Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 20, 2008

The Poster Child for Big Labor

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Service Employees International Union has grown quickly over the past few years by organizing home-health-care workers, often with the help of state governors and lawmakers who received generous campaign donations and other union support. Using political influence in this way isn’t illegal, and businesses that often oppose unions use similar strategies. But the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has put a harsh spotlight on the SEIU’s methods just as it is seeking broad support for federal legislation that would make it easier for workers of all types to unionize. Federal officials allege Mr. Blagojevich sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama in a scheme that potentially involved him getting a $300,000-a-year job at a group affiliated with the SEIU, in return for promising to appoint a pro-union official to the seat. The SEIU says that it doesn’t believe any of its officials engaged in any wrongdoing, and the governor on Friday denied wrongdoing. Next month, an antiunion group plans to air television and radio ads that play up the SEIU’s alleged involvement in the saga as part of its campaign against the legislation, known as the Employee Free Choice Act.

Just how close is the SEIU to Blago? Pretty darn close:

The SEIU contributed about $1.8 million to Mr. Blagojevich’s two campaigns for governor, in 2002 and 2006, and was his top contributor in the second election. Critics have long charged that it is suspicious that several big SEIU contributions to Mr. Blagojevich occurred close to when he acted in ways that benefited the union.

In one example, the union contributed $200,000 to Mr. Blagojevich on March 3, 2006, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Six days later, the governor signed a labor contract covering SEIU home-care workers. Following the contract, membership at SEIU Local 880 in Chicago increased to 45,000 workers from 24,000, according to Labor Department records.

The SEIU’s top official in Illinois is Tom Balanoff, a close aide to Mr. Stern and the SEIU official was identified in an internal union communication as having met with Mr. Blagojevich when the governor allegedly suggested selling the Illinois Senate seat. Mr. Balanoff didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

The SEIU’s relationship with Mr. Blagojevich began when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2001, he took the SEIU’s side and opposed a bill in Congress to federalize airport security workers. Three months later, he received a contribution from the SEIU for $250,000.

Later, the SEIU poured more than $800,000 into his first gubernatorial campaign. The previous governor, George Ryan, had refused to sign an SEIU-backed bill that would have given bargaining rights to home-care workers. Soon after being elected, Mr. Blagojevich signed an executive order in 2003 that enabled the SEIU to start organizing these workers.

It is no wonder that the group  “The Center for Union Facts” intends, according to its spokewoman, “to make the SEIU the poster child for the Employee Free Choice Act.”

There are several items at issue here. The first is whether the SEIU or any of its officials  may have any criminal exposure in Blago-gate. Patrick Fizgerald will get to the bottom of that. Unlike the savvy Rahm Emanuel,  Tom Balanoff — the official widely reported to have had the conversations with Blago — was perhaps not so circumspect in his wheeling and dealing, now recorded on tape. The “teaser” in the criminal complaint suggests he was, at the very least, willing to hear Blago’s demands and “run them up the flag pole.”

Second, the SEIU’s involvement in Blagogate does pull back the curtain on the degree to which Big Labor funds, influences and ultimately controls the political agenda of the Democratic party. How this plays out in the Obama administration remains to be seen. Beyond selecting a Labor Secretary who is entirely beholden to Big Labor (and who received nearly $900,000 in campaign cash), President Obama will have to make decisions about the car companies,  free trade (or not), and card check legislation.

And, yes, card check is the issue on which the influence of Big Labor will come to a head. Nina Easton wonders whether this might be President Obama’s “gays in the military issue” — a partisan knock-down-drag-out fight which puts at risk his agenda and coalition-building efforts:

Obama has gone out of his way to make peace with the business community — in the choices for his economic team, in suggesting he won’t immediately repeal the Bush tax cuts.

Opening a bloody war with business over card check could sap all that good will.

Already, card-check opponents are warning that this could become the new president’s gays-in-the-military moment, an early and costly stumble by a neophyte President Clinton similarly fulfilling a campaign promise without fully appreciating the fierce opposition it would stoke.

That may be wishful thinking. But Republican leaders are already counting on the issue as a badly needed motivator for their down-and-out ranks. “It certainly should help us put our coalition back together,” House GOP leader John Boehner told Fortune. “This will affect every business in the country.”

Boehner is right on that score: Nearly every business not already unionized — from the neighborhood dry cleaner to the regional plastics plant, including firms in right-to-work states — would be more easily unionized. Not since the same issue surfaced in 1979 has a proposal so thoroughly unified business owners.

