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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Enough with the "First Hundred Days"

Everyone seems to be on this "First Hundred Days" trip. What's Obama gonna do to clean up these disparate, enormous messes? Put out all the fires?

Give it a rest. A plane load of Saudi sociopaths hit the World Trade Center and the Congress, the country and the world gave W. a pass for eight years. Whatever he wanted. They gave him the MasterCard. The result: priceless.

Obama might consider three things.

One is that Tim Geithner was a mistake. In a time when the nation isn't thinking much about Iraq (sad) or energy efficiency (bad) but focuses, as Americans do, on money-money-money, appointing a Treasury Secretary who is on the up-and-up should have been evident. Others who did not pay their taxes, whatever taxes, were disinvited. Why not Geitner? There must be dozens of other men and women who could do that job just as well and right now. Why is Geithner still there? Geithner should resign.

Two is that Henry Paulson needs to spend at least the rest of 2009 in front of Congressional committees investigating how he spent the TARP money. Paulson is to TARP what Colin Powell is to Iraq. Paulson put his name and reputation on the line to advocate for the bailout. A lot of that money went to the wrong people and was spent on the wrong things. Shamefully so. Blame Paulson. He looked the American people and their government in the eye and said this bailout was necessary to save American financial markets. Instead, too much of the money was used to save American financiers. A lot of whiny, cranky libs on this site balked when I said that we should forego prosecutions of Bush administration officials on behalf of moving America forward. I will amend that. Like any looting event, the cops arrive in time to catch the last looters out of the store. Paulson is the last looter. Prosecute him. For fraud. Sentence him to life without parole. To be served in a Congressional hearing. Another prospective defendant, in the name of liberty, is Gonzales. An attorney general who shamed the Department on the level of Hoover and Meese.

Third is the refundable tax credit, which should be done away with. It is welfare. Not even the president of the Harvard Law Review/ President of the U.S. can bullshit his way around that.

A post script: To John McCain. You need to keep quiet, John McCain. You lost and more importantly you are to blame for your loss. You ran a lousy campaign. In terms of message, logistics, ideas. Now you can't seem to shut up about the stimulus package. Another rich Republican market shill who can only deal with spending bills that stimulate the Dow. You gotta shut up, John McCain. We can never go back to the Stone Age ideas that the likes of you and Paulson and Cheney (re: fighting terrorism) have tried to force down our throats. Your political career is over, essentially. So go out with a little dignity. You lost the race, so you can take your lips off the Bush family fundraising apparatus now.

Original here

Olbermann: 'It may be time for Mr. Cheney to leave this country'

David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster

To MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, the former vice president just needs to go away.

In an interview with Politico published on Wednesday, former vice president Dick Cheney defended the Bush administration's use of torture and warrantless surveillance and suggested that unless the Obama administration maintains these policies, it risks a new "9/11-type event" that could "involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people."

On Thursday night, the Countdown newsman took Cheney to task for his words.

"Flatly, it may be time for Mr. Cheney to leave this country," he said. "The partisanship and divisiveness he ascribed his and President Bush's delusional policies of the last eight years that have roared forth from Mr. Cheney can only serve to undermine the nation's new president."

The anchor's sentiment was echoed at the confirmation hearing of Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff and President Obama's nominee to lead the CIA.

"I was disappointed by those comments, because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution," said Panetta. "I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution."

"It is time for you to desist or to be made to desist," said Olbermann. "With damnable words you protect no American, you serve no American and you aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.

"... Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Feb. 5, 2009.




Original here

Why Shovel-Ready Infrastructure is Wrong (Right Now)

The term "shovel-ready"—as in, infrastructure projects that are ready or almost ready to begin—has become a favorite of policy makers in recent weeks. As the Senate gets ready to vote on a stimulus bill, it looks like the idea has stuck: The latest bill gives only projects that are able to start construction within 90 days eligibility for funding from the $90 billion set aside for infrastructure. Here is why the shovel-ready mandate could make the infrastructure crisis worse.

The Action Americans Need

By Barack Obama

By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.

What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives -- action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.

Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.

Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.

And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.

These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.

The writer is president of the United States.

Original here

What Is Congress Stimulating?

Contrary to conventional Beltway wisdom, the House Republicans' zero votes for the Obama presidency's stimulus "package" is looking like the luckiest thing to happen to the GOP's political fortunes since Ronald Reagan switched parties. If the GOP line holds, the party could win back much of the goodwill it dissipated with its big-government adventures the past eight years.

[Wonder Land] Face the Nation, Karin Cooper

'How big?' senator, is not the question.

For starters, notwithstanding the new president's high approval rating, his stimulus bill (ghost-written by Nancy Pelosi) has been losing altitude with public opinion by the day. People are nervous.

Then after Tim Geithner scampered through the tax minefield and into a Cabinet seat, the Daschle tax bomb went off, laying open for public view the world of Washington's pay-for-favors that makes the average Wall Street banker look like Little Bo-Peep.

Conventional wisdom holds that the Republican refuseniks shot themselves in the foot by staying off the House stimulus package. Real wisdom holds that congressional Republicans should consider putting distance between themselves and anything Democratic just now. The party's crypts are opening.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with an apparently recession-proof cash hoard, is running radio ads against 28 House Republicans. The theme of the ads is "Putting Families First."

Families first? The only family standing at the front of the stimulus pay line is the federal family. Read the bill.

Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger asks why our government needs stimulus money. (Feb. 5)

Check your PC's virus program, then pull down the nearly 700 pages of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Dive into its dank waters and what is most striking is how much "stimulus" money is being spent on the government's own infrastructure. This bill isn't economic stimulus. It's self-stimulus.

(All sums here include the disorienting zeros, as in the bill.)

Title VI, Financial Services and General Government, says that "not less than $6,000,000,000 shall be used for construction, repair, and alteration of Federal buildings." There's enough money there to name a building after every Member of Congress.

The Bureau of Land Management gets $325,000,000 to spend fixing federal land, including "trail repair" and "remediation of abandoned mines or well sites," no doubt left over from the 19th-century land rush.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are getting $462,000,000 for "equipment, construction, and renovation of facilities, including necessary repairs and improvements to leased laboratories."

The National Institute of Standards gets $357,000,000 for the "construction of research facilities." The Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gets $427,000,000 for that. The country is in an economic meltdown and the federal government is redecorating.

The FBI gets $75,000,000 for "salaries and expenses." Inside the $6,200,000,000 Weatherization Assistance Program one finds "expenses" of $500,000,000. How many bureaucrats does it take to "expense" a half-billion dollars?

The current, Senate-amended version now lists "an additional amount to be deposited in the Federal Buildings Fund, $9,048,000,000." Of this, "not less than $6,000,000,000 shall be available for measures necessary to convert GSA facilities to High-Performance Green Buildings." High performance?

