Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From New York Times: A Race to the Bottom

December 23, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
A Race to the Bottom

Toward the end of an important speech in Washington last month, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, said to her audience:

“Think of a teacher who is staying up past midnight to prepare her lesson plan... Think of a teacher who is paying for equipment out of his own pocket so his students can conduct science experiments that they otherwise couldn’t do... Think of a teacher who takes her students to a ‘We, the People’ debating competition over the weekend, instead of spending time with her own family.”

Ms. Weingarten was raising a cry against the demonizing of teachers and the widespread, uninformed tendency to cast wholesale blame on teachers for the myriad problems with American public schools. It reminded me of the way autoworkers have been vilified and blamed by so many for the problems plaguing the Big Three automakers.

But Ms. Weingarten’s defense of her members was not the most important part of the speech. The key point was her assertion that with schools in trouble and the economy in a state of near-collapse, she was willing to consider reforms that until now have been anathema to the union, including the way in which tenure is awarded, the manner in which teachers are assigned and merit pay.

It’s time we refocused our lens on American workers and tried to see them in a fairer, more appreciative light. Continue reading at New York Times

From New York Times: Looking Back, Bush and Cheney Reveal Different Views

December 25, 2008
White House Memo
Looking Back, Bush and Cheney Reveal Different Views

WASHINGTON — President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been unusually talkative in recent weeks, sharing candid thoughts in a string of exit interviews. But after eight years of a tight partnership that gave Mr. Cheney powerful influence inside the White House, the two are sounding strikingly different notes as they leave office, especially on one of the most fundamental issues of their tenure: their aggressive response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. Bush defends his decisions as necessary to keep the nation safe, yet sounds reflective, even chastened. He has expressed regrets about not achieving an overhaul of immigration laws and not changing the partisan tone in Washington. And the man who got tangled up in a question about whether he had made any mistakes — he could not come up with one in 2004 — recently told ABC News that he was “unprepared for war,” and that “the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq.”

Mr. Cheney, by contrast, is unbowed, defiant to the end. He called the Supreme Court “wrong” for overturning Bush policies on detainees at Guantánamo Bay; criticized his successor, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and defended the harsh interrogation technique called waterboarding, considered by many legal authorities to be torture.

“I feel very good about what we did,” the vice president told The Washington Times, adding, “If I was faced with those circumstances again, I’d do exactly the same thing.” Continue reading at New York Times

From Obama's five rules of scandal response

Obama's five rules of scandal response
By: Kenneth P. Vogel and Carrie Budoff Brown
December 24, 2008 10:44 AM EST

Tuesday's report from the transition, detailing contacts between members of Obama's inner circle and embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and concluding that "nothing at all inappropriate" was discussed, won't be the final word on the subject—but it did provide some telling insight into the way the White House's new occupant will operate.

Here are five rules of Obama scandal-management based on his team's handling of its first post-election crisis.

1 - Be transparent, to an extent

Obama's internal review was entirely voluntary and intended to demonstrate that his team had nothing to hide, and was committed to its pledge to run "the most open and transparent transition in history."

But after announcing the review, his team declined to reveal who would conduct it, who would be interviewed or whether the resulting release would include any transition e-mails or records to support its conclusions.

The review itself answered just one of those questions — we now know that White House Counsel Greg Craig led the review, which didn't include any documentation of what materials it went over — but it raised others, among them: Why did Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett communicate with Craig through her lawyer, whom the report does not name; how many conversations did incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have with Blagojevich; and why was Obama himself interviewed by prosecutors?

The report says Emanuel urged Blagojevich to tap Jarrett for the Senate seat during "one or two telephone calls." But in the next paragraph, it refers to "those early conversations with the governor," and in a conference call unveiling the report, Craig said Emanuel "had a couple of conversations with the governor."

"We asked each individual who we thought might have had some contact or some communication that would be meaningful" to reconstruct "any contacts or communications, and that would include checking cell phone records or e-mails, and we inquired about that," Craig said. He added that "we've got the information that is required," and said he didn't know of any written communications.

