Mojo - November 2008

White House 2.0?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 3:40 PM EST

It's no secret that Barack Obama took the White House thanks in large part to his campaign team's Internet savvy. The interactive website, text-message organizing, YouTube channel and all the rest not only spurred people to action; they made Obama seem as accessible to them as their neighbor, their teacher, or their priest.

But campaigns are all about populism—the more people a candidate can connect with, the better. The president, by contrast, is usually cordoned off from the public and hardly ever released to take question; the Bush administration took this secrecy to an extreme. As he looks towards January, will Obama try and bridge the gap between an interactive campaign and the highly managed nature of the presidency?

Sure looks like it. Obama has already launched change.gov, a public interface for his presidency. He still has a YouTube channel, and has pledged to institute an online comment period before singing nonemergency legislation. Though Obama was less available to the press during the campaign than many reporters would have liked, as president he's pledged to put government business online. Perhaps an overhaul of whitehouse.gov is in the works?

After eight years of dealing with a secretive, inaccessible and often combative executive, it would be more than refreshing to have the exact opposite. If Obama does it right, Americans will feel like their country is theirs again; instead of an announcer for a leader, they'll have a mouthpiece.

UPDATE: A collection of over 60 open government groups has weighed in on Obama's plans for transparency, offering 69 specific policy suggestions.

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Look Out for Bobby Jindal

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 2:37 PM EST

200px-Bobby_Jindal%2C_official_109th_Congressional_photo.jpg If you know anything about the Governor from Louisiana, you know he's whip smart. Apparently, he also has some political instincts. Here's why he refused to be vetted as part of John McCain's VP search (from the WaPo via Andrew):

While the official reason that Jindal took his name out of contention was his lack of a desire to leave the Louisiana governorship, there was also real trepidation within his political inner circle that Jindal might wind up as the pick -- McCain was attracted to his comprehensive health-care knowledge -- and be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.

Jindal, who is 37, was a congressman from 2004 until 2007, when he was elected governor. He was the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at 25 and president of the University of Louisiana system at 28. He turned down both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship after graduating from Brown.

Jindal has scheduled an upcoming appearance in Iowa, fueling speculation that he is considering a 2012 run for the presidency. (Jindal would be just 41.) The only question: Is Bobby Jindal too "elite" for the Republican Party?

Application for Bailout Funds Now Available Online - Go Get Some!

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 1:40 PM EST

The Treasury Department is all about efficiency these days. The original bailout plan that Secretary Paulson proposed, which has been quietly dumped, was just three pages. I guess it's no surprise, then, that the application to get some sweet, sweet bailout bucks from the TARP Capital Purchase Program is just two pages. No joke, Taxpayers for Common Sense actually got a hold of the thing. If you're interested in landing a spare billion, give it a shot. It won't take you more than five minutes.

Wasn't one factor in the housing crisis the fact that lenders gave home loans to people without checking credit and obtaining documentation of assets, salary, and other signs of financial health? And yet you get piles of cash from the Treasury with less paperwork than what goes into car loans, student loans, and most credit cards?

Was Obama Economic Envoy Part of the Problem?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 1:17 PM EST

The Obama transition office announced on Wednesday that the president-elect will send two representatives to meet with delegates attending the G-20 economic summit being held this weekend: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, and former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican. The pair, according to a press release, will hold "unofficial meetings to seek input from visiting delegations on behalf of the President-elect and Vice President-elect." Afterward, Albright and Leach will brief Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Leach is both a curious and obvious choice. First, the obvious: he's a Republican who led the Republicans for Obama effort during the presidential campaign. By calling on Leach, who had a long career in the House as a liberal GOPer, Obama can show he does believe in bipartisanship. Now the curious: during part of his stint in Congress, Leach chaired the House banking committee and shared responsibility for passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation, which broke down the wall between commercial banks and investment banking.