Sen. Tom Coburn is threatening to read the bill on the floor of the Senate. I have a better idea: Read it on "Saturday Night Live."

Such as the amendment to Section 2(3)(F) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, which will permit payments to guys employed to repair "recreational vessels." Under Incentives for New Jobs, we find a credit to employ what the bill calls "disconnected youths," defined as "not readily employable by reason of lacking a sufficient number of basic skills."

President Obama is saying the bill will "create or save" three million new jobs. The bad news is your new boss is Uncle Sam.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, "Everybody agrees that there ought to be a stimulus package. The question is: How big and what do we spend it on?"

Sen. McConnell should reconsider. He knows that the Bush-GOP spending spree cost them control of Congress in 2006. Thus, "How big?" is not the question his party's constituents (or horrified independents) want answered. This is a chance for the GOP to climb down from its big-government dunce chair. Until that reversal is achieved, there is no hope for this party.

I think that behind the bill's sinking public support is the sense that it won't work and its cost is dangerous. The bill's design, an embarrassment to Rube Goldberg, is flawed. Even were one to grant the Keynesians their argument, this is a very mushy, weak-form stimulus.

Rather than try to "reform" it, which won't happen, Sen. McConnell should ask President Obama to pull it and start over. One guesses that privately the president's economic team would thank the senator. If he won't pull it, the Senate Republicans should walk away from it. This bill is a bomb. It may wreck more than it saves.

Original here

'Disgraceful' indeed: Fox crew ambushes NSA whistleblower


You all may remember Russell Tice, the whistleblower who recently stepped forward to reveal that the Bush administration's NSA spying program included journalists and thousands of ordinary Americans.

Bill O'Reilly says he wanted to "interview" Tice but he declined. And goodness, we just can't imagine why. So Fox sent attack-dog producer Jesse Waters and one of those crack Fox ambush crews to ambush Tice outside of his home.

You can judge the performance for yourselves. But in case Fox's producers wonder why Tice wouldn't go on their program, they need only watch Waters' performance here to realize why he was wise to refuse. Fox wasn't interested in what he had to say or what evidence he might possess -- it only wanted to score some points against Tice and try to discredit his testimony. And incidentally, since it's clear O'Reilly doesn't understand such things (since it's been decades since he's been anything approaching a real journalist in any serious sense of the word), the word of an eyewitness to such activities is usually considered sound evidence they occurred, both in the journalistic world as well as in a court of law.

Tice, for those who may not recall, was a major source on the original NSA wiretapping story, and for that he faced a right wing smear job depicting him as "mentally unstable".

One can only imagine what an interview with O'Reilly would have been like. Considering some of his recent tirades, it seems likely he'd have come uncorked in classic "Do it live!" style.

I don't know about you, but I find these ambush interviews -- particularly when they go to people's homes and harass them while they're unpacking their groceries -- profoundly disturbing. Not only are they deeply unethical, they're also so invasive of people's privacy rights that they have a distinctly totalitarian aspect -- especially when so obviously in the service of right-wing authoritarian propaganda.

So spread the word: If a Fox News ambush crew approaches you, give them a single answer, repeatedly: Andrea Mackris. Andrea Mackris.

It's the only way they'll leave you alone. Otherwise, they'll just use cheap and journalistically disgraceful tactics like these to use you so they can spew their propaganda.

Original here

Man who led Sen. John McCain's presidential-campaign office in Pueblo arrested for child molestation

This is pretty sick as far as Republican scandals go.

A wide-ranging investigation has been launched into allegations that a well-known Pueblo resident has molested many boys over the years, including most recently when he was the manager for Sen. John McCain's presidential-campaign office in Pueblo.

Under investigation is Jeffrey Claude Bartleson, 52, who was arrested Jan. 29 and then re-arrested Wednesday after a campaign worker in the McCain office told police she believed Bartleson molested one of her sons.

{snip}

According to the woman, she and a co-worker were planning in October to attend a Sarah Palin rally in Colorado Springs but wanted to travel to the Springs the night before. She told police that she mentioned the planned trip to Bartleson. He offered to keep her 5-year-old son overnight in Pueblo and then drive up to Colorado Springs the next day and meet them there.

She accepted Bartleson's offer. The woman said that her son told her that while at Bartleson's home, Bartleson insisted on giving him a bath, during which he was sexually molested. Later, said the child, Bartleson forced him into Bartleson's bed, where he once again was molested.

In interviews this week with investigators, the child said that when he tried to get away from Bartleson, he kept pulling him back into the bed. He was finally able to leave when Bartleson fell asleep.

And it happened to a family going to a Palin event.

Original here

Kellogg Customers More Concerned With Phelps Than Tainted Peanut Butter (AUDIO)

The Kellogg Company may have thought it was making the smart public-relations play by announcing it was not renewing its contract with Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold-medalist photographed taking a bong hit at a South Carolina party.

Kellogg customers, it turns out, are more interested in that decision than they are concerned about the ongoing peanut butter recall.

The Huffington Post placed a call to Kellogg Friday evening to find out more about their marijuana policies, and was greeted with this recording:

"Thank you for calling the Kellogg Company. If you would like to share your comments regarding our relationship with Michael Phelps, please press one to speak to a representative. If you're calling about the recent peanut butter recall, please press two now. Otherwise, press three or stay on the line. Thank you."

Listen here.

So far, three drug-policy reform groups - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance - have all called for a boycott of Kellogg products until Phelps is rehired. The groups have encouraged their members to reach out to Kellogg to share their opinions.

UPDATE: No uprising would be complete without, of course, a FaceBook group.

For more on the Phelps marijuana controversy, visit here.

Original here

Todd Palin held in contempt of Alaska state Senate

Mike Sheehan

The husband of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin has been found guilty of contempt by the Alaskan Senate.

Last summer, Todd Palin and others had refused to comply with subpoenas issued by Alaska lawmakers seeking testimony in the "Troopergate" investigation launched in July, triggered by the allegedly forced resignation of a state official.

The official, Walt Monegan, had been reluctant to fire an Alaska state trooper who was Gov. Palin's brother-in-law, embroiled in a bitter custody battle with Palin's sister.

According to the Anchorage Daily News issue of 8 October 2008, Todd Palin "talked with over a dozen state officials, many of them repeatedly, in his crusade to get a state trooper fired whom he considered to be a bad cop, a dishonest person and a threat to the Palin family," per a sworn statement given to a legislative investigator.

At the time the investigation began, Gov. Palin "welcomed the chance to clear the air and had directed her staff to cooperate with the investigations," writes Alaskan blogger Shannyn Moore. But "everything changed" when just weeks later, GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain chose Palin as his running mate.

