Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pelosi’s Challenge - Corraling Votes for a Health Bill

With Republicans unified in their opposition, Democrats are drafting plans to try on their own to pass a bill based on one Mr. Obama unveiled before his bipartisan health forum last week. His measure hews closely to the one passed by the Senate in December, but differs markedly from the one passed by the House.

That leaves Ms. Pelosi in the tough spot of trying to keep wavering members of her caucus on board, while persuading some who voted no to switch their votes to yes — all at a time when Democrats are worried about their prospects for re-election.

Representative Dennis Cardoza, Democrat of California, typifies the speaker’s challenge. The husband of a family practice doctor, he is intimately familiar with the failings of the American health care system. His wife “comes home every night,” he said, “angry and frustrated at insurance companies denying people coverage they have paid for.”

But as a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Mr. Cardoza is not convinced that Mr. Obama’s bill offers the right prescription. It lacks anti-abortion language he favors, and he does not think it goes far enough in cutting costs. So while he voted for the House version — “with serious reservations,” he said — he is now on the fence.

“I think we can do better,” Mr. Cardoza said of the president’s proposal.

Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., Democrat of Maryland, is also unconvinced. He voted against the House bill on the grounds that it is too big and too costly — a view that some constituents in his Republican-leaning district share. In case he did not get the message, one of them hanged him in effigy this past summer outside his district office on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

“This system is broken; we have to do something,” Mr. Kratovil said. “But my preference would be to do smaller things.”

Under the Democrats’ tentative plans, the House would pass the health care bill approved in December by the Senate, and both chambers would approve a separate package of changes using a parliamentary device known as budget reconciliation.

The tactic is intended to avoid a Republican filibuster, but in the Senate, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, faces challenges if he tries to use it. He is having trouble persuading a majority of his caucus to go along.

In the House, lawmakers like Mr. Kratovil, Mr. Cardoza and other swing Democrats will come under increasing scrutiny from leadership as a vote draws near. Of the 219 Democrats who initially voted in favor of the House measure, roughly 40 did so in part because it contained the so-called Stupak amendment, intended to discourage insurers from covering abortion.

Some, notably Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat for whom the amendment is named, will almost certainly switch their yes votes to no because the new version being pushed by Mr. Obama would strip out the House bill’s abortion restrictions in favor of Senate language that many of them consider unacceptable.

An additional 39, like Mr. Kratovil, are fiscal conservatives who voted no the first time around. Ms. Pelosi is hoping that she can get some to switch those no votes to yes in favor of Mr. Obama’s less expensive measure.

But persuading Democrats who are already on record as opposing a health overhaul to do a turnabout will not be an easy task, especially during a midterm election year in which Democrats’ political prospects already look bleak. Of the 39 Democrats who voted against the House measure, 31, including Mr. Kratovil, represent districts that were won in 2008 by Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival. Fourteen, including Mr. Kratovil, are freshmen, who are generally considered more politically vulnerable than more senior lawmakers.

“The concern among Democrats right now is that there are more yes votes reconsidering than no votes,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “My sense is that for Democrats to pass this bill, they would have to convince several members who are already in serious jeopardy, even after voting no on the first health care bill, to put passage of the bill ahead of their own chances of being competitive in the fall.”

But politicians do not want to be martyrs. They want to hold onto their seats.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

I'm more confident in the Speaker than the President's efforts on this. I hope PBO surprises and finally goes all out to get the last few votes.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Steven Pearlstein - It's past time for President Obama to show some leadership

It's a rotten time in Washington, and I'm not just talking about the snow. Health-care reform, financial regulation, the jobs bill, the long-term budget deficit, energy and climate change -- everywhere you turn, there's political stalemate. Poll numbers are plummeting, and many good people either have been reduced to shameless pandering (John McCain) or are simply giving up and going home (Byron Dorgan, Evan Bayh, Billy Tauzin).

While we're passing out the blame, however, let's not forget a heaping helping for the public. I can genuflect with the best of them before "the basic decency and wisdom of the American people," but the truth is that on many issues these days, the American people are badly confused.

They want Wall Street to be reined in, but they're dead set against more regulation.

They want everyone to have access to affordable health insurance, but they're wary of expanding the role of government.

They want the government to do something to create jobs, but not if it involves spending more money.

They want the federal deficit brought under control, but not if it means cutting entitlement spending or raising taxes.

They want to do something about global warming, but not if it raises energy prices.

We think we know how the public feels about these issues because of the number of e-mails that arrive on Capitol Hill, the temperature of the comments on cable television or talk radio, and the results of recent polls. But in reality, these are not the definitive political judgments of the American people, nor will they dictate voting behavior in November.

Believe it or not, outside Washington, Americans don't spend much time debating whether there ought to be a public option in the health insurance market, or whether consumer protection should be separated from bank supervision, or whether terrorists ought to be tried in criminal courts or by military tribunals. They expect that such issues will be decided by elected officials who understand their sometimes conflicting values and desires and use good judgment in resolving them.

Viewed in that context, the current political disarray need not be an insurmountable problem for President Obama, but rather could represent a golden opportunity to demonstrate the leadership the country needs and craves. He will not demonstrate that leadership by running around to carefully staged events in which he tells ordinary voters what he thinks they want to hear. Nor will he demonstrate it by redoubling efforts of his PR war room to respond to every attack or piece of Republican disinformation with overwhelming rhetorical force. Rather, the real challenge is whether the president can strengthen the bond of trust between himself and the American people by having the courage to tell the hard truths and make the hard decisions, irrespective of short-term political consequences and the tut-tutting of the commentariat.

The irony is that only by doing that which may be unpopular and unpolitic can the president revive his longer-run political fortunes.

Over the past year, Obama's singular mistake was to think he could rely on the Democratic leadership and a Democratic majority in Congress to deliver on his electoral mandate. Caught in crossfire between the House and Senate, liberals and centrists, Democratic special interests and independent voters, he wound up raising too much doubt about his most fundamental promise -- to change the way business is done in Washington. Worse still, he wound up convincing members of Congress that he needed them more than they needed him.

It should be obvious now that the president cannot leave it to Congress to sort things out. They can't and they won't, as evidenced most recently by the Senate fiasco involving the so-called jobs bill. For the next several months, he needs to create a sense of urgency and expectation, consulting widely and privately with Republicans and Democrats and interested parties who care more about getting things done than winning the next election. Based on those conversations and his own sense of what the public will accept, he needs to put forward a set of compromise proposals on jobs, health care, financial reform and the budget. And then he needs to park himself in the President's Room at the Capitol, along with top aides and Cabinet members, and refuse to leave until he has put together working majorities for each proposal -- with the help of legislative leaders if possible, but without them if necessary.

By July 4, it will be over. He will have either a legislative record that ensures continuation of a working majority in Congress or a legitimate grievance that he can take to the voters in November in search of one. Either way, he'll be in a better place politically than he is now.

This Presidents' Day week, we celebrate the leadership of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who confronted far worse division and dissent in their times. The reason we remember them as great presidents is that they threw off the yoke of party loyalty, defied popular opinion and used the full weight of their office to do what had to be done. They understood, or came to understand, an important truth: that only after they had demonstrated that they were willing to lead, and lead boldly, were the people willing to follow and drag Congress along with them.

It turns out that successful political leadership is not about this strategy or that tactic or where you place yourself on the left-right ideological spectrum. What it's mostly about is character.

Make it plain, Steven.

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Obama stays on offense with health-care proposal

That decision -- to go big one last time, rather than small -- emerged quickly inside the White House after senior advisers to President Obama concluded privately that his goals for comprehensive changes to the health-care system could not be done piecemeal.

And after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama's chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year's elections for failing to try, they said.

"This is a big, long-term threat to families, businesses and the solvency of the country," senior adviser David Axelrod said, describing the thinking inside the West Wing. "And we've come a long way. And this is an opportunity to try and complete it and deal with a problem that we know is only going to get worse."

Obama's top aides say they recognize the risk for the president if this latest effort fails, providing more ammunition to Republicans that the party in power cannot govern effectively. By once again embracing comprehensive reform, Obama could help the Republican narrative that he wants a government takeover of health care.