Since the current Wall Street collapse began, policy wonks have debated whether this 1999 law led to the present troubles. But let's look at an Obama campaign statement released last March (when he gave a speech on financial regulation) that referred to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act:

Instead of finding the right level of government oversight in a vibrant free market, we've let the special interests set the agenda. Changes in the financial landscape, driven by technology and globalization, made the 1930's era Glass-Steagall Act--the New Deal era law that required that investment banking be kept separate from commercial banking--increasingly inefficient. While reform was desirable, the banking, insurance and securities industries spent over $300 million lobbying Congress to shape that reform to meet their own interests. In the two years before Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, financial service industries gave $58 million to congressional campaigns; $87 million to political parties; and spent $163 million lobbying Washington. But though the regulatory structure was outdated, the need for oversight was not. Unfortunately, in the rush to repeal the law to create immediate opportunities for certain Wall Street firms, little effort went into modernizing the government's supervision of the financial industry--to guard against the potential for conflicts of interest, to insist on transparency, or to ensure proper oversight of new and complex financial products or the dramatic rise of investment banks and non-bank financial institutions, like hedge funds and Structured Investment Vehicles. Nearly a decade later, our financial markets--and everyday Americans--are paying the price.

Paying the price--for a bill that Leach helped to usher through Congress. That's a tough critique.

Treasury: We Can Haz Do-Over?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 10:59 AM EST

The Treasury Department will not buy any troubled assets from banks as part of the bailout, according to the Wall Street Journal, thus negating the central premise behind Secretary Paulson's original rescue plan for Wall Street. It's almost as if Paulson was unprepared for the crisis and that his three-page plan put forward to Congress wasn't particularly well thought out. Who would have expected incompetence from the Bush Administration?

What Color is the Sky in Red Republican World?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 9:38 AM EST

Less than a week after Obama's win, the unreconstructed were already out to play in this new, racism-free world of which that victory is undeniable proof. Don't believe me? Well, believe George (there he goes again) Will: "...the election of Barack Obama is an American majority's self-emancipation: We are free at last from the inexpressible tedium of the preoccupation with skin pigmentation."

Tedium?

This from those who were so preoccupied with race as to take the time to "scientifically" coin and enforce categories like mulatto, quadroon, and octaroon? To individually mark a huge nation's water fountains, doorways and, like, entire parts of town 'Colored' and 'Whites Only.' To sail for months to a specific continent for specifically pigmented people to pick their cotton, whip, and rape. Oh well. I guess 'preoccupation' is in the squinted eye of the beholder. Mr. Will: I know it's a waste of both your time and mine to say this, but we're only preoccupied with race because our lives revolve around your preoccupation with it. Being white and decrying non-whites 'preoccupation with pigment' is like thieves decrying non-thieves preoccupation with locking their doors.

Wearily predictable and annoying as this is, the nerd in me finds it best to spend her time wondering about the following minutiae.

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Responding to Obama's Win, Michael (Son of) Reagan Says, Go After Dems on Sex

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 6:08 PM EST

The Obama win is driving some conservatives crazy. On Tuesday, Michael Reagan, talk show host and son of Ronald, sent out an email announcing a new outfit called Reagan Action, which among other things, will seek to "expose" the sexual "corruption" of leading Democrats. And he was characteristically over the top:

Dear Conservative Friend,
My father wasn't afraid to call evil what it was -- and neither am I. He defeated the "Evil Empire" called the Soviet Union -- but now we face a new "Evil Empire." It's called Socialism, and it's taken over our once-free nation through the victories of Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
We MUST do this. Really -- what choice do we have, except to fight back and WIN? As my father, President Ronald Reagan, once said, "We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow."
It's official: America has its first truly Socialist president... and it's the Republican Party's fault.
No, scratch that -- it's the so-called "leaders" of the GOP who are at fault for this humiliating defeat -- and I say it's time to name names and make heads roll in our party. Because, my fellow conservatives, we have been BETRAYED by the very people who promised that, if we would just elect them, they would get into office and vote OUR conservative values.
THEY LIED... THE GOP DIED.

Michael Reagan, who sure likes bold face and capital letters, notes that he is angry with President Bush and

the so-called "leaders" of our party, who promised us that if we'd just vote for who they put up for election, we'd finally get what we wanted: smaller government, lower taxes, dramatically lower spending, pro-life laws, pro-marriage constitutional amendments, pro-American economics... well, YOU AND I put them in power, and they gave us nothing but BIG GOVERNMENT, BIG DEFICITS, and LIBERAL COMPROMISES.