Also, the report revealed that prosecutors interviewed Obama, and did so after he had publicly declared he had been unaware of Blagojevich’s alleged plot to sell off the Senate seat Obama had vacated after winning the presidency, raising questions about why they took the unusual step of interviewing the president-elect, what they asked him and whether he was under oath.

2 - Don't let the news cycle dictate response

Freed from the rapid fire back-and-forth of the campaign, Obama, a stickler for preparation, resorted to his methodical instincts in trying to create order amidst the swirling scandal.

But in taking his time, he's let the story linger into a third week.

After drawing criticism for a listless initial response the day Blagojevich was arrested and accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect, Obama went a step further the next day by calling on the governor to resign. On the third day of the story, he announced the internal review. By the next week he acknowledged frustration over not being able to clear up inaccuracies about the case.

Still, Obama resisted the temptation to spout off and stuck to the original plan: He would allow a written report to speak for him.

When the transition released the five-page review Tuesday, the day before Christmas Eve, Obama was far removed from the action as he relaxed in Hawaii with his family. The physical distance served the same purpose as the report itself, separating Obama from the swirl of scandal

3 - No freelancing

The report suggested Obama wants his advisers to get his permission before even ostensibly private conservations with outsiders.

Longtime Obama family friend Eric Whitaker seemed to follow this rule when he was approached by Blagojevich deputy Louanner Peters asking who could speak for Obama's preferences for the Senate seat.

"Dr. Whitaker said he would find out," according to the report. After Whitaker was told by Obama that "no one was authorized to speak for him on the matter," the report states Whitaker "relayed that information to Deputy Governor Peters" and "had no other contacts with anyone from the governor's office."

On the other side of that ledger was Emanuel, a much newer member of Obama's inner circle, who broke the rule by calling Blagojevich and recommending he tap Jarrett for the seat.

"He did so before learning -- in further conversations with the president-elect -- that the president-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate," according to the report. Later, when Emanuel chatted with Blagojevich's then-chief of staff, the report indicates it was "with the authorization of the president-elect."

4 - Aides take hits to protect the boss

Twice in handling the Blagojevich scandal, top Obama lieutenants were singled out for botching the message.

The report makes clear that Emanuel was the only person in Obama's transition who had any contact with Blagojevich about filling the Senate seat and that his contact wasn't authorized by Obama.

And Obama political guru David Axelrod made a public mea culpa after his boss contradicted a statement from an interview he gave last month, before the governor's arrest.

In it, Axelrod unambiguously described a conversation between Obama and Blagojevich about filling the seat, saying, "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them."

But after Obama declared he hadn't spoken to Blagojevich, Axelrod issued a statement saying, "I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the president-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy."

5 – Shy away from even justified fights

It seems only logical that Obama would want a say in picking his successor in the Senate, since the next junior senator from Illinois will represent the president-elect’s home and could be an important congressional ally.

But Obama, whose penchant for avoiding tough stands on controversial issues frustrated opponents trying to land a clear shot in the presidential race, also steered clear of the Senate-seat derby, according to the report and Craig’s teleconference.

Craig said Obama “was not engaging on this in any personal way and had no interest in dictating the result of the selection process.”

The report says Obama talked with his top aides about a range of prospective Senators, but never winnowed down the group, dispatching Emanuel to relay a list of acceptable candidates to Blagojevich’s office.

And according to the report, Obama was ambivalent about the Senate aspirations of Jarrett, contradicting the widely reported claim that she was his top choice for the Senate seat. Rather, the report says, Obama’s “preference (was) that Valerie Jarrett work with him in the White House." But it also states he made clear "he would neither stand in her way if she wanted to pursue the Senate seat nor actively seek to have her or any other particular candidate appointed to the vacancy."

To the extent that the report succeeds in its goal of establishing the distance between Obama and Blagojevich, it necessarily raises the question: Why was the president-elect and leader of the Democratic party playing no role in a key appointment to national office being made in his home state, and by a Democratic governor?

© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC

Sunday, December 14, 2008

President Bush Attacked By Shoes - MSNBC via YouTube

This video of President Bush being attacked by an Iraqi reporter is bizarre. Say what you might about President Bush, it does make you worry about the safety of any US president. Shoes? really?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Associated Press: Obama moving step by step to create his Cabinet

Actually, Obama just made this announcement today:


Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.


Obama moving step by step to create his Cabinet

By The Associated Press, Associated Press
December 10, 2008

Day by day, name by name, President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet is taking shape, and other top jobs are being filled.

A look at who has made the list and who is being talked about for jobs that are still open:


TREASURY SECRETARY: Timothy Geithner, president of Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

SECRETARY OF STATE: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general.

DEFENSE SECRETARY: Robert Gates, a holdover from Bush administration.


NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Retired Marine Gen. James Jones.

COMMERCE SECRETARY: Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.

NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: Lawrence Summers, former treasury secretary.

OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: Peter Orszag, director of Congressional Budget Office.

VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.




Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.


John Gannon, former deputy director for intelligence at the CIA during the Clinton administration.

Jami Miscik, former head of CIA's analytical operations.

Steve Kappes, CIA's current No. 2.

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who now heads House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

John McLaughlin, former interim CIA chief.


Denny Blair, retired admiral and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Don Kerr, No. 2 official in Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jami Miscik, former head of CIA's analytical operations.

Former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind.


Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.


Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.

John Berry, National Zoo director, former executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation


Lisa P. Jackson, former commissioner of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.


Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta.

Adolfo Carrion Jr., borough president of the Bronx, N.Y.

Renee Glover, head of Atlanta's housing authority.

Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Bart Harvey, former chief executive of Enterprise Community Investment.


Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.


Ed McElroy, former president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, former AFL-CIO vice president.

Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work.

Maria Echaveste, former Clinton White House adviser.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich.


Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of Chicago public schools.

Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver public schools.

Jon Schnur, founder and chief executive of New Leaders for New Schools.

Paul Vallas, superintendent of Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Linda Darling-Hammond, education professor at Stanford University.


Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mortimer Downey, former deputy transportation secretary.

Steve Heminger, executive director, San Francisco Bay area transportation commission.


Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania agriculture secretary.

Tom Buis, president of National Farmers Union.

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas.

Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

Former Rep. Jill Long Thompson, D-Ind.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

From Wall Street Journal: U.S. Says It Will Bail Out Christmas

U.S. Says It Will Bail Out Christmas
Easter and even Valentine's Day might be next.


With the government on the brink of rescuing the U.S. auto industry, we have learned that the Treasury Department is drawing up plans to bail out Christmas. "We have reason to believe," said a person close to the matter, "that without an immediate capital injection, Santa Claus will fail before December 24." Mr. Claus could not be reached for comment.
[Wonder Land] M.E. Cohen

Government officials are said to be concerned at the risk that the collapse of Santa Claus could pose to the nation's intricately related system of holiday happiness. Though a failure by Santa Claus poses the largest systemic risk, the government is also prepared to step in to bail out Christmas trees, caroling parties and mistletoe producers.

President-elect Barack Obama has been briefed on the initiative, and through a spokesman was quoted as saying, "I'm OK with bailing out Christmas."

Inside Treasury, some officials privately worry that such a precedent could result in the nationalization of Santa Claus, leading to similar calls for help next year from the Easter Bunny and even Valentine's Day. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson personally concluded, however, that "Santa Claus is too big to fail."

Daniel Henninger on the upcoming winter Wonder Land bailout.

Indeed, the situation was considered sufficiently dire that Mr. Paulson agreed to travel to the North Pole to speak to Mr. Claus. A Treasury official with knowledge of the situation agreed to provide this reporter with an account of the meeting. "Secretary Paulson," this person said, "has had a lifetime belief in Santa Claus and firmly supports what he represents."