Ultimately, politics is the art of reducing complex issue to simple, understandable symbols and compelling messages. The opponents of Big Labor have caught a break that they don’t intend to squander. They will combat Big Labor’s agenda with  the image of a decimated car industry (complete with a still-defiant UAW railing against “unfair” demands to reduce their crippling collective bargaining obligations) and the SEIU. As political symbols go, those are two powerful ones.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Service Employees International Union has grown quickly over the past few years by organizing home-health-care workers, often with the help of state governors and lawmakers who received generous campaign donations and other union support. Using political influence in this way isn’t illegal, and businesses that often oppose unions use similar strategies. But the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has put a harsh spotlight on the SEIU’s methods just as it is seeking broad support for federal legislation that would make it easier for workers of all types to unionize. Federal officials allege Mr. Blagojevich sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama in a scheme that potentially involved him getting a $300,000-a-year job at a group affiliated with the SEIU, in return for promising to appoint a pro-union official to the seat. The SEIU says that it doesn’t believe any of its officials engaged in any wrongdoing, and the governor on Friday denied wrongdoing. Next month, an antiunion group plans to air television and radio ads that play up the SEIU’s alleged involvement in the saga as part of its campaign against the legislation, known as the Employee Free Choice Act.

Just how close is the SEIU to Blago? Pretty darn close:

The SEIU contributed about $1.8 million to Mr. Blagojevich’s two campaigns for governor, in 2002 and 2006, and was his top contributor in the second election. Critics have long charged that it is suspicious that several big SEIU contributions to Mr. Blagojevich occurred close to when he acted in ways that benefited the union.

In one example, the union contributed $200,000 to Mr. Blagojevich on March 3, 2006, according to data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Six days later, the governor signed a labor contract covering SEIU home-care workers. Following the contract, membership at SEIU Local 880 in Chicago increased to 45,000 workers from 24,000, according to Labor Department records.

The SEIU’s top official in Illinois is Tom Balanoff, a close aide to Mr. Stern and the SEIU official was identified in an internal union communication as having met with Mr. Blagojevich when the governor allegedly suggested selling the Illinois Senate seat. Mr. Balanoff didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

The SEIU’s relationship with Mr. Blagojevich began when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2001, he took the SEIU’s side and opposed a bill in Congress to federalize airport security workers. Three months later, he received a contribution from the SEIU for $250,000.

Later, the SEIU poured more than $800,000 into his first gubernatorial campaign. The previous governor, George Ryan, had refused to sign an SEIU-backed bill that would have given bargaining rights to home-care workers. Soon after being elected, Mr. Blagojevich signed an executive order in 2003 that enabled the SEIU to start organizing these workers.

It is no wonder that the group  “The Center for Union Facts” intends, according to its spokewoman, “to make the SEIU the poster child for the Employee Free Choice Act.”

There are several items at issue here. The first is whether the SEIU or any of its officials  may have any criminal exposure in Blago-gate. Patrick Fizgerald will get to the bottom of that. Unlike the savvy Rahm Emanuel,  Tom Balanoff — the official widely reported to have had the conversations with Blago — was perhaps not so circumspect in his wheeling and dealing, now recorded on tape. The “teaser” in the criminal complaint suggests he was, at the very least, willing to hear Blago’s demands and “run them up the flag pole.”

Second, the SEIU’s involvement in Blagogate does pull back the curtain on the degree to which Big Labor funds, influences and ultimately controls the political agenda of the Democratic party. How this plays out in the Obama administration remains to be seen. Beyond selecting a Labor Secretary who is entirely beholden to Big Labor (and who received nearly $900,000 in campaign cash), President Obama will have to make decisions about the car companies,  free trade (or not), and card check legislation.

And, yes, card check is the issue on which the influence of Big Labor will come to a head. Nina Easton wonders whether this might be President Obama’s “gays in the military issue” — a partisan knock-down-drag-out fight which puts at risk his agenda and coalition-building efforts:

Obama has gone out of his way to make peace with the business community — in the choices for his economic team, in suggesting he won’t immediately repeal the Bush tax cuts.

Opening a bloody war with business over card check could sap all that good will.

Already, card-check opponents are warning that this could become the new president’s gays-in-the-military moment, an early and costly stumble by a neophyte President Clinton similarly fulfilling a campaign promise without fully appreciating the fierce opposition it would stoke.

That may be wishful thinking. But Republican leaders are already counting on the issue as a badly needed motivator for their down-and-out ranks. “It certainly should help us put our coalition back together,” House GOP leader John Boehner told Fortune. “This will affect every business in the country.”

Boehner is right on that score: Nearly every business not already unionized — from the neighborhood dry cleaner to the regional plastics plant, including firms in right-to-work states — would be more easily unionized. Not since the same issue surfaced in 1979 has a proposal so thoroughly unified business owners.

