Friday, November 07, 2008

Early Warnings

Even as the much of the world still rejoiced at Barack Obama’s election three days ago, today the president-elect gave the first signs of caving to politics as usual.

Some saw in his Chicago press conference the audacity of pandering to wealthy political backers in the powerful financial industry.

When a reporter asked point blank whether Obama plans to raise taxes on the rich in 2009, the president elect danced away from the question (see below). Suddenly, with his economic brain trust arrayed behind him, his campaign stance of taxing the nation’s wealthy was verboten.

Many of the back-up advisers on prominent display were CEOs from the same financial industry that created the current crisis, lobbied for a massive taxpayer bailout and is now reaping the resulting federal windfall.

As Kevin Phillips pointed tonight on Bill Moyers' Journal, an influential amount of Obama’s campaign support came from Wall Street. Phillips also noted that there was not a single representative of labor unions among Obama’s financial advisers.

Could it be, as Phillips suggested, that Obama is already captive of the non-productive, greed-driven industry of finance?

Has he divorced himself from the very industries that actually produce manufactured goods and employ much of the American work force?

Three days into the presidential transition, has Obama set out on the wrong trail with a posse of self-serving sidekicks?

Stay tuned.

Here is the tax increase question and Obama’s answer:

DO YOU INTEND TO SEEK AN INCOME TAX INCREASE FOR UPPER-INCOME AMERICANS IN 2009?

"My tax plan represented a net tax cut. It provided for substantial middle class tax cuts, 95 percent of working Americans would receive them. It also provided for cuts in capital gains for small business, additional tax credits, all of it is designed for job growth. My priority is going to be how do we grow the economy, how do we create more jobs. I think that the plan that we've put forward is the right one, but obviously over the next several weeks and months we're gong to be continuing to take a look at the data and see what's taking place in the economy as a whole. But understand the goal of my plan is to provide tax relief to families that are struggling but also to boost the capacity of the economy to grow from the bottom up. All right. Thank you very much you guys."

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Merkley, Smith both justly failed to gain majority

Dave Brownlow, the Oregon Constitution Party's senatorial candidate, who picked up just enough votes to keep Gordon Smith from being re-elected, predicted the outcome after Smith attacked the obscure Brownlow in a TV ad.

"I think it is great," Brownlow said of the attack that took place late in the campaign. "They are scared.… (Smith) mathematically can't win this race until he grabs every conservative vote from me."

Exactly.

If the conservative Brownlow’s 5 percent of the vote Tuesday had gone to Smith, the Republican would have won with 51 percent to Jeff Merkley’s 49 percent.

The media contest between Smith and Merkley was, in a word, disgusting.

Both deserved the minority backing they received. Brownlow, who spent virtually nothing on his campaign, undoubtedly pulled support from those fed up with the mud slinging and distortions.

The outcome makes me wonder what would have happened if John Frohnmayer had stayed in the race as an independent. Any credible, above-the-fray candidate — and Frohnmayer was certainly that — would have had a shot at winning.

Frohnmayer must be wondering the same thing.

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A "Dewey Wins!" moment at The Oregonian

It’s time again for “You write the headline,” that fun, second-guessing game in which you, dear reader, match journalistic wits with The Oregonian’s editors.

It’s late Wednesday night and you are hunkered down in The Oregonian’s cubicled newsroom reading copy for the lead story slated for the top of Thursday's front page.

Your job: write a headline for it.

On your editing screen is the lead written by veteran reporter Harry Esteve.

“Democrat Jeff Merkley has leapt from Oregon’s Statehouse to the U.S. Senate, ousting two-term Republican Gordon Smith after an expensive, high-stakes contest that will help shift the balance of power in Washington.”

Second paragraph: “The Oregonian projects that Merkley will squeak by Smith by the time all the votes are counted.”

The first-paragraph is resoundingly clear: Merkley’s going to the Senate; Smith is headed back to his Pendleton pea patch.

Based on the lead, what headline writer wouldn’t write “Merkley takes Senate seat” or “Smith out; Merkley in” or “Merkley edges out Smith”? Or, well, you try it…

But then there’s the qualifier: The declared victory is based on “The Oregonian’s projections.”

Nightmare visions of “Dewey Wins!” cavort in your head.

Total cognitive dissonance.

So what is the headline that emerges from the copy desk? “Merkley leads Senate vote.”

Huh?

Clearly Esteve and the headline writer need to talk. Clearly, they didn’t, leaving this reader to wonder what is going on.

Friends at The Oregonian tell me the collapse of ad revenue and the resulting staff cutbacks are demoralizing the newsroom. Feelings are raw. It’s not a fun place to be.

It’s all understandable, but the tensions shouldn’t leak out on the pages of the paper.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Pinch me!

It’s a pinch-myself morning. Perhaps you’ve felt it too.

President-elect Barack Obama.

We’ve seen Obama give election night victory speeches so many times in this long campaign that last night’s simply fell into the slot. I had become conditioned to thinking “so it’s on to North Carolina or Nevada or the next election.”

