Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Desperate" Budget Situation In Cook County | Progress Illinois

Cook County government is $487 million in the red, and its soon-to-be inaugurated president Toni Preckwinkle says every county department must find 21 percent in savings over the last three quarters of the county's next fiscal year to close the gap.

A somber Preckwinkle laid out the situation before reporters a day after she voted to support outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's last budget, which leans heavily on one-time reserve funds, "surplus" tax increment financing (TIF) dollars, relatively rosy budget projections, and furlough days that the city's unionized workforce have not to agreed to take.

Preckwinkle told reporters she had addressed the county's separate elected officials -- from the assessor to the state's attorney -- about finding the savings at a meeting Wednesday. "No one would be absolved from making cuts, and no one would be alone from making cuts," is how Preckwinkle described her message at the gathering. Here she is outlining the broad strokes of the budget:

The "desperate" situation, as Preckwinkle called it during the press conference, is due in large part to the county board's reversal on the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase that was the hallmark of lame duck County President Todd Stroger's scandal-tarred administration. A majority of the deficit, $264 million, comes from a partial repeal of the sales tax hike. The County Board first approved the sales tax hike in 2008 and then rolled back half of it in the summer of 2009, overriding Stroger's veto.

The rest of the deficit, $233 million, stems from obligations Preckwinkle expects the county will owe its unionized workers at the conclusion of upcoming contract negotiations as well as $45 million to settle a class action lawsuit with 250,000 Cook County Jail inmates who were subject to degrading strip searches. (An additional $10 million of the settlement is covered by insurance.)

In discussing ways the county could close the gap, Preckwinkle said she will cut her own salary by 10 percent, consolidate services within the Bureau of Economic Development and the Bureau of Administration, restructure the county's debt, and end procurement and capital spending on "non-strategic projects and non-core services." She cited savings found by other governments crunched by budget shortfalls.

"The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority in six months achieved more than $150 million in recurring saving in rapid and sustained cost-reduction measures. These benefits were driven by renegotiating contracts with vendors, identifying significant reductions from existing contracts, and rationalizing the total number of suppliers," she said, "all without negatively impacting service."

Asked if the shortfall could be filled without "significant layoffs," Preckwinkle did not answer directly. She did acknowledge that she has met with many of the city's largest unions and warned them that it was going to be "an extraordinarily difficult year."

Further complicating where cuts may fall are court orders and consent decrees that govern how places like the county jail and juvenile detention center are operated.

County commissioner John Daley emphasized that other county elected officials needed to come to the table to help close the shortfall, especially since none of them spoke out during the county board's stormy debates about the partial roll-back of the sales take hike.

"I look back when the sales tax was reduced," said Daley, the county board's finance committee chair. "I didn't hear from one elected official who opposed the reduction in the sales tax. When the president vetoed it again, I didn't hear one elected official."

He said public safety operations eat up about 60 percent of sales tax revenue, with health care getting the majority of the remainder, about 35 percent.

Preckwinkle was asked yesterday if she thinks county government should cap its expenditures on health care at $100 million below the current level. Preckwinkle said the Bureau of Health Services' current proposed subsidy is about $217 million, down from last year's $279 million.

Rising health care costs are, of course, primarily responsible for the much-discussed and overwrought debate about the federal deficit. Finding ways to deliver health care more efficiently for the 5 million people who need services annually certainly would help the county's bottom line, too.

The Bureau of Health Services is already on a new track, shifting to an outpatient system and assuming the national health care reform will "result in fewer uninsured and underinsured individuals in Cook County" which "should provide more County health care dollars overall for the care of the medically indigent," according to the system's recent strategic plan.

The takeaway here is that the fate and successful implementation of national health care reform in Illinois will play an important part in solving the county's budget woes going forward.

We'll also be watching to see if the Preckwinkle administration and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart can realize major savings by expanding jail diversion programs. With the budget hole as deep as it is, smart reforms about how inmates are dealt with at the jail could prove to be both a progressive policy move and an essential way to help close the budget gap without cutting needed services.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Here Come The Petitions, And Petitioners | Progress Illinois

In the basement of the Cook County building at 69 W. Washington this morning, dozens of candidates (or their stand-ins) for Chicago mayor, alderman, city clerk, and treasurer lined the walls, waiting to turn over thick folders -- or cart loads -- of nominating petitions to representatives from the Chicago Board of Elections.

November 15 is day one in a week-long stretch where the candidates can start handing in signatures they've gathered from registered Chicago voters. It's the official kick-off day for an unprecedented city election cycle -- one that does not include Richard M. Daley at the top of the ticket for the first time in decades. 

Today's scene was a mixture of practical politics (turning in petitions puts you in a lottery for ballot order if there are at least two candidates) and political theater (candidates gave interviews to the press, made introductions and offered bullet-point plans). For the would-be Chicago mayor, the number of nominating petitions they hand over is a first and somewhat arbitrary indicator of the strength of their campaigns. Or at least of the prowess of the petition collectors. Rahm Emanuel and Carol Moseley Braun each claimed some 90,000 signatures; candidates Gery Chico and Danny Davis both reported more than 50,000.

Besides the mayor seat, all 50 aldermanic positions are up for grabs next February, and Progress Illinois also tracked down a few City Council candidates in 69 W. Washington to ask about their campaigns. Some candidates weren't shy about hitting incumbents they're challenging on policy differences. Temoc Morfin, who is running against Ald. Danny Solis in the 25th Ward, for example, pointed out he'd support the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance if elected. Valerie Leonard told Progress Illinois she wants to create a committee to address education in the 24th Ward and establish a tax increment financing oversight council. One consistent theme incumbent aldermen and City Council hopefuls alike raised was the possibility that the council will be stronger and more robust in the post-Daley era. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen.

Here's a selection of clips of aldermanic candidates talking about issues and the relationship between Chicago's mayor and council.

There is, needless to say, much more to come.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

School Districts Versus Cities On TIF Policy | Progress Illinois

How will Chicago Public Schools close the daunting $700 million budget shortfall projected for next school year?

Resolution of the budget crisis in Springfield certainly would help; state government owes CPS a total of $370 million for the last and current school year. Another source of dollars administrators could seek to tap: the city's tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Recall that CPS will gain around $90 million out of the $180 million in TIF funds that lame duck Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is proposing to use as surplus in his FY 2011 budget. CPS is getting a fraction of what it could, however. Even after this year's surplus declaration, an estimated $520 million in TIF reserves will remain untouched.

It would be rational for top leaders at CPS and members of the Board of Education to pound the table and demand property taxes stashed away in TIF accounts. The Board of Education has the most to lose by the proliferation of TIF districts in Chicago, which freeze the amount of property taxes the board can cull from those districts. Elsewhere, school districts often serve as a check on municipal governments' appetite for tax increment financing. Not so in Chicago. UIC professor Rachel Weber talked about this dynamic at a TIF panel discussion earlier this fall. Here's a clip:

A variation of this fight is happening out in Oak Park. The situation has its own specific history and legal background but it does provide a recent example of a school district pushing back against a municipality's TIF policy. Leaders of Oak Park-River Forest High School sued the Village of Oak Park earlier this year for allegedly violating an earlier deal that allowed the village's downtown TIF to be extended an additional 12 years. In exchange, the Wednesday Journal reported this spring, "village hall was to 'carve out' properties in Oak Park's downtown tax increment financing district ... and funnel money back to other taxing bodies. But that hasn't been done, the high school alleges." Maybe it's time for the Board of Education and CPS to have a chat with their counterparts out in Oak Park ...