Last Saturday morning, Mr. Paulson flew by government plane to meet with Santa, though a spokesman would not disclose the exact location of the famed toymaker's North Pole workshop. Mr. Paulson's plane landed on the polar ice cap, and then the Secretary was taken the final 300 miles in a sleigh pulled by Santa's fleet of reindeer. In deference to Mr. Paulson's unfamiliarity with sleigh-riding at altitude, Mr. Claus ordered his assistants to bring the Treasury department party overland.

The picture of Christmas painted for Mr. Paulson by his rosy-cheeked host was bleak.

Apparently Santa's difficulties in "producing product," as Mr. Paulson described it, originated in a poorly understood aspect of the jolly elf's current operations known as "Christmas list swaps," or CLIPS.

Mr. Claus said that going back as far as anyone can remember, Christmas lists had been handled in the traditional manner. Children would draw up lists, which were left out in the evening with a glass of milk for collection by Santa's elves; other lists would be exchanged with siblings, cousins and loved ones.

Several years ago, according to a participant who requested anonymity, some of Santa's elves were contacted by representatives from Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, who persuaded the elves of the benefits of an elaborate scheme of Christmas-list securitization.

As outlined to the elves, the idea worked like this. Brokers would break each item on the Christmas lists into separate pieces and repackage the requests as securities, using a formula known as a "benevolence diffusion algorithm." This would guarantee happiness for everybody in the world on Christmas morning. No one would lose.

At first Santa was doubtful of the plan. Mrs. Claus was especially skeptical, pointing out that in her experience with baking Christmas cookies, a seemingly foolproof enterprise, a failure rate of 5% was not uncommon. "There is simply no historical data to suggest the whole world can be long Christmas," Mrs. Claus said. "No scheme will ever rid the world of bad little girls and boys."

According to a person with knowledge of the North Pole couple's affairs, Santa received a call from a Franklin Raines, who identified himself as the president of a "government sponsored enterprise" known as Happie Mac. Santa apparently became convinced that Happie Mac sounded similar to his own business of free giving, and so agreed to the proposed system of Christmas list swaps.

Difficulties emerged when a CLIPS salesman from AIG called a senior elf to say that a large number of the Christmas list swaps had ended up in the hands of Russian billionaires with links to former Russian president Vladimir Putin. "These plutocrats don't even believe in me," Santa was heard to say as Mr. Paulson's sleigh rode out of sight.

On returning to Washington, Mr. Paulson's plan to bail out Christmas immediately ran into problems. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose great-great uncle is rumored to have been an elf, pointed out that Santa Claus might not qualify for a TARP loan. According the Fed's analysis: "Santa Claus belongs to the people. Any bailout must pass through the appropriate committees of the House."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, notwithstanding that she is the mother of five children, has reportedly told Mr. Paulson that Congress will bail out Christmas only in return for a promise from Santa Claus to "go green." Speaker Pelosi said the Environmental Defense Fund has long complained about Santa's eight tiny reindeer and that Mr. Claus would be asked to appear this Tuesday before Rep. Barney Frank's committee with a plan to reduce the sleigh's carbon footprint.

With only 13 days remaining for a Santa rescue, Mr. Paulson and Speaker Pelosi are said to be discussing the appointment of a Christmas czar. The leading candidate is Oprah Winfrey.

Write to
(Or better yet, write to Santa who needs the support.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich: One Son Illinois is Not Proud Of

We all know Chicago politics is tough politics, heck FOX News tried to remind us that every chance they got during the campaign. But Obama trudged on and won the Presidency bringing much respect and redemption to the city of Chicago and state of Illinois. Since November 4, Chicago had become the new center of the universe, all eyes were watching Obama. From the moment he stepped out to the podium that Tuesday night with his beautiful family and gave a speech watched by people all around the world, Chicago has basked in the glory of its new favorite son. That all ended Monday with the arrest of Gov. Blagojevich.

I, like most Americans, am relieved to know Obama did not fall for this guy's attempt to literally sell the seat to the highest bidder, but it is an unwelcome distraction to the Obama transition which has been one of the best we have ever seen, it is a shame to Chicago, and Blagojevich is the black sheep of Illinois that no one can be proud of right now.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

From Chicago Tribune: Barack Obama's Birth Certificate,0,

The Obama campaign provided this birth certificate, showing Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.


