Browsing the archives for the usa tag.

All hands on deck

Politics, US Politics

Nancy Cohen on HuPo is appealing on Obama to release his legions of campaign-era volunteers so they can help him press the agenda of political change. They offer a tremendous opportunity, yet “President Obama, in contrast to candidate Obama, seems as uncertain as a bailed-out banker about the net value of this once-prized asset.”

God knows this week has shown he could use the help.

The challenge: mobilize their mass engagement; yet leave them to do their own thing (the time for “the inordinate degree of control the Obama campaign maintained over its message, its lists, its staff, and its volunteers,” Cohen submits, is over).

Sounds like good advice – and it even comes with a somewhat tortured yet clever aphorism: “give a man a link and he’ll click for a day, give him the lists and the code to the site, and he’ll have your back for a lifetime”. But her piece is noticeably lacking in description of how it could be done.

The challenges involved are remarkably major, Politico recounted yesterday. Surprisingly major — and there’s a telling link here with Obama’s failure to keep control over the political narrative in what, to be honest, has been a F-up of a week. (Don’t get me started – that would, or still will, be a blog post of its own.)

As Jeanne Cummings writes, “The anxiety over lost momentum seemed almost palpable this week as the president in television interviews voiced frustration with his White House’s progress and the way his recovery program was being demonized as a Democratic spending frenzy.” She explains what’s going on backstage:

The Jetsons versus the Flintstones

Obama’s campaign was lauded for its visionary use of modern tools for old-fashioned politics. Through the Internet, it recruited supporters, collected dollars, rallied supporters and organized get-out-the vote operations.

But when these modern heroes arrived at the White House, it was like the lights all went out.

Their contact with their millions-fold supporters was cut off, literally, as e-mail systems broke down and ‘The List’ of political supporters was blocked at the iron gate.

To meet government ethics rules, the campaign operation and its grass-roots army were forced to de-camp to the Democratic National Committee, robbing the president of one of his most potent political weapons just as the stimulus bill was under consideration in the House.

But while the White House team struggled to adapt, [the Republicans] could practically sleep-walk through their attack plan [..]. It required two simple steps: Scream pork, call Rush Limbaugh. They even could have used a rotary phone.

The result: Every House Republican saw a free pass and voted against the first version of the bill.

The outcome is not surprising. Obama had roughly 90 people working at his headquarters on Internet outreach and new technology projects [..]. Even with closet-size spaces, the White House can accommodate only about 200 or so people for jobs ranging from national security to health care reform to Internet guru.

The Obama team “built this incredible campaign and now they have these ridiculously primitive tools. The communication tools they mastered don’t exist in the White House. It’s like they are in a cave,” said Trippi.

How weird that the office of the US President is so underequipped for the present, digital and networked political world. Partly, however, it’s also just a question of growing pains – hopefully, at least: read Pulitzer-winning journalist David Cay Johnston’s disappointing story about the ignorance and arrogance he’s encountered so far with the White House press office.

Partly it’s a matter of money. About $65,000 has been spent on pro-stimulus ads by unions and advocacy groups in a handful of states, Cummings notes, and compares: “in the last week of the presidential campaign, Obama was spending an average of $250,000 a day on commercials in the Philadelphia market, alone.”

Nonetheless, she also chronicles the multiple times the White House stepped on its own message and seemed to work against itself. It’s been a mess.

This is definitely a wake-up call. It may not be fair that Obama is not granted the traditional “honeymoon period”, but close to a trillion dollars is at stake already right now. (When’s the last time an incoming president faced such enormous actions so soon?). With other major initiatives coming up next which the Republicans will demagogue any way they can, the White House simply needs to shape up fast.

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Stupid, stupid, stupid

Politics, US Politics

Joe Wurzelbacher aka the Plumber (via TNR The Plank):

Today I had one briefing, and that was at the Club for Growth, I spoke to Andy Roth. Now yesterday, I talked to the Heritage Foundation. I actually had the chance to talk to the Cato Institute as well, I guess you could call it a briefing, it was more of an interview. But all these bipartisan, or if you will neutral, think tanks are pretty much saying the same things.

Club for Growth, Heritage, Cato … “bipartisan, or if you will neutral, think tanks”. Words fail.

This, note, is a guy the conservative Republicans in Congress invited to star at their strategy meeting this week. As Obama said, back during the campaign: it’s like these guys take pride in their ignorance.

