December 08, 2008
Weekend At Larry's
The Times ran two interesting pieces this weekend hinting at problems with having Larry Summers as head of the National Economic Council--basically the top White House economic aide. They both raise legitimate points, but the objections are ultimately overstated, I think. The first, by Jodi Kantor and Javier Hernandez, is a fascinating account of Summers' post-Harvard rebirth, and is the more gentle of the two pieces. It includes the following riff: As the head of the National Economic Council, he will play two roles: counseling the president and nurturing the proposals of others.
December 05, 2008
The Upside of Catastrophe
WASHINGTON--The concept of "found money" is delightful. We cherish the cash that turns up under the bed, in a coat pocket, or in a long-forgotten bank account. And found money may be key to the success of Barack Obama's presidency. No, the federal government isn't going to discover new billions under some rock in a national park. But with the economic downturn, the new president's imperative will be to spend as fast as he can, to the tune of perhaps $500 billion, to keep the economy from going belly up. That's a huge reversal of the normal pattern.
In November, Barack Obama bewildered education reformers by tapping Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who had advised his campaign, to oversee the transition’s education policy team. Their verdict was swift and harsh. “Worst case scenario,” wrote Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, the day after The Wall Street Journal leaked the news. “This is a sign that the president-elect isn’t a bona fide reformer,” he later told me.
As pundits exult over the latest Obama administration appointments--Hillary Clinton! Robert Gates! Bill Richardson!--short shrift has been given to a much larger group of federal employees who will play a critical role in the new presidency. Political appointees come and go, but the 1.8 million civil servants who spend their careers in the federal government are forever--at least until recently. Almost half that workforce could leave government by 2012, leaving the new administration scrambling to keep basic services running, much less implementing major new initiatives.
The word "Freedom" is scribbled on the light-blue door of Jameel Aldweek's classroom in the New Kufar Aqab Girls School on the outskirts of Ramallah. It is a welcome reprieve from the swastika and “All Jews are pussies” emblazoned on the security barrier as I entered the West Bank. Aldweek, director of the Al-Razee Association and co-teacher of a new pilot project in two Palestinian schools, begins by asking the dozen sixth-grade girls in attendance, "What does democracy mean to you?" "Liberty and responsibility," one student immediately shoots back.
Environmentalists should be pretty excited about having Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security—and not because, as Ed Rendell so awkwardly noted, she's single and will have more time to spend on the job. As the governor of Arizona, Napolitano has been forced to consider the impacts that immigration—and attempts to stop immigration—are having on wildlife in the border region. And she's had the sort of firsthand border experience that makes her question the utility of the security fence that's currently under construction along several sections of the border.
Wake Up America
Will you pardon an occasional rant? Isn’t that partly what blogs are good for? My subject today is the failure of Congress and the Bush administration to bail out the American auto industry. If today’s news stories are accurate, any bailout will have to await the new Congress and administration in January, and by then the price tag will have climbed much higher, making the public more resistant to helping, and one or two of the firms might have gone under. Why is that a problem?
Among the major reorganizing principles telegraphed in the early days after president-elect Barack Obama’s win, I’m most intrigued by his announcement of an office of urban policy, to be stationed in the White House proper.
December 04, 2008
"For Their Own Good"
In 1836, the United States and the State of Georgia forced the Cherokee Indian tribe to leave its home in Georgia and to move to the West. The Tribe did not want to move. It believed it had a legal right to stay; and in the early 1830s, it brought two actions at law in the Supreme Court designed to enforce that legal right. The story of those lawsuits is a story of courts caught in a collision between law and morality, between desire and force.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, the hand-wringing over voting irregularities reached a fever pitch. Rolling Stone published a feature by Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., warning that Republicans may have already stolen the election. The McCain campaign highlighted accusations that the civil rights group ACORN was trying to commit voter fraud by fabricating voter registrations. Voting rights groups sent nearly daily e-mail blasts to reporters obsessing over every state and local incident of voter intimidation or suppression.