Posted via email from Brian's posterous



            It ain’t over until it’s over. That trite and shopworn cliché applies to both sports and politics. However, here’s a message to Chicagoans: The 2011 mayoral election is over.

            The deal is done. The fix is in. Can you say “Mayor Rahm Emanuel”?

            Sheriff Tom Dart, with a Southwest Side Irish base and wide name recognition, abruptly withdrew from the mayoral contest, claiming that the job would have caused him to be “less of a father.” What jibberish. The Chicago mayoralty is the epicenter of Illinois’ politics, the most powerful job in the state. Dart quit because he didn’t have the money, didn’t have the guts, or got a promise for some other post. It’s likely the latter.

            For those inclined toward conspiracies, it could be conjectured that Dart aborted his bid so as to make way for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who resides in the North Side 47th Ward, but whose powerful father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, is the Southwest Side 13th Ward Democratic committeeman. But Lisa Madigan has publicly disavowed a mayoral candidacy. If she joins the race after winning re-election on Nov. 2, it would smack of opportunism and deceitfulness.

            According to Democratic party sources, here’s what is happening:

            First, Emanuel, former Northwest Side 5th District congressman (2003-2008) and 2-year White House chief-of-staff, announced for mayor in early October. In less than a month, Emanuel raised a stunning $3.7 million, much coming from Hollywood (where his brother is a movie producer) and Jewish sources. He had $1.2 million remaining in his congressional campaign account, so he has $4.7 million on-hand.

            Without question, Emanuel will raise another $3 million by Christmas, and will spend over $10 million on the contest. Dart could not match that fundraising prowess. Only Lisa Madigan, with her dad’s help, can raise a like amount.

            Emanuel’s liberal voting record, and close tie to Obama, certainly does not ingratiate him to white ethnic voters on the city’s Northwest and Southwest sides. But he has enormous appeal to Jewish voters, as he would be Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, and to liberals along the Lakefront. To blacks, he is certainly the least unacceptable white contender, and an Obama endorsement in the April runoff would seal the deal.


is no doubt about this: Emanuel will be the boss, and brook no dissent.

            Second, Dart demanded his quid pro quo – and will be rewarded. The sheriff covets the federal U.S. Attorney’s job, but the Obama Administration, with Rod Blagojevich’s re-trial scheduled for April 2011, can’t fire incumbent Patrick Fitzgerald. Democratic politicians desperately want a malleable Democrat as U.S. Attorney, so as to minimize their future exposure. Dart is their guy.

Rumors are rampant that Obama will appoint Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to a federal judgeship. That clears the way for Dart to succeed her as the county’s chief prosecutor. Or, perchance, if Dart, who resides in the Southwest Side 19th Ward, wants to be “more of a father,” he could prevail upon Emanuel to persuade Obama to make him a federal judge, and work 9-to-5 hours.

If the Chicago mayoralty is off the table, Dart, a former state representative, surely lusts after Number Two – the Illinois governorship. Being a federal judge, U.S. Attorney or state’s attorney would be an excellent steppingstone to the governorship.

            Third, with Dart out, Emanuel is a cinch to run first in the Feb. 22 non-partisan primary, and advance to the April 2 runoff. Against Dart, Emanuel would have competed for the city’s white vote, which is half the electorate. Now Emanuel faces competition for the white vote only from Alderman Ed Burke (14th), and, possibly, Lisa Madigan.

            Already, the entire Northwest Side Democratic establishment has fallen into line behind Emanuel. He has the public support of Aldermen Dick Mell (33rd), Gene Schulter (47th), Pat Levar (45th), Pat O’Connor (40th) and Marge Laurino (39th), as well as committeemen Bill Banks (36th), Patti Jo Cullerton (38th) and Randy Barnette (39th), and State Representative John D’Amico (D-15). Levar’s wife was a congressional staffer for Emanuel.

            Former state representatives Ralph Capparelli and Rich Bradley were running the Northwest Side’s Dart operation. “We had over 21,000 (nominating petition) signatures” for Dart, said Capparelli, who expressed disappointment over Dart’s withdrawal. “He (Dart) could have won,” said Capparelli.

            Burke, age 66, who has served since 1968, has $6.2 million in his campaign account, could match Emanuel dollar-for-dollar, and co-opt much of the Southwest Side white vote.

In the 2008 election, 106,387 votes were cast in the 5 Southwest Side wards, and 224,884 were cast in the 10 Northwest Side wards.

There will be at least two Hispanic candidates: Chicago City Colleges board chairman Gery Chico, who lost the 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Obama; and appointed city Clerk Miguel del Valle. Chico is Mexican-American, and del Valle is Puerto Rican. The overall Hispanic vote will not exceed 12 percent. If both run, both lose.

            And fourth, no Harold Washington-like candidate has emerged, capable of energizing blacks. Blacks comprise roughly 40 percent of the electorate, and three or more blacks will be running: State Senator James Meeks, pastor of the Salem Baptist Church, a social conservative; State Senator Rickey Hendon, who lost the 2010 Democratic lieutenant governor’s primary; and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who was defeated in 1998. Others include Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., and U.S. Representative Danny Davis.

            All have flaws, and none is capable of electrifying and motivating blacks, as did Washington in 1983 and 1987. “Cross-over” is the key. What black is capable of attracting white votes? Answer: None.

Braun is a retread, but has especial appeal to black females. Meeks said he wouldn’t quit his church, which raises questions about church-state separation. His anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stance has great appeal to black evangelicals. Rogers is unknown. Davis and Hendon are obnoxious, in-your-face, big-spending, pro-affirmative action liberals – the kind of black that ethnic whites detest.

            The early presumption was that Dart and Emanuel would compete for the white vote, and Meeks and Braun for the black vote, with a white-versus-black runoff, and a white victor. Now, with Emanuel as the white frontrunner, and a fractured black field, the top black contender may not eclipse 15-18 percent. An early poll paid by black business leaders put Braun, due to her residual name identification, at 11 percent, and Meeks at 5 percent; Emanuel had 22 percent, and Dart 12 percent.

            Clearly, half of Chicagoans have no clue as to whom they want as mayor. And Democratic politicians, especially blacks, are ambivalent. Here’s a rundown, based on prior performance:

            Braun: In 1998, Braun carried Chicago over victorious Republican Peter Fitzgerald by 552,729-145,540. In the city’s black wards, Braun got 315,890 votes; in the white and Hispanic wards, she got 236,839. She lost the 41st and 45th wards, and narrowly carried other Northwest Side wards. That only proves that Braun can beat a white conservative Republican, which Rahm is not.

