Get to Work!

GET TO WORK!....Former presidential speechwriter James Fallows notes that Barack Obama has made a lot of speeches that were instantly praised as hits. But:

In many other cases, especially late in the campaign, the red-hots among his supporters thought he had "underperformed" or been "just so-so" immediately after an event, only to see the days-later and weeks-later reaction to the performance turn much more positive. The clearest example was his first debate with John McCain, where supporters thought he had missed chances to go in for the kill — but over time it was clear that he had established his steady, gravitas-worthy persona.

I think his inaugural speech will be in this second category. Now that I have a chance to look at some blog-world commentary, I see that some is underwhelmed, as after the first debate. I think that the speech was in fact very well-pitched to this moment in history and the messages Obama wants and needs to send. That is, both artful and useful.

I wouldn't say that I was "underwhelmed" by Obama's speech, but even after a night's sleep I'll stick to my initial reaction that it was fine, but not really very memorable. Still, maybe that was the point. If I had to describe the speech in a word, I'd call it "workmanlike," and maybe that's exactly what Obama wanted it to be. After all, his steady theme, both yesterday and for the past couple of months, has been that his administration will be one that buckles down and gets to work from Day 1. Memorable would have just gotten in the way.

Quote of the Day - 01.21.09

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Tim Geithner, at his confirmation hearings today:

The tragic history of financial crises is a history of failures by governments to act with the speed and force commensurate with the severity of the crisis. If our policy response is tentative and incrementalist...then we risk greater damage to living standards, to the economy's productive potential, and to the fabric of our financial system....In a crisis of this magnitude, the most prudent course is the most forceful course.

Nationalization fans should rejoice at hearing this. More and more, that includes me, by the way. The news out of Britain is beyond grim right now, and throughout this financial crisis the U.S. has never been more than a couple of months behind the UK. If that stays the case, nationalization of at least a couple of big banks will hardly even be a debatable option a few weeks from now.

Union Organizing 101

UNION ORGANIZING 101....Over at the Washington Monthly, T.A. Frank tells the story of workers at a Rite-Aid distribution center in the Antelope Valley, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. At first, things were great. Then new management came in, conditions went from bad to worse, and finally the center's workers decided to unionize:

The Rite Aid organizers filed their union authorization cards with the NLRB, setting the ground for an election. And then things got ugly—and illegal, too....Eventually, the NLRB racked up so many complaints that it planned to take Rite Aid to trial on forty-nine violations of federal labor law. In the summer of 2007, though, Rite Aid chose to settle instead, agreeing to rehire two fired union supporters with back pay and to post a notice in a common area promising not to engage in thirteen types of illegal anti-union activity.

....[ILWU] won the March election, becoming the sole bargaining representative of the warehouse employees. And yet, the day after, things got worse....By August, thirty-nine more employees had been dismissed....Today, nine months later, Rite Aid and the ILWU have not yet come up with a contract. At meetings, Rite Aid has been pushing aside contract negotiations in order to discuss other things. Legally, Rite Aid is supposed to bargain "in good faith," but such terms are highly subjective and difficult to litigate. Work conditions for the warehouse workers remain much as before, perhaps even worse. And that works to Rite Aid's advantage — for when a union fails to deliver, its members may lose faith in it and vote it out.

The whole thing is worth reading to get some insight into how unionization drives really work as opposed to the civics class version of how they work. In the end, Tom argues that "card check," which allows unions to organize merely by getting 50% of a site's workers to sign authorization cards, may be the least important of card check legislation. The more important parts of the Employee Free Choice Act, he says, are the provisions that simply put teeth into existing labor law, levying serious fines for misbehavior and demanding that management bargain in good faith once a union wins an election.

I'm not so sure about that, but as an anecdotal point, it's true that anti-EFCA attorney Peter Kirsanow, a former Bush appointee to the NLRB and now a frequent blogger at The Corner, usually seems more agitated about the forced bargaining provisions of EFCA than he does about the card check provisions per se. So maybe there's something to Tom's argument. Refusing to seriously bargain with a union even after they've won an election is a routine maneuver for anti-labor companies, and EFCA does away with that by allowing an arbitrator to set terms for a contract if management stalls for more than 120 days.

I still wouldn't give up on card check, myself, but it's true that aggressive enforcement of existing law, all by itself, would go a long way toward improving the lot of labor in America. Read the entire piece for more.

If the Flubbed Presidential Oath Interests You...

You'll find the breakdown and video over at Language Log.

Update: Also interesting, front pages from around the nation and world.

Military Commissions on Hold

MILITARY COMMISSIONS ON HOLD....I'm sure the usual executive orders changing our abortion policies will be signed on Wednesday, but for those keeping score at home it looks like Obama's first major act has already taken place:

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed late Tuesday with a military court handling the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States....The legal maneuver appears designed to provide the Obama administration time to refashion the prosecution system and potentially treat detainees as criminal defendants in federal court or to have them face war-crimes charges in military courts-martial. It is also possible that the administration could re-form and relocate the military commissions before resuming trials.