Despite Todd Palin's later refusal to comply with the subpoena, he was not subject to contempt charges until the full Alaska Senate reconvened in January 2009--weeks after Election Day.

This morning, the Alaska Senate resolution holding Palin et al. in contempt passed 16 to 1, per Moore's blog. The resolution "did not address the actions of [Palin appointee] Attorney General Talis Colberg," instead calling for "no penalties to the [seven] witnesses because they were being guided by the Attorney General" and did cooperate with lead "Troopergate" investigator Stephen Branchflower after Colberg's challenge to the subpoenas was thrown out of court.

With the election over and losing candidate Palin largely out of the spotlight she dominated during the runup to November, the attention to "Troopergate" has similarly dissipated, as evidenced by today's proceedings in the Alaska Senate. "There was very little discussion on the floor," Moore writes.

Gov. Palin probably prefers it that way, as she is often mentioned as a leading candidate for the GOP nomination in 2012.

Original here

Sarah Palin: What I've Learned

The full-length version of our controversial interview with Alaska's governor (first excerpted here last month) reveals the former vice-presidential candidate's perspective on John McCain's choices, her daughter's marriage, God's guidance, and her perceived "hotness."
UPDATE: Scroll down for Web-only quotes on wisecracks, American priorities, and more

By Ryan D'Agostino


trig palin sarah palin

We had flutes and trombones around the house. For my siblings and me, music was important to give us some balance. If it weren't for music, our entire social life, our avocations, all would have had to do with sports.

Everything I've ever needed to know I learned through sports.

Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me.

I'll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig's real mom. And I said, Come on, are you kidding me? We're gonna answer this? Do you not believe me or my doctor? And they said, No, it's been quite cryptic the way that my son's birth has been discussed. And I thought, Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism.

You have to let it go. Even hard news sources, credible news sources — the comment about, you can see Russia from Alaska. You can! You can see Russia from Alaska. Something like that — a factual statement that was taken out of context and mocked — what you have to do is let that go.

I would think we all tear up during the national anthem at the beginning of a baseball game, don't we? That's an alikeness between Alaskans and New Yorkers.

If I were giving advice to myself back on the day my candidacy was announced, I'd say, Tell the campaign that you'll be callin' some of the shots. Don't just assume that they know you well enough to make all your decisions for ya. Let them know that you're the CEO of a state, you're forty-four years old, you've got a lot of great life experience that can be put to good use as a candidate.

Maybe it's like when someone says, "I love you, you're perfect the way y'are, now let me change you." And I'm sure Senator McCain had to struggle with some of that, maybe early on in his campaign.

I'd been a fan of SNL for decades, and I have a lot of respect for the present talent. I knew it would be a good thing to be a part of. And also, of course, to let Americans know that I can laugh at myself, too.

My favorite place in Alaska is on a cold winter day in my own house, with fat snowflakes falling. In my nice warm home.

I eat, therefore I hunt. I want to fill my freezer with good, clean, healthy protein for my kids. That's what I was raised on. It is abundant and it is available here in Alaska, with caribou and moose and different game and lots of very, very healthy and delicious wild Alaskan seafood. That's what we eat. So that's why I hunt and why I fish.

A courageous person is anyone who loses a child and can still get out of bed in the morning.

This is what I've been telling Bristol, before she gets married, is, Bristol, there are definitely gonna be tough parts in marriage. You have to look at those tough times and remember that you have essentially a business contract with this person. You've signed an agreement: You're going to be together. And you look at it that way as you work through the tough times, because I guarantee the better time is there on the other side. That's how we've looked at it.

Fleece, lots of fleece, and skinny white-chocolate mochas. That's the best way to stay warm.

I know He hears me when I just call out to Him, which I do a lot. Oh, yes, I pray. I talk to God every day. I've put my life, so I put my day, into God's hands, and I just ask for guidance and wisdom and grace to get through one situation after another.

The secret to chili is you gotta have good mooseburger in there. I don't know if you can get moose commercially in New York. You'd have to come up here and visit me in my home, and I'll prepare it for ya.

Carmex. I'm addicted to Carmex. I don't go anywhere without Carmex.

The first place was an ice-cream store called Ferina's, in Wasilla. In a fishing village called Dillingham, I worked waitin' tables at a bar. Serving people, you learn patience. When someone's mad at you 'cause you're not serving them in the manner that they want to be served, and you've gotta be tempered and graceful.

Two meanings in Bristol's name: I worked at the Bristol Inn, and Todd grew up in Bristol Bay. But also, Bristol, Connecticut, is the home of ESPN. And when I was in high school, my desire was to be a sportscaster. ESPN was just kicking off, just getting off the ground, and I thought that's what I was going to do in life, is be one of the first woman sportscasters. Until I learned that you'd have to move to Bristol, Connecticut. It was far away. So instead, I had a daughter and named her Bristol.

Hot? If only people could see me as I come in from a run early in the morning without a trough full of makeup on, I think that they'd have a different opinion.

After a long day, if the weather's good, I like to take a long, hot run to unwind. Otherwise, lately, I take a bath with Trig, and I answer e-mails, and then we all fall asleep in my big bed while we listen to Piper read her Junie B. Jones books out loud. She's learning to read and she'll read for hours on end. It's idyllic. It's amazing.

Online Extra: Four More Quotes from Palin

I bite my lip when I'm tempted to wisecrack, because I'm always thinking of something that I'd love to say but know that I better not say it because of the position that I'm in.

There is one America, but there are different priorities reflected in individual Americans that certainly can stand in stark contrast with — I'll give you an example. Some people, money is the be-all, end-all to them. Money and power, prestige, a title next to their name is the be-all, end-all. Other people, the highest priority would be their character, their reputation, their word, and money has nothing to do with that. The beauty of America is that individuals making up this great country do have different priorities. And that's the contrast that I would point out.

We pulled out of some states that I believe we should have continued to campaign in and sent a stronger message that those states really mattered, regardless of the number of electoral votes there. The people mattered. I would have loved to have had more influence on where it was that we campaigned.

Running is my sanity. Sweat is my sanity. And that was a frustration of mine on the campaign trail, when we couldn't carve out a half an hour or an hour a day to run. The day never went as well as it would have had I had that time to go sweat.

Original here

HAMAS' BAGMEN CAUGHT WITH $9M+

By SARAH EL DEEB, AP, with Reuters


AYMAN TAHA
Egypt seizes his cash.

CAIRO - Hamas negotiators left Egypt without a long-term cease-fire with Israel yesterday - but not before members of the group's delegation were stopped at the Gaza border carrying millions of dollars in cash stuffed into their suitcases.