Virulent Barack Obama opponents won't go away

By Eric Zorn

Tribune staff reporter

December 7, 2008,0,5348796.story

Silly me. Here I had been thinking that the wild-eyed foamers at the mouth who were driven nearly to madness by the prospect of Barack Obama's election to the presidency were going to wait until Obama actually did something to offend them before going nuts again.

But no.

Those who spent most of the 1990s seething that Bill and Hillary Clinton were serial murderers and who devoted the entire 2008 campaign cycle to painting Obama as a mysterious radical aren't relaxing during the transition.

Much of their energy these days is devoted to the effort to block Obama from assuming the presidency on the grounds that he's not a "natural-born citizen" of the United States, as the Constitution requires. Continue reading...

From Salon
Why the stories about Obama's birth certificate will never die
Barack Obama was, without question, born in the U.S., and he is eligible to be president, but experts on conspiracy theories say that won't ever matter to those who believe otherwise.
By Alex Koppelman

Dec. 5, 2008 | Barack Obama can't be president: He wasn't really born in Hawaii, and the certification of live birth his campaign released is a forgery. He was born in Kenya. Or maybe Indonesia. Or, wait, maybe he was born in Hawaii -- but that doesn't matter, since he was also a British citizen at birth because of his father, and you can't be a "natural-born citizen" in that case. (But then, maybe his "father" wasn't really his father; maybe his real dad was an obscure communist poet. Or Malcolm X.)

You might think these rumors would have died off after Obama produced proof in June that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii to an American citizen, his mother, Ann, or after Hawaii state officials confirmed in October that he was born there. You might think the rumors would have died off after he was elected by a comfortable margin. Instead, they've intensified. There have been paid advertisements in the Chicago Tribune questioning the president-elect's birth certificate and eligibility, and one group is raising money to run a similar ad on television. The right-wing Web site WorldNetDaily has been reporting on the issue almost nonstop. Numerous plaintiffs have filed lawsuits in various states. And Friday, the Supreme Court's nine justices will decide whether they want to hear one of those suits, which also contends that John McCain, born in the former Panama Canal Zone, does not meet the Constitution's requirements to hold the presidency. Continue reading...

From New York Times: Typing Without a Clue

December 7, 2008

Typing Without a Clue
Guest Columnist

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.

Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon. Who could forget poor John McCain at his most befuddled, calling out for his working-class surrogate on a day when Joe stiffed him.

With a résumé full of failure, he now thinks he can join the profession of Mark Twain, George Orwell and Joan Didion.

Next up may be Sarah Palin, who is said to be worth nearly $7 million if she can place her thoughts between covers. Publishers: with all the grim news of layoffs and staff cuts at the venerable houses of American letters, can we set some ground rules for these hard times? Anyone who abuses the English language on such a regular basis should not be paid to put words in print.

Here’s Palin’s response, after Matt Lauer asked her when she knew the election was lost:

“I had great faith that, you know, perhaps when that voter entered that voting booth and closed that curtain that what would kick in for them was, perhaps, a bold step that would have to be taken in casting a vote for us, but having to put a lot of faith in that commitment we tried to articulate that we were the true change agent that would progress this nation.”

I have no idea what she said in that thicket of words.

Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

When I heard J.T.P. had a book, I thought of that Chris Farley skit from “Saturday Night Live.” He’s a motivational counselor, trying to keep some slacker youths from living in a van down by the river, just like him. One kid tells him he wants to write.

“La-di-frickin’-da!” Farley says. “We got ourselves a writer here!”

If Joe really wants to write, he should keep his day job and spend his evenings reading Rick Reilly’s sports columns, Peggy Noonan’s speeches, or Jess Walter’s fiction. He should open Dostoevsky or Norman Maclean — for osmosis, if nothing else. He should study Frank McCourt on teaching or Annie Dillard on writing.

