Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have A Hopeful Christmas
Christmas Eve news was mostly not good. Unemployment way up, manufacturing and sales down. But there are always good stories, too. And this Christmas, there is hope. Americans are feeling it, and hope's name is Obama.
CNN says: Eighty-two percent of those questioned in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday morning approve of the way the Obama is handling his presidential transition. That's up 3 points from when we asked this question at the beginning of December...The 82 percent approval is higher than then President-elect George W. Bush 8 years ago, who had a 65 percent transition approval rating, and Bill Clinton, at 67 percent in 1992."
In fact it's higher than anybody since they started measuring. It means a lot of people have their hopes riding on Obama, but it also means that he's got a lot of room to maneuver, and a lot of support to do big things, and that's very hopeful.
He's making people giddy. Even his physique on vacation is getting rave reviews, and inspired one of those classic New York Post headlines: Buff Bam is Hawaii Hunk.
CNN continued: Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades. He's putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
But is this the honeymoon? We haven't had the marriage ceremony yet. That's next month's Inauguration, and even with the Reverend Rick missstep, excitement for the Inaugural is building. Obama will take the oath with his hand on the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861, and no one's used since.
So this Christmas: Hope. Courage. Compassion. Love. And next month: Change we need.
Merry, happy everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Class War Revisited

There's no doubt the execs of the Big Three U.S. automakers have screwed things up. They fought the future by spending money to suppress innovation, and to lobby and sue against mileage regulations they could easily have met with known technology.

But their workers didn't do that. And even if those U.S. companies did, the trouble they're currently in does not make them unique in the world. Canada, England, Italy and other nations have had to bail out their own carmakers, or are trying to figure out how right now.

And another big shoe dropped (or was thrown) on Monday when Toyota announced that for the first time in its history it is losing money. This is one of the companies with plants in the U.S. South paying their workers slightly less than union workers get in Detroit. And that sure isn't saving them. Nor is anybody complaining that they make lousy cars.

Once again, the news is rubbing our noses in the difference between the vilified car companies and the sainted banks, which got tens and hundreds of billions with no strings attached. Sunday we learned that more than one and a half of those billions went directly into the pockets of bank execs. And Monday we learned that the rest of it--well, we have no idea where the rest of it went, and the banks are refusing to say. (If you're having trouble expressing your outrage at this, you can always let Cramer do it for you.)

Paul Krugman's column forecasts "months, perhaps even a year, of economic hell" no matter what Obama does, and his previous column lays the responsibility at the feet of these same rich assholes and their tools who were temporarily in the government, helping them loot the treasury to boot, before they return to getting their considerable payoffs in the "private sector."

What Obama can do, as Krugman says, and what he must do is create the track for the transformation of the American economy, and give it a jump start. Part of that will be the programs and the partnerships, to re-industrialize and make conservation and social service revolutions into professions and employment. But part of it will be intellectual and moral leadership, because as Krugman shows, the spending money to fuel a basically insane consumer economy just won't be there. Nor will the world's environmental and economic health permit it.

The change is gonna come. And bringing to a close the super rich and ruling class warfare on everybody else will be part of it, beginning immediately.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Urgent: Change

The Obama government in waiting is upping the ante on economic recovery, aiming to create (or save) 3 million jobs instead of 2.5 million. NY Times: The new job target was set after a meeting last Tuesday in which Christina D. Romer, who is Mr. Obama’s choice to lead his Council of Economic Advisers, presented information about previous recessions to establish that the current downturn was likely to be “more severe than anything we’ve experienced in the past half-century,” according to an Obama official familiar with the meeting.

The Times reported the package being considered included a lot of immediate infrastructure projects, money for schools and education. Federal money to local governments would come with a “use it or lose it” clause under Mr. Obama’s plans, advisers say. The president-elect will also propose to direct some money to public and private partnerships for major projects like a national energy grid intended to harness alternative energy sources such as wind power.

VP Joe Biden defined one of his roles on Sunday: chairing a "middle class task force" to make sure federal efforts were making a positive difference for workers and their families.

That becomes all the more important on a day that the AP reported Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post found widespread public support for the Obama agenda:Majorities think Obama should help make major changes to the health-care system, enact new energy policies and institute a moratorium on home foreclosures. Majorities expect him to end U.S. involvement in Iraq, improve health care and turn around America's image abroad.

The Post noted optimism that Obama will help the economy recover, but a desire that he move beyond the economy to other agenda items quickly.

84 percent who want him to drive an effort to require electricity companies to increase the use of renewable sources of energy. A majority, 55 percent, want him to tackle the issue right after taking office in January.

A majority want Obama to make big changes to the country's health-care system, with 63 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents saying they want the changes right away.
Sunday Sorting

On how we got into this economic apocalypse: two articles in the New York Times, a report and a Krugman column, come to the same conclusion: de facto Ponzi schemes and other chimera that made a few people preposterously wealthy (and the most delusional among them felt and still feel entitled to it) at the expense of everyone else, and their future. Not exactly breaking news, but worth repeating when billions are still going to these same people, while help for everybody else is stingy, grudging or nonexistent.

On the Warren thing (for I hope the last time.) Obamafolks point out that "The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight."

And that "At his 2005 inaugural, George W. Bush tapped Rev. Dr. Louis Leon to deliver the invocation. Like Obama and Warren, the two shared a commitment to combating AIDS in Africa, as well as a friendship from time spent in each other's company. But Leon was and is a progressive voice. And his selection in '04 sparked a lot of interest, though little of the outrage that we see with Warren."

About the best defense of the Obama position (though admittedly I haven't read a lot of them) is Cynthia Tucker's, which includes this: Obama seems to be sincere about looking for ways to revive not only bipartisan cooperation but also ecumenical cooperation. He’s right to try. There are millions of people of good will who believe climate change demands a wide-ranging government response; that all Americans should have access to health care; that government ought to do more to help the poor. Those people can be found in mosques, synagogues and churches, listening to clerics whose views run the spiritual and ideological spectrum.

Tucker, that Atlanta newspaper columnist with the luscious lips on TV, writes as an avowed Christian, which leads to a number of other thoughts. A Christian POV might well make a difference on how you evaluate this, as the lack of one also may mean that the politics of it stands out. On the other hand, why is the Inauguration a Christian-only ceremony? As I am not a Christian by belief, I don't feel included, and I don't much care.

For Obama's Saturday message on science, and science appointments, see Dreaming Up Daily.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Worse To Bad

I've heard alarms like this before--in fact, I recall more persistent alarmism about the economy a few times in the 70s and 80s. But this is a different economy--it seems more interconnected and fragile. In any case, I am used to areas of life where the strain is obvious, while other parts of life and the economy seem to go on pretty well. This time, I'm observing the consequences almost everywhere. Pretty big ones too. When everything from housing to manufacturing to retail to newspapers and television--even public television--plus local and particularly state governments with huge cutbacks and just plain failures--it seems to be getting worse fast. Maybe that's why the alarms are curiously muted. Denial roasting on an open fire.

So this kind of apocalyptic Washington talk doesn't seem so much like hyperbole-as-usual. The dithering of the Bushites is helping to make things worse, and Obama's first task will be to move the economy from worse to bad. Though the Bushites finally managed a bridge loan to the auto companies, they also included more disproportionate punishment for labor, big surprise.

Paul Krugman outlined a sane approach to saving the economy in a New York Review essay. But that was written a month ago. Don't know what he thinks now, except that he says we're in very deep trouble, and to get out of it we'll need "creativity" and "luck." Still, his conclusion in the NYRB article emphasizes the creativity part: "We will not achieve the understanding we need, however, unless we are willing to think clearly about our problems and to follow those thoughts wherever they lead. Some people say that our economic problems are structural, with no quick cure available; but I believe that the only important structural obstacles to world prosperity are the obsolete doctrines that clutter the minds of men."

