Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
ThinkProgress » Sen. Shelby’s Pork Lust Forces NASA To Spend $500 Million On Canceled Rocket Program
Thanks to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), taxpayers are footing a $500 million bill for a NASA rocket that the agency has no plans or desire to continue developing. The Orlando Sentinel reports that pork legislation inserted into a spending bill by Shelby earlier this year is requiring NASA to spend millions on the canceled Ares I rocket program through March, even while the agency can’t find funds to begin a much-needed modernization of the famed Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida:
At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later. [...]
But Congress never passed a 2011 budget and instead voted this month to extend the 2010 budget until March — so NASA still must abide by the 2010 language.[...]
The language that keeps Constellation going was inserted into the 2010 budget last year by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who sought to protect the program and Ares jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center in his home state.
His office confirmed that the language was still in effect but did not respond to e-mails seeking details.
Nearly all of the money for the program will go to two defense contractors building the Ares rocket, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) and Lockheed Martin, with ATK receiving the bulk. Defense contractors have been a consistent source of financial support for Shelby’s campaigns, contributing to him at higher rates than to other politicians in his state. In particular, Shelby’s 2010 reelection campaign was the top recipient of funds from ATK’s PAC, receiving the maximum $10,000. And the company’s employees appear to have given more to Shelby than to any other politician in the 2010 election cycle.
Shelby certainly has a flair for the dramatic when it comes to extracting pork money for defense contractors in his state. In a “nearly unprecedented” move in February, Shelby placed a blanket hold on every single presidential nominees being considered by the Senate — more than 70 in total, including “top Intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as the number three civilian at the Pentagon” — in order to pressure to Obama administration to do the bidding of Northrop Grumman on a $40 billion contract for which they were being considered.
He's a better negotiator than most pols.
by Barbara Weaver Smith, Founder and President of The Whale Hunters
It’s getting harder and harder to do business without responding to RFPs. More companies are demanding them, and unless you have a strategy to compete effectively for RFP business you will leave money and opportunity on the table.
But RFPs are dangerous. Not only do they drain time and energy from work that you’ve already sold or other new business opportunities that offer you more control, they also leave you vulnerable. Some companies use the RFP process only to get new ideas for their internal team, or to lean on their current agency for more creative ideas and cheaper pricing. It’s quite possible that your proposal will make its way into the hands of a competitor, whether internal or external.
So it’s important to have rules that you follow faithfully when there is an RFP opportunity.
1. Does it fit your Target Filter criteria? In other words, is the opportunity right for you? The right size, the right industry, the right services required? If not, don’t respond.
2. Do you have a prior relationship with the organization that put out the RFP? If the answer is “no,” don’t respond. Yes, I know there is an occasional fluke where an unknown company gets the job. But it’s rare, and the odds are stacked against you.
3. Is there an RFP consultant or head hunter advising the company? If so, you need to have a relationship with that consultant. They always prefer that the job go to a vendor with whom they have a prior relationship. If you don’t know the consultant, don’t respond.
4. Can you discern why they want to make a change? Do they have a job that their agency of record can’t do or doesn’t want to do? Are they looking to fill a niche that is just right for you? Or do they want to change agencies? If so, do they change too frequently (a sign of instability and trouble ahead for you)? If you don’t know what they are trying to accomplish, you don’t know them well enough to respond to their RFP.
5. Have they allowed sufficient time for a good response? If it comes in over the transom with a seven day turn-around request, it’s wired for someone else. How much time is reasonable? Thirty days is fair. Three weeks might be okay if it’s a smaller request. Otherwise, don’t respond.
6. Do they have excessive creative requirements? Remember, you are vulnerable every time you design a solution and send it along on paper. Reputable companies know this and ask for examples or prior experiences without requiring you to invent a plan for them, which of course they could then implement internally or share with an incumbent vendor. If the requirements seem excessive, they probably are. Don’t respond.
The bottom line on RFPs is this: unless you are well-connected with the organization that offers the RFP, you know what they are trying to accomplish, and you are certain it is a good fit, you are better off to let it go.
If you have not yet developed the kinds of relationships that will position you to win RFPs, now is a great time to start! Get to know an RFP consultant who represents customers that you want. Introduce yourself and your company to purchasing agents at three key target companies that you would like to do business with. Learn what they are looking for, how they buy, how you can be competitive in their RFP process. The time to build the relationship is before an RFP is released, not after.
And make it a New Year’s resolution to “Just Say No” when you know you should!