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Glad to see Daschle go

Politics, US Politics

Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious echoes the sentiment that the real reason Daschle should be seen as bowing out should be “the revelations that he advised insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands giving speeches to industry groups”, not that he didn’t pay taxes on the free limo.

I’d say both reasons work. I think one of the most damning bits was actually about Daschle apparently having lobbied Obama for his financial patron, the very “old politics” Leo Hindery, to get a plum job in the administration. But TNR’s Eve Fairbanks eloquently made the case for even the limo thing to really count as well.

Meanwhile, though, Neil wonders that it can’t just have been the tax thing in any case, because – hey:

Geithner had tax issues too, and wasn’t a former colleague of lots and lots of Senators, and hadn’t helped Obama out very early on. So you’re going to need another variable to explain why Daschle had to pull out.

Hm – that one seems easy – dumb luck of the draw. Geithner was the first one in.

A new administration can wrestle one controversial appointment through on the argument that, yes, there are practical problems, but the guy’s just too uniquely qualified to pass on. But try to do that two or even three times in a row – when you’ve actively campaigned on clean government and breaking with business as usual – and you’ve got the potential of a backlash on your hands. And Obama’s got more reason than most incoming Presidents to want to hold off on any budding backlash among his own voters.

The luck of the draw part is that they could get away with Geithner; there’s always going to be some embarassing hurdle with some appointee. But then the problems with Daschle right on the heels of that? And even as that story was gaining traction, news breaking on Nancy Killefer’s nanny tax problem? That’s impressions potentially spinning out of control, and needing to be clamped down on.

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

I don’t think it would have been the same if economic times were good, when people, themselves enjoying the boom, would have been more tolerant to rich people’s foibles. Not now. It would also not have been the same if Obama had campaigned as an experienced old hand who knew the inside workings of administration. Then stuff like this would have been taken more as par for the course. But this was getting far too off-message, at the wrong time.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how even passionate fellow Obama supporters have come out against Daschle’s appointment once the scale of his foibles broke, actually. TPM’s Matt Cooper still made the point the other day that “the blogs are not on fire,” no real opinion-makers were coming out harshly against Daschle (yeah – Glenn Greenwald), and so he’d probably still be OK. But that was besides the point, or at least suggests he didn’t read the comments sections. It’s hard to tell from over here, but just going on what appeared online it seems the reaction among regular people, Democratic voters, liberals who aren’t professional pundits, was beginning to congeal into a groundswell of disapproval of sorts. I imagine many phones must have been ringing with constituent calls.

The issue with that is that Obama has made clear that one of his main strategies to push change through, even as he opts for bipartisan civility in DC, will be to mobilise civil society. To mobilise the energy of the campaign and use ‘pressure from below’ as a tool to persuade members of Congress and decision-makers to support the changes he champions. So he needs to avoid, at least for a while still, any impression taking root that he is just business as usual after all, new boss same as the old boss etc. I think he was wise to pull the plug.

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Money raised versus result achieved: The Senate ’08 sweepstakes

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Chris Bowers last week linked through to a site I hadn’t seen yet, noting that The Green Papers has the final popular vote and fundraising totals for all 2008 U.S. House of Representatives election campaigns. They cover all candidates too, not just those of the main two parties.

Bowers does a good job analysing the numbers, and above all, brings the good news:

The final popular vote percentages were 53.08%-42.55%, giving Democrats a 10.53% victory. This is the largest popular vote percentage victory for either party in either a Presidential or Congressional election since 1984 (the next largest victory was Bill Clinton with 8.51% in 1996). It is the first double-digit victory for any party in a national election in 24 years. That, truly, is a historical butt-whooping.

Turns out the Green Papers site has the same data for the Senate races. Fascinating stuff for political geeks. What caught my attention in particular is how the money the candidates raised compared to the votes they got. In short: how did their investments pay off?

So what I’ve done, in turn, is add a couple of columns to the data table, to calculate how much the candidates raised for every single vote they received, and for every single percentage point they won. The file is up at Google Docs. (It would arguably have been better to use the data for how much money they actually spent, but that would involve making a similar effort to The Green Papers’ and gathering the data for 2-4 candidates in each of 50 races from the FEC site onself).

Time then, to declare some winners!