Ultimately, politics is the art of reducing complex issue to simple, understandable symbols and compelling messages. The opponents of Big Labor have caught a break that they don’t intend to squander. They will combat Big Labor’s agenda with  the image of a decimated car industry (complete with a still-defiant UAW railing against “unfair” demands to reduce their crippling collective bargaining obligations) and the SEIU. As political symbols go, those are two powerful ones.

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“Idiot” Diplomacy

“Nobody was trusting of the North Koreans,” said Condoleezza Rice in comments on Wednesday, as she responded to criticisms.  “I mean, who trusts the North Koreans?  You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans.”

Did the Secretary of State just call herself an idiot?  It sure sounds as if she did.  Ms. Rice would say – now that her diplomacy has failed – that she entered into agreements and extended benefits to Pyongyang not as the result of trust but as goodwill gestures.  And as she pointed out, North Korea has not produced plutonium since 2005 and has been disabling its only working reactor.

Unfortunately for her, the record also shows that Christopher Hill, her chief negotiator, tried to obtain a deal with Pyongyang by not insisting on a detailed protocol for the verification of its various disarmament pledges.  When word leaked out what Hill was up to – he had refused to publicly discuss the provisions he had negotiated in secret – just about everyone, from conservatives to members of the proliferation community to liberal analysts, expressed either outright hostility or deep misgivings.  Nobody has approved of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy in the last six months.

“This is a process that still has a lot of life in it,” Ms. Rice said of the efforts to disarm Kim Jong Il’s renegade state.  She would be just about the only person holding that opinion.  The most recent round of the six-party talks, held in Beijing this month, was a complete failure.  North Korea, in short, did not budge on committing to writing its verification promises, the whole purpose of the negotiating session in China.

Secretary Rice can argue that she was not too trusting of the North Koreans, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the administration, in eight years, has failed to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.  President Bush has made just about every mistake in the book.  He was too soft when he should have been hard and too hard when he should have been soft.  He switched policies when circumstances demanded consistency.  He allowed his superpower country to be humiliated by a puny adversary on various occasions.  And if he did not trust the North Koreans, he did something just as bad or worse – he trusted the Chinese.

In any event, North Korea detonated a bomb and became a recognized nuclear power on his watch.  His legacy is that, through an inept Korea policy, he has encouraged the Iranians to go full speed to building a bomb on their own.  President Bush will be able to talk of many important accomplishments in office, but in eight years he has also set the stage for unimaginably horrible events in the Middle East.

“Nobody was trusting of the North Koreans,” said Condoleezza Rice in comments on Wednesday, as she responded to criticisms.  “I mean, who trusts the North Koreans?  You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans.”

Did the Secretary of State just call herself an idiot?  It sure sounds as if she did.  Ms. Rice would say – now that her diplomacy has failed – that she entered into agreements and extended benefits to Pyongyang not as the result of trust but as goodwill gestures.  And as she pointed out, North Korea has not produced plutonium since 2005 and has been disabling its only working reactor.

Unfortunately for her, the record also shows that Christopher Hill, her chief negotiator, tried to obtain a deal with Pyongyang by not insisting on a detailed protocol for the verification of its various disarmament pledges.  When word leaked out what Hill was up to – he had refused to publicly discuss the provisions he had negotiated in secret – just about everyone, from conservatives to members of the proliferation community to liberal analysts, expressed either outright hostility or deep misgivings.  Nobody has approved of the Bush administration’s North Korea policy in the last six months.

“This is a process that still has a lot of life in it,” Ms. Rice said of the efforts to disarm Kim Jong Il’s renegade state.  She would be just about the only person holding that opinion.  The most recent round of the six-party talks, held in Beijing this month, was a complete failure.  North Korea, in short, did not budge on committing to writing its verification promises, the whole purpose of the negotiating session in China.

Secretary Rice can argue that she was not too trusting of the North Koreans, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the administration, in eight years, has failed to eliminate Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.  President Bush has made just about every mistake in the book.  He was too soft when he should have been hard and too hard when he should have been soft.  He switched policies when circumstances demanded consistency.  He allowed his superpower country to be humiliated by a puny adversary on various occasions.  And if he did not trust the North Koreans, he did something just as bad or worse – he trusted the Chinese.

In any event, North Korea detonated a bomb and became a recognized nuclear power on his watch.  His legacy is that, through an inept Korea policy, he has encouraged the Iranians to go full speed to building a bomb on their own.  President Bush will be able to talk of many important accomplishments in office, but in eight years he has also set the stage for unimaginably horrible events in the Middle East.