The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.

Our next president is a writer, which may do something to elevate standards in the book industry. The last time a true writer occupied the White House was a hundred years ago, with Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote 13 books before his 40th birthday.

Barack Obama’s first book, the memoir of a mixed-race man, is terrific. Outside of a few speeches, he will probably not write anything memorable until he’s out office, but I look forward to that presidential memoir.

For the others — you friends of celebrities penning cookbooks, you train wrecks just out of rehab, you politicians with an agent but no talent — stop soaking up precious advance money.

I know: publishers say they print garbage so that real literature, which seldom makes any money, can find its way into print. True, to a point. But some of them print garbage so they can buy more garbage.

There was a time when I wanted to be like Sting, the singer, belting out, “Roxanne ...” I guess that’s why we have karaoke, for fantasy night. If only there was such a thing for failed plumbers, politicians or celebrities who think they can write.

Maureen Dowd is off today.

From Washington Post: Reluctance to Help Detroit Reeks of Class Bias

Reluctance to Help Detroit Reeks of Class Bias

By Warren Brown
Sunday, December 7, 2008; G02

It has happened repeatedly in the last several weeks -- well-paid, well-known journalists questioning the wisdom of "bailing out Detroit," of helping an industry whose union-represented workers have substantially better wages and benefits than other manual or skilled laborers, or, more precisely, who are better compensated than their nonunion counterparts working at foreign-owned rival companies building cars and trucks in the United States.

The questions are tinged with outrage and ridicule: Why should Americans who earn less, have inferior pension and health-care plans, help the United Auto Workers union? Why can't the UAW be satisfied with the same pay packages given at Honda, or with an even less-expensive compensation agreement for workers at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala.?

The queries often come from people who earn substantially more than the estimated $71,000 annually in wages and benefits paid to UAW members. They come from people who, having reached upper-middle-class status by virtue of their college educations and communication skills, certainly wouldn't settle for earning less.

So, why are the questions being asked?

Might I suggest class bias?

There is a feeling in this country -- apparent in the often condescending, dismissive way Detroit's automobile companies have been treated on Capitol Hill -- that people who work with their hands and the companies that employ them are inferior to those who work with their minds and plow profit from information. How else to explain the clearly disparate treatment given to companies such as Citigroup and General Motors?

Let us stipulate for the record that both Citigroup and GM have made their share of management errors. Citigroup made loans it should not have made and sold lots of commercial paper it should have trashed. But Congress offered barely a whimper of protest to the government's emergency action granting Citigroup $25 billion in bailout money. Similarly, the Mob of Pundits seemed not to care much that many of Citigroup's managers remained just as rich after the federal bailout as they did before receiving the government's aid.

What Citigroup manager was dragged to Capitol Hill to publicly present a long-term plan for business profitability and viability? Did I miss something?

Now comes GM, Ford and Chrysler -- supplicants all, companies that bet wrong on U.S. gasoline prices (the same error made by Toyota with its Tundra pickup, by the way) and that were as shocked as the rest of us by the fiscal carnage caused by bad loans made by banks such as Citigroup.

It apparently matters not that the domestic car manufacturers account for 3 million to 5 million U.S. jobs. It matters not that, despite some bad guesses on product development, they've remained engines of U.S. innovation. (Their work with biologically derived fuels and emergency communications systems are examples.) Nor does it matter that they pulled us through several wars and one terrorist attack (GM's zero-percent financing plan after the Sept. 11, 2001, horror).

And, of course, it does not matter that the domestic manufacturers for decades have been operating in a country wide open to foreign competition, but bereft of anything resembling a sensible industrial or energy policy. That's quite different from Japanese car manufacturers that have benefited mightily from financing and cooperation via Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

No. The only thing that matters is that Detroit's automobile workers have earned enough money to allow their families to dream, to send their children to the colleges and universities from which many of their critics in the media graduated. How dare they!