GOP reaction

Reaction Monday was swift and blunt from GOP leaders, who had been making the case for weeks that the president should scrap the previous bills and start over. They said Obama's latest move represented more of the same problematic policies that Democrats in Congress had been pushing for months.

"The longer Washington sticks with its failed approach to health care, the longer Americans have to wait for the real, step-by-step reforms that will actually lower costs and lead to a better system," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Monday.

But White House advisers said they concluded weeks ago that there was still a narrow path to legislative and political victory -- either by securing a modest amount of bipartisan support at a live, televised summit on Thursday or, more likely, by using parliamentary maneuvers to pass the legislation in the Senate without needing 60 votes.

On Capitol Hill, it took longer to come to accept that view, according to legislative and White House sources. Democratic members worried that they, too, might fall to the populist anger that swept Brown into office. And polling out of Massachusetts suggested that even voters who were wary of health-care changes wanted bipartisan cooperation -- and did not want Brown to be a roadblock.

"The White House position was not to push [legislators] -- let them come to it," said a senior Democratic strategist who has advised the president and his team on health-care strategy. "It was clearly one that members had to be given the space to come to this decision."

A senior Democratic Senate aide described this week's efforts as a welcome "attempt to try and change the story line" on health care, which he said had become mired in the legislative process. He said the president is trying to demonstrate that he is willing to go the "last mile" to get it done.

"Now that we've gotten a plan, we're going to need the active and ongoing engagement of the White House and the president," the aide said, reflecting a view among Democratic lawmakers that Obama has been slow to lead on the contentious issue. "They're not just going to be able to dump it on us." In the House, particularly, Democratic leaders are not assured of the votes they need for passage.

After hinting for weeks that he would pivot exclusively to jobs this year, Obama has also bet that success on health care will help repair some of the damage to his reputation from a bruising, year-long legislative battle that called into question his commitment to transparency, open debate and reform.

Shaping the debate

After Obama's question-and-answer session with House Republicans last month was met with a surprisingly favorable reaction, White House officials saw a potential opening for the president to step in and shape the debate. It fit a familiar pattern: Repeatedly, as a candidate and as president, Obama had delegated a difficult task to others and, after watching them falter, attempted a rescue himself, leaning heavily on his intellect and rhetorical skills.

"That's a big promissory note that's out there," said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Now he has to redeem it. He has to fight for it. That means he has to do a lot of one-on-one advocacy. It's not going to be enough to receive groups of people ceremoniously."

Now, the White House is working to sell the president's plan as a reasonable compromise that bridges differences between the House and Senate versions and includes select ideas from Republicans. And they hope that, even if it fails, the new push can put Republicans on the defensive.

Well before the Thursday summit, which will be broadcast live on television, White House officials are making the case that Republicans must bring their own alternatives if they object to the Obama plan -- or risk being portrayed as obstructionists.

"I've seen, certainly, comments where folks have said, 'We should go just to tell everybody why this is a bad idea.' Well, that's great," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "I just hope that the second page of the talking points that those guys, that any individual, would bring on that would be to list what you would do."

The White House's best hope -- perhaps its only hope -- is that Obama can use a masterful performance during the six-hour appearance to "stiffen the spine" of congressional Democrats, one senior official said, persuading them to pass health-care legislation using the mechanism known as reconciliation, which requires a simple majority of 51 rather than 60 votes to prevail in the Senate.

Reconciliation had once been seen as a risky maneuver that Republicans could use against Democrats in the fall midterm elections, portraying it as a partisan move. Now, White House officials say, it is the likeliest outcome if they hope to advance anything resembling the health-care proposals already on the table.

"This is our last, best hope for comprehensive health-care reform," sad a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about the Thursday summit, which is being described as a "starting point" rather than an end phase.

As one senior administration official put it, "this is like the 'last exit for gas' sign on the interstate."

Now that the White House is committed, can the Dems get HCR done? Please, do.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

White Sorority Wins Sprite Step-Off Competition | News One

Dang. I mean go girls.

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The Fix - Charlie Cook: "Very hard" to see how Democrats keep House

Extraordinary. I hope it is not true, but how far the Dems have fallen for this to be even uttered.

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How Paul Krugman found politics : The New Yorker

Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world,” he wrote in 2007. Krugman supported John Edwards, for his emphasis on poverty, for his ambitious health-care plan, and for his rough talk about attacking the interests of the wealthy. After Edwards dropped out, he supported Hillary Clinton. She wasn’t as left as Edwards was, but at least she was a fighter, and she obviously had no illusions about bipartisan harmony.

Worth reading for his analysis of PBO.

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Thiessen Appears On 'Morning Joe', Is Still Demonstrably Wrong About Everything

Here's your daily reminder that Marc Thiessen is basically wrong about everything and has a near-erotic attachment to the thought of people getting tortured. This morning, Thiessen went on "Morning Joe" where, freed from having to talk to Lawrence O'Donnell, he just straight-up demonstrated a lack of understanding of current events.

Spencer Ackerman has a succinct summary of the blow-by-blow in the Washington Independent:

His first point is that President Obama is endangering the country because the Pakistanis aren't getting intelligence from captured Taliban deputy commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. What he doesn't mention is that intelligence from Baradar, reportedly, directly led to the capture of Mulvi Kabir, one of the ten most wanted Taliban leaders. This was reported yesterday and Thiessen just ignores it.

Then he avers that Obama's rejection of torture has cost U.S. interrogators "any tools at our disposal" to "compel" information out of terrorist captures. Except that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber of Northwest Flight 253, is cooperating with his interrogators after they used pressure from his family to compel that cooperation. Also, the elite interrogators of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group will surely be surprised to hear they have no available tools for interrogating a resistant detainee. Then he says that torture stopped an attempted attack on the Los Angeles library tower, a misstatement that has been so thoroughly debunked it raises questions about Thiessen's honesty.


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I've little else to add to this, other than to say that the whole set-up to this segment is just so insulting to viewers that it's difficult to stomach. Scarborough references Thiessen's battle with O'Donnell as a ratings-garnering "trainwreck" that he "loves," and sets up this segment as some stupid, entirely trivial battle, complete with boxing bells. I share Ackerman's irritation with the way Scarborough belittlingly refers to Ali Soufan as "a guy who writes an awful lot." Thiessen is a guy who writes an awful lot. By contrast, Ali Soufan has had hands-on experience keeping America safe. The fact that "Morning Joe" gets all of this backwards, privileging the trivial over the serious, is just a miserable thing to watch.

What an effing joke. Even putting aside any critical concerns over Thiessen's scholarship or accuracy, it's a conversation about terrorism and national security. It's sort of hard to accept that it's a matter of serious import when the news treats it as if it were "The Marriage Ref."

Marc Thiessen Truly Has No Idea What He's Talking About on Interrogation [The Washington Independent]

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Joe Scarborough has joined the right wing loonies.

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Census rule change fuels debate about counting inmates - Chicago Breaking News

This month, the Census Bureau gave Illinois and other states the ability to decide the matter, and a Chicago-area lawmaker responded with a bill proposing to make the change to hometowns. Proponents argue it is a matter not only of money but democratic equality, but downstate lawmakers retort that the money is needed for infrastructure around the prisons.

"It isn't fair for certain communities to reap a benefit that they don't deserve just because these people are in jail on one given day," said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

The majority of Illinois' 45,000 inmates are actually from Cook County, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections, but they have swelled the population of Dixon, Vandalia and other rural prison towns.

About 30 percent of the residents of Brown County along the Missouri border, for example, are inmates at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling.

The fight over population foreshadows next year's larger clash over redrawing boundaries for congressional and legislative districts, based on population shifts uncovered by the census. Those once-a-decade clashes are typically filled with partisan maneuvering.

The debate over prisoners also has a racial component. The Illinois Department of Corrections reports that about 60 percent of inmates are African-American, while most prisons are in rural, predominantly white areas.

Dale Ho, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said African-American communities are especially sensitive because their political strength is diluted if their populations are dispersed. The Rev. Al Sharpton helped kick off a similar push to change the inmate-counting formula in New York.

"It is an issue of racial justice," Ho said.