Co-author of Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company, Barbara Weaver Smith founded The Whale Hunters to bring a powerful, proven sales and business development process to small companies that want a fast track to growth. Barbara consults with companies to implement The Whale Hunters Process, trains regional representatives, coaches teams responding to mission-critical RFPs, writes The Whale Hunters Wisdom newsletter, and authors The Whale Hunters blog.
By praising Michael Vick’s “second chance” after the NFL quarterback served 19 months in prison on a dogfighting conviction, Mansfield Frazier, an ex-con, says the president is creating an opening for a national discussion on opportunities for former prisoners.
President Barack Obama is causing quite a stir in the national prisoner reentry movement with his comments on Michael Vick. “So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,” Obama reportedly told the owner of Vick’s football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. “...It’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out.”
The Eagles signed Vick after he served 19 months in prison for running a dogfighting operation, and by praising the team’s owner for giving the quarterback a second chance, the president is broaching a subject that’s sure to be polarizing. As states across the U.S. struggle with looming budget deficits, Obama perhaps realizes the timing may be right to address what he has called the country’s “incarceration and post-incarceration crisis” and remove barriers that inhibit successful prisoner reentry by offering former offenders an opportunity to reclaim their lives and a modicum of dignity.
While Obama’s conversation with the Eagles’ owner, Jeffrey Lurie, about second chances for formerly incarcerated persons might be among his most publicized pronouncements on the subject, they certainly were not his first. As a presidential candidate in September 2008, he sent a letter to the Third Annual Prisoner Reentry Summit commending San Francisco city leaders for their “innovate work to reduce recidivism” and pledging to create opportunities for former prisoners if elected.
Obama said in his letter that he “recognized that American urban communities are facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis.” He vowed to create a prison-to-work incentive program… to create ties between employers and third-party agencies that provide training and support services to ex-offenders and to improve ex-offender employment and job-retention rates.” He also pledged he would “work to reform correctional systems that prevent former inmates from finding and maintaining employment.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the Project Safe Neighborhoods Annual Conference in July, echoed the president’s commitment to the issue by stating that incarceration is not an economically sustainable way to combat crime.
“Most Americans have a very punitive mind-set…they don’t seem to care that we lock up far too many people, for far too long, for relatively minor crimes.”
Obama speaks out on Michael Vick and felons getting second chances. Credit: Getty Images; AP Photo
“At the close of 2009, the U.S. prison population was 1,610,446—a rate of 504 inmates in custody per 100,000 U.S. residents,” wrote Randall G. Shelden, a senior research fellow at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, in a recently posted research brief. “If we include jails, the number of people incarcerated totals more than 2.3 million, and the incarceration rate climbs to 754... The United States incarcerates almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners yet has only 5 percent of the world’s population.”
Holder’s verdict on the cost of our “incarceration nation”: “At a cost of $60 billion per year our prisons and jails do little to prepare prisoners for jobs. This is a recipe for high recidivism. And it’s the reason that two-thirds of those released are rearrested within three years. It’s time for a new approach.”
Michael Vick’s case might provide the right entrée for a national conversation about such a new approach.
Happy holidays and new year, b safe.
When Democratic senators and representatives voted to approve the $787 billion stimulus package nearly two years ago, the ones who came from swing states and districts knew they were taking a political risk. What they didn't know was that the economic benefits of the stimulus would become so entangled in red tape that even today, much of that money remains unspent.
A story that ran Sunday in the Los Angeles Times estimated that only a quarter of the $630 million in federal funds allotted to the city of Los Angeles had been spent. Los Angeles is in no way exceptional. California Inspector General Laura Chick, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to monitor the state's stimulus spending, estimates that only about half of California's federal funds have been spent.
Some parts of the stimulus - those that go to defray the states' Medicaid costs, for example, or for extended unemployment insurance - get disbursed immediately. Funds devoted to preserving ongoing governmental operations have been spent at a steady clip as well. By the end of September, according to numbers I crunched from the California, Texas and New York City Web sites, these places had spent 63, 58 and 61 percent, respectively, of the federal funds targeted toward public schools - and each is on track to use up what was designed as a two-year allocation by the end of this school year.
The funds that went to existing government services and benefits, in short, were spent as intended. Their effect on the larger economy was to keep things from getting worse by preserving the status quo - just as this month's tax deal, by forestalling tax increases, avoided diminishing the level of money in circulation. But much of the money devoted to boosting private-sector hiring, above all in construction, remains stubbornly unspent, nearly two years after President Obama signed the stimulus into law.
