago. But if we’ve learned anything this year, surely it’s that labels are overrated. Those same polls find that more and more self-described conservatives no longer consider themselves Republicans. Americans now say they favor government doing more (51 percent), not less (43) — an 11-point swing since 2004 — and they still overwhelmingly reject the Iraq war. That’s a centrist country tilting center-left, and that’s the majority who voted for Obama.

The post-Bush-Rove Republican Party is in the minority because it has driven away women, the young, suburbanites, black Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, educated Americans, gay Americans and, increasingly, working-class Americans. Who’s left? The only states where the G.O.P. increased its percentage of the presidential vote relative to the Democrats were West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. Even the North Carolina county where Palin expressed her delight at being in the “real America” went for Obama by more than 18 percentage points.

The actual real America is everywhere. It is the America that has been in shell shock since the aftermath of 9/11, when our government wielded a brutal attack by terrorists as a club to ratchet up our fears, betray our deepest constitutional values and turn Americans against one another in the name of “patriotism.” What we started to remember the morning after Election Day was what we had forgotten over the past eight years, as our abusive relationship with the Bush administration and its press enablers dragged on: That’s not who we are.

So even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said in February, and indeed millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From Washington Post: A GOP Bridge to Nowhere

A GOP Bridge to Nowhere
By Eugene Robinson
Washington Post
Tuesday, November 11, 2008; A19

I could make the argument that all is not lost for the Republican Party -- that last Tuesday's across-the-board defeat wasn't an unmitigated disaster. But it would be a pretty dumb argument, and I doubt many readers would take it seriously. The truth is that the Grand Old Party is on a Bridge to Nowhere and may have great difficulty changing course.

The essential problem is that changing course will require turning around and marching, if not sprinting, in the opposite direction. At least initially, this doesn't look like something enough Republicans are willing to do. Continue reading

Sunday, November 9, 2008

From Newsweek - Memo to the President-elect: The World That Awaits

The World That Awaits
Richard N. Haass
From the magazine issue dated Nov 3, 2008


TO: The president-elect
RE: Foreign policy
FROM: Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations

There are only two and a half months—76 days, to be precise— between Election Day and your Inauguration, and you will need every one of them to get ready for the world you will inherit. This is not the world you've been discussing on the trail for the last year or more: campaigning and governing could hardly be more different. The former is necessarily done in bold strokes and, to be honest, often approaches caricature. All candidates resist specifying priorities or trade-offs lest they forfeit precious support. You won, but at a price, as some of the things you said were better left unsaid. Even more important, the campaign did not prepare the public for the hard times to come.

There will be days when you will wonder why you worked so hard to get this job. What will make it so difficult is not just all that awaits, but the constraints that will limit what you can actually do. When George W. Bush became president nearly eight years ago the world was largely at peace, the U.S. military was largely at rest, oil was $23 a barrel, the economy was growing at more than 3 percent, $1 was worth 116 yen, the national debt was just under $6 trillion and the federal government was running a sizable budgetary surplus. The September 11 attacks, for all they cost us as a nation, increased the world's willingness to cooperate with us. You, by contrast, will inherit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tired and stretched armed forces, a global struggle with terrorism, oil that has ranged as high as $150 a barrel, a weaker dollar (now worth 95 yen), substantial anti-American sentiment, a federal budget deficit that could reach $1 trillion in your first year, a ballooning national debt of some $10 trillion and a global economic slowdown that will increase instability in numerous countries.

You will take office two decades after the end of the cold war. What some dubbed the unipolar moment is history. Economic, political and military power is held by many hands, not all of which belong to states, not all of which are benign. This does not mean the United States is weak. To the contrary, this country is still the single most powerful entity in the world. But the United States cannot dominate, much less dictate, and expect that others will follow. There are limits to U.S. resources; at the same time the country has serious vulnerabilities. Enron, Abu Ghraib, Katrina and the financial crisis have taken their toll: America's ability to tell others what to do, or to persuade them through example, is much diminished.