Here at home, we just started watching the DVDs of "The West Wing" beginning with the pilot episode: the Democratic administration is trying to make peace with the religious right. Still ripped from the headlines... I did get a little tremor from the past in identifying with the staff working for the Democratic President, and I suppose there's a little tremor of regret in not being either young enough or prominent enough to even try to be part of the new one. On the other hand, it's unlikely that at my age I'd feel politic enough not to say stuff like: Rick Warren is an idiot. Or perhaps even worse (given the power of the Oprah) that Dr. Phil is also an idiot.

As for the Rev. Warren deal, I think it's a mistake on several levels. After the shock of CA's Prop 8 and similar measures in other states, this is an unnecessary punch to the LGBT community, and the individuals within it. There could have been a less prominent, less symbolic, and more appropriate way to accomplish the always dodgy business of including the selectively intolerant and dogmatic.

But in a post at Time's "Swampland" suggesting that this is causing "buyer's remorse" among some Obama supporters. That's probably true of some, but personally I always assumed I would be disagreeing with Obama on one issue or another. I'm still happy with my purchase of a President, thank you.

In the meantime, we're about to have some primetime political theatre here in CA. While Ahnold and the legislature play high stakes poker with this huge state's huge finances (and ours personally, since we both derive major part of our incomes from a state university), there's about to be a showdown in the state supreme court over Prop 8. Attorney General Jerry Brown (yep, that one--former gov and prez candidate in the 70s) has just announced that he's not taking the side he's supposed to--defending the passage of the Prop 8 constitutional amendment as passed by voters--but arguing that it is itself unconstitutional, on equal protection grounds.

Jerry Brown will be facing off against the lead attorney arguing for Prop 8 and its amendment banning gay marriage--none other than Kenneth Starr (yep, that one--the Whitewater prosecutor and impeach Clinton guy.) Sounds like a live TV opportunity to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Am Bored to Tears With...

The Minnesota recount.
The Bush legacy project and all the air time it's getting. It isn't about history, guys. It's about what all those last minute rules are about. In four years, when people forget how much they hated Bush (right now, less than 20% of those polled say they will miss him, and most of those are comedians), the Republicans will trot out their revisionism (being spouted now on the "as long as they spell my name right" principle) and Obama's reversals of their proudest moments, to show he supports abortion and terrorism, and is against the family and keeping America safe, because he overturned Bush rules and outlawed torture.

The leftish assaults on Caroline Kennedy for U.S. Senator from New York. Much of this horseshit is coming from former Hillary supporters whose own sense of entitlement is a projection here. The rest is nonsense. Whoever gets the seat will have to run in two years, which means starting pretty much now. And then again two years after that. Anybody else appointed who wants to run will have to do nothing but fundraise for the next four years. Appoint Caroline--who says every Senate seat has to be filled by a pol. The place could use a little class. If she's no good, she won't win her election in two years.

Plus everything else that indicates how bored the media is right now. How afraid they are to cover the dimensions of the Great Recession. Or the Climate Crisis. Fortunately, the Christmas season is upon, with its sentimental imagery and homicides. That'll keep them busy.

However, I am also dismayed at Rick Warren being the prime and sole clergy represented in the Inaugural ceremony. You have to wonder if preachers are one area where Obama's judgment falters. Update: Turns out Warren is NOT the sole clergy. Rev. Joseph Lowery, one of the last of the Civil Rights struggle preachers, will give the benediction, also providing social policy and political balance to Warren.
Team of Rivals, Obama Style

Since our last episode, PE Barack Obama has introduced his Green Team (as advertised here), his Sec. of Education, and Wednesday he is scheduled to introduce his surprise choice for Interior--Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado--and as Agriculture Sec., former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. So how can we characterize his picks so far?

First, high-powered. Senators, governors, former cabinet secretaries, heads of this and that, and a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Lots of midwesterners and westerners (as predicted here), and lots of diversity: Latinos, Asian Americans, women (including a member of the LGBT community), African Americans and whites of both genders. Not a lot of what you might call ideological diversity: instead, a marked preference for get-it-done types who share Obama's policy goals and his professed belief in reaching out to opponents and often-opposing stakeholders.

That's the striking MO of Ken Salazar, a political centrist, maybe not a great fit in the Senate, but whose nomination, says the Washington Post, most environmentalists interviewed praised Salazar's selection, as did leaders of pro-business groups, who described him as a willing listener who recognizes the need for domestic energy and agricultural production, although some green activists really don't like him., and probably some business types don't either. According to the LA Times: " Karen Schambach, the California coordinator for the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, described Salazar as more of a centrist. Still, she expected he would be a "sympathetic soul" in a department that had offered a cold shoulder to the environmental community."

In another area of contention based at least partly on ideology--education--Obama appointed Chicago Supe of Schools Arne Duncan, who has managed to enact and back reforms while maintaining good relations with teachers unions. According to the Chicago Tribune, Many describe Duncan as conciliatory, open to new ideas and realistic about disconcerting trends—but he has not always avoided controversy.... 'He's been pretty willing to fight some political battles about closing dysfunctional schools,' said John Q. Easton, executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. 'I think he's got a willingness for a lot of ideas, and checking out how they're doing and making changes based on that."

Vilsack is also a midwestern centrist, who ran for prez briefly in 08 before backing Hillary (though if I'm not mistaken, his wife backed Barack.)

So Obama's version of a "team of rivals" seems less about point/counterpoint representatives of different ideological positions than an actual team of former rivals (who either ran against each other or backed different candidates) with the expertise and approach to get things done. One assumes that they professed to be willing to get done what Obama wants done.

It's also a particular kind of team: another area where there isn't much diversity is in the sport of choice. Most of them play hoops: Duncan has been playing in Obama's games for 10 years, and played professionally in Australia after starring at Harvard. But there are others: National Security Advisor Jim Jones played forward for Georgetown, and Reggie Love--Obama's personal aide, played for Duke.

There are a number of high school players, too: UN Ambassador Susan Rice was a star point guard at the National Cathedral School in DC, AG Eric Holder played high school hoops in NYC, and Treasury Sec. Dan Geithner apparently has got some game. Even Hillary played the half court.

Monday, December 15, 2008

If the Shoe Fits: cousin Lemuel sent me this notice from war-torn Canada awhile back, and it seems the appropriate caption to this photo:

Dear World: The United States of America, a quality supplier of ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for its 2001-2008 service outage. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service interruption has been located, and the parts responsible were replaced Tuesday night, November 4. Early tests of the new install indicate that it is functioning correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional by mid-January. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage, and we look forward to resuming full service --- and hopefully even to improving it in years to come. Thank you for your patience and understanding.--The USA

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In PE Obama's Saturday YouTube/radio address he named Shaun Donovan as his choice to head the Housing and Urban Affairs Department. With experience in New York City and federal government, business and academic research, Donovan looks like another stellar pick. He trained as an architect so, Obama says, he knows houses down to the wiring--an interesting qualification to point out, since making housing energy efficient and green energy capable will be an important energy, environmental and economic policy. Then there's this article that say Donovan foresaw the home mortgage crisis four years ago. There's some footage of Donovan in this YouTube, so you can see if you get an instant sense of confidence just looking at him, as I did.


So the Bushites avoided a stock market meltdown Friday by announcing they will pony up some money somehow to prevent GM failing and beginning a cascade that will result in millions--perhaps tens of millions--of Americans losing their jobs.

Among the many ironies is that it was Dick Cheney who told the Senate Republicans that if they failed to act they risked Republicans again becoming defined as the party of Hoover.

And that's just what they are. The Bushites are bowing out, and here come the Hooverites, the new name for the Republican party.

Props on Friday to the news media that covered this story. On TV I note Campbell Brown and especially Rachel Maddow, but I didn't watch all that much so maybe there were others, too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Perils of Stupidity

“The consequences of the Senate Republicans’ failure to act could be devastating to our economy, detrimental to workers, and destructive to the American automobile industry unless the President immediately directs Secretary Paulson to explore other short-term financial assistance options.” So said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and so say we all.

But while all this was going on Thursday what were the cable news channels chattering about? Trying to pin the scandal caused by a delusional Illinois governor on Barack Obama. Why? Because it's a story they understand. It's scandal. It's politics. And as outrageous as the charges against Gov. B are, it's irrelevant.