At September's end, just one-third of the $4.5 billion allocated to California for transportation projects had been spent, the state's Web site shows. In Texas, just 5 percent of the funds allocated to the largest energy project had been expended, while in New York City, only 27 percent of the funds allocated for infrastructure and 3 percent of those targeted for improving energy efficiency had been spent. Some of this money is for long-term projects, but most of it isn't.
When it comes to building things, the stimulus, as Lincoln said of Gen. George McClellan, has the slows. Ironically, when we think of our iconic stimulus programs - the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and other New Deal public employment programs - we think of the things they built: the Bonneville and Boulder (now Hoover) dams; the Triborough and San-Francisco-Oakland Bay bridges; the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown; LaGuardia and National (now Reagan) airports; and thousands of schools, post offices and roads.
What's more, the New Deal built them at a pace that seems almost incomprehensible today. When the winter of 1933-34 loomed, President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to forestall a wave of starvation in a nation that didn't yet have unemployment insurance or food stamps. He authorized Harry Hopkins, his jobs-wizard, to create a four-month-long project (the Civil Works Administration) that would employ 4 million people. Beginning operations on Nov. 9, Hopkins had 2.6 million Americans on the job by Christmas and 4.3 million by February - this in a nation of 125 million. In their four months on the jobs, they built or improved 40,000 schools and 998 airports.
So what happened? How have we gone from a nation that could put millions productively to work in two months to a nation that still struggles to restart our construction sector two years after the stimulus passed?
Part of the answer is technological: Most WPA and CWA workers were employed on pick-and-shovel jobs long since replaced by labor-saving (and job-reducing) machines. Part of the answer is that big government (the stimulus) was slowed by good-government requirements (environmental impact reports, competitive bidding and the like) that didn't exist in the '30s. Also, strapped state and local governments laid off many of the workers needed to approve the stimulus projects. Layoffs and furloughs in California's Office of Historic Preservation, the state's inspector general told me this summer, created a 60-day bottleneck for even routine structural improvements.
Infrastructure projects remain among the most stimulative forms of anti-recessionary activity - so long as the projects actually happen. That's one reason liberals like me have enthusiastically supported them. It's now clear, however, that unless presidents, governors and mayors appoint their own Harry Hopkinses and create fast-track procedures for construction, stimulus projects will be no more than a pale ghost of their 1930s' predecessors, unemployment will remain outrageously high and the politicians who backed the stimulus will be left scrambling for explanations. These are among the grim lessons of our mega-recession, as many of those swing-district Democrats can sadly attest.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Focus of mayoral race shifts to fundraising
Topics See more topics »
By Kristen Mack and John Byrne, Tribune reporters
December 25, 2010
With Chicago's mayoral contest coming into clearer focus, the campaign now turns to fundraising shows of strength, a scramble to consolidate support and preparations for an early voting push.
A lull between Christmas and New Year's is expected as voters celebrate the holidays. When the calendar turns to 2011, candidates will have seven weeks until the Feb. 22 election.
The next benchmark in the contest is campaign fundraising. The current cash collection period ends Friday and reports are due by Jan. 20, but candidates with something to brag about are sure to start trickling figures out sooner.
Showing strength in the money game tends to boost the perception of a candidate's viability, leading to more campaign donations. Conversely, a weak campaign checkbook can lead to a downward spiral as money sources shrivel up.
The field got smaller with Meeks' departure, and it could shrink further. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners still could toss as many as five largely unknown mayoral candidates off the ballot in the coming weeks. What started out as a field of 20 could be cut to eight.
Meeks' decision is viewed in Chicago political circles as helping the other two major African-American candidates, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, because the black vote could be less splintered. A recent Tribune poll found black voters supporting Davis at 21 percent, Meeks at 13 percent and Braun at 10 percent, with another 30 percent undecided.
Geographically, Braun could benefit more — she's now the only remaining South Side African-American candidate, with Davis hailing from the West Side. The city's South Side historically has had greater voter turnout than its West Side. The city's only elected African-American mayor, the late Harold Washington, hailed from the South Side.
As for whether there should be further winnowing among black candidates, Braun said it's not necessary for another African-American contender to drop out.
"There are two Hispanic candidates. There are still what, 18 candidates in the race?" said Braun, only slightly exaggerating the total. "We're all going to be called to present our positions, to make our case to the entire city that this is not a city divided, that we are one community."
Davis, who got the backing of a group of African-American ministers, community leaders and elected officials who were seeking a consensus candidate, likes the idea.
"I don't think anybody would disagree, a unified community is the most desired outcome that can take place from any of these conversations," Davis said.