The delegation walked away from the cease-fire talks because of disagreements over the blockade against Gaza and border security. Talks will continue at a later date.

An Egyptian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group initially refused to be searched by Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing.

When the group relented, authorities found $7 million and 2 million euros ($2.5 million) in cash in their suitcases. But another security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said $9 million and 2 million euros were found.

The money was later deposited in an account in Egypt by one of the Hamas members, senior negotiator Ayman Taha. He later told al Jazeera TV the bills represented "donations to the Palestinian people," and he insisted Hamas will be able to get the cash back.

The incident is a sensitive one for Egypt, particularly now, when Israel is demanding a halt to Hamas smuggling into Gaza.

Also yesterday, the Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying humanitarian supplies from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip and towed the vessel into port, foiling a new attempt by international activists to break Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.

It was the first time Israeli forces seized an aid ship, after the navy let some boats in and turned others around.

Original here

Bloomberg Campaigners Taste the High Life

By MICHAEL BARBARO

James Estrin/The New York Times

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s operatives get to inhabit his very different world.

Aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hopscotch around the world on two Falcon 900 private jets, where wine and sushi are served.

They stay at the Four Seasons in London (about $400 a night), the Intercontinental in Paris ($320) and the King David in Jerusalem ($345). Room service? The mayor pays for it all. Even the laundry.

And invitations to dinner parties at Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side town house rarely disappoint: Kofi Annan and Nora Ephron are regulars.

The billionaire mayor is turning heads these days with the hiring of high-profile operatives for his re-election campaign, including several who had previously worked for his rivals in the race.

And as he seeks to entice talent to come aboard the campaign, and possibly to a third term in City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg wields a powerful tool: the perks of inhabiting his world.

Working in politics often means stingy pay and tedious log-rolling. But when the richest, most socially connected man in the city happens to be mayor, it can seem more like the life on (pre-recessionary) Wall Street, right down to the car service.

“The world of Mike Bloomberg is a charmed place,” said Jonathan Capehart, who worked as a policy adviser on Mr. Bloomberg’s first bid for mayor.

Mr. Capehart recalled being warned a few days after Mr. Bloomberg’s 2001 victory not to be surprised when he checked his account balance, where a $25,000 bonus awaited him.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I knew big campaign operatives would negotiate bonuses — the campaign manager, the advertising buyer. But I was just a policy adviser.”

The expansive spending infuses the campaign — the mayor plans to spend $80 million on his re-election this year — but also shapes the lives of aides who follow Mr. Bloomberg to City Hall.

In interviews, more than a dozen current or former aides and advisers to the mayor described their work for him as a transformative experience that catapulted them into new social and economic spheres, in some cases permanently.

For a handful of top advisers, the pay alone altered their lives. William T. Cunningham, a political strategist, was paid about $1.2 million to work on Mr. Bloomberg 2001 and 2005 campaigns for mayor, records show. (His bonuses after each race: $300,000.)

The windfall allowed him to send his children to college without taking out loans and for his family to take pricey vacations. “For that, I am very grateful,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg and his aides are sensitive to questions about perks and spending, wary of any claim that he, or those in his circle, are out of touch with ordinary New Yorkers.

Still, the mayor, 66, does not scrimp on personal luxury. He owns six houses, among them vacation homes in Bermuda, Colorado and Florida, along with stately residences in London and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He loves extravagant parties and fine art.

This election year, his spending could prove a thorny issue. His rivals argue that after shelling out $150 million for his last two elections to introduce himself to New Yorkers, the mayor should curtail his advertising and run on his record. The sputtering economy could further complicate Mr. Bloomberg’s strategy, since the image of a mayor slashing budgets and laying off workers while spending tens of millions on his re-election may turn off voters.

At a news conference Thursday, the mayor grew testy when asked by a reporter if he would consider limiting his campaign spending this year.

“I don’t understand your question. I am not going to talk about the campaign,” he said, then added: “I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.”

The mayor’s aides pledge the 2009 campaign will be cost-conscious. Yet Mr. Bloomberg has already signed about 10 high-priced strategists, like Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s former media strategist, and Ken Strasma, who researched voter backgrounds for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Two of his new advisers are closely linked with his Democratic rivals. And nearly all are Democrats, though he is seeking to run on the Republican and independent ballot lines this fall.

“As he has in the past, the mayor is buying a campaign,” said Eduardo Castell, the campaign manager for City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who is challenging Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Wolfson, speaking from a sparsely decorated Bloomberg campaign office in Midtown Manhattan, said: “People are working here for the same reasons that two-thirds of New Yorkers think the mayor is doing a good job: Crime is down, school test scores are up, and the city is a better place to live.”

Former campaign staff members said the perks did not hurt.

Mr. Bloomberg, who is renowned for sparing little expense on employees at his company (they traditionally received 15 percent raises every year), offered campaign workers free health insurance. He outfitted campaign offices with a wall of televisions, flat-panel computers and Bloomberg financial terminals.

Free food was always on hand — sandwiches, soda, chips, ice cream sandwiches and popcorn. (The 2005 bill to Coca Cola was $17,000, records show.)

In 2001, the campaign even rented a Manhattan apartment for Mr. Cunningham, who lived in Albany at the time. (The monthly rent was $4,100.)

“Basically, the culture of Bloomberg L.P. was transferred to the campaign,” said Mr. Capehart. Aides used Town Cars to travel to events, or home after a long night of work. They used expense accounts for meals at Bryant Park Grill, Pastis and the Ritz-Carlton.

Those who joined the mayor at City Hall enjoy the kind of first-class international travel reserved for chief executives and heads of state. Mr. Bloomberg, the most traveled mayor in New York City history, has taken aides to Athens and Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince and Dubrovnik, Berlin and Belfast, to name a few.

A spokesman said that Mr. Bloomberg pays for nearly all the travel himself and considers it a gift to the city. But the approach also allows his administration to shield details of the travel — itineraries, hotels, restaurant venues — from public scrutiny.

Previous mayors are in awe. “I flew coach,” former Mayor Edward I. Koch said, ruefully. When Mr. Koch accompanied Mr. Bloomberg to Israel in 2003 aboard the mayor’s private plane, he savored the leg room.

“The seats lean back, not so much that it’s a flat bed, but a pretty good reclining one,” Mr. Koch recalled.

Once on the ground, Mr. Bloomberg is not merely the mayor of New York; he is a revered entrepreneur and philanthropist, courted for dinner parties and meetings, his aides in tow. Kevin Sheekey, a deputy mayor, joined the mayor for Bono’s birthday party in Belfast and dinner at the Los Angeles home of Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney.

Those aides insist that shuttling around the world with the mayor is hardly a vacation. He moves at a breakneck pace, with back-to-back appointments. (In China, he and his staff drove right by the Forbidden City.)