Most expensive Senate race of 2008

As you’ll have guessed, that was the Minnesota race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. The two men raised $20.5 million and $18.0 million, respectively. That translates to $488 thousand and $430 thousand for each percentage point of the vote they ended up winning – which ranks Al and Norm as #1 and 2 when it comes to raising the most money per percentage point won.

Don’t forget that Minnesota’s a fairly populous state, though. When it comes to how much money they had to raise for each individual vote they won, they rank a more modest #10 and 11. Meaning that they had to raise “only” – ponder this for a second – $17 and $15 for every single vote they won.

Most money spent on each individual vote

You’d think that states with small populations would also cost less to campaign in. This is true – up to a point, apparently. The top of this list is filled with candidates from “small” states, who made Franken and Coleman look practically callous about the individual voter’s worth.

Your vote was worth most up in Alaska. Mark Begich raised a total of $4.4 million – which translates to a royal $29 for every single vote he received. His opponent, Ted “bring home the pork” Stevens, was right up there too and raised a stunning $26 per vote – in vain.

Max Baucus from Montana and the two contenders in the New Hampshire race, John Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen, also ended up raising at least $23 per vote.

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You spin me right round, baby, like a record, baby, right round

Politics, US Politics
Image adapted from / shared by Bradley Allen under CC license

(Adapted from / shared by Bradley Allen / CC license)

Last week, Chris Bowers summarised the Republican strategy on the stimulus bill:

[T]he actual Republican strategy is not to offer an alternative, but to:

  1. Complain about one small aspect of the bill at a time, such as contraception funding, non-existent CBO reports, non-existent earmarks and, now, ACORN.
  2. Demand that, in the name of bi-partisanship, that small aspect of the stimulus be dropped.
  3. Secure meetings with Obama, in order for these complaints and demands to appear relevant to the national media.
  4. Hope that, as Digby notes, Democrats in Congress and / or liberal activists grow publicly angry with President Obama if / when he makes these concessions in order to secure more Republican votes. Thus, Republicans are fulfilling Obama’s vision (even though they oppose the stimulus) while Democrats are thwarting it (even though they are writing and supporting the stimulus).

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Quite.

The news yesterday features the latest ride on the merry-go-round:

Senate GOP leader criticizes auto provision in stimulus bill

The Senate’s top Republican criticized a key provision for automakers in an $819 billion House stimulus bill.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky., criticized a provision to give the federal government $600 million to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, calling it “wasteful spending.”

He told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the provision shouldn’t be in the stimulus bill, and ridiculed it as “$600 million to buy new cars for government workers.”

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The coup that wasn’t?

Politics, US Politics

It seemed like such a genius move: tempt a Republican Senator who was facing less than pleasant electoral prospects into accepting a Cabinet job, and in one blow gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. No wonder Republicans freaked when the name of New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was first floated for the Commerce Secretary job.

Amid liberal dissatisfaction about recent moves by Obama on the stimulus bill and Geithner’s and Daschle’s appointments, this was suddenly a move Democrats could applaud in incredulous glee. What a coup!

But now what? The Republican Senate leadership has reversed from “mounting a full-court press to keep [Gregg] in the Senate” to openly embracing his appointment. Mitch McConnell says there’s a deal, and that New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, will appoint a Republican in Gregg’s place. (Actually, he phrases it somewhat more cautiously as someone who “would caucus with Senate Republicans”.)

So what will the upshot be? Gregg is no Jim Jeffords, or even an Olympia Snowe. He’s a Republican for real. Check Congressional Quarterly’s comprehensive analysis of roll call voting patterns. According to its Presidential Support ranking, Gregg voted according to Bush’s preference 82% of the time in 2008 (only eight Republicans voted with Bush more often). Its Party Unity ranking shows that when a majority of Democrats faced off against a majority of Republicans, Gregg voted with the Republican majority 95% of the time. Sam Brownback was more of a dissident than Gregg. As a sour Democrat told the HuPo, Gregg is “a fiscal conservative, would likely oppose the president’s stimulus package, and has cast a “fair amount of gotcha votes” while in office.”

