Memo To The POTUS: Judd’s A Dud (Updates)

January 31, 2009

amd_judd-greggThis story tells us that New Hampshire Repug Senator Judd Gregg is being considered for the post of commerce secretary within the Obama Administration (and by the way, POTUS is the abbreviation for President of the United States, in case anyone was unsure about that; I needed to conserve headline space).

Here are a few reasons why I think this is a bad idea:

  • As noted here, Gregg voted against the “big three” automaker loan.
  • This tells us that Gregg voted against funding highway and transit projects (along with Jim DeMint – nice company Gregg keeps)
  • This tells us that Gregg voted against helping homeowners who suffered damage from Katrina and Rita.
  • This tells us that Gregg helped fend off increases for funding of first responders so they could communicate with each other more effectively (block grants to the states are nice, but this is a job for the federal government since we plainly can’t rely on the states for something of this scope, IMHO).
  • This tells us that Gregg amassed a list of “budget busting” votes, minus the following…

    – Transit Security Amendment
    – Influenza Vaccine Injury Compensation Amendment
    – After School Funding Amendment
    – Low Income Home Energy Assistance Amendment
    – Air Cargo Security Programs Implementation Amendment
    – Future Military Funding for Iraq Amendment

  • And when he has to, Gregg can “demagogue” with the best of them; he linked Iraq to 9/11 and implied Dems want to “play kissy face” with terrorists, as Bob Geiger put it, here.
  • Yes, I know that, were Gregg to accept the role of commerce secretary, New Hampshire’s Democratic governor would appoint the successor who would bring the majority party to the magical, coveted number of 60 seats, and that would truly be a prize.

    However, I don’t know how much that would be offset by the prospect of Gregg continually “locking horns” with the head of his opposite party; supporting Obama in the Senate on legislation is one thing, but that doesn’t assure me that he would continue to act accordingly in very different political circumstances.

    Update 2/2/09: Yep, definitely not seeing the “up” side based on this…

    Update 2/3/09: I hope this means nothing more than the fact that Obama has an exquisite sense of irony.

    Update 1 2/4/09: What koz sez here…big time.

    Update 2 2/4/09: With each passing day, this pick is harder and harder to understand (here).

    Update 3 2/12/09: This is one of the most unbelievable acts of political hari-kari I’ve seen in awhile; so, now, Gregg has “burned his bridges” with the New Hampshire Repug Party to the point where he won’t run in 2010, and he gets nothing in the bargain since he passed up the chance to serve in the Obama Administration…wow (and here’s the predictable spin).

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    “Leadership,” George W. Bush Style

    January 29, 2009

    gwb_13-george-w-bush
    I thought this New York Times story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg contained some rather interesting insights into the regime that has just passed from our midst (though its impact will be felt for some time, I’m sure). Stolberg sets out to contrast the ways Barack Obama runs his administration versus the way Incurious George “ran” his…

    WASHINGTON — The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

    “He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

    Thus did an ironclad rule of the George W. Bush administration — coat and tie in the Oval Office at all times — fall by the wayside, only the first of many signs that a more informal culture is growing up in the White House under new management. Mr. Obama promised to bring change to Washington and he has — not just in substance, but in presidential style.

    The story also tells us how the president “reads several papers” at breakfast with his family (and my guess is that when stories start appearing about what books Obama reads, the accounts won’t be fake, unlike that of you-know-who; see the Brendan Gill note from here) before his daughters go to school and he makes the “30-second” commute to work (cute).

    And get a load of this stunt that “43” pulled, by the way…

    Under Mr. Bush, punctuality was a virtue. Meetings started early — the former president once locked Secretary of State Colin L. Powell out of the Cabinet Room when Mr. Powell showed up a few minutes late — and ended on time. In the Obama White House, meetings start on time and often finish late.

    I’m trying to picture Colin Powell (who, I would guess, prepared everything to the “nth” degree prior to submitting it for review to the “civilians in charge”) having to run to prop a door open while Dubya closes it because Powell was a few seconds late – thank God the grownups are in charge again!

