Saturday, November 29, 2008

I don't get why some Latinos are upset about Richardson cabinet appointment

I read an article today where some Hispanic leaders are upset that Governor Bill Richardson, who endorsed Obama (though late in the campaign, when it was clear which way the tide was moving) and dearly wanted the Secretary of State's job, will instead be getting a less prestigious and less influential cabinet post, that of Secretary of Commerce. Hillary Clinton will be the next Secretary of State.

Now I will give one point that the dissapointed Hispanic leaders are making. There is no question that Richardson is more qualified in terms of his foreign policy experience, having actually sat across the table from some pretty tough characters and hammered out real agreements with them. Clinton has never done that. But that isn't the same as saying that she can't, she is certainly smart and capable enough to do it (and she will of course have the advice of her husband, who has done plenty of direct negotiating.)

However, when I was working with the Richardson campaign (yes some longtime readers of this blog may recall that I was a former Richardson supporter,) I remember that polling never showed that he was getting near the support that Clinton was getting among Hispanics in states like California, even before he dropped out. His support among Hispanic voters rarely polled above 10%.

So my question is a simple one: How can a group of voters be upset that a candidate doesn't get a position, when they themselves never really got behind him (and the person they did support gets the position instead?)

There is no question that Bill Richardson broke new ground by becoming the first Hispanic to run for President in a major party primary. But I don't see how Obama is somehow obligated to choose him for Secretary of State based on some combination of his resume, his demographic and his endorsement that came so late it seemed opportunistic (Joe Biden, who at one time was also talked about as a potential Secretary of State did far better by not endorsing either Obama or Clinton at all.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still doesn't get it

House Minority Leader John Boehner said yesterday that Washington politicians should listen to the 'American people,' who are saying they don't want any more big spending government programs.

Well, he's half right. Washington politicians should listen to the "American people."

But if they were saying they didn't want any big program to get out of the situation we are in now, I'd only point out that the voice of the 'American people' has been made clear.

If the 'American people' really wanted the low tax, small market conservatism espoused by Boehner and others on the right, they could have had it. But they sent a different message instead-- the message they sent in 2006, and look ready to send again, this fall.

If Boehner was right about what the 'American people' wanted to hear, he'd still be majority leader.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Buffet (t) of choices when choosing a Treasury Secretary

I'd like to discuss the most important Obama cabinet appointment: Secretary of the Treasury.

There is no doubt that we are heading into trying economic times (that may be an understatement.) It seems that every day we get more news of economic disaster at home or abroad, and in the interconnected global markets it feels like we are in one neverending domino chain as markets crash all around the world and then feed into the next market crash. Over one million jobs have been lost just since January. Wages are flat or declining and both crime and bankruptcies are on the rise. Further, with trillions of dollars in Federal debt and no prospect of any real growth in the foreseeable future it looks like this situation will last for years.

Into this cauldron, there will come a new economic team (not completely new, of course-- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke serves a staggered term so he will have to be included in any decisions that are made now.) The most important appointment that President-Elect Obama will make is that of Secretary of the Treasury. Whoever he picks will be the administration's point man (or woman) on the economy, and this economy is the biggest challenge that any incoming administration has faced in at least three quarters of a century. Armed for the challenge though the next Treasury Secretary will have been made flush with as much as a trillion dollars of taxpayer money to bail out some, but not enough to bail out all, of those whose ships are sinking. His or her job will be to try and keep the economy from sinking, and probably making some very tough decisions about where to put down a huge, but limited supply of chips.

I'd like to look at some who are rumored to be leading candidates.

During the campaign we heard the name of Warren Buffett, who both candidates lavished praise on and who is known to be a close economic advisor to Obama and endorsed him during the campaign. Buffett is an American legend, parlaying a $12,000 per year job as a stockbroker into one of the world's greatest fortunes. He has displayed an uncanny understanding of how markets work and rarely made a bad investment. During the present economic meltdown, Buffett did his part of stabilizing the banks by publically announcing that he was investing five billion dollars in Goldman Sachs, which stabilized the bank's share price and gave it some hard assets. There is no doubt that Obama will continue to seek Buffett's advice on economic issues. However I don't think that Obama will ask him to be Secretary of the Treasury, nor that Buffett wants the job. Buffett, who is 77, has largely given up day to day operation even of his own company (Berkshire Hathaway) in order to focus on his own extensive philanthropic pursuits and is far more likely to be used only as a resource or consultant than to be asked to manage the entire economy.

Another name that has been bandied about is Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Wall Street Bank JP Morgan Chase. Dimon has run the bank well, and it has avoided many, though not all, of the pitfalls that have befallen other banks (in fact earlier this year it was Chase that stepped in and swallowed up the assets of the defunct Washington Mutual.) One of Dimon's biggest assets, and one reason Obama seems to like him, is that Dimon isn't shy about telling the truth instead of sugar coating bad news. That quality was on full display this week as Dimon said that rising unemployment was likely to add to the number of delinquencies the bank (and other banks) could face, prompting banking analyst Richard Bove cut his price target on Dimon's bank from $45 per share to $37. I doubt if Obama will choose Dimon either though. Dimon's biggest liability may be where he works now. Many people blame Wall Street banks for getting us into this mess (though that is in fact a gross oversimplification, at best they were only a piece of a larger whole.) So choosing the CEO of a big Wall Street Bank might not go over well with the public, and just recently Barry L. Zubrow, the chief risk officer for JP Morgan Morgan had to answer questions about whether the bank was using government bailout money to acquire smaller banks instead of to give loans to customers. That may be a mess that the Obama administration doesn't want to step in.

