Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Maybe Balanced, But Fair

There seems a pervasive suspicion in the blogging left that the American media is pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. Meant presumably, is that the mainstream media is unjustifiably anti-Hamas, given that it is consistently sympathetic treatment of Palestinians per se (generally portrayed as innocent victims of Israel and otherwise, simply as innocent victims) and that the presenting issue is not the Israeli conflict with Palestinians but with the Hamas government.

To the ridicule of Daily Kos, Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist- not beat reporter or editor- notes today in the pages of The Washington Post:

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis, deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.


Still, news articles typically are headlined "Israel destroys Hamas homes, flattens Gaza mosque" (Associated Press); "Gaza mosque hit in Israeli air strikes" (Reuters); "Casualties rise as Israel strikes on Gaza persist" (International Herald Tribune, global edition of The New York Times); and most tellingly, coming from the Voice of America: "Israeli Airstrikes Kill More Than 200 in Gaza."

The article from the AP explains "Israel bombed a mosque it said was used to store weapons and destroyed the homes of more than a dozen Hamas operatives Friday.... but, coupled with print photographs and video, the message driven home to consumers of news is: Israeli bombs civilians indiscriminately. But as the AP acknowledges, even "Hamas has said about half of the dead were members of its security forces" and the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinians Territories (not likely a flak for the Israelis) "estimated that more than 100 of the dead were civilians." Given that at that time the estimated death toll was 400, that would suggest nearly 75% were not civilians. A tragic loss of life, but which Israeli itself tried to minimize:

Before the airstrikes, Israel's military called some of the houses to warn of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn civilians before flattening the homes with missiles, Palestinians and Israeli officials said. Israeli planes also dropped leaflets east of Gaza giving a confidential phone number and e-mail address to report locations of rocket squads. Residents stepped over the leaflets.

Par for the course for the Israeli military, but tactics unbecoming a brutal imperialist.
Article Of The Week

Among the many positions I though I'd never be in would be one in which I recommend an article by naturalized American and journalist Christopher Hitchens in which he touched on Middle East politics (not much of a supporter of Israel) and Christianity (even less of a supporter).

Still, Hitchens is right on target with "Shame on You, Rick Warren." It includes his criticism of the Baathist regime in Syria, which

is joined at the hip with the Iranian theocracy, that is the patron of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that is the official and unabashed host of the fugitive Hamas leadership whose military wing directs massacre operations from Damascus itself. (One might also add that the Syrian Baath Party's veteran defense minister,* Mustafa Tlas, published a book under his own name that accused Jews of using the blood of non-Jewish children for the making of those ever-menacing Passover matzos. I suppose it depends how you define extremism.)

It seems that Reverend Warren is an unabashed promoter of the Syrian government, perenially an enthusiastic state supporter of terrorism. After he met with Bashar Assad and described the nation the dictator lords over as "a moderate country, and the official government rule and position is to not allow extremism of any kind," he met with a mufti. Then he reportedly assured the Syrian people that he would convey to Americans the fine relationship he witnessed between Christians and Muslims in Syria, as well as the opposition of 80% of the American people to the war in Iraq (probably not a good thing to tell a regime hostile to the U.S.A., even if true, which it never quite has been).

But Hitchens' theme is expressed in the first sentence of his piece. Why, he asks, has it "been agreed by every single media outlet that only one group has the right to challenge Obama's promotion of "Pastor" Rick Warren, and that group is the constituency of politically organized homosexuals?" (And credit Hitchens for enclosing "Pastor" in quotes- as a title it is applicable only to members of a minister's own church.) It's a good question, one which as a heterosexual displeased with the selection of Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration I should have asked. But didn't. And now it has been.


...................................Happy New Year....................................
Arab Leadership Not Homogenous

The fanatically anti-Israeli Ian Welsh, posting on firedoglake.com, is either confused or intentionally deceptive as he alleges

So. Israel attacks Palestinians. Hamas responds by counter-attacking.

If Israel is responsible for initiating hostilities, and its adversaries are the "Palestinians," it comes as a surprise to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who in a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said of Hamas:

We spoke to them and told them "Please, we ask you not to end the cease-fire. Let it continue. We want to protect the Gaza Strip. We don't want it to be destroyed."

And when Gheit was asked who was to blame for the crisis in Gaza, he replied: "Ask the party that controls Gaza."

Memo to those, in the left blogs and otherwise, who find Israel largely to blame for the latest war in the Middle East: not all Arabs (or Palestinians) think alike, and there are leaders in their community who fervently hope the Israelis are successful in ending the terrorist regime in Gaza.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pennsylvania, And Charter Schools

Perhaps charter schools are not a panacea.

The toast of many Republicans and New Democrats, charter schools are no longer free from criticism. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today of a federal criminal probe into at least four charter schools in Philadelphia. Allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement are not uncommon.

And no wonder, given that

The law allows little scrutiny of charters. Districts approve charters but have limited power to shut them down. The state exercises scant oversight on charter spending, which totals more than $633 million this year.

The law dictates a crazy-quilt pattern of funding for charters. Each district pays a different amount even when the students attend the same charter. For example, Philadelphia pays $8,088 per student; Jenkintown, $15,174. Cybers get the same payments as other charters even though students receive online instruction at home.

Charters are paid extra for special-education students, regardless of their disability. There is no requirement they spend all the money on special-education services. Chester Community Charter spends only 20.7 percent of its special-education funds on special education.

The law bars school board members from serving on charter boards, but it does not prohibit politicians or a founder's friends and relatives.


It's clear, nevertheless, why so many conservatives like the idea of charter schools. In a 12/25/08 column in the Wall Street Journal, editorial writer Collin hailed President-elect Obama's selection of Chicago School CEO Arne Duncan (known for his Renaissance 2010 program, which calls for closing approximately 60 public schools and opening 100 new ones, many of them charters, by 2010. He laments:

unions aren't about to slink off into the sunset. If they're losing some of their clout at the national level, they maintain their grip locally. In many places, teachers angle to usurp the language of the reformers while pushing their own agenda.

It's understandable that Levy says little about academic achievement. However, in a 12/23/08 opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kevin Kumashiro noted Duncan's market-based school reform approach and wrote

There is evidence that encouraging choice and competition will not raise district-wide achievement, and charter schools in particular are not outperforming regular schools. There is evidence that choice programs actually exacerbate racial segregation. And there is evidence that high-stakes testing increases the drop-out rate.

The effort to give up on America's public schools will continue, perhaps in the next Administration, and probably beyond. Responsible policymakers not tied to an anti-union or anti-government ideology, though, will consider the actual causes of our inadequate educational system instead of rushing headlong into unproven, costly alternatives which undermine public schools and do little if anything to help students.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

As Expected, Israel Retaliates

In today's New York Times article, misleadingly if accurately entitled "Israeli Attack Kills Scores Across Gaza," we learn

The Israeli Air Force on Saturday launched a massive attack on Hamas targets throughout Gaza in retaliation for the recent heavy rocket fire from the area, hitting mostly security headquarters, training compounds and weapons storage facilities, the Israeli military and witnesses said.

On the downside: The Israeli attack "came in mid-morning, when official buildings and security compounds were filled with personnel and children were at school, and not, as many had anticipated, at night." On the upside: The Israeli attack was expected and understandable, coming "after days of warnings by Israeli officials that Israel would retaliate for intense rocket and mortar fire against Israeli towns and villages by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza." Consequently, most of the leaders of Hamas "had already been in hiding for two days" but there were some (regrettable) deaths of Palestinian citizens who, unsurprisingly, were not offered the same assistance by the (Sarcasm Alert) brave and compassionate terrorists running Gaza.