"I'm a Latino, and I've been approached by people in the Latino community who say we need to back a single candidate," del Valle said. "My response to that has been that I want to be elected mayor by every corner of the city, every ethnic group. This campaign should be about bringing people together."
The fundamental dynamic of the contest, however, hasn't changed much. With five major candidates still in, it remains a difficult task for any one of them to muster the 50 percent plus one needed to win outright on Feb. 22.
Emanuel is off to a wide lead in early polls, leaving other candidates trying to gain traction. The goal is to hold Emanuel under a majority and finish in the top two to force an April 5 runoff. A head-to-head matchup provides a clearer contrast for voters and potentially lessens the impact of Emanuel's expected large fundraising advantage.
Meeks' departure is viewed as most hurting Chico, the former Chicago Board of Education president. One less top contender means there are fewer candidates splitting up the overall vote. Chico has been trying to position himself as the alternative to Emanuel and has early support from old-line establishment bosses such as Ald. Ed Burke, 14th.
As for Emanuel, he talked about moving forward and focusing on issues after the elections board voted Friday to keep him on the ballot. But a month or more of court challenges loom if the case makes it to the Illinois Supreme Court. The ballot challenge will still be a distraction for Emanuel, though not as big of one as if he was fighting to get back on the ballot.
The situation needs to be settled fairly quickly — early voting starts Jan. 31 and city officials must have time to print the ballots.
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
Jen Miller at the finish of the Ocean Drive 10 Miler in Wildwood, N.J.
My butt, unfortunately, is dead.
“Dead butt syndrome,” the sports medicine doctor said to me after making me go through a series of circus-act contortions that involved swiveling my hip in all directions. His voice was very serious, his tone stern. I wondered if I should start making funeral arrangements for my rear, maybe a New Orleans-style blowout parade?
Hold the tuba. My butt’s not really dead. It can’t be revived with defibrillator paddles, but it can be fixed.
The technical name of the condition I have is gluteus medius tendinosis — an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius, one of three large muscles that make up the butt. It’s a very isolated and painful injury that knocked me out of marathon training in January with stabbing pains in my hip. It’s a symptom related to what running experts hammer at: the need for cross-training and strength training. I was running so much that I told myself I didn’t have time for the exercise machines or weights, so I have no one to blame but myself.
I’ve been running for five years, but I’d never heard of the problem. I ran it by a friend, a former track coach at the University of Pennsylvania, and he was baffled too. I haven’t seen any coverage, though the doctor said it’s fairly common with runners who train for half marathons and beyond. It took him five minutes to figure out the problem.
“A new thought in running medicine is that almost all lower extremity injuries, whether they involve your calf, your plantar fascia or your iliotibial band, are linked to the gluteus medius,” said Dr. Darrin Bright, a sports medicine physician with Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and medical director of that city’s marathon. “In the last five to 10 years, we’ve just realized how much of an important role the gluteus medius plays in stabilizing the hips and the pelvis in running.”
If you think of the pelvis as a cup, the muscles that attach to it, including the three gluteal muscles and the lower abdominals, interact in an intricate choreography to keep the cup upright when you run or walk. If these muscles are strong, the cup stays in place with no pain. If one or more of those muscles is weak, the smaller muscles around the hip take on pressure they weren’t designed to bear.
The cup still stays up, but at a price. First come muscle tears and inflammation, followed by scar tissue in the muscle. If left untreated, this process becomes a cycle that keeps feeding into itself.
“For people who have persistent pain, it’s healing gone wrong,” Dr. Bright said. “That gluteus medius isn’t firing the way it’s supposed to. You’re getting an inhibition of the muscle fibers. It’s kind of dead.”
Some of us run through the pain, which is what I did. And many compensate by adjusting their strides in a way that impedes the gait and can lead to problems in the quads, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, heels, knees, calves, ankles, feet or toes.
“Whether they’re recreational weekend runners up to the elite marathoners, the majority of runners I see have weak gluteus medius and gluteus maximus muscles,” said Dr. David Webner, a sports medicine doctor at Crozer-Keystone Health System in Springfield, Pa.
For about 70 percent of his patients, physical therapy that stretches the muscles in the hip and leg and strengthens the gluteus muscles, along with a temporary reduction in the mileage and intensity of running, resolves the problem. Deep tissue massage, which sends more blood to the area to break up scar tissue, along with strength training may also help to break the cycle of inflammation and scarring.
