Setting the Record Straight

December 12, 2008

Blago Seeking Bandits

Taking Hubris to the Max in Illinois

      It takes an ego as big as the moon to consider oneself a candidate for high public office such as U.S. senator or governor. A reporter who has spent a career rubbing shoulders with people of high office should be immune to such feelings, but it never ceases to amaze just how much hubris some of these people can
     The prize, which we hope will remain his for generations, goes to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat. His case is one of massive hubris overlain by extreme corruption and, most surprisingly, naivete.
     His case would be arrogance on a massive scale anywhere in the country, but in Illinois, he has got to be kidding. The FBI (unbleeped) affidavit summarizing the case showed he had been under investigation for corruption since the day he took the (ha-ha) oath of office in 2003. The U.S. attorney is from outside Illinois because a former senator with the same last name urged his nomination, believing someone from Illinois unlikely to fight corruption.
     His wife, Patti, is the daughter of a 32-year Chicago alderman and nobody needs to be reminded of what that means. Blagojevich succeeded a Republican governor who is now in jail for corruption, a two former governors who were indicted after they left office; and that was all since Chicago’s Al Capone days.
     Probably because of its long history of corruption problems, Illinois is unique in that it has the Better Government Association, formed as a result of the Capone-led corruption. And guess what; it often works with Illinois news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, in its investigations. And the Tribune itself was investigating the U.S. attorney’s investigation of Blagojevich and in contact with that office.
     Blagojevich had to know he was under investigation and even said to a fundraiser (over the phone), “You gotta be careful how you express that and assume everybody’s listening, the whole world is listening. You hear me?” Turns out it was.
     And yet, with all that behind him, Blagojevich apparently was naïve enough to believe he could shake down the Chicago Tribune and the president-elect and get away with it. As one Chicago wag said, “he doesn’t need a lawyer; he needs a psychiatrist.”

    “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Lord Acton  



December 7, 2008

Obama’s Good First Move

Jobs and Infrastructure


     We may be accused of belaboring the subject, but our two main mantras on this site bear constant repeating—“those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and the theory of “trickle-up” economics should be applied to government as a whole. 

     President-Elect Barack Obama has given the first solid indicsr-obamainfrajpegation he may attempt to take this country down the path we believe to be the key to remaking America. He is beginning with a “killing two birds with one stone” solution to two of the country’s major domestic problems.
     A trickle-up view of economics sees the people at the bottom of the income scale as the starting point, lifting them up to enable them to contribute more to society and become the buyers who keep small and then ever-larger businesses in business.
     For too long, our economy has relied on the trickle-down theory of helping businesses expand in the belief they will then hire more workers and help the entire economy: the trickle-down theory. The main difference between the two major parties is the Republicans believe to serve that theory, all federal funds should be channeled through businesses, e.g., that health care should not be direct from the government to the citizen, but should be provided with tax credits to be spent buying health care from a provider, a business.
     The trickle-up theory says that if the money is given directly to a universal health-care system, more funds would be available because they would not be siphoned off by a corporate, for-profit bureaucracy.
     HMO stands for “health maintenance organization,” an entity that was supposed to lower health costs, by working to keep their members healthy before they can contract a more-costly disease or other ailment. The meaning of HMO has been lost almost since they day they were created.
     The current economic crisis resulted from the collapse of a house of cards built on the failed “trickle-down” theory taken to its lunatic zenith, creating a situation where the gap between the rich and poor in this country is now the largest it has ever been. Keeping the middle- and low-income in their status has meant fewer buyers for the goods in American commerce. The crisis adds to that by taking away disposable income from the middle-class and keeping the low-income in their place, both income classes increasing without a job.
     The lame-duck Republican administration, as with most administrations, relied on lagging statistics to decide whether to respond to inflation and recession that was felt first at the low-income level and left to trickle up to engulf the middle-class while the statisticians waiting for months on the numbers that would prove what the lower-income classes already saw. It should not have been a surprise that any increase in the cost of fuel and food is going to affect first those without disposable income.
     So it was not surprising that when the outgoing administration saw a credit crisis building towards collapse, it attempted to solve the problem at the top, believing the solution would trickle down to the bottom.

 sr-msbridgejpeg1    Ever since the 1970s, even before the first oil crisis led to an economic crisis almost as big as the current one, experts have been warning about our collapsing infrastructure, e.g., roads, pipes, wires, dams, bridges, tunnels, much of which needed to replaced decades ago. The infrastructure is a looming crisis almost as big as the financial one.