A white House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, noted "Hamas's continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop. Hamas must end its terrorist activities if it wishes to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people." The United States urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties as it targets Hamas in Gaza." Just the right balance on the part of the U.S. government. So far, so good.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Metaphor Of The Bush Administration

In a Washington Post article dated November 10, 2008, staff writer Amit R. Paley described a stealth change to Section 382 of the tax code, undertaken when "the financial world was fixated on Capitol Hill as Congress battled over the Bush administration's request for a $700 billion bailout of the banking industry." It took effect with a five-sentence notice which radically changed twenty-two years of tax policy by allowing "some banks to keep more money by lowering their taxes as a way to help financial instituitions during a time of economic crisis." Paley explains further:

Section 382 of the tax code was created by Congress in 1986 to end what it considered an abuse of the tax system: companies sheltering their profits from taxation by acquiring shell companies whose only real value was the losses on their books. The firms would then use the acquired company's losses to offset their gains and avoid paying taxes.

Lawmakers decried the tax shelters as a scam and created a formula to strictly limit the use of those purchased losses for tax purposes.


The notice came one day after troubled Wachovia Bank had agreed, with a guarantee by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to be acquired by Citigroup. Aided by the tax change, dubbed "the Wells Fargo Ruling," a more attractive bid made by Wells Fargo four days later resulted in its merger with North Carolina-based Wachovia. Over the next month, PNC acquired National City and saved approximately $5.1 billion, and Banco Santander netted $2 billion as it acquired Sovereign Bancorp.

This radical change to the tax code had all the earmarks of a classic Bush Administration policy, for it was:

- sudden, coming "out of the blue," the day after the House of Representatives initially rejected a bailout bill, "when Treasury's work seemed focused almost exclusively on the bailout;"

- secretive, with the Treasury Department neglecting to inform the tax-writing committees of Congress;

- fiscally irresponsible, given the calculation by Jones Day, a law firm which represents banks that could benefit from the notice, that it could cost taxpayers approximately $140 billion;

- brash, described by a partner at Jones Day as "a shock to most of the tax community. It was one of those things where it pops up on your screen and your jaw drops. I've been in tax law for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this."

- (probably) illegal, with even several lawyers representing banks poised to reap a bonanza conceding the Department of the Treasury lacked authority to issue the notice.

This corporate giveaway reflects the notion that a company deserves a refund from the federal govenment in a year when it loses money. (Sarcasm Alert) Consequently, we can be confident that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will condemn this change in the tax code given her opinion about rescuing another industry with failed management:

When you talk about rewarding for work ethic and good management decisions and then consequences are the results of the opposite of that, and those decisions lead to some mistakes that are made in some industries, taxpayer bailouts should not be looked to as the be-all, end-all solutions.

Unfortunately, the former vice presidential candidate may have concluded that $14 billion loaned to car companies threatens the Republic while a handout of $140 billion to financial institutions is sound fiscal policy.
Palin Undeterred By Facts

When interviewed by Human Events on December 22, Governor Sarah Palin said of the domestic auto industry:

Picking winners and losers in Washington, D.C., is a dangerous thing to do when you’re talking about a system that supposed to be based on free enterprise. When you talk about rewarding for work ethic and good management decisions and then consequences are the results of the opposite of that, and those decisions lead to some mistakes that are made in some industries, taxpayer bailouts should not be looked to as the be-all, end-all solutions.

"Picking winners and losers" is, of course, a folksy way of referring to industrial policy, and Governor Earmark is nothing if not faux folksy. And she implies, intentionally, that "picking winners and losers" is somehow antithetical to American "free enterprise." But as Robert Kuttner notes,

For instance, American commercial leadership in aerospace is no naturally occurring phenomenon. It reflects trillions of dollars of subsidy from the Pentagon and from NASA. Likewise, U.S. dominance in pharmaceuticals is the result of government subsidy of basic research, favorable patent treatment, and the fact that the American consumer of prescription drugs is made to overpay, giving the industry exorbitant profits to plow back into research. Throwing $700 billion at America's wounded banks is also an industrial policy.

Similarly, when Mrs. Palin claims "when you talk about rewarding for work ethic and good management decisions and then consequences are the results of the opposite of that," she assumes that such "consequences" are limited to the American automobile industry. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Under the headline "Toyota Sees First Loss In 70 Years," the Wall Street Journal on December 23 reported:

Toyota Motor Corp. forecast its first annual operating loss since 1938, a dramatic indicator that the troubles roiling the auto industry extend beyond the U.S. and are taking a toll on even the strongest car makers.....

The recent pleas from the Big Three U.S. auto makers for a bailout from Washington have kept the spotlight on Detroit. But Toyota's forecast of an operating loss indicates auto makers of every stripe are facing extraordinary challenges....

Like all car makers, Toyota has slathered on incentives to try to boost sales, but such moves have had little impact. Dealers say tight credit and low consumer confidence are keeping buyers away from showrooms and threatening to hold down car sales in the coming year. John Bergstrom of Bergstrom Automotive, a dealer of Toyota and other makes in Wisconsin, said consumer confidence is so low "it's almost like they need permission to buy something."


And this from Reuters on December 16:

While the Bush administration reviews the "Big Three's" financial data, there were fresh signs on Tuesday of the auto industry's dire situation.

Volkswagen , Spanish car maker Seat and Volvo , the world's No. 2 truckmaker, became the latest companies to announce temporary production halts in response to declining sales.

Honda moved up its year-end news conference by two days to Wednesday, raising the possibility that Japan's No. 2 automaker could issue its third profit warning this year.

Carmakers are seeking help from their suppliers: Toyota plans to ask Nippon Steel and other steelmakers for a 30 percent price cut, the Nikkei business daily reported on Tuesday.


Sarah Palin thus managed in two sentences to suggest three falsehoods: 1) only the automotive industry gets help from the federal government; 2) only U.S. automakers are asking for help (why do some conservatives always blame Americans first?); and 3) the "system" is still "based on free enterprise."

Except that it's not. While the Governor of the Socialist Republic of Alaska was campaigning for the presidency- uh, er, the vice presidency- of the United States of America, she evidently didn't notice that the Secretary of the Treasury in a Republican administration headed by the most conservative President in over 70 years gained control of $350 billion dollars (the amount thus far doled out) of taxpayer money. That's $700,000,000,000 in control of the federal government, initiated by President George W. Bush, a Republican from, presumably, what Palin refers to as "the real America....(the) very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation."

That is the "free enterprise" Sarah Palin is talking about. And while she breathlessy accused the Democratic presidential candidate, who advocated cutting taxes for 95% of working families, with wanting to "experiment with socialism," the leader of her own party generated a plan allowing the financial industry to grab from the American people sums never contemplated by any "Socialist" of her imagining.


Merry Christmas........................................................Happy Chanukah

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Having A Plan

Republicans throughout the country commenting on the rescue plan(s) for the domestic auto industry are setting a world record for ardently substituting rhetoric for fact. But when nonsense is spewed by the individual currently the favorite of Repub voters for GOP presidential nomination in 2012, it warrants notice.

Interviewed by the right-wing (and yet, within the mainstream of conservative Republicanism) Human Events on December 22, Sarah Palin rationalized her support for the recovery plan for financial institutions and opposition to it for the domestic auto industry:

Now the situation has changed, and I think the GOP did the right thing yesterday in saying, “Look, we still want more information before one industry -- in this case, the auto industry -- gets more taxpayer assistance until everybody knows what those dollars would be used for and how it will lead to success in this industry.”