Against this backdrop, you will face specific challenges. Many are to be found in the greater Middle East, the part of the world where every president beginning with Jimmy Carter has stubbed his toe. Consider Iraq, the issue that most dominated the foreign policy of Bush. There will be ample time for historians to sort out the wisdom (or lack thereof) of embarking on this costly war of choice. The priorities now are to gradually reduce U.S. force presence, back the integration of Iraq's Sunni minority into national institutions, persuade Arab states to help the government and resume a dialogue with Iran on Iraq's future. The good news is that many of the arrows in Iraq are finally pointing in the right direction and it will not dominate your presidency. The bad news is that you know you are in for a rough ride when Iraq is the good news.

The arrows are pointing in the opposite direction in Afghanistan. The Taliban is gaining ground; security is deteriorating; drugs and corruption are rampant. More U.S. and NATO troops are needed, but any increase will need to be temporary, given rising Afghan nationalism. The chief priority should be training Afghanistan's Army and police. Regular talks are needed with those with a stake in the country's future, including Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and NATO. The government should be encouraged to meet with Taliban leaders willing to accept a ceasefire. Counterdrug efforts, while essential, should be targeted and low-key, lest an alienated populace grow more so.

It may be better to view Afghanistan and Pakistan as one problem, since Pakistan provides sanctuary for the Taliban. Pakistan's government appears unable or unwilling to control its own territory. The country's return to democracy is at best incomplete and fragile; its economy has slowed. The world's second-most-populous Muslim nation—home to 170 million people, several dozen nuclear weapons and many of the world's terrorists, including Al Qaeda—is failing. Promised assistance should continue to flow; additional economic and military aid should be provided to bolster the government, but only if Islamabad accepts conditions on its use. Military incursions targeting terrorists need to be limited to those instances where there is a high likelihood of accomplishing something truly substantial.

Iran constitutes another challenge where the campaign generated more heat than light. If Tehran continues its current progress in enriching uranium, early on in your presidency you will be presented with the choice of attacking Iran (or greenlighting an Israeli attack) or living with a nuclear Iran. Yogi Berra said that when you approach a fork in the road, take it. I respectfully disagree. Neither option is attractive. A military strike may buy some time, but it won't solve the problem. It will, however, lead to Iranian retaliation against U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, and much higher oil prices—the last thing the world needs, given the financial crisis. An Iran with nuclear weapons or the capacity to produce them quickly would place the Middle East on a hair trigger and lead several Arab states to embark on nuclear programs of their own.

I would suggest that we work with the Europeans, Russia and China to cobble together a new diplomatic package to present to the Iranians. Ideally, Iran would be persuaded to give up its independent enrichment capability or, if it refused, to consider accepting clear limits on enrichment and intrusive inspections so that the threat is clearly bounded. We should be prepared to have face-to-face talks with the Iranians, without preconditions. In general, it is wiser to see negotiations not as a reward but as a tool of national security.

It will be important, too, to ratchet up diplomacy vis-à-vis the Israelis and Palestinians. The current impasse threatens Israel's future as a secure, democratic, prosperous and Jewish state. It breeds radicalism among Palestinians and throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, and is a major source of anti-Americanism. What is more, time is working against us: physical and political developments will only make it harder to achieve a two-state solution.

We cannot solve this problem quickly—those Palestinians who are willing to compromise for peace are too weak, and those who are strong are not willing to compromise—but we can bolster Palestinian moderates who, over time, could be partners for Israel. Sooner rather than later you should be prepared to articulate your vision of a fair and stable peace, press Israel to stop settlement activity and push Arab governments and the European Union to do more to raise Palestinian living standards. Hamas should be told that abiding by a ceasefire is a must if it is to participate in any Palestinian election or diplomatic effort.

A New Strategic Framework
Other challenges are equally urgent: contending with a nuclear North Korea; working to moderate a resentful and resurgent Russia; brokering peace between Israel and Syria; and taking steps to stabilize those African countries beset by civil strife. But at the same time, it's important not to lose sight of the fundamentals. Unlike most previous eras, in which the dominant threat was posed by a great-power rival, ours is the era of globalization, in which flows of just about anything—from people, dollars and drugs to arms, greenhouse gases and viruses—move across borders in great volume and with great velocity. Many of these flows represent real threats. The problem is that global arrangements have not kept pace.