    So now, with an administration set to take charge with intelligence behind it instead of ideology, Obama has chosen to help out bottom half of American society by pumping money into finally dealing with the infrastructure, a huge task not seen since the Great Depression and one that would provide jobs for all the unemployed and the soon-to-be Under the trickle-up theory, the top half of the economy will benefit from having more people with money they have to spend, and in some cases some they do not have to spend.
     There are many other things that need to be done to get the nation back on track, but providing jobs while halting the deterioration of the infrastructure is an excellent start for the incoming Obama administration.


November 21, 2008

Guzzling From the Tin Cup

The Best Favor Detroit Did Not Want
     Doubtless, the U.S. auto industry won’t see it this way, sr-dingelljpegbut Congress did Chrysler, Ford and GM a huge favor as their CEOs testified elsewhere on Capitol Hill. House Democrats ousted John Dingell as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
     As we noted in Help the U.S. Auto Industry: Vote Against It, as chairman, and before that as a high-ranking member on the panel, the Michigan Democrat did grave harm to the auto industry by giving them what it asked for. What it asked for essentially boiled down to “help us fail to compete with foreign automakers.”
     Just before the gas crisis in the early 1970s, Congress wanted to require catalytic converters on all cars to reduce pollution. Dingell helped the automakers defeat the first measures, while foreign automakers began including them on their cars.
     Dingell also helped automakers defeat efforts in Congress to require cars to have low-impact bumpers as a safety feature and to reduce weight to reduce fuel consumption, again while foreign makers included them on their cars.
     He also helped the automakers prevent stronger CAFE standards governing fleet fuel-efficiency. Together, they wrangled an exemption of trucks and certain large cars from the standards and even gave them a business-tax advantage. Foreign automakers widened the gap between average miles per gallon on their cars versus domestic ones.
     After the gas crisis eased and energy-conscious President Jimmy Carter was ousted from the White House, lights were turned back on federal monuments and all the calls for alternative energy sources began being ignored. At the same time, U.S. automakers began promoting ever-larger behemoths for the road, spending billions on advertising to begin a new trend.
     An advertising pro once told us the mantra on Madison Avenue had become “you can sell a boomer anything,” and this was the age of the all-consuming boomers. The macho-vehicle rage began and Detroit reaped the higher profits on more-expensive machines exempt from the CAFÉ fleet averages. Toyota, Honda and others continued heavy research on greater fuel-efficiency, alternative propulsion techniques and alternative fuels, and churned out the high-quality cars that resulted from that work.
     When Detroit began seeing the flight to better-quality cars made abroad, its best response was from Lee Iacocca who claimed that at Ford, “quality is job 1” even before the company lifted a hand to try better quality.
     With all their congressional goodies in hand, Detroit-based automakers decided they did not have to compete with foreign-made cars and didn’t. So when the muck hit the fan with the latest fuel crisis, their downfall was secured.
     As far-sighted managers, foreign automakers bucked the effort by Detroit to paint them as home-wreckers by locating research and manu- facturing plants in the United States and hiring Americans to build their cars.
     Of course, members of Congress heard none of this explanation during the round of hearings on the industry’s request for a piece of the financial meltdown bailout, pleaded for by CEOs of the “Big 3” who had flown to Washington on private jets with huge expense accounts and tin cup in hand.
     But House Democrats, most of whom favor the bailout because of the union jobs they think would be saved, did the auto industry a favor and doubtless will put in back in condition to compete, if it survives.
SCENES FROM A COMMITTEE     The new chairman is Henry Waxman, a tireless and dogged California Democrat who wages war on behalf of the environment and consumers, a combination that is just what the auto industry needed lo these many years instead of the Democrat who helped them on their path to oblivion.