Hendon: In the 2010 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Hendon ran third, with 113,690 votes, with 68,233 (21.9 percent) in Chicago. Had West Sider Hendon not run, splitting the black vote, Art Turner would have been nominated. Hendon is much-reviled on the South Side.

Chico finished fourth in the 2004 primary, getting 53,433 votes (4.3 percent); Obama won with 655,923 votes (52.8 percent). In Chicago, Chico got 29,414 votes (6.4 percent). He had a bare plurality in the Hispanic wards, and averaged about 500 votes in the Northwest Side wards. Chico is going nowhere.

Emanuel: He won a hotly-contested congressional 2002 primary after Mayor Daley dispatched an army of city payrollers, led by now-convicted Don Tomczak, to the district. He beat Nancy Kasczak by 46,774-35,716 (50.5 percent), with six others running.

Despite backing from every Northwest Side Democratic committeeman, Emanuel carried the 36th Ward with 54.2 percent, the 38th Ward with 46.3 percent, the 39th Ward with 56.8 percent, the 40th Ward with 57.6 percent, the 41st  Ward with 43.1 percent, the 45th Ward with 46.8 percent, and the 47th  Ward with 49 percent. Clearly, there was voter resistance to Emanuel in 2002, and there will be similar resistance in 2011. As a pro-Obama liberal, Emanuel is a hard sell. But if the 2011 runoff is a choice between a pro-Obama white and a pro-Obama black, white voters will opt for the least obnoxious -- Emanuel.

My early prediction: Emanuel is the man to beat. Unless Lisa Madigan runs, Emanuel is the next mayor.

E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or visit his website at www.russstewart.com

Chicago Republican analysis of mayoral race

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Will tablets go the way of netbooks? - Mobile Marketer - Editorials

Will tablets go the way of netbooks?

By Mickey Alam Khan

November 29, 2010

Mickey Alam Khan

Mickey Alam Khan is editor in chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily

What most manufacturers don�t realize is that consumers are buying the iPad � the most saved-for holiday electronics gift � because it is an Apple product, and not because it is a tablet. There�s the iPad and there�s the iFad.

This herd-like rush from manufacturers of all hues � Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer and whoever runs the Android or Windows operating systems � to develop iPad me-toos is a total misread of the market.

In their haste to saturate the market with wireless devices bigger than a mobile phone but smaller than a laptop, these Apple rivals have forgotten what the iPad is all about: a smaller screen, yes, but the freedom to interact with Web and application content effortlessly without straining eyes, fingers or intelligence.

find a job for you

The much-hyped Samsung Galaxy Tab may be a fabulous device, but it is too small to be of practical importance. Why a 7-inch screen versus the iPad�s 10-inch? And the $700 pricing � what gives?

More importantly, what makes the Samsung Galaxy Tab and other devices of its ilk � bar the iPad � drastically different from the favorite of two years ago � the netbook? Bar the touch screen and a mobile operating system, there is nothing much to differentiate.

Estee Lauder, Tiffany & Co., Macy�s advertising pr

iPad is a canvas for engagement

The netbooks also weighed around two to three pounds, had Wi-Fi capability, a tiny keyboard and fairly good enough memory.

All the analysts and market researchers were completely sugared-up on the potential of netbooks to cannibalize laptops to the bone � as recent as last year. And here we are � not a pipsqueak from that community or the manufacturers of why consumer interest in netbooks waned so suddenly � and so deservedly.

Where�s the love?
Here�s what consumers are saying with regard to the iPad: It�s a wonderful browsing experience, easy to boot-up, carry and close, is intuitive in its navigation, has a rich library of Apple-friendly content and has just enough functionality to conduct light work and run entertainment without the screen-size constraint of a phone or the wires and weight of a laptop.


Audi A8 Experience iPad app

And yes, these same consumers also moan about the iPad�s price � but they eventually pony up. Why?

Because the iPad appeals to the emotional side of the brain, not the rational.

Look at Apple�s ads for the iPad. They demonstrate the ease of use, the deep content available, the fun experience and just the general feeling of hands floating gently on a screen. In other words, they romance the viewer.

Now contrast that experience with ads for other tablets.

The difference is immediately apparent � all about the practicality, the portability, the wireless plan and, yes, the touch screen. But there�s no sense of romance in the Apple sense. Consumers are being sold, not wooed � not the right approach when it's an emotional purchase.

While tablets may continue to sell into the next year, most of them will suffer�anonymity if they turn out to be iPad-lite or stripped-down netbooks with touch screens.

The fear is that the lemming-like rush to launch tablet after tablet may cause consumers to question why they need one, especially if the pricing isn�t right or if the entertainment or business case hasn�t been made clearly.

Even the lure of content on the various app stores may not be enough to turn the tablet trend into a permanent member of the mobile-device family.

Apple�s iPad, on the other hand, may not suffer the fate of its competitors.

As long as the iPad is positioned right and maintains that aura of premium desirability in product, customer experience and marketing, it is safe from being a fad.�

--> -->

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Ranking The Best Tablet Service Plans - Elizabeth Woyke - Mobilized - Forbes

Buying a tablet computer can be doubly confusing. Consumers must not only choose the right device, they must also choose a mobile operator to support it. And because tablets are so new to the market, corresponding data plans vary widely in terms and pricing.

Amid this jumble, research firm Current Analysis offers some guidance. Analyst Deepa Karthikeyan looked over the available plans and chose winners based on their variety of options, cost effectiveness and a miscellaneous “additional perks” category.

T-Mobile USA came out on top. In a Nov. 29 report that examined offerings from the five largest U.S. carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon WirelessKarthikeyan concluded that T-Mobile offered the most “user-friendly initiatives”, such as low-cost options for existing users, a variety of plans, and an absence of overages fees. AT&T and Verizon tied for second place in Karthikeyan’s report, followed by Sprint and then U.S. Cellular.

Like cellphones, tablet plans fall into three main groups: prepaid, postpaid and contract-free. T-Mobile won points with Karthikeyan by offering plans in all three flavors. Other operators tend to focus on postpaid plans (Sprint, U.S. Cellular) or contract-free plans (AT&T, Verizon).

Payment type isn’t the only way to differentiate between tablet plans. Some carriers, such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon include Wi-Fi access as a bonus. Karthikeyan also weighed factors such as fees for exceeding data guidelines and for reactivating or suspending service.

In addition, people who like bandwidth-heavy streaming applications may want to seek out deluxe plans. While most tablet plans include the same amount of data—generally 100 to 200 megabytes on the low end and one, two or five gigabytes on the high end—Verizon offers an extra-large plan that charges $80 for 10 gigabytes.

Each plan carries pros and cons. AT&T charges $50 more for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab than T-Mobile or Verizon, but is giving users a $50 credit toward TV and video purchases in Samsung’s media store, MediaHub. Since AT&T’s plans are contract-free, users also have more flexibility than with other carriers. Sprint is selling the Galaxy Tab much more cheaply than its competitors, but requires a two-year commitment and does not build in unlimited Wi-Fi.