They said he uses a private plane not for its frills, but because it saves time; and employees stay with him at luxurious hotels so that they are always close at hand — and ready to work.

Stu Loeser, the mayor’s spokesman, said: “These are rare and relatively minor benefits that don’t come close to offsetting the workload — especially when you’ve flown through the night and have to work on both local and New York City time.”

Aides to every mayor, billionaire or not, enjoy perks — seats on opening day, access to city cars, parking placards and, of course, the intoxicating experience of shaping the course of a metropolis with eight million residents.

With Mr. Bloomberg, the already heady experience is, in the words of one former aide, “put on steroids.”

Soon after Mr. Bloomberg decided to run for mayor, he invited Mr. Cunningham to join him for dinner in East Hampton. Mr. Cunningham fretted that the traffic from Manhattan would tie them up for hours.

Traffic, Mr. Bloomberg explained, would not be a problem.

Off they flew, gliding over highways to a chauffeured car near the restaurant. “It is not,” Mr. Cunningham said, “how most local candidates travel.”

Original here

Senator: Talk Radio Hearings Could Be On The Way

WASHINGTON -- February 5, 2009: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told nationally syndicated talk host Bill Press this morning that the recent flips of liberal Talk stations in several markets were a "disservice to the public."

Stabenow said that, in the day of the Fairness Doctrine, "you had to have balance," and continued, "I think something that requires that in a market with owners that have multiple stations that they have got to have balance -- there has to be some community interest -- balance, you know, standard that says both sides have to be heard."

Stabenow told Press that the airwaves are "dominated by one view" that "overwhelms people's opinions -- and, unfortunately, incorrectly," and said that "right-wing conservative talk hosts" are "trying to make people angry and saying all kinds of things that aren't true and so on."

When Press asked if it is time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, Stabenow responded, "I think it's absolutely time to pass a standard." To Press' inquiry as to whether she will push for hearings in the Seante "to bring these owners in and hold them accountable," Stabenow replied, "I have already had some discussions with colleagues, and, you know, I feel like that's going to happen. Yep."

Audio of the conversation is here.

Original here

Former Chief of Staff to Obama: Put Your Jacket On

At least one prominent former Bush official has the following message for President Obama: I don’t care if it’s warm enough to grow orchids in the Oval Office. Put your suit jacket on.

In an interview scheduled to run Wednesday night, Andrew H. Card Jr. told the syndicated news show Inside Edition that “there should be a dress code of respect” in the White House and that he wished Mr. Obama “would wear a suit coat and tie.”

Mr. Card, who was George W. Bush’s first chief of staff, becomes the first member of that famously buttoned-up administration to criticize the more relaxed Obama dress code.

According to Inside Edition’s Web site, Mr. Card also said:

“The Oval Office symbolizes…the Constitution, the hopes and dreams, and I’m going to say democracy. And when you have a dress code in the Supreme Court and a dress code on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House, I think it’s appropriate to have an expectation that there will be a dress code that respects the office of the President.”

Mr. Card went on to add that, while he would not criticize Mr. Obama for his appearance, “I do expect him to send the message that people who are going to be in the Oval Office should treat the office with the respect that it has earned over history.”

As the Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported last week, Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush have, among other distinctions, drastically different views on White House dress codes.

Original here

Obama Stimulus Speech: "Time For Action Is Now" (VIDEO)

UPDATE 2/5 at 7:00PM:

Despite reports of tension between Obama and congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi emphasized that they remain the president's "most enthusiastic supporters."

Politico reports:

As whispers of tension between the White House and congressional Democrats cloud negotiations over the stimulus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reassured her rank and file Thursday that they remain President Barack Obama's "most enthusiastic supporters."


"We have his back," Pelosi told a roomful of Democrats at the party's annual retreat at the Kingsmill Resort and Spa, according to people in the room.

From the AP:

President Barack Obama says the time for talk on an economic recovery package is over and "the time for action is now."


Speaking at the Energy Department, Obama made a fresh plea for the stimulus plan that the Senate is debating. He cited the latest bad economic news of jobless claims as another reason for quick action.

He said: "The time for talk is over, the time for action is now."

He also launched a shot at critics while talking about energy, questioning, "are these folks serious?"

Now, I read the other day that critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel efficiency. This is what they call pork. You know the truth. It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create manufacturing jobs for folks who are making these cars, it will set a standard for private industry to match. And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself -- are these folks serious? Is it any wonder that we haven't had a real energy policy in this country?

For the last few years, I've talked about these issues with Americans from one end of this country to another. And Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am. And so are you. And so are the American people.

During his speech Obama also issued a strong critique of the GOP's economic policies, even though he didn't utter the party's name. He told the audience that:

In the last few days, we've seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read but you'd be very familiar with because you've been hearing them for the last 10 years, maybe longer. They're rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems; that government doesn't have a role to play; that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough; that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges -- the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many of our schools, our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.


So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action.

Watch the speech:


TRANSCRIPT:

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY STAFF

U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, D.C.

12:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Well, it is a thrill to be here. Thank you, Secretary Chu, for bringing your experience and expertise to this new role. And thanks to all of you who have done so much on behalf of the country each and every day here at the department. You know, your mission is so important, and it's only going to grow as we transform the ways we produce energy and use energy for the sake of our environment, for the sake of our security, and for the sake of our economy.

As we are meeting, in the halls of Congress just down the street from here, there's a debate going on about the plan I've proposed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

This isn't some abstract debate. Last week, we learned that many of America's largest corporations are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers. Today we learned that last week, the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs that we lost last year. We've lost half a million jobs each month for the last two months.

Now, I believe that legislation of such magnitude as has been proposed deserves the scrutiny that it has received over the last month. I think that's a good thing. That's the way democracy is supposed to work. But these numbers that we're seeing are sending an unmistakable message -- and so are the American people. The time for talk is over. The time for action is now, because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse. Crisis could turn into catastrophe for families and businesses across the country.

And I refuse to let that happen. We can't delay and we can't go back to the same worn-out ideas that led us here in the first place. In the last few days, we've seen proposals arise from some in Congress that you may not have read but you'd be very familiar with because you've been hearing them for the last 10 years, maybe longer. They're rooted in the idea that tax cuts alone can solve all our problems; that government doesn't have a role to play; that half-measures and tinkering are somehow enough; that we can afford to ignore our most fundamental economic challenges -- the crushing cost of health care, the inadequate state of so many of our schools, our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

So let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about. The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action.

Just as past generations of Americans have done in trying times, we can and we must turn this moment of challenge into one of opportunity. The plan I've proposed has at its core a simple idea: Let's put Americans to work doing the work that America needs to be done.

