Taxpayers have put more than $24 trillion on the line to resuscitate Wall Street after the economic meltdown of last year. With the help of this massive taxpayer support, the nation's largest banks are posting record profits. That, by itself, is not bad. After all, our economy runs on profit, and the whole point of the government aid was to get the banks out of intensive care. The problem is that many of these banks have resumed their old habit of using other people's money to gamble with the same risky unregulated derivatives that led us into this crisis.In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and with job losses and home foreclosures mounting, it's no wonder the rest of us are asking how this can be allowed to continue.Let's embrace productive capitalism, not casino capitalism, by restoring transparency and true competition in the commodities markets. Our nation's financial sector can act as a great force for job creation and production. We should not stand by and let their dimly lit casino bring us all down once again.
Look no further than the powerful lobbying arm of the financial services sector, which has spent at least $220 million this year lobbying Congress to stave off new rules to prevent another collapse. That is over $500,000 in lobbying for every member of Congress, which might help explain why, to date, nothing has been fixed in our porous financial regulatory system. Americans want to know when Congress will put an end to the Wall Street's secret off-book gambling schemes and restore our capitalist system by requiring real transparency and true competition.
It appears that Wall Street is not acting as a force for economic expansion, providing access to capital for companies that make things. Rather, it seems, Wall Street is using government bailouts to lever up.
Wall Street uses exotic financial tools to fund what amounts to unregulated gambling. Wall Street wants to keep its schemes too complicated to understand so that the roulette wheel can keep turning. While derivatives trading can be complex, the underlying concept is simple enough: keep trading secret and off-book and pocket profits from both sides of a trade.
Unregulated derivatives are a cash cow hidden from public view and run with less oversight even than actual casinos. The five largest U.S. commercial banks are on track to earn more than $35 billion this year trading unregulated derivatives. According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the nation's five largest commercial banks held 95 percent of the $291 trillion derivatives portfolio of the country's 25 largest bank holding companies at the end of the first quarter. More than 90 percent of those derivatives were in unregulated trading.
Prior to 2000, as a matter of federal law, all derivatives were required to be traded on regulated central exchanges overseen by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, unless specifically exempted by the Commission. The oversight protected the public from the inherent risk posed by derivatives and from the chaos that could result from unscrupulous or reckless trading.
After 2000, the field was cleared of referees and market players were left to run wild with unregulated derivatives.
The change occurred when Wall Street asked for -- and received from Congress -- an exemption from all regulation of a massive class of derivatives, including a preemption of state gambling laws. Literally, gambling laws had to be overridden. Derivatives dealers acknowledged the gambling inherent in derivatives trading and the business they stood to gain from this exemption.
Deal-making became so opaque that it was impossible to follow. The true values of exotic instruments were impossible to determine.
Imposing full transparency and true competition will require moving derivative trades onto regulated exchanges. That would mean full transparency of trading prices and volumes, reporting requirements for large trader positions, and adequate capital reserves to protect against a default. The government needs full anti-fraud and anti-manipulation authority. Giving regulators this power will ensure a transparent and competitive marketplace and will ensure that violators will go to jail.
Wall Street has a lot of reasons for wanting to keep the unregulated derivatives casino open for business. Specifically, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Brad Hintz recently estimated that Wall Street revenue from trading unregulated derivatives might decline by 15 percent just by moving trades to clearinghouses. That is because the current system enables banks to profit from secret pricing - pocketing the gap between what they charge customers and what they pay to hedge their trades. With transparent pricing and true competition on an exchange, higher gambling returns are much more difficult to achieve. Public disclosure of price data would also mean that dealers no longer had better price data than clients.
I started posting on HowieinSeattle in 11/04, following progressive American politics in the spirit of Howard Dean's effort to "Take Our Country Back." I decided to follow my heart and posted on seattleforbarackobama from 2/07 to 11/08.--"Howie Martin is the Abe Linkin' of progressive Seattle."--Michael Hood.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Cantwell: "Wall Street Has a Gambling Problem"
ED Schultz: "What does Obama want in the health bill?" (video)
Howie P.S.: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (DCCC Chair) and Brent Budowsky (The Hill) join ED.
"Pelosi Throws a Bone to Blue Dogs"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to make sure Blue Dogs vote for health-care reform.