Verizon hosts a wide range of plans but also levies activation and suspension fees that could add up for users that don’t want or need constant connectivity. U.S. Cellular has a number of plan options, but is charging more than some operators, like Sprint, and providing fewer extras than the other carriers, which boast faster, broader networks. The combination led Karthikeyan to rank U.S. Cellular last among its peers.

In comparison, T-Mobile offers a variety of plans, unlimited Wi-Fi and subsidizes costs for existing T-Mobile users. The company also follows the more consumer-friendly policy of throttling or slowing down data speeds rather than charging users who exceed their specified amount of bandwidth.

Of course, plans aren’t the only reason to select one carrier over another when it comes to tablets. Particular devices may sway consumers if operators have signed exclusive deals with manufacturers. Apple’s iPad, for instance, is only available at AT&T and Verizon stores right now.

The tablet market is still in its infancy. Karthikeyan believes the burgeoning number of connected devices will push carriers to change their pricing once again. Up next: plans that would support access for several devices per user in a cost-saving bundle. Such a structure would encourage consumers to choose broadband-enabled models over cheaper, Wi-Fi-only ones, writes Karthikeyan.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Robert J. Samuelson - In Ireland's debt crisis, an ominous reckoning for Europe

What you need to know about Ireland's economic crisis is that it's not about Ireland, a small country of slightly more than 4 million people and an economy of roughly $200 billion. It's about Europe. For decades, Europe has pursued two great political projects. One is the democratic welfare state, designed to improve economic justice through various social safety nets. The other is European unity, symbolized by the creation in 1999 of a single currency - the euro - now used by 16 countries. The fact that both contributed to Ireland's troubles suggests that Europe could be on the brink of a broader crisis.

Ireland's problems are not isolated, and if they portend a wider meltdown, this would mark a dangerous new phase in the global economic turmoil that began in 2007. Europe represents about one-fifth of the world economy, comparable to the U.S. share. If the continent relapsed into recession, worldwide economic nationalism would intensify, as the already-weak global recovery faltered and countries competed for scarce sales. For example: Europe buys about 25 percent of America's exports, which would suffer. Protectionism and predatory behavior would increase.

The rescue package (about $90 billion in outside funds) just negotiated by Ireland, other members of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund would prop up Ireland's loss-ridden banks. The aim is to contain the fallout by showing that Europe can cope with its own problems. But the rescue involves much bravado, because some lenders (Portugal, Spain, Italy) are themselves heavily indebted and possible candidates for future bailouts. Even Germany and France have huge gross debts, 76 percent and 86 percent, respectively, of their economies in 2009. How much new debt can be piled atop old debt?

That Ireland, after Greece, has come to grief is ironic. Until recently, it was admiringly dubbed the Celtic Tiger for emulating Asian countries in attracting foreign investment - Intel and others - and achieving rapid export-led growth. From 1987 to 2000, annual economic growth averaged 6.8 percent; unemployment fell from 16.9 percent to 4.3 percent. But then solid growth gave way to a housing boom and bubble whose collapse left Irish banks awash in bad loans.

One cause was easy credit occasioned by the euro. With its own currency, Ireland could regulate credit. If it seemed too loose, the Central Bank of Ireland could raise interest rates. Adopting the euro meant Ireland surrendered this power to the European Central Bank (ECB), which set one policy for all euro countries. The ECB's rates, though perhaps correct for France and Germany, were too low for Ireland and some others. Moreover, financial markets pushed rates on government bonds of euro countries down to lower German levels. In 1995, Ireland's rates were more than a percentage point higher than Germany's; by 2000, they were almost identical.

Ireland might have offset easy credit by increasing taxes or cutting spending. But this would have required great self-restraint. The housing boom produced a torrent of tax revenue from construction, home sales and wealth-induced consumer spending. From 1996 to 2006, home prices almost quadrupled. Construction spending went from 11 percent to 21 percent of the economy. Government budgets were in surplus, despite increased social spending and higher government salaries. "When I have the money, I spend it," said one former finance minister. "When I don't, I don't."

So now the reckoning. In Ireland, the burst housing bubble left a massive budget deficit and lifted unemployment to 14 percent. Most European economies suffer from the ill effects of some combination of easy money, unsustainable social spending and big budget deficits. Countries are interconnected, so there are spillover effects. European banks - led by British, German, French and Belgian banks - have $500 billion in loans and investments in Ireland, reports the Financial Times. Large losses could snowball into a broader banking crisis.

Europe's challenge is no longer just economic. It's also social and political. Cherished values and ideals are under assault. The euro, intended to nurture unity, has bred discord, as countries assign blame and argue over sharing costs. The social contract is being rewritten, with government benefits and protections being cut. In Ireland, the governing coalition seems doomed; one minority party has withdrawn its support.

The rescue of Ireland, as with Greece before, represents a gamble that Europe can arrest growing doubts and win the patience of bondholders and voters: persuading the investors not to continue dumping bonds (those of Ireland and other countries) in panic, which raises interest rates and could precipitate a self-fulfilling financial collapse; and persuading ordinary citizens to tolerate austerity (higher unemployment, lower social benefits, heavier taxes) without resorting to paralyzing street protests or ineffectual parliamentary coalitions. Whether the gamble will succeed is unclear, as are the potentially chaotic consequences if it doesn't.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Fareed Zakaria - Economic policy needs common sense, not Fed magic, for long-term growth

The background noise in the wonk world these days is of furious debates over economic theory and policy. The foreground is the American economy, which appears strikingly unresponsive. The Federal Reserve's much-debated quantitative easing ("QEII") appears, so far, to have had the opposite of its intended effect: It was conceived as a way to push down long-term interest rates so that people would borrow more, but those rates have risen considerably since the Fed switched on its presses. To a non-economist, this is the latest example suggesting the limits of macroeconomic policy and the need for some common sense.

To be fair, economic policy rescued the world from another Great Depression. Having learned from the 1930s, policymakers in the United States and abroad moved in two years ago to strengthen the financial system, offer credit and create demand when none was available elsewhere. But emergency measures that worked to stop systemic collapse are one thing; policies to jump-start real growth are another.

Since the crisis began, the government has responded in a classic Keynesian fashion. It passed three tax cuts (one under George W. Bush and two under Barack Obama), set in motion automatic stabilizers such as unemployment insurance, sent money to state governments to keep their workers employed, and spent on infrastructure and other projects. Above all, the Federal Reserve printed money to make it easier for consumers and businesses to get their hands on cash and thus spend it.

But businesses and consumers are not spending. It is not that the stimulus did not work. The federal government seems to have spent the money reasonably well, with pork and corruption kept to low levels. The problem is that this kind of spending is meant to be a bridge to get the private sector spending again. The theory is that the government would create demand while the private sector cleaned up its balance sheets. But corporate America is flush with profits - yet is not spending.