Earlier that day, President Bush had announced a plan that

will be drawn from the financial rescue package Congress approved earlier this fall. The terms of the loans will require auto companies to demonstrate how they would become viable. They must pay back all their loans to the government, and show that their firms can earn a profit and achieve a positive net worth. This restructuring will require meaningful concessions from all involved in the auto industry -- management, labor unions, creditors, bondholders, dealers, and suppliers.

In particular, automakers must meet conditions that experts agree are necessary for long-term viability -- including putting their retirement plans on a sustainable footing, persuading bondholders to convert their debt into capital the companies need to address immediate financial shortfalls, and making their compensation competitive with foreign automakers who have major operations in the United States. If a company fails to come up with a viable plan by March 31st, it will be required to repay its federal loans.


Palin may not have had the opportunity to learn of this proposal before her interview with Human Events. She may not have been aware that the conditions the President proposes are stricter and wider-reaching than anything the captains of the financial services industry have had to put up with.

However, Governor Earmark must have known, assuming she now reads a newspaper, that the proposed recovery plan for the auto industry- unlike that for the banks et. al- was a loan rather than a handout. Nevertheless, she applauded action by Congressional (primarily) Republicans to vote "‘no’ to additional bailout efforts of one industry [the automobile industry, whose proposed federal bailout was stopped in the Senate December 11]." Then she rationalized the plunder by financial institutions, fantasizing "But back then, weeks ago, when that initial bailout [of financial institutions] was proposed, remember, it was considered at the time a rescue and not necessarily a bailout."

No, we don't "remember." The $700 billion was acknowledged as a "bailout" before the spinmeisters in the industry and their allies in the mainstream media morphed it into a "rescue plan." The recovery plan(s) for the auto industry, continually blasted by conservative Republicans, is a loan, with conditions far more stringent than that faced by the financial crowd, whose executives were not subjected to the critical congressional hearings faced by the auto industry- and escaped the scrutiny applied to that sector.

The President's proposal is flawed and will need to be modified by the incoming Obama administration. Still, it is an improvement upon the inaction which had characterized his response to the economic crisis, including that of the auto industry. It is disturbing that the Governor of Alaska, ignorant while a campaigner for vice-president, instead has chosen to continue simply to recite Republican talking points with no interest in mustering an original thought.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rick Warren, Fabricator

Put aside, for the time being: Rick Warren's reminders that his church has been very active in good works here and abroad; his views on abortion; his views on gay rights.

Consider, for now, only what Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and the minister given the tremendous honor of giving the invocation at the inauguration of President Obama, has said about gay rights. Here is the applicable passage from his interview with Steve Waldman of beliefnet.com:

The issue to me, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Oh , I do.


And here is Reverend Warren, in comments beginning at 2:53 of this video from Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, claiming

I have been accused of equating gay pernerships with incest and pedophilia. Now, of course, as members of Saddleback Church, you know, I believe no such thing. I never have. Uh, you never heard me once in thirty years talk that way about that.

Reverend Warren, asked whether incest, pedophilia, and bigamy are "equivalent to gays getting married," replies "I do." Then in a message which Maddow says came from a message he recorded and placed on his website (clearly intended primarily for his own congregants), the evangelical pastor says of "equating gay pertnerships with incest and pedophilia," "I believe no such thing. I never have."

If this latter statement is correct, Reverend Warren was lying in his interview. And if it's not correct, he's lying now. As a Christian minister, he understands better than most that none of us is perfect. But he appears to have forgotten the passage, extended from the Ninth Commandment, from Leviticus in the Old Testament: "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another."








Merry Christmas....................................................... Happy Chanukah

Monday, December 22, 2008

In response to a non-question question from Chris Wallace on the 12/21 edition of Fox News Sunday, Vice-President Dick Cheney argued:

Well, I just fundamentally disagree with him. He also said that the -- all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article 1 of the Constitution. Well, they’re not. Article 1 of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch.

Joe’s been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can’t keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive.

So I think -- I write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don’t take it seriously. And if he wants to diminish the office of vice president, that’s obviously his call.

I think that President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president. And apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I’ve had during my time.


Cheney is right- Joe Biden does not expect to have "as consequential a role as" Cheney has had in advancing the policies and programs of arguably the worst President ever, and inarguably the worst President in recent times. But he's wrong when he says that Biden "wants to diminish the office of vice president."

It is virtually impossible to diminish the office of the vice president. It's highly unlikely that the former Delaware senator will be reluctant to "be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided;" Biden will be only too happy to cast the deciding vote in a 50-50 split. And simple common sense (unsurprisingly lacking in a guy who would shoot his hunting companion) would suggest that no vice president would shrink from assuming responsibility when "in Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President..."

There you have it, Mr. Cheney: The two constitutional duties of the vice-president and to suggest that Mr. Biden would diminish the office is to argue that he would refuse either of those roles. Not likely.

Still, it's not surprising. Asked about "the powers of the president relative to Congress and the courts during the war," Cheney claimed "but we have exercised, I think, the legitimate authority of the president under Article 2 of the Constitution as commander in chief in order to put in place policies and programs that have successfully defended the nation."

But Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution does not authorize the President to be "commander in chief." It makes the President "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States...." And it doesn't stop there. It specifies (after the ....) "when called into the actual Service of the United States." So no one, constitutionally, is commander in chief- and the President is commander in chief of the armed forces only when "called into the actual Service of the United States."

Author/historian Garry Wills points out "We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon." Now, however, aided by the promiscuous use of the term "commander in chief" or "commander in chief of the United States, "the glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements."

This is a bipartisan error. Campaigning in Ohio on Halloween, Joe Biden declared " after next Tuesday, the very critics he has now and the rest of America will be calling him something else - they will be calling him the 44th president of the United States of America, our commander in chief Barack Obama!"

That may simply have been Biden being Biden. Growth of the "commander in chief" rhetoric during the last eight years, however, has better enabled the Bush Administration to cook the intelligence about a misguided war, spy on American citizens, and implement a torture regime. Instead, as Salon's Glenn Greenwald has noted, "with regard to Americans generally, the president is not our 'commander' but instead our elected public servant, subject to the mandates of the law like every other citizen and subordinate to the will of the people."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama And Duncan

Highlights from Barack Obama's press conference (pdf) of December 16, 2008 at Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago, Illinois:


1) Barack Obama nominates as the next Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools.

2) The President-elect acknowledges "(We) all agree that the Chicago public schools aren't as good as they need to be."

3) The President-elect declares "I can't think of anything more important for America's next Secretary of Education to do than what Arne has been doing all along."

Apparently: Arne Duncan should be Secretary of Education.... Chicago Public Schools are in trouble.... Arne Duncan should do for the country what he has done for Chicago.

The observation of the inadequacy of the schools for which Mr. Duncan has been responsible came in response to the reporter courageous enough to ask (in part) the President-elect:

You yourself have sent your daughters to private schools. What kind of commitment can you make for resources now as president for the public school system? Do you agree with Arne Duncan's proposal of cash incentives, giving kids a- who receive A's and B's perhaps $100?"

The President-elect did not respond to the obvious irony: as a Chicago resident, he did not have enough regard for Mr. Duncan to send his youngsters to the schools he was administering, but now believes he should be in charge of the school system(s) of the entire nation.

