Saturday, December 6, 2008

MTP: Shinseki, your Secretary of Veterans Affairs

From the Meet The Press interview taped today, but for broadcast tomorrow...

Wrong again...

I'm wrong again. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last...

I said I thought Max Cleland would be Secretary of Veterans Affairs...

According to the Politico, it looks like it's going to be Eric Shinseki.

Now, I kinda like this because of Shinseki's past with the Bush Administration.  I also like that we've got an Asian on the Cabinet.

According to Wikipedia, Shinseki was the first Asian American in U.S. history to be a four-star general, and the first to lead one of the five U.S. military services.

On February 25, 2003, four months before the end of his term as Chief of Staff of the Army, Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought an occupying force of several hundred thousand men would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq. He was pressed to provide a range by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Below is an excerpt from the exchange:

SEN. LEVIN: General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?

GEN. SHINSEKI: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commanders' exact requirements. But I think --

SEN. LEVIN: How about a range?

GEN. SHINSEKI: I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence.

In a public rebuke to Shinseki, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, called Shinseki's estimate "far off the mark" and "wildly off the mark". Wolfowitz said it would be "hard to believe" more troops would be required for post-war Iraq than to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

In my memory, this exchange got him fired.  Wikipedia disagrees.

But back to my original post, Tammy Duckworth, my own early favorite isn't going to be there.  Is she going to be Senator Duckworth??

CNN: Obama to name Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sunday...

On Pearl Harbor Day, of course.

Now, here's the trick. How does this selection play into Obama's eventual replacement in the Senate?

Well, if Tammy Duckworth (current head of Veterans Affairs for Illinois) isn't given Secretary of Veteran Affairs, I'm betting she's about to become Senator Duckworth. In that case, look for Max Cleland, former Senator from Georgia to get the gig.

Fireside Chat for December 6, 2008: "Action, and action now..."

What'd I say?

Any Economic speech Obama makes for the next three to four years is going to contain the words "Action" as surely as he draws a breath.

So what does the President-Elect say in this Fireside Chat?  He says it flat out.  "Action, and action now..."

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.
Franklin Roosevelt
March 4, 1932

Friday, December 5, 2008

Now we can talk "Team of Rivals"

According to a new story on the Politico, we're already seeing some of Obama's Foreign Policy advisers squaring off over Middle East Policy.

Like with all things, yes and no.

Even according to the Politico story, this is more about what these people have written and/or said in the the past, rather than anything the President-Elect has said in the present:

Top policy jobs haven’t been filled — the org chart, insiders say, hasn’t even been drawn — but Middle East politics watchers, and Obama backers concerned with Israel, are carefully eyeing the interplay between two of his most important advisers on the Middle East.

One is Dennis Ross, a stalwart of the Clinton administration’s peace negotiations who is seen as favoring a tough approach to Iran. The other is Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel who in his 2008 book quoted Arab and U.S. officials saying Ross was perceived as “tilted” toward the Israeli side, and that he "listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it toward the Arabs."

The choice of who shapes his policy toward Israel and the Palestinians, said a top Obama backer, will be a “bellwether” for the administration’s Middle East policy — for how much to require of Palestinian leaders before they can strike a permanent deal, and for how hard to push Israel for concessions in the interest of peace.

It'll be a bellwether or...not. Didn't I remember the Boss saying something about how the change will come from him? That he shapes the policy?

But nevermind that, there's good muck to be rakin'!!!

The interest is particularly intense because despite his general pro-Israel views, the details of Obama’s approach remain unclear: During the campaign, he riled the right by suggesting that to be pro-Israel isn’t to be pro-Likud, but he has also offered tough talk on Israeli security, disappointing Palestinian activists who saw him as an ally during his state Senate days in Illinois.

Obama's approach remains...unclear???

Hmmm. Let's see...

Let's go to the Transition Website.

The opening paragraph of the Foreign Policy page says:

The Obama-Biden Plan

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will renew America’s security and standing in the world through a new era of American leadership. The Obama-Biden foreign policy will end the war in Iraq responsibly, finish the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, secure nuclear weapons and loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and renew American diplomacy to support strong alliances and to seek a lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Like with most things Obama, we get a sense of the general direction, but clearly the hand hasn't been played yet.

You scroll down to the Israel section, and you see:

Ensure a Strong U.S.-Israel Partnership: Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, and believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the region. They support this closeness, and have stated that the United States will never distance itself from Israel.

Support Israel's Right to Self Defense: During the July 2006 Lebanon war, Barack Obama stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks, cosponsoring a Senate resolution against Iran and Syria's involvement in the war, and insisting that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles. He and Joe Biden believe strongly in Israel's right to protect its citizens.

Support Foreign Assistance to Israel: Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported foreign assistance to Israel. They defend and support the annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met. They have called for continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.

Okay, seems pretty Pro-Israel to me. But again, not a total surprise, given what he said on the campaign trail. You remember, where Barack Hussein Obama was constantly attacked for being the secret Muslim with the fiery Black Christian Preacher??

I hope the President-Elect's Palestinian friends recognize the fact that things have changed in that Hamas now kinda runs the show in Palestine (at least holding a majority of seats in their legislature). Whatever reservations I have about how Israel handles peace in the Mideast, these suckers are terrorists.

Does the Transition Website say anything about the Palestinians?

Earlier on, in the Renewing American Diplomacy section:

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one. They will make a sustained push -- working with Israelis and Palestinians -- to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

Truly, less specific...but in truth this is the exact same thing that was on the Campaign Website.

But there was a fact page on the Campaign website, you should read to get a fuller picture.