Because of the traditional way of inmate counting, Cook County suffered a net loss of about 26,000 people in the 2000 Census, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

To facilitate a change, census officials also agreed to accelerate its breakout of prison populations to May 2011 so states would have the data in time for redistricting. In the past, the inmate count would come too late to be considered.

Ford said the change would be only fair for his district because some prisoners serving short sentences will return before the end of the decade. The Austin community on Chicago's West Side, part of Ford's district, was the largest destination for ex-offenders in 2001, according to the Urban Institute.

Ford worries that social-service agencies that help rehabilitate those ex-prisoners will not be able to raise necessary funds if there is not an accurate count that reflects their ties to the neighborhood.

To ease concerns that the new approach would give an unfair advantage to the prisoners' hometowns, Ford said he would introduce an amendment to allow prison towns to count inmates serving sentences longer than 10 years.

Ho said the NAACP would support a compromise in which inmates would be counted but not factored into the redistricting equation.

State Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Highland whose district near St. Louis has the sixth-highest proportion of state prisoners, said the bill is merely a grab for money and clout. Stephens said downstate Democrats are already joining Republicans in organizing opposition to the bill.

"Rep. Ford would get the money but the folks I represent would be taking care of the prisoners," Stephens said. "It's a horrible public policy change. The system is fair now."

--Oscar Avila

Congrats, Rep Ford for moving this legislation forward.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rendell: Obama Botched The Stimulus Sales Job

Gov. Ed Rendell said on Sunday that the Obama administration had botched the messaging wars when it came to selling its economic agenda and that it would be hard for the White House to regain the upper hand.

Appearing on ABC's This Week, the Pennsylvania Democrat said it was ironic that "the best communicator in the history of political campaigning turned out in his first year in office to not communicate very well." He was referring, specifically, to what went wrong when it came to selling the president's stimulus package.

"They let the Republicans take the spin right from the beginning," said Rendell. "The stimulus got beat up before one dollar was spent. What I would have done...I would have had him make a speech to the nation, break down what stimulus because a lot of the stimulus, it wasn't job creation, but was safety net. But not a safety net for people on welfare, a safety net for hardworking Americans who lost their jobs, extending unemployment benefit. Is there anybody in the Congress -- Republicans aren't going to raise their hands and vote against that, right? Everybody is in favor of that. That was an important component of the stimulus. COBRA, health care benefits, for people who lost their jobs. But we never explained it from the get go and we lost the spin war. The stimulus has done a great job for America, but we lost the spin war. And once you lose it, it's hard to get it back."

When reflecting on an unpopular policy, it's always easy to blame the message rather than the policy itself (often to the great lament of the press shop working on the issue). In regards to the stimulus, however, Rendell's point has been echoed by many others. Had the plan been pitched for what it was -- a lifeline for a drowning economy rather than catalyst for the jobs market -- the ability for the GOP to make political hay would be greatly diminished.

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Make it plain, Gov

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Black farmers win $1.25 billion in discrimination suit

Op-Ed Columnist - Falling Further Behind

Harrisburg, Pa.

One section of the Maytown Elementary School in rural Maytown, Pa., was built in 1861. Another section was built in the late-1920s. There’s a time clock in the ancient gym that was donated by the class of 1946.

This is a school that could use an update. No, scratch that. It needs to be replaced.

Shelly Riedel, superintendent of the Donegal School District, which includes Maytown, told me that teachers can’t mount smart boards in their classrooms because of the asbestos “encapsulated” behind the walls. The asbestos is not dangerous as long as the walls are not disturbed. The electricity is not particularly reliable. A teacher who is using, say, an overhead projector has to check to make sure that other teachers are not using similar devices at the same time as that might cause an outage.

There is no air conditioning. And there is no money right now to replace the school, which has an enrollment of 237.

You can travel the United States and find comparable, or worse, conditions in schools throughout the country. It’s part of the overwhelming problem of maintaining and modernizing American infrastructure. It’s hard to even get good data on the physical condition of the nation’s schools. But Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, has said that 75 percent of the public schools have structural deficiencies and 25 percent have problems with their ventilation systems.

The Donegal district is planning to build a bare-bones regional high school with money from its general budget. The existing school, which was built in 1954, has many problems, including a sewage system that saw its best days when names like Eisenhower and Kennedy were on the mailbox at the White House. The proposal for the new high school does not even include an athletic field for the kids.

Getting the nation’s schools up to date is an enormous problem, but it’s only a small part of the overall infrastructure challenge. In Pennsylvania, a state in which the governor, Ed Rendell, is all but obsessed with infrastructure, there are still thousands of bridges that either need a lot of work or should be replaced.

Fifty-one miles of Interstate 95, the main north-south highway on the East Coast, make their way through southeastern Pennsylvania. Construction of the highway began more than a half-century ago, before Barack Obama was born. Rina Cutler, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for transportation and utilities, noted that long stretches of I-95 are now reaching the end of their useful life and will have to be rebuilt.

In a report titled “Just Because You Ignore It Doesn’t Make It Go Away,” Ms. Cutler wrote:

“These stretches require reconstruction that is conservatively estimated to cost $6 billion to $10 billion over the next two decades. This badly needed investment could be expected to support tens of thousands of jobs over that period. The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion of investment in the Federal Highway Aid program generates 42,100 full-time equivalent jobs.”

Schools, highways, the electric grid, water systems, ports, dams, levees — the list can seem endless — have to be maintained, upgraded, rebuilt or replaced if the U.S. is to remain a first-class nation with a first-class economy over the next several decades. And some entirely new infrastructure systems will have to be developed.

But these systems have to be paid for, and right now there are not enough people at the higher echelons of government trying to figure out the best ways to raise the enormous amounts of money that will be required, and the most responsible ways of spending that money. And there are not enough leaders explaining to the public how heavy this lift will be, and why it is so necessary, and what sacrifices will be required to get the job properly done.

In an era of historically high budget deficits, the case has to be made that this is not wasteful spending but essential investments that will yield powerful returns. “If you’re not willing to invest,” said Governor Rendell, “you have to be willing to accept an inferior product. That’s the danger we’re facing.”

There are sound ideas available for raising the money to rebuild America’s infrastructure. These include, most prominently, a proposed national infrastructure bank, which would allocate public funds and also leverage private capital for the most important projects. In the absence of a national bank, it might be possible to establish regional infrastructure banks.

The point is that top government leaders should be seeking as many solid and creative ideas as possible, with the goal of moving with dispatch on the best ones. The only thing at stake is the economic future of the United States.

More Articles in Opinion » A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2010, on page A17 of the New York edition.

What's wrong with us?

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The Washington Monthly

PETRAEUS NOT READING FROM GOP SCRIPT.... Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, hasn't exactly been helpful to the far-right cause of late. As conservative Republicans have pushed for keeping Gitmo open, torturing terrorist suspects, and ending civilian trials for accused terrorists, the four-star general has voiced his agreement with President Obama's position on all of these issues.

On "Meet the Press" this morning, Petraeus continued to reject the positions of the Republican Party's dominant Cheney-wing, distancing himself from, among other things, torture.

"I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we've perhaps taken expedient measures, they've turned around and bitten us in the backside. We decided early on, in the 101st airborne division, we just said, we decided to obey the Geneva Conventions...

"In the cases where that is not true [where torture takes place or international human rights groups aren't granted access to detention sites] we end up paying a price for it, ultimately," he added. "Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non biodegradable. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.... Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of interrogation methods in the army field manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works."

Petraeus wasn't done there. In another contrast with former Vice President Cheney -- as well as the vast majority of congressional Republicans -- he reiterated his support for closing Gitmo, albeit without a date-specific time frame.

None of this is new. Petraeus, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, has been on the same page as the Commander in Chief for over a year now. (Petraeus hedged on DADT repeal, saying he'd share his personal opinions with Congress.)

But it is a reminder that the right-wing GOP stands at odds with the American military establishment -- including arguably the decorated general they claim to revere -- on the key national security issues of the day.

It prompted Spencer Ackerman to ask Liz Cheney a question in an open letter. After noting that Petraeus positioned himself far from the positions she holds dear, Spencer wrote:

But hey. You're a former deputy assistant secretary of state! You obviously know better than the man who implemented the surge in Iraq. Why don't you enlighten Gen. Petraeus about all the glories of torture? And since you consider "enhanced interrogation" so necessary to secure the country, perhaps there's a full-page ad you'll take out in a major newspaper?