    Also, Stolberg tells us that Obama “engage(ed) (Congressional leaders) in the details of the (stimulus) legislation far more than was customary for Mr. Bush” (yes, I know Obama served in Congress and Dubya didn’t, so Obama would have an edge there; actually, it would make it more important for Dubya to press for details then, which I can imagine rarely if ever happened).

    Also…

    If Mr. Obama’s clock is looser than Mr. Bush’s, so too are his sartorial standards. Over the weekend, Mr. Obama’s first in office, his aides did not quite know how to dress. Some showed up in the West Wing in jeans (another no-no under Mr. Bush), some in coats and ties.

    So the president issued an informal edict for “business casual” on weekends — and set his own example. He showed up Saturday for a briefing with his chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, dressed in slacks and a gray sweater over a white buttoned-down shirt. Workers from the Bush White House are shocked.

    “I’ll never forget going to work on a Saturday morning, getting called down to the Oval Office because there was something he was mad about,” said Dan Bartlett, who was counselor to Mr. Bush. “I had on khakis and a buttoned-down shirt, and I had to stand by the door and get chewed out for about 15 minutes. He wouldn’t even let me cross the threshold.”

    Getting “chewed out” for 15 minutes over dress code – to me, that speaks volumes as to what a truly petty individual Dubya is (to say nothing of clueless, of course).

    Also…

    Mr. Obama has also brought a more relaxed sensibility to his public appearances. David Gergen, an adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents, said Mr. Obama seemed to exude an “Aloha Zen,” a kind of comfortable calm that, Mr. Gergen said, reflects a man who “seems easy going, not so full of himself.”

    What an exquisitely subtle dig by Gergen – continuing….

    Like Mr. Bush and other presidents before him, Mr. Obama typically begins his work day with a top-secret intelligence briefing on security threats against the United States. Mr. Bush received the “president’s daily brief” Monday through Saturday; Mr. Obama gets the briefing on Sunday as well.

    But sometimes Mr. Obama’s economic briefing, a new addition to the presidential schedule, comes first. Its attendees vary depending on the day, aides said. On Tuesday, the newly sworn-in Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, joined Mr. Summers to talk about financial and credit markets. On Wednesday, Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve and informal Obama adviser, was on hand to discuss regulatory reform.

    Among other things, that makes me wonder if former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson even bothered trying to explain the collapse of our markets to our reality-challenged Commander in Chief; that quote from Dubya about “Wall Street getting drunk,” a subject near and dear to him I’m sure, makes me tend to believe that Paulson realized in short order that it wasn’t worth the effort.

    I have to admit, though, that the part at the end of the story about the “sunburst” rug that Laura designed for the Oval Office was a little surprising, if only because Dubya would have been more honest to have the rug display a printed copy of the U.S. Constitution instead; his figurative trampling of it is widely known by now, so he might as well have literally done the same thing.


    Relying On The “I” Word

    January 28, 2009

    Minnesota Bridge Collapse
    This New York Times story tells us that…

    More than a quarter of the nation’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Leaky pipes lose an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water every day. And aging sewage systems send billions of gallons of untreated wastewater cascading into the nation’s waterways each year.

    These are among the findings of a report to be released Wednesday by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which assigned an overall D grade to the nation’s infrastructure and estimated that it would take a $2.2 trillion investment from all levels of government over the next five years to bring it into a state of good repair.

    The society had planned to release the report in March, but moved it up to try to influence the debate over the $825 billion economic stimulus bill being negotiated by the Obama administration and Congress. Advocates for greater investment in public works projects have expressed disappointment that less than a third of the current proposal — which could be approved by the House on Wednesday — would be spent on infrastructure, and an even smaller part of that would go toward traditional concrete-and-steel projects like roads and transit.

    I think we owe a debt to the Society here for helping to shape this debate before it gets too lost in typical Repug obstruction and fawning over tax cuts; as Paul Krugman said, the Repugs will never sign off on the stimulus anyway. That’s it – we’re done here with that, OK?

    Update: See? So much for bipartisanship (h/t Atrios).