Why are consumers and businesses not spending? Everyone is haunted by the crisis of 2008. Consumers are paying down debts, preserving cash, hoping that they keep their jobs and that their houses stop sinking in value. Businesses, having come from a near-death experience, are being conservative in an atmosphere of uncertainty. With little fresh demand in sight in the United States, why would they hire workers or build factories? And if they do invest, they will do so in emerging markets, where consumer spending is growing by double digits and nearly 50 percent of the S&P 500's profits come from anyway.

Unfortunately, the government's efforts to resolve the crisis amount to giving the country the hair of the dog that bit it. Washington is asking consumers to stop saving and start spending, while the government issues more debt and the Fed lowers rates - all measures designed to increase debt. In other words, we are fighting a crisis caused by excessive debt by encouraging excessive debt. Is that really the best way to get growth?

The investment manager and guru Jeremy Grantham says no. In his latest quarterly letter, he points out that over the last generation, American government has created conditions that encouraged everyone to keep accumulating debt. But far from getting a bang, the country's growth rate actually slowed down over that period. In fact, the effect of all this government-subsidized debt has been deeply destructive. It created asset bubbles in stocks, bonds, commodities and more. One stunning chart in his letter underscores the extent to which the Fed created what he calls "the first housing bubble in history," meaning the first time that U.S. house prices rose dramatically across the board - and are now falling just as dramatically.

Debt-fueled growth "is, in an important sense, not the real world," Grantham writes. "In the real world, growth depends on real factors: the quality and quantity of education, work ethic, population profile, the quality and quantity of existing plant and equipment, business organization, the quality of public leadership (especially from the Fed in the U.S.), and the quality (not quantity) of existing regulations and the degree of enforcement."

This strikes me as the common-sense view of economics. We can push and pull fiscal and monetary policy all we want, but long-term growth depends on these broader and deeper factors.

Ironically, one policymaker who seemed to understand this was Barack Obama. Twelve weeks into his presidency he gave a speech at Georgetown University making the case for the long-term rebuilding of the American economy, away from an overreliance on debt and consumption and toward productive investment. Obama should have given 25 versions of that speech by now and relentlessly offered policies that expand on its basic focus on long-term growth. The public would trust in this approach far more than in the magic of the Fed printing money - and in this regard, the public would be right.


Posted via email from Brian's posterous

E.J. Dionne Jr. - Can Obama fight the GOP's blame game?

Can we govern ourselves in the next two years? Do Republicans have any interest in accomplishments that might even indirectly benefit President Obama?

These questions hang over Tuesday's meeting between the president and congressional leaders, an encounter that could set the tone for the next two years.

Grounds for optimism are thin. The most striking aspect of Republican behavior since their party's electoral triumph is a haughty assumption that the voters rejected everything Obama represents and that he ought to capitulate on all fronts right now. Anyone who fails to see things this way just doesn't "get" it.

So certain are the president's opponents that they and only they represent the will of the nation that they feel empowered to undercut Obama even on issues related to our nation's security.

Take the effort of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to block ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in the lame-duck session. In doing so, he is playing Russian roulette with our nation's interests.

The New START treaty shouldn't be controversial. It is supported by conservatives as varied in their views as Robert Kagan, a neoconservative interventionist, and Pat Buchanan, a paleo-conservative isolationist, not to mention such establishment Republican luminaries as James A. Baker III, Henry Kissinger and Sen. Richard Lugar.

If this treaty is not ratified, the only winner will be Vladimir Putin. Is Kyl, who on "Meet the Press" Sunday reiterated his desire to delay consideration of the treaty, really willing to risk giving Putin and anti-American forces in Russia a leg up?

You don't have to believe me on this. As Kagan wrote this month in The Post, defeat of the treaty will "strengthen Vladimir Putin," who would use its demise "to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak [President Dmitry] Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach." It's not my habit to agree with Buchanan, but he's right in saying: "Killing the treaty would morally disarm those Russians who see their future with the West."

And the Financial Times, hardly a left-wing newspaper, noted that Kyl's core arguments against the treaty are "so weak as to call into question Mr. Kyl's good faith." We don't need more time to consider it; the treaty has been debated for months. And the Obama administration has made a slew of concessions to Kyl to modernize our nuclear program. What, besides the identity of our current president, justifies this obstruction?

Then there's the uproar against intrusive security screening at our nation's airports, a controversy so evidently rooted in rants rather than reason that the central rallying cry of the critics has become "Don't touch my junk."

There's nothing wrong with a sensible debate over the best ways to prevent another terrorist attack and exactly how to balance liberty and security. But there's plenty wrong with the double standard that (1) blames Obama for violating the rights of airline passengers, and (2) would blame Obama for not taking sufficient steps to protect us if another attack happened. Compare the response of conservatives to this controversy with their fury at anyone who raised any questions about the anti-terror policies of George W. Bush's administration.

In pondering the GOP's current posture, I was reminded of the speech that the late Jeane Kirkpatrick gave to the 1984 Republican National Convention in which she famously condemned the "San Francisco Democrats," naming them after the very liberal and tolerant city where they had just held their convention. Kirkpatrick's refrain about the opposition, which brought uproarious approval from the crowd, went this way: "They always blame America first."

I am afraid that we are about to enter a two-year period in which the Beltway Republicans will always blame Obama's America first - you know, the America that is not the "real" America, the America that happens to disagree with much of the conservative agenda, the America from which they want to "take back" the country, as if the rest of us represent an alien force. If Obama and his America are for something, even if that something is in the nation's interest, it will be rejected out of hand.

In her speech, Kirkpatrick also noted: "The American people know that it's dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause." Yes, and it's also dangerous to blame a man and an administration for terrible problems they did not cause.

And what will Obama do about all this? Ronald Reagan, Kirkpatrick's hero, found a way to stand strong, to fight back and to win. We will soon know whether our current president has this in him.


Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Isabel Macdonald: Haiti Elections: A Sham in the Time of Cholera

In the midst of a cholera epidemic that has killed a reported 1,300 Haitians, the U.S., Canada and the United Nations insisted that Haiti's elections go ahead today, as scheduled.

However elections might not be the most accurate term for the process by which a new Haitian president and lawmakers will be selected at the polls today.

The ruling party's hand-picked electoral council has banned the most popular Haitian political party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), from the presidential election. FL leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was elected as Haiti's president in 2000, has been exiled in Africa since a coup d'etat in 2004, when he was removed by the U.S., and warned, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, not to "come back into the hemisphere."

Meanwhile, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti is warning that the presence of troops from the UN "stabilization" mission in Haiti (also known as MINUSTAH) at polling stations "is more likely to trigger violence than prevent it."

UN troops and Haitian National Police killed two demonstrators at anti-MINUSTAH protests in the city of Cap Haitien on November 15 and 16. And over the following two days, they tear-gassed Haitians participating in a march in Port-au-Prince, which as journalist Kim Ives reported for Haiti Liberte, "seriously sickened many women and children in the tent camps on the Champ de Mars in front of the collapsed National Palace."

Calls for the withdrawal of the UN troops have been escalating amidst accusations that UN soldiers' fecal matter, dumped into a waterway that feeds into Haiti's Artibonite river, was the likely source of the cholera.