With what seemed like half the House crowded behind her at the podium, Pelosi announced the bill that will be debated on the House floor would include a public option, but a version more acceptable to the moderate Democrats. The full text of the bill is here.
Why? Pelosi needed their votes.
As our Greg Sargent first reported, Pelosi had barely 200 of the 218 votes she’d need for a more “robust” public option.
That “robust” public option was what progressives would have preferred . It would have paid doctors and hospitals based on Medicare reimbursement rates, which are the lowest in the industry. Instead, Pelosi chose to include a public option in which the government would have to negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals, which means they’ll end up paying them more than with the “robust” option.
It’s the outcome Blue Dogs wanted, especially those from rural areas. They said Medicare, which pays hospitals based on cost-of-living in their area, was already reimbursing doctors and hospitals far too little, and they worried that rural hospitals would not survive if the public option paid at Medicare rates.
This will make it harder for moderate Democrats to vote against the bill, and Pelosi needs only a handful of the 56 Blue Dogs on board to get a bill through the House.
"Cracks in the public option" (video)
Howie P.S.: Rep. Anthony Weiner explains how the Pelosi bill falls short. Weiner runs out of time as he faults the bill for failing to control prices in the public option.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Glenn Greenwald on Afghanistan, State Secrets, Healthcare and the Media (video)
One of the leading political and legal bloggers in the country, Glenn Greenwald, joins us to talk about about the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s use of state secrets, the healthcare debate, the renewed military commissions at Guantanamo and the coverage of it all by the corporate media. Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney who writes for Salon.com and is the author of three books.
Ritter: "McChrystal Doesn’t Get It—Does Obama?"
There is a curious phenomenon taking place in the American media at the moment: the lionization of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American military commander in Afghanistan. Although he has taken a few lumps for playing politics with the White House, McChrystal has generally been sold to the American public as a “Zen warrior,” a counterinsurgency genius who, if simply left to his own devices, will be able to radically transform the ongoing debacle that is Afghanistan into a noble victory that will rank as one of the greatest political and military triumphs of modern history. McChrystal’s resume and persona (a former commander of America’s special operations forces, a tireless athlete and a scholar) have been breathlessly celebrated in several interviews and articles. Reporters depict him as an ascetic soldier who spouts words of wisdom to rival Confucius, Jesus and Muhammad.The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent Gen. McChrystal to “fix” the war in Afghanistan in the way that his boss, that earlier military prophet Gen. David Petraeus, “fixed” Iraq. Whether by accident or design, McChrystal’s mission became a cause célèbre of sorts for an American media starved for good news, even if entirely fabricated, coming out of Afghanistan. One must remember that the general has accomplished little of note during his short tenure to date as the military commander in Afghanistan. His entire reputation is built around the potential to turn things around in Afghanistan. And to do this, McChrystal has said he needs time, and 40,000-plus additional American troops. There are currently around 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s request would raise that number to around 110,000 troops – the same number as the Soviets had deployed in Afghanistan at the height of their failed military adventure some 20 years ago.Scott Ritter is a former Marine intelligence officer, chief U.N. weapons inspector and the author of numerous books on foreign policy.
McChrystal, or more accurately, his staff, has authored a not-so-secret report that outlines the reasoning behind this massive increase in American military involvement in Afghanistan. Rightly noting that the American-led effort is currently failing, McChrystal argues that only a massive infusion of U.S. troops, and a corresponding “surge” of American civilians, can achieve the stability necessary to transform Afghanistan from the failed state it is today. A viable nation capable of self-government, the new Afghanistan could maintain internal security so that terrorist organizations like al-Qaida will not be able to take root, flourish and once again threaten American security from the sanctuary of a lawless land. This concept certainly looks good on paper and plays well in the editorial section. And why shouldn’t it? It touches on all the romantic notions of America as liberator and defender of the oppressed. The problem is that the assumptions made in the McChrystal report are so far removed from reality as to be ludicrous.