Implicit in the criticism of UAW compensation packages is that union-represented automobile workers are being paid above their social class. Greedy, bad people. They are supposed to be satisfied with wages that cover only the basics -- food, acceptable clothing and housing. They are not supposed to receive pay that allows them to aspire to or dream of more. They should be happy with the development of America's Wal-Mart economy, one in which less-expensive skills, talents, products and services are imported to satisfy the American consumer's insatiable lust for the highest-quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices.

That is what stuff-makers and other manual laborers deserve. Wall Street's money people and well-paid journalists, on the other hand, deserve much better. They studied, went to college. They use their brains. They should be paid more.

So, let Detroit's automobile companies slide into bankruptcy. We'll lose a few million more jobs. But those of us lucky enough to remain employed will still be able to buy cars from Honda, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota. Or, if we are doing quite well, we can snatch something from BMW, Porsche or Mercedes-Benz.

What the heck? If things get really rough, we can always catch a sale at Wal-Mart. Citigroup most certainly would be willing to finance our purchases at favorable interest rates. What a country! We once rejoiced in building things, innovating, racing to the top. Now, at least for the people who use their hands to make this country go, we're celebrating a mad dash to the bottom.

Are we not better than this? Is this the America we want to be?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Obama Picks Shinseki In A Not-So-Subtle Blow to Bush Administration!

AWESOME! Back long ago when the talk of war in Washington was that it would cost only $50 billion mostly paid for by Iraqi oil and we wont need that many troops to secure the country, one brave General stood up and bravely said we will need more. For that brevity, hew was shunned and awarded with 'early retirement.' Today, Barack Obama brings back Shinsheki as the new Secretary of Veteran Affairs - awesome move!

Sometimes war is just unavoidable, but perhaps next time we plan to go to war, before we lose thousands of brave American men and women, before we plunge trillions of dollars in some war that doesnt do much for us while our economy stutters, perhaps we will be more careful and ask the right questions.

Obama's cabinet is shaping up nicely, I am sure he has disappointed a lot of people on the left, but if you are in the middle you ve gotta love the picks from Clinton to keeping Gates. People on the right are just dumbfounded. After all, Obama was supposed to be this extreme liberal that will bring a liberal agenda to Washington and pal around with his terrorist friends - I wonder if Gates counts as one?

December 7, 2008
General Critical of Iraq War Is Pick for V.A. Chief

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to be secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, elevating the former Army chief of staff, who was vilified by the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war for his warning that far more troops would be needed than the Pentagon had committed.

In his choice of General Shinseki, which Mr. Obama will announce here on Sunday, the president-elect would bring to his cabinet someone who symbolizes the break Mr. Obama seeks with the Bush era on national security. The selection was confirmed by two Democratic officials.

General Shinseki, testifying before Congress in February 2003, a month before the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, said “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be needed to stabilize Iraq after an invasion. In words that came to be vindicated by events, the general anticipated “ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems,” adding, “and so it takes a significant ground force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment.”

The testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, whose war plans called for far fewer troops. Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked General Shinseki’s comments as “wildly off the mark,” in part because Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.

With the subsequent years in which Americans battled ethnic insurgents, and after President Bush agreed to a “surge” strategy of more troops in January 2007, General Shinseki was effectively vindicated and military officials, as well as activists and politicians, publicly saluted him. By then, however, General Shinseki had been marginalized on the joint chiefs of staff and quietly retired from the Army.

When asked about General Shinseki’s early troop estimates in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC, Mr. Obama said, “He was right.” At the same time, General Shinseki drew criticism in the postwar years for not pressing more aggressively for more troops before the war. In an interview in Newsweek in early 2007, he said of the critiques, with characteristic brevity, “Probably that’s fair. Not my style.” In the past, he would say to his associates, “I do not want to criticize while my soldiers are still bleeding and dying in Iraq.”

When other retired officers publicly called on Mr. Rumsfeld to resign, he did not.

The controversy made General Shinseki popular with soldiers in Iraq and veterans of the conflict who resented what they saw as inadequate troop strength. In taking over Veterans Affairs, he would inherit an agency struggling with increasing numbers of veterans with physical and mental wounds from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the many aging veterans of past conflicts.