    And as I noted here previously, Norway just announced its own stimulus bill with substantially more infrastructure spending than ours at this moment (and by the way, as noted here, those polled in this country “strongly back” infrastructure spending), and this tells us that Canada is prepared to spend $7 billion in that effort (this article tells us that “countries will spend approximately $30 trillion over the next two decades on new roads and similar projects and to fix existing infrastructure,” according to CIBC World Markets economist Benjamin Tal).

    Want more proof that such spending is a good thing? I give you former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who tells us here that “it’s not really a stimulative way to get the economy going.”

    I rest my case (and I have to admit that this is a welcome point of view from an unlikely quarter, if you will, though half a loaf may be better than none at the moment).


    Cohen “Catapults The Propaganda” Of The “Past”

    January 27, 2009

    waterboarding
    Witness one of our premier corporate media hacks in action today in the WaPo, where he tells us this…

    “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So goes an aphorism that needs to be applied to the current debate over whether those who authorized and used torture should be prosecuted. In the very different country called Sept. 11, 2001, the answer would be a resounding no.

    Around the same time, historian Jay Winik wrote about the usefulness of torture, how Philippine agents in 1995 got a certain Abdul Hakim Murad to reveal a plot to blow up 11 American airliners over the Pacific and send yet another plane, this one loaded with nerve gas, into CIA headquarters in Langley. After being beaten nearly to death, Murad was finally broken by the hollow threat to turn him over to Israel’s Mossad.

    It would behoove Richard Cohen to read this post from TomPaine.com, in which we learn the following (sourcing Cohen’s own newspaper, by the way)…

    Advocates of the ticking bomb (theory) often cite the brutal torture of Abdul Hakim Murad in Manila in 1995, which they say stopped a plot to blow up a dozen trans-Pacific aircraft and kill 4,000 innocent passengers. Except, of course, for the simple fact that Murad’s torture did nothing of the sort. As The Washington Post has reported, Manila police got all their important information from Murad in the first few minutes when they seized his laptop with the entire bomb plot. All the supposed details gained from the sixty-seven days of incessant beatings, spiced by techniques like cigarettes to the genitals, were, as one Filipino officer testified in a New York court, fabrications fed to Murad by Philippine police.

    Cohen continues…

    (The Murad case took place in) the other country called the Past. In the country called the Present, certain people are demanding that the torturers and their enablers be dragged across the time border and brought to justice.

    The best suggestion for how to proceed comes from David Cole of Georgetown Law School. Writing in the Jan. 15 New York Review of Books, he proposed that either the president or Congress appoint a blue-ribbon commission, arm it with subpoena power, and turn it loose to find out what went wrong, what (if anything) went right and to report not only to Congress but to us. We were the ones, remember, who just wanted to be kept safe. So, it is important, as well as fair, not to punish those who did what we wanted done — back when we lived, scared to death, in a place called the Past.

    I’m not the biggest fan of “blue-ribbon commissions,” especially since the purpose of this one would be to confirm the stupendously obvious fact that this country is not supposed to torture, now or ever, Cohen’s feeble equivocating about the “Past” versus the “Present” notwithstanding. But if that’s the best way to one day achieve closure on the abuses of the Bushco years in this regard, then maybe it should be considered.

    Oh, and just to reiterate more obvious points, torture is bad for at least two reasons: 1) It defies internationally agreed upon procedures and protocols of detainee treatment, to say nothing of standing in complete opposition to what we are supposed to represent as a country, and 2) As noted in the Murad example previously, it doesn’t generate good intelligence. And if you don’t want to believe me, fine; believe Susan Crawford, the “top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial,” according to Think Progress here, who told Bob Woodward that we couldn’t prosecute Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of the 9/11 plotters, because we tortured him (and Crawford is a Republican, in case you were wondering).

    Finally, I want to go “on the record” with the following statement, using the clearest language that I can, as long as Cohen has apparently tried to lump me into this amorphous group of people who, to his mind, “just wanted to be kept safe” and thus condoned torture:

    I have never condoned torture for any reason. I thoroughly repudiate the practice. It makes us absolutely no different from those who seek to defeat us. Besides, saying we accept it increases the likelihood that members of our military or others in our foreign service could be subjected to it one day were they ever captured and/or imprisoned (“waterboarding,” categorically – and correctly – described by Attorney General Designate Eric Holder as torture, is shown above).