Bad Idea

When President-elect Obama announced the appointment of Arne Duncan, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools, as his nominee for Secretary of Education, he stated (pdf)

I'll never forget my first visit to this school several years ago, when one of the teachers here told me about what she called the "These Kids Syndrome" - our willingness to find a million excuses for why "these kids" can't learn - how "these kids" come from tough neighborhoods, or "these kids" have fallen too far behind.

"When I hear that term, it drives me nuts," she told me. "They're not 'these kids,' they're our kids."


I can't think of a better way to sum up Arne's approach to education

Duncan was appointed head of the Chicago public school system in June, 2001 and has become most associated with Renaissance 2010, described by wikipedia (objective evaluation of the initiative being hard to come by) as an effort

to create 100 high-performing public schools in designated communities of need by 2010. These schools will be held accountable for performance through 5-year contracts while being given autonomy to create innovative learning environments using one of the following governance structures: charter, contract, or performance.

Wikipedia does not mention, however, that Renaissance 2010 is based on a plan, named Left Behind (not the evangelical series), which came on the heels of transfer of control of schools from an elected school board to the mayor's office. It called for opening 100 schools and has included closing at least 60 others. Drawn up by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the plan left final selection and approval of the new schools with the Chief Economic Officer (now Duncan) of the the Chicago Public Schools but

the Commercial Club, in exchange for agreeing to help fund the project by raising $50 million, was, was granted increased power over the education system through New Schools for Chicago, an organization composed of leading corporate respresentatives, 'civic leaders' as well as the Chicago Board of Education President and CPS CEO. This unelected body participates in the selection and evalutation of Raenaissance 2010 schools, while distributing Commercial Club funds for which the schools must complete. School enrollment policy is also murky and leaves room for formal and informal selection processes.

Far from presenting the "new vision for the 21st century education system" he touted during his press conference, the President elect, urging us to "hold our schools, teachers, and government accountable for results," is practicing the same old politics of education. While Obama wishes to hold everyone but students accountable, Renaissance 2010 represents a movement which

believes educators are the problem with public education. The anti-practitioner nature of this movement is visible in urban districts, from Chicago to New York to San Diego, where businessmen and lawyers, with no background in education, are selected to run the school systems. You can see anti-practitioner slant in organizations like the Broad Foundation, where executives and ex-military men are being recruited and trained as school superintendents. And you can see it in Edison's for-profit schools, which use a business model based on low-cost labor, in the form of de-professionalized teachers who are treated as interchangeable parts in an assembly-line approach to education. What is common to these approaches is prioritizing the management of schools and teachers over a serious analysis of the state of teaching and learning.

The President-elect, referred, by way of unverifiable anecdote, to a "These Kids Syndrome," cited by an unidentified teacher (who often has heard the complaint), thereby insinuating that teachers spontaneous develop, or have intuitively, an attitude of neglect toward children in deteriorating neighborhoods. It is a reprehensible suggestion, artfully and casually delivered, that removes accountability from youngsters and redirects it toward public school employees. Not unlike the guiding philosophy of Renaissance 2000, in which

The business approach to education is a manifestation of the larger critique of the public sector that has become conventional wisdom in recent years. This critique focuses on the "waste, fraud, and abuse" in government and asks why government can't be run like a business. It assumes that efficiency is an alien concept in the public sector and that the introduction of elements such as competition will spur new ideas and more effective practices. Most important, it assumes that everything is a management problem, and, in the case of education, this means that those unaccountable teachers need to be forced to do their jobs. There is little or no recognition of the disconnect between what teachers are being asked to do and what students really need.

It is no coincidence that Barack Obama chose to announce his selection of Arne Duncan at a school which was closed and revamped during Duncan's adminstration. Now a charter school, Dodge Renaissance Academy may be emblematic of the misguided notion that while public money is always welcome, control of schools by the community or the educational profession is not.




Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reverend Warren And The Invocation

Controversy has been swirling since the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced on December 17 it has selected to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration on January 20 the Reverend Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist minister responsible for the exceedingly popular Purpose Driven Life series.

It was a decision Obama defended (and initiated), stating

A couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about -- that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

You might remember Rev. Warren for his opposition to abortion rights or more likely his fervent support of Proposition 8 in California, which restricted the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman after the state Supreme Court had recognized a right to gay marriage.

Principled advocates of both the left and the right have attacked the choice. CBN Senior National Correspondent David Brody (co-host of a weekly program on CNN), who likes the selection, wrote nevertheless, "the Brody File has been flooded with emails and most of them absolutely rip Pastor Warren for doing this." But most of the mainstream media has fixated on opposition to the selection from the right, such as this post from firedoglake's Jane Hamsher. And Glenn Greenwald of salon.com cogently argues that Obama's approach is

exactly the same thing Democrats have been doing for the last two decades: namely, accommodating and compromising with the Right in the name of bipartisan harmony and a desire to avoid partisan and cultural conflicts? This harmonious approach may be many things, but the one thing it seems not to be is "new."

Greenwald equates the strategy with President Clinton's "triangulation" scheme and notes

What did all of those post-partisan, cultural outreach efforts generate? Hatred so undiluted that it led to endless investigations, accusations whose ugliness was boundless, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and ultimate impeachment over a sex scandal. Bill Clinton was anything but a cultural or partisan warrior. He was the opposite. And that was what he had to show for it.

And it wasn't only with Clinton. Greenwald says of Democrats "from 9/11 onward, they were probably the single most cooperative, compliant, and accomodating 'opposition party' ever to exist" and

Did any of that dilute the Right's anger and resentments towards Democrats? Democrats spent 2002 giving George Bush everything he wanted -- including authorization to attack Iraq -- and the Right then promptly attacked them as Saddam-allied, Osama-loving subversives. In 2004, Democrats got frightened away from nominating an actual combative liberal, because they feared he'd be too divisive and culturally alienating, and replaced him with a mild-mannered, inoffensive war hero, who then had derisive purple band-aids waved at him by the GOP convention throngs, who spent months mocking him as a weak, effete, elitist loser.


And there was this: Blue-Dog Democrat Charles Walter Stenholm from Texas' 17th Congressional District: advocate of gun rights, opponent of abortion rights, pro-corporate opponent of environmental protection. When the staunchly Republican state legislature in Texas, guided by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ("The Exterminator"), gerrymandered the state to eliminate the remaining House Democrats, Charlie Stenholm was left in a more conservative, Republican district. And when Stenholm stood for reelection in 2004, did President George W. Bush, facing increasing opposition from the public and Congressional Democrats for his war in Iraq, recognize his need for congressional supporters of the war like Stenholm? As syndicated columnist David Broder wrote at the time, Bush "went out of his way to plug (Repub nomineee Randy) Neugebauer when he campaigned nearby and Vice President Cheney came in twice to help sink Stenholm" (who lost his seat).

Republicans recognize that pandering to the opposition is a far less effective strategy than opposing on principle. And Rick Warren has proven to be an opponent of Obama on more than gay rights and abortion rights, as demonstrated by the Civil Forum held in August with Obama and John McCain at Reverend Warren's Saddleback Church, where

Instead of sticking to questions on areas where Warren truly has broken from some religious conservatives, like climate change, the importance of alleviating poverty and preventing HIV transmission, Warren drew Obama and John McCain into a discussion of old-school social conservative hot-button issues: the definition of marriage and whether life begins at conception. Days later, he turned around and blasted Obama's answers on abortion rights, comparing being pro-choice to denying the Holocaust.