It's clear from Fitzgerald's charges that Blago's desperation to find some way to make bucks from the Senate appointment was because he knew he couldn't get anything out of the Obama transition. Everything after that is a minor political story, maybe a minor legal story, and ordinarily worth following. But not 24/7. And not yesterday.

Because in the meantime, a particularly venal, self-important, narrow-eyed nasty and stupid group of Senate Republicans were trying to hold millions of people hostage to satisfy their union-busting cravings.

That was the truly important story of December 11, but it was just too hard for them to report. (The exception to an extent is Rachel Madow and to a lesser extent, Keith.) If the news media isn't all over this story Friday--assuming that by 9 a.m. Paulsen hasn't released some billions of chump change out of his $350 billion which represents tax money paid by those millions who are going to lose their jobs if he doesn't--then there's really no reason to watch them anymore. They are irrelevant.

We're in very, very dangerous waters right now. The usual stupidity may well be enough to sink us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Early Wednesday it was supposed to be Jennifer Granholm but by later in the day several news organizations settled on someone else as Obama's Energy Secretary: Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winning scientist and current head of the Livermore Lab at Berkeley. A truly excellent choice! An actual expert in the field, with administrative experience, and most particularly, with a proven record of turning around an institution--Livermore--towards developing alternative green energy, specifically to address the Climate Crisis.

"A Rocket Scientist in the Cabinet" says Ambinder, and a man "untainted by Washington's caution on climate change..." Fabulous! This guy really gets it--so much so that he transformed his life to address the Climate Crisis. Plus another Asian American in the Cabinet, this time of Chinese descent.

The same reports say that Obama has chosen Lisa Jackson for Environment. That she is a black woman is in itself an enormous step forward, partly for reasons I deal with in this post at Dreaming Up Daily. She happened to grow up in New Orleans, and did college at Tulane--another significant connection because New Orleans is where a mostly black and largely poor population bore the brunt of a disaster with a large environmental component, at several levels. It's simply crucial to involve nonwhite Americans in the mostly white environmental movement.

Before Jackson became chief of staff to current New Jersey governor Corzine, she was the state's environmental commissioner and worked for 16 years in the federal EPA--so she's got tons of applicable experience.

One of her bosses at EPA was Clinton's director Carol Browner, and Browner is expected to be named to a new White House position, coordinating energy and environment. So there's an established working relationship. The caution is that the Clinton environmental record is not particularly bold--my impression was that in 8 years they mostly managed to undo some of the previous GOPer damage and make incremental moves forward. That lack of boldness may not have been Browner's fault--we'll see.

Said to be the choice to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality is Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles deputy mayor for enviro, and a politically prominent Lesbian. Her previous posts were in the area of water and water quality--a very important issue as the Climate Crisis dries up the West, as well as other areas of the world.

Not such great news involves Interior, although these stories are more speculative. This one says there are three names: John Berry of the National Zoo, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and my member of Congress, Mike Thompson. In the Eureka paper today, Thompson seems pretty adamant that he's not been contacted by the transition team, so his appointment seems less likely than these press reports indicate. I know nothing about John Berry except that he was former head of Fish and Wildlife Foundation and an assistant secretary at Interior, but I suspect that if any of these three but Grijalva is named, it might indicate that Interior isn't getting the status it should have. Maybe white guys need a token appointment (Berry is being pushed by gay groups), but not to this post. It should be as high powered and forward looking as Energy, Environment, Commerce etc. It's not a sop to the "sportsmen" lobbies.

Native American issues are important for Interior, and to be fair, Thompson has the support of at least one local Indian tribe-- Native peoples are a higher proportion of his constituency than most-- and he has a good record on Native issues. Kevin Gover is another name, less prominently mentioned, who is actually Native (Pawnee and Comanche), but is a bit controversial due to allegations of favoritism to gaming tribes in a previous post at Indian Affairs. (He's currently head of the Museum of the American Indian in DC.) But any Native is going to be controversial within the Native community. At least according to this report, Gover's chances have improved lately as Thompson and Grijalva have drawn fire. But Gover's office also denies he's being considered. As I've said before, a Native American as Interior Secretary would be a huge step forward.

Thursday Obama announces Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services Secretary, and holds a press conference that's supposed to be about health care. But this Illinois governor farce is likely to derail that. If you're interested, the best analysis of what we know so far--at least what's in Patrick Fitzgerald's findings--is here at 538. Basically it says that RB's most outrageous statements were made to his own staff, and he was much more cautious in what he said--and asked for--with others. The only contact indicated that's anywhere near the Obama transition is with a union official, and the language of the document indicates RB was contemplating more direct communication but hadn't yet tried, and his conclusions about Team Obama not offering anything could well have been more common sense and third party judgments than based on having asked the questions himself.

Anyway, this is going to come up and I hope Obama either says a lot more about any contacts with his transition team or explains more fully why he can't talk about this. I also hope he gets in the face of the GOPer Senators threatening to kill the auto company deal, and makes the stakes plain--the devastating effect on jobs and the economy and future capabilities--as well as the clear motivation: union-busting.

By the way, Granholm (Gov. of Michigan) got mentioned in media buzz because she met with Obama on Wednesday, stating later that they talked about the economic recovery proposals. But there is still a post directly concerning that--Secretary of Labor.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Massive Distraction

This is the first test of the Obama administration: will the pulp fiction-level scandal created by the governor of Illinois distract the Obama government and the country from what really, really needs to get done, and fast?

Obama has been very good at handling this stuff before, so there's every reason to hope he will this time. He starts with an incredible 79% approval rating (according to CNN) so he's got a lot of margin. People really, really want him to succeed. He'll need to balance being forthcoming with moving on.

As for that governor whose name I can't spell and refuse to ever learn how to spell, here's my bet: by the time you read this, he will have checked himself into a psychiatric facility claiming he's been under stress and acting irrationally. That is, he'll do that if the dude isn't really, really crazy.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Forty Days and Forty Nights

That's how much longer we're stuck in the desert of the Bush administration. I can almost handle Bush's burnishing bullshit legacy interviews, although the attention the media is lavishing on them is infuriating. Is saying that al qaeda and Iraq had some connection the same as saying Iraq was implicated in 9-11? WHO CARES? The sooner we forget about these assholes, the sooner we can concentrate on the immense real problems we've got to solve.

But I'm also beginning to suspect that forty days is more than enough time for the Bushites to screw things up even worse than they have. This is a very delicate moment, and if the Democrats and the Obama team allow the Bushites to manipulate things like the bridge loan to the auto companies so that Obama's hands are tied for years to come, they and we will be reaping the whirlwind very soon.

There has to be some order very soon. Already the most vulnerable are suffering, and it won't be long before many more are added to that list. Already the effects of this Great Recession will be felt for years after it's over, as investments, retirement and savings deplete and disappear. Then it gets worse.

We really only have to get through the next two weeks without significant damage. Then the Obama cabinet will be complete, everybody goes on Christmas vacation, then the new Congress comes in after the new year, and we're off.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cabinet Watch

Today, PE Obama appoints General Eric Shinseki as Veterans Affairs Secretary. Apart from the brilliant multiple significance of this appointment (here's Ambinder, here's me), it was a Surprise.

More surprises in store, since nobody's sure what's coming next. Especially since (Politico reports) Governor Kathleen Sibelius has taken herself out of the running. She was among the favorites for several posts. According to the Wall Street Journal (which has been right but also spectacularly wrong on appointments), a new job may be created for someone to supervise Climate Crisis and energy policy across departments, and that is a factor in who might be appointed to Environment, Energy, etc.

The Journal thinks Interior is between Arizona Rep. Raul M. Grijalva and former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. As I've mentioned before, it's policy vs. executive experience, but there's no reason they both can't get Cabinet jobs. (Kitzhaber at Transportation, for example.) Similarly, this HuffPost columnist makes a strong case for Grijalva as a progressive environmentalist, also good on Native American and environmental problems. But a lot of what he says also makes Grijalva a good EPA choice. And there are other White House posts for policymakers in these overlapping areas. Maybe we'll know more on Monday, but again, I'm hoping for some voices from the progressive side (like Grijalva) in the new appointments.