The economic institutions created in the wake of World War II (the IMF in particular) require updating. We similarly lack machinery for dealing with climate change, energy security, the spread of nuclear materials, disease and the threat of terrorism. Dean Acheson, Harry Truman's secretary of state, immodestly but accurately titled his memoir "Present at the Creation." Your goal should be no less ambitious: to design and implement a foreign policy that closes the gap between this era's major challenges and the international architecture and rules meant to manage them.

America cannot do this by itself; the challenges of this era have no single national origin and no national solution. Multilateralism is the only realistic way ahead. The operative term is "integration." We need to bring other major powers into the design and operation of the world—before the century is overwhelmed by the forces globalization has unleashed. This will require sustained consultations followed by sustained negotiations. (This poses no problem, as our diplomats are much less stretched than our soldiers.) It will also require American leadership. There is a real opportunity to make progress: many of today's powers understand that they will either cooperate with one another or pay a steep price.

People Matter
There will be time to do detailed interagency reviews of policies toward these and other challenges. Let me make a few general recommendations. First, people matter. Very little about history is inevitable. You have talked about a bipartisan administration, and should make this happen. The next four years promise to be difficult, and you do not want to try to lead the country with narrow majorities.

One of these people deserves special mention. The vice president should be your counselor, a minister without portfolio, and not a cabinet secretary with a specific set of responsibilities. You need someone with an administration-wide perspective who can tell you what you need to hear, even if it isn't always what you want to hear. The one person around you (other than your spouse) you cannot fire is best placed to do this. That said, you should reduce the size and role of the VP's staff. The interagency process is sufficiently sclerotic without adding yet another national-security bureaucracy to the mix.

Avoid big reorganizations. The last two—Homeland Security and the intelligence community—have been less than total successes. Your inbox is sufficiently daunting without the added strain of reorganization; it is rarely a good idea to remodel the operating room when the patient is on the table. The one exception may be energy policy, which has never received the attention it merits. Energy policy is national-security policy.

Facing Up to Facts
Speaking of energy, the current situation is untenable. We are channeling vast numbers of dollars to some of the world's most unsavory governments, strengthening them while leaving ourselves vulnerable to supply interruptions and price fluctuations.

Prices have come down recently as demand has dropped off, but recession cannot become our energy policy. Substantial research demonstrates that we can reduce consumption without slowing economic growth. Your campaign didn't talk much about conservation or efficiency, but the greatest potential for making a difference over the next four years is just this. I am talking not about carbon taxes but rather the setting of energy standards for what this country produces and does. We can offer tax breaks and subsidies as long as they are linked to greater efficiency and "greenness." We should devote resources to the development of alternatives, although resources will be in short supply and developing alternatives will take time.

Trade is also worth talking about now, even though it was hardly mentioned after the Ohio primary. By the time you take office it will have been 19 months since the president enjoyed trade promotion authority, which gives him the ability to negotiate complex multilateral trade agreements by limiting Congress to a straight up-or-down vote. Several bilateral free-trade agreements are languishing at considerable cost to our economy and to our relationship with friends such as Colombia.

It will be important to resurrect your ability to negotiate and conclude trade pacts. A new global trade agreement offers the best noninflationary, anti-recession tool for the American and global economies. Estimates are that a new global agreement could add as much as 1 percent growth each year to the U.S. and world economies. Trade brings an added benefit: it is an engine of development for poor countries. Access to the American market can provide jobs and wealth. This will be especially important given that we are unlikely to have as much money for foreign aid.

I'd like to think the arguments in favor of open trade would carry the day, because on the merits they do. The most successful sector of our economy right now consists of firms that export. Imports give consumers choice and keep inflation low. Job losses tend to be tied to technological change, not imports or offshoring. But I've learned that facts are only part of the story in politics. The only way you are likely to win a debate on trade is if you do more to cushion individual workers from the vagaries of modern global life. This means tax-deferred retraining and education accounts, and a health-care option not linked to jobs. So if you are going to press for health care, I suggest you link it to trade.