    Torture is, now, and has always been wrong, and though I am not a lawyer, I cannot imagine how it could possibly be legal. And those who engaged it in under the disgusting pretext of “protecting us” should face the full force of the law for doing so.

    Update: God bless General James P. Cullen for this.


    Stimulus Done Right By The Norse (Of Course)

    January 26, 2009

    norway_fjord
    Even though Paul Krugman seemed to take issue today with the comment from Dem U.S. House Rep Pete DeFazio of Oregon about Larry Summers here (comment appears near the end, though neither are named), I think DeFazio made a solid point about the comparative lack of infrastructure spending in the Obama stimulus plan, particularly in light of this story…

    OSLO, Norway (AP) — Oil-rich Norway’s coalition government announced a 20 billion kroner ($2.9 billion) stimulus package on Monday intended to dampen the impact of the global financial crisis with tax cuts and increased spending.

    (Finance Minister Kristin) Halvorsen said government spending will be increased by 16.75 billion kroner ($2.4 billion) for such projects as road and railway construction; maintenance and projects in townships; and renewable energy projects. The remaining 3.25 billion kroner ($466 million) comes as tax relief to business.

    That’s how you do this thing, people; I don’t know the math off the top of my head, but DeFazio is talking about 18 percent of the stimulus on infrastructure, and Norway is allocating a hell of a lot more than that (interesting also that Norway has a higher per-capita income than the U.S. also, to say nothing of a universal, taxpayer-funded, single-payer health care system – and not to sound like the Krugman P.R. agency, but he also tells us this)…

    The point is that nobody really believes that a dollar of tax cuts is always better than a dollar of public spending. Meanwhile, it’s clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts — and therefore costs less per job created… — because a large fraction of any tax cut will simply be saved.

    And Krugman also tells us…

    Basically, conservatives are throwing any objection they can think of against the Obama plan, hoping that something will stick.

    But here’s the thing: Most Americans aren’t listening. The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately is Mr. Obama’s reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: “I won.” Indeed he did — and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost.

    Word to that, yo, including this ridiculous example of the Repugs trying to (ahem) protrude ahead of the pack with their criticisms.


    Burying Bushco’s Brand Of “Civil Rights”

    January 23, 2009

    thernstromA week ago, an Op-Ed column appeared in the New York Times by Mary Frances Berry, the chairwoman of the Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004, in which she made the following observation…

    The Commission on Civil Rights has been crippled since the Reagan years by the appointments of commissioners who see themselves as agents of the presidential administration rather than as independent watchdogs. The creation of a new, independent human and civil rights commission could help us determine our next steps in the pursuit of freedom and justice in our society. A number of explosive issues like immigration reform await such a commission, but recommendations for resolving the controversies over the rights of gays, lesbians and transgendered people should be its first order of business.

    I thought that was interesting because I haven’t read too many African American leaders speaking of the struggles of LGBT individuals in terms similar to the struggles they faced themselves, and still do today.

    Well, in response (and inadvertently validating Berry’s claim, I think), we have this letter from two members of the current commission, in full-on umbrage mode I should add; it appeared in the Times today…

    In “Gay but Equal?” (Op-Ed, Jan. 16), Mary Frances Berry argues that the United States Commission on Civil Rights should be abolished and replaced with “a new commission” addressing “the rights of many groups, including gays.”

    Ms. Berry’s concern is not with the commission’s lack of jurisdiction over sexual orientation issues, which could be remedied by statutory amendment. Rather, her grievance is that the commission has a conservative majority and will retain that majority until 2010, when President Obama is scheduled to make his first appointments.

    During Ms. Berry’s tumultuous tenure as commission chairwoman, the Government Accountability Office called it “an agency in disarray,” which lacked “basic management controls.”

    In contrast, today it has received three consecutive clean audits, substantially increased the quality and integrity of its reports and has been taken seriously again as an independent civil rights watchdog.

    We trust that President Obama will not look to Ms. Berry for advice on the commission.