McChrystal operates under the illusion that American military power can provide a shield from behind which Afghanistan can remake itself into a viable modern society. He has deluded himself and others into believing that the people of Afghanistan want to be part of such a grand social experiment, and furthermore that they will tolerate the United States being in charge. The reality of Afghan history, culture and society argue otherwise. The Taliban, once a defeated entity in the months following the initial American military incursion into Afghanistan, are resurgent and growing stronger every day. The principle source of the Taliban’s popularity is the resentment of the Afghan people toward the American occupation and the corrupt proxy government of Hamid Karzai. There is nothing an additional 40,000 American troops will be able to do to change that basic equation. The Soviets tried and failed. They deployed 110,000 troops, operating on less restrictive lines of communication and logistical supply than the United States. They built an Afghan army of some 45,000 troops. They operated without the constraints of American rules of engagement. They slaughtered around a million Afghans. And they lost, for the simple reason that the people of Afghanistan did not want them, or their Afghan proxies.
Some pundits and observers make note of the fact that the Afghan people were able to prevail over the Soviets only because of billions of dollars of U.S. aid, which together with similar funding from Saudi Arabia and the logistical support of Pakistan, allowed the Afghan resistance to coalesce, grow and ultimately defeat the Soviets and their Afghan allies. They note that there is no equivalent source of empowerment for the Taliban in Afghanistan today. But they are wrong. The Taliban receive millions of dollars from sympathetic sources in the Middle East, in particular from Saudi Arabia, and they operate not only from within Afghanistan, but also out of safe havens inside Pakistan.
Indeed, one of the unique aspects of the Afghan conflict is the degree to which it has expanded into Pakistan, making any military solution in one theater contingent on military victory in the other. But the reality is that the more one employs military force in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, the more one strengthens the cause and resources of the Islamic insurgents in both places. Pashtunistan, once a fanciful notion built around the concept of a united Pashtun people (the population in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan are primarily drawn from Pashtun tribes), has become a de facto reality. The decision by the British in 1897 to separate the Pashtun through the artificial device of the so-called Durand Line (which today constitutes the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) has been exposed today as a futile effort to undermine tribal links. No amount of military force can reverse this.
Thus the solution itself becomes the problem, thereby creating a never-ending circular conflict which has the United States expending more and more resources to resolve a situation that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, and everything to do with crafting a politically viable salve for what is in essence a massive self-inflicted wound. It is the proverbial dog chasing after its own tail, a frustrating experience made even more so by the fact that any massive commitment of troops brings with it the fatal attachment of national pride, individual hubris and, worst of all, the scourge of domestic American politics, so that by the time this dog bites its tail, it will be so blinded by artificialities that rather than recognize its mistake, it will instead proceed to consume itself. In the case of Afghanistan, our consumption will be measured in the lives of American servicemen and women, national treasure, national honor, and, of course the lives of countless Afghan dead and wounded.
The manner in which McChrystal has peddled his plan for Afghanistan to the American media, and to Congress, may be politically savvy. It is certainly insubordinate. The decision to employ American military power is the sole prerogative of the American president. A general may offer advice, but any effort to engage the machinery of politics to pressure a sitting president defies the basic constitutional tenet of civilian control over the military. President Obama, once a constitutional law professor, should know as much, and would do well to severely reprimand McChrystal for his actions. Or better yet, Obama should fire McChrystal and replace him with someone who respects the rule of law and the chain of command.
Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but if he allows himself to be bullied into supporting McChrystal’s foray into Afghanistan, he will reveal himself as the worst kind of warmonger. True, he didn’t invent the Afghan quagmire. That honor resides with George W. Bush, who also is to blame for the American fiasco in Iraq. But history will be surprisingly gentle toward America’s 43rd president. Bush will share the blame for his calamitous military decisions with the mistaken policies of previous administrations, a compliant Congress, headstrong advisers, servile intelligence agencies and, of course, the shock of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush will be seen more as a useful idiot than a ruthless ideologue. Obama, with his obvious intelligence, soaring rhetorical skills and Nobel credentials, does not readily fit such a characterization. If he decides to reinforce failure in Afghanistan by dispatching tens of thousands more American troops to that disaster, America’s 44th president will cement himself as a grand fraud, a hawk hiding in dove feathers. Given his potential for doing good, one clearly would not want such a scenario to play out.