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Sympathy For Cuomo

It took Caroline Kennedy to make me feel sorry for Andrew Cuomo. The latter is said to be “fuming” that Kennedy is stealing the limelight and may have the inside track for the open senate seat. Yes, he’s a “Cuomo,” to state the obvious. But aside from being the progeny of a famous pol, he ran for office, served in real jobs, and knows there is more to the state than Manhattan.

In short, he’s not a dabbler or mere socialite, but a real politician who knows a lot about federal and state issues and how to get things done (a quaint notion in the age of celebrity politics, I know). Some have risen to Kennedy’s defense, contending dynasties are nothing new in American politics. That’s true of course, but the distinction between Cuomo and Kennedy suggests this is a strawman. Yes, lots of politicians go into politics because of family connections. But it’s absurd to claim that Jeb Bush, for example, is nothing more than a legacy case and shouldn’t be a viable candidate — indeed the front runner – for Senate. And Cuomo certainly got into politics with help from his father. But in both cases people paid their dues, learned some nuts and bolts about policy and politics, and went before the voters. Even Hillary Clinton did that.

It will be interesting to see if Governor Paterson has the nerve to say “no” to Kennedy. On one hand, Cuomo would be a “safe” pick — obviously qualified and certainly electable in 2010. But these things have a certain momentum and one senses that Kennedy, despite her Katie Couric-like outing in upstate New York, has been gathering support and making it harder and harder for Paterson to rebuff her. It would, at this point, take a certain independence of mind and even courage to do that – qualities Paterson has yet to demonstrate.

And Cuomo? Well, he could always challenge Paterson for Governor in 2010. That would be sweet revenge.

It took Caroline Kennedy to make me feel sorry for Andrew Cuomo. The latter is said to be “fuming” that Kennedy is stealing the limelight and may have the inside track for the open senate seat. Yes, he’s a “Cuomo,” to state the obvious. But aside from being the progeny of a famous pol, he ran for office, served in real jobs, and knows there is more to the state than Manhattan.

In short, he’s not a dabbler or mere socialite, but a real politician who knows a lot about federal and state issues and how to get things done (a quaint notion in the age of celebrity politics, I know). Some have risen to Kennedy’s defense, contending dynasties are nothing new in American politics. That’s true of course, but the distinction between Cuomo and Kennedy suggests this is a strawman. Yes, lots of politicians go into politics because of family connections. But it’s absurd to claim that Jeb Bush, for example, is nothing more than a legacy case and shouldn’t be a viable candidate — indeed the front runner – for Senate. And Cuomo certainly got into politics with help from his father. But in both cases people paid their dues, learned some nuts and bolts about policy and politics, and went before the voters. Even Hillary Clinton did that.

It will be interesting to see if Governor Paterson has the nerve to say “no” to Kennedy. On one hand, Cuomo would be a “safe” pick — obviously qualified and certainly electable in 2010. But these things have a certain momentum and one senses that Kennedy, despite her Katie Couric-like outing in upstate New York, has been gathering support and making it harder and harder for Paterson to rebuff her. It would, at this point, take a certain independence of mind and even courage to do that – qualities Paterson has yet to demonstrate.

And Cuomo? Well, he could always challenge Paterson for Governor in 2010. That would be sweet revenge.

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Looking for Leaders in All the Wrong Places

One of the weirdest aspects of Israeli politics in the last few years has been the sudden rush of prominent journalists to throw their hat in the ring. One of the biggest names in the past decade was Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who capped off decades of radio, television, and print media punditry to become the leader of the secular-liberal-but-capitalist Shinui party, a flash in the pan that earned Lapid a government ministry before the party imploded under the weight of a scandal. Then there was Shelly Yecimovich, who was probably Israel’s most prominent radio talkshow host before joining the Labor party in time for the last election.

For this election, however, the floodgates have been opened, with big names like Gideon Reichel and Uri Orbach joining the fray. Orbach, who is joining the new religious-right party Jewish Home, published a farewell column in Ynet giving his reasons for taking the plunge. He writes:

Why am I doing it? Not just because I feel like it all of a sudden, and not because they asked me to join a week ago (well, sure, of course this is also a reason. Let’s not be a hypocrite here.) The main answer to this question happens to be: “Because!”

Because I feel like making an impact in a different way. Because sometimes one needs to make a decision and go for it without thinking too much about what other people will say.

Because after all it is easier to be a journalist for 25 years and criticize the whole world, yet when you are asked to join public service in line with the views you endorse say that right now is not a convenient time, because you need to pick up your kid from kindergarten.