As for who replaces Hillary in NY... I've got increasingly mixed feelings about Al Giordano at the Field, but his piece on why Caroline Kennedy would be a great as well as popular and sentimental choice is pretty convincing.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Great Recession

Officials finally admit the U.S. is in recession--and has been for a year (talk about a lagging indicator.) Then Friday's job report was a thunderbolt: not only a loss of 533,000 jobs in November and other terrible numbers for the month, but figures for the previous few months revised to show hundreds of thousands of more jobs lost than admitted before.

Together with the grim and grinchy financial sector (though on the unemployment news, the stock market naturally went up), this adds up to something economists and squawking heads don't have a name for--worse than a regular recession, not quite the Depression. So I'm calling it the Great Recession for now.

At least it focused some congressional minds on saving the U.S. auto industry from contributing several million more unemployed. Bridge loans are in the works--if not yet bridges to better companies, at least bridges to the Obama administration and a Congress that can get something more lasting done.

Meanwhile, the Obama transition seems focused on the next round of Cabinet appointments, rumored to be Environment, Energy, Agriculture and Interior. With announcements due perhaps Monday, what's interesting is both the complete mystery about who will be appointed, and (maybe not coincidentally) the lack of big (or at least well-known) names. About the only one with any sizzle is Kathleen Sebelius, and she's mentioned as a possibility for Energy or Agriculture, or Something.

Absent now from the speculated possibilities for EPA is Robert Kennedy, Jr., who took himself out of the running for Hillary's New York Senate seat. Possibly because cousin Caroline Kennedy is interested.

Well, I'd really like to see Robert Kennedy at EPA or Energy. These appointments are opportunities to go left of center, for better balance overall. There needs to be an Asian at cabinet level, too, if at all possible. At least VPE Joe Biden picked a notorious liberal economist for his economics advisor: Jared Bernstein. But with so little to go on, speculation is pointless. And even more important, no fun.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The World According to Zakaria (and other matters)

When I commented on Obama's foreign policy appointments, among others, over at Dreaming Up Daily, I forgot to mention this Newsweek article by Fareed Zakaria, which takes a broad look at America's place in the world and Obama's considerable foreign policy challenges. It's well worth reading it all, but here at least is his conclusion:

"President-elect Obama has powers of his own, too. I will not exaggerate the importance of a single personality, but Obama has become a global symbol like none I can recall in my lifetime. Were he to go to Tehran, for example, he would probably draw a crowd of millions, far larger than any mullah could dream of. Were his administration to demonstrate in its day-to-day conduct a genuine understanding of other countries' perspectives and an empathy for the aspirations of people around the world, it could change America's reputation in lasting ways.

This is a rare moment in history. A more responsive America, better attuned to the rest of the world, could help create a new set of ideas and institutions—an architecture of peace for the 21st century that would bring stability, prosperity and dignity to the lives of billions of people. Ten years from now, the world will have moved on; the rising powers will have become unwilling to accept an agenda conceived in Washington or London or Brussels. But at this time and for this man, there is a unique opportunity to use American power to reshape the world. This is his moment. He should seize it."

Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow is crusading on behalf of the auto companies versus the banks, on the basis of class bias, and she may be having some effect. After mentioning it on one show, showcasing it on another, some Senators were noticeably noting the discrepancy between the hundreds of billions in blank checks to the banks, and the fuss over a fraction of that for auto manufacturers. Senator Chris Dodd was like a wild man.

One irony is that money went to the banks so they would lend it out but they aren't doing that--and because they aren't lending to businesses, let alone consumers, some 40% fewer people are buying cars, creating the need for the Big Three to beg for loans from the federal government.

Late Thursday, ABC was reporting that congressional Dems sent a letter to the Bushites telling them they'd better carve out some chump change for the auto companies from the $700 billion bailout fund. Or General Motors could be gone before Obama gets to the White House.

Economist Paul Krugman has been using the word "scared" lately when confronted with economic prospects. He's especially worried about the unemployment numbers, that we could be losing a half million jobs a month. The first test will be Friday's monthly employment report. You may know the numbers by the time you read this--how close to 450,000 are they? We could hope he's been studying the Great Depression a little too closely.

Update: Seems Krugman was a bit conservative. Official job loss (so it's more that this) was 533,000 in November.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fast Times in a Slow Economy

Things are happening fast, as Monday saw not only P-E Obama's press conference introducing four members of his economic team, but a statement by President Bush and current Treasury Sec Paulsen emphasizing coordination on the economy between the incoming and outgoing administrations.

Obama holds another press conference Tuesday--a few hours from now--but I haven't seen speculation on whether he'll be announcing more appointments. Maybe his budget director, who wasn't there Monday?

The impression left by the press conference Monday, especially combined with Obama's radio/YouTube address Saturday and his transition team's public statements Sunday, is that Obama saw a dangerous void and is moving quickly to fill it. The Times of London saw it that way: Barack Obama effectively took control of the US economy - two months before he takes office - by declaring that his plan to confront the financial crisis "starts today". As he unveiled his new economic team, Mr Obama struck a very different note from the diffident election winner of three weeks ago who stressed that America is led by only "one president at a time". Today, he appeared fully aware that the US and global markets are looking to him, not President Bush, for solutions to the deepening crisis.

The U.S. stock market responded with the largest two day gains in decades, and Asian markets were following the upward movement this morning. Obama's choices also got pretty strong reviews.

What I found fascinating were some of the things Obama said about his appointees as he introduced them--things that aren't usually part of their media descriptions. For instance...

On Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury: “Growing up partly in Africa and having lived and worked throughout Asia; having served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs – one of many roles in the international arena; and having studied both Chinese and Japanese, Tim understands the language of today’s international markets in more ways than one.”

On Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council : “As a thought leader, Larry has urged us to confront the problems of income inequality and the middle class squeeze, consistently arguing that the key to a strong economy is a strong and growing middle class. This idea is the core of my own economic philosophy and will be the foundation for all of my economic policies.”

On Christina Romer, director of the Council of Economic Advisors, usually described simply as an expert on the Great Depression. Obama added that she's also an expert on the subsequent economic expansion. “Christina has also done groundbreaking research on many of the topics our Administration will confront – from tax policy to fighting recessions. And her clear-eyed, independent analyses have received praise from both conservative and liberal thinkers alike. I look forward to her wise counsel in the White House.”

As Domestic Policy Advisor, Melody Barnes will be “working hand-in-hand with my economic policy team to chart a course to economic recovery. An integral part of that course will be health care reform – and she will work closely with my Secretary of Health and Human Services on that issue...As executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, Melody directed a network of policy experts dedicated to finding solutions for struggling middle class families."

Obama spoke of the economic stimulus plan: “I think the most important thing to recognize is that we have a consensus, which is pretty rare, between conservative economists and liberal economists, that we need a big stimulus package that will jolt the economy back into shape and that is focused on the 2.5 million jobs that I intend to create during the first part of my administration,” he said. “We have to put people back to work. Now, that runs in parallel with making sure that our financial system is stable. And so we're going to have to do more than one thing at a time. But across the board, people believe that this stimulus is critical.”

He wants this package ready to go ASAP. That probably means his team gets it together by early December, Congress perhaps holds hearings in another lame duck session, but the new Congress definitely begins working on it in early January. He wouldn't want them to actually pass it and send it to the White House until he's been inaugurated--because there will still be another president there-- but soon after.