But no — and I actually had to set my mind straight —this time it’s on to the White House. There won’t be any more elections in 2008.

President-elect Barack Obama.

When will it really sink in? When I stop visiting fivethirtyeight.com? When Obama begins to announce his cabinet? When he meets with Bush at the White House?

On Inauguration Day, which can’t come soon enough?

Of course the other “pinch-me” is that Barack Obama is an African-American.

What that means to American blacks, what if feels like to them, I can only imagine. Each will experience the Obama presidency differently. African Americans are as different one from another as white Americans are.

What they share is racial discrimination. Obama and his candidacy swept racial discrimination aside, at least in national politics. His presidency will do much to sweep it aside in our culture.

But we need to put the Obama victory, America’s victory, in context. It might never have happened without the disastrous, shameful Bush administration and the perilous economic times it has created.

Nor should we for a moment think that racial discrimination disappeared on Nov. 4, 2008. Discrimination, of all kinds, has been slowly, almost imperceptibly, dimming for the past five decades. Yesterday it dimmed noticeably, but it has not gone out.

In 1964, when Barack Obama was two years old, I was in Mississippi as part of a mass movement of young blacks and whites working to secure the vote for African Americans. I never thought that within my lifetime I would see those votes help elect an African-American president.

But who knows what it takes to aspire to the presidency of the United States? In Mississippi, our movement was a magnet for black leadership. James Farmer, Bob Moses, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Fanny Lou Hamer. While Martin Luther King, Jr. never came to Mississippi in my time there, he was the pre-eminent guiding figure.

Today his message and story is enshrined in our history.

Did any of these leaders aspire to be president? Could they see the way to lead the nation from the pinnacle of government? Forty-four years ago, could they have imagined this day would come so soon?

I doubt it. (I would love to put that question to Young, Lewis and Moses, who are still alive)

The other figure that inspired my generation was John Kennedy, whose grace and mastery of the language are legend.

I see and hear and feel King and Kennedy in a composed, eloquent, youthful Barack Obama. In the cock of his head, in the cadence of his words, in the over-arching righteousness of his passionate message ….

And I pinch myself. Could it be?

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Gratitude and Prayers on an Election Day

I pray this is not premature, but those brawny, intense figures in dark suits with wires coming out of their ears deserve our thanks on this election day.

Somehow in an epic election season rife with anger and racism, the Secret Service has managed to keep the candidates out of harm’s way, out of mortal danger. Because the Service is indeed secret, we will never know how they did it, but it certainly required intelligence (both kinds), hard work and courage.

I went to the Hillsdale Community Church over the lunch hour for an “election day vigil.” For much of the time I was the only one in the church, but in my mind and heart, I filled the rows of empty seats with prays for a multitude of voters across the land. I prayed for those waiting patiently to cast their ballots. I prayed their ballots would be counted.

When will the rest of the nation get real and vote by mail as we do here in Oregon?

I also prayed for those who tonight will experience defeat, whoever they might be. I hope they learn from their loss, seek to understand it and emerge better for it.

I prayed that those who are victorious are humbled by victory, good fortune and their huge challenges and grave responsibilities.

I prayed that winners and losers alike would see themselves as one with each other.

Turning back the clock four years:

To those who lost four years ago, consider this: Had John Kerry won, Barack Obama likely would not be on the ballot this year.


To those who won four years ago, consider this: Had George W. Bush lost four years ago, the Republicans would be in a much, much stronger position to win the 2008 election.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm in jail — sort of

So this exuberant, not-to-be-denied lady on the other end of the line tells me that I’m being arrested and put in jail on Thursday.

You guessed it; it’s a fundraiser.

This one is for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

I have friends with multiple sclerosis. I know several families with autistic kids. I try to support the afflicted and affected as best I can, but I really don't do enough.

And breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes are rampant. The list goes on and on. Sometimes I think there should be a “disease or disability of the month” just so we don’t overlook anything.

But the MDA (whose main spokesman is Jerry Lewis) got to me first. Someone (it could be YOU) had “nominated” me to be arrested.

The woman on the other end had no idea who I was except for what the “nomination “ form told her.

“You’re perfect for this,” she exuded. “A retired CEO.”

“A retired CEO? There must be some mistake. Just call me a MDA detainee."

She didn’t pursue my denial of retired CEO status, but it gave me a hint about how these jailings for charities work.

The idea is to incarcerate deep pockets with connections.

Maybe the person who nominated me said I was a retired newspaper editor and publisher. You can read all kinds of donor potential into that. A second home in Palm Springs. Foursomes on the links. Poolside margaritas.

The woman described an incarceration worthy of a retired CEO. I’m to show up at a fancy restaurant where I will be fed. My sentence will be one-hour. My hosts not doubt will expect me to Rolodex my way through calls to golfing buddies (I don’t play), members of the board of my corporation (I have no corporation) and other retired CEOs (I don't know any) to pay my “bail.”