Orbach’s column unintentionally shows us what exactly is so troubling about pundits going into politics. What makes a pundit successful is the clarity of his views, his eloquence and persuasive power. The magic is not necessarily in his ability to know the right answer, but in the chemistry between his answers and the thinking of his audience. He makes himself sound really smart to enough people.

But this sounds like the classic description of the demagogue. What is missing here is actual experience in decisionmaking, actual responsibility in the past, or any kind of real-world record by which to judge his judgment. If Israelis suffered for too long from having their political ranks filled with ex-generals — people who are too used to getting what they want and have little experience weighing interests and egos in their dealings — now they seem to be looking for answers in their wordsmiths.

Maybe they should start getting re-acquainted with the White Pages.

One of the weirdest aspects of Israeli politics in the last few years has been the sudden rush of prominent journalists to throw their hat in the ring. One of the biggest names in the past decade was Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, who capped off decades of radio, television, and print media punditry to become the leader of the secular-liberal-but-capitalist Shinui party, a flash in the pan that earned Lapid a government ministry before the party imploded under the weight of a scandal. Then there was Shelly Yecimovich, who was probably Israel’s most prominent radio talkshow host before joining the Labor party in time for the last election.

For this election, however, the floodgates have been opened, with big names like Gideon Reichel and Uri Orbach joining the fray. Orbach, who is joining the new religious-right party Jewish Home, published a farewell column in Ynet giving his reasons for taking the plunge. He writes:

Why am I doing it? Not just because I feel like it all of a sudden, and not because they asked me to join a week ago (well, sure, of course this is also a reason. Let’s not be a hypocrite here.) The main answer to this question happens to be: “Because!”

Because I feel like making an impact in a different way. Because sometimes one needs to make a decision and go for it without thinking too much about what other people will say.

Because after all it is easier to be a journalist for 25 years and criticize the whole world, yet when you are asked to join public service in line with the views you endorse say that right now is not a convenient time, because you need to pick up your kid from kindergarten.

Orbach’s column unintentionally shows us what exactly is so troubling about pundits going into politics. What makes a pundit successful is the clarity of his views, his eloquence and persuasive power. The magic is not necessarily in his ability to know the right answer, but in the chemistry between his answers and the thinking of his audience. He makes himself sound really smart to enough people.

But this sounds like the classic description of the demagogue. What is missing here is actual experience in decisionmaking, actual responsibility in the past, or any kind of real-world record by which to judge his judgment. If Israelis suffered for too long from having their political ranks filled with ex-generals — people who are too used to getting what they want and have little experience weighing interests and egos in their dealings — now they seem to be looking for answers in their wordsmiths.

Maybe they should start getting re-acquainted with the White Pages.

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One Final Blow To Fiscal Sanity

As this report makes clear, the terms of the Bush administration car bailout are actually less stringent than those that Democrats in Congress agreed to:

The deal’s ambitious targets for the companies include replacing two-thirds of their debt with stock; using more stock instead of cash to fund retiree health-care obligations; eliminating much-criticized union “jobs banks” that pay laid-off auto workers; and establishing wage structures and workplace rules that are more competitive with foreign rivals.

But all those targets are nonbinding, and the agreement appeared to be much more porous than legislation that the administration and Democratic congressional leaders failed to pass earlier this month.

Only the Bush administration could come up with a plan that is even less effective than what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would find acceptable. As Larry Kudlow put it, this was “a lousy way to go out of office.”

Sure, the government “suggests” the way to viability is to slash debt and align the Big Two’s labor agreements with their foreign-owned competitors, but it’s essentially just that — a friendly suggestion. Chrysler and GM can just come up with other ways to show they are “viable.” But the chances that the Obama administration will hold their feet to the fire are slim:

In essence, Mr. Bush’s plan lets the auto companies survive through March. He leaves it to the Obama administration to decide many tough questions after that. Obama officials must wrestle with how much in wage and benefit concessions to demand from the United Auto Workers union, which strongly backed Mr. Obama’s campaign and helped him carry Michigan over Republican rival John McCain; how to wring savings from the companies’ politically powerful dealerships; and what concessions can be squeezed from debt holders, suppliers and other groups.

Mr. Obama and his aides on Friday were generally supportive of the White House approach, especially the decision to avoid a bankruptcy filing. At a press conference, Mr. Obama warned Detroit executives that “the American people’s patience is running out” and said the companies must use this opportunity to chart a course for their companies “that is sustainable.” He also declined to say the White House is asking too much of the UAW. While workers shouldn’t bear the entire burden of the restructuring, he said, “there are going to be some painful steps that have to be taken.”

