Public School for the Obama Girls, Please?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 11:55 AM EST

Dear President-elect Obama,
I'm writing to you as a resident of the District of Columbia, where you'll soon be moving with your two lovely children. I would like to respectfully request that you seriously consider sending your kids to DC public schools—and not a charter school, either, but a full-on traditional neighborhood public school. I realize that you've already taken some flack for ensconcing your daughters in a private institution in Chicago. I don't intend to pile on. I understand that choosing a school is fraught with anxiety and it's the most private of decisions. But you are a public figure, so I think it's fair to ask that you give the public schools a boost of confidence by electing to send your kids to one.
Full disclosure: I send one of my children to public school, and the White House is within the same school boundary as my own home. After 5th grade, my kids would attend the same school as yours. So I have a vested interest in where your kids end up, as any school that lands the president's kids is likely to see a host of improvements. But my self-interest aside, whatever happens with your administration, you could at least leave a lasting impact on hundreds of poor, mostly minority kids languishing in schools that routinely fail to teach them to read simply by sending your kids to public schools.
Bill Clinton greatly disappointed city residents when he and Hillary Clinton opted to send Chelsea to the tony Sidwell Friends School. His argument at the time was that he and Hillary wanted to protect their daughter's privacy, an argument some found disingenuous, given that private schools are crawling with the children of the media elite who rarely, if ever, set foot in DC's crappy public facilities. City residents were immensely disappointed that the leader of the free world did not seize the opportunity to help improve one of the nation's worst school systems, without having to spend a dime.

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Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 11:19 AM EST

NIGHTMARE ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE....The unemployment rate is at its worst in 14 years. October retail sales were the worst in 37 years. The ISM manufacturing index is at its lowest level in 26 years. And the service sector index is at its lowest level ever.

Welcome to Washington, president-elect Obama. I think you'd better get used to hearing the phrase "at its worst level since ______ "

The Senate Run-Off in Georgia Is Underway: New Ad Up

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 10:26 AM EST

In the Saxby Chambliss (R) vs. Jim Martin (D) Senate race in Georgia that Nick wrote about a week ago, the incumbent Chambliss garnered more votes but failed to reach the 50 percent threshold Georgia state law demands for victory. Thus, the state finds itself in a run-off. The third party candidate (a libertarian who took 3 percent) has been eliminated and voters will head to the polls again on December 2.

Martin has released his first ad in the new campaign and, as you can see, it's heavy on Obama:

Obama Meets With New Econ Team - How Populist, How Corporate?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 10:09 AM EST

According to Obama's press operation, his new "Transition Economic Advisory Board" includes the following:

- David Bonior (Member House of Representatives 1977-2003)
- Warren Buffett (Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)
- Roel Campos (former SEC Commissioner)
- William Daley (Chairman of the Midwest, JP Morgan Chase; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Commerce, 1997-2000)
- William Donaldson (Former Chairman of the SEC 2003-2005)
- Roger Ferguson (President and CEO, TIAA-CREF and former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve)
- Jennifer Granholm (Governor, State of Michigan)
- Anne Mulcahy (Chairman and CEO, Xerox)
- Richard Parsons (Chairman of the Board, Time Warner)
- Penny Pritzker (CEO, Classic Residence by Hyatt)
- Robert Reich (University of Cal, Berkeley; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Labor, 1993-1997)
- Robert Rubin (Chairman and Director of the Executive Committee, Citigroup; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1995-1999)
- Eric Schmidt (Chairman and CEO, Google)
- Lawrence Summers (Harvard University; Managing Director, D.E. Shaw; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1999-2001)
- Laura Tyson (Former Chairman, National Economic Council, 1995-1996; Former Chairman, President's Council of Economic Advisors, 1993-1995)
- Antonio Villaraigosa (Mayor, City of Los Angeles)
- Paul Volcker (Former Chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve 1979-1987)

Some observations. The list includes a number of corporate types and Clinton-era holdovers. While these folks are undoubtedly smart as can be, they don't really represent the sort of bold and populist economic thinking that some progressives would like to see emerge in this time of financial crisis. It also includes a couple folks (Rubin, Summers) who oversaw the late-Clinton deregulation that got us into this mess.

Economist Dean Baker writes to Mother Jones, "The only remotely populist people on this list are Bonior and Reich. I give Buffet credit for being a smart and mostly honest guy, but populist is probably a bit of a stretch.... This group is pretty heavily Wall Street in my view, which is worse than being just corporate. That's not a surprise, but it is a disappointment."

The list includes four people mentioned in the press as possibilities for Treasury Secretary — Buffet, Summers, Tyson, and Volcker.