Ensure a Strong U.S.-Israel Partnership: Barack Obama and Joe Biden strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, a bond that is mutually beneficial to each country as we share common values, histories, and a dedication to democracy. They believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security oflsrael, America's strongest ally in the Middle East. Expressing his support for this reality, Obama delivered the message in 2006 to Palestinian university students in Ramallah that the United States would never distance itself from Israel. Senator Obama opposed Hamas' participation in the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections, and he continues to insist that Hamas recognize Israel, abandon violence, and abide by previous agreements made between the Palestinian Authority and Israel before the United States could recognize it as a legitimate actor.

Support Israel's Right to Self Defense: During the July 2006 Lebanon war, Barack Obama and Joe Biden stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself from Hezbollah raids and rocket attacks. Obama is an original cosponsor of the Senate resolution expressing support for Israel, condemning the attacks, and calling for strong action against Iran and Syria. Throughout the war, Barack Obama made clear that Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles. Senator Obama remains concerned about the rapid re-arming ofHezbollah in Lebanon since the ceasefire. In addition, Obama signed a letter to the European Union pressing the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Long before the July 2006 conflict, Barack Obama worked to limit Hezbollah's influence in the region, signing a letter urging President Bush to place al-Manar, the official television station of Hezbollah, on the Treasury Department's Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity list and to aggressively target organizations that aid in its broadcast.

Work towards Ending Hamas Rocket Attacks: In his visit to Israel on July 23, 2008, Barack Obama visited the Israeli town of Sderot and stood in solidarity with its residents, who have endured an endless onslaught of Hamas' Qassam rockets. On that day, he declared: "The state of Israel faces determined enemies who seek its destruction. But it also has a friend and ally in the United States that will always stand by the people of lsrael. That's why I'm proud to be here today and that's why I will work from the moment that I return to America, to tell the story of Sderot and to make sure that the good people who live here are enjoying a future of peace and security and hope." [Press Conference, 7/23/08] In January, 2008, Senator Obama sent a letter to our United Nations Representative urging that any resolution concerning the situation in Gaza should "clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel, and should make clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against such actions." [Letter to Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, 1/22/08]

Work towards Two States Living Side by Side in Peace and Security: Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe in working towards a two-state solution, with both states living side by side in peace and security. To that end, Senators Obama and Biden are cosponsors of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of2006. Introduced in the wake of Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections, this act outlaws direct assistance to any entity of the Palestinian Authority controlled by Hamas until it meets the conditions of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and agree to abide by all agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. Obama signed a letter urging President Bush to make it clear to Palestinian leaders that terrorist groups must either disarm or be barred from the political process. Since the elections, Obama has stated that Israelis must have a true Palestinian partner for peace. He will encourage the strengthening of the Palestinian moderates who seek peace and work to isolate Hamas and other extremists who are committed to Israel's destruction.

Now, lemme ask a straight question. Since so many have been making so much over the deletion of certain ideas from the Campaign Website to the Transition Website, can we assume that these paragraphs removal means some kind of softening stance toward the Palestinians?

No. My guess is that Obama isn't about to grant legitmacy to Hamas (Bush's second largest Foreign Policy blunder). He's going to keep his options open. He's going to have Hillary or somebody at state sit down and meet with the Palestinian leadership, gauge who they're dealing with and make his decisions going forward.

HuffPo: More Obama Transparency...

Sam Stein:

Barack Obama will publicize the names and agenda items of the groups that are meeting with its transition team, the campaign announced on Friday. Moreover, the public will be allowed to review and discuss the information on Obama's website,

It's just the Transition process, but hopefully this'll translate into a similar process in the White House.And, it'll make it difficult for future Presidents to explain why they don't share similar information.

Slate: A summary of the summary...

Fred Kaplan is at it again, writing in fond praise of Robert Gates.

Since I'm a fan of Kaplan's, I'm going to follow him on this limb, hold my nose and support Gates (never trust a Republican, Momma always said) According to the article, Gates has written a piece about his goals in Foreign Affairs Magazine:


It is unusual for an incoming Cabinet officer to spell out a precise agenda or to define the standards by which his performance should be judged before the president has even been sworn in. But that's exactly what now-and-future Defense Secretary Robert Gates has just done with an article in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.

Gates probably didn't set out to do that when he wrote the article, which was based on a speech he delivered at the National Defense University in September, before the election had taken place.

Okay, so since the Kaplan article is in itself a summarization of the Foreign Affairs Article, what follows now is a summarization of the Fred Kaplan article.

Here are Gates' bullet points:

  • Cancel or sharply cut the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter planes.
  • Cut some of the Navy's budget.
  • Get the Air Force into other missions besides air-to-air combat.
  • Start an Army and Marine advisory corps to train soldiers to assist foreign armies.
  • Get Congress to suspend the peacetime promotion system.

I can live with most of this, if only cautiously. The primary Military principle I learned from reading the late great Colonel David Hackworth is that the Army is the men, and the Army never pays nearly enough attention to the men in the form of developing better uniforms, a better assault rifle, a better ALICE pack. (That last bit was courtesy of a little book he wrote called Hazardous Duty).

The technology junkie is always looking for the next new thing, so I'm usually wary about cutting fancy new toys, but I've been hearing similar arguments about the F-22 for a long while. Some fighters hang around too long (the F-15 and F-16 maybe), so are too old but no good replacement is on the horizon (Navy F-14), some have lost their immediate mission (anything Stealth), but Military needs are never stuck in time. They're always shifting, always evolving. One minute we may not need a Joint Strike Aircraft, the next minute a new threat arises and there we are.

Personally, I've been wary of cutting the Navy budget, since they're usually the first responders as it where to Military conflict. It is their ships our Troops travel on, and their Cruise Missiles and Carrier Aircraft opening up each and every war.

And I am a little wary of training soldiers to assist foreign armies, only in that I don't want what training we give a foreign Army to come back and haunt us (see: Middle East, years 1948 to Present).