Trade is not the only area where America needs to make sure we stay open for business. We must encourage others to continue to recycle their dollars here—in part by buying and investing in American companies. We require $2 billion a day just to stay afloat. Blocking legitimate investments can also trigger crises in important bilateral relationships. Such protectionism must be resisted at all costs.

You ran hard against Bush in this campaign, and understandably so, given his historically low approval ratings. But you should be wary of distancing yourself too far from his administration. This is especially important because Bush already distanced himself from himself in his second term. Remarkably, he leaves behind a good deal you can build on: programs to combat HIV/AIDS around the world, diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, a strategic breakthrough with India, important consultative arrangements with China and a good relationship with Brazil, increasingly the anchor of a centrist bloc of South American countries.

One area, however, where you would be wise to put some distance between yourself and "43" involves democracy. America does not have the ability to transform the world. Nor do we have the luxury. We need to focus more on what countries do than on what they are. This is not an argument for ignoring human rights or setting aside our interest in promoting democracy. But we should go slow and focus on building its prerequisites—the checks and balances of civil society and constitutionalism—and not rush elections or impose political change through force. Bush was right when he called for a humble foreign policy. You should practice what he preached.

Let me close where I began. This is a sobering moment in American history. You begin with a good deal of popular support, but mandates must be replenished. I suggest you think of the Oval Office as a classroom, and explain to the American people what we need to accomplish and what it will require. Some 21st-century version of the fireside chat is called for. My reading of things is that the American people are ready to be leveled with. Once the campaign is over, let the leveling begin.


Friday, November 7, 2008

From YouTube: Even Barney Is Depressed By The Bush Years!

I guess dogs are really like people. Even Barney can't take 8 years of being in the white house anymore, the stress is too much, he is lashing out at those darn elite liberal media! Last time I heard, Barney was discussing plans to sneak out to Mexico with that Beverly Hills Chihuahua!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking Back At The Elections: The Best of Saturday Night Live!

SNL in recent years hasnt lived up to its fame of the past. In fact some Saturday nights, you could get more laughs out of FOX's MAD TV than SNL, but it redeemed itself this year with the election satire starting with Obama and Clinton in the Democratic primaries. I think it is safe to say this has been one of the best seasons of Saturday Night Live. Some would argue that most of the jokes were at the expense of McCain and Palin, but that was only because they gave the cast so much to work with. On a side note, I wonder if comedians will have that much to work with in an Obama adminstration? The guy doesn't give you mcuh to poke fun at. Anyways, here are the top skits from SNL political season. Enjoy!

1. President Bush Endorses McCain
Probably one of the best skits, basically captures the difficulty John McCain had in shaking off the Bush legacy. From the poll results, it seems a lot of voters were thinking of George Bush at the polls when they voted against McCain

2. Amy Poehler Rap (Shoot a Moose!)
Just plain funniest skit ever, especially the part when the moose gets shot!

3. Crazy McCain Lady
This will live to be one of the season's classic!

4. Sarah Palin/Hillary Clinton Open
This is the skit that introduced Sarah Palin, sorry I mean Tina Fey to the world!

5. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin (Fey) address the Nation on QVC
A preview to the tension between McCain and Palin that would spill over even before the election was over.

6. Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin go head to head in the VP Debate
Queen Latifa nailed an impressive Gwen Ifil impersonation. If you watched the debate, you ll love this spoof!

7. Sen. McCain approves truth-enhanced negative campaign messages
SNL's sharp eyes let nothing pass them this election season, I respect John McCain but some of his ads left me wondering how he could have approved them with a straight face.

8. Gov. Palin and Katie Couric get real and adorable
This is the interview that did in Gov. Sarah Palin, still don't know why the campaign let her do this without adequate preparation. On this one, am not sure which one is funnier, the real interview or this spoof? We might never know. we might never know! "Katie, I'd like to use a life line!"

9. Obama and McCain debate the issues; Featuring Bill Murray and Chris Parnell
Why did McCain keep walking around the stage?!

10. Democratic debate: Obama and Hillary face off in Austin, TX
The press and Obama girl are totally in the tank for Obama. "Senator Clinton, if you ever interrupt Obama girl again, I will personally escort you from this building, do I make my self clear?!

For more videos from the season, visit the Saturday Night Live page at