More advanced approaches include ultrasound guided tenotomy, which uses ultrasound to identify the affected muscles and then “poke little holes in the area of the scar tissue,” Dr. Webner said, or platelet-rich plasma therapy, which involves injections of centrifuged blood products and is what Tiger Woods underwent after knee surgery last year.
Fortunately, I didn’t need to take it that far. I’m lucky — the pain has ebbed with physical therapy and changing one of my weekly runs to a cross-training workout.
“Those runners who do multiple types of exercising are less prone to have weakness than runners who do just running,” said Dr. Webner. “Triathletes who come into my office don’t have as much weakness as just solo runners.”
So I’m biking. I row. I sweat through elliptical workouts at the gym.
And I no longer have the feeling that a pin is stabbing my hip every time I drive. I can sit for more than a half hour without pain. And last month I ran the Amish Bird-in-Hand half marathon, and felt no more discomfort than you’d expect to endure running 13.1 miles through the hills of Pennsylvania Dutch country.
To keep my rear alive, I must be vigilant about continuing to strengthen my lower abdominal and gluteal muscles. Last week, I slacked off and the pain came creeping back.
Is it annoying to have to focus so much on these muscles to run? Absolutely. But if it’ll revive my butt, it’s worth every leg lift and crunch.
Jen A. Miller is the author of “The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May.”
This month’s final flurry of legislative successes for President Obama and the Democratic Congress underscores the difficulty of rendering a single verdict on their tumultuous two years in power.
In November, Democrats forfeited control of the House after suffering the largest midterm losses for either party since 1938. They absorbed stinging defeats in the Senate as well. But before that, and to an utterly unexpected extent after that as well, Obama and congressional Democrats passed into law an enormous agenda. This Congress will enter the history books for the magnitude of both its political losses and its legislative victories.
The program that Democrats implemented during Obama’s first two years doesn’t approach the Himalayan peaks of the first congressional sessions for Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. But probably not since Johnson has either party implemented as much of its agenda in a single legislative session as Democrats did in this one. “You probably have to go back to Johnson to see something as substantial as this,” says presidential historian Robert Dallek, a Johnson biographer. Historian Alan Brinkley of Columbia University agrees: “Legislatively, this Congress has probably done more than any Congress since the 1960s.”
Democrats had their legislative disappointments. Mostly because of Senate filibusters, they could not pass limits on carbon emissions, reform the labor laws or the immigration system, or establish a public competitor to private health insurers. Obama felt compelled to accept the extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. Nor could he persuade Congress to back his pledge to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
But the achievements in the ledger’s other column are imposing. Health care and financial-services reform top that list. The 2009 economic-stimulus package contained, by some measures, more net new public investment in education, infrastructure, and clean energy than Bill Clinton achieved during his entire two terms. Other significant wins included bills that restructured and increased college financial aid, toughened pay-equity laws for women, expanded national service, and provided new credit card protections to consumers. This week’s Senate vote approving the New START pact provided Obama a bipartisan foreign policy-victory that steamrolled the opposition of the GOP Senate leadership.
Many of these bills fulfilled long-standing Democratic goals. Presidents of both parties since FDR had pursued comprehensive health care reform; Obama alone signed it into law. The repeal of the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy that Obama signed this week concluded an effort to allow gays to serve openly that dated back to Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Earlier, Obama signed legislation protecting sexual orientation under the hate-crimes law and more closely equalizing the penalties for possession of powder and crack cocaine--in each case implementing changes key Democratic constituencies have likewise sought since the 1990s.
Almost without notice, Obama ended a similar odyssey of even greater consequence. In 1996, Clinton’s Food and Drug Administration asserted the authority to regulate the marketing and sale of tobacco products; in 2000, the Supreme Court said it overreached. Since then, public health advocates had repeatedly failed to pass legislation providing FDA that authority (partly because of Bush’s opposition). Last year, Congress finally approved the bill and Obama signed it. FDA has already banned candy-flavored cigarettes and proposed to strengthen health warning labels. “That was the most significant legislative action that the Congress has [ever] taken with regard to tobacco,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Why didn’t this record provide Democrats more defense against the wave that capsized their House majority? One (smaller) reason is that the interminable struggle over health care overshadowed much of it. More important, conservatives, and even many independents, recoiled from the cumulative scale and cost of these initiatives at a time of economic unease. Most important, as the downturn lingered, the Democrats’ agenda appeared incapable of, and even tangential to, creating jobs, the public’s main concern. Many of the Democrats’ priorities “didn’t seem relevant to what the public was struggling with,” says lobbyist Vic Fazio, the former chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
One other factor contributed. Democrats passed such a comprehensive agenda largely because they achieved near-parliamentary levels of party unity in Congress. That focus on uniting Democrats was probably unavoidable given lockstep Republican opposition, but it produced a kind of myopia. On the biggest issues--health care and stimulus--Democrats spoke mostly to each other and never attracted enough public support beyond their core coalition.