General Shinseki, 66, who was the highest-ranking Asian-American in the military, also commanded the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Like Mr. Obama, the general is a native of Hawaii. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he suffered serious wounds and lost much of a foot.

Rumsfeld critic Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs
By: Jonathan Martin
December 6, 2008 07:24 PM EST

CHICAGO — Retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki will be named as Barack Obama's Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

The surprise pick adds yet another heavyweight to the Obama cabinet, and also takes a not-so-subtle slap at President Bush's original national security team.

Shinseki served as Chief of Staff of the Army and retired a four-star general in 2003. Like Obama a native of Hawaii, Shinseki served two combat tours in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Shinseki, who is of Japanese ancestry, becomes the first Asian-American in the new Cabinet.

He rose to prominence—and become something of a hero to the anti-war left— after he clashed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz personally and professionally, especially on the Iraq war.

Shortly before the end of his term as Chief of Staff in 2003, Shinseki told a congressional committee that post-war Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. Both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz publicly scoffed at the estimate— a rare public rebuff to one of the nation's most senior generals. When Shinseki retired, no senior civilians from the Pentagon showed at his ceremony.

Iraq war critics later said it was Shinseki, not Rumsfeld, who turned out to be right about the need for more troops after U.S. forces suffered heavy losses in the post-war insurgency.

In an interview to air tomorrow, Obama praised Shinseki's judgement on the war.

"He was right," Obama told NBC's Tom Brokaw in a "Meet the Press" interview taped here Saturday, excerpts of which were released tonight by the network.

Obama also cited his shared his Hawaiian roots with Shinseki.

"I grew up in Hawaii, as he did," the president-elect noted. "My grandfather is in the Punch Bowl National Cemetery. When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and, I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart, and I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home."

Shinseki served on active-duty for 38 years, graduating from West Point in 1965 and rising through the officer ranks until he became Vice Chief of Staff and then ultimately Chief of Staff in 1999.
Shinseki Slated to Head VA, Obama Confirms
Updated 6:50 p.m.
By Philip Rucker and Thomas E. Ricks
Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki will be introduced tomorrow as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, a Democratic official familiar with the announcement said today.

Obama confirmed that Shinseki was his choice In an exclusive interview with NBC News, taped for broadcast on "Meet the Press." Obama called Shinseki "exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home."

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq.

Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki's estimate "will prove to be high," and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment "way off the mark."

Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, "General Shinseki was right." And in January 2007, President Bush ordered tens of thousands of U.S. troops back into Iraq to stabilize and secure the country.

Obama concurred with Abizaid's view in the "Meet the Press" interview, saying of Shinseki, "He was right."

Shinseki retired in the summer of 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended his farewell ceremony.

Notably Shinseki led the Army at the same time that Obama's nominee as national security adviser, then-Marine commandant Gen. James L. Jones. Both questioned Wolfowitz's presumptions, before the war in Iraq commenced, about how the fighting would go, and they argued that Pentagon planning was being too optimistic and should prepare thoroughly for worst-case scenarios.

The politics around the planned nomination are intriguing. Shinseki has maintained a near-total silence since leaving the Pentagon. However, earlier this year, a letter he wrote to Rumsfeld in June 2003 leaked. In it, Shinseki criticized Rumsfeld for not letting the Joint Chiefs of Staff "express their best military judgment as often as they should." He also said that the way Rumsfeld and other top civilian officials ran meetings was "unhelpful."

Also, there long has been speculation inside the Army that Shinseki, who was severely wounded in Vietnam, is interested in running for the Senate when Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), an 84-year-old World War II veteran, decides to retire.

Shinseki, a 66-year-old native of Kauai, told the Associated Press in 2005, "I intend to move back to Hawaii. It's just a question of when."

Since retiring from the Army, he has joined the boards of Honeywell International and Ducommun, both companies focused on military contracting. He also is on the board of the Hawaiian companies Grove Farm Corp. and First Hawaiian Bank.