This only gets two cheers until we see what the current procedure gets replaced with, but it's a good start.

Joe-Mentum

JOE-MENTUM....Cornerite Yuval Levin passes along this tidbit from the inauguration:

This was, understandably, a very partisan crowd in which I was badly out of place. The loudest boos, to my surprise, were not for Bush and Cheney, who got plenty, but for Joe Lieberman when he was shown on the huge television screens — more than one voice could be heard shouting "traitor" around where I was standing....

Poor Joe. In certain enlightend precincts, anyway, he's more hated than even Dick Cheney. How many people can say that?

Google Woes

GOOGLE WOES....What's going on with Google? Anyone know? It used to be that the search page came up instantly when I clicked on it, but then a while back it suddenly slowed down. Not a lot, but enough to be annoying. Maybe a second or two.

And YouTube has slowed down too. I can't remember the last time I played a YouTube video all the way through without interruption. These days I'm lucky for videos to play 20 seconds before they stop to rebuffer.

And Google Alerts used to be great too. It was a perfect tool for getting notified whenever someone responded to a blog post I'd written. But now? About 80% of the alerts I get are for posts from blogs where I just happen to be on the blogroll.

All this stuff started a couple of months ago or so. Is it just me? Has anyone else noticed the same thing? What happened? And can Barack Obama fix it?

Money Is the New Weight

resolution-forms.jpg

So, how are your New Year's resolutions to get happy and healthy coming along? For Gary Ryan Blair—aka the GoalsGuy—your resolutions are really working out.

Blair is the mastermind behind GotResolutions.com, which encourages people to make every choice count. (And to make one of those choices buying a GoalsGuy video seminar, of course.)

Of the site's 38,000 visitors in 2009, debt relief is one of the trendiest resolutions. Blair says that for the first time in his self-help career, he's guiding more people trying to lose debt than lose weight.

Blair's advice? Don't be afraid to confront the "good, bad, and ugly truths" of these tough times. Such counsel may seem crucial for some. But be forewarned—the program costs $59.95.

—Nikki Gloudeman

Obama's New Fuel Sucking Limo

the_beast300.jpgBack when he was a mere senator, Barack Obama declared that "When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should make sure that every government car is a plug-in hybrid." Now that he's leader of the free world, he's rolling a bit differently. The new presidential limo, which entered service this morning, is a fuel-sucking monster. The Cadillac, nicknamed "the Beast," is so loaded with armor and security features that it takes a medium-duty truck chassis to lug it all. And despite stories like this, it is most definitely not a hybrid. Its diesel engine gets somewhere between 5 and 10 mpg. Ouch.

So is Obama breaking his pledge to spend taxpayer money on hybrids whenever possible? There aren't any plug-in hybrid limos out there, but there are regular hybrid ones, though none as heavy as the Beast. But heavy doesn't rule out going hybrid. Peterbilt makes a hybrid medium-duty truck, and Treehugger notes that Obama once earmarked money to make hybrid Hummers. To be fair, the new presidential limo was probably on the drawing board way before Obama was elected. Yet it's not too early for the president to start leaning on the recently bailed-out General Motors to get working on the next generation of fuel-efficient presidential bunkers on wheels.

Not all energy-efficiency geeks are upset that Obama's carbon tireprint is getting even bigger. One poster on the message boards over at CleanMPG, the hypermiler hangout, is willing to cut the guzzler-in-chief some slack: "There are only two good reasons for personal FSP's. The Military and the President." In hypermiler lingo, FSP means fuel sucking pig. Still, a plug-in hybrid with 8-inch armor would still set a pretty cool example for those of us with less demanding security specs.

Photo courtesy US Secret Service

Jonathan Stein was poking around the new WhiteHouse.gov web site (which we've already pointed out is pretty darn sexy) and noticed something interesting, which he forwarded to me: the "Civil Rights" page under "Agenda" features a surprisingly large section on gay rights. "Support for the LGBT Community" takes up fully half the page, more than all other civil rights proposals combined, and while some of the eight points have been made by Obama before (repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," fight workplace discrimination), others are eye-opening:

Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions.
Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

Other bullet points include expansion of hate crimes statutes, opposition to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and AIDS prevention. It's quite a list, which may help to to assuage us queers who were appalled by Obama's choice of Rick Warren for the invocation at today's inauguration ceremony, and disturbed by openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson's speech somehow being scheduled before the TV broadcast began and the guests of honor were there to hear it. It's been rough going around the gays, to be honest. Personally, while I supported Obama from the beginning, I was nearly alone among my gay and lesbian friends, who supported Hillary Clinton almost unanimously. With both the Warren and Robinson situations, I got a barrage of "I told you so" emails, and my response has always been to offer a hopeful hypothesis that Obama would offer inclusive nods to people like Warren but make up for it with aggressive pro-LGBT moves on actual policy. If the administration follows through on even a few of these ambitious proposals, my admittedly optimistic theory may turn out to be correct.