November 18, 2008

Reconsidering the GOP

GOP = SOP: The Same Old Party

     The week after the devastating rejection of the Republican Party at American polling places, the Republican Party at all levels has been undergoing a self-assessment, a “what went wrong,” if you will.
     The upshot of what has been said by the congressional GOP leadership and would-be leadership, from the Republican Governors Association and from other party members across the country is: same old party.
     Apparently, they just don’t get
     It seems all they could come up with is something like, “We forgot to follow Reaganism.” That sounds just about it, except when one asks what “Reaganism” is, the response is all over the board.
     One may recall that Reagan ran on and championed in the early years of his eight-year administration, a balanced budget. He championed reduced spending and he championed lower taxes for businesses, and all the other stuff the anti-government clique supposedly holds so dear, and about which they complain when the government, at any level, fails to deliver.
     That is not a very good explanation of what Reaganism is, but then neither are any of the other definitions posited by its adherents. It supposedly covers “family values,” whatever they are, a Pavlovian response to the flag, motherhood and apple pie on the good-feeling side and to socialism, communism and the anti-Christ, whatever that is, on the “let’s go get ‘em side.”
     And therein lies the problem of the newly introspective Republican Party—“We forgot who we are, but who are we?” Unfortunately for the GOP, it is still the party of the cold war that no longer is, “support our troops” that amounts to little more than pasting a yellow-ribbon decal on the SUV, and give corporations and the elite what they want because the largesse will trickle down to the masses, eventually.
     All summed up, Reaganism, as amorphous as it is, is little more than “us versus them,” the them meaning anybody who doesn’t look and act like us, the us being the white upper-class in gated communities with enough money to send their kids to schools where the riff-raff are not bothersome.
     For some strange reason, Reaganism attracted a lot of blue-collar America in 1980 and for many years later, which meant it also attracted the immigrant-American, both segments that believed somehow that trickle-down economics would benefit them. They were the “Reagan Democrats.”
     Twelve years of Reagan and the elder Bush, an eight-year interregnum of the Clinton presidency and then eight years of the foolish Bush appears to have convinced “Reagan Democrats” the term applied to them was an oxymoron.
     Natural Democrats, blue-collar Americans, immigrants, all the people who do the real work that makes the nation run on time, largely saw the light this year and came home to the party that actually represents them and does not just repeat nice-sounding phrases.
     The Republican Party needs to decide what it really stands for. Sarah Palin currently is the darling of the party’s right wing, but the continued adulation of her suggests the party may be self-destructive if it does not jettison her and the rest of the far right and begin representing a larger segment of the population, one that is a bit brigsr-screamjpeghter and more sophisticated.
     That would leave the party unburdened by the right-wing fanatics and focused on the commercial sector and those who have disposable income and feel the GOP is better at protecting it for them—from taxes, the criminal class, other riff-raff and whatever. But that may not leave the party with enough adherents to win elections.
     The irony of the Bush years is that the financial crisis in the United States has reduced the number of well-off voters while increasing the number of poor, a mix that does not bode well for the future of the GOP—er, SOP.


November 16, 2008

Candidate for AG?

Specterlation About DOJsr-specterjpeg1

     This site did not intend to join all of the speculation about whom Barack Obama would or should choose to serve in his Cabinet, but we find one somewhat intriguing. It needs a lot of thought because it is fraught with danger, but it would be a twofer, perhaps a threefer.
     Largely overlooked in the heat of the presidential campaign was the extremely important need to retrieve the U.S. Constitution from the Bush administration’s shredder and begin pasting it back together.
     There are some who justifiably claim this is a matter so urgent and important, it should be at the top of Obama’s agenda instead of the economy or Iraq.

sr-spectergonzalesnprjpeg1     To bring the United States back under the aegis of the Constitution, Obama needs a dedicated attorney general already on record as one of the harshest critics of the Bush administration and its disastrous toady in the job, Alberto Gonzales, when it comes to constitutional matters.
     The selection we are talking about is Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. He has been livid and unstinting in his criticism of the administration’s use of the Justice Department to run roughshod on the rights not only of detainees alleged to be terrorists, but also on its own citizens in the name of fighting terrorism.