UAW leaders and their congressional allies were already signaling Friday that they would seek to ease the terms of the deal next year as they expect more friends on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Top Democratic leaders complained about the administration’s aim of reducing worker wages and benefits. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, termed the provisions “an unfair assault on working men and women.

Perhaps with the passage of time and more billions spent without profitability, both Congress and the public will revolt against the notion of subsidizing failure.  But fiscal conservatives will need to make the case — as they somewhat successfully did this time — that it is both unfair and unwise for voters (whose own wages on average are far less than those of the UAW workers at GM and Chrysler) to keep these companies on the dole.

This will be one of many battles a reduced Republican minority in Congress will need to wage next year. They may lack the votes, but the distinction between the parties in the post-Bush era will be clear. And ultimately if the Obama administration continues down the road of semi-nationalization the only recourse will come at the ballot box in 2010 and 2012. But billions and billions may have been spent by then –money which even many Democrats would agree could have been spent far more productively.

As this report makes clear, the terms of the Bush administration car bailout are actually less stringent than those that Democrats in Congress agreed to:

The deal’s ambitious targets for the companies include replacing two-thirds of their debt with stock; using more stock instead of cash to fund retiree health-care obligations; eliminating much-criticized union “jobs banks” that pay laid-off auto workers; and establishing wage structures and workplace rules that are more competitive with foreign rivals.

But all those targets are nonbinding, and the agreement appeared to be much more porous than legislation that the administration and Democratic congressional leaders failed to pass earlier this month.

Only the Bush administration could come up with a plan that is even less effective than what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would find acceptable. As Larry Kudlow put it, this was “a lousy way to go out of office.”

Sure, the government “suggests” the way to viability is to slash debt and align the Big Two’s labor agreements with their foreign-owned competitors, but it’s essentially just that — a friendly suggestion. Chrysler and GM can just come up with other ways to show they are “viable.” But the chances that the Obama administration will hold their feet to the fire are slim:

In essence, Mr. Bush’s plan lets the auto companies survive through March. He leaves it to the Obama administration to decide many tough questions after that. Obama officials must wrestle with how much in wage and benefit concessions to demand from the United Auto Workers union, which strongly backed Mr. Obama’s campaign and helped him carry Michigan over Republican rival John McCain; how to wring savings from the companies’ politically powerful dealerships; and what concessions can be squeezed from debt holders, suppliers and other groups.

Mr. Obama and his aides on Friday were generally supportive of the White House approach, especially the decision to avoid a bankruptcy filing. At a press conference, Mr. Obama warned Detroit executives that “the American people’s patience is running out” and said the companies must use this opportunity to chart a course for their companies “that is sustainable.” He also declined to say the White House is asking too much of the UAW. While workers shouldn’t bear the entire burden of the restructuring, he said, “there are going to be some painful steps that have to be taken.”

UAW leaders and their congressional allies were already signaling Friday that they would seek to ease the terms of the deal next year as they expect more friends on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Top Democratic leaders complained about the administration’s aim of reducing worker wages and benefits. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, termed the provisions “an unfair assault on working men and women.

Perhaps with the passage of time and more billions spent without profitability, both Congress and the public will revolt against the notion of subsidizing failure.  But fiscal conservatives will need to make the case — as they somewhat successfully did this time — that it is both unfair and unwise for voters (whose own wages on average are far less than those of the UAW workers at GM and Chrysler) to keep these companies on the dole.

This will be one of many battles a reduced Republican minority in Congress will need to wage next year. They may lack the votes, but the distinction between the parties in the post-Bush era will be clear. And ultimately if the Obama administration continues down the road of semi-nationalization the only recourse will come at the ballot box in 2010 and 2012. But billions and billions may have been spent by then –money which even many Democrats would agree could have been spent far more productively.

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“Global Solutions for Madoff Victims”?

Progressives are having a hard time these days. First, Barack Obama turns his back on them. Then the Bernie Madoff con hits.

It turns out that Madoff was somewhat selective about both his clientele and his charity. He was not only a benefactor to many progressive organizations, but was entrusted with managing a lot of progressive money as well. And with his downfall, a lot of progressive groups have been grievously wounded — some even mortally. That has a lot of people on the Left infuriated. Some so mad, that they’ve tagged Madoff “Progressive Enemy #1.”

Madoff managed the money of Jeanne Levy-Church and Kenneth Levy-Church, who funded the JEHT Foundation (“Justice, Equality, Human dignity, Tolerance”). In turn, the JEHT Foundation funded an astonishing assortment of liberal/progressive causes. With Madoff having lost every penny of that money, the JEHT Foundation is gone, along with all its grants.