All of these factors converged to ignite a fierce backlash against Democrats in the midterm election. If that recoil carries a Republican past Obama in 2012 as well, many of the Democratic legislative achievements could be uprooted. But if Obama wins a second term, he could instead institutionalize his key reforms. The huge federal deficit, and growing Republican strength in Congress, virtually ensures that the Democrats’ latest tide of Washington activism has already crested. Yet, if Obama can steer a course to a second term, the powerful imprint of that surge might endure.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Ed Schultz was a right-wing radio talk-show host—until he fell in love with a liberal and hit the big time. Howard Kurtz talks to Schultz about his feud with Rush and why he’s mad at Obama.
After bashing the president's tax-cut compromise on MSNBC for four straight nights, Ed Schultz found himself breaking bread with Barack Obama in the small dining room off the Oval Office.
“Mr. President, the American people didn't vote for you because of a policy or your stance on health care. They voted for you because you inspired them, you got into their soul,” the high-decibel host said. Insisting that he take on the Republicans, Schultz declared: “I think you're selling yourself short. You can win that fight.”
Obama stared at him intently and said flatly: “This is where we’re going.”
A former college quarterback with a beefy frame and booming voice, Schultz has emerged as a fiery populist who doesn't mind singeing his own side, even as he reserves his most inflammatory rhetoric—“ruthless,” “mean,” “rotten to the core”—for Republicans. Five years ago, he was a radio guy in Fargo, North Dakota, borrowing money to stay afloat; now MSNBC is touting him as a surprise star of its liberal lineup.
Schultz defends the harsh personal rhetoric he employs against conservative politicians and pundits. “Liberals have been vilified, laughed at for years,” he says. “It's good to give it back to them.”
His fans seem to agree. The Ed Show just enjoyed its best quarter and is up 19 percent this year over last, averaging 637,000 viewers. That is way behind Special Report With Bret Baier on Fox News, which is up 4 percent with 2.1 million viewers, but ahead of Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room on CNN, down 29 percent with 544,000 viewers. His visibility is such that Schultz considered a plea from North Dakota Democrats that he run for the Senate this year.
He savors his skewering of the right, but there was a time when he was one of them—a television sportscaster (after briefly making the roster of the Oakland Raiders) who became a talk-radio conservative, boosting Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. That began to change in 1992 after Schultz had his first date with the woman who ran the homeless shelter in Fargo. She had him grab a tray and wait on line for the Salvation Army lunch served to the downtrodden.
“Ed was in his suit, dressed to the nines, surrounded by homeless people. He was mortified,” says Wendy Schultz, now his wife and the producer of his three-hour radio show, broadcast down the hall at Manhattan’s 30 Rock. “He had a very tender heart and was very easy to tip over.”
“There are times I tell him he goes over the top and that TV is different than radio,” Griffin acknowledges. “A couple of times he’s crossed the line. I said, ‘Ed, you ran down the field 100 yards and you spiked the ball. Don’t spike the ball!’”
Schultz soon morphed into a left-wing prairie populist. “Some people believe it’s a made-up story, that it was about money, that he saw an opportunity as a liberal talk-show host,” says Schultz’s friend Don Haney, a reporter at KFGO radio. “But his conversion was genuine.” Haney says Schultz was a great colleague but “to be honest, he’s got a temper. There are some people who have drawn his wrath.”
Logan Mock-Bunting / Getty Images
In 2004, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan (whose campaign got a $2,000 donation from Schultz) recommended him to a national radio syndicator. Schultz borrowed $600,000 to keep the show alive (“We were nuts”) and bought a mobile home—festooned with ads for the North Dakota Farmers Union—to go on the road.
But it wasn’t enough. Hungry to develop a television profile, Schultz borrowed an additional $150,000 for a satellite camera hookup for the occasional invitations from Larry King and other shows. The couple would watch cable news on a big-screen TV in their lakeside Minnesota home and Schultz would critique the hosts. “It just became an obsession with me,” he says.
Fired up and ready to go after Obama’s election, Schultz and his wife got a place in Washington. When MSNBC President Phil Griffin spotted him at an Obama press conference—White House aides had placed him in the front row—he asked Schultz for a cup of coffee at Washington’s Four Seasons. “I just connected with him,” Griffin says. “I thought, ‘Holy cow, that guy is a live wire!’”