Prior to last month, there had never been a documented case of cholera in Haiti, and as late as March the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was saying that the illness was "extremely unlikely" to occur in Haiti. Today, the Pan-American Health Organization is projecting that 200,000 people may be infected within a year, and that "we may have 10,000 dead."

On October 27, Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz broke the story of the suspected source of the cholera--an overflowing septic tank behind a UN base housing the Nepalese peacekeeping troops, who had arrived in Haiti just after a summer of cholera outbreaks in Nepal.

After visiting the site of the UN base, Katz reported that

a tank was clearly overflowing. The back of the base smelled like a toilet had exploded. Reeking, dark liquid flowed out of a broken pipe, toward the river, from next to what the soldiers said were latrines. U.N. military police were taking samples in clear jars with sky-blue U.N. lids, clearly horrified.

At the shovel-dug waste pits across the street sat yellow-brown pools of feces where ducks and pigs swam in the overflow. The path to the river ran straight downhill.

According to Harvard University microbiology chair John Mekalanos, the cholera "very much likely did come either with peacekeepers or other relief personnel." "I don't see there is any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred," he recently told AP.

However the cholera epidemic sweeping the country raises a bigger question about the role of countries such as the U.S., Canada and France, that have boasted for years about all the "aid" they've provided to Haiti.

With all this international "help," why on earth doesn't Haiti have the basic infrastructure that could have prevented the cholera outbreak?

Independent journalist Isabeau Doucet recently offered some very relevant context in a commentary for the Guardian, pointing out that

A decade ago, money was in place to address the country's failing water system. In 2000, a $54m (£34m) loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) should have given the Haitian government means to rehabilitate its urban and rural water systems."

However, "US foreign policy objectives of destabilising the democratically elected Aristide government got in the way," Doucet stated.

In a 2004 article for the London Review of Books, Harvard medical professor Paul Farmer, who is now the UN's Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, specified that "Haitian and American sources have confirmed to me that the US asked the bank to block the loans."

At a UN donors' conference in March 2010, the international community promised $5.3 billion to rebuild Haiti after the January 12 earthquake. (A sum that is considerably less than the tens of billions of dollars Haiti is owed for the illegitimate debts that have been extorted from Haitians by Western governments and financial institutions since 1825.)

Nearly eight months after these pledges, an estimated 1.7 million people are still living under tarps in unsafe makeshift camps.

MINUSTAH recently issued a statement calling the organizers of recent protests in Haiti "the enemies of stability and democracy."

But protest seems the most reasonable response to the present situation.

Not least for those of us whose governments promised a bright future for a "New Haiti" just nine months ago.

UPDATE--Index of Disenfranchisement

It is still too early to know the results of Haiti's "elections," which took place yesterday amidst ballot stuffing and reported voter intimidation, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. However, for anyone who wants to know what happens when the shock doctrine meets demonstrations elections, the numbers are already in:

  • Amount UN member countries had provided to the UN by Nov. 25, in response to a Nov. 12 emergency UN appeal for funds to address the cholera epidemic: $6.8 million
  • Amount the UN needs, in order to address this "situation of extreme urgency," according to the UN's Office of Humanitarian Affairs: $164 million
  • Maximum number of Haitians that U.S. Senator and doctor Bill Frist has estimated will be infected by cholera: 800,000
  • Number of presidential candidates who alleged fraud and demanded the cancellation of Sunday's poll: 12
  • Number of "ghost" voters on the electoral council's voter lists: 71,039
  • Number of Haitians who were still waiting for voter ID cards less than 2 weeks before the vote: 344,000

Follow Isabel Macdonald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/isabelmacdo

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Pearl Korn: Deficit Commission Member Rep. Jan Schakowsky Offers a Better Plan

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of the 18 members of the Deficit Commission, has offered her own plan in response to the Commission's proposals, which she has rejected. Rep. Schakowsky's major concern is that the Commission's recommendations to raise the age of enrollment in Social Security and cut Medicare benefits will take a serious toll on the middle class. Indeed, the two "deficit Hawks" chairing the Commission have shown their willingness to privatize Medicare and end Social Security, with an out-of-control Alan Simpson blustering, "Medicare is like a cow with 300 tits that keeps on giving" and casting Americans who receive support from government programs as worthless, undeserving, lazy people with his "lesser people" comment. Of course, Simpson should have been dumped then and there.

What a delight, however, to see a Democrat with real cajones -- metaphorically speaking, that is -- while Simpson obsesses about tits. Schakowsky is showing both chairs what "fight back in the sand box" is all about by going on offense, a lesson to be emulated by all Democrats. She has been very clear in stating that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, is self-financing and is solvent until 2037, paying full benefits and then paying at 80% beyond that date. So why is it even on this table? According to the Congresswoman, there is no relationship between the deficit and Social Security. Most of us already know that, except, apparently, for Simpson and Bowles. But we understand their deeper motivation: decimating our bedrock safety nets like Medicare and Social Security that have been sticking in the craw of conservatives for decades. This is their main mission.

Without Social Security, millions of seniors would have been thrown into poverty during the past 75 years, and will be in the future if Simpson and Bowles get their way. One of America's shining achievements of our history, dumped in favor of more giveaways to the rich. Social Security is a stimulus program that trickles down to every community in our country, paying for food, clothing, housing, prescription drugs and countless other basic necessities. If anything, those benefits should be increased, as the current average payout of $14,000 per person per year hardly provides for the basics, let alone the lavish lifestyle imagined by Simpson and his crowd. An increase could generate further stimulus. Indeed, if we're able to bail out the financial and auto industries, we can increase Social Security benefits for the poor and middle class, who immediately spend those dollars in their communities. The Commission is also proposing cutting the COLA (cost of living adjustment for inflation) for Social Security, which already has not been paid for the past two years.

Of course, the question that begs to be answered is what the negative impact to the economy would be if the eligibility age for Social Security rises from 65 to 69, which is the Deficit Commission's proposal. Since there are no economists on the Commission, this question has certainly not been properly addressed.

The Schakowsky Plan could reduce the deficit by $427.75 billion by 2015, without burdening the middle class. This would surpass the projection of the President's target of $250 billion -- an amount that the Commission's plan would not even achieve.

Schakowsky's plan also calls for:

  • Raising taxes on the highest incomes.
  • Modifying Social Security without changing benefits paid out.
  • A $200 billion two-year stimulus investment, creating jobs and providing economic growth.
  • Cutting farm subsidies and the Pentagon budget by more than $100 billion (both of which are also being proposed by the Commission, though Schakowsky goes further by cutting unnecessary weapons systems, reducing troop levels and other measures).
  • Imposing taxes on corporations that out-source jobs and saving $132 billion from limiting or closing tax breaks on corporations.
  • Letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire.
  • Treating capitol gains and dividends as regular income, which could generate another $150 billion.
  • Removing the caps on payroll taxes for employers and lifting the threshold above $106,000 for employees, and imposing a 'legacy tax' above the cap.
  • And, most impressively, Schakowsky proposes a Public Option for health insurance, which would lower healthcare costs and allow the government to negotiate drug prices with the PHARMA industry to lower costs, like it does for the V.A. Drug costs could become a fraction of the amount that seniors now pay. Tellingly, both Bowles and Simpson acknowledge a Public Option may be necessary if costs don't go down, so perhaps a P.O. could finally be on the way? There is certainly no indication health care costs will decrease in 2011.