Another name that some have mentioned as a possible Treasury Secretary is Timothy Geithner. Geithner is the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. There is no doubt that Geithner has experience commensurate with the job, but on the other hand he has been a member of the Federal Reserve (and therefore was in on all the decisions they made) since 2003. This again suggests that while some people may be pushing for Geithner, Obama won't pick him. Like Dimon, Geithner can be blamed for helping create the current mess, and he doesn't even have the cover of a public record like Dimon has of sometimes bucking the trend to suggest that he would be willing to make the hard decisions that the next Treasury Secretary must be willing to make. Another knock on Geithner is that as a free marketeer and advocate of deregulation (at least he was when it had some advocates) he is unpopular with organized labor. There is no question that unions were a huge part of the Obama coalition and helped him hold together the working class white voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania this year. That doesn't automatically disqualify Geithner but realistically Obama won't want to begin his tenure by ticking off some of his most critical supporters.

If Obama wants experience in the post, he may turn to either of two former Clinton treasury secretaries: Robert Rubin or Lawrence Summers. Both served as treasury secretary during a time of economic prosperity and both have the advantage that they will come in already knowing the abilities and limitations of the position so that they can hit the ground running. My guess is that if Obama follows this path he is tempermentally more inclined to go with Summers, more of a low-key 'get things done' kind of guy instead of the sometimes outspoken Rubin. On the other hand, Summers made some sexist comments last year in his job as President of Harvard University. While he apologized for them it might be tough to swallow for some feminists if Summers were named to Treasury-- especially if someone other than Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State.

Another Clinton official who may get a look is Laura Tyson, who served as the chair of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors. Her advantage would also be that she served and advised during prosperous times, and has been away from both government and Wall Street (teaching economics at the University of California at Berkeley) while everything has been going to pot. If Tyson is selected then she would also be the first ever female Treasury Secretary (we've had two female treasurers, Francine Neff and Mary Ellen Withrow, but that is a lower level position often confused with the Secretary of the Treasury.)

If he instead opts for something out of the ordinary, there are a couple of possibilities out there that could shake things up a bit. One of these is Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Certainly in today's rapidly changing and increasingly technological economy, Schmidt would fit right in with Obama's perspective on painting the future in broad brush strokes rather than doing what others have expected, tested and possibly found wanting. No one questions Schmidt's business acumen, and with Obama's belief in technology as a path to a better future it's no wonder that Schmidt's name has come up in some discussions about Treasury Secretary. Another name that I've seen once or twice and which would also confound the experts is Mitt Romney, who ran for President as a Republican earlier this year. After losing to John McCain in a bitter primary, Romney endorsed and worked for McCain and proved he could be a team player, and he did run a successful business. Obama has pledged to include Republicans in his cabinet, but I'd be surprised if he did so in such a high profile position-- that would also be a break with the past (Bill Clinton appointed Republican William Cohen as Secretary of Defense and George W. Bush appointed Democrat Norman Mineta as Transportation Secretary.) Obama might also run the risk of setting up a Republican known to have higher ambitions to run against him in 2012; if Romney were named and then the economy turned around and boomed then Romney would rightly or wrongly claim a lot of the credit. One other name has been mentioned-- Paul Volcker. Volcker has served as a chairman of the Federal Reserve-- between 1979 and 1987 (having been appointed by Carter and reappointed by Reagan.) Volcker is so old, he'd be new. On the other hand, he's also so old, he's old. In fact Volcker is even older than Warren Buffett.

To be honest, I've not got a clue as to who the President-Elect will choose. There are some very strong candidates, but each of them also comes with some drawbacks-- so there is no obvious choice. But who Obama picks may well give us an insight into exactly what his strategy is for dealing with the economy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why have a code name when you are going to tell everyone?

I thought code names were supposed to be code names-- designed to mislead or confuse someone who is listening in with ill intent.

So why is it already out what the Secret Service names are for the Obamas and Bidens?.

If they are going to publicize the names then what is even the point of having them?

Now granted, they may very well be just public code names while they actually use other code names (in fact I'd say this is highly probable) but there still isn't any point in publicizing even the first set of names (then someone who figures them out will think they actually found something.)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Latinos jumped to Obama three times as fast as other voters.

A fresh look at the numbers hit the nail on the head as to where Obama picked up the most Bush support.

It wasn't from evangelicals, or working class whites, groups that Obama made a point of reaching out to. It wasn't from young voters or African-Americans either-- those groups both went strongly for John Kerry four years ago (in the case of African-Americans, especially, who went 90% for John Kerry, while they upped that into the mid-ninety percent range for Obama, there is only so much more you can squeeze out when you start at 90%.)

