Mojo - November 2008

President Obama's First Priorities, Cont'd.

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 8:16 AM PST

Over the weekend, the Financial Times scored a short on-the-record interview with future Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who pointed to a couple early priorities of the Obama administration that the Washington Post appears to have missed.

In the interview, Emanuel "brushed aside" concerns that Obama needs to start small and move incrementally. He suggested that Obama will act quickly on a stimulus package (if one is not passed in the lame-duck session), including a "$25bn emergency package for Detroit" to help struggling automakers. Emanuel said that the meltdown on Wall Street will not delay action on energy, healthcare and education, which he described as "crises you can no longer afford to postpone [addressing]." (Update: Emanuel mentions S-CHIP as an immediate priority in an interview with the WSJ.)

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President Obama's First Priorities

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 8:06 AM PST

When Barack Obama gets in the White House, what are the first things he'll do? Sunday, the Washington Post put forward some ideas.

Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone...
A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive....

Specific areas include stem cells:

I Was Right to Worry About Black Homophobia

| Sat Nov. 8, 2008 3:43 PM PST

Dan Savage savages black homophobia:

Seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop. 8, according to exit polls, compared to 53 percent of Latino voters, 49 percent of white voters, 49 percent of Asian voters.

I'm done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they're out there, and I think they're scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not there are only a "handful of racist gay white men" (and what of racist lesbians and non-white gays?) Dan, as usual, has the biggest pair out there. He's right to demand that blacks explain themselves on this issue.

Contractors Nervous About Losing Immunity in Iraq

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 2:17 PM PST

blackwater_bremer250x200.jpg

The UN mandate governing the US military's deployment in Iraq will expire next month. To negotiate the way forward, Baghdad and Washington have been in feverish talks about an official Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which will set parameters for the US presence in Iraq, as well as set a date certain for withdrawal. US officials have now presented their Iraqi counterparts with that they call a "final text," committing US troops to be withdrawn to their bases by next June and withdrawn from Iraq entirely no later than 2011. Baghdad has been cagey about assenting to a final agreement for myriad political reasons, although today's New York Times suggests that Obama's election victory might help move things along—the Iraqis actually believe his stated desire to pull out the troops is sincere.

Fine, but what about private contractors? The "final text" US officials presented this week does not include immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for privately employed personnel, be they with security firms or international NGOs. The risk of seeing their employees in the dock in Baghdad or elsewhere for alleged violations of Iraqi law is giving private industry fits and leading to speculation of an "exodus" of private contractors once the UN mandate expires.

The industry is so concerned, in fact, that the president of one of its leading trade groups fired off a letter (.pdf), dated October 8, to Condoleeza Rice, suggesting that loss of contractor immunity could put the success of the US effort in Iraq at risk. Stan Soloway of the Professional Services Council, which counts leading Iraq contractors like Blackwater, DynCorp, Kroll, CACI, BAE, SAIC, EODT, and Bechtel among its members, warned against the "unintended consequences" of lifting immunity. Here's an excerpt:

Did Palin Declare Her Clothes as Gifts?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 12:36 PM PST

Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving--at least to journalists. Newsweek got a pop this week when it disclosed new details of Palin's infamous shopping sprees:

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

The Palin camp--such as it is--continues to deny she did anything wrong. But Alaska government watchdog Andrée McLeod is seeking information to determine whether Palin and her family kept any of these clothes. In recent months, McLeod has peppered Governor Palin's office with various Open Records Act requests. In response to a request McLeod filed in June, the Palin administration refused to release about 1100 emails from her office, claiming they covered confidential policy matters, even though the subject lines in some of these emails referred to a political foe, a journalist and non-policy topics. Now McLeod is focusing on Palin's Neiman Marcus free-for-all. This week, she filed a request for copies of "every record of gift disclosures assigned to Sarah Palin and all family members and/or extended family members (according to state regulations) since July 1, 2008."

The question, of course, is, did Palin declare any of the clothes she and her family acquired as gifts? Or did she consider them loaners (as convicted Senator Ted Stevens unsuccessfully claimed in regards to the gifts he received)? Under Alaska state law, Palin generally has to disclose gifts over $150.00 that she or a family member receives. McCleod wants to see what gift disclosures, if any, Palin has filed.

By the way, McLeod and others (including Mother Jones) have requests pending regarding the emails Palin has sent and received as governor (using her official and private accounts). Palin managed to delay producing these records until after the election. But the requests are still being processed by her office. By the time this information is released--and it may take months--will there still be much interest in the governor of Alaska?

Post-Obama, Whither Black Uplift?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 11:57 AM PST

Mark Anthony Neal asks the same question I'm wondering now that Obama is President-elect—whither black progress:

Obama showed a particular disdain throughout his 21-month campaign with being thought of as a black candidate or as a broker for black issues. The President-elect will likely show the same disdain for a black political establishment wholly wedded to the race politics of a quarter century ago.

If the NAACP, National Urban League and Congressional Black Caucus aim to remain relevant in the future, it is this new coalition of progressives that they will need to provide leadership for, taking advantage of the political will that Obama's campaign has generated.

How do groups like the NAACP and Urban league play a leadership role in a broad progressive movement—in which race is only part of a broader platform centered on traditional issues of social justice (policing, incarceration rates, equitable wages), tax relief for middle income families, a repeal of No Child Left Behind and what Van Jones, in the name of the Green Industry, calls Eco-equity?

Mark (my almost-homey/beloved 'boy') is too well-mannered to answer his own question, but I will: The old school Movement apparatus won't play a role in the social justice movement as long as it stays wedded to its old tactics.

Real as racism remains, the only way to move forward using the algorithm that Obama pioneered—cross-class, cross-racial, cross-age—is by including everyone. Maddening as it is for blacks, America's most oppressed minority, we have to accept that the country must move to class- and problem-based formulations of both problems, and solutions—not just demands for America to admit to its race- and classism.

The only way a broad swath of Americans will agree to anything smelling of affirmative action is if a broad swath can benefit from it. So blacks have to join the rainbow coalition calling for WPA-type responses to the rampant unemployment we're facing, educational reform and investment based on the socio-economic class of underserved communities and not just 'black' schools, criminal justice system reforms that include rednecks and trailer parks, not just 'hoods. Don't believe me?

Check this.

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A Note from Africa 450 Years in the Making

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 10:13 AM PST

From Kuwait to Kenya, Barack Obama's win Tuesday ignited global celebrations the likes of which we've never seen. And on the African continent, well beyond Obama's father's homeland, where crises dwarf what we are dealing with in our Great Recession, the sense of pride is humbling. The following is a note from a friend of a filmmaker friend who is a Zimbabwean living in South Africa. I thought it worth sharing:

Public School for the Obama Girls, Please?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 9:55 AM PST

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.

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

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 8:26 AM PST

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 8:09 AM PST

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.