After a tryout, Griffin pressed Schultz to move to New York to start a 6 p.m. show. “You have to understand,” the new employee said, “I moved here to get this job!”
One morning last week, the 56-year-old broadcaster is sitting in his small office—adorned with photos of him having killed a half-dozen pheasants at his snow-covered North Dakota ranch—as his producers debate whether to discuss the tax cuts with leadoff guest Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator. “He’s a pretty wound-up dude,” says Schultz, peering at the script through reading glasses. “He’ll say we’re making a mistake, we’re digging ourselves a hole.”
Schultz eases behind the anchor desk in a studio barely larger than a walk-in closet—he switched from the main studio because he thinks the closer confines give him more intensity—and banters about the Minnesota Vikings until the red light goes on. When he opens the show with which stories “are hitting my hot buttons,” he bellows in almost comical fashion.
After railing against the extension of the Bush tax cuts for 14 minutes—“the deal is with the devil!”—he welcomes Sanders, who gets all of 2 1/2 minutes before being hustled off. Sanders may have just conducted a nine-hour filibuster, but the show is mainly about Ed, who often ignores the prompter and wings it. He unloads on incoming House Speaker John Boehner for tearing up during a 60 Minutes interview: “Do you think he cries for the unemployed in this country, or the people in America who saw their jobs shipped overseas?”
Schultz has little patience with those calling for greater civility. He savages his targets in a nightly “Psycho Talk” segment, calling Rush Limbaugh “the drugster,” Sarah Palin “Caribou Barbie,” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a “fat slob.” Rather than merely attack their ideology, Schultz says things like: “C'mon, Rush! Let's get it on!... Get away from your drugs. Go see the doctor and get some hearing. Maybe you could pick up a 19th girlfriend. Maybe you could try marriage again.” He has even said Limbaugh looks like Hitler.
Turns out the Rush grudge is personal. After the Today show did a story on him in 2004, Schultz recalls Limbaugh dismissing him as a $4-an-hour Fargo guy who would never make it. But in constantly carping on Limbaugh’s past addiction to painkillers, Schultz can sound as intolerant as any opponent.
“There are times I tell him he goes over the top and that TV is different than radio,” Griffin acknowledges. “A couple of times he’s crossed the line. I said, ‘Ed, you ran down the field 100 yards and you spiked the ball. Don’t spike the ball!’”
These days Schultz has been employing his invective against the White House, a stance he made clear during the presidential luncheon that also included the likes of Rachel Maddow, Arianna Huffington, and Frank Rich. The onetime conservative who lunged left is now frustrated by a president he finds insufficiently liberal.
“His willingness to compromise has taken a lot of liberals by surprise,” Schultz says over a salmon dinner after strolling in the snow without a coat. “I think you can be in disagreement with a president you support without being disrespectful or nasty or snide.”
Schultz, who first broke with Obama for dropping the public option from his health-care bill, tells viewers that “the Republicans have hoodwinked the president” on the tax deal and the process has been “un-American.” Such language allows him to avoid a frontal assault by painting Obama as misguided rather than malevolent.
One thing is certain: The hunter remains loaded for bear. “Not to get too grandiose about it,” he tells me after demolishing dinner, “but I really believe I’m saying things a lot of Americans want someone to say.”
Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.
Monday, December 20, 2010
On signing the tax-cut deal December 17, President Obama jubilantly declared "We are here with some good news for the American people this holiday season. This is progress and that's what they sent us here to achieve." So how have Republicans repaid Obama's willingness to meet them three-quarters of the way?
Bipartisanship evidently lasted about as long as the signing ceremony.
First Republicans refused to approve the routine stop-gap bill to keep the government funded at current levels pending the budget resolution and next round of appropriations. They killed the DREAM Act, for decent treatment of well-behaved children of undocumented immigrants. Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell squeaked through the senate with the votes of a few socially moderate Republicans defying their leadership.
The Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in a massive denial of reality, issued their own separate report, denying that the financial collapse had anything to do with deregulation or speculation. Coming along next is a set of Republican demands in the budget resolution for much deeper cutting of public outlay.
So it's clear that "bipartisanship," even on heavily Republican terms, produces no follow-through and no reciprocity. This is bipartisanship in the spirit of Neville Chamberlain. You give, and immediately they are after you for more.
It is astonishing how the Beltway echo-chamber, most egregiously the editorial page and news columns of the Washington Post (hard to tell the difference), thinks this deal is good for the Republic. The Post has become a cheerleader for policies that fail to cure the economy and show off Obama as a weakling waiting to be rolled again.