Black man good enough for the White House, but not Network TV

From IMDB's News Page:

As an African American prepares for his inauguration as president of the United States, the Los Angeles Times observes today (Wednesday) that no American broadcast network is airing a single show featuring a person of color in a central role. (An arguable exception is the role of Dennis Haysbert in CBS's The Unit.) Responding to requests by the Times for interviews, each of the major networks declined and instead submitted statements detailing their commitment to diversity. (CBS did not respond.) Felicia D. Henderson, creator of the Showtime classic Soul Food, told the newspaper, "I've pitched these projects with main black characters and have been told, 'We just can't see that,' or, 'No one will watch that,'"

HuffPo: More (never counted) ballots found in Minnesota...

From Sam Stein:

Days after it was reported that 133 ballots were missing in the Minneapolis portion of the Minnesota Senate recount, local officials in the city said they had discovered found a misplaced stack of ballots. Democratic sources in the state, meanwhile, say that this group of votes were not counted on the day of the election, meaning they will have a larger affect on the outcome of the recount.

The findings are being cheered by Al Franken's campaign not merely because they come from a deeply Democratic area of the city and promise to bolster the vote total of the Democratic challenger. But over the past few weeks, the Franken team has been arguing that the recount process -- with the election potentially decided by only dozens of votes -- must be more comprehensive and thorough.

This follows on the whole "votes" are better thing...

Think Progress: U.S. Attorney refuses to quit...

According to Think Progress, Mary Beth Buchanan, U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh is refusing to vacate her post.

“It doesn’t serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations all at one time,” she said yesterday.

More than that, she said she would consider working in the Obama administration. She would not discuss what her future might hold beyond the U.S. attorney’s office.

“I am open to considering further service to the United States,” Ms. Buchanan said.

I got an idea. On January 20th, 2008, Fire her.

UPDATE (10:58am Pacific) Let me also emphasize that I don't think this woman would have the temerity to do this if Barack Obama were white.

The Daily Show: The Best explanation of the Auto Industry Bailout...

As only Jon Stewart can give it...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prop 8, The Muscial!

Because it can't be watched enough!

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

AP: Barney Frank says Obama needs to be more assertive...

Because Nero (Bush 43) is fiddling while Rome burns (checking out in the middle of the greatest Financial crisis since 1929), Rep. Barney Frank has called on the President Elect to get in the game more:

"He's going to have to be more assertive than he's been," House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told consumer advocates Thursday.

Frank, who has been dealing with both the bailout of the financial industry and a proposed rescue of Detroit automakers, said Obama needs to play a more significant role on economic issues.

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," Frank said. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."

First of all, that's a frickin' funny line.

And I'm going to agree with Barney Frank...but at the same time disagree.

Yes, President Bush has already checked-out of Washington, but the problem is...Obama legally can't do a thing until 12:00pm, January 20th.

And by your argument, Congressman, you want the President-Elect to be responsible (i.e. take the blame) for all what happens, without any of the power that goes along with it.

This is the same situation Roosevelt faced in 1932 when he was coming into Office and Hoover tried to drag Roosevelt into the myriad of bad ideas he had for the recovery.

FDR rightly figured that Hoover had the power to close the banks without his cooperation, but not the guts. If the economy slipped lower still, allowing him to enter stage left as the hero, that was fine with Roosevelt. He'd make the tough decisions when he got to office. Today's Detroit crisis poses a similar challenge to Obama. Should he step in now, or pick through the wreckage of the auto industry after he takes the oath? If he follows the Roosevelt example, he'll choose the latter, more confident course.

Roosevelt's first Inaugural in 1933 is remembered for the line "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This was actually a bit of inspired nonsense; if you're worried about putting food on the table, that's a fear of something more than fear itself. Instead, FDR's more important line was "action and action now." He used the word "act" or "action" six times in the speech.

It's not a coincidence that in his interview with "60 Minutes," Obama also stressed the importance of immediate action. And he made reference to experimenting with different policies, an echo of FDR's 1932 speech—ghosted by a reporter—in which he said: "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly"—a novel concept in the Bush era—"and try another. But above all, try something." This became the watchword of the New Deal.

Any Economic speech Obama makes for the next three to four years is going to contain the words "Action" as surely as he draws a breath. But with respect to Congressman Frank, there can't be any action until it's really on the President-Elect's shoulders...

UPDATE (9:44am Pacific): Jed has some thoughts as well...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

HuffPo: Ahh, those Armchair Leftifts

Phillip Slater (whom I'm decently sure he hasn't heard of me either) has written a new piece for Huffington Post. The highlights:

Armchair leftists seem to have a hard time distinguishing between talking and doing. They admire the political talkers but disdain the political doers of America, who are never progressive enough. Armchair leftists know for sure that their opinions are the correct ones, and like to listen endlessly to other people who profess them. They vote piously for fringe candidates who don't have a prayer of winning--ideologues who couldn't mount a viable political campaign if their lives depended on it. Fringe candidates in America have this advantage, after all: they will always remain pure, like a bug preserved in amber. They'll never get sullied by having to participate in the messy business of negotiating with the conservative unwashed. (This would change, of course, if we had proportional representation, but we don't). Fringe candidates have the further advantage that you can vote for them and feel you contributed to a progressive cause, and then go home and get back to the more comfortable business of whining about the status quo and the perfidy of politicians.

Armchair leftists don't really like democracy--don't like having to deal with people of different opinions. Much too messy and difficult. They would prefer to see their own opinions imposed on the ignorant masses by force. If only somebody would go and do it. At bottom, they're closet authoritarians. They would feel much happier with a left-wing dictator, at least for a while. Sooner or later they'd probably complain about him, too, only more quietly.