Conversely, the Simpson/Bowles plan includes numerous draconian measures that will hit the middle class and, most shamefully, our military, including cutting soldiers' pay and the military's health care system TRICARE. Schakowsky's plan offers no such cuts.

The Commission is expected to approve a plan by Dec. 1st, and then send it to Congress for a vote. In order for the plan to reach Congress, however, 14 of the 18 members of the Commission must approve it. Is consensus possible?

The president recently said on the air that he wants ideas. He must take a look at Rep. Schakowsky's plan alongside the Commission's and decide which one will benefit and speak for middle class America. His response will be telling.

Rep. Schakowsky offered an excellent understanding of economic policy in stating, "The goal of budget policy should be to assure long-term, widely shared economic growth. Sustained long-term economic growth requires that we end the trend of concentrating more and more wealth in the hands of the rich and less in the hands of a middle class that can then afford to buy the products and services that will sustain economic growth."

Hear, hear!

Also see my previous post on HuffPost A Misguided Deficit Commission

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Robert Kuttner: Backbone, Please

If anything is more overrated than bipartisanship, it is post-partisanship. The Republicans surely get this. They dig in their heels, don't budge, and wait for the Democrats either to fail, or to come to them.

But the media are infatuated with the idea that excessive partisanship is a symmetrical problem. If only the Republicans and the Democrats would meet each other halfway, the nation's ills would be solved. It is hard to watch the Sunday talk shows without seeing one interviewer after another demanding, why can't you people just compromise?

There are two problems with this formulation, one tactical and the other substantive. The tactical problem is that the Republicans and Democrats aren't playing the same game. So if the Democrats meet the Republicans half way, the Republicans only demand that they do it again. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is identified as media enemy number one because she rejects this nonsense.

The tactical asymmetry connects to the substantive problem -- the fact that the solution to what ails the economy is somewhere to the left of most Democrats, not midway between, say, President Obama and Mitch McConnell. The economy will be fixed only with more public investment, more progressive taxation, and more regulation, but partisan compromise dictates less of each.

Our President, unfortunately, has played right into this trap, with creations such as the bipartisan panel on fiscal reform and responsibility, which will very likely come out with a plan to narrow the federal deficit by slashing what's left of public investment. The whole tilt of this commission is somewhere between conservative Democrat and far-right Republican.

Obama started out as a wishful post-partisan. His post-partisanship, in the face of Republican obstructionism, handed the mid-term election to his enemies. Now he is still trying to be post-partisan, but in even worse terrain.

On Wednesday, the commission will either issue some kind of report, or will be hamstrung by divisions. President Obama's order creating the commission required a supermajority of 14 out of its 18 members for its recommendations to be official.

At this writing, its three legislative progressive members are dead set against a budget plan that cuts Social Security or places deficit-reduction ahead of economic recovery. One of these, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, issued her own alternative plan, which increases social investment in the short run in order to get a stronger recovery going, then reduces the deficit over time with higher growth, progressive taxation and cuts in military spending.

Two others, Senator Dick Durbin and Rep. Xavier Becerra, are disinclined to support the proposed plan. One other progressive on the commission, former SEIU president Andy Stern, has held out hopes of a grand bargain but no bargain that might appeal to Stern seems to be forthcoming. One other member, conservative Democrat Senator Max Baucus might be friendly to the deficit-hawk mentality, but is opposed to a fast-track formula of mandatory budget targets that might impinge on his prerogatives as Senate Finance Committee chairman. So the best we can hope for is that the commission will fall of its own weight.

To get a sense of what the Commission's two chairmen, Wall Street Democrat Erskine Bowles and wacko Republican Alan Simpson, would like to do, consider the proposal that they have been circulating. This would begin cutting the deficit in just 10 months, whether or not the economy is in recovery. The plan would gratuitously cut Social Security benefits, not raise taxes on the wealthy, and use spending cuts for about two-thirds of the proposed deficit reduction.

For an antidote to this economically insane medicine, have a look at the counterproposal written by three progressive think tanks, which proposes recovery first. A similar manifesto, by the Citizens Budget Commission, has just been released as an explicit alternative to the official commission's expected report. (Disclosure: I am involved with both efforts.)

The latest incarnation of the bipartisan delusion is an organization calling itself "No Labels." This is not an anti-designer consumer protest, but a political organization advertising the conceit that there is something virtuous per se about being post-partisan, never mind the content.

No Labels, according to the Wall Street Journal,

has raised more than $1 million to seed its effort against what it calls "hyper-partisanship." Backers include co-chairman of Loews Corp. Andrew Tisch, Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich and ex-Facebook executive Dave Morin. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as U.S. senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, will attend the New York launch.

The group's goal is to start a centrist equivalent to the tea-party movement on the right and MoveOn on the left. It sees an opportunity based on the defeat of liberal Republicans in recent years and the heavy losses taken by conservative Democrats in 2010.

'I've never seen such a wide opening for a third force in American politics,' says William Galston, a Brookings Institution fellow and No Labels adviser.

Spare me! Is Joe Lieberman, one of the great hacks of American politics, anybody's idea of a fresh thinker?

Come to think of it, what exactly is Galston's "third force" a third way between?

The original Third Way, Sweden, was advertised as somewhere between communism and capitalism. More recent third-way organizations, like the Democratic Leadership Council, have positioned themselves midway between Democratic liberals and business conservatives. As the presidential Democratic Party keeps moving right-of-center, the third way people now position themselves in between neutered Democrats and far-right resurgent Republicans.

You can see where this leads. But it sure is popular with financiers and the elite press.

What are Debbie Stabenow and Antonio Villaraigosa, of all people, doing associating themselves with this crowd? Didn't partisan Democrats and the labor movement work their tails off to get these people elected?

One of the two organizers of the effort is Nancy Jacobson, a big-time Democratic fund-raiser who is married to strategist Mark Penn, the pollster who invariably advises Democrats to move to the right. You can guess who will get the contract if this outfit takes off.

According to several reports, the fantasy of this group is that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would agree to run as a centrist independent in 2012.

Perfect. Bloomberg, a gazillionare and media mogul from Wall Street, would bring us no reform of financial excess, belt tightening for ordinary people, and the kind of privatizing of public services that has endeared him to Manhattan's economic elite.

Oh, and he's a social liberal. The media will love it. And the donors -- well, Bloomberg is so rich he doesn't need donors.

So the next phase of American politics will be Republican faux-populist loonies versus fat-cat post-partisans.

I keep thinking of Yeats. "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." A real progressive, with courage and convictions, could expose these people as false messiahs.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a Senior Fellow at Demos. His most recent book is "A Presidency in Peril."