At the beginning of the forum (in which Obama was questioned first and McCain performed brilliantly), Warren famously assured the audience "We flipped a coin, and we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence." Yet, when informed by CNN's Rick Sanchez that McCain was not in this cone but in a Secret Service motorcade during a portion (approximately the first half hour) of the Obama interview, Warren flippantly replied "Well, that's true. He was in a cone of a secret service motorcade."

There is a distinction between working with political adversaries to achieve desired ends and rewarding them when they've only tried to undermine your efforts. While the former is often wise strategy, the latter is likely to breed contempt for an opponent viewed as vacillating.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Offensive, On Two Counts

Governor Paterson of New York is not amused. A segment on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" (video below) featured Arnisen as the legally-blind Chief Executive and portrayed him, noted CNN, "as confused and disoriented -- often looking in the wrong direction and mistakenly walking in front of the camera when it was not his turn to speak."

The following day, the Governor, blind in the left eye and visually-impaired in the right, stated "The idea of a person rolling around the stage in a chair, being disoriented, can't find anything, bumbling, in a sense looking like a clown is a way disabled people are portrayed all the time. The perception that disability equals inability to be responsible is totally wrong."

And as if to prove that bigotry does not preclude elitism, Arnisen/Paterson says of one of New York's adjacent borders:

"Blagojevich? This guy is a criminal. What is he- from New Jersey?"

"Let's get one of those in the Senate. I mean, no matter who we pull out of the freak bin, it'll be better than the garbage pile New Jersey elected."

(In response to "Governor, what have you got against New Jersey?", "Unfortunately, a southern border.")

"Hell, I'll go to Washington. Anything to get further away from New Jersey."


Thus far, as I confirmed today from the his press office, there has been no response from the New Jersey Governor, unlike the apparently more forthright David Paterson. Now, if only the latter applies that backbone in selecting for Hillary Clinton's seat an individual experienced in public affairs rather than succumbing to the lure of celebrity culture....






Fire At Wasilla Bible Church

On December 12, a fire broke out at Wasilla Bible Church, famously known as Sarah Palin's church, causing approximately $1 million damage in what authorities believe may be arson. On his next (syndicated) radio program, three days later, an obviously frustrated Glenn Beck argued "this story not being anywhere just proves how ubiquitous this story really is" and complained

Now, I don't think that this church being burned down should lead the news, but in today's society maybe it should. In the America I grew up in, it wouldn't have to. I mean, I know the President was almost hit by a shoe and everything, but isn't this a pretty big story? Whenever there's some racist that burns down a black church in the South somewhere, the story is everywhere. But the woman who has come closer than any other to being vice president of the United States has her church burned down and you barely find the story anywhere.

Beck deserves sympathy for concluding that arson at churches is "ubiquitous." There appeared to be a spate of churches, most of them black and in the south, being put on fire, resulting in extensive media coverage in the 1990s. Fortunately, most evidence indicates that arson at churches was no epidemic. Although reliable statistics, he points out, are sketchy, here Michael Fumento notes "a dramatic drop in the number of church arsons- from 1,420 in 1980 to 520 in 1994."

Those numbers still are way too high, but suggest that setting churches on fire is an ongoing (and largely unexamined) problem, rather than a characteristic feature of "today's society." And as to the Repub vice presidential nominee having "her church burned down and you barely find the story anywhere?" Here is one of many possible reasons: Wasilla Bible Church is not Sarah Palin's church. In fact, no church is Sarah Palin's church, as she explained to CBS's Katie Couric on September 30, 2008:

Well, you're absolutely wrong, again, on the facts. My church, I don't have a church, I'm not a member of any church. I get to visit a couple of churches in Alaska when I'm home, including one, Wasilla Bible Church...

I know Governor Earmark has among the denizens of the Christian right (and, less favorably, among the left) a reputation as a Bible-believing, God-loving, devout Christian woman dedicated to Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She might be all that but, at least as of the date of her interview with Ms. Couric, actually belonging to a church was not part of her portfolio.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quote Of The Week

"If we're going to stick with the banking on the family name thing, could we just make the Senate the House of Lords and stop pretending?"

-Rachel Maddow on The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC has no more imagination than I have) on 12/15/08, reacting to news that a)Caroline Kennedy may be chosen to replace Hillary Clinton as United States Senator from New York; and b)Representative John Salazar may be selected to replace Ken Salazar (D.-Col.), who is expected to be named by Barack Obama as Secretary of the Department of Interior
Specter's Polish Stereotype

To the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut, it was "a sour note" and "downplaying the significance of Obama's impending win, casting it as a function of the state's demographics and the Illinois senator's heavy African American support." To the New Republic's Jason Zengerle, it was among "their efforts to pigeonhole Obama as the "black" candidate. That said, I never thought they'd do it this explicitly." And Jake Tapper of ABC News couldn't resist being sarcastic: "Boy, I can't understand why anyone would think the Clintons are running a race-baiting campaign to paint Obama as "the black candidate."

Perhaps the mainstream media over-reacted when on the day (1/28/08) of the South Carolina primary, Hillary Clinton's husband told reporters "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ‘84 and ‘88. And he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama's run a good campaign here." Or perhaps not, given that the name "Jesse Jackson" strikes fear and loathing throughout the white community. And it was, at least, a (minimal, insufficient, and superficial) effort to deal with issue of ethnicity and politics.

Not so the (thus far) near silence of the mainstream media to an extraordinary appearance by Senator Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) at the annual luncheon of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania at the Commonwealth Club, which took place in New York City, New York. The New York Post describes:

A witness reports Specter began by asking if anyone in the room was Polish. About 10 guests out of hundreds there raised their hands. Specter deemed the number insignificant and forged ahead with some supposedly funny Polish jokes, including the old one about the man who interrupted him once, saying, "Hey, careful. I'm Polish!" Specter said he responded, "That's OK - I'll tell it more slowly." Specter also told two other tasteless jokes in the same Polish vein. "No one walked out, but it was offensive," said our source. "I was offended, and I'm not Polish."

Apparently, approximately fifteen weeks after Barack Obama was nominated by the Democratic Party for President and six weeks after he was elected President by the American people, ethnic bias lives on. Whether it's a different standard for individuals of European background, for Republican Party functions, or simply for a guy who no longer should be a United States Senator, it is a reminder that hypocrisy has not been banished from American politics.

It was eight months since Obama's comment at a fund-raiser in San Francsco, before the Pennsylvania primary, about some residents of small towns in Pennsylvania and the midwest: "it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations...." Prominent Repubs echoed the criticism leveled by John McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt, who contended "It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking." A major theme developed, typified by the remark by Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine "maybe the cringe factor would have been less had Obama not been speaking in San Francisco...."

It was the return of the "San Francisco Democrats," those liberal elitists from the coast, not from the "pro-America areas" Sarah Palin would so smugly enlighten us about 24 years later. Yet, here it is a media favorite- a.k.a. a "moderate Republican"- suggesting from New York City's Manhattan (never a borough with an inferiority complex) the stupidity, the inferiority of a whole class of Americans.

We await the shocked reaction of the mainstream media, the Pennsylvania Republican Party, and uber Republican Rush Limbaugh.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rush The Slick

Rush Limbaugh twice proved on 12/11 on his syndicated radio program that he is master of the rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Here is some of what he said about the President-elect:

There is a trail of destruction that Obama leaves behind wherever he goes. I believe firmly, folks, none of it involves him. I don't think any of it touches him, but it's just amazing, utter destruction. ..... I believe the president-select when he says he had nothing to do with this and he knew nothing about this. I mean, he said he knew that Blagojevich was trying to make a deal. I mean he said that. He said he was not amenable to any deal making which means he had to know that deal making was going on. We don't know why he didn't report this to the authorities and nobody in the watchdog media asked him about it at his press conference today.