A little strong. I wouldn't say "Armchair Leftists" don't like little "D" democracy, I would say that really don't like Big "D" Democratic Party democracy. They're also just waaaay more easily frustrated at the messy results of governing. I also wouldn't say that they'd prefer having their obviously superior ideas imposed by force, but when their ideas or candidates lose, there is an air of "take my ball and go home" about them.

And this is definitely a case of the Pot calling the kettle black, because I have been waaaaay guilty of these very same behaviors.

Heck, what do you think blogs are for?

TPM: Josh does the work for me...

Congressional Quartery, for some reason, wrote a piece slamming Obama's lack of Republicans on the Cabinet so far.

Josh, in turn, ripped CQ a new one.

I guess maybe it's a slow news period and there's not much to write about. But this is about as nonsensical as it gets. In recent decades it hasn't been particularly common for presidents to have any appointees from the opposite party. And when they do it's usually like Bush appointing Norman Minetta to be Transportation Secretary, a secondary cabinet post of no real consequence to the president in question.

Obama's put not only a Republican but his predecessor's choice in charge of the Pentagon. He's also named as his National Security Advisor a retired general who appears also to be a Republican, albeit one who was advising Obama during the campaign and not a particularly ideological sort.

I don't have any problem with Obama's cabinet picks so far. But it's certainly true that Democrats with a high partisan profile haven't figured prominently among his major appointments, with the notable exception of Rahm Emanuel.

I guess the idea is that Obama could only have come through on his promise of governing in a bipartisan spirit by staffing a cabinet with half Democrats and half Republicans.

Go figure.

Next time, I see Josh, I owe him a beer...and I'm going to write him, and I'll tell him as much.

Not so fast there, Jeb...

If Nate Silver turns out to be right on the Franken Recount, he should be hired...anywhere for anything he wants. (He predicted a 27 vote victory for Franken, right now it's standing at 22.)

And Nate went on to talk about the suddenly open seat in Florida.

[Martinez] was about even-money to retain his seat. Can his potential Republican replacements do better than that?

It depends, of course, on just who those replacements are. Generally, one of the big advantages that incumbents have -- even relatively unpopular ones -- is that they have an easy time raising funds; pretty much every incumbent senator running for re-election in 2008 had at least $5 million in his pocket, with the exception of a couple in non-competitive races in small states. New candidates rarely have access to that kind of capital.

...unless, of course, they are brand names like Jeb Bush, who is reportedly contemplating a run for Martinez' seat. Bush left office in 2006 with approval ratings in the +20 range; they may have diminished slightly since then as a result of Bush Fatigue, but Floridians have little problem distinguishing Jeb from George W., even if that's less true of the rest of the country. Bush, should he choose to run, will have most of the advantages that an incumbent usually has: capital, name recognition, organization, enough stature to deter primary challengers.

That is not to suggest that Bush would have a cakewalk into the Senate. He has his own baggage, and would be a fundraising magnet for Democrats. The most expensive senate race in 2006 was Hillary Clinton's in New York, which brought in a collective total of about $40 million, and the most expensive in 2008 was Norm Coleman's in Minnesota, which brought in a collective total of $35 million. Bush vs X. might be somewhere in that territory or even higher -- perhaps as high as $50 million -- and would almost certainly set the record for an open seat race.

Nevertheless, I think Martinez probably did do the Republicans a favor if their candidate winds up being Bush -- or Charlie Crist, who like Bush could run with most of the advantages of an incumbent. If it is anyone other than those two specifically, on the other hand, the fundraising and organizational strength is a lot to give up. Moreover, the presence of an open seat may be more attractive to prospective Democratic challengers. Florida CFO Alex Sink, who was reportedly about to pull out of a prospective senate run in 2010, is now reconsidering, according to Marc Ambinder. It is hard to imagine a Robert Wexler not thinking long and hard about wanting to stick it to Bush.

The most cautious way to put it is this: Florida was one of the top two senate races in the country before Martinez' announcement, and although the parameters now look a little different, it remains one of the top two now.

Toolwatch: David Sirota and the Windfall Profits Tax...

Memo to David Sirota, Obama already has a Treasury Secretary...and it ain't you.

Too many times, this campaign season, I've watched as half-assed Liberals like Sirota act like theirs was the only agenda worth advancing, or offer the President-Elect second rate advice on what the President-Elect should do next.

This would fall into the second-rate category.

From this afternoon's Huffington Post.

Mandate Watch: Obama Backs Off Promise to Pass Windfall Profits Tax on Big Oil

If oil prices are down and oil industry profits are truly down, what's the harm in passing a windfall profits tax?

Then from the article itself:

Good news and bad news in the last day. The good news: Barack Obama has appointed a NAFTA critic, Rep. Xavier Becerra, as the next U.S. Trade Representative (more on that here). The bad news is this just off the Reuters wire:


Between this move and the move to wait to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like the Obama team is buying into the right-wing frame that raising any taxes - even those on the richest citizens and wealthiest corporations - is bad for the economy.

First off, Mr. Sirota, though Xavier Becerra is widely thought to have the inside track at Trade Rep, he has not been announced as such. (Do you remember seeing him on stage with the President-Elect today, or do all Latinos look alike to you, David?) Rep. Becerra is in Chicago talking about the job. Odds are that he gets it. I hope that he does.

But he doesn't have it yet.

Second, I'm not a big fan of sparing the Oil Companies any pain whatsoever, but let's be clear about something: the idea that we don't raise taxes in a time of Depression isn't a Right wing one, it's from Roosevelt.

This is just a little summary from Krugman. (Again, I'm going with an actual economist).

Franklin Roosevelt mistakenly heeded the advice of his own era’s deficit worriers. He sharply reduced government spending, among other things cutting the Works Progress Administration in half, and also raised taxes. The result was a severe recession, and a steep fall in private investment.