    (Berry’s original column is linked from the Times letter today, I should note.)

    http://www.usccr.gov/images/bios/heriot.jpgFunny, but I didn’t read in Berry’s original column the words “crippled since the Reagan years, though everything was cool when I was in charge during Clinton’s administration and Bush’s first term.” Methinks the authors of the Times’ letter today, Abigail Thernstrom (pic above right) and Gail Heriot (left) doth protest too much (and attacking Berry for her term, aside from being mean spirited – particularly when Berry didn’t mention Thernstrom or Heriot by name in her original column – is hardly the point).

    So as you might expect, this made me curious to learn more about Thernstrom and Heriot and their roles in Dubya’s Commission on Civil Rights, and as former Boston Globe (and current New York Times) reporter Charlie Savage told us here in July 2006 (Savage has been following the doings at Dubya’s CCR for awhile now)…

    …documents show(ed) that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003 (for the CCR), after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

    In an acknowledgment of the department’s special need to be politically neutral, hiring for career jobs in the Civil Rights Division under all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican, had been handled by civil servants — not political appointees.

    But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers.

    For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

    Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

    And when discussing Bushco acolytes in high government positions where they had no business whatsoever, particularly here, the name of Hans von Spakovsky comes to mind, kind of the same way a case of acid reflux attacks you at an unsuspecting moment; as TPM Muckracker’s Kate Klonick tells us here…

    …(von Spakovsky), (t)he former Justice Department official whose nomination to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was thwarted when Democrats objected to his long record of support for restrictions on voting rights, has been hired as a “consultant and temporary full-time employee” at the ostensibly bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR).

    And in today’s Times letter, Thernstrom and Heriot tell us that the USCCR is being run oh so much more efficiently now than it was under Berry’s tenure, right?

    Well, as Klonick tells us…

    So where is the money (for von Spakovsky’s $125 K salary) coming from? Well it turns out that USCCR is about $400,000 (pdf) under budget, and something had to be done with all that money before December (’08). Although according to a federal source, the agency has other pressing needs — understaffing and out-of-date technology — the commissioners decided instead to spend at least part of that money on four temporary staff assistants.

    And concerning Thernstrom, this Sourcewatch article tells us that she wrote a book highly critical of affirmative action in 1987, vigorously challenged allegations of systematic bias against minorities in the 2000 Florida presidential election, and has called for all Democrats to be removed outright from the board of the USCCR.

    Sourcewatch also tells us that…

    Thernstrom first attracted the attention of conservatives with a thundering denunciation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Public Interest magazine in 1978. She “distinguished herself with her hostility toward any method of promoting black and minority representation”. [7]

    And as of last August when Klonick of TPM wrote her story about von Spakovsky, of the eight commissioners on the Civil Rights Commission CCR, it should be noted that only two were Democrats.

    How did that happen, I hear you ask? Well, for more information, we should turn to Gail Heriot, Thernstrom’s fellow CCR member. As Savage tells Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! here…

    (Heriot is) a law professor in San Diego, very conservative, a member of the Federalist Society, (who) had been a delegate to the 2000 Republican Convention and had applied to join the state panel in California, state advisory panel for the US Civil Rights Commission, calling herself a Republican in 2006. But shortly after that, in August of ‘06, she reregistered as an independent, and six months later Senate Republicans installed her as an independent, because there were still four Republicans officially on the panel, as a fifth conservative. She’s still there now. She was just reappointed to a new six-year term yesterday as an independent. She said she just has some policy differences with the Republican Party. I asked her to name one, and she declined.

    So a Repug changing their party affiliation to “independent” is a nice way for them to stack the commission with like-minded right-wing ideologues, huh?

    Well, at least Thernstrom or Heriot didn’t refer to Berry as “black and bitter,” as John Tanner, former chief of the CCR, did (noted here, with Tanner apologizing profusely after he was caught saying that in an Email – idiot).

    To conclude, I should note again that the authors of today’s letter state that “they trust that Obama will not look to Ms. Berry for advice on the commission.”

    I don’t know about that. But I can guarantee you that he won’t look to Thernstrom or Heriot for “advice” either.


    K.O.’s Special Comment On Torture

    January 23, 2009

    From a few days ago…


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