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle

Is this a great country or what?

"American exceptionalism" is a phrase that, until recently, was rarely heard outside the confines of think tanks, opinion journals and university history departments.

But with Republicans and tea party activists accusing President Obama and the Democrats of turning the country toward socialism, the idea that the United States is inherently superior to the world's other nations has become the battle cry from a new front in the ongoing culture wars. Lately, it seems to be on the lips of just about every Republican who is giving any thought to running for president in 2012.

"This reorientation away from a celebration of American exceptionalism is misguided and bankrupt," former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney writes in his campaign setup book, "No Apology: The Case For American Greatness."

On Monday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is also considering a White House bid, is scheduled to address the Detroit Economic Club on "Restoring American Exceptionalism: A Vision for Economic Growth and Prosperity."

For former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the concept is a frequent theme in her speeches, Facebook postings, tweets and appearances on Fox News Channel. Her just-published book, "America by Heart," has a chapter titled "America the Exceptional."

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, contends in his speeches that Obama's views on the subject are "truly alarming."

In an interview in August with Politico, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee went so far as to declare of Obama: "His worldview is dramatically different than any president, Republican or Democrat, we've had. . . . To deny American exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation."

And last week, Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, told a group of College Republicans at American University: "Don't kid yourself with the lie. America is exceptional, and Americans are concerned that there are a group of people in Washington who don't believe that any more."

Some, however, wonder whether Obama's conservative critics are sounding an alarm about the United States' place in the world - or making an insidious suggestion about the president himself.

With a more intellectual sheen than the false assertions that Obama is secretly a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya, an argument over American exceptionalism "is a respectable way of raising the question of whether Obama is one of us," said William Galston, a former policy adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Much of this criticism harkens back to a single comment that Obama made at a news conference a year and a half ago in Strasbourg, France, during his first trip overseas as president.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Crowdsourcing Aldermen, Daley hangs 'Help Wanted' sign at City Hall :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: City Hall

Daley hangs 'Help Wanted' sign at City Hall

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

For the second time in nine months, Mayor Daley is holding an open casting call before filling three temporary jobs that pay $110,556-a-year: aldermen of Chicago�s 4th, 28th and 38th Wards.

The vacancies were created when Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) was elected Cook County Board President, Ald. Ed Smith (28th) abruptly resigned and Ald. Tom Allen (38th) quit to accept an Illinois Supreme Court appointment to the job of Circuit Court judge. Replacements who don�t win election on their own will serve until the new City Council is sworn in on May 16, 2011.

The last time Daley accepted applications to fill aldermanic vacancies, 97 resumes came in and political insiders ended up getting the jobs.

Daley appointed State Rep. Deborah Graham (D-Chicago) to be the new 29th Ward alderman and businessman Joe Moreno to fill a 1st Ward vacancy.

The mayor said he interviewed 44 candidates, but ultimately chose Graham, a state representative who had sponsored some of his ill-fated gun-control bills while doubling as a city planner.

He also chose Moreno,  a graphic arts and printing company executive who ran for the state Senate in 2008 and had served as a leader of the United Neighborhood Organization's Metropolitan Leadership Institute, where Daley has drawn other Hispanic appointees.

This time, applications are due in the mayor�s office no later than 4:30 p.m. Monday. Would-be aldermen need a cover letter to the mayor expressing their interest, a resume that highlights community involvement in addition to work experience, and at least three letters of recommendation from ward residents, community and business leaders.

They also need a completed application that can be downloaded at cityofchicgao.org.

The application asks whether applicants have lived in the ward they�re applying to represent for �at least the past year�; whether they have filed nominating petitions to run for alderman on Feb. 22; whether they are registered to vote at the address listed as their residence and what strengths they would bring to the office.

After making 33 aldermanic appointments, most by following the predecessor�s recommendation, Daley opted for posting the �Help Wanted� ad on the Internet after Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) was convicted on federal corruption charges and Ald. Manny Flores (1st) quit to become chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

But in a city whose Democratic ward bosses famously said, �We don�t want nobody nobody sent,� the mayor ended up choosing political insiders anyway.

State Rep. William Burns (D-Chicago) is Preckwinkle�s preferred replacement, but he is not seeking the temporary appointment.

Smith is backing former Maywood Village Manager Jason Ervin.

Allen�s ward organization has endorsed Cullerton family scion Tim Cullerton, a former first deputy buildings commissioner.

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Technology, Social Innovation and Civic Participation

3:30pm to 3:35pm - Introduction

Tom Glaisyer
Knight Media Policy Fellow, Open Technology Initiative
New America Foundation

3:35 pm to 3:45 pm - Remarks

Sonal Shah
Deputy Assistant to the President
Director, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

3:45pm to 4:10pm - Presentations

Ben Shneiderman
Professor of Computer Science
Founding Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab
University of Maryland

Jenny Preece
Professor and Dean, College of Information Studies
University of Maryland

4:10pm to 4:45pm - Panel Discussion

Ginny Hunt
Head of Public Sector Programs

Jenny Preece
Professor and Dean, College of Information Studies
University of Maryland

Sonal Shah
Deputy Assistant to the President
Director, Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Ben Shneiderman
Professor of Computer Science
Founding Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab
University of Maryland

Posted via email from Brian's posterous

Quote of the Day: Decapitating the Headless in Iran | techPresident

Anecdotal evidence indicates that GPO leaders, especially [Mir Hossein] Mousavi, have from the start favored a horizontal, diffuse, decentralized GPO structure as opposed to amore hierarchical one.

Indeed, part of the GPO's resilience stems from this defuse and decentralized nature, frustrating a regime that has come to rely on the two-step of identifying and decapitating leadership as its main tool for extinguishing dissent. In this regard communication technologies such as the Internet and SMS technology have been a significant 'force multiplier,' with virtual space in many ways playing the same 'information-center' role now that the networks of mosques played in the 1979 Revolution.

-- From a January 10th, 2010, State Department cable originating from State's* Regional Presence Office based in Dubai, published as part of Wikileaks' so-called Cablegate release, on the aftermath of Iran's "fixed June 12 Presidential election." The cable paints the tech-savvy Green Path Opposistion, of which Mousavi was the public face, as a more resilent organization because it was more starfish than spider.

But, a twist: elsewhere in the cable, State's Iran observers hint at the idea that the power of the Internet might have in fact fueled a public misperception at just how powerful and widespread the Iranian opposistion to the presidential election results really were. You might remember the video-taped death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a gruesome few minutes of tape that the State Department's Alec Ross pointed to at PdF LatAm a couple weeks back as a catalyzing artifact when it came to global public opinion on how the Iranian regime's handled their citizens' reaction to the June election. But content like that, suggests the cable, might overemphasize how widespread displeasure with the standing government is inside Iran.

"Finally and in many ways most importantly," goes the cable, "'if it bleeds it leads,' so there are no 'Youtube' uploads on demonstration days of the millions of ordinary Iranians who are going about their business."

Posted via email from Brian's posterous