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