This plan will save or create over 3 million jobs -- almost all of them in the private sector.

This plan will put people to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, our dangerous -- dangerously deficient dams and levees.

This plan will put people to work modernizing our health care system, not only saving us billions of dollars, but countless lives.

This plan will put people to work renovating more than 10,000 schools, giving millions of children the chance to learn in 21st century classrooms, libraries and labs -- and to all the scientists in the room today, you know what that means for America's future.

This plan will provide sensible tax relief for the struggling middle class, unemployment insurance and continuing health care coverage for those who've lost their jobs, and it will help prevent our states and local communities from laying off firefighters and teachers and police.

And finally, this plan will begin to end the tyranny of oil in our time.

After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells, for example -- millions more after that. These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.

We'll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it -- a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another. Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life -- computers, appliances, even BlackBerrys -- (laughter) -- looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps towards modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

We'll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.

In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money, this will spur innovation, and this will conserve tremendous amounts of energy. We'll save through these simple steps over the next 30 years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.

And through investments in our mass transit system to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we'll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more energy independent future.

Now, I read the other day that critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel efficiency. This is what they call pork. You know the truth. It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create manufacturing jobs for folks who are making these cars, it will set a standard for private industry to match. And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself -- are these folks serious? Is it any wonder that we haven't had a real energy policy in this country?

For the last few years, I've talked about these issues with Americans from one end of this country to another. And Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence, but I am. And so are you. And so are the American people.

Inaction is not an option that is acceptable to me and it's certainly not acceptable to the American people -- not on energy, not on the economy, not at this critical moment.

So I am calling on all the members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate -- to rise to this moment. No plan is perfect. There have been constructive changes made to this one over the last several weeks. I would love to see additional improvements today. But the scale and the scope of this plan is the right one. Our approach to energy is the right one. It's what America needs right now, and we need to move forward today. We can't keep on having the same old arguments over and over again that lead us to the exact same spot -- where we are wasting previous energy, we're not creating jobs, we're failing to compete in the global economy, and we end up bickering at a time when the economy urgently needs action.

I thank all of you for being here, and I'm eager to work with Secretary Chu and all of you as we stand up to meet the challenges of this new century. That's what the American people are looking for. That's what I expect out of Congress. That's what I believe we can deliver to our children and our grandchildren in their future.

Thank you so much, everybody. I appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)

Original here

Unhappy voters jam Capitol Hill phone lines

By Lisa Desjardins

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The recent debate over the nearly $900 billion economic stimulus plan and revelations of tax problems by three Obama administration appointees have voters angrily jamming phone lines on Capitol Hill to air their frustrations to their elected representatives.

Voters are calling several congressional offices, complaining about stimulus negotations.

Voters are calling several congressional offices, complaining about stimulus negotations.

Their reactions are putting pressure on Congress and benefiting watchdog groups on both sides of the political aisle.

Capitol operators tell CNN Radio that phone lines have been jammed for the past two weeks, sometimes prompting busy signals.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, said calls on the sweeping stimulus plan jumped from eight during all of January to hundreds a day now.

In a sampling of 12 Senate offices, half had so many messages that their voicemail boxes were full.

It's because of people like Betty Davidson.

"I'm very upset!" exclaimed the 63-year-old from Laguna Hills, California.

She called her senators Tuesday, frustrated with the almost $900 billion-dollar economic recovery proposal.

"What a joke!" she said.

But she is particularly incensed by news that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and former Obama appointees Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer didn't pay their taxes properly in the past.

"They can make the laws, but they don't have to abide by the laws," she complained. "It's only we taxpayers."

Those bitter words are like spring rain to nonprofit watchdog groups across the spectrum, who are seeing big boosts in interest.

"Just in the last week ... responses to our e-mails out to activists have jumped dramatically," said Grover Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. "We've had more calls into our offices, more e-mails."

That same spike has hit Citizens Against Government Waste, which is also seeing a surge in e-mails, calls and angry posts to its Web site.

"These people are almost feeling like suckers now for paying taxes, because no one else does," said the group's vice president, David Williams.

He sees the tax issues and stimulus bill as hair triggers after months of frustration over bailouts, Wall Street greed and whether the rich and powerful get special treatment.

"In the past week, we have gotten numerous e-mails from people talking about how the interest rates on their credit cards are going up even though these companies have received taxpayer bailouts," he said, "and they don't understand why they're not feeling any relief."

At the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Deputy Director Naomi Seligman said that whenever a well-known politician, such as Daschle or Geithner, is involved in an ethics question, it does raise some interest for them.

Seligman suggested that tax issues are raising the greatest ire.

"I think the average American is looking at their taxes during tax time and saying 'Wow, I pay my taxes. Why aren't these guys?' " she said.

That's certainly how Davidson feels. She's worried about shoveling debt onto her grandkids from the stimulus bill, and she is convinced Washington is corrupt.

"I'm just getting so sick and tired," she said.

Original here

Dimon Says ‘Not Every Company’ Responsible for Wall Street Pay

By Elizabeth Hester and Margaret Popper

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said it’s “unfair” for politicians to criticize Wall Street pay without differentiating compensation based on performance.

“It’s unfair to talk about us as one,” Dimon, who was paid $1 million last year and didn’t accept a bonus, said today at a conference sponsored by Crain’s New York Business. “Not every company was responsible.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and politicans worldwide have criticized financial industry executives for taking multi- million dollar pay packages after banks and brokerages racked up more than $800 billion of losses and writedowns on credit- related assets. Dimon, 52, is among CEOs including Bank of America Corp.’s Kenneth Lewis and Morgan Stanley’s John Mack who opted not to take bonuses for last year.

“Pay got a little exuberant, and there were some legitimate complaints,” Dimon said. “But I don’t think the president of the United States should paint everyone with the same brush.”

New York-based JPMorgan, the second-largest U.S. bank, doesn’t have so-called golden parachutes or retirement packages, and all top executives must retain 75 percent of their stock- based compensation, Dimon said.

Fed Oversight

JPMorgan has taken $29.5 billion in losses, writedowns and credit provisions since the start of the financial crisis. That’s a fraction of the $85.4 billion taken by Citigroup Inc. and $55.9 billion by Merrill Lynch & Co., now part of Bank of America.

Dimon also said the Federal Reserve should have the authority to regulate all companies within the banking system, including investment banks. Regulators lacked powers to oversee such firms before Bear Stearns Cos. and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. failed last year, Dimon said.

“If you’re going to regulate, you’ve got to regulate all of it,” Dimon said. “If you don’t, you’re going to end up here again with all of these problems.”