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

Again, despite having the facts on our side, in this case, being right on main national security issues; in other cases, including the fact the Obama administration has decreased taxes for 95% of Americans, and the benefits of HCR for the economy as well as individuals.... the Dems continue to act like the losers, conceding before they even make their proposals, getting tangled up in things most people don't care about like getting Repub votes, deficit reduction during a recession etc. Let's let the remaining months in 2010 be about dramatic Dem initiatives starting with HCR with a public option, a real jobs bill that creates lots of jobs, banking and consumer reforms, and getting them passed. OK, and some leadership from the White House, no backroom deals and standing above the fray.

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Ursula Burns, Aiming to Redefine the Xerox Culture

Orlando, Fla.

Skip to next paragraph

Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Ursula M. Burns, the chief executive of Xerox, says she wants its employees to take more initiative and be more fearless and frank with one another. Niceness, she says, has its limits.


At Xerox, a Transition for the Record Books (May 22, 2009)

Times Topics: Ursula M. Burns

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Anne M. Mulcahy, left, was Xerox's C.E.O. before Ursula Burns, right. They worked together closely for years and built what both call a true partnership.

HUNDREDS of Xerox sales reps have flown here from around the country for an annual pump-up-the-troops meeting. The main attraction during a marathon day is a face both familiar and new: Ursula Burns. She’s an old friend to many of them, and there are plenty of hugs to go around for the people she’s grown up with during her 30 years at the company.

But there is also a new distance, a new curiosity about what she will do, given that she is no longer just Ursula.

She is Ursula M. Burns, the C.E.O. And even though she became chief executive in July, taking the baton from Anne M. Mulcahy, she has been keeping a low profile, spending months working on the details of a huge Xerox bet, the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, an outsourcing company.

So her speeches and drop-ins on breakout sessions here are a mix of state-of-the-union messages and coming-out parties. At a meeting with some high-potential managers, she’s asked about the legacy she hopes to leave at Xerox. “It’s all about growth,” she says. “It’s all about getting bigger.”

Asked what has surprised her about her new job, she mentions the flood of attention when she was promoted. Her elevation marked two milestones: the first time an African-American woman was named C.E.O. of a major American corporation, and the first time a woman succeeded another woman in the top job at a company of this size. She tells the group that she briefly enjoyed the spotlight but grew to like it significantly less.

“The accolades that I get for doing absolutely nothing are amazing — I’ve been named to every list, literally, since I became the C.E.O.,” Ms. Burns says. Apart from working on the Affiliated Computer acquisition, she asks, “What have I done? In the first 30 days, I was named to a list of the most impressive XYZ. The accolades are good for five minutes, but then it takes kind of a shine off the real story. The real story is not Ursula Burns. I just happen to be the person standing up at this point representing Xerox.”

It’s a fair point, and one that might be true at many other big corporations, where the mission is set and the C.E.O. is more of a caretaker.

But the story line at Xerox has always had a little more depth and texture — the bedrock American company whose name became an everyday verb; the convulsive drama after the board’s decision to bring in an outsider to take over as C.E.O. in the late ‘90s; the five-alarm rescue by Ms. Mulcahy, another Xerox lifer, to stabilize the company and to heal the wounds in the “Xerox family.”

And so, while the Xerox story is not all about Ursula Burns, it is still a lot about her, particularly because there are few visible seams between who she is as a person, her life story and how she plans to lead Xerox. She is taking over at a time when investors are eager to see Xerox build both revenue and earnings. She wants its 130,000 employees to get over the past, take more initiative, become more fearless and be more frank and impatient with one another to ratchet up performance.

“Terminal niceness,” is how she describes an aspect of Xerox’s culture, during her all-hands speech. “We are really, really, really nice.”

Maybe the “Xerox family,” she says, should act a bit more like a real family.

“When we’re in the family, you don’t have to be as nice as when you’re outside of the family,” she says. “I want us to stay civil and kind, but we have to be frank — and the reason we can be frank is because we are all in the same family.”

Nods of recognition ripple across the audience.

“We know it. We know what we do,” she continues, describing meetings where some people present and others just listen. “And then the meeting ends, and we leave and go, ‘Man, that wasn’t true.’ I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you say that in the meeting?’ ”

BY all accounts, Ms. Burns, who is 51, has never been shy about speaking her mind. It’s how she wound up working alongside Xerox’s top leaders at an early age.

She studied mechanical engineering both in college and in graduate school and joined Xerox as a summer intern in 1980. Through her 20s, she worked in various roles in product development and planning.

In 1989, she was invited to a work-life discussion. Diversity initiatives came up, and somebody asked whether such initiatives lowered hiring standards. Wayland Hicks, a senior Xerox executive running the meeting, patiently explained that that was not true.

“I was stunned,” Ms. Burns recalls. “I actually told him, ‘I was surprised that you gave this assertion any credence.’ “ After the meeting, she revisited the issue with Mr. Hicks, and a few weeks later he asked her to meet with him in his office. She figured that she was about to be reprimanded or fired.

Instead, Mr. Hicks told her she had been right to be concerned but also wrong for handling it so forcefully. Then he told her he wanted to meet regularly with her.

“She was enormously curious,” Mr. Hicks remembers. “She wanted to know why we were doing some things at the time, and she was always prepared in a way that I thought was very refreshing.”

He offered her a job as his executive assistant. It was January 1990, she was 31, and the offer felt like a dead-end. “Why would I ever want to do that?” she answered, assuming that the title meant secretary. The job was much more, of course. She would travel with Mr. Hicks, sit in on important meetings, help get things done.

She accepted, and, Mr. Hicks remembers, they talked a lot about leadership. Mr. Hicks, a vice president overseeing marketing and customer operations, explained the need to manage people in different ways, not to intimidate them, and to make them feel comfortable by listening carefully.

As she absorbed some of these lessons, Ms. Burns continued to speak her mind inside Xerox — particularly on an occasion in mid-1991 when the stakes were unusually high. At the time, Paul A. Allaire, Xerox’s president, held monthly meetings with top managers, and Ms. Burns and other assistants were invited to sit in (but off to the side).

Ms. Burns noticed a pattern. Mr. Allaire would announce, “We have to stop hiring.” But then the company would hire 1,000 people. The next month, same thing. So she raised her hand.

“I’m a little confused, Mr. Allaire,” she said. “If you keep saying, ‘No hiring,’ and we hire 1,000 people every month, who can say ‘No hiring’ and make it actually happen?”

She remembers that he stared at her with a “Why did you ask that question?” look and then the meeting moved on.

Later, the phone rang. Mr. Allaire wanted to see her in his office. She figured that it was not good news. But Mr. Allaire wanted to poach her from Mr. Hicks, so she could be his executive assistant.

They, too, would talk about leadership during down time. He didn’t want to discourage her candor, but, like Mr. Hicks, he offered tips about how to be more effective — “like giving people credit for ideas that they didn’t have, but you sold to them, to give them ownership,” Mr. Allaire recalls advising her.

After working for Mr. Allaire, Ms. Burns spent much of the 1990s building a track record leading teams in areas like the fax business and office network printing . She was named vice president for global manufacturing in 1999.

She no longer had to speak so loudly to be noticed within Xerox, or on the outside. Headhunters started calling.

ROUGHLY a decade ago, Xerox was in turmoil, the result of misguided strategy shifts, a bloated bureaucracy, a boardroom drama, mountains of debt, a plummeting stock, bankruptcy rumors and the Securities and Exchange Commission crawling all over the company about accounting irregularities.

Ms. Burns decided to leave in 2000.

“It was not because of more money,” she says. “It was just, ‘What’s going on here? What is this place?’ ”

Once she told her bosses, she was surprised to find out how much they valued her. Board members told her that abandoning Xerox would be like leaving a sick spouse. If she left, they said, others would take it as a sign that the company was unsalvageable.

“I think that was the first time I said, ‘Oh, maybe at some point I could actually become the C.E.O.,’ ” she said.