The president’s lack of military experience screams out when he calls America’s involvement in Afghanistan a “good war.” He would have been better off trying to make the case for a justifiable war, or even a necessary war, but to label a process that brings about the death and injury of thousands as “good” makes me wonder about Obama’s fitness to be commander in chief. His seeming inexperience on national security affairs and foreign policy leave him vulnerable to domestic political pressures that emanate from these arenas. The president does possess the vision to see a world in which America stands side by side with other nations as an equal, operating with a shared notion of due process and respect for the rule of law, but that doesn’t square with any decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Expanding the war in Afghanistan will lend credence to the central worry about Obama: that, at the end of the day, this man of vision might in fact be little more than an Illinois politician who is willing to barter away American life, treasure and good will for political gain on the domestic front. And, in doing so, it will undermine his noble vision of an America “resetting” its relationship with the world following eight years of unilateralist militarism.
A true leader, one with substance and gravitas, would be able to stand up to the combined pressure of the military, the right-wing of Congress and the American media. He would draw the correct conclusions from the lessons of history, which prove again and again that Afghanistan is not a problem that can be solved by foreign military intervention. The fact that Obama might be compelled to alleviate the political pressure he is receiving from these sources by condemning America to another decade of death and destruction in Afghanistan and, most probably, Pakistan, reinforces any perception of his weakness as a national leader.
Afghanistan has, over the centuries, earned its reputation as the graveyard of empires. Just ask the Greeks, Mongols, British and Russians. If Barack Obama ultimately agrees to dispatch more American troops to Afghanistan, he will ensure not only that America will add its name to the list of those who have failed in their effort to conquer the unconquerable, but also that his name will join the ranks of those leaders throughout history who succumbed to the temptations of hubris when given the choice between war and peace. The Nobel committee will have failed in its gambit to motivate America’s 44th president to embrace the mantle of peacemaker, and the American people will be left to sort through the detritus of war brought on by yet another failed president.
Of course, the future is not yet set in stone. The decision to dispatch more troops, although the subject of much rumor and speculation, has been delayed pending the final dispensation of Afghanistan’s controversial presidential election. One can only hope that President Obama will take advantage of this timely “pause” to reconsider his options regarding Afghanistan beyond the single-minded rush to reinforce a current policy the U.S. military has acknowledged as having gone nowhere in the eight years of American military engagement.
Vice President Joe Biden had earlier proposed a policy course that would have de-emphasized military engagement with the Taliban, focusing instead on rooting out the forces of al-Qaida still operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Obama was reportedly not sold on Biden’s thinking when it was first presented last March. Perhaps now, upon reflection, the president will do the right thing and reduce America’s military involvement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, either along the lines proposed by Vice President Biden, or through some other mechanism. There is no military solution to the problems facing the United States today in Afghanistan, and thus the correct course of action is to de-militarize the situation by reducing, not expanding, America’s military presence.
Clearly Gen. Stanley McChrystal is not the man for this task. He should be replaced by someone within the ranks of the U.S. military who shares Obama’s vision of peace, and with it the need to redefine the mission in South Asia. The legitimate requirements of American national security will not be satisfied by any massive military commitment to the region. Hopefully, President Obama will recognize this fact and get out. That would be a sign of greatness, and present to the American people and the rest of the world a leader worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Rachel Maddow - FDL's Jane Hamsher Discusses Joe Lieberman's Filibuster Threat" (video)
firedoglake, video (04:10).
Howie P.S.: This conversation may explain Harry Reid's comment that Joe Lieberman is "the least of Harry Reid's problems."
Joe Mallahan: "Focus Our Efforts On Taking Steps to Strengthen Our Economy & Create Jobs"
Joe Mallahan today expressed his disappointment over the Boeing Company's decision to build its second 787 assembly plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
"I believe this is the wrong business decision, given that the vast majority of Boeing's commercial airplane expertise resides right here in the greater Seattle area. We have the mostly highly skilled aerospace workforce in the country. It must continue to be the goal of every elected official in Washington State to do everything we can to make Washington a great place for Boeing to grow in the future.
“We need to focus our efforts in coming years on taking the steps to strengthen our economy and create jobs. Today's decision underlines the need to move forward and build a 21st century infrastructure – a network of sound transportation and transit solutions, strong schools, and a healthy environment. Ultimately, that will make the difference for job creation over the long term and that’s what I pledge to work on as Seattle’s next mayor.”
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Countdown: "Pelosi produces less-than-stellar House bill" (video)
Howie P.S.: Lawrence O'Donnell is the guest host. Howard Dean visits and says "It's not the best we can do but it's a great start."