So at the end of this manoeuvre, will Obama have appointed a true conservative in exchange for – well, pretty much no strategical gains? Yes, I suppose a freshman Republican Senator who will have been appointed in Gregg’s place will be easier to beat in ’10 than Gregg would have been. But Gregg was himself already strongly at risk of defeat, so that’s a marginal advantage. Maybe you could argue that at least Lynch might appoint a somewhat more explicitly moderate Republican in Gregg’s place – but that seems an odd rationale for appointing the conservative guy to a Cabinet position.

Maybe, as Jason Zengerle suggests, Lynch wants to run for Senate himself in ’10, and is therefore happy to appoint a Republican ‘placeholder’, so he won’t face an incumbent in ’10. But there again the strategic plus for the Dems is marginal – US Rep. Hodes would stand a good chance too, in either case, and is more of a committed Democrat than Lynch at that. So what’s the deal?

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Janus face

Politics, US Politics
(Image shared under CC-license by Judith Green)

(Image shared under CC-license by Judith Green)

How odd that the election of the new chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) should end in a dead heat between a Southern, “true” conservative who had to admit only just having left a whites-only country club, and a black Republican from Maryland who stood accused of being too moderate.

Kudos to the Republicans for recognizing just in time which way political suicide laid, and turning the other way at the last moment. All the sordid details about Michael Steele’s narrow victory over Katon Dawson and the terminally slow drop-outs of all the other candidates in a surprisingly enjoyable Twitter feed from the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza.

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Questions and answers

Culture, European Politics, Media / journalism, Politics, US culture, US Politics

First things first

Foremost (h/t The Plank): The question to guide your day-to-day life in this new era.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative giant

Also via The Plank: Who is Rush Limbaugh? According to Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey, yesterday, “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing.”

But he had that all wrong, he realised today, after some constituents helpfully called in to remind him. In reality, he corrected himself in a statement titled “Gingrey comments on Rush misunderstanding,” Rush Limbaugh is not just a “voice [..] of the conservative movement’s conscience”, but … a “conservative giant”.

Who are the hottest professors?

In love with your prof? If so, he/she is likely to lecture languages. There is “Real Social Scientific Data” (mind your footnotes) on the relative hotness of the different disciplines, which comes via Prof. Henry Farrell (Political Science, ranked fifth) at the Monkey Cage.

Law and criminal justice take a prominent second and fourth place (out of 36) in the ranking, which might please fellow blogger Joefromchicago. Unsurprisingly, engineering, computer science and chemistry rank at the bottom, so pity the poor professors in those duller disciplines — after all, tenure without temptation is like aspersions without alliteration.

Economists, however (ranked 30th) have reason to harbour hope, judging on Shivaji’s observation that they’re up next to be fetishized by pop culture:

After the phenomenal success of books such as Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist [..], every economist is under pressure to come up with some innovative approach to explain mundane things in life. Forget earlier topics like “Why aid doesn’t work in Africa” or “Implications of direct cash grants on Philips curve” that used to keep economists intrigued; the best talent in business are now looking for more relevant topics. And even though some of the most pressing issues facing mankind such as “Overpricing of the hotel mini-bar” (Tim Harford) and “socioeconomic patterns of naming children” (Steven Levitt) have already been worked upon, there still remain some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. For example, “How many love songs are written for every break-up song and why” or “why do men wash underwear less frequently than women”, or “Why does Ronald McDonald not get fat”? 

Where are Americans moving to? And from?

Talking about comparative hotness – which states of the US are hemorrhaging homes, and which ones are rapidly reeling in the residents? Earlier this month, Patrick Ottenhoff dug into the demographics on domestic migration between 2000 and 2008, and put up a map on The Electoral Map. It’s not as simple as cities versus flyover country, he emphasises: loser states cover a contiguous chunk of territory from Massachusetts to Nebraska, while most of the states strongly gaining ground are clustered together in the West and on the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida.

What’s the real reason Putin handpicked Medvedev for President?

Of course, or so the cheekier of conventional wisdoms go: term-limited out of the Presidential office, Putin needed someone to keep his seat warm while he played Prime Minister for a few years, so he could return to the Presidency soon enough. But why Medvedev?

Why, his luxurious head of hair of course. It’s the only way the steely-eyed leader could deal with the longstanding law of succession when it comes to ruling Russia. Lenin – bald; Stalin – hairy; Khrushchev – bald; Brezhnev – hairy; well, you get the idea. Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin hairy, and well – let’s be honest, Putin isn’t particularly blessed in this regard.