She was named a senior vice president in 2000 and became president of two different business groups over the next two years. Ms. Mulcahy told Ms. Burns that she needed her help on the turnaround team. The pair worked closely together for almost a decade in a relationship that both women describe as a true partnership.

Ms. Burns was named president of Xerox in 2007, a signal to investors and employees that she was the heir apparent. Ms. Mulcahy started giving her more pointed leadership advice.

“On my face, you could tell everything in 30 seconds,” Ms. Burns says. “You could tell exasperation. You could tell fed-up-ness. She said, ‘You have to develop more of a poker face because people will watch you for everything.’ ”

She got other frank advice along the way — about polish, patience, perspective and the importance of building “followership” across the organization — from other mentors, including Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the power lawyer and former Xerox director, and Kenneth I. Chenault, the chief executive of American Express.

In July of last year, she was named C.E.O. She knew that she had completely misread the public reaction when her cellphone started ringing from people like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Magic Johnson. She had no idea how they had gotten her number.

“I don’t even know Magic Johnson,” she says.

She and Ms. Mulcahy agreed early on that they would be smart and gracious in the transition, with Ms. Burns putting her own stamp on the company in a way that was deferential to the work of Ms. Mulcahy, who remains chairwoman.

During her tenure, Ms. Mulcahy focused on cleaning up the balance sheet, strengthening ties to customers and getting out of commodity businesses like desktop printers.

As she was putting the house in order, Xerox was moving upmarket, into more profitable services — broader contracts to handle all of a big corporate customer’s business processes, for example. That’s what led to Xerox’s bid for Affiliated Computer.

But Xerox urgently needs to build revenue (sales dropped 14 percent, to $15.2 billion, in 2009) and to perk up its stock price, which remains below $10 a share after spending a long stretch of the last decade above that mark.

That’s given Ms. Burns license to pound the table for more-better-faster.

“I was fortunate that we had an economic crisis right when I was taking over,” she says. “I’m serious. Without that, it would be significantly more touchy.”

All the leadership advice she’s received through the years is now being put to the test. Some of it she has decided to ignore.

“One of the things that I was told early on is that you should never let them see you sweat,” she says. “I remember hearing that and saying: ‘Oh, my God! I think that they have to see you sweat.’ “

“I cannot be viewed as the solution to all problems in this company,” she adds.

She has also punted advice that she adjust her speaking style. It was too New York, people told her — too fast, too informal. Instead, she makes sure that her speeches sound like her and avoid the use of $10 words — like, she says, “bespoke.”

“What I realized was I have to know my content and know what I want to say, and be significantly less concerned about how I say it,” she says. “I can’t try to say it in somebody else’s voice. I have to say it in my voice.”

In her biggest speech of the day to the sales reps in Orlando, she talks about “fearlessness.”

“That doesn’t mean recklessness,” she says. “This is something I live by all the time and one of the things I want to change.”

“Decide,” she implores the group. “Do things.”

She is adjusting to life as C.E.O. She used to roll up her sleeves with colleagues to puzzle through messy problems. Now people come to her with solutions.

“People actually believe that before they come to you that they have to have perfection,” she notes. “I get the neatest presentations in the world.”

Ms. Burns is now building her team. She sets a clear hurdle for anyone Xerox is considering from the outside. By the time candidates get to her, their skills have been thoroughly vetted. But she asks this main question: “What is it that you see in this company that you love — that you can love — you can grow to love?”

And if you ask her for a new assignment, a promotion into a new role, you’re likely to hear the speech she first heard long ago from Mr. Hicks about “getting to zero” with a job.

To explain, she picks up a piece of paper and draws a line across it. She shades an area below the left end of the line.

“When you start the job, whatever it is, you have to find out who the secretary is, where the bathrooms are, who your teammates are,” she says. “Trust me, for a lot of time you are operating below zero.”

She then points to the middle stretch of the line.

“This is when most people want to leave a job,” she adds. “They say: ‘I’m done. I know everything. I’m done.’ But think about that. If you left there, basically all this area under the curve, which is negative, which is take-away, you owe the company all of that. Then you do this for six more months, and you can operate the place smoothly, but you haven’t really transformed it in the ways that you can help to transform it.”

She starts shading an area above the line to the right. That represents what a manager is expected to contribute — what to give back — after absorbing all of the training and experience that exists below the left side of the line. The balance amounts to “getting to zero.”

“You can only leave after you put in as much above the curve as under the curve. Unfortunately, that usually takes more than a day, and it takes a couple years,” Ms. Burns says. “People would come in to me and say: ‘You put me in this developmental assignment. I know how to run the place now. Thank you. Can I go to the next one?’ I say: ‘Well, how about all the stuff that you owe us? How about getting settled in for a little while longer and then start to transform it?’ ”

AFTER a long day in Orlando, Ms. Burns settles into her seat on the corporate jet for the two-hour flight home.

Despite the long day, she’s up for more questions. What were her big influences before she joined Xerox? The answer, she says, is “150 percent my mother. My mother was pragmatic, focused and extremely, exceedingly practical, and she was the ultimate self-determining person.”

Her family (her father was never in her life) lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan — “when it was really bad, when the gangs were there and the drug addicts were there.”

Her mother made ends meet by looking after other children. She also ironed shirts for a doctor who lived down the street and cleaned his office, bartering for things like medicine and even cleaning supplies. She had many sayings — and she repeated them, often in blunt terms, over and over.

“Where you are is not who you are,” she would tell Ms. Burns and her brother and sister. “Don’t act like you’re from the gutter because you live in a place that’s really close to the gutter.”

There were clear expectations.

“She was very, very black-and-white and very clear about what responsibilities we had,” Ms. Burns recalls. “One was that we had to be good people. And the second thing is that we had to be successful. And so her words for success were, ‘You have to give’ — and she would say this all the time — ‘more than you take away from the world.’ ”

Her mother, who died before she could see her daughter rise to the top at Xerox, also insisted that her children get a college education. “You have to learn and you have to be curious,” she would say. “You have to perform at your best. You have to worry about the things you can control. Don’t become a victim.”

It was a theme that Ms. Burns herself touched on in her talks to Xerox employees earlier in the day. The lousy economy, the past dramas at Xerox — it was time to move on. She repeated one of her mother’s sayings to them: “Stuff happens to you, and then there’s stuff that you happen to.”

Grammarians might take issue with the phrasing, but the message stuck.

“Stuff that happens to you, please, let’s talk about it for five minutes, and you can cry, and let’s go through that, the healing process,” she says. “But then it’s kind of done. I can’t hear about that two years from now.”

Ms. Burns has a lot more money now than she did as a child. As president in 2008, she was paid $887,500 in salary, a $554,688 bonus and about $4 million in stock, according to an S.E.C. filing. (Her pay for 2009 is not yet public.)

Even so, she’ll still show up in line at the grocery store in Rochester, where she’s lived for roughly 25 of her 30 years with Xerox (and where the company has more than 7,000 workers). She lives there with her husband, Lloyd Bean, and teenage daughter, Melissa — her son, Malcolm, is a junior at M.I.T., studying nuclear sciences and math — when she’s not working out of Xerox headquarters in Norwalk, Conn. Neighbors at home sometimes do a double-take when they see her at the store.

“They say to me all the time, ‘You shop for yourself?’ And I say, ‘Exactly who would be shopping for me?’ ”

A housekeeper comes in just once a week, and Ms. Burns will often do the laundry herself, knowing that it sends a good message to her daughter, a high school senior. “There’s a little bit of this childhood kind of poverty — you know, pragmatism — that you never can get rid of.”

It’s close to 11 p.m., and the jet touches down in White Plains. Leaving the small corporate-jet terminal with her luggage, she walks toward a black Mercedes that is idling at the sidewalk. She walks past it — it’s waiting for someone else on another plane — and heads to her own car in a nearby parking lot. She grabs her keys, loads her bag in the back and drives herself home.

Next Article in Business (2 of 31) » A version of this article appeared in print on February 21, 2010, on page BU1 of the New York edition.

Being the best.

Posted via web from Brian's posterous

Op-Ed Columnist - The Fat Lady Has Sung

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Skip to next paragraph
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

Welcome to the lean years.

Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Let’s just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called “The Grasshopper Generation,” eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be “The Regeneration” — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energizes and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

President Obama’s bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can’t come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to “rent” a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.

They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.

So “Obamism” feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America’s still vast potential for greatness.

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd are off today.

Next Article in Opinion (1 of 29) » A version of this article appeared in print on February 21, 2010, on page WK8 of the New York edition.

I too am surprised about PBO's inability to craft a winning narrative. Like many I think he has the right skills, values, etc. but I agree with Friedman his programs seem like less than he promised, our than what we need.

Posted via web from Brian's posterous

All Haitian 'orphans' with Baptists had parents

In the rubble-riddled Citron slum where 13 of the children lived, parents who gave their children away confirmed Saturday that each one of the youngsters had living parents.

Their testimony echoed that of parents in the mountain town of Callabas, outside of Port-au-Prince, who told the AP on Feb. 3 that desperation and blind faith led them to hand over 20 children to the religious Americans who promised them a better life.

Now the Citron parents worry they may never see their children again.

One Citron mother who gave up all four of her children, including a 3-month-old, is locked in a trance-like state but sometimes erupts into fits of hysteria.

Her husband and other parents said they relinquished their children to the U.S. missionaries because they were promised safekeeping across the border in a newly established orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

Their stories contradict the missionaries' still-jailed leader, Laura Silsby, who told the AP the day after her arrest that the children were either orphans or came from distant relatives.

"She should have told the truth," said Jean Alex Viellard, a 25-year-old law student from Citron who otherwise expressed admiration for the missionaries.

He took them cookies, candies and oranges during their nearly three weeks of detention before eight of the 10 were released Wednesday on their own recognizance and flew home to the United States.

Silsby, 40, and her assistant, Charisa Coulter, 24, remain jailed as the investigating judge interviews officials at the orphanages the two visited prior to the devastating Jan. 12 quake.

The judge flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic on Saturday. The two are to appear in court again Tuesday.

As they left the jail and boarded a U.S. Embassy van, the freed Baptists waved and thanked Viellard, who later called them "great people who were doing good for Haiti."

Missionaries do good work for good reasons, but I have a problem with stories like this.

Posted via web from Brian's posterous

Safety, budget woes threaten to consume Metro

The most sobering manifestation of Metro's decline is a series of fatal accidents over the past seven months. Since the crash on the Red Line, four workers have been killed on the tracks and a subcontractor was electrocuted while working at a bus garage.

Metro, which opened in 1976, has earned an embarrassing distinction.

"No one can recall another time when the NTSB has had four open investigations involving a single transit system," NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. "When we see numerous accidents in a relatively short period of time, we want to determine what, if any, common elements there are that may need to be addressed."

The NTSB isn't expected to issue a formal finding as to the cause of the June crash -- officials say it will be months before they do that -- but when it does, a new general manager will be responsible for implementing the recommendations and helping Metro's board of directors find the money to pay for any equipment changes that are needed; changing the agency's safety culture; reversing a recent decline in ridership; and erasing historic budget deficits. General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. plans to retire April 2, and officials expect the search for a replacement to last most of the year.

During the three-day hearing, Metro's top managers and engineers, including Catoe, and the members of the committee responsible for overseeing safety at the agency will deliver sworn testimony about the accident and Metro's operations. Officials from other transportation agencies will testify about their operations, and the NTSB will release a mountain of documents.

All of the uncertainty makes people who ride Metro increasingly jittery about using the system.

Whitney Distaso of Arlington County worries when her husband heads out the door for his Metrorail commute. She panicked Feb. 12 when a train with more than 340 passengers aboard ended up on the wrong track and was derailed by safety equipment to prevent a possible collision.

"For about 10 minutes I couldn't reach him," she said. "All this fear just happened."

A problem in culture

Delays, overcrowding and chronically broken escalators are daily realities for commuters who use the nation's second-busiest rail system. Metro is reeling from a safety crisis, a lack of money and the loss of talent. The lack of funding, however, pervades everything.

A quarter of Metro's fleet of about 1,300 rail cars have been in operation for more than three decades -- and another quarter more than 20 years old. Long stretches of track in the 106-mile system need repair, part of a massive $11 billion list of capital upgrades required over the next decade.

Yet even as the system has aged, the number of rail trips has grown from about 150 million taken per year in the 1990s to nearly 223 million last year, according to Metro data.

As Bob Herbert said in the NYTs what is wrong with us? We have selected leaders that don't lead for so long the infrastructure is crumbling down, wherever you live. This story could be about Chicago's CTA or anyplace in America. Our leaders don't tell the hard truth things cost money to maintain, because they want to keep their jobs. What is wrong with us?

Posted via web from Brian's posterous

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Capitol Fax Blog » Remap fight gets out of the gate

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Friday, Feb 19, 2010

* The League of Women Voters has set the bar pretty high for reforming the way legislative redistricting is done in Illinois…

Both [Jan Czarnik, executive director of the League of Women Voters] and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno agreed any proposal that would allow the legislature to draw the map would not be a genuine step toward reform.

Things got testy yesterday when the new proposal was unveiled…

But the Democratic chairman of a committee overseeing redistricting reform said the push announced Thursday goes around the existing bipartisan efforts to reach a compromise on the controversial topic.

“I was quite frankly offended and taken aback because this was being put forward as reform,” said state Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat. […]

Jan Czarnik, executive director of the League of Women Voters, disputed Raoul’s contention that he’d somehow been left out of their plans. She said she’d met with Raoul shortly after he’d been put in charge of the redistricting committee and told him the league was considering a public petition drive.

Czarnik said Raoul’s Republican counterpart on the committee contacted her, but Raoul never did. “That is the fact of the matter,” Czarnik said.

Ummm. Raoul is the chairman of the committee, so perhaps a bit more diligence on the League’s part was in order.

* Raoul also pointed out to reporters that the League’s redistricting plan was actually drafted by a couple of lawyers on the Senate Republican staff, but that didn’t make anybody’s coverage. Watch the IL Statehouse News video

If you watched the video, you know that Raoul also talked about a lack of protection for minority districts. Here’s more on that topic

[Raoul] said he believes the plan that Czarnik and Republican state senate leaders are pushing does not take minority areas of the state into account.

He said changing the wording of the Illinois Voting Rights Act to prevent lawmakers from drawing boundaries is not enough. He said the legislation should protect areas of Illinois where a boundary change could smother minority influence.

“Instead of putting specific voting rights language into Illinois statute, we would protect communities of interest, we would say you have to be compliant with federal law,” Raoul said. “There would be a certain priority of principles that would have to be observed.”

Sen. Raoul also noted the not exactly diverse nature of the coalition and wondered aloud what that meant….

“I couldn’t get any specific answers as to what minority groups had been consulted for this plan that’s supposedly so protective of diversity. It would seem that, if we are speaking transparency and openness, that such groups would be consulted before the proverbial train had left the proverbial station,” he said.

Czarnik said that Raoul did not follow up with her organization on the issue after the Senate committee hearings. However, Raoul said that when he asked about the plan in December, after hearing about it in news reports, he was told that it was too late to make any changes.

* A general outline of the GOP plan

The proposals would remove the map-drawing power from the legislature and put it into the hands of a nine-member advisory commission.

Under the plan, the four legislative leaders would each choose two members to serve on the committee. Those members would choose a ninth member to head the commission.

Lawmakers could approve the commission-drawn map with a two-thirds vote. If that doesn’t happen, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and a justice from a different party would choose a “Special Master” to make a decision by Sept. 30.

That’s flipping around the current system, where lawmakers and the governor take the first shot. It then heads to a special committee and even to a name drawn out of a hat to end the political dispute.

The full amendment is here.

* There is, of course, dire need for reform. Here’s a stat for you

Todd Maisch, a lobbyist for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce said the history of redistricting usually falls in favor of the incumbent. Since the last legislative remapping 10 years ago, less than 3 percent of elections were won by the challenger, Maisch said.

“Under this map, when you look at the fact that tested incumbents have won 536 elections and 11 losses…,” he said. “That is really compelling data.”

- posted by Rich Miller

  1. - VanillaMan - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:28 am:

    I don’t like the current status quo way of allowing the legislature to choose us, instead of allowing us to choose the legislature.