     As a Republican, his appointment also would serve to provide someone who could act somewhat as an ombudsman to the White House to make sure it did not try to keep all the extralegal powers Bush grabbed for himself, a grab likely to be exposed when the details of all of his secret executive orders are learned. That would be Specter’s second value as the next AG.
     His third contribution would be to give up a Republican seat in the Senate and let a Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, appoint the next senator from Pennsylvania, possibly putting the Democratic majority in the Senate over the magic 60-vote line without needing turncoat Joe Lieberman to remain in the party.
     That is the positive side of this nomination. The negative is that Specter is as unpredictable as earthquakes and can sometimes go off on some gawdawful quests, none more so than his vicious behavior in the Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court, who himself was a pitiful selection for the job. We don’t mean to be equally vicious here, but as a saving grace, that did occur before Specter’s brain cancer was discovered and treated.



November 14, 2008

Same Court For 4 Years

Just a Placeholder, Not a Changer

     The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving sonar damages to marine animals during military training is a reminder of what the election of Barack Obama really

     Anyone looking for a change on the court during his term is likely to be highly disappointed. Obama’s election only resulted in a placeholder in the White House, not someone with an ability to change the harshly conservative tone of the court.

     Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion in the case that sided with the military, in which he suggests the military and its commander-in-chief should be taken at their word. Joining Roberts were Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Joseph Alito.

     Kennedy and Scalia are the only two of the five who are older than Thomas’s 60, Alito being 58 and Roberts a relatively young 53. The four who manage to temper the court when Kennedy swings their way are at least 70, the oldest being John Paul Stevens at 88. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 75, Steven Breyer is 72 and David Souter 69.

     If any change is going to take place on the court in the next four years, it is likely to be one of those four, whom Obama can now place.

     But nothing is going to change the tone, so get used to it.


November 11, 2008

Another Imperial Presidency?


The Dangerous Path of Executive Orders

      A disturbing juxtaposition of news items began the week as the United States began its transition of governments. The new government will behave as the old in at least one
     And lay this one on the Democrats who took control of Congress and announced immediately (through the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) that there would be no attempt to impeach President Bush.
     The head of Barack Obama’s transition team, John Podesta, said, “There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that. I think that he feels he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set.”
     But Podesta, and the Obama camp, apparently does not realize that course the Bush administration set was enabled to a great extent by broadening the use of executive orders way beyond its legal authority and is the basis of many of the impeachable offenses the Democrats declined to address.
     To wit, from the New York Times: The U.S. military was given authority through an executive order signed by Bush in 2004 to attack Al Queda anywhere in the world, even in countries not at war with the United States, a gross violation of international rights.
sr-bushsignjpeg     Before that, we learned executive orders were signed with impunity to violate constitutional rights, the Geneva Convention and all sorts of domestic and international laws as the Bush administration behaved as if it was above and beyond any and all laws.
     That behavior established a dangerous behavior that eventually could lead to an authoritarian state if the checks and balances embodied in the U.S. Constitution are not used to hold that behavior in check.
     The best way to do that would have been to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush, even if there was no real sentiment to take them to the ultimate and oust him from office. The great value of the proceedings would have been to let future presidents, including Obama, know they do not have this power, regardless of how powerful and regal they may feel in the Oval Office.
      That needed to be done because once a president, or anyone else for that matter, is given authority, regardless of how ill-gotten it is, is not likely to want to give it up, as we have warned on this site before.
      Our worst fears have been realized, in the person of John Podesta, who presumably is relaying the sentiment of the Obama presidency to
      Congress needs to step in say, “Hey, wait just a darn minute here. We are in the same party, but we didn’t support Obama to be elected as king, merely as a president. Back off or we’ll start tying your hands.”
      Beyond that, somebody needs to take the Bush executive orders to the Supreme Court, and get the judicial branch to do its part in bring- ing the executive branch back within the constraints of the Constitution. This might be a good activity for the Republicans while people biased for their party are still running the court.
      Obama assumption of Bush violations is not change we need. Legislative and judicial branches with the guts to rein back in the executive branch is the change we need.