The tax deal, re-branded as a stimulus program, is paltry and ineffective as economic tonic. What hardly anyone seems to have grasped is that the deal basically continues the status quo with almost no stimulus.
If the tax rates on the books in 2010 did not produce a recovery, why should we expect that the very same rates will change the economy in 2011?
The deal not only continues 2010 income tax rates into 2011 and 2012. It actually increases estate taxes slightly, since estate taxes lapsed entirely for one year in 2010.
It also basically continues current unemployment benefits. Even the temporary 2-point tax break on Social Security taxes is a substitute for a more progressive and effective Obama tax break from the original stimulus of February 2009 that the Republicans refused to extend -- the Making Work Pay tax credit.
About the only new stimulus in the bill is a business tax break that increases the value of tax write-offs for new investment, valued at about $55 billion.
Does anyone seriously believe that a $55 billion net tax cut in a $15 trillion economy will have more than trivial effect?
Using Congressional Budget Office estimates of GDP growth, the deal might produce as many as two million jobs if businesses respond by investing more and consumers feel more confident about increasing their spending. Lovely, but the economy is currently short at least fifteen million jobs.
The small stimulus effect will soon be undermined by the spending cuts that are already the Republicans' next demand. Even the stopgap spending measure to continue spending next year at this year's levels, which Republicans just blocked, is already a cut when you factor in inflation. Deeper spending cuts, about to be imposed by incoming Republican House leaders, will overwhelm any stimulus effect of the tax deal.
Obama, according to well-placed sources, plans to introduce a "tax-simplification" scheme in the State of the Union address -- get rid of tax preferences and lower tax rates, as proposed by the Bowles-Simpson commission, with no net stimulative effect. This is a classic case of trying to change the subject. This might or might not be sensible policy depending on the specifics. But what ails the economy has little to do with the particulars of the tax code.
I don't understand how Obama's political advisers think this formula can produce his re-election. The tax deal was popular at a superficial level. Voters, when asked about the deal in a vacuum, apart from other economic issues, approve of bipartisan cooperation and they like tax relief when nothing else is on offer. (In that context, it's noteworthy that the one part of the tax deal that respondents to the ABC-Washington Post poll did not like was the temporary cut in payroll taxes. The vast majority of Americans don't want to weaken Social Security, even when the bait is tax relief.)
But such polls tell us nothing about the President's prospects for 2012. The 2010 off-year election was the second largest swing away from the incumbent party in the past 130 years (1930 produced a slightly worse swing against the Republicans), according to the political scientist Walter Dean Burnham. It was the worst mid-year swing against the Democrats ever.
Ground Zero of this disastrous defeat was the Midwest. This is hardly surprising, because the working middle class in the industrial heartland, which provisionally voted for Obama in 2008, is facing devastation in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 2010 swing there was huge. Without carrying the heartland of the Midwest, Obama does not stand a prayer of re-election, even if the broad public says it approves of his bipartisanship.
But bipartisanship to what end? There is simply no way that the combination of upwardly tilted and puny tax breaks, spending cuts, and a re-jiggering of tax rates and loopholes is going to make a serious dent in either unemployment rates or underwater housing values in the Midwest.
Joblessness and losses of household assets in these states will continue at depression levels, even if the national unemployment comes down modestly.
Obama and his advisers are left with the vain hope that Republicans will nominate someone so lunatic that Obama will somehow squeak through. But be careful what you wish for. I vividly remember 1980, when some Democrats cheered the nomination of Ronald Reagan because he was too rightwing to get elected.
The watershed year 2008 was a political moment when an incoming Democratic president had all the raw material for a dramatic break with the old order -- when Republicans, Wall Street, and laissez-faire ideology were primed to take a richly deserved fall for the economic collapse.
Obama chose not to pursue that course. Instead, he identified himself with reviving Wall Street and pursued a feckless bipartisanship and a feeble recovery program.
Last spring, Obama and his aides were on the road assuring everyone that the administration's economic program would produce a "Recovery Summer," which never came. Now, Obama is repeating the mistake. Adviser Larry Summers' valedictory message is that the even weaker tonic of the tax deal will somehow restore economic jobs and growth. Crying recovery, when recovery doesn't come, is even riskier than crying wolf.
Six months from now, when the economy is still in the doldrums, either Obama or some other Democrat had better stand up for a real economic recovery program -- or no Republican will be too grizzly to be elected president in 2012.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior fellow at Demos.
His latest book is A Presidency in Peril.