Obama will hold his first post-election press conference today at 2:30 pm EST after meeting with his new economic team. He also attends parent-teacher conferences at his daughters' school in Chicago today.

Update: Just realized — no one from the labor community on the list.

What on Earth Happened in Alaska?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 9:34 AM EST

Is something fishy going on in Alaska?

In the state's single House seat, embattled and federally investigated Republican incumbent Don Young was slated to lose 50.4-44.0 (by an average of the polls). Instead, he won 52-44, an Election Day swing of more than 14 points.

In the state's Senate seat, embattled and federally convicted Republican incumbent Ted Stevens was predicted to lose his seat 47.9-43.5 (again, by an average of the polls). Leading Republicans, including the GOP presidential candidate and the Senate Minority Leader, said Stevens should resign. Harry Reid warned that he may be expelled from the Senate if he were to win. Yet, Stevens appears to be leading 48-47 as vote counting concludes. That's a election day swing of 5.5 points, in the face of all expectations.

And then consider this, from the Washington Post:

Transition Rumint: Security Posts

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 8:57 AM EST

As advisors to President-Elect Obama move swiftly into transition mode, speculation on possible appointments is heightened while those under consideration for the jobs have gone quiet. But here are some names I am hearing and reading for national security posts:

James Steinberg, the highly regarded former Clinton-era deputy national security advisor, is being considered for national security advisor. Long time Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, Clinton's former assistant secretary of state for Africa, is being considered for deputy national security advisor, as well as for US ambassador to the UN. Top NSC appointment announcements could come as early as today, and other White House appointments would be announced after that.

For top jobs at State, the short list includes Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb, ret.), Richard Lugar (R-IN) (all moderate colleagues of Obama and VP-elect Joseph Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), former Clinton-era Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke, and retired Marine Corps General and Mideast envoy James L. Jones, who is likely to get a top job in the administration elsewhere if not at State. Deputy Secretary of State could go to Greg Craig, a former counselor to President Clinton.

At the Defense Department, conventional wisdom has it that the top job is Robert Gates' if he will keep it, at least initially, and that Clinton's well respected former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig could come in as deputy. Other people named as contenders for top Defense Department posts include former Pentagon officials Ashton Carter, a big-think arms control hand who has arm wrestled with Pyongyang and negotiated post-Soviet nuclear issues and now teaches at Harvard, Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, co-founders of the new think tank, the Center for a New American Security, whose ranks are likely to provide additional security brainpower to the new administration, along with security and regional experts and staff from other think tanks, academe, and the Hill. Former Georgia Democratic Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, a member of the 9/11 commission, is reportedly under consideration to become Secretary of the Army.

Rumored contenders for top intelligence posts include Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the high-powered former ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, who is also interested in heading the bureaucratically-challenged Department of Homeland Security (see my recent profile), and former top CIA official John Brennan, who has served as an intelligence advisor to Obama. Other intel posts could be filled by this team.

Worth noting that news video of Obama going into his first intelligence briefing yesterday showed him accompanied by Steinberg, former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta (who has indicated he does not want an administration job), and the Obama campaign's foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough. It's likely that Obama would want to have been accompanied by his would-be national security advisor, presumably Steinberg.

We'll know soon enough, and there are bound to be surprises. But given the stakes of a war-time transition and the signs of new life after the fatigue of covering the late term Bush administration foreign policy, speculation on these posts is hard to resist.

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Obama's Constitution

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 1:54 AM EST

OBAMA'S CONSTITUTION....I don't expect to hear anything about this stuff soon from the Obama team, but I hope they don't put off for too long making some explicit statements about:

  • Domestic surveillance/warrantless wiretapping

  • Guantanamo

  • Torture policy/adherence to Geneva conventions

  • Signing statements

  • Military tribunals

Let's call this the "shredding the constitution" file. Or, more hopefully, the "putting the constitution back together" file. The first two items in particular are going to be especially tough for Obama. He's almost certainly going to be told in no uncertain terms by men wearing dark suits and penetrating stares that the wiretapping program has produced reams of actionable intelligence and that cutting it back will endanger American security. And those sentiments won't stay private. They'll be leaked to plenty of friendly reporters if Obama orders the program modified anyway. We can expect some major political firestorms over this.

Guantanamo, if anything, will be even harder. I'm not talking here about Guantanamo the place. The prison itself can be pretty easily moved elsewhere. I'm talking about Guantanamo the problem: namely, what do you do with the remaining detainees there? Battlefield conditions being what they are, it's almost a certainty that the evidence against many of the prisoners — including some of the genuinely dangerous ones — is far too weak to withstand any kind of dispassionate tribunal. But if that means some of them get released, where do they get released to? Kansas City? It's not as if there's another country in the world that will take them, after all.

