Why Rescue Automakers and Other Corporations that Have Been Bad Neighbors?

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 10:46 AM EST

As Congress ponders whether to bail out the auto industry--and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson opposes using the Big Finance rescue package to aid the Big Three automakers--a press release put out by a Democratic congressman from Wisconsin, Steve Kagen, illustrates the dilemmas at hand when it comes to assisting multinational corporations that have made their own now-falling-apart beds. Kagen asks why the taxpayers should help out Chrysler when the owner of Chrysler has screwed his constituents by shutting down paper mills in his district and refusing to sell those facilities to others.

Kagen explains:

Congressman Steve Kagen, M.D. says no taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until after Wisconsin papermakers go back to work. Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., one of the largest private equity investment firms in the United States, owns many corporations including automaker Chrysler and NewPage Corporation, which recently closed two paper mills in Northeast Wisconsin putting over 750 people out of work.
"If Cerberus needs to raise cash to bailout Chrysler, then they should sell our idle paper mills in Kimberly and Niagara," said Kagen. "Local community leaders have given them opportunities to sell - they have turned them down - and now hard working families in Wisconsin are being asked to help the very people who have taken away their jobs. Outrageous. I am strongly against any taxpayer funds being given to Chrysler until their parent company gives us our jobs back. Cerberus already has millions of dollars of assets in these mills which they can sell tomorrow, putting my friends and neighbors back to work, and generating the capital necessary to keep Chrysler afloat."
Kagen spoke this weekend at the dedication of Camp Kimberly, an area set up across the street from the quiet NewPage paper mill. Former mill workers are holding daily vigils to urge NewPage executives to run the mill, or sell it.
....The closure of the mill in Kimberly caused the loss of over 450 papermaking jobs and the Niagara mill closing put over 300 people out of work. Both closures were due to unfair competition from foreign-made paper.

Whether Kagen is right or not about what Cerberus has done--or not done--regarding the paper mills in his district, this situation shows a fundamental problem. Troubled corporations deemed too big to fail are running to the government for handouts, and it may be best of bad options to use taxpayer dollars to prevent their collapse. But these same corporations have often showed disregard for their workers, their consumers, and the communities in which they have thrived. That is, they haven't made decisions to advance the greater good--after all, that's not been their mission. (Their top job has been to make money for the shareholders and owners.) Yet once they hit trouble, they plead that it serves the greater good to keep them afloat. It's a basic asymmetry. To compensate, taxpayers and legislators ought to apply public interest standards for any bailouts that do proceed.

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Would a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Be a Return to the Past? No. Here's Why

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 10:34 AM EST

So far, no one has confirmed the Guardian report that Hillary Clinton will accept the offer to become Barack Obama's first Secretary of State, which suggests to me the Guardian got a little more out-front on that story than was appropriate. But what does it mean if she takes it? After appointing a top Clinton aide to chief of staff, putting what seemed like the entire Clinton economic team on his economic advisory board, and choosing Hillary for State, has Obama returned the country to the 90s and broken his promise to bring a new direction to Washington?

I don't believe so, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) I'm turning to Maureen Dowd for back-up. In a recent NYT column, she wrote:

If Barry chooses Hillary as secretary of state, a woman who clearly intimidated him and taught him to be a better pol in the primaries, it doesn't signal the return of the Clinton era. It says the opposite: If you have a president who's willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over.
Appointing a Clinton in the cabinet would be so un-Clintonian.

And the distinction isn't just with the Clinton Administration. Bringing strong voices unafraid to dissent into the inner circles of power is very different from the early Bush Administration, which famously refused to hear viewpoints that didn't agree with Bush and Cheney. And not insisting that all power reside in the White House (instead, allowing some to sit in Foggy Bottom) is also very un-Bushian.

It's part of an early Obama pattern. Forgiving Joe Lieberman his transgressions by allowing him to keep his chairmanship and place within the caucus, which Senate Democratics appear ready to do in part because of a nudge from Obama, is a refreshingly grudge-free approach to managing Washington. (Though, I'll admit, it is hard to see Joe get off scot free.) Forgiveness, power-sharing, brooking discussion and possibly dissent — it's all very new around here.