No, the really big shift came among Latino voters. While Obama got 5% overall more of the electorate than Kerry, among Hispanics he almost tripled that, to 14% more.

Latino voters shifted in huge numbers away from the Republicans to vote for Senator Barack Obama in the presidential election...

In a year when turnout among many groups surged nationwide, the number of Latinos who went to the polls increased by nearly 25 percent over 2004, with sharp rises among naturalized immigrants and young, first-time voters, according to a study by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Hispanic support for the Democratic nominee increased by 14 points over all compared with 2004, the biggest shift toward the Democrats by any voter group.

Nationwide, Hispanics voted 67 percent for Mr. Obama and 31 percent for Senator John McCain, according to Edison/Mitofsky exit polls. In 2004, Senator John Kerry won 53 percent, while 44 percent of Hispanics voted for President Bush, a record for Latino support for a Republican presidential nominee.

Even McCain's loss of 14% represents a sharp improvement from the 2006 midterm elections in which the level of Hispanic support for the GOP literally was cut in half, from the 44% for President Bush down to 20%. McCain still has some support from the group.

The reason why is not hard to figure out. Hispanics up until 2004 had been trending Republican. Many if not a clear majority of them are Christians, hard workers, appreciate America and serve in the military at a higher rate than the national average. Family is important to Latino voters so much of what the GOP used to say went over well with them.

Starting after the 2004 election though the GOP really began ginning up their attacks on immigration. I personally believe that this issue alone is the entire reason for the rush away from the GOP by Hispanic voters, but if not then there are other issues that the GOP will have to figure out and address.

There are other ways for Republicans to get their base out. The immigrant-bashing has served them poorly (and it certainly bit the past two elections.) Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country (not just because of immigration either; it's a fact that Hispanic women have a higher fertility rate than the rest of the population.) So driving them straight into the hands of the Democratic party (while a gift to us) shows exactly how the GOP has become a ship of fools.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A mandate, it is

The country that Barack Obama will take over is vastly different from the one that George W. Bush inherited eight years ago (I don't need to enumerate the differences, because we all know what they are.)

Nevertheless, the operative word here is hope. Our new President-elect is an enormously talented man, and the way he was able to balance calmness with measured action during the economic crisis a few weeks ago should give us confidence-- I know it gives me confidence.

Nationally, the election was historic, not only for the election of the first black President (those who would never vote for a black man are becoming older and less influential as time goes on, and they are now clearly themselves in a minority.) It was also historic because it is a mandate for the changes that Obama has laid out-- increased regulation, a return to the Clinton tax rates and a government that is prepared to take an activist role in everything from health care to energy independence. More than sixty-three million Americans cast votes for Barack Obama, more than have ever voted for any Presidential candidate in history. States like Virginia and Indiana, Republican strongholds for decades, voted for Obama last night. Even North Carolina, the home state of Jesse Helms, remains too close to call today.

Beyond that, it was historic for the gains that Democrats made in Congress. There are those on the right (like Bob Novak, today) who are trying to spin it as a failure because Democrats won't have sixty seats in the Senate. But the truth is, that was always a tall order and if you'd suggested at the start of the election cycle that Democrats could gain five seats in the Senate, that would have sounded pretty good. And five is a floor; right now there are still two Senate races being counted, one headed for a recount and a fourth headed to a December runoff. Likewise, some on the right are trying to spin the pickup of about 20 seats in the house as some kind of a diminishment, pointing out that it is near the low end of the latest pre-election estimates of some pundits. However, that kind of analysis conveniently omits the fact that only a few weeks ago those same pundits were predicting a Democratic gain in the single digits in the House. Ultimately it isn't the pundits who elect members of Congress, it is the voters. And the voters made a historic choice in Congress as well. Adding this year's gains to those of 2006, you see a swing of fifty seats in the house and at least eleven in the Senate. The timing of two consecutive wave elections is extraordinarily rare, most recently occurring in 1930-1932, when Democrats were the beneficiaries, and 1950-1952 when it benefitted Republicans. What it really is is one wave which hit over a period of time when it was divided into two parts. So yes, the mandate is clearly here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Live blogging on news 12

You won't catch me on here tonight, because I am liveblogging during the next two hours on channel 12 in Phoenix. You can see my news 12 blog right here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Why I haven't been on much lately

I'm sure some people are wondering why the blog volume here has dropped right before the election.

Easy answer to that. I'm part of that 'Obama ground game' that pundits are always referring to.

I've been doing stuff all throughout the campaign, but for example this weekend on Friday I helped put together a whole bunch of packages that could be hung on doors and this weekend I was out volunteering in a nearby town hanging those hangers on doors. On Tuesday I'm taking a day off work to hand out palm cards at a precinct in a nearby town, at least until I have to take off to go down to Phoenix and help provide commentary by live blogging when the early results come in on channel 12 news.

Don't worry, I'll have plenty to write after the election.
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