And in another segment Limbaugh contends: "I think it is very, very unfair to start making these wanton assumptions that our president-elect is tainted by this just because he knows all these people and they helped him get elected and helped him buy his house. I think it's very unfair of you to start making these giant leaps."

To review: Rush believes of Obama "all these people.... helped him get elected and helped him buy his house." Further, the incoming President knew about "deal making (but) "didn't report this to the authorities" and "leaves behind wherever he goes.... a trail of destruction." But so he isn't accused of unfairly accusing the president-elect, the top-rated demagogue assures us "I believe firmly, folks, none of it involves him."

And then there was Rush taking the call of a "dittohead" (one of his callers proud he can avoid the inconvenience of independent thought) criticizing the idea of a "car czar," intended to provide oversight to any automobile bailout/rescue plan. The caller refers to Ron Zarella, who apparently was with Bausch & Lomb before he was tappped to be CEO of General Motors, and associates Zarella, the immediate predecessor to current GM head Rick Wagoner, with design and introduction of the strange looking and ill-fated Pontiac Aztek. The conversation concludes:

RUSH: And that's the Bausch & Lomb guy that can see clearly now?

CALLER: Yes, sir.

RUSH: Okay. Doug, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, thanks much for the phone call. A lot of people ask me, "Rush, why is Bush is insistent that he appoint the car czar? Why is Bush wanting to do this? Why is Bush pushing this bailout?" I don't know, ladies and gentlemen, but I could hazard a wild guess, like the journalists do today. They may as well be forecasting the weather now rather than reporting the news.


So a corporation hires (in Limbaugh's view) an incompetent manager who mismanages the firm. And that is the demagogue's rationale for opposing.... appointing someone from outside the industry to provide oversight to a company that is mis-managed. If that doesn't make any sense to you, you evidently don't peddle a (repudiated) anti-government ideology, then twist facts and circumstances to (almost) justify the dogma.

And by the way, Rush: Obama is not "still a Senator." He resigned his seat on November 16. That is, though, a record for the $50 million a year talk-show host: only four weeks behind the times.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Setback

Late last night, the U.S. Senate rejected on a procedural vote a bill which would have provided the Big 3 automakers with $14 billion as a bridge loan. After the House had approved its bill 24 hours earlier, four Democrats (including Harry Reid, for procedural reasons) joined 31 Repubs in opposing the proposal. The agreement faltered over a timetable for the automakers to reach wage parity with those at the foreign automakers operating in the United States. Opponents apparently demanded that wage cuts to bring their pay by the end of next year "into line" with U.S. plants of Japanese corporations, well before the 2001 expiration of the current contract between the United Auto Workers and the domestic automakers.

And despite the claims (videos below) of those employed by, and appearing in, the traditional media, there is little difference presently between the wages of workers at the domestic companies and those at the "transplants." Jonathan Cohn here notes that as of 2007, workers at General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler were earning approximately $28 per hour while the others were making "somewhere between $20 and $26 per hour, and most likely around $24 or $25." The $70 per hour figure bandied about by the traditional media resulted from adding all employer-provided pensions (e.g., health insurance and pensions) and dividing it by the number of workers, which came to a per-capita benefits figure of $42 per hour. The average hourly wage, $28, was added to that for a total of $70 (morphed into $73 by much of the corporate media).

This is a mistake no high school statistics student would make. The $42 figure includes all "legacy costs," the pension and health benefits of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have retired from the employ of the Big 3. While foreign automakers did not open plants in the U.S.A. until the 1980s, Ford and Chrysler have been operating for several decades, General Motors over a century.

With the looming loss of American jobs related to the automobile industry, a deepening recession, the economic viability of a midwestern state, survival of our manufacturing base, and prevention of depression at stake, Republican lawmakers labor late into the night to destroy the American middle class created, in part, by the domestic automakers they want to push into bankruptcy.




Quote Of The Week

"I've heard the stories of people who are suffering and can stay in their homes if there is just a small adjustment to their loans. There are some people in the Republican Party who resent the idea of helping others. But the market is broken right now, and unless we intervene, these people and the economy won't be helped."

-Republican (and Bush appointee) Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, expressing frustration about her inability to get approval for a comprehensive loan-modification program

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rush: Workers- As Usual- To Blame

On October 9, Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the controversy arising from the sit-in begun on December 12 by members of the union at Republic Windows and Doors, which announced on December 9 that it would be closing. The Chicago company had stated that Bank of America had cut off its line of credit. (Bank of America- would that be the corporation which thus far has received $15 billion of bailout funds from the Taxpayers of America?) The President-elect has noted "when it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right.” But while Bank of America blames Republic and Republic blames Bank of America, El Rushbo (as he affectionately calls himself) knows the real villains are the workers (and, as always, Obama):

RUSH: By the way, Obama, IBD, Investor's Business Daily, has a pretty good editorial today on Obama encouraging these people to sit in. That's a violation of the law. It's not their property. They are not vacating this place, it's not their property, and Obama, who's a well-known street agitator, is illustrating his lack of understanding of what the presidency is all about. You don't encourage people to break the law. Of course, I know, it doesn't matter what he says. It's how he says it.

Not surprisingly, Rush neglected to mention the violation of The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act. WARN guarantees

You must receive a written notice 60 days before the date of a mass layoff or plant closing if you meet the conditions discussed in this brochure. If your employer does not give you the required notice, you may be able to seek damages for back pay and benefits for up to 60 days, depending on how many days’ notice you actually received.

Neither did the editorial cited refer to WARN. Instead, it urged "harmony between workers and management." It claimed "Obama's decision to ally himself with civic disorder is poor precedent" and "our republic would be better served by a stirring defense of the free-market, capitalist system from behind the presidential sea." (Never mind the $700 billion+ corporate socialism intitiated, and administered, by the right-wing Republican President.) It likens the sit-in to "that of a burglar who breaks into a home. Both have violated owners' property rights and infringed on the sanctity of private quarters."

Ironically, the situation is analogous to that of a burglary. The guy breaks into your home and points a gun, demanding you relinquish your jewelry, money, and other valuables, which you've accumulated through hard work. Apparently, IBD, and its right-thinking ally, Limbaugh, would have you plead with the burglar for better understanding, seeking "harmony." Instead, you whip out a 45 caliber Smith and Wesson, shoot, and end the burglary and the burglar. And we shouldn't be surprised (or discouraged) if, with the law, the union, and the ability to organize a sit-in (call it an "equalizer") on its side, the workers fight back and demand that their jobs not be taken illegally from them.




Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Article Of The Week

The article, "She's No Jack Kennedy," by Richard Bradley, who cautions his "view of Kennedy is shaped by personal experience," appeared in Slate on December 8.

Bradley demonstrates that Caroline Kennedy, apparently one of many individuals being considered for selection by New York Governor David Patterson to fill the Senate seat of Hillary Clinton, is no Jack Kennedy or even John F. Kennedy Jr. He argues that Caroline- unlike John Jr., who "enjoyed meeting regular people, rode the subway frequently and happily," and "started a magazine whose intention was to popularize politics"- lacks a common touch.