By choosing Dmitry last year, Putin bent the Bald-Hairy Theory of Russian Leaders to his will to power – and the two can rule till death do them part.

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Bernie Sanders’ beef with Geithner

Economy, Politics, US Politics, World Economy

Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont, was one of the members of the Democratic caucus who voted against the confirmation of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. He has his statement about why he did so up now. It’s short, and has nothing to do with Geithner’s tax problems; Bernie’s criticism is more systemic:

Massive deregulation of the financial services industry has led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  We need a treasury secretary who will support strong and robust regulation of the financial services sector.  

“Mr. Geithner was at the Fed and the Treasury Department when the deregulatory fervor that got us into this mess ran rampant. He was part of the problem.  I hope he becomes part of the solution, but I could not support his nomination at this time.

Meanwhile, I dug up this link from 1998 that may provide a bit of backstory hinting at the larger ideological disagreements at play. Back then, Bernie was still in the House, and Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at Clinton’s Treasury Department. Geithner came to the House to testify in a review of the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Later on, of course, Geithner would himself move to the IMF. 

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Sanders was (and I assume still is) a harsh critic of the IMF, as his introduction in the review illustrates, and had a rather contentious exchange with Geithner, in which he accused him of disobeying the law. Why, for one – he asked citing the State Department’s human rights reports on Indonesia – did the US not vote against IMF loans to General Suharto’s Indonesia? Why did it not oppose IMF loans to authoritarian governments that violate human rights and jail labor leaders?

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Obama and STYX?

Culture, Music, Politics, Uncategorized, US Politics

So I was listening to some 70’s era rock this weekend and came across a STYX song written for the Bicentennial.  STYX was known to include a political song here and there on their albums, but this one struck me because of how it resonates with President Obama’s inauguration speech.  Maybe the President listened to it when he was a teenager.  OK, it’s not deep, but here are the lyrics for your enjoyment.

Suite Madame Blue
Written by Dennis DeYoung

Time after time I sit and I wait for your call
I know I’m a fool but why can I say
Whatever the price I’ll pay for you, Madame Blue
Once long ago, a word from your lips and the world turned around
But somehow you’ve changed, you’re so far away
I long for the past and dream of the days with you, Madame Blue

Suite Madame Blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Suite Madame Blue, the future is all but past
Dressed in your jewels, you made your own rules
You conquered the world and more …………..heaven’s door

America….America…America..America..
America….America…America..America..
America….America…America..America..

Red white and blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past
So lift up your heart, make a new start
And lead us away from here

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Washington DC, the inaugural address – ninetynine years ago

Culture, History, Politics, US culture, US Politics

The inauguration speech, to the year one century ago:

Hence it is clear to all that the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be necessary for a proper electorate. The danger of the control of an ignorant electorate has therefore passed. With this change, the interest which many of the Southern white citizens take in the welfare of the negroes has increased. The colored men must base their hope on the results of their own industry, self-restraint, thrift, and business success, as well as upon the aid and comfort and sympathy which they may receive from their white neighbors of the South. [..]

There is in the South a stronger feeling than ever among the intelligent well-to-do, and influential element in favor of the industrial education of the negro and the encouragement of the race to make themselves useful members of the community. The progress which the negro has made in the last fifty years, from slavery [..], is marvelous, and it furnishes every reason to hope that in the next twenty-five years a still greater improvement in his condition as a productive member of society, on the farm, and in the shop, and in other occupations may come.

This, it should be noted on behalf of William Taft, from a speech that spoke both of and for America’s blacks as no inaugural address before had done, and must to contemporary standards have pressed hard for their case.

America – as they say … you’ve come a long way, baby.

P.S. Explore past inaugural addresses with this nifty word analysis tool. “Locusts,” alas, appears only once, as in “We are stricken by no plague of locusts”.

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Dow 36

Economy, Funny, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

Noting that Kevin Hassett, of Dow 36000 fame, is now director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and confidently proclaiming his neo-Hooverite recipes for tackling the financial crisis, Neil Sinhababu of Donkeylicious sighs, “I guess it’s kind of like the Iraq War, where you can give really bad advice and still hold onto an awesome think tank job.”

Which leaves us, he adds, only with the power of satire. Crude satire, to fit crude stupidity. Here’s Neil’s reworking of Hassett’s now-notorious book – and here’s mine:

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