The second episode took place 60 years later, in Japan. In 1996-97 the Japanese government tried to balance its budget, cutting spending and raising taxes. And again the recession that followed led to a steep fall in private investment.

We are hardly in a Depression, but we are in a time of Depression Economics, to use Dr. Krugman's term.

I'm hardly going to call David Sirota a deficit worrier, but he's seems certainly hell-bent in trying to repeat their mistakes in the name of punishing the oil companies. The idea of Windfall Profits Tax was a wonderful threat...before Sept. 15th, when everything, and I mean everything went to crap.

But we are now in a time of Depression Economics, and in a time of Depression Economics, you do not, repeat, do not raise taxes...period.

The idea of the Economy to me, is that of a circulatory system, you want the blood flowing as freely as possible. I think Government regulation and the occasional tax helps the blood flow that way. Problem is, we're in the middle of a massive coronary, blood is collecting in all the wrong places, and we need to get it flowing again.

Sirota it seems would rather ignore the circumstances we're in, prolong the heart-attack, just to settle a score with the Oil Companies.

Now, the specific harm of a Windfall Profits Tax is a tax that will be passed on to us, the consumer, further harming the economy.

To me the idea of a Windfall Profits Tax was always more of a threat. Hey Exxon-Mobil-Shell-BP, stop impeding green technologies, allow for more regulation of the speculative oil markets, allow for better American Made MPG cars to stay at home instead of going to Europe, or else we're gonna...

The threat of a Windfall Profits Tax still exists, but the circumstances since that promise was made, have significantly changed.

Taking the time to actually read Team of Rivals past its cover...

The Media has been getting itself into a twist over Doris Kearns Goodwin's Book: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I'm happy. I'm a fan of the book, and I've been a big fan of Doris's since her appearance in Ken Burns's Baseball Miniseries. I'm glad that the attention has gotten her a couple more sales.

Now, if these same people would only read what she wrote...

...and I mean read past the cover.

Granted the book tells how a relatively unknown and untried Lawmaker from Illinois rises up and wins the Presidency against a well known, well regarded Senator from New York who was supposed to take the thing in a cakewalk. The Lawmaker from Illinois turns around and hires that rival from New York to be his Secretary of State.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

This makes for nice media soundbites, and it certainly makes it look as though you've read the book.

...but it also reveals that you haven't.

We've even had some pushback from rival historians, kinda sorta pissing on the book for missing key details and simplifying things.

"Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet," is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin's thesis, adding, "Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis."

That's true enough, but the problem is, it didn't work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the "team of rivals" approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.

True enough, but the problem is...that paragraph's not quite true either.

While it takes a Lincoln Historian to write a paragraph like that, as Matthew Pinsker did in the Los Angeles Times of November 18th, 2008; the fact that Mr. Pinsker has his own Lincoln book out on the market (and not doing as well as Team of Rivals) should be noted in the interests of accuracy.

Team of Rivals is all about the Cabinet clashes, disagreements, hirings, firings and arguments that helped Lincoln lead the Country during its darkest hour. The reason that the book carries the subtitle of "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" isn't the fact that he hired these people in the first place, it's the way he manipulated them after.

Sorry, the way he handled them after...

The Press would have you believe that Lincoln hired his rivals, the White House became an early version of the Algonquin Round Table, and together in patriotic lockstep shepherded the Country through the Civil War.

Not so. Not remotely.

The Cabinet was contentious, sniping, backbiting and certainly argumentative, but the trick of it was that's kinda the way Lincoln wanted it.

In a deviation from current Republican practice, Lincoln wanted a balance of opinion. He wanted opinions that diverged from his own. He wanted a debate over what to do, and how to do it happening in front of him. He picked people he knew would light that spark.

Of course, he made a mistake or two. Lincoln's first Secretary of War comes right to mind. He was so corrupt, he had to be shipped off to be Ambassador to Russia.

If only the current (temporary) occupant of the White House had read the book.

Even Bill Richardson dumped on the comparison a little bit during his press conference this morning. "Former competitors, yes. But Rivals suggests something harder edged."

Bill Richardson, I think, read the book.

When the President-Elect dropped that now-famous line, that the change "will come from me," I was certain he had too. In thinking about Christopher Hitchens' recent Hillary panic attack, a passage from the book immediately came to mind, from pages 363-364.

With more than enough troubles to occupy him at home, Lincoln faced a tangled situation abroad. A member of the British Parliament had introduced a resolution urging England to accord the Southern Confederacy belligerent status. If passed, the resolution would give Confederate ships the same rights in neutral ports enjoyed by Federal ships. Britain's textile economy depended on cotton furnished by Southern plantations. Unless the British broke the Union blockade to ensure a continuing supply of cotton, the great textile mills in Manchester and Leeds would be forced to cut back or come to a halt. Merchants would lose money, and thousands of workers would lose their jobs.

[Secretary of State William] Seward feared that England would back the South simply to feed its own factories. While the "younger branch of the British stock" might support freedom, he told his wife, the aristocrats, concerned more with economics than morality, would become "the ally of the traitors." To prevent this from happening, he was "trying to get a bold remonstrance through the Cabinet, before it is too late." He hoped not only to halt further thoughts of recognition of the Confederacy but to ensure that the British would respect the Union blockade and refuse, even informally, to meet with the three Southern commissioners who had been sent to London to negotiate for the Confederacy. To achieve these goals, Seward was willing to wage war. "God damn' em, I'll give' em hell," he told Sumner, thrusting his foot in the air as he spoke.