From Kurdistan to K-Street

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:50 AM EST

FROM KURDISTAN TO K-STREET....Over on our home page today, Laura Rozen tells the story of Shlomi Michaels: former Israeli counterterrorism commando, owner of a coffee/chocolate shop franchise, lobbyist and contractor for Iraqi Kurds, and, it turns out, friend of intelligence service chiefs from Moscow to Tokyo to Washington DC. It is definitely not set in the foreign affairs world that we normally see on TV:

This is a story of the other world, the one whose real power players never show up in the CNN headline crawl. It's the story of a man with a habit of popping up, Zelig-like, at the nexus of foreign policy and the kinds of businesses that thrive in times of war — security contracting, infrastructure development and postwar reconstruction, influence and intelligence brokering.

It's also the story of how this entrepreneur and middleman, in the shadowy environment created by the 9/11 attacks and Washington's advance on Iraq, seized the opportunity to propel himself from small-time businessman into global player. The trajectory of Shlomi Michaels is testament not only to one man's driven intensity, but also to the opportunities the war on terror has presented to those with the information, connections, and ambition to seize them.

The eternal search for WMD programs in Iraq makes an appearance too. The whole story is here.

Conservatives and Unions

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 9:18 PM EST

CONSERVATIVES AND UNIONS....Tim Fernholz shakes his head over the current conservative obsession with supposed liberal efforts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, and then asks a question:

The problem, of course, is that most folks on the left could care less about the Fairness Doctrine and don't see bringing it back as necessary or important, as The Los Angeles Times chronicles. But, obviously, a good number of conservatives are worked up about this fake issue. Which is weird, but also got me to thinking: Are liberals worked up about a similarly fake conservative project?

Sure. A few years ago there was a boomlet in liberals claiming that Bush was going to reinstate the draft. It was always a ridiculous notion, but it had a certain amount of currency in the blogosphere for a while. I think I even succumbed to it once myself during the 2004 campaign season.

But what else? Fernholz decided to ask some conservatives, and James Poulos gave this answer:

I suppose I have a less controversial and a more controversial answer for you. The less controversial answer is that [it] doesn't seem right to me to claim that conservatives are out to destroy the unions....The more controversial answer is that I don't think "overturning Roe vs. Wade" really accurately describes "a conservative project" anymore.

I'd say this is exactly backward. Overturning Roe v. Wade is obviously still a conservative project, but I'd at least give a hearing to the argument that there are plenty of conservatives who (a) don't really care about Roe and (b) believe that overturning it is a hopeless cause. Sure, they're all willing to keep it in the GOP platform and support pro-life judges (as long as they're also pro-business judges), but you can certainly make the case that a serious obsession with Roe is a minority position even within the conservative movement.

So even though I'd still disagree with Poulos on this point, I'd call it the less controversial claim. Union busting, conversely, strikes me as being so deeply embedded in conservative DNA that it's virtually impossible to imagine an American conservative movement that didn't have anti-unionism as one of its core planks. In the last 30 years conservatives have made virtually no only modest inroads on their pro-life agenda, but they've made steady progress on the anti-union front ever since the end of World War II — via legislation, executive orders, new agency rules, NLRB appointments, and judicial nominations at both the state and federal level. This is no coincidence. The prospect of unionization rouses panic among Main Street conservatives more than any other single issue — more than taxes, more than deregulation — and whether James Dobson likes it or not, the GOP is a business party first and a social conservative party second.

Overturning Roe is certainly a conservative priority, but it's only been on the list for about 30 years. Fighting labor has been on the list for more like 130 years. If it's not central to the conservative identity in America, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: Edited slightly. As JR points out in comments, in conservative regions of the country pro-life forces have won a fair number of battles at the state and local level.