That list of grants is  astonishing. It runs the gamut from the Advocates for Environmental Human Rights to Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. The list is replete with organizations bearing lofty, abstract names. (It reminded me of nations that load their names up with high-minded principles and inevitably fail to live up to them – “People’s Democratic Republic” is a code used by dictators so that they can recognize each other.)

The same principle holds here: the loftier, more idealistic, and more vague the name of the group, the better the odds that it’s not really that interested in helping people, but more into advancing an agenda — often socialistic and destructive. There is the “Advocates for Environmental Human Rights” — those are just buzzwords piled together to sound good.  Or “Americans for Informed Democracy” or “Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict” — who could be against THAT? “Citizens for Global Solutions” sounds good, but most problems require nuanced, not “global,” solutions. There’s “EarthRights International” — planets have rights? What is the overlap between “Human Rights First” and “Human Rights Watch?” Does the “International Center for Transitional Justice” come with an expiration date for when the transition is over?

And why wasn’t the “Center for Investigative Reporting” onto the scheme of their donor?

Progressives are having a hard time these days. First, Barack Obama turns his back on them. Then the Bernie Madoff con hits.

It turns out that Madoff was somewhat selective about both his clientele and his charity. He was not only a benefactor to many progressive organizations, but was entrusted with managing a lot of progressive money as well. And with his downfall, a lot of progressive groups have been grievously wounded — some even mortally. That has a lot of people on the Left infuriated. Some so mad, that they’ve tagged Madoff “Progressive Enemy #1.”

Madoff managed the money of Jeanne Levy-Church and Kenneth Levy-Church, who funded the JEHT Foundation (“Justice, Equality, Human dignity, Tolerance”). In turn, the JEHT Foundation funded an astonishing assortment of liberal/progressive causes. With Madoff having lost every penny of that money, the JEHT Foundation is gone, along with all its grants.

That list of grants is  astonishing. It runs the gamut from the Advocates for Environmental Human Rights to Yale Law School’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. The list is replete with organizations bearing lofty, abstract names. (It reminded me of nations that load their names up with high-minded principles and inevitably fail to live up to them – “People’s Democratic Republic” is a code used by dictators so that they can recognize each other.)

The same principle holds here: the loftier, more idealistic, and more vague the name of the group, the better the odds that it’s not really that interested in helping people, but more into advancing an agenda — often socialistic and destructive. There is the “Advocates for Environmental Human Rights” — those are just buzzwords piled together to sound good.  Or “Americans for Informed Democracy” or “Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict” — who could be against THAT? “Citizens for Global Solutions” sounds good, but most problems require nuanced, not “global,” solutions. There’s “EarthRights International” — planets have rights? What is the overlap between “Human Rights First” and “Human Rights Watch?” Does the “International Center for Transitional Justice” come with an expiration date for when the transition is over?

And why wasn’t the “Center for Investigative Reporting” onto the scheme of their donor?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Katon Dawson, candidate for RNC Chairman tells Jim Geraghty about his decade-long membership in a whites-only club: “Dawson is bothered by the possibility of his club membership stirring a perception of racial insensitivity, and worries that his bid could be defined by this.” Well, yeah.

Pat Toomey on the car bailout: “The United States is quickly becoming a bailout nation . . . partially nationalizing major industries, allocating capital based on politics, and profoundly undermining our free-market economy.  Our economy’s ability to recover and grow is being further hampered with every new bailout.”

Grover Norquist economizes on words.

The WSJ editors sum up the sentiment of most fiscal conservatives: “Friday’s taxpayer bailout of Detroit’s auto makers isn’t the worst moment of the Bush Presidency, but we’d put it in the top 10. President Bush will now avoid getting the blame for letting the companies declare bankruptcy on his watch. In return, he’s essentially handing over GM and Chrysler to the political ministrations of the United Auto Workers and the green lobby, as mediated by Congress. Taxpayers are likely to own a piece of this Corvair for years — and tens of billions of dollars — to come.” To be blunt, it was a frantic attempt to avoid blame — the very type of political cravenness the President usually deplores when touting his own devotion to principle and willingness to make hard choices. Yes, “Perhaps that isn’t ‘Herbert Hoover time,’ but it’s bad enough.”

The Washington Post entirely misses the point — or hopes its readers do — with its “sacrifice or surrender” hooey about the UAW. There are no binding requirements for the UAW to do anything.

Really, where’s Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

Congress’ approval rating is down to single digits again.