But Mrs. Schlossberg's inadequacy for the job goes well beyond the personal. (Although Michael Wolff's characterization of her as "a china doll, a kitschy presence" is not far off the mark.) Disregard Mike Bloomberg's recent praise of her as "a very experienced woman, she’s worked very hard for the city. I can just tell you she’s made an enormous difference in New York City," as an effort to ingratiate himself as mayor of New York City with a woman who may be the next senator from New York. Bradley notes Ms. Kennedy's "work with the city's schools was limited to part-time fundraising" and "her commitment to (public service) has always seemed essentially ceremonial."

Caroline Kennedy swooped down on the body politic only this year, while Republicans were busily denying their political heritage, and her claim to serious consideration seems based on privilege. Jane Hamsher of firedoglake.com asserted, because "her uncle once held the seat? Because she's a Kennedy? Because she took part as a child in the public's romantic dreams of Camelot?" She asserts the Senate is "not a place for anyone to be wearing political training wheels" and Bradley explains

Unlike Clinton and Schumer, Kennedy has always seemed more interested in avoiding public issues than engaging them. As an adult, she has tended to work at jobs that didn't require her to work all that hard and didn't require her to mingle with ordinary people. She has a law degree but does not practice law, instead co-writing two books about important Supreme Court cases. The books were typical of Kennedy: high-minded, earnest, but distant, as if she never really wanted to take a position on something relevant to the events and debates of the day. More recently she has published books on more domestic matters, such as A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children and The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.


Sentimentality is a weak reason to appoint someone to the upper chamber of the national legislature, and Bradley is clear, concise, and correct when he writes: "she shouldn't get it."



I
A Good, Overrated, Nomination

It seems that the myth is mightier than the man. General Eric Shinseki, who has been lauded for his testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee in February, 2003, has been nominated by president-elect Obama as director of the Veterans Administration. A brave (former) soldier? yes. (He lost the front half of his right foot in Vietnam, where he earned two purple hearts.) Prescient? yes. (He probably was right.) Humble? yes. (He never said "I told you so.") Speaking truth to power? Not so clear.

As one of the videos below indicates, it all began when Senator Carl Levin (D.-Mi.) asked Shinseki "could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?" After a brief, apparently noncommittal response, Levin asked a follow-up question and elicited the General's famous response:

I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.

In a strategically damaging case of over-reacting, noted neo-conservative and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz contemptuously dismissed Shinseki's estimate as "wildly off the mark." (This came 47-48 months before the vaunted "surge.")

It's too much to ask of anyone, including General Shinseki, to resign when his opinion does not hold sway. (Resigning out of principle is not a time-honored tradition in American government, Cyrus Vance notwithstanding.) Nor, as CNN Senior PentagonCorrespondent Jamie McIntyre points out in "Myth of Shinseki Lingers," was it "really part of his job to take part in direct war planning." But the general kept any of his reservations about Iraq war strategy to himself and when the joint chiefs were asked by then-Chairman General Richard Meyers to voice any concerns "about the plans before they went to the president, Shinseki kept silent." Shinseki, whose influence had been undermined by allies of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, served out his term as Army chief of staff and retired in 2003.

Eric Shinseki may prove to be an excellent head of the Veterans Administration, underfunded with an annual budget nearing $100 billion. He may be an effective administrator and (video below), as Obama stated, leave no one to "question whether he will fight hard enough to make sure that they (veterans) have the support that they need." (And there appears to be nothing bad about this symbolically satisfying nomination.) But the president-elect's remark "no one will ever doubt that this former Army chief of staff has the courage to stand up for our troops and our veterans" probably says less about General Shinseki than it does about us.









Sunday, December 07, 2008

Privilege

Governor David Patterson of New York is in an enviable position. He will be deciding upon the replacement (who will presumably run on his/her own when the position is up in 2010) for Senator Hillary Clinton, nominated for Secretary of State. The list of qualified candidates is long, includingat least Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Steve Israel, Brian Higgins, Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler; Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown or Tom Suozzi, a Long Island elected official; New York State Secretary of State Andrew Cuomo; and Bill Clinton.

But a small boomlet has formed for Caroline Kennedy, the 51-year-old niece of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, likening him to her late father, John F. Kennedy of Camelot fame. She campaigned for Obama in California (which he lost to Clinton) and was part of the vice-presidential search team which, to its credit, apparently settled on Joe Biden.

Taylor Marsh, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter who strongly supported Obama against McCain, supports Kennedy, noting "We don't penalize people in this country for coming from a famous family, especially one whose members have given their lives in public service, which certainly applies to the Kennedys."

No, we shouldn't "penalize people in this country for coming from a famous family." But neither should it push a job applicant to the top of the pack, whether for a position as a teacher, accountant, police officer, sanitation worker, or United States Senator from New York. And neither should we be impressed with the "public service" of someone who wants to serve as one of a select group of 58 or 59 Democratic members of the the legislative body, who didn't see fit to lend her famous name in support of any Democratic presidential nominee- not Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, or John Kerry- before Barack Obama came along. (Though this isn't surprising, given that one searches her statement of endorsement in vain for anything concrete she thought Obama believed in or would do for the country.)

This isn't to suggest that Ms. Kennedy is as unqualified to serve as United States Senator as, say, Sarah Palin was (and is) to serve as Vice-President. Unlike the Governor of the Peoples Republic of Alaska, Ms. Kennedy, a lawyer who with Ellen Alderman wrote In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action and The Right to Privacy, appears interested in the world beyond her world. But that's setting the bar awfully low. Choosing Caroline Kennedy, though not nearly as cynical and irresponsible as John McCain's selection of Palin, would ignore the importance of reaching for the very best when your country is involved in two wars, in severe need of health care reform, and possibly careening toward a depression.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mindless Dogma

Herb Stein and John Stossel appeared on Larry King Live Friday night and gave their prescriptions for the domestic auto industry. Stein was strongly in favor of a bailout, suggesting that the federal government "flood the system" with currency and worry about any inflation later.

Stossel, however, was his usual right-wing self, suggesting the automakers go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, then "set a floor and build cool new cars." (I'm not kidding.)

Detroit has built cool new cars in the past. John, do you remember the 1997 GMEV1? The 1997 Plymouth Prowler? The 2001 Pontiac Aztek? The 2003 Hummer H2? The 2004 Chevy SSR? With the exception of the Aztek (possibly) and the Hummer H2 (certainly), of course you don't. They were all "cool new cars" and all failures. And that's not counting any "cool new cars" introduced before 1991. Or any designed and built by foreign automakers, as this exhibit indicates.

You want to "set a floor?" How is this? As Bill Saporito notes in the current issue of Time magazine,

Next year, workers at Ford plants will earn an average $53 an hour with benefits, the result of a breakthrough industry agreement worked out with the UAW in 2007. That's close to the $49 an hour that workers at the transplants average and far below the $71 an hour with benefits that was the old UAW wage, and that was cited by Alabama Senator Richard Shelby as a reason to oppose any bailout. And the cost differential on enginemaking between Detroit and the transplants will narrow to a couple of dollars by 2011.

Go to Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wherein the company gets to blow off its creditors? There was a time when conservatives like Stossel believed in accountability, but if you remember that time, you must be fairly old. And this blithe suggestion of Chapter 11 bankruptcy ignores the likelihood that it would quickly become a Chapter 7 bankruptcy with its liquidation of assets- and disappearance of the company. Former Bush Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham explains:

Just as financial institutions depend on the confidence of those with whom they do business (as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers discovered), automakers depend on the confidence of car buyers. To purchase a car is to make a multiyear commitment: the buyer must have confidence that the manufacturer will survive to provide parts and service under warranty. With a declaration of bankruptcy, that confidence evaporates. Eighty percent of consumers would not even consider buying a car or truck from a bankrupt manufacturer, one recent survey indicates. So once a bankruptcy proceeding got started, the company’s revenue would plummet, leading it to hemorrhage cash to cover its high fixed costs.