Hillary at State

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 7:06 PM EST

HILLARY AT STATE....The latest on the Hillary front:

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

....Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the secretary of state job.

I don't know what sources the Guardian bases this on, but there are no weasel words in that first sentence. If this really turns out to be true, color me gobsmacked.

Huntington vs. Burlington: How to Grow a Healthy City

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 6:35 PM EST

westvirginia.jpgThe CDC recently ranked Huntington, West Virginia as America's unhealthiest city, leading the nation in rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes—even the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth.

On the other end of the scale was Burlington, Vermont, land of happy, healthy hikers and natural-food co-ops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Burlington is a relatively wealthy area, where fewer than 10 percent of people live below the poverty line. In Huntington, the number rises to nearly 20 percent.

In interviews with the Associated Press, a number of Huntington residents said they didn't have the time, the resources, or the inclination to prioritize personal health. Looked at that way, the equation seems simple: people in Burlington have the luxury to shop at boutique health food stores; people in Huntington don't.

But Keri Kennedy, a state health officer, says the bigger problem is one of perception.

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Prop 8: Mormons For Gay Marriage

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 5:34 PM EST

prop8little.jpgIt's been widely reported that the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) helped tip the balance in favor of California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. But not all Mormons voted yes. On the site Seeking Forgiveness, LDS Church members apologize on behalf of their church to the gay community—and express their regret that Prop 8 passed.

The apologies are worth a read. After the jump, I'll quote a few that moved me:

"Hundreds" of Hate Crimes Under the Radar, Post-Obama Victory?

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 4:50 PM EST

Am I the only one who has missed news of this? The AP:

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of incidents, including vandalism, threats and at least one physical attack. There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.
In Snellville, Ga., Denene Millner said that a day after the election, a boy on a school bus told her 9-year-old daughter that he hoped "Obama gets assassinated." That night, Millner said, someone trashed her sister-in-law's front lawn, mangled the Obama lawn signs and left two pizza boxes filled with human feces outside the front door.
"It definitely makes you look a little different at the people who you live with," said Millner, who is black. "And makes you wonder what they're capable of and what they're really thinking."
Potok, who is white, said he thinks there is "a large subset of white people in this country who feel that they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them."

The rest of the article has more specifics, if you're interested. I know no one actually believed that America would transform into a post-racial paradise because of Obama's victory, but did anyone think we'd see a wave of hate crimes? If that is, in fact, what this is?

Paul McCartney Announces Unreleased Beatles Track

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 4:42 PM EST

mojo-photo-beatles-2.jpgPaul McCartney has confirmed to BBC Radio 4 the existence of a "mythical" 14-minute-long unreleased Beatles track, and says the song will see the light of day. The track, called "Carnival of Light," commissioned for an electronic music festival, was recorded during the Penny Lane sessions in 1967, and was apparently only played once, at the festival itself. McCartney told Radio 4 that at the time he asked the other Beatles to indulge him:

I said all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum then wander on to the piano, hit a few notes, just wander around. So that's what we did and then put a bit of an echo on it. It's very free.

He said the track was never released because it was too "adventurous," but that "the time has come for it to get its moment."

After the jump: Brits find a reason to complain!

SNL Gets Gay

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 4:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-snagglepuss.jpgNot to be all-Prop-8-all-the-time over here on the Riff, but there was some surprising, funny, and surprisingly funny stuff on SNL Saturday night, and some of the best bits seemed to be inspired by the sudden re-emergence of gay rights as a newsy topic. In fact, homosexuality was pretty much the running theme of the whole episode, from the overly-kissy family opening sketch (which culminated in a jaw-dislocating open-mouth snog between Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen) to the baffling-but-hilarious digital short featuring Samberg and host Paul Rudd painting each other's naked portraits, Titanic-style. Justin Timberlake's lispy cameo as one of three terrible male dancers in leotards in a Beyonce video also might count. By the way, somebody give Justin Timberlake a variety show—his two-minute version of himself hosting the show was pretty mind-blowing.

After the jump: Heavens to Murgatroyd!