So I will probably be calling my unemployed former students, graying Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from the ‘60s, and low-paid friends in the “helping professions.”

I do know some folks who know retired CEOs, but somehow I don’t think a second-hand pitch for some "jailed" lefty blogger will net big bucks.

Then again, the person who nominated me must have had some scheme in mind. I do write this blog and a few folks do read it. My nominator probably figured my “arrest” would be good for a post or two and maybe that would bring in some spare change.

It’s up to you to prove this theory right — or wrong.

If you want to learn more about muscular dystrophy, go here.

If you want to get me out of jail, go here.

If you don’t want to do any of the above, I won’t hold it against you.

But if you do pony up for MDA, thanks.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Press ignores Palin's First Amendment Ignorance

Let the record show that I can find no reference on-line to a major newspaper's reporting directly on Sarah Palin’s frightening ignorance regarding the First Amendment.

(On Friday in a radio interview, Palin suggested that press criticism of her was a violation of the First Amendment. Anyone who has taken middle-school civics knows that the right to voice and print such criticism is precisely what the First Amendment protects.)

I am reminded of the truism that our freedoms of speech and the press only have meaning if we use them. Why is the press refusing to use its freedom to inform the public about Palin’s appalling ignorance of the Bill of Rights?

How could it be that it is no longer newsworthy when a major party candidate for the second highest office in the land twists beyond recognition a basic principle on which the nation was founded?

Could it be that editors believe that most of the public doesn’t care about the First Amendment and whether Palin understands it?

Could it be that the majority of the American people themselves don’t understand or value our very first freedoms?

If that is the case, we are a nation in deep, deep peril. When the press doesn't call our leaders on matters as grave, we all will ultimately pay the price.

It is noteworthy that Palin’s comment is all over the blogosphere. New Media trumps Old. Incidents like this suggest that the death of newspapers may not be that great a loss.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Obama through the prism of "All the King's Men"

Our Hillsdale reading group chose Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” as its book of the month. Actually, we chose the “story” not necessarily the book. Some of us chose to watch one of the two film versions.

We clearly are using the words "read" and "reading" loosely.

The discussion veered widely from the plot and characters even though the story's duplicity and corruption guided us.

The only person to address Warren's work directly was Robert, who couldn’t make the meeting. He wrote us a thoughtful e-mail. Here is part of it:

In the movie, there is one intriguing scene, which I ask you to consider in your discussion: The drunk adopted son of Willie Stark, the governor and protagonist, has crashed his car, severely injuring his girlfriend, who eventually dies. The girl's father visits the governor's official residence, the son confesses, and Willie offers to find a government contract for the father's trucking business to keep him quiet.

Of course, the father (later found beaten to death) refuses the offer, but makes the following comment: "I listened to you when you got started. I supported you. Your words were good then. Your words are good now. But, you're not. And I don't think you ever were."

Thus, the question is raised: Was the populist Stark ever about "helping the people"? Or, was it always about Willie Stark?

Nature versus nurture?

In other words, were the seeds of Stark’s corruption already within him or did the system plant the seeds?

We applied the question to trying to predict what a Barack Obama would do if he is elected president next Tuesday.

Here’s a sampling:

Sidney said he would launch a new New Deal replete with a CCC and WPA. The financial system will be totally revamped.

Joan predicted that Obama would revive the automobile industry, but Mike noted that the present “planned obsolescence” model for the industry first needed to be replaced. He expressed skepticism over whether the industry would accept a new economic model dictated by the electric vehicles that require virtually no maintenance.

Mike foresees an Obama jobs program that supports alternative energy and rebuilds the nation’s infrastructure. The unemployment rate will eventually go down as a result.

In general, Mike said that the entire culture of consumption needs to change,

Rick N. said that was unlikely, but said that Obama might be able to “change the conversation” by emphasizing community and its importance.

Dianna said Obama would bring the troops home, but Dick sees a shift of the forces to Afghanistan and a re-equipping of the military.

Rick N. predicted the tax burden would be shifted to the wealthy. He also sees an Obama Administration working in collaboration with world partners and being more conciliatory with adversaries.

Joan said there would be more racial harmony and more talk about community.

Harkening back to “All the King’s Men,” I questioned whether Obama would buck the lobbyists and the special interest. I doubted that there would be significant change in health insurance, for instance. I noted that it took Colin Powell to highlight prejudice against American Muslims and to chide Obama for utterly failing to address it.

I also said shifting troops to Afghanistan seemed to be moving from one quagmire to another.

Nor, on reflection, do I see “real change” or “change we can believe in” emerging from an administration that is made up largely of a cast from the Clinton years.

In short, my colleagues were more on the side that the “nature” of Obama — his innate character if you will — would shape his administration. My view was more that the political system would “nurture” half-measures.

No one seemed willing to lay odds on their predictions. We all were well aware that election day stood between our discussion and the inauguration of a new administration.

We are considering reading something by the late John Kenneth Galbraith as our next book. Robert Hamilton had suggested “The Affluent Society.”

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