Megan McArdle is right: “The really miserable thing is that even a total bankruptcy may not be enough.   Wipe out the shareholders, cut the bondholders to the bone, shuck the gold-plated medical benefits, toss out the UAW contracts, close the dealers–and we still may be left with companies that cannot make a profit without a now-defunct financing business based on ever-growing loans to ever-poorer credit risks.  The Big Three, with the help of the UAW and all their other partners, has spent 25 years building a reputation for poor reliability and ugly cars.  Brands matter.  Once destroyed, they’re very hard to repair in the best of times.” And if this is true, we will pour tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars into unrescuable companies — money that could have been put toward far more productive undertakings.

One way of looking at it: Caroline should get the senate seat because we owe the Kennedy family. Sort of reparations for the rich and powerful.

The consensus on the Franken-Coleman race: who knows who will win and we won’t settle this for awhile.

Headline of the day: “Rice says only an idiot would trust North Korea.” Yeah, what kind of fool would for example, take to the bank an oral “agreement” which the North Koreans themselves refused to put in writing?

From Sens. McCain, Graham and Lieberman: “Iraq can serve as an anchor of stability in the region, a counter to Iranian hegemony and a model of democracy for the Middle East. This outcome is not yet guaranteed, even with all the success we have seen over the previous two years in Iraq. That is what makes it all the more important that Republicans and Democrats put aside the differences over Iraq that have divided us in the past. The president-elect has the chance to repair this breach in our politics by adopting a set of policies, resting on the best judgments of our commanders and diplomats on the ground, that all of us — Democrats and Republicans alike — will be able to support.” Well, John McCain always said he’s rather lose an election than lose a war. And that’s just how it looks.

Katon Dawson, candidate for RNC Chairman tells Jim Geraghty about his decade-long membership in a whites-only club: “Dawson is bothered by the possibility of his club membership stirring a perception of racial insensitivity, and worries that his bid could be defined by this.” Well, yeah.

Pat Toomey on the car bailout: “The United States is quickly becoming a bailout nation . . . partially nationalizing major industries, allocating capital based on politics, and profoundly undermining our free-market economy.  Our economy’s ability to recover and grow is being further hampered with every new bailout.”

Grover Norquist economizes on words.

The WSJ editors sum up the sentiment of most fiscal conservatives: “Friday’s taxpayer bailout of Detroit’s auto makers isn’t the worst moment of the Bush Presidency, but we’d put it in the top 10. President Bush will now avoid getting the blame for letting the companies declare bankruptcy on his watch. In return, he’s essentially handing over GM and Chrysler to the political ministrations of the United Auto Workers and the green lobby, as mediated by Congress. Taxpayers are likely to own a piece of this Corvair for years — and tens of billions of dollars — to come.” To be blunt, it was a frantic attempt to avoid blame — the very type of political cravenness the President usually deplores when touting his own devotion to principle and willingness to make hard choices. Yes, “Perhaps that isn’t ‘Herbert Hoover time,’ but it’s bad enough.”

The Washington Post entirely misses the point — or hopes its readers do — with its “sacrifice or surrender” hooey about the UAW. There are no binding requirements for the UAW to do anything.

Really, where’s Margaret Thatcher when you need her?

Congress’ approval rating is down to single digits again.

Megan McArdle is right: “The really miserable thing is that even a total bankruptcy may not be enough.   Wipe out the shareholders, cut the bondholders to the bone, shuck the gold-plated medical benefits, toss out the UAW contracts, close the dealers–and we still may be left with companies that cannot make a profit without a now-defunct financing business based on ever-growing loans to ever-poorer credit risks.  The Big Three, with the help of the UAW and all their other partners, has spent 25 years building a reputation for poor reliability and ugly cars.  Brands matter.  Once destroyed, they’re very hard to repair in the best of times.” And if this is true, we will pour tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars into unrescuable companies — money that could have been put toward far more productive undertakings.

One way of looking at it: Caroline should get the senate seat because we owe the Kennedy family. Sort of reparations for the rich and powerful.

The consensus on the Franken-Coleman race: who knows who will win and we won’t settle this for awhile.

Headline of the day: “Rice says only an idiot would trust North Korea.” Yeah, what kind of fool would for example, take to the bank an oral “agreement” which the North Koreans themselves refused to put in writing?

From Sens. McCain, Graham and Lieberman: “Iraq can serve as an anchor of stability in the region, a counter to Iranian hegemony and a model of democracy for the Middle East. This outcome is not yet guaranteed, even with all the success we have seen over the previous two years in Iraq. That is what makes it all the more important that Republicans and Democrats put aside the differences over Iraq that have divided us in the past. The president-elect has the chance to repair this breach in our politics by adopting a set of policies, resting on the best judgments of our commanders and diplomats on the ground, that all of us — Democrats and Republicans alike — will be able to support.” Well, John McCain always said he’s rather lose an election than lose a war. And that’s just how it looks.

Read Less




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