Sable Verity: "Tunnel Vision" in the Seattle mayoral race (audio)
Sable Verity, audio.
Howie P.S. : I just recently discovered Sable Verity and her blog of the same name. Now KBCS (Bellevue College radio station) has offered her a regular radio gig. I already wrote her a fan letter, so I won't gush further.Here's how KBCS introduced her on her very own web page they created:
Sable Verity is one of few women bloggers of color in the Pacific Northwest covering issues that directly impact minority families. Sable looks at the world through a sociological perspective, no matter how mundane the situation may seem.
Mother, writer and activist, editor and founder of the SV, friends (and enemies) describe Sable Verity as a tireless advocate (or that bitch that just won’t go away), who believes in speaking (ranting) the truth (her irrational race-tinged views).
Sable Verity's Commentaries air every Tuesday and Thursday at 6:50 pm during Hard Knock Radio and every Thursday at 5:50 pm during One World Report.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Maddow: "Lieberman defends insurance industry interests" (video)
Howie P.S.: Glenn Greenwald joins Maddow to discuss conflicts of interest on the health care reform issue involving Lieberman and Evan Bayh.
CNBC: "Trains, Planes, Aches & Pains" (video)
Blogger Buzz-CNBC, video (03:38).
Howie P.S.: Seattle native Ari Melber tries to get in a word edge-wise about Amtrak and other modes of transpotation with the talking heads from CNBC.
"Tony B Hosts Seattle Mayor Debate on StreetBeat"--KUBE 93
Don't miss the "Final Showdown" for Mayor of the City of Seattle.
Joe Mallahan vs. Michael McGinn
(60 minutes of exciting toe-to-toe conversation)
That’s StreetBeat, this Sunday morning, 11/1/09 on KUBE 93, 8:00 am – 9:00 am!
We invite our www.MUSICAEntertainment.org email guests in the Northwest to tune into “StreetBeat” hosted by Tony B on KUBE-FM (93.3) this Sunday morning, 8:00 am, November 1st, 2009. Worldwide via the internet "listen live" at www.kube93fm.com 8:00 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time) – 11:00 a.m (Eastern Standard Time) 4:00 p.m. (British Standard Time). Northwest Comcast cable television viewers can also listen on channel 967.
Joe Mallahan is taking a sabbatical from his position as "Vice President of Operations Strategy" for "T-Mobile" to run for Mayor of Seattle. Mallahan was trained in community organizing by the Industrial Areas Foundation—the same group that trained President Barack Obama. Michael McGinn is the "Founder and Director" of Seattle Great City Initiative. That group aims to bring people together to make Seattle "a model of economic and environmental sustainability.
John Fox: "A longtime Seattle activist's thoughts on the mayoral race"
Last week I reported on our meeting with Mike McGinn and offered some of my impressions. This week, I report on our meeting with Joe Mallahan and close with my final reflections on both candidates
First a report on our meeting with Mallahan held last week:
Our meeting with Joe Mallahan last week began right at 1130AM in his campaign offices and lasted 45 minutes...up from the 30 minutes he originally have us but still not long enough to cover the breadth of issues and concerns we had hoped to discuss with him. Those attending included Justin Simmons (Metropolitan Democratic Club), Sarjane Siegfried (46th District Democrats), David Bloom (Displacement Coalition and Council Candidate), Bill Kirlin-Hackett (Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness), Julian Wheeler (43rd District Democrats) and Joshua Okrente (Low Income Housing Institute). Former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowsky (and likely Deputy Mayor) joined Joe at our table.Note that the organizational affiliations listed above are for ID purposes only. However, everything that follows below, I get 100 percent of the blame, as the case may be, especially the last part where I compare the candidates - it is all my own...I guess my bottom line though is this - even though McGinn (and OBrien) are not fans of the "Sidran Laws" and more favorable to tent cities, (all to the good), on core development issues - the forces that give rise to displacement, and homelessness and inequality (and erode liveability and physical character of our city in the first place), Mallahan I believe is likely to be more responsive, flexible, and open.