November 10, 2008

Right-To-Work Hurts Big 3

Automakers: Mind What You Wish For
     How can we lay the U.S. automaker crisis at the feet of the Republicans who were in control of the government for the past 14 years? How about this.
     The Big Three, whose method of operating has been, and is likely to continue to be, one of aiming for instant gratification, were aided and abetted by the Republicans and their decades-long drive to emasculate labor unions in the United States.
    That, of course, contradicts the conventional wisdom that has become a religion among the Big Three (why do we call them that any more—they’re the only three). The automakers have complained and complained the United Auto Workers and its demands on behalf of the union’s workers are what have hurt their industry.
    To be sure, the UAW did overreach in the heydays of the 1950s and 60s and became so strong they also became their own worst enemies and needed to be trimmed back a bit.
    But the UAW would say, and we would agree, that the Big Three were unable to compete with foreign automakers on U.S. soil because the foreign firms built their plants in “right-to-work” states. Whatever union that workers in those plants may have pales by comparison with the UAW.
    How did those right-to-work states come into being? In the wake of the industrial revolution born at the end of the 19th century, labor unions were formed to redress the greedy excesses of their employers who were operating as fief to serf.
    Until the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, workers and their employers thrived quite well with union rights to require workers to support the unions. Soon after the act was passed, taking away those union rights, 12 states enacted “right-to-work” laws and another 10 states have followed as Republican Party policy relentlessly defeated Democratic and union efforts to repeal Taft-Hartley.
    The result has been that average wages for workers in right-to-work states are 6.5 percent lower than those of their counterparts in states that have not enacted the laws. Of course, they attracted foreign automakers, and Toyota opened the first of its 13 U.S. plants in 1989. An overlay of right-to-work states today closely matches the map of what the red (GOP-voting) states before the election just completed.

National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation

National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation

    With the gas-shortage crisis of the mid-1970s and the popularity of more fuel-efficient and safer cars produced by foreign automakers, who also employed features U.S. automakers would have included had they not (thanks to the leadership of Democrat John Dingell) defeated congressional efforts to require them, Americans began turning to the better cars once made abroad, but now made at home with foreign-sounding names.
     As the 1970s crisis waned, Instead of looking ahead as Toyota and Honda did, U.S. automakers went for the bigger instant bucks and began pushing sales of SUVs and huge macho trucks, neither of which got anywhere near the gas mileage foreign makers continued to offer.
     And now U.S. automakers are asking for help from the same federal government they joined their GOP friends in beating on so unmercifully for decades.