Also on tap for Tuesday, according to Reuters: U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson plans to announce on Tuesday the formation of a program to increase the availability of auto loans, student loans and credit cards, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Fast times in a slow economy--with Black Friday looming--the now-ominous name of the traditional biggest shopping day of the biggest shopping period of the year: the day that the malls used to love, and this year everyone fears.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The E Team

Later today, Prez Elect Barack Obama is scheduled to introduce several appointees of his economic team. The press expects my prediction for Treasury Secretary, NY Fed President Tim Geithner. While Bill Richardson is widely reported as a lock for Commerce Secretary, reports are uncertain about whether he will be one of those named Monday. Why Commerce for Richardson? Here's one good answer ("Bold"), here's another ("Innovator".) It looks like Richardson's record as Gov of New Mexico makes him perfect to help guide the Green Deal (which is what I've decided to call it until they come up with a better name)--the green energy industry and infrastructure programs.

The economic team comes first, since Obama doesn't want to inherit a total wreck in January and even though we still have a president, we don't have a leader, so it's got to be him. Sunday the talk was about a really big economic recovery program--maybe even devoting as much to Main Street as the 700b. to Wall Street. Interesting--given the bucks promised to Citibank but not GM--that there's no word on a Labor Secretary. Maybe that's why the Commerce announcement may not be today--to pair up with Labor?

It looks like the national security team will be introduced next week. And it still looks like Hillary at State. Will there be an enviro team?--Interior, Energy, Environment? Here's an interesting discussion of Interior. Though Thompson is my congressional Rep and a good guy, I favor Raul M. Grijalva, Ariz. Rep, if Obama is going for policy, but Interior is such a huge bureaucratic mess, maybe it needs a former governor (like John Kitzhaber, Oregon) or someone else with administrative experience.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Beginning Big, Beginning Bold

President-Elect Obama's radio/YouTube address, announcing his intention to pass a two year Economic Recovery Plan immediately upon taking office. The text follows, with my emphasis added. I posted the video at Dreaming Up Daily:

"The news this week has only reinforced the fact that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions. Financial markets faced more turmoil. New home purchases in October were the lowest in half a century. 540,000 more jobless claims were filed last week, the highest in eighteen years. And we now risk falling into a deflationary spiral that could increase our massive debt even further.

While I’m pleased that Congress passed a long-overdue extension of unemployment benefits this week, we must do more to put people back to work and get our economy moving again. We have now lost 1.2 million jobs this year, and if we don’t act swiftly and boldly, most experts now believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year.

There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But January 20th is our chance to begin anew - with a new direction, new ideas, and new reforms that will create jobs and fuel long-term economic growth.

I have already directed my economic team to come up with an Economic Recovery Plan that will mean 2.5 million more jobs by January of 2011 - a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face that I intend to sign soon after taking office. We’ll be working out the details in the weeks ahead, but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.

These aren’t just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis; these are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long. And they represent an early down payment on the type of reform my Administration will bring to Washington - a government that spends wisely, focuses on what works, and puts the public interest ahead of the same special interests that have come to dominate our politics.

I know that passing this plan won’t be easy. I will need and seek support from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ll be welcome to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle.

But what is not negotiable is the need for immediate action. Right now, there are millions of mothers and fathers who are lying awake at night wondering if next week’s paycheck will cover next month’s bills. There are Americans showing up to work in the morning only to have cleared out their desks by the afternoon. Retirees are watching their life savings disappear and students are seeing their college dreams deferred. These Americans need help, and they need it now.

The survival of the American Dream for over two centuries is not only a testament to its enduring power, but to the great effort, sacrifice, and courage of the American people. It has thrived because in our darkest hours, we have risen above the smallness of our divisions to forge a path towards a new and brighter day. We have acted boldly, bravely, and above all, together. That is the chance our new beginning now offers us, and that is the challenge we must rise to in the days to come. It is time to act. As the next President of the United States, I will. Thank you."

Friday, November 21, 2008

My sentiments exactly. From the Boston Globe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Transition Flood

We aren't talking leaks anymore--this is a flood.

In addition to official announcements (David Axlerod as WH senior advisor, Greg Craig as White House Counsel, Lisa Brown will serve as Staff Secretary, and Chris Lu as Cabinet Secretary), there were apparently sourced stories that Tom Daschle, former Senate Democratic leader, is to be named Secretary of Health and Human Services, and will largely be in charge of getting universal health care created and passed.

Also that, pending final vetting, Janet Napolitano has been named Secretary of Homeland Security, and Chicago businessperson and a chief architect of the Obama fundraising apparatus Penny Pritzker has been likewise slotted for Secretary of Commerce. Update: Pritzker issued a statement Thursday that she's not taking a cabinet appointment. These are mostly Obama people, midwestern and except for Daschle, on the young side of 60.

And more "signs" that Robert Gates is considering/is being asked to, stay on as Sec of Defense.

These gushed out Wednesday, after Tuesday's spill of Peter Orszag as Budget Director and Eric Holder as Attorney General. Most of these apparent appointments have been praised. I've noted elsewhere that Orszag's appointment, along with Obama's message to the Climate Summit signals that the Climate Crisis will be high on Obama's agenda. The same may be said, with Orszag as well as Daschle, that health care isn't going to be left behind either.

But all this continues to be subsumed to the continuing noise over Hillary, will she or won't she. Wednesday saw more push-back in the media, with a few CW heavyweights like Tom Friedman and David Broder warning against it, and more stories alluded to distress within Team Obama over the Drama Queen appearances. The Times suggests Aides in each camp have grown increasingly sour toward the other in recent days as the matter played out publicly.

Also some attempts to mute the media mantra of the Obama administration as Clinton redux. Al G. put it this way:No Obama administration staffers are more guaranteed to be free of Clintonesque manipulation or fantasy than those like Craig and Holder that at great risk to their careers bucked the Clinton machine back when the polls suggested Senator Clinton's "inevitable" nomination to the presidency. They're battle-tested, inoculated and have zero illusions about wanting to relive the failed Clinton presidency. They've learned decisively from its mistakes in a depth and detail that most will never have the chance to do.

If these names turn out to be actual appointments, it does suggest that Obama is fielding less a Team of Rivals as an All-Star team. These are star skill players at their positions.

As for all the transition leakiness, there are reporters complaining that they aren't getting enough leaks. I don't know if I can blame the Clintonistas for all of them. They are starting to look like trial balloons--get the names out there and see if opposition develops, especially for the Cabinet level posts that require Senate confirmation.

Okay, back to the fun part: the election. The numbers continue to roll in, and Obama continues to gain votes. He's gone from winning by 5% in the popular vote on election night to now ahead by about 7%: with over 67 million votes now, Obama has 52.7% to McCain's 45.9.

Even where Obama lost, he gained--or won something. Missouri has finally been called for McCain, but only by 3,632 votes. Obama lost Utah of course--but get this, he won Salt Lake County, which includes Salt Lake City (by just over 200 votes.) The GOP won the county by at least 20 points in the last two elections.

Meanwhile the Minnesota Senate recount has begun--Franken made up some ground on the first day, but there's a long way to go.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Transition Watch

Democrat Mark Begich has been elected as U.S. Senator from Alaska. At this hour the AP and the Anchorage newspaper have called it for him, since his lead exceeds the number of ballots yet to be counted.

Democrats kept a Senate seat in their caucus earlier Tuesday by admonishing Joe Lieberman, taking a subcommittee chair (which while minor, still removes him from any power over climate crisis legislation) but allowing him to remain chair of the Senate Homeland Security committee. Afterwards, Joe the Traitor acknowledged that he owed his retention to Barack Obama.

The Lieberman deal and the prospects of Hillary as Secretary of State are being placed in the context of Obama's postpartisanship, changing how Washington works, as well as getting everybody to work together on some very serious problems. The Hillaryites seem to be trying not to screw up Hillary's options by talking too much, but they can't completely control themselves, as usual. Obama has to suspect that this isn't going to change.

We'll see how this plays out. Though I'd like to see Joe the Traitor dealt with sooner rather than later, he will be dealt with--by the voters of Connecticut. By then maybe he will have transformed himself again. I remain skeptical about Hillary, but the idea is getting general approval. I remain impressed with Obama's consistency, by his vision and by his patience, specifically in these matters.