On May 21, Seward brought Lincoln a surly letter drafted for [our Ambassador to the English Court] Charles Francis Adams to read verbatim to Lord John Russell, Britain's Foreign Secretary. Lincoln recognized immediately that the tone was too abrasive for a diplomatic communication. While decisive action might be necessary to prevent Britain from any form of overt sympathy with the South, Lincoln intention of fighting two wars at once. All his life, he had taken care not to send letters written in anger. Now, to mitigate the harshness of the draft he altered the tone of the letter at numerous points. Where Seward had claimed that the president was "surprised and grieved" that no protest had been made against unofficial meetings with the Southern commissioners, Lincoln wrote simply that the "President regrets." Where Seward threatened that "no one of these proceedings [informal or formal recognition, or breaking the blockade] will be borne," Lincoln shifted the phrase to "will pass unnoticed."

Most important, where Seward had indicated that the letter be read directly to the British foreign secretary, Lincoln insisted that it serve merely for Adams's guidance and should not "be read, or shown to any one. " Still, the central message remained clear: a warning to Britain that if the vexing issues were not resolved, and Britain decided "to fraternize with our domestic enemy," then a war between the United States and Britain "may ensue," caused by "the action of Great Britain, not our own." In that event, Britain would forever lose "the sympathies and the affections of the only nation on whose sympathies and affections she has a natural claim."

Thus, a threatening message that might have embroiled the Union in two wars at the same time became instead the basis for a hard-line policy that effectively interrupted British momentum toward recognizing the Confederacy. Furthermore, France, whose ministers had promised to act in concert with Britain, followed suit. This was a critical victory for the Union, preventing for the time being the recognition that would have conferred legitimacy on the Confederacy in the eyes of the world, weakened Northern morale, and accorded "currency to Southern bonds."

History would later give Secretary of State Seward high marks for his role in preventing Britain and France from intervening in the war. He is considered by some to have been "the ablest American diplomatist of the century." But here, as was so often the case, Lincoln's unseen hand had shaped critical policy. Only three months earlier, the frontier lawyer had confessed to Seward that he knew little of foreign affairs. His revisions of the dispatch, however, exhibit the sophisticated prowess of a veteran statesman: he had analyzed a complex situation and sought the least provocative way to neutralize a potential enemy while making crystal-clear his country's position.

Seward was slowly but inevitably coming to appreciate Lincolns remarkable abilities. "It is due to the President to say, that his magnanimity is almost superhuman," he told his wife in mid-May. "His confidence and sympathy increase every day." As Lincoln began to trust his own abilities, Seward became more confident in him. In early June, he told Frances: "Executive skill and vigor are rare qualities. The President is the best of us; but he needs constant and assiduous cooperation." Though the feisty New Yorker would continue to debate numerous issues with Lincoln in the years ahead, exactly as Lincoln had hoped and needed him to do, Seward would become his most faithful ally in the cabinet.

We have a President who reads books now. We have a President who is curious about the world, and is unafraid of listening to dissenting opinion.

I think we remain in good hands.

Obama annouces Richardson as Secretary of Commerce (VIDEO)

Nice touch tamping down the "Team of Rivals"...

...and saying his goodbyes in Spanish.

BTW, on the subject of Labor. My bet is that the delay in naming a pretty damn important Labor Secretary is because the Obama Team wanted David Bonoir, couldn't get him, and is now vetting Maxwell, which'll take a while.

Oh, and one more thing, Chinese Community of America, please say this isn't true.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WSJ: The First Openly Gay Cabinet Member???

Take that Prop 8...

According to the Murdoch Street Journal:

For the rainbow cabinet of the nation’s first African American president, Mary Beth Maxwell is the perfect labor secretary you’ve probably never heard of: a gay woman, community organizer and labor leader with an adopted African American son. And this founding executive director of American Rights at Work is about to get the full-court press.

Maxwell already had the strong backing of former Rep. David Bonior, who despite repeated attempts to get his name removed from consideration continues to be on the short list of potential labor secretaries. Bonior, 63 years old, says it is time for his generation to turn over power to a new generation, and Maxwell, whose labor-backed organization pushes for expanded collective bargaining rights, is his pick.

Some labor leaders from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a splinter union group led by the Service Employees International Union, back her as a consensus choice, citing her efforts on behalf of legislation to allow unionization at workplaces with the signing of cards, not secret balloting.

All I can say is I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I've never heard of her, but she sounds like a good idea to me...

Democrats: No matter what the news, it's always bad for us somehow...

So on Salon, I get Alex Koppelman, not one of my faves, saying "Low turnout in Georgia runoff good news for Chambliss."

Mind you, that's the Link on the Salon front page, the teaser. Click and you'll eventually read this:

The New York Times says there are short lines at the polling places where voters are going for a run-off between Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and challenger Jim Martin, a Democrat.

The Times' Robbie Brown calls turnout "critical to both candidates’ success." Of course, that's technically true. But really, as in most elections, turnout is most important to the Democrats in this case, and this is not a good sign for Martin.

But I turn around, go to Daily Kos and Blogger Brownsox, and what do I see??

It looks like turnout is fairly high, which may not bode well.

I swear to God, the news gives me a headache sometimes.

Listen, I don't think Martin is going to win this one, but let's not give up the ghost before the votes are counted, shall we??

My fellow Liberals are still whining...

On Election Night the four states I was watching were: North Carolina, Virgina, Florida and Ohio. Understanding the Electoral math as I did (thank you Nate Silver), I knew that McCain had to go four for four in order to have a chance to win, whereas Obama could lose all four, and still win.

Obama won all four.

Now, is there anyone out there who believes Obama won those four states because of massive Progressive turnout?

Oh yeah, my fellow Progressives.