Our meeting with Joe Mallahan first was scheduled three weeks ago but canceled. After some of our supporters raised a stink and reporters covered this fact, Mallahan rescheduled it for last week. At the outset of our meeting with him, he more or less apologized for these difficulties saying it's just that he's been completely inundated with requests.Accessibility:
We ended up spending a good 20 minutes or more discussing the question of "access" and "openness". Would he simply reprise the Nickels regime or offer a real change in terms of ensuring access for folks such as us and the neighborhoods? We referenced how housing and homeless advocates, neighborhood groups, and other grassroots organizations have been completely cut off from this current Mayor and referenced even cases where some members of this Mayor's staff promised retribution (cutting off individuals and groups from access or even funding if they didn't cooperate/support the Mayor's pre-determined agenda).
For the Nickels regime, everything was top down. How would Mayor Mallahan do things differently? Would you, Joe, give us and groups like those of us represented around the table access before you made decisions which affected them and issues they represented. He pointed to his management style and his background as an organizer - he said top down was not how he worked and gave examples of that. He assured us that we and groups currently left out would be sought out. There would be an open door and he'd not act on matters directly affecting these constituencies without first hearing from them.
Then I pointed out that he had chosen to give support to Burgess's anti-panhandling proposal publicly at last nights KUOW debate without first hearing our side or from homeless people who would be directly affected. I then handed him a cogent legal brief on its UN-constitutionality from the ACLU, Columbia Legal Services, and the ACLU, our criticism of the Burgess proposal, and a list of the dozen or so laws already on the books to address truly assaultive behavior. I then quoted directly from Inter-Im Police Chief Diaz saying the last thing we don't need another law.
I also referenced the fact that he had spoken out in favor Children's Hospital expansion without first hearing the community's side. (Note McGinn opposed the Burgess Law but has said he supports Children's expansion). Mallahan nodded and then acknowledged that he spoke too soon on such matters and more or less apologized - said he wanted and would ask to hear our side first in the future before giving such definitive positions on these and other such matters. (The Seattle Times and several other media outlets have turned the Burgess law into one of the defining issues of this campaign - McGinn as taken a better position on this so far).
By now we had eaten up 30 minutes of our 45 minutes of our meeting with Mallahan. At this point, he said he wanted to hear more from us about concerns we had with the budget process vis a vis funding for human services and housing. First though we talked about tent cities and Nickelsville - would he help them find a permanent site on public land if necessary.
We clarified that by a permanent tent city site, we meant a place that so long as we had a homeless crisis with thousands on our streets after all shelter beds are full, the city should allow tent cities to remain open or even encouraged in appropriate locations - something like Dignity Village backed by the Portland Government. Bill pointed out it didn't even have to be that permanent. There the city allowed Dignity Village to construct even makeshift shelters from wood. (The other day I heard Richard Conlin actually make the outrageous claim there were enough shelter beds in our city..ooops I'm straying from the topic at hand). Note that Mallahan often has said he will insist that his administration including the police "always treat everyone including homeless with dignity". Here was a way, by sanctioning tent cities, he could live up to that promise.
Mallahan said he had great sympathy for the homeless, would make that a priority, but had some concerns about the concept of tent cities. We didn't have time to really delve into what those concerns were. He asked questions about who lived in the tent cities and then said he really regretted not yet having time to tour these facilities or talk with folks who live there leaving us with the impression he intended to do so soon if elected. He indicated that the notion of sanctioning encampments like this was something he would certainly consider but gave us no commitment. Note that McGinn has been favorable to tent cities and been more explicit in giving them his support.
Then we talked about the budget and let him know that we wanted him to be strong in protecting human services, shelter programs, and other human services from any budget cuts now and in the future. This was as important as the issue of funding for the police and public safety. He clearly was up on the budget process and said he was exactly on that page with us. He also said that coordination of services is needed and can bring efficiencies. We added that these savings are very small compared with the expense of policing and public safety.advocating to restore the cuts in the city budget for advocacy and human services coordinating, particularly the need to coordinate the food banks, which is eliminated. He did engage us a bit here though insisting that public safety to him was as important and should be viewed as an important social justice issue (not withstanding many comments he'd heard from the African American Community leaders telling him as far as they were concerned, there were more than enough police in SE Seattle - perhaps for these leaders police accountability was more important - something unfortunately we did not have time to discuss nor has either Mallahan or McGinn spent much time adressing - neither seems up to speed on this).