As far as I'm concerned, the big news of the day--ignored by everyone--was Obama's statement on the Climate Crisis. I'll be writing about that shortly at Dreaming Up Daily.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Drama Queens

The unavoidable gossip beginning late Thursday and continuing all Friday has been Hillary as Sec of State. I'm flummoxed by the whole notion. If No Drama Obama needed any more evidence of what this would bring his administration, the very fact of the firestorm of talk about Hillary, the Drama Queen (and I use the term in its non-gender specific, and non-sexual preference sense) should be convincing. Hillary comes fully equipped with her loud mouthed loyalists, partisans to the core, including some certifiable morons (Lanny Davis) and louts (Howard the Wolf.) Plus the Big Dog.

Meanwhile the stories are battles of contradictory sources. Some say she's been offered the job. Others say there was one discussion, to see if she is interested (and perhaps, one would guess, if she'll submit to being vetted, including questions of Bill.) Some say the Obama team is behind the talk or isn't sufficiently denying it, others say that after Clinton, Obama interviewed Bill Richardson, and he hasn't told anyone who he favors. (Which sounds like his usual modus operandi at this point.)

I don't know these people, I don't know what Obama knows, but from where I sit, it's a bad, bad idea. Hillary is toxic, if only for her people and their brand of vicious partisanship. How can Hillary and Bill Richardson be in the same Cabinet after all the Judas crap of the campaign? And Richardson has to be in this cabinet. I think he's best positioned at State--an outward looking post, a groundbreaker for Latinos, as he represents the U.S. in the world. He's an experienced diplomat and administrator; Hillary is neither. She may be very knowledgeable, which might make her a decent National Security Advisor, but anywhere in the White House she's going to inspire intrigue, second-guessing and backbiting. If not by her, then by her minions. And there is always, always Bill, who not even she can control. If Obama is really considering her--and there are also reports that there is substantial opposition to the idea within Team Obama--then he is a lot more confident/sanguine/tolerant than me, but I see it as, at best, a huge drain on the energy that needs to be focused. Team of Rivals sounds great, but it has to be a team, and I don't see a team player--at least one capable of controlling the rowdy elements she brings with her.

But...there are a few puzzled and doubting journalists among the enthusiasts for the story, with a heavy dose of vituperation from Al G. at the Field, who believes the media frenzy is being generated by vengeful Clintonians who want to deny State to their enemies, Richardson and John Kerry. I'm not quite sure of the logic of this part, but I share the feeling that this is being generated by Clinton loyalists, for whatever reason (like they have to have any.)

And while I'm on my high hobby horse, I was glad to see Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders go public with their conviction that Joe Lieberman needs to be replaced as chair of the Homeland Security. I'm with them, and not with wusses like Evan Bayh. It's one thing not to hold grudges. It's another to subvert your agenda and complicate what's already a complicated situation in the Senate with competing agendas you can avoid. Leiberman is another Drama Queen.

In Alaska, Dem candidate Mark Begich is now up 1,022 votes, with 24,000 left to count next week. He needs to be ahead by about 1500 to avoid a state-funded recount, which in any case doesn't sound like the ballot-by-ballot hand recount that Minnesota conducts. Sounds like he has a pretty good chance of achieving what he needs without a recount.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Transition and Other Gossip (Plus Farewell to Ted the Felon in Alaska)

Part of why the media and blogosphere are full of misinformation and leaping to conclusions is that this transition is just damn exciting. People are excited! Polls show that ordinary Americans are even hopeful, and the likelihood of sweeping change is exhilarating.

So as long as you and I understand that this is all just gossip, why not indulge? Some of the credible names I'm spotting for Secretary of Health and Human Services: (Dr.) Howard Dean, Kathleen Sibelius (who took on Blue Cross in Kansas) or Tom Daschle (wrote a book on health care crisis.) Sibelius is also mentioned for Commerce, Education, Energy--does this mean she won't get any of them? Not that every appointment has to be a Big Name, but those are interesting ones. The actual jobs could just as well go to folks like James Lee Witt at Homeland Security, or James Comey at Justice.

Bill Richardson is still mentioned for State but also for Interior. That would be interesting, too, though it would be really neat if at last the Interior Department is run by a Native American. Tammy Duckworth is mentioned for both Veterans Affairs and Obama's Senate seat; Max Cleland is the other Veterans Affairs name.

Other big names I mentioned before and still think are credible: RFKjr., Janet Napolitano.

Big names being mentioned I really don't see in the Obama Administration: Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore (though I'd be surprised if he wasn't a special envoy to the climate treaty next year), Richard Lugar, Colin Powell (don't think he wants another go-round), Ahnold. I do see a job for Mrs. Ahnold. I'm kind of agnostic about John Kerry for State. I don't think it will happen, and he's going to be an important force in the Senate.

Scientific types are really excited about the return of real science to the federal government, and are watching appointments like Director of White House Science and Technology Policy, and some key ones at lower crucial levels in the various departments. They're interested in what kind of scientist, what level of expertise, anything that signals policy. So far, some are pretty impressed with the relevant people on the transition team.

Meanwhile, the progressive blogosphere is very impressed with the transition Internet appointments, and the prospects for the first wired White House.

As for how the administration will work, Karen Tumulty isolates another quote from John Podesta's presentation Tuesday: President-elect Obama intends to continue the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council. The important policy coordination role will be maintained in the White House. ... There's a central function of policy development coordination that takes place at the White House in conjunction with OMB. What he's looking for in a cabinet is people who are very strong, who can carry out the mandate, the missions of those agencies, and do it across the priorities that he's laid out to get the economy moving again, to get jobs moving again, to get wages growing again. "

Ambinder sees a transition paying a lot of attention to process, and: Obama seems to understand that the way he manages the White House during the first few week is absolutely vital to the smooth functioning of his administration after that."

Good news from...Alaska? Oh yeah. At close of business Wednesday, Democrat Mark Begich has erased Ted the Felon's 3,000 vote lead and now leads by 814 votes. With remaining votes to be counted Thursday (maybe Friday, maybe Monday as well) reported to come from Dem districts, Nat Silver sez Mark Begich is now an overwhelming favorite to win the Alaska Senate seat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reader Beware

I've been harping here on maintaining skepticism of reports on what Obama is and isn't going to do, who is and isn't going to be appointed, and what Obama does and doesn't want others to do. For increasingly good reasons. There's the pre-spin by people who have a self- interest. There are trial balloons, floated by similarly self-interested people as well as perhaps by the Obama team. There are the usual misunderstandings, by people overhearing things and reporters interpreting information.

Which has meant for instance that this morning headline gets denied tonight, as in the case of the supposed swap meet Bush and Obama held in the Oval Office yesterday. Or in the interpretation of a signal, which leads to strings of speculation, like on the Obama position on Joe Lieberman's fate in the Senate.

It was widely reported--and still is-- that Obama wants Lieberman's status to remain as it is, within the Dem caucus, and even retaining his committee chairs. But his spokesperson Stephanie Cutter indicated today that Obama's position is that he doesn't hold a grudge, but that Joe the Traitor's fate is up to Harry Reid and the Senate Dems. Well, there's a big difference between saying, Obama is not insisting Joe get thrown out, and Obama wants Joe to stay.

As to what we actually do know, John Podesta held a press conference to talk about the transition--TPM has the best summary I saw. The only thing missing is Podesta's response to a question that wouldn't these ethics rules banning lobbyist influence limit the people who might be appointed or be part of the transition? "So be it," Podesta decreed.

As we simultaneously look forward and evaluate the past campaign, Ambinder has this neat summary of why the Obama campaign was successful, such as Practice what you preach (trust the community organizers), and "Win Bigger/Lose Smaller:" "That was an Obama field mantra. The campaign opened up a field office in Warren Co., Ohio, where George W. Bush won by nearly 50 points in 2004. Well, Obama lost Warren County... but by 37 points. That's a big improvement. Losing by smaller margins in those smaller counties is how Barack Obama won Ohio."

And here for the record is another account of dancing in the street
on election day, this time in NYC. As I've said many times, if it wasn't for vicarious experiences, I wouldn't have many experiences at all.