Progressive blogs are buzzing about Obama’s Cabinet picks, including big-name hires — and likely hires — such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Defense Sec. Robert Gates and New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, a protege of former Secretary Treasury Lawrence Summers under President Clinton, also an Obama economic adviser. To some irritated observers, these faces aren’t just a return to a previous time but an unwelcome move to the right of Obama’s campaign positions.

“I know everyone is obsessed with the ‘team of rivals’ idea right now, but I feel incredibly frustrated,” said Chris Bowers, a progressive political consultant who blogs for Open Left. “It seems to me as though there is a team of rivals, except for the left, which is left off the team entirely.”

If you really think this was a move to the right, you haven't been paying attention to the Obama Campaign.

I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some, if not all, of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book-namely, how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.

And in a speech in Powder Springs, GA during the campaign (another quote I'm forced to repeat):

"You're not going to agree with me on 100 percent of what I think, but don't assume that if I don't agree with you on something that it must be because I'm doing that politically," he said. "I may just disagree with you."

Here's the list of Progressives that are going to the White House:

In the past two weeks, Obama has tapped Melody Barnes, of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, to serve as his domestic policy director; Patrick Gaspard, a political organizer for the Services Employees International Union, or SEIU, as his politics director; Ellen Moran, of the liberal fund-raising group EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice women candidates, to run his communications shop; and Phil Schiliro, a former aide to Sen. Tom Daschle, to serve as the White House’s liaison with Congress.

But yet, David Sirota is still flapping his gums:

David Sirota has been a member of the angry progressive chorus complaining about Obama’s Cabinet appointments. But when asked in an interview about the president-elect’s recent White House picks, he conceded that [Domestic Policy Director Melody] Barnes will be a strong progressive voice in the Obama administration.

Even so, he’s not convinced that these appointments carry the same heft as Cabinet jobs. Sirota contends that the White House responsibilities are more like selling policies than developing and implementing them.

“Whose job description is political salesmanship and whose job description is making and executing policy?” Sirota asked.

To underscore his point, Sirota pointed to the job of White House political director, which Gaspard will hold. Sirota contends that, most likely, his political job will not be that instrumental in developing and carrying out policies.

The Political Director will not be instrumental in developing and carrying out policies????

I can't believe I'm about to quote Chris Tucker, but: "Do you hear the words that are coming out of your mouth???"

Monday, December 1, 2008

Samuelson or Krugman???

So I spent part of today blasting Robert Samuelson for, among other things, telling Obama that he shouldn't bother with the agenda of the people who voted him into office. He should stick with his agenda which is sure to work far, far better for the country...

The temptation will be to press ahead with a "bold" legislative agenda -- to ape the New Deal. This would be a mistake. The psychology of bruising legislative battles will not bolster confidence. The country does need to face its health and energy problems as well as deficit-ridden federal budgets. But trying to do too much too soon risks doing none of it well. We -- and he -- are caught up in a web of contradictions. In the long run, we need to discipline our appetite for health care and energy; we need to reconcile our desire for government benefits and our willingness to be taxed. Obama's first job is to avert an economic freefall.

But on second thought, I've decided to go with an actual Economist...

The deficit worriers have it all wrong. Under current conditions, there’s no trade-off between what’s good in the short run and what’s good for the long run; strong fiscal expansion would actually enhance the economy’s long-run prospects.

Krugman continues...

The idea that tight fiscal policy when the economy is depressed actually reduces private investment isn’t just a hypothetical argument: it’s exactly what happened in two important episodes in history.

The first took place in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt mistakenly heeded the advice of his own era’s deficit worriers. He sharply reduced government spending, among other things cutting the Works Progress Administration in half, and also raised taxes. The result was a severe recession, and a steep fall in private investment.

The second episode took place 60 years later, in Japan. In 1996-97 the Japanese government tried to balance its budget, cutting spending and raising taxes. And again the recession that followed led to a steep fall in private investment.

In the choice between the hack reporter, and the Nobel-Laureate Economist...

What, do I have to say it??

God, I hate agreeing with Joan Walsh...

There is a nice list of Liberal-slash-Progressive Pundits that frankly, I don't trust: some of those people I've talked about on this blog. Joan Walsh is on that list.

I've always found her, personally, to be a wishy-washy Limousine Liberal. Someone who talks a good game, but when it comes to the brass tacks of understand certain things (race), doesn't have the first clue.

And add to all that the fact that she was, at least in my mind, a Clinton Partisan during the Campaign.

The conventional wisdom has to give Obama the best shot -- he's got the most money, the freshest story, and in a year when everyone, including many Republicans, is craving someone new, he is that guy. I'm just not sure he can shoot beyond the 25 percent or so of the Democratic electorate to grab the lead.


I still think the race is Clinton's to lose, and the media, having once overstated the perfection of her campaign, is now overstating its troubles.

I also won't mention that she's been a big Barry Bonds apologist.

Boy, times have changed alright. She's become a Obama Convert in the best possible way.

But when it comes down to a match between Christopher Hitchens and Joan there's no contest.

From her Salon Piece this afternoon, which for purposes of this piece, is pretty much the whole thing:

I had to debate Christopher Hitchens, Clinton-hater-in-chief, on "Hardball" today. I thought I held my own, but when I watched it I caught many outright falsehoods that I missed, like his calling Saudi Arabia's Wahhabist leadership the "main clientele" of former President Clinton. Hitchens has allowed himself to be deranged by his Clinton hatred, and it's unfortunate to see a smart guy disabled by his own bias.

My bottom line is, if Hitchens is right, and Hillary Clinton is an utterly unqualified political hack who only cares about her political future and her husband's, what does her selection say about Barack Obama? Either he's naive and wimpy, and hasn't availed himself of the superior knowledge of the Clintons that Hitchens claims (or he knows and doesn't care about it); or he knows everything Hitchens does and picked her anyway for craven domestic political reasons: to get the Clintons inside his tent, not outside of it, and to co-opt a potential 2012 rival. That would be more politically venal than almost anything Hitchens accuses Clinton of doing: sacrificing our nation's global diplomatic interests to his domestic political ambitions.