So what's he going to do about it? Reagan is declaring "the NEW Reagan Revolution to bring Conservatism BACK!" And how will contributing to Reagan Action--yes, this was a solicitation letter--bring back conservatism? This new group, Reagan promises, will

EXPOSE LIBERAL CORRUPTION-- With the Democrats back in power in both Congress and the White House, you KNOW that they'll be falling right back into their habits of taking lobbyists' money under the table, trading votes for campaign contributions, spying on and sabotaging Republican legislative plans, covering up their leaders' sexual "flings," and spending taxpayer money on personal expenses like never before. But this time, YOU AND I will be there every step of the way, making sure that no stone is left unturned, every dark corner is filled with light, and every illegal act is paid for with censure, impeachment, recalls, investigations, and jail time for every criminal we expose in Washington, D.C.

And Reagan will also be directing "Reagan Activists to "fill the news media with letters to the editor, guest editorials, and news articles detailing the socialistic and corrupt policies of the new liberal regime."

This is some effort he has planned--mounting an army of Reagan-loving volunteers to go up against the "evil" Obama administration and take the country back from the socialists. And Reagan is even willing to probe the sexual "flings" of Democrats.

Reality check: is the United States now a socialist state about to be headed by a socialist leader? (Let's leave aside the Wall Street bailout.) There are two explanations for Reagan's letter. (A) He's become totally unhinged by the Obama victory, and (B), he's crassly trying to squeeze whatever cash he can out of conservative donors by exploiting their ideological paranoia. Maybe the correct answer is all of the above.

How One Vet Spent Her First Veterans' Day After "The World Changed"

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 5:31 PM EST

First, I spent it wishing to (all your) gods that my kids were in school. Groundhog Day! Let it be Groundhog Day, a Monday with them in school for all eternity! Is that so much to ask?

Help me Jesus/Vishnu/Yahweh/Buddha/Satan/the Goddess etc.—they were just home for the fricking weekend. One day of freedom and they're my responsibility again? Why am I so heavily taxed? On top of it all, it is cold and rainy here in the tundra we live in, so no ignoring them while they tumble headfirst off unsafe playground equipment, swearing that the more they bleed the tougher they are. Damn.

In desperation, after hours of them trying to dismember each other, and me them, I took them to the home of the anti-Christ and prayed to the god/goddess of the playroom that my son wouldn't headbutt more than three kids per minute and that my daughter would release her death grip on our invisible umbilical cord and let me read in peace for three minutes at a time. In a perfect world, those three minutes would overlap with my son's warfare lulls and visits from irate parents, clutching their wounded progeny.

No such luck.

What was I trying, in vain, to read? Guns, Germs, and Steel:

Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: Geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: One eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye—and his heart—belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.

Guess what he thinks explains Europe's domination of the planet? A) Aryan superiority. B) Nothing but real estate and good luck. C) God's will. D) Yo mama.

What else could follow such a paradigm-shifting book but the pinko A People's History of the United States. To quote Amazon again, this book:

...turns traditional textbook history on its head. Howard Zinn infuses the often-submerged voices of blacks, women, American Indians, war resisters, and poor laborers of all nationalities into this thorough narrative that spans American history from Christopher Columbus's arrival to an afterword on the Clinton presidency.

Addressing his trademark reversals of perspective, Zinn—a teacher, historian, and social activist for more than 20 years—explains, "My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)—that is still with us."

Let's just say it's a tad subversive and more than met my "blame America first" quotient for the day.

Second, I took them to a toy store.

I know, I know.

But I was hoping that the mounds of useless, expensive things ALL OF WHICH THEY MUST HAVE OR DIE, on top of their vacation-induced hysteria, would render them unconscious so I could cart them back home, comatose, and chuck them abed. That, or that some childless a-hole would call CPS while I bellowed bloody murder at them and we'd all be put out of my misery.

Again, no such luck.