In the continuing adventures of the three missing Senate seats, here's the latest on Alaska. Sounds like we could know a lot more Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Shannyn Moore reveals that election "irregularities" are not new in Alaska--for instance, 2004.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Electoral Map Quest

Map Quest: Top map shows presidential election results. Note that Missouri is still undecided--as of today, McCain is ahead by fewer than 5,000 votes with at least 7,000 ballots to be evaluated and counted. The second map is from the New York Times: the blue areas are where Democrats gained (not necessarily where they won.) In part, this reflects the Obama campaign philosophy of "win bigger, lose smaller." By the way, Obama's popular vote % is now 52.6 to McCains 46.1. You can ignore the Alaska map--there are more than a quarter of the total votes cast that are still to be counted.
Transition Watch

For the time being, I'm going to post little tidbits and political gossip over here--the kind of stuff that doesn't fit the more thematic Dreaming Up Daily blog. I posted here on the election principally because I wanted to have these posts on the same blog as posts on prior elections, for archival purposes mostly. With the very small traffic this site gets, its function apart from thinking aloud for a few friends and other readers has to be a kind of info diary, and to collect an archive that might be useful to someone later on.

Anyway, in today's information flow: Howard Dean is stepping down as DNC chair, a traditional move after a presidential election. My guess is he will be replaced by David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, who has said he won't be going to the White House.

Obama's approval rating is near 70%, and 65% believe he has the potential to be a good President.

Barack and Michelle visited the White House Monday, the drafty old mansion built with slave labor. Apparently, Michelle's mother will also be moving in; she's been the primary babysitter for the Obama girls during the campaign, and this should help make the transition easier on them. So save the mother-in-law jokes.

As for further appointments and actions, my policy is to stick with actual announcements and on the record statements by the people who actually have top level responsibilities. Because there's a lot of hoo-haw out there, some of which may simply be to further the agenda or prospects of the source. So I view statements on Obama's policy on Gitmo trials and the intelligence agencies as not credible. But the on the record statements on the Sunday talk shows about Obama's plans to issue executive orders immediately on key items are very credible (although actual decisions on these were denied Monday.)

Sometimes the rumors fall all over themselves, as in this one-day chronicle of rumors on who might be appointed to fill Obama's Senate seat: it started with one African American woman (Valerie Jarrett) and winds up with another (Cheryle Jackson.) Jarrett, an Obama confidant, is instead likely to wind up in the White House, according to anonymous Obama advisors, who seem more credible because they're responding to the earlier story that she was Obama's choice. Jackson might be the Governor's choice, but other frequently mentioned names are Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Tammy Duckworth.

On the outstanding Senate seats, a couple of stories indicate that Obama political operatives are in Georgia to help the Democrat, and that Obama may make an appearance on his behalf for the early December run-off. McCain and maybe Palin may appear for the notorious GOPer incumbent. Meanwhile, Nate Silver figures that Franken has a good chance to win the Minnesota recount after all (it also may not be settled until December), and early signs are that the Democrat may yet triumph in Alaska when more than 90,000 absentee and early votes--something like a third of the total vote--are counted in the increasingly fishy-looking Alaska election. That could happen by the end of this week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One of the post-election front pages that quickly became keepsakes all over the world. Obama has become something of a savior for print journals in trouble.

As an adjunct to the televised version (below), Salon asked some of its contributors to write about their experiences on election day.

I've also taken note elsewhere of the boon the Obama election has been to newspapers and magazines, which have seen editions about the Obama victory selling out. It happened especially to big city dailies on Wednesday, and perhaps figuring this out, it happened to the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday when their front page was full of Obama photos and newspaper front pages from Wednesday. Or so I've heard. Because locally, there wasn't a Chronicle to be found by early afternoon, whereas there were piles and piles of the local daily--with its Obamaless front page.
How It Went Down

Glancing back at pre-election posts, I realized there's no account on this blog of how the election returns actually rolled out. This video compilation by Jed L. provides some idea of the network coverage. Although polls closed in part of Indiana pretty early, the state was a long time in being called. Pennsylvania was the earliest indicator of how it would go, and Ohio was the next really meaningful call--it meant McCain couldn't win. It was California and our west coast states that gave Obama the victory, as soon as our polls closed. Virginia and Florida were called at about the same time, or soon after.
Monday Morning Quarterbacking

That title is painful thanks to the disastrous Steelers game Sunday, but it's apropos.

One big thing happened to the American economy over the weekend, and it happened in China. The huge Chinese stimulus spending plan immediately sent Asian and European markets higher. But it also stole the thunder on the U.S., and ought to be getting wide-eyed attention from U.S. officials, particularly Congress.

About the only comfort the U.S. had was that this economic crisis is shared, especially by China. But such an early and massive step could change that. It should put a lot of pressure on Congress to pass a meaningful and hefty stimulus package, real soon.

As for the general proposition, Monday morning quarterback and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman strongly advises President Obama not to repeat the mistakes of FDR during the Great Depression, which--contrary to CW-- was to create too modest a net stimulus to the economy. While FDR increased federal spending on what we now call infrastructure, for instance, he also increased taxes and didn't help state and local government meet their responsibilities without increasing taxes on their levels.

"My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent," Krugman concludes. "It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little. In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Sunday After

There are two types of Sunday columns responding to the Obama election. One is to marvel at it and what it means, as Frank Rich does. They're great, but they do remind me of a curious lack of closure hereabouts. People keep referring to celebrations, dancing in the streets everywhere, a new attitude in the everday world. Once again, this kind of thing passed me by. I detect a smile now and then in response to my Obama cap, but that's about it. If there was dancing in the street here, it was on some other street. But then, I've usually been in the wrong place at the victorious time for this sort of thing. Oh well.

The second type of column outlines the author's agenda for what Obama should or must do, and in what order. Some of these are worthwhile, like Al Gore's on the Climate Crisis and Paul Krugman on the economy. (Okay, that's a Friday column but you get the idea.) Others are the usual special pleadings based on a single issue or on the author's ego--sorry, I meant insights. These are predictable and generally speaking, ignorable.

There is a bit of ugliness in the post-election reaction to Prop 8 in California, which passed a ban on gay marriages (as did two other states.) The vote itself was pretty ugly, assuming it reflects the actual intent of the voters, which given California proposition history is not at all certain. Manipulating the "yes" and "no" has become a high art of the political marketeers who devise these things. But that a first impulse was to immediate blame of African Americans for how they voted was and remains ugly. It does no one credit. And it doesn't help.

On Friday the President-Elect had a brief press conference. A couple of things he said stand out, although I'm not sure that everyone else got the point. The first was that he would proceed with deliberate haste on cabinet appointments--in other words, not be rushed into making them. And in urging Congress to pass a stimulus package, he said that if they didn't in the lame duck session, he would do it immediately after taking office. He didn't say, he would send a stimulus bill to the Hill in January. He said he would get a stimulus package. Maybe the press didn't pick up on this, but I'm guessing that Congress did.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Obama has named his economic transition team, with a good mix of members: Clinton stalwarts but also people from business, federal, state and city government. I like seeing Robert Reich on that list. Reich left the Clinton cabinet (Sec. of Labor) due in part to the policies he couldn't support--he was more liberal than the rest of Clinton's economic team as it evolved. That Obama wants his voice in this group is very good, though I doubt Reich will go back to the cabinet (His book on his Clinton admin experiences was called Locked in the Cabinet, after all.)

The only name in this group mentioned in the media as a top contender for Treasury is Lawrence Summers. Ambinder thinks Treasury will come out of this group, and Richard Wolfe on MSNBC talked of Summers as if his appointment is a cinch. But I'm not sure. This could be a panel of advisors--a group of elders. While cabinet posts, especially Treasury, are part policy, part diplomatic jobs (dealing with outside entities), they are also administrative. A younger appointee, like Geithner, appeals to me. If an older guy like Summers does get the job now, I look for a younger #2 there like Geithner, who will be in line to inherit the job in a couple of years. (Possibly the same situation at Defense, if Gates is kept on.)