So now Hitchens is extending his baseless charges of corruption against the Clintons to smear Obama. This, of course, makes me admire Obama all the more: He's taken both Clintons inside his tent because he needs them and recognizes their formidable domestic and foreign political and policy skills. He's spending political capital on them, because he thinks they're worth it, and saying a big, polite "up yours" to the Clinton haters who've made a career out of spreading this garbage. Those are my words, not Obama's, of course; he's much more diplomatic.

Transition: The President-Elect's Message on World AIDS Day

TPM: Danger! Danger, Barack Obama!!

Josh is pretty much right on this one.

As good as it is to have Barack Obama in the White House, as good as his National Security picks have been, especially for the prospect of a peace between Israeli and Palestinian, it may not do a whole lotta good if Netanyahu is elected Prime Minister in Israel.

AP: The next Governor of Arizona will be a Republican...


Turns out, Arizona doesn't have a Lieutenant Governor. Period.

President-elect Barack Obama's announcement Monday that Gov. Janet Napolitano is his choice to head the Department of Homeland Security means a Republican will move into the governor's office.

Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor, so the Democratic governor's midterm departure — if she is confirmed as secretary of homeland security — means she will be succeeded by Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican in a state that leans toward the GOP.

"It is difficult to leave one job for another but one must go where one can best serve," Napolitano said during a news conference in Chicago with Obama and other newly announced members of his national security team.

The turnover won't occur before late January at the earliest because Napolitano said she doesn't plan to step down as governor until the U.S. Senate confirms her appointment.

A Senate vote can't happen until after Obama is inaugurated Jan. 20.

Why the Washington Post can be a substandard Newspaper...

Today in an editorial in the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson said that basically that every new president dreams of enacting bold and far-reaching reforms, but that Obama should avoid the urge.

The decision ought to be easy. Every new president is assaulted by his own supporters, who want him to put their particular agendas atop his "to do" list. That's happening, as Obama allies clamor for speedy action to provide universal health insurance, combat global warming and support trade unions. But Obama -- and the nation -- would be better served if he concentrated for his first year on stabilizing the economy while patiently laying the groundwork for more far-reaching proposals.

Mr. Samuelson seems to conveniently forget that Mr. Obama won an election, roughly along these lines. But despite that fact, Obama should ignore what got him across the finish line and pay attention to what Mr. Samuelson says, genius that he is.

This, of course, is also in complete opposition to something another Washington Post reporter (one I actually respect) in E.J. Dionne who wrote an article, specifically called: Bold is Good!

And oddly enough, Dionne calls out Samuelson for his bull!@#$ before it even gets out of Samuelson's mouth:

The worst advice will come from his conservative adversaries, the people who called him a socialist a few days before the election and insisted a few days later that he won because he was really a conservative. The older among them declared after the 1980 election that the 51 percent of the vote won by Ronald Reagan represented an ideological revolution, but argue now that Obama's somewhat larger majority has no philosophical implications.

These conservatives are trying to stop Obama from pursuing any of the ideas that he campaigned on -- universal access to health care, a government-led green revolution, redistributive tax policies, a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, more robust economic regulation.

Robert J. Samuelson is one of the reasons the Washington Post can be at times, a substandard newspaper. My esteemed Father, I'm sure would go further.

Hey. I got an idea. Let's flash back to an article back in February, called The Obama Delusion...

As a journalist, I harbor serious doubt about each of the most likely nominees. But with Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I feel that I'm dealing with known quantities. They've been in the public arena for years; their views, values and temperaments have received enormous scrutiny. By contrast, newcomer Obama is largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views.

The subtext of Obama's campaign is that his own life narrative -- to become the first African American president, a huge milestone in the nation's journey from slavery -- can serve as a metaphor for other political stalemates. Great impasses can be broken with sufficient goodwill, intelligence and energy. "It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white," he says. Along with millions of others, I find this a powerful appeal.

But on inspection, the metaphor is a mirage. Repudiating racism is not a magic cure-all for the nation's ills. The task requires independent ideas, and Obama has few. If you examine his agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.

Really, Mr. Samuelson? Do go on!

By Obama's own moral standards, Obama fails. Americans "are tired of hearing promises made and 10-point plans proposed in the heat of a campaign only to have nothing change," he recently said. Shortly thereafter he outlined an economic plan of at least 12 points...

The Post isn't a total waste of time; but some of their reporters certainly are.

Introducing your National Security Team...

Courtesy of TPM Media...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"It comes from me..."

Fred Kaplan of Slate has an excellent piece on Temporary Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that almost convinces me.

And by "almost" I really say that...well...okay, fine Kaplan convinced me:

It would be a mistake to regard Gates as merely a holdover from the Bush administration. Literally, of course, he is. But since coming to the Pentagon in December 2006, he has altered the dynamics of decision-making and, as a result, of policy.

Before Gates, the National Security Council was dysfunctional. Rumsfeld would skip meetings and refuse to let his deputies speak on his behalf. His tag-team partner, Vice President Dick Cheney, would block the NSC from forming a consensus on issues that concerned him; instead he would meet alone with President Bush afterward, a practice that compelled the secretary of state—Colin Powell in the first term, Condoleezza Rice in the second—to go around the process as well.

When Gates came onboard, he demanded high-level meetings, with all the players present, debating their positions all at once before the president, with a decision made at the end. Some officials contend that it is because of Gates that U.S. troops are coming out of Iraq a bit more rapidly than they might have otherwise—and that Bush hasn't bombed Iran.

If that's the case (about Iran) I am eternally grateful.