As we pulled into the toy store parking lot, my freely chosen Little Big Horn, Lee Greenwood's "I'm Proud to be an American" played, reminding me, with its fulsome intro, that it was indeed Veterans' Day and not just a day designed to drive me insane. I did what I always have to do when I hear it: Pull over lest the chills running through me made me an unsafe driver. What can I say? That lowest-common-denominator, knee-jerk, ugly American song 'unmans' me every goddamn time. Does it reduce me, every time, to a quivering mass of patriotic jelly simply because it appeared when I was enlisted? (1980-1985. Commissioned USAF officer 1985-1992.) Or is it because it just pushes so many simplistic American buttons? I'll never know.

All I know for sure? I'm an American. How do I know that? Because I thrill to criticism of my country that is so dead-on it makes me want to cry in the frustration of making it right.

Obama Announces Transition Ethics Rules--And Keeps on Fundraising

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 4:02 PM EST

The Obama gang can be pretty good when it comes to managing the message. Today, John Podesta, the chief of the Obama transition, announced the ethics rules for the transition. Here they are:

* Federal Lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.

* Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.

* If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.

* If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.

* A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

As he talked to reporters about these rules, the transition team sent out an email to reporters listing these prohibitions. Included in the email were positive reviews of the rules from two veteran Washington experts on government: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. They are two go-to sources for Washington reporters on government and reform issues. And here--for reporters' convenience--were we-love-this quotes from the pair.

Mann noted:

The ethical guidelines released today for the Obama transition are tough and unequivocal. They will prevent some honorable people with rich experience from serving in the transition. That is a real cost but it is more than balanced by the strong signal sent by the President-elect. He aspires to attract to government able individuals whose highest priority is to serve the public interest. This is a very constructive step in that direction.

Ornstein said:

Restoring trust in government is a prerequisite to enacting good policy and the tough choices the country needs. This ethics policy for the transition is a far-reaching, bold and constructive step to do just that. The policy may exclude some good people with deep experience in their fields, but it will also exclude those who see government service as a springboard to financial success, or who are more intent on pleasing future potential employers or clients than making tough choices in the public interest. As much as anything, this ethics policy is a statement about the tone and tenor of the Obama administration. It is a good sign.

There--I did just what the Obama camp wants reporters to do: make use of these served-up-on-a-silver-platter quotes.

But there is a question: why does the transition accept any contributions at all? Podesta noted that the Obama transition will cost $12 million, but that the government will only pick up $5 million of this tab. Consequently, President-elect Barack Obama and his supporters will raise another $7 million. According to the new rules, contributions from federal lobbyists, corporations, and political action committees will not be accepted. Individuals cannot give more than $5000. And all donations will be disclosed.

Yet when the top priority for Obama and his aides is preparing to govern, why should any time be spent on raising money for the transition? Given that the nation is spending trillions of dollars to rescue the financial industry, it shouldn't be too hard to fund fully the transition effort. Can't Congress just appropriate another $7 million--which is chump change these days--and let Obama get on with the show?

That $700 Billion Wall Street Bailout May Be Closer to $3 Trillion

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 2:50 PM EST

How much will the Wall Street bailout cost? Remember that the widely-used number was $700 billion. Well, it may be over three times that amount. Bailoutsleuth.com reports that the actual (and perhaps rising) price tag now stands at over $2 trillion:

Adding together the $170 billion that the Treasury Department has currently agreed to provide banks in additional capital, the $150 billion that the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are providing to AIG and the $2 trillion that the Federal Reserve has provided banks in emergency loans brings the total assistance to $2.32 trillion.
If the estimated savings from the new tax breaks are included, the assistance would climb to $2.46 trillion. That total does not include other measures not focused directly on banks, such as Treasury Department's $200 billion in support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration's $300 billion HOPE for Homeowners program.

Add all of that together and you reach almost $3 trillion. (How many solar panels can you buy for that?) Remember that Bill Clinton came into office and he and his aides encountered deficits much bigger than expected. What's going to happen when Obama moves into the White House and has to contend with the real cost of the so-called rescue? (Yes, the Treasury is supposed to get some of this money back--eventually.) By the way, to provide some context, the current (and falling) GDP of the United States is $14.4 trillion. The total bailout tab is over one-third of the nation's entire output of goods and services.