But we can't keep surveilling American citizens forever and we can't continue to keep prisoners locked up based merely on rumors and hearsay (or confessions extracted by torture). I don't expect Obama to clean this stuff up on his first day in office, but here's hoping that the constitutional law professor doesn't wait too long. It would be nice to have our country back again.

Droughts Destroy Dynasties

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 12:51 AM EST

400px-Drought.jpg Chinese history is replete with the rise and fall of dynasties. New research identifies a natural phenomenon behind at least three of the downfalls—the weakening of the summer Asian Monsoon. The same problem may be afflicting northern China now.

Summer monsoon winds originate in the Indian Ocean and sweep into China. When the monsoon is strong, it pushes farther into northwest China. The new research found a strong summer monsoon prevailed during at least one of China's golden ages, the Northern Song Dynasty, when rice first became China's main crop and China's population doubled. Weak summer monsoons coincided with drought in the northwest and the increasing civil unrest that unraveled the Tang, Yuan, and Ming dynasties.

The droughts were deciphered from layers of stone in a 1,810-year-old, 4.5-inch long stalagmite from Gansu Province, China. Measurements of uranium and thorium revealed the date each layer was formed. Analysis of two forms of oxygen were used to match those measurements to low rainfall dates. Prior to this research no one expected that a record of surface weather would be preserved in underground cave deposits.

Viva Obama

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 12:43 AM EST

VIVA OBAMA....Great moments from the annals of debate prep:

For the second debate, a town-hall format, Obama was told to be careful to hold the mike by his side — not straight up in his lap — when he sat down. The same instructions had been given to John Kerry four years ago. It wasn't hard to persuade the candidates to mind the advice, said an aide; all you had to do was show them a video.

Roger that.

Raw Data

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 7:03 PM EST

RAW DATA....Via Steve Benen, Steve Waldman says that Obama has shrunk the God gap:

Obama got 43% of weekly church-goers vs. 55% for McCain. In 2004, Bush got 61% vs. 39% for Kerry. What this means is that Bush beat Kerry by roughly 27 million among weekly churchgoers, and McCain beat Obama by only 15 million — a stunning 12 million person shift.

Hold on a second. I made a pain in the ass of myself over this subject in 2004, and I'm going to do the same thing this year.

First things first. In 2004, Kerry lost to Bush nationwide by 2.4 percentage points. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 6.3 percentage points. That's a swing of about 9 points nationwide, which means that any group that also swung by 9 points in Obama's favor was doing nothing except following the national trend.

So how about those churchgoers? They went from -22 for Kerry to -12 for Obama. That's a swing of ten points, almost identical to the nationwide swing in Obama's favor. Weekly churchgoers just didn't do anything unusual, which means there's no reason to think that Obama did anything special to appeal to them. More than likely, they voted for him in larger numbers this year for the same reason as everyone else: they were tired of Bush, tired of Republicans, and trusted Obama more in tough economic times. There's really no justification for a special narrative to explain those 12 million extra voters.

But as long as we're on the subject, which groups did Obama do especially well with? That is, which groups did he swing by margins substantially more than 9 points? Based on the 2004 and 2008 exit polls, here are the groups that swung in disproportionate numbers this year:

  • Income $200,000 or more (+34)

  • First-time voters (+33)

  • No high school (+27)

  • Latinos (+27)

  • 18-29 year olds (+25)

  • Under $15,000 (+21)

  • Full-time workers (+19)

  • Urban (+19)

  • Non-gun owners (+18)

  • Non-religious (+16)

  • Parents with children under 18 (+16)

The swing in first-time voters (which overlaps heavily with 18-29 year olds) and Latinos was especially stunning. Also worth noting, just because they're such obvious swing groups, are Obama's large gains among moderates (+12) and the unmarried (+14).

And which groups did Obama do substantially worse with than his overall national trend? Here they are:

  • Gay/lesbian (-11)

  • Last minute voters (-8)

  • Union members (0)

  • "Other" religions (0)

  • Gun owners (+2)

  • White women (+4)

  • 45-59 year olds (+4)

Gays and last-minute deciders are the only groups where Obama performed worse than Kerry. The other five are groups where he did better than Kerry, but not by as much as he did with the country as a whole.

I don't have any special narratives or analysis to offer for any of this. Maybe later. For now, it's just raw data for your noodling pleasure.