Talk of nationalizing the banks should “stop” since many institutions remain healthy, he said. Some lenders will fail, while others will need government aid to make it through the financial crisis, he said. The U.S. should help those firms that need it and should price that aid to recoup losses, Dimon said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elizabeth Hester in New York at ehester@bloomberg.net; Margaret Popper in New York at mpopper1@bloomberg.net.

Original here

Palin rails against 'anonymous, pathetic bloggers'


By BETH FOUHY, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK – Former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is still mad at media coverage of her candidacy, particularly "anonymous, pathetic bloggers" who she says spread falsehoods about her.

The Alaska governor also says she's addicted to Carmex lip balm, grew up playing flute and trombone, and says sports taught her everything she knows. She shared those and other insights in the March issue of Esquire magazine, scheduled to hit newsstands Feb. 16.

In the interview, Palin, who rocketed to fame as John McCain's running mate in last year's election, reiterated her complaints about media coverage of the campaign. She said reporters continue to question whether her 9-month-old son, Trig, is actually the child of her 18-year old daughter Bristol from a secret previous pregnancy.

"I'll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig's real mom," Palin told Esquire. "And I thought, 'Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism.'"

Rumors that Bristol was Trig's mother swirled on the Internet shortly after McCain chose Palin as his running mate. But the mainstream media did not report the story until the McCain campaign announced that Bristol was pregnant, in part to tamp down the rumors about Trig. Bristol delivered a baby boy in December.

In the interview, Palin also reiterated her wish that she had had more input on strategy during the campaign.

"If I were giving advice to myself back on the day my candidacy was announced, I'd say, 'Tell the campaign that you'll be callin' some of the shots. Don't just assume that they know you well enough to make all your decisions for ya," Palin said.

On other topics, Palin said she hunts and goes fishing to provide "good clean healthy protein" for her family. Mooseburger is the secret to a good chili recipe, she said.

"I don't know if you can get it commercially in New York," Palin said. "Come up here to my home, and I'll prepare it for ya."

Palin said she named Bristol in part for Bristol, Conn. — home of the sports network ESPN.

"When I was in high school, my desire was to be a sportscaster," she said. "Until I learned that you'd have to move to Bristol, Connecticut. It was far away. So instead, I had a daughter and named her Bristol."

Original here




Obama seeks action as parties try to pare stimulus

By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

Obama creates economic advisory board Play Video AP – Obama creates economic advisory board

WASHINGTON – Senate moderates worked to cut tens of billions of dollars from economic stimulus legislation Thursday in hopes of clearing the way for passage as the government spit out grim new jobless figures and President Barack Obama warned of more bad news ahead.

With partisan tensions rising, a Republican alternative with higher tax cuts and far less spending than the administration favors was defeated on a pure party-line vote, 57-40. Other GOP attempts to make significant changes in the bill appeared doomed, as well.

"The time for talk is over. The time for action is now," declared Obama as the Senate plodded through a fourth day of debate on the legislation. He implored lawmakers in both parties to "rise to this moment."

Obama added he would "love to see additional improvements" in the bill, a gesture to the moderates from both parties who were at work trying to trim the $920 billion price tag.

Increasingly, the events that mattered most were not the long roll calls on the Senate floor, but the private conversations in which the White House and Democratic leaders sought — either with the support of a large group of centrist lawmakers or without them — to clear the bill at the heart of the president's recovery program.

"As I have explained to people in that group, they cannot hold the president of the United States hostage," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "If they think they're going to rewrite this bill and Barack Obama is going to walk away from what he is trying to do for the American people, they've got another thought coming."

Republicans countered that neither the president nor Democratic congressional leaders have been willing to seek common ground on the first major bill of the new administration.

"We're not having meaningful negotiations. ... It's a bad way to start," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was Obama's opponent in last fall's presidential campaign.

In an Associated Press interview, he said Obama "gave the Democrats the leeway to basically shut out Republicans starting with the House and now here in the Senate, and I don't think that's good."

McCain's penchant for working across party lines has irritated fellow Republicans in the past, but he was not taking part in bipartisan talks on trimming the stimulus bill.

Instead, he advanced an alternative that highlighted the differences between the two political parties.

It carried a price tag of $421 billion, less than half the White House-backed measure. The majority of that was in the form of a one-year cut in the payroll tax and reductions in the two lowest income tax brackets.

The proposal also included provisions to help the battered housing industry, including the $15,000 tax credit for home buyers that passed separately on Wednesday.

Nearly 20 senators from both parties met twice during the day and reviewed a list of possible cuts totaling nearly $80 billion. They included elimination of at least $40 billion in aid to the states, which have budget crises of their own, as well as $1.4 billion ticketed for the National Science Foundation.

There was no sign the group of self-appointed compromisers had agreed to support the reductions, but even if they had the numbers were far short of what some were looking for.

"The president made a strong case for a proposal that would be in the neighborhood of $800 billion," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who met with Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

The legislation is a blend of federal spending and tax cuts that supporters say can create or preserve at least 3 million jobs. They cite the tax cuts for lower-income workers, as well as more money for jobless benefits, worker training, food stamps, health care, education and public works projects such as highways and mass transit.

Critics contend the bill is bloated with spending for items that won't create jobs, such as smoking prevention programs or efforts to combat a future pandemic flu outbreak.

And while polls show Obama is popular and the public supports recovery legislation, Republicans have maneuvered in the past several days to identify and ridicule relatively small items in the bill.

Whatever the public relations battle, Republicans have tried without success so far to reduce spending in the measure and were ready with additional attempts during the day.

The legislation is a key early test for Obama, who has been in office just two weeks and has made economic recovery his top priority.

His warnings have become increasingly dire, and in remarks to employees at the Department of Energy, he said, "Today, we learned that last week the number of new unemployment claims jumped — jumped to 626,000. Tomorrow, we're expecting another dismal jobs report on top of the 2.6 million jobs that we lost last year. We've lost 500,000 jobs each month for the last two months."

The new jobless claims were reported by the Labor Department, and the total was the highest since October 1982, when the economy was in a steep recession.

Original here


Why Obama's green jobs plan might work


By Marla Dickerson

Reporting from Hemlock, Mich. -- While Detroit's automakers struggle to rebuild their sputtering operations, the key to jump-starting Michigan's economy may lie 80 miles northwest of the Motor City.

This is the home of Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. It makes a material crucial for constructing photovoltaic panels. And that has turned this snow-covered hamlet into an unlikely hotbed for solar energy.

On Dec. 15, the same week that General Motors Corp. and Chrysler begged $17.4 billion from taxpayers to stave off collapse, Hemlock announced a $3-billion expansion that could create hundreds of jobs. It's a rare piece of good news for this battered Rust Belt state, whose 9.6% unemployment rate is the nation's highest.

In contrast to Detroit iron, Hemlock's quartz-based polycrystalline silicon is in such demand that workers in white smocks and protective gear toil around the clock to get it to customers around the globe.