Rahm Emanuel is officially Obama's chief of staff. Ambinder writes this about what it signals: What does Rahm's selection say about Obama? Obama won't be afraid to step on toes. He's going to be very aggressive in pursuing his agenda. He won't shrink from confronting Congress. And he will expect extreme competence from his staff, from the chief on down.

No surprise if, as suggested, David Axlerod and press secretary Robert Gibb go with Obama to the White House.

I'm warming to the idea of Bill Richardson as Secretary of State. Makes sense in a number of ways, but again the key may be his relationship with Obama, and nobody knows that really, except Obama. It's news to me, for example, that Obama and Emanuel have been so close, but it makes perfect sense that he'd want that for chief of staff. Plus Emanuel's experience in the White House, Congress, business, electoral politics.

Well, that's the gossip and my take on it. It's barely 48 hours after the election was settled, and I'm still sleep deprived and a little numb. But when I switched on the TV today I did get a rush when I first heard the words, "President-elect Obama."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Cabinet Connection

At this point it's hard to tell which names are serious, which are trial balloons, which are floated to assuage egos and repay debts, and which are fantasies of supporters of the person named, or other unnamed but not actually in the know persons.

But there are names out there for cabinet members, and the ones I'm most interested in are the ones I was hoping to see on Obama's list. Especially Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who would make a terrific appointment to Environmental Protection Agency, but also to head the Dept. of Energy. Caroline Kennedy is also rumored for UN rep or ambassador to the UK (where her grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy served.) I like the symbolism--Kennedys: The Next Generation. But they both would be really good in those roles. RFK, Jr. would be tenacious. In any case I do hope for a heavy hitter for Energy--somebody with credentials and credibility on the climate crisis as well as green energy.

Of the names being bandied about my instincts say that some are more likely than others (Vilsack at Agriculture, Napolitano as A.G., Geithner at Treasury, Bill Richardson and Chuck Hagel somewhere) but I expect surprises. Somebody from business, and from academia. We don't have to deplete Democrats in Congress or the states. And by the way, cabinet secretaries aren't the only important posts. There are White House advisors, too, which is kind of where I expect Hagel might land. How about several science advisors--like James Hansen of NASA, the most prominent name on Climate Crisis science?

What's got me foxed is the Rahm Emanuel business. Not that he'd be offered the Chief of Staff job, but that it's public, along with the "fact" that he hasn't accepted yet. This is very un-Obamalike, and actually doesn't bode too well for Emanuel. He's sprung a leak even before he's taken the job? Not so good.

Apart from what Michelle's dress was all about at Grant Park (a compromise between Sasha's black and Malia's red?), that's got me mystified.

But what I'm thinking of is this: to this day I can recite for you the entire JFK cabinet, including Postmaster General, which I learned when I was 15. This is a really exciting time to be 15, and to watch a new generation government being formed. At that time, I unrealistically identified with the Kennedy administration--I imagined I was part of it. They cooperated a bit, too--I sent them letters, and got replies like, "The Secretary has carefully considered your letter," and "Your thoughtful letter to the President has been forwarded to the State Department..." I wonder if today's 15 year olds will get that part of the experience.

Now, even though I get emails signed "Barack," I am well aware how distant I am from what's going on in Washington. That's something I will be thinking about further.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I didn't get much sleep last night and today is packed with day jobness. But I've got a couple of cautionary thoughts about what we've just experienced.

First, the amount of money binged on this election was obscene. I was part of it this time--for me it was overwhelmingly important to help elect Obama. That his campaign raised so much money from so many small donors is a wonder. But all together, the money it takes to do anything in elections--run as a candidate, back a ballot initiative--is pretty awful. And I don't know how sustainable either. There was enough margin in the system--enough loose change in enough pockets--to do it this time. But this time next year? I doubt it.

Look at all the attention paid to raising money. One of Obama's lesser known advisors, Cass Sunstein, is co-author of a book called Nudge, about "choice architecture," which is a fancy name for a particular kind of marketing, which is by definition a confidence game. The Obama campaign was very good at nudging donations from me. And look at all the money spent here in CA on Prop 8--I think it's like 80 million. It looks like the homophobes won, but however it turns out, you can bet the question is going to be on the ballot next time, and even more money will be spent on it. These are millions that could be going for things that have much more direct effects, with multipliers in terms of the good they do. You can educate kids with that. Fill potholes. Prevent some folks from dying in pain because of inadequate health insurance.

Anyway, it's over for me. If my contributions this year suggest to any pols that I can be nudged again, forget it.

Second, this election night proved once again that when it comes to real time information, the blogosphere is totally dependent on the established information media. I see the chortling on Kos etc. about newspapers losing circulation and in danger of going under. But Kos and the Huffington Post etc. have yet to develop more that supplementary sources of information and modes of gathering and delivering it. They depend on the reporting of media organizations: newspaper and television. And that's true beyond such obvious situations as election night. The blogosphere has done a lot in breaking particular stories, and pushing others until the established media pays attention. But without newspapers in particular, the blogosphere would be little more than unverifiable gossip.

The reason is simple: the blogs don't make enough money to support reporters and a news gathering organization. Very few people can make a living directly from the Internet. Those hoary old newspapers still have union jobs. Does Kos? Meanwhile, the people who write for Huffington are just about all sustained by their newspaper, magazine and TV gigs, and the related income streams of books and paid speeches. Even the big players in the blogosphere depend on books, magazine columns and paid speaking engagements.

Plus there are editors. That's a very mixed blessing, and the blogs do have ways of checking people on their information. But that doesn't always work. There were so many diaries on Kos this election season that purported to be first person reports that could just as easily have been fiction.

The Internet was supposed to be a faster source of election news than TV, radio and newspapers. But those sites that aren't part of established media organizations did little but report what the TV said. And usually, long after they said it. The blogosphere has unique potential and fulfills unique functions, but it has a long way to go to be more than amateur in the gathering and disseminating of timely information.

A sign among the 200,000 or so in and around Grant Park in Chicago, celebrating the victory of President-Elect Barack Obama.
A New Day

It's a new day for America and the world, but it benefits from the past. My two best friends from high school, fellow members of Jr. Teen Dems for Kennedy when we were 14, were doing GOTV on election day, as was I. Margaret remembered Martin Luther King talking about the future he envisioned but might not get to see. I saw Jesse Jackson weeping in the crowd at Grant Park, and I remembered his ground-breaking candidacy especially in 1992 when he was the last Democrat standing except for Bill Clinton in the primaries, and when in the darkest days of Reagan and Bush his message and his slogan was, "Keep hope alive."

Everyone who marched for Civil Rights in the early 60s, or against the war in the late 60s, has to feel they had a part in this, even if that generation--my generation--is reviled as a failure.

Now the Obama administration can not only call on the talents of those who have served in the past, but they can profit from past mistakes. My fellow conspirator in the 1970 antiwar movement at Knox College, John Podesta, is a leader of the transition, and as White House Secretary in Bill Clinton's first term (after leaving the White House, he returned to become Chief of Staff in the second term) he was well positioned to see all the problems in the Clinton transition.

All of this will serve the Obama administration well. But for all the talk about well-known Washington figures, I expect that eventually--if not immediately--we are going to be seeing a new generation in Washington. And that's as it should be. This was a generational election. And for once, America may have gotten a head start on its future. Because the electorate that voted for Obama is much more like America's future than are those who did not.

It's going to be a midwestern administration--perfectly positioned between the West, which is the vanguard of America's future, and the East/Middle Atlantic/South which dominated America's past, but they are transforming as well.

Obama's speech was remarkable for being so consistent with what he has said before, just as his closing argument was very close to his opening argument in the campaign. America might not quite yet know what it's got, but that's only because it's hard to take it in all at once. Obama has been saying it all along.

The numbers aren't all in as I write this, but surely this was a unique election, and a transformative one. We can't yet begin to see what it means. Except one thing: now the future has a chance. It will take a lot of work, but that possibility is something else I was afraid I wouldn't see in my lifetime.