November 6, 2008

And Now, Disappointment

Raining On the Parade

     Thirty-four years ago as of this past July, a member of the U.S. House from Texas said: “Earlier today we heard the beginning to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States—‘We, the people.’ It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that ‘We, the people.’ I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decisions I have finally been included in ‘We, the people.”sr-jordan3
     Still, on that hot July day when Barbara Jordan, a large black woman who spoke with a stentorian voice about the impending impeachment of President Nixon, could look around her on her side of Congress and see few black faces. On the other side of the building, there was one in the Senate. She died before she saw a black face elected to the presidencysr-obamapreselect.
     The ascendancy of Barack Obama has shown the nation, and the rest of the world, that the United States not only has not lost all of its senses, it truly is a nation where not only can anybody succeed regardless of skin color, religion or culture, anybody can even become president.
     That was the source of the excitement that brought millions into the streets around the United States and in much of the rest of the world on the night of Nov. 4, to celebrate and not to protest.
sr-obamarain     Unfortunately, that is as good as it gets. Now comes the disappoint- ment, the realization there is no way Obama or anyone else can achieve what he pro- mised during the campaign and his supporters came to expect.
     Obama begins to govern the executive branch on Jan. 20 with about the same Democratic majority in the Senate and a slightly smaller majority in the House than his predecessor Bill Clinton had when he, too, was elected as an exciting and highly intelligent new leader.
     Just two years after Clinton took office in 1993 with high expectations similar to those Obama now enjoys, the American public became so disenchanted, they gave Congress back to the Republicans for the first time in half a century, beginning the long, mean, nasty and divisive slide that put the United States in the sorry condition it finds itself today.
     Obama has inherited much, much more of a mess than Clinton inherited. If he is wise, he will recognize the pitfalls the Clinton administration fell into. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was a top adviser in the Clinton White House, should be able to help him avoid making the same mistakes.
     Even then, the voters who sent Obama to the White House are going to be disappointed, thanks in part to the hyperbolic rhetoric of presidential campaigns. Both candidates repeated impossible claims, usually beginning with “I will,” known full well they would not be able to fulfill them. John McCain has no pressure on him now to deliver on his promises; Obama does.
     In their grandiose claims, each ignored the fact the only power they have to deliver on just about all of their promises was the influence they could bring to bear on Congress.
     The extent to which Obama is able to satisfy those who gave him the job relies to a great extent on a reading of the election tea leaves. He was not given the type of majority that could cram through legislation, but he was given what could be a sea-change in the Republican party.
     Rep. Christopher Shays was a House Republican from Connecticut. He often broke with his party as one of the most moderate members of that party. On Nov. 4, the voters ousted the only House Republican from a northeastern state.
     The Obama win also punched holes in GOP strongholds around the country that Democrats had largely written off. The election showed the American electorate was fed up with 14 years of GOP leadership, and the Republicans remaining in Congress are not likely to behave as the petulant minority they were in previous Democratic majorities.
     That means Senate Republicans are less likely to use the filibuster threat to block the legislation of the Democratic majority. Even if a threat is made by a petulant GOP senator, such as Ted Stevens would be expected to be if Alaskans end up sending him back to the Senate, he is less likely to get the support of his colleagues in denying the 60 votes to invoke cloture, shutting off a filibuster.
     And getting legislation through Congress is only a part of the long, hard slog the Obama administration faces in trying to satisfy an American electorate justly proud of what it did in 2008.


November 5, 2008

A New America


Welcome President-Elect Barack Obama


sr-concessionmccainjpeg     And welcome back, John McCain. The true McCain, the one we thought we knew in the past, emerged literally at the end of a long campaign: his concession speech.

     His speech was the perfect cap on a presidential campaign that demon- strated the United States finally has grown up. Whether racism in America was pretty much erased by the election or Obama won by a large enough margin to make it irrelevant, we have a new

     Not only did Obama win the presidency, he either benefited from the country having changed for the better or his candidacy brought about much of that new America. Virginia, the last state to hold out against court-ordered integration in the early 1960s, demonstrates the old America is now dead, or at least on is last legs.

     The Obama victory was large and broad enough to have given him an almost universal mandate to govern, and not for just a well-defined few stereotyped by society.

     Obama had been called a liberal by the opposition, yet there never had been any evidence that he was one. From the beginning, Obama appeared to be a centrist Democrat in the mold of Bill Clinton.

     Obama’s candidacy brought the people who would be natural Democrats, but who too often voted against their own self-interest, back into the party or into it for the first time. They include blue-collar workers who tend to be in the lower-half of the middle class as well as among the low-income, but most importantly the Hispanics who seemed finally to have realized which party is more likely to represent their interests.

     Obama’s victory, or conversely McCain’s loss, also is likely to change the Republican party itself. The party has too many ideological segments and needs to decide what its ideology is.

     McCain was handicapped by having to appeal to and represent too many conflicting segments of his party. The Obama victory suggests the party has to jettison some of those segments, even if it has to divide into two parties and start a rebuilding effort to appeal to the majority of Americans who have not been represented of late.

     And finally, let us hope the venal campaigning that marked much of the McCain/Palin campaign and of that Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., should have the same effect it appears to have this time: massive rejection.


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