Hemlock has been deluged with applications from idle factory hands such as former autoworker Don Sloboda. The 50-year-old Saginaw resident has been retraining at a local community college for what he hopes is the region's new engine of job growth.

"It looks like the future to me," Sloboda said.

Whether clean energy can pull Michigan out of the ditch remains to be seen. But the push is on to retool America with so-called green-collar industries.

President-elect Barack Obama wants to spend $150 billion over the next decade to promote energy from the sun, wind and other renewable sources as well as energy conservation. Plans include raising vehicle fuel-economy standards and subsidizing consumer purchases of plug-in hybrids. Obama wants to weatherize 1 million homes annually and upgrade the nation's creaky electrical grid. His team has talked of providing tax credits and loan guarantees to clean-energy companies.

His goals: create 5 million new jobs repowering America over 10 years; assert U.S. leadership on global climate change; and wean the U.S. from its dependence on imported petroleum.

"Breaking our oil addiction . . . is going to take nothing less than the complete transformation of our economy," Obama said during a campaign stop in Michigan's capital, Lansing, last year.

Americans have heard it before. Every president since Richard Nixon has touted energy independence, yet the goal remains elusive. The U.S. imported less than a third of its crude around the time of the Arab oil embargo in 1973. Today foreigners feed nearly 60% of the nation's petroleum habit.

Skeptics fear that the president-elect's Green New Deal will do little but waste taxpayers' money. The government squandered billions on the Jimmy Carter-era synthetic-fuels program, a failed effort to create vehicle fuel from coal.

Corn-based ethanol -- the latest recipient of fat subsidies -- is loathed by many environmentalists, who say it is an inefficient fuel that gobbles precious cropland and helps to drive up food prices.

Better to let the market decide, not the state, said Donald Boudreaux, chairman of the economics department at George Mason University in Virginia.

"The history of government picking winners in the U.S. is not that grand," he said. "People instinctively love the idea of green jobs. . . . But there is a lot of mass stupidity out there."

Renewable-energy proponents such as former California Treasurer Phil Angelides say stupidity would be to stick with current U.S. energy policy, which has turbocharged global warming, super-sized the trade deficit and propped up oil-rich regimes hostile to American interests.

Angelides heads the Apollo Alliance, a coalition promoting clean industries as a means of rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and lessening the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

"It's the best path to recovery and the best chance of creating jobs that can't be outsourced," he said.

Although Angelides' organization takes its name from the space program that put Americans on the moon, creating green jobs isn't rocket science, said Oakland activist Van Jones, author of "The Green Collar Economy."

Jones said Obama's proposal to weatherize homes would pay for itself through energy savings while putting legions of unemployed construction workers back on the job. A $100-billion investment in a green recovery could create 2 million jobs within two years, a good chunk of them in retrofitting, according to a recent University of Massachusetts study.
"You can employ a lot of people very quickly with off-the-shelf technology like caulk guns," said Jones, founder of Green for All, an economic development group. "This isn't George Jetson stuff."

No one knows precisely how many green jobs exist in the U.S. economy. Estimates range from less than 1 million workers to nearly four times that. What's clear is that clean industries have been growing rapidly without a lot of help from Uncle Sam.
Worldwide, investors poured a record $117.2 billion into alternative energy in 2007, according to London research firm New Energy Finance. The costs of wind and solar power are dropping fast.

But the industry slowed in late 2008 as the U.S. financial system imploded. Plunging oil prices and frozen credit markets have derailed a number of renewable-energy projects. Some advocates say U.S. government support is needed to keep the sector moving forward.

That strategy has worked for Germany and Japan: Neither is blessed with abundant sunshine, yet these nations boast more rooftop solar arrays than anyplace else, thanks largely to government subsidies. That has created vibrant domestic markets for solar power and tens of thousands of jobs. Asian and European solar module makers dominate the industry.

The irony, say American solar executives, is that the U.S. was an early innovator. Bell Labs introduced the world's first photovoltaic device in the 1950s. NASA's space work advanced the field.

The U.S. "created this technology, but we didn't value it because [fossil fuel] energy was so cheap," said Ron Kenedi, an American who is vice president of the U.S. solar operations of Japan's Sharp Corp., a major manufacturer of solar cells.

"We need to reclaim our birthright."

Many state and local governments aren't waiting for Washington.

Tough state mandates to cut greenhouse gases and boost the use of renewable energy have turned California into the nation's hottest market for solar energy. Installers such as SolarCity of Foster City continue to hire even as the rest of California's economy stalls.

Pennsylvania used incentives to lure Spanish wind-turbine maker Gamesa Technology Corp. to set up shop in an old steel facility. The company now employs more than 1,000 workers in the state, most of them unionized.

New Mexico is diversifying its mineral-based economy with green technology. Germany's Schott Solar is building a $100-million plant near Albuquerque and the state is grooming wind power technicians at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, one of only a few such programs in the country.

Trained wind workers are in such demand that General Electric Co., a maker of turbines, has promised to hire every Mesalands graduate for the next three years.

Michigan has started its own Green Jobs Initiative to retrain displaced factory workers for careers in renewable energy.

"If we can bend sheet metal for car fenders, we can bend it for windmills," said Ken Horn, a Republican state representative from hard-hit Saginaw.

A tavern owner, Horn said his regulars had been buzzing about green energy -- a sign that the industry was no longer considered fringe or radical.

Michigan's brightest renewable stars are in solar. United Solar Ovonic, a major producer of thin-film photovoltaics, operates three manufacturing facilities in Michigan and has two more under construction in the state.

Hemlock Semiconductor is a joint venture of two Japanese firms and Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning Corp., which owns a majority stake.

It is expanding its rural campus not far from Saginaw and building a plant in Tennessee to produce more polycrystalline silicon -- a semiconductor that allows solar cells to convert sunlight into electricity.

The exacting chemical process begins with the mining of quartz and ends with huge, gray, U-shaped bars of polycrystalline silicon wheeled to an assembly line at Hemlock's Michigan plant, where they're broken into small chunks for shipment.

Most of the product is sent to Asia and Europe, where solar manufacturers turn it into the familiar panels seen on rooftops. Hemlock employs 1,400 full-time and contract workers in Michigan and expects to add 500 more in the next few years. The plant operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, never stopping, even in a recent blizzard.

Snow and ice couldn't keep Rich Steudemann from sliding into work on a recent morning. A mechanical engineer with more than two decades in the auto industry, Steudemann jumped at the chance to join Hemlock last fall as a quality-control expert.

"This is like the era of Henry Ford," said Steudemann, 45. "This industry is just starting to take off."

marla.dickerson@latimes.com

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