That would thwart any attempt at reorganization, and the case would likely move inexorably toward liquidation under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code. Debtor-in-possession financing — which is what the bankrupt need in order to pay for the continued operation of their business — would not be available in the vast amounts required, given the plunge in revenue.

A bankruptcy filing by even one of the Big Three would probably set in motion a cascade of smaller bankruptcies by suppliers of car parts, as the money the company owed them (which would be classified as an unsecured claim) could not be paid until it exited bankruptcy. And this loss of suppliers would almost certainly overwhelm the other two carmakers. There would also be a severe contraction in the availability of trade credit from suppliers, which amounts to tens of billions of dollars.

Other than that, Stossel knows what he's talking about. Except on virtually any topic.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Subsidies: When Convenient

The ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, again made clear, in the committee hearing on Thursday, his opposition to any rescue plan for the American automobile industry. On Meet The Press on Sunday, November 16, 2008, Shelby was even more explicit:

We don't need government--governmental subsidies for manufacturing in this country. It's the French model, it's the wrong road, we will pay for it. The average American taxpayer is going to pay dearly for this, if I'm not wrong.

It is, it is a viable option, but the Big Three, they're going to have to save themselves.... The government cannot subsidize and should not subsidize jobs like this, and that's what the road we're going down is going to do.

And the government, at the end of the day, Tom, should not choose which companies are going to survive or not survive. We should let the market work that way. And it has...


However, according to the website goodjobsfirst.org (which was primarily concerned that the states' residents had not been well served by the subsidies):

In 1992 South Carolina ushered in the new wave of investment by foreign carmakers in the South by offering BMW a package that was ultimately worth an estimated $150 million. A decade later, the state put up an additional $80 million in infrastructure aid when BMW decided to expand its operations in the state.

In 1993 officials in Alabama lured a Mercedes-Benz facility, the first foreign auto plant in the state, with a package worth $258 million.

In 1999 Alabama put together a $158 million subsidy deal to land a $400 million, 1.7 million-square-foot Honda plant. In 2002 state and local officials provided an additional package worth $90 million, including $33 million in tax breaks over 20 years, when Honda decided to expand the facility.

In 2000 officials in Mississippi lured a $950 million Nissan plant with a $295 million subsidy deal. While the plant was still under construction, the company announced an expansion of the project that also involved an increase in the subsidy package to $363 million.

When South Korean carmakers Hyundai staged a competition for a $1 billion plant, various states put together bids, but it was Alabama that won the contest in 2002 with a package worth $252 million.

Commentators much made of the fact that when Toyota chose San Antonio, Texas in 2003 as the location for an $800 million assembly plant, the company had not selected the site with the most generous subsidy package. In another example of the fact that subsidies are not the most important factor in investment decisions, Toyota highlighted criteria such as access to the large Texas market for the pickup trucks that would be built at the plant. This is not to say that Toyota passed up all government assistance. The company received a package valued at $133 million, including $47 million in tax phase-ins and waived fees.



BMW, Mercedes Benz, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota. Subsidies granted them by (respectively) South Carolina, Alabama, Alabama, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, states generally less gifted with revenue than otheras.

No one remembers Richard Shelby agonizing over the three subsidies given to (foreign) automakers by his state, Alabama. But he was the one who rhetorically asked (told) domestic automakers on November 13 "How do they plan to deal with current management, labor, cost and quality control, and product development shortfalls, which they know they have? How do they intend to reverse the continued loss of market share to foreign car companies?"

At Thursday's hearing, Senator Shelby declared of the domestic automakers "the firms continue to trail their major competitors in almost every category necessary to compete.” Senator Shelby knows how to help reverse the trend, as do his friends in Alabama. Unfortunately, he has made it clear he does not intend to do so, further making a mockery of the year's Republican slogan: "Country First."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Quote Of The Week

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

Representative Barney Frank (D.-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, of President-elect Barack Obama on 11/28/08
Quote Of The Week

"WMD. I never liked that term. Say what you mean."

-Chris Matthews of "Hardball" on 12/4/08, commenting about the Bush Administration's habit of using the ambiguous term "weapons of mass destruction" (nuclear? chemical and biological? nuclear, chemical, and biological?)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nominations By Gender

Caught by an open microphone at the National Governors Association conference in Philadelphia, host Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania commented in a private conversation of Barack Obama's designee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano:

Janet's perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it.

This aroused the ire of CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown, who delivered a commentary criticizing Rendell's remarks. Credit Brown with sticking to the issues and not succumbing to personal attack. Credit Rendell with believing that a man or a woman holding a Cabinet position in the United States government should be encouraged to work long hours for the public good. Meanwhile, Ms. Brown raised three concerns:

1. If a man had been Obama's choice for the job, would having a family or not having a family ever even have been an issue? Would it have ever prompted a comment? Probably not. We all know the assumption tends to be that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns.

2. As a woman, hearing this, it is hard not to wonder if we are counted out for certain jobs, certain opportunities, because we do have a family or because we are in our child-bearing years. Are we? It is a fair question.

3. If you are a childless, single woman with suspicions that you get stuck working holidays, weekends and the more burdensome shifts more often than your colleagues with families, are those suspicions well-founded? Probably so. Is there an assumption that if you're family-free then you have no life? By some, yes.


Brown's most valid point is the first, in which she finds unfair the double standard that prompts concern when a woman entering a high-profile job has children but none for a man in a similar position. The assumption, however, "that with a man, there is almost always a wife in the wings managing those family concerns," while arguably inconvenient, unfair, or socially dysfunctional, is nevertheless well founded. And if Brown believes that the wife should not "be in the wings managing those family concerns," she ought to say so. She would deserve applause for the courage and wisdom to suggest that the American practice of the wife pursuing an ambitious career while assiduously committed to, and attending to the affairs of, the family is harmful to the family unit (if not a woman's health).

Her second and third arguments are slightly confusing and possibly contradictory. Brown cannot, or should not be allowed to, have it both ways: in the world of oppression she posits, the married woman gets the shaft- but the single woman is encouraged to sacrifice for the organization, and presumably pave the way for her advancement. Implying that both women face largely impenetrable obstacles to professional success is, generously speaking, disingenuous.

Campbell Brown does, however, avoid referring to Governor Rendell, or his remarks, as "sexist." And she avoids suggesting that women should be given priority in assignment to Cabinet positions simply on the basis of the inherited characteristic of gender. Not so, though, the MSNBC anchorwoman Andrea Mitchell. On Wednesday afternoon, in a discussion with fellow anchorwoman Nora O'Donnell, Mrs. Alan Greenspan (far be it for me to sink to the level of personal attack) remarked of the incoming Obama administration, with a straight face, "they are creating a mosaic but they are not self-consciously creating that mosaic."

What an exemplary example of the right wing's charge that the mainstream media is having a love affair with former Senator Obama! Not only is a mosaic being created but, better yet, the President-elect is doing it with self-effacement and admirable modesty.

Mitchell's enthusiasm for the creation of a mosaic betrays a lack of interest in whether Barack Obama's appointments are wise, the individuals best able to serve the national interest in the positions for which they are being nominated. Campbell Brown's concerns, however inartfully expressed (as are mine here, apparently) and inexact, reflect a belief that, ultimately, individuals should not be precluded from service because of gender or, presumably, race.



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