    We need to do this differently.

    Mr. Raoul has put a lot of effort into this job, and while it doesn’t seem fair that he’s questioned about this now, he has to be aware of how controversial this procedure is, and shouldn’t act surprise.

    As to protecting minority districts - well, that just in and of itself a questionable tactic that should change. We know how people vote. If we don’t appreciate being grouped by our political party preferences, then why should it ever be acceptable to be grouped by race?

    Good heavens Chicago Democrats - take a look in the Oval Office to see how far we’ve come from that way of thinking!

  • - fedup dem - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:38 am:

    Sen. Raoul has a valid concern. The proposal being put forth could run aground in federal court as violating the Federal Voting Rights Act.

  • - heet101 - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:44 am:

    I am happy to report I collected 137 signatures last night for the Illinois Fair Map Amendment. If Kwame doesn’t like it, I’m sorry. But I can’t reasonably expect, after watching Illinois politics for the last ten years, that the Democrat majority will put forth any proposal that is either fair or jeopardizes in any way their political power. I mean seriously people, these are the Illinois Democrats we’re talking about here.

  • - 47th Ward - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:46 am:

    ===The proposals would remove the map-drawing power from the legislature and put it into the hands of a nine-member advisory commission.

    Under the plan, the four legislative leaders would each choose two members to serve on the committee. Those members would choose a ninth member to head the commission.===

    Seems to me this is hardly different than the current process, it simply changes the names of the people involved. I anticipate a lot of 4-4 votes before a 9th member is picked.

    Maybe they can add a provision that after a series of tied votes, each side then draws a name out of a hat to be the 9th member. Clearly they’d compromise before risking a winner-takes-all result? (snark).

    In all seriousness, how is this new proposal an improvement over the current process?

  • - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:47 am:

    Is the League in cahoots with the GOP? That’s a non-starter.

  • - Niles Township - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:48 am:

    I’m a Dem, and I’m supporting these efforts. Sorry, Kwame, your on the wrong side of the fence on this one.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:52 am:

    I’m supporting an actual redistrincting and legislative reform…

    Put-Back Amendment

    Which only allows the legislature to create a scoring system. Anyone, INCLUDING the public, can submit a map. It also requires using competitiveness as a criteria.

  • - Greg B. - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:54 am:

    I can’t speak for others but I’d be happy to work with anyone on building legislative districts where voters pick the representatives instead of politicians picking their voters.

    We’ve a proposal, petitions are being circulated and I see no alternative out there. Sen. Raoul should put his proposal forward before he criticizes other citizens for taking action.

  • - Loop Lady - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 10:59 am:

    Oh this is gonna be fun to watch…I think the LWV has a ton a of credibility with the General Public…Kwame is a good fellow, but is also a good soldier for business as usual…I’d tread carefully if I were him…

  • - heet101 - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:01 am:

    Yeah John Bambanek you are supporting something that has NO chance of happening. All you are doing is standing in the way of something that actually has a chance.

  • - The Doc - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:02 am:

    I’m cynical and highly skeptical that the redistricting process will be reformed in any meaningful way, simply because MJM is strongly opposed.

  • - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:06 am:

    Back in ‘08, the LWV was saying the state constitution was fine and dandy. Now they want an amendment because, lo and behold, the constitution is as screwed up as I and many others kept saying back then. Kinda burns me up.

  • - lake county democrat - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:17 am:

    Red herrings — if there was a voting rights act problem or the Iowa law would have been struck down long ago. Kwame Raoul is just trying to blow smoke.

    I’ve signed already, but what the LWV needs most is money to hire professional canvassers to gather petitions.

    Rich, stay on this!

  • - George - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:19 am:

    The League and ICPR are being used by Republicans’ by allowing them to reframe their efforts to get a more favorable map as “Reform.”

    The redistricting process is ripe for change. But the most important factor in my mind is ensuring that communities receive effective representation. That is the purpose.

    What harms that goal the most, especially in urban and semi-urban areas, are districts that are drawn so squiggly that the average voter doesn’t have a good sense of who represents them in Springfield - an already little-noticed office.

    When your votes and activities are not well-known by your constituents, you can get a little complacent, and your inner evils can come out more easily.

    If you have that goal in mind when you talk about redistricting, it isn’t just redistricting reform, it is reform in general.

  • - Conservative Veteran - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:20 am:

    Like Heet 101, I disagree with Kwame. Race shouldn’t be considered in drawing the districts. Each candidate should receive votes because of his or her ideas and experience. No one should consider skin color.

  • - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:21 am:

    ===or the Iowa law would have been struck down long ago===

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not believe there are any minority voting rights issues in Iowa.

  • - Ahoy - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:21 am:

    It’s too bad this has turned into a GOP plan. I would have liked the Democrats to jump on board too. It’s a good idea to not let legislators draw thier own maps.

  • - George - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:22 am:

    Rich - its soybean farmers vs. the corn farmers.

  • - George - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:25 am:

    Plus, correct me if I am wrong - this doesn’t appear to even address congressional redistricting…

  • - Jonathan Goldman - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:38 am:

    One thing that needs to be addressed in either the status quo or the Fair Map proposal is the timeline. As noted above, the Fair Map proposal requires a decision by September 30th, and I believe that the current process calls for a decision about a week later.

    With our early primary, the petition passing period starts in early August. This year the last day to submit petitions was Nov. 2nd. Either way, there would only be about one month to circulate nominating petitions before filing, since it’s kind of hard to pass petitions when you don’t know what district you’re in.

  • - PalosParkBob - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:55 am:

    Does anyone know how this proposal compares to the Iowa plan?

    I understand that works pretty well.

    I also understand that the redistricting problem could be solved by statute setting criteria which the maps must meet, written in such a way that minimizes gerrymandering.

    The same approval process would be used, just the map drawing rules and restrictions would be better defined such that a court would have an apolitical basis for ruling whether a given map is legal or not.

    Anyone know if this is being pursued?

    Also, considering that Illinois is perhaps the most segregated state in the country, there should be few “minorty representation” problems if roughly rectangular districts were formed.

    If you want to see the extreme of gerrymandering, look at the 35th state house district that created for Kevin Joyce. It’s about the worst I’ve seen, and I vote in that district.

  • - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:56 am:

    Rich is correct, Iowa’s plan of having a computer draw districts doesn’t run afoul of the Voting Rights Act - which says boundaries can’t be drawn in a way that diminishes minority representation - because minority representation isn’t an issue in Iowa, which is about as white as a glass of Vitamin D Milk.

    Furthermore, what the League of Women Voters, Republicans, and just about everybody else continues to ignore is that the Iowa redistricting scheme requires legislative approval.

    The computer draws three successive maps in Iowa, and the legislature votes on each one. But if the vote all three down, the legislature draws the map.

    I’ve got a strong sense that everything the League of Women Voter’s knows about the Iowa scheme has been gleaned from the Tribune editorials. Which have been consistently wrong on this point. Which is not surprising, since the editorials are based on GOP talking points.

    Here’s another reason I have a big problem with the Iowa scheme. One of its overarching goals is compactness…that is to say, legislative districts are discouraged from crossing municipal boundaries or county boundaries.

    What you end up with in effect then is more lawmakers who only represent the interests of the City of Chicago, or ONLY represent the interests of suburban Cook. Or ONLY represent the interests of Lake County. And fewer lawmakers who bridge the divide between Chicago and suburban Cook, or suburban Cook and the collar counties.

    The end result is a more partisanly-divided, more parochially divided legislature just at a time when we need a General Assembly that can bridge those divides to solve the big problems facing Illinois.

    BTW, like Illinois, state spending in Iowa has grown by more than 40% this decade, and despite across-the-board cuts of 10% implemented by Executive order, Iowa still faces a $1.4 billion budget deficit.

    So tell me, what exactly does redistricting “reform” get us?

    This is all a smoke-and-mirrors distraction.

  • - just sayin' - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 11:57 am:

    Tom Cross is such a screw up, it won’t matter how the lines are drawn. The house gop caucus will still keep losing ground.

  • - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:00 pm:

    ===everything the League of Women Voter’s knows about the Iowa scheme has been gleaned from the Tribune editorials===


  • - Obamarama - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:01 pm:

    ===The League and ICPR are being used by Republicans’ by allowing them to reframe their efforts to get a more favorable map as “Reform.”===


    Look where the money, minuscule as it may be, is coming from (Stephens and the GOP leadership). Look where the political support is coming from (GOP). Look who wrote the amendment (lawyers for the GOP).

    The ILGOP saw how easily the reform groups can be played after watching the campaign finance deal be struck last session. Now they want their turn and I can’t really blame them.

  • - Jonathan Goldman - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:07 pm:

    YDD -

    For what it’s worth, the comparison to Iowa was addressed during the press conference, and it was clearly stated that the Fair Map proposal is NOT the same plan as in Iowa, specifically because of the point you raise. Under Fair Map, if the legislature votes down two proposals, the commission draws the map without legislative approval. This was pointed out by the LWV speaker.

  • - George - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:16 pm:

    YDD -

    I would strongly disagree with you about the benefits of “compactness” and “nested” districts (not crossing boundaries.

    If this election showed us anything, it is that voter awareness is very low regarding their representatives in Springfield.

    People identify far more with their county, city, and school district than any legislative boundaries. Those other boundaries have meaning - whereas current legislative boundaries do not.

    I say - make it easier for voters to know who represents them. It will improve citizen participation.

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:17 pm:

    This is not about taking the advantage from one party to another, but instead giving people back their advantage in having government that serves them—and not the other way around.Contrary to popular belief, the role of Senators, Congressmen and women is not to be reelected—it is to represent their constituents. And the Fair Map Amendment would make our representatives more accountable for what they do here in the capital and within their own districts.

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:20 pm:

    @ John Bambenek

    The system proposed in the Fair Map Amendment provides for the public to submit maps, as well as, making meetings of the committee open and transparent to the public.

  • - Pat Collins - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:30 pm:

    Minority voting rights

    But of course, that law was written when the US was 90% white, 10% black.

    Now, with mass immigration, you can’t really expect that standard to hold up. No reason why minority districts should be any more protected than white ones.

    Might as well fight that fight now.

  • - Segatari - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:37 pm:

    This state was blanantly gerrymandered - it was so ridicious I literally could walk three blocks on one street in Springfield and enter three seperate districts and neither of them were on a corner of another - they were PARALLEL! The worst was the one zigzagging from the Quad Cities to Decatur to prop up left-wing hack Lane Evans who couldn’t get elected in a square shaped district.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:42 pm:


    It provides public meetings, yes. But as we saw with the Gitmo hearings, public meetings just means politicians talking, not them actually taking anything the public has to say to account.

    Can you point the clause that allows the public to submit maps? Did I miss that?

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 12:55 pm:

    John Bambenek

    Sec. 3, Clause c:

    any member of the GA or general public may submit a plan to be considered by the Commission and for public viewing. All documents submitted to or plans considered by the Commission shall be made available to the public within a reasonable time period.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:02 pm:

    Ok I did miss it. But nothing requires that they consider it in any way. Mind you, my day job is finding ways to stop criminals, so my first perspective at look at things is how to get around them.

    Both Fair Map and the existing constitution restrict ANY litigation around redistricting to ONLY the Attorney General (save federal law, of course).

    Put-Back requires that every map be scored, even those submitted by public. If they don’t, anyone can go to court.

    While my approach might be somewhat cynical, I think Springfield has merited the approach of leaving them no “creative” means of getting around restrictions.

    Yesterday’s “joint caucus” is a case-in-point.

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    This is true JB, but there are certain times to be cynical and certain times to be practical, while it is nice to require all maps be scored the practicality of this when deadlines loom is something that must be taken into account

  • - Tom Joad - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:15 pm:

    The question that hasn’t been addressed is how many districts will be “put in play” if this proposal is law. The vast majority of Dem districts will stay Democratic. The vast majority of Repub districts will stay Republican.
    Just a few more districts will be competitive in the general election.
    The biggest effect of the new map plan is that incumbents may be put in the same districts. that is what the hue and cry is all about. Frankly a shake up of incumbents every ten years in itself would be worthwhile.
    The Voting Rights Act doesn’t guarantee that districts which have elected minorities, but are not majority minority citizen districts have to protect those incumbents. Illinois has met the intent of the Voting Rights Act already.

  • - lake county democrat - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:24 pm:

    First, whatever the LWV said in the past, the state con’s plan IS messed up. To that and to George’s point: the 4th Congressional district has nothing to do with neighborhood boundaries *other* than the coincidental ethnic makeup of a such boundaries.

    To Jonathan’s point: Fine, but the Dems have the power to pass the Iowa plan if they want — if they do, I’ll vote against the fair map plan in the fall referendum, but I sure want it there as a backup. Mike Madigan promised this would be taken up last fall — obviously the fear of this going to the voters has put the fear of Democracy in them. Does anyone really expect that this commission would ultimately spit in the face of their guidelines and produce a twisted/contorted mess like what we have now?

  • - lake county democrat - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:26 pm:

    PS — point on Iowa’s lack of voting rights issues taken.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 1:36 pm:


    Point about dates is taken, however, alot of that can be done electronically. More importantly, the reason the deadlines loom is because moving the primary up two months put the deadline under any proposal and the current constitution about a week before petitions are DUE.

    Right now, politicians only know what district they’ll be in about a week and change before they have to file their petitions.


  • - Consider This - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 2:14 pm:

    With all of the technology we have at our disposal, why can’t there simply be a computer program created that specifies the number of districts, the number of people in each district, the maximum area of a district, the district area has to be logical in shape and size (not convoluted as in some cases now), etc. Push the button and Voila! If there’s currently a Legislator in the new district, great, if not, someone will run. If they are Dem or Rep - who cares - it will work out for the people in the district during the election. Would save tons of time and money!

  • - lake county democrat - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:06 pm:

    Consider This: Excellent point — even a computer generated districting that created some unfortunate splits (say a small town part in one district part in another — though I think that happens sometimes — defintitely with counties) would be far preferable to the voter de-powerment of drawing districts for the sole sake of predetermined election outcomes.

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:14 pm:

    -Consider This-

    If only there was an “easy button” in life, the world would be a better place.

  • - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:17 pm:


  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:24 pm:

    In my humble opinion, I believe a solid redistricting plan is needed, and the Put-Back Amendment has a good plan for that. However, I believe the expansive scope of JB’s amendment is more susceptible to legal challenges, and the brevity of the Fair Map Amendment is not.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:37 pm:

    Guys, computer programs will draw the maps in 2010 regardless if a redistricting reform is proposed.

    The condition of using a computer isn’t important. It’s who is writing the computer program that does it.

  • - John Bambenek - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:39 pm:


    As far as legal challenges, I assume you mean challenging whether it’s constitutional to stay on the ballot?

    Simply put, Fair Map WILL be thrown off the ballot for being unconstitutional. There is no structural change. 100% chance of fail there.

    Put-Back has a better shot because I wrote it with the case law in mind. I worked with attorneys who argued on BOTH sides of previous amendment efforts and the ensuing litigation and they agreed I’ll probably get by (there are no certainties).

    Politically speaking, of course, having a simple one-issue amendment is ideal. Unfortunately, the constitution doesn’t allow that.

    The one thing you need to keep in mind when talking about the Illinois Constitution is that it was written to protect government from the people.

  • - Springfield-DB - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:42 pm:

    “The one thing you need to keep in mind when talking about the Illinois Constitution is that it was written to protect government from the people”

    And it should be the other way around

  • - Joe Dokes - Friday, Feb 19, 10 @ 3:54 pm:

    IIRC, the LWV didn’t think the constitution was fine and dandy, only that the process of opening the entire thing up would be expensive and there was no guarantee that it would generate any reform. Instead, the better option was to use the amendment process, and that’s what they are doing.

    So. If the goal is to keep Mike Madigan in power and keep gridlock in Springfield for as long as possible, then by all means, oppose the amendment.

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    I am usually a LOWV fan, but how does the chair of committee overseeing redistricting not get consulted? And your ally is Republican Senate Leader? C'mon, smells bad, looks bad--- is bad, imho

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