Mallahan made it pretty clear here that the budget was a special area of expertise and concern for him. He knew the city was hurting financially and that it had exhausted nearly all of its "rainy day" fund and that next year there was a likelihood of facing even deeper cuts. He made it clear he'd be sensitive to the need to maintain funding for human services, asked some questions here about the dust-up with Share/Wheel over bus vouchers, and tried to assure us that with his management style these kinds of conflicts could be avoided. It was somewhere about here in our conversation that he spoke confidently about his abilities to manage budgets pointing out how he took a small department in his job at T-Mobile and grew it into a project with a 12 billion dollar budget, managed it with efficiencies, a more interactive collegial style etc etc...this was something he said he was very good at.) He also somewhere in here warned that while he was not going to cut services and programs for those in need, he would carefully look for and find efficiencies, remove administrative and staffing costs while still delivering programs and serving the same numbers or more.... Again this was something he expressed great confidence that he could do.
Now we were really running low on our 45 minutes. I took a long gulp of air, then raced thru two issues in about five minutes with him. I handed him our petition opposing Mercer signed by 20 groups and 150 community leaders. I showed him a letter from the Freight Haulers stating that freight movement would not be improved one iota by Mercer and that it was not an adjunct or needed to support the bored tunnel. How could it be an adjunct to it when the current design including Mercer West is the same design essentially from 8 years ago long before the bored tunnel option was put on the table.
Mercer and Impact Fees:
Mallahan said he has remained consistent on Mercer. I am not sure he has but we had no time to remind him of that. He said he believed the project was fine so long as property owners who benefited would help foot the bill. Here too he seemed to think (erroneously) that the recently revived second 100 million plus phase of Mercer involving improvements West of Dexter to Queen Anne was a needed adjunct of the bored tunnel. I said the LID idea he was proposing would likely not fly because it requires 60 percent approval from abutting property owners (meaning Vulcan) and Vulcan simply would veto the idea. He professed and it seems pretty clear he really didn't understand how LID's worked. I said if you were really serious about the idea of making developers pay, he say he supported the imposition of impact fees that would require all new development to pay fees in proportion to the size and amount of space in their developments. The Growth Management Act (GMA) allowed it and nearly every city in the region made use of impact fees except Seattle. He told me to send him a memo on this...(He didn't say "send me a memo" flippantly and seemed sincere about giving this consideration)
Growth, Density, and '1 for 1' replacement:
Then I took another gulp and asked him why when he got up and talked about the need for more density in our neighborhoods as a solution to our housing crisis why he didn't also air caution that growth can also cause displacement and gentrification. Would he support and call for in the future and 1 for 1 replacement policy. Here he strongly asserted that he had been airing that concern on the campaign trail and giving support to "1 for 1", ie., requiring developers to replace housing they removed at comparable rent. Again he seemed sincere here as much as one could tell. Our 45 minutes was up...and he quickly left to another engagement.
My Final thoughts on Mallahan vs. McGinn
I seriously thought about voting for McGinn until his flip flop on the tunnel. It's the largest colossal blunder by a local candidate that I can recall - at least since the late 70's when Chip Marshall (left progressive former anti-war activist) in a close race with Michael Hildt decided to endorse use of hollow point bullets. Marshall got the endorsement of the police guild he was seeking but his progressive base left him in droves and swing voters saw him as an opportunist. Hildt won in a landslide. McGinn has effectively done the same thing here but worse, he's jettisoned his core issue (and a huge chunk of that 25% who got him thru the primary) in hopes of capturing a large pool of undecideds. First he's alienated many of his supporters. And most swing voters we'll simply view him as the consummate flip-flopper (and opportunist) his actions say he's become. He certainly lost any chance of getting my vote and thousands like me and I firmly believe cost him any chance at all in the race.
The other reason I could never support or vote for him - no true progressive or populist who'd simply want to open the floodgates to development without expecting and calling for developers to pay their fair share of the cost of that growth. McGinn told us point blank he opposes those things. Like Michael O'Brien, he is part of the new wing of the corporate liberal establishment - the wing that wraps their developer driven agenda in a thin patina of pseudo environmentalism.
Mallahan also has his problems on this question. But he appears to be old school corporate liberal establishment, ie, "I support more development and density because that will expand supply and housing will "trickle down to the poor?" This of course is transparent baloney but it's old baloney that no one now really believes. McGinn's position is of greater concern because its less honest - the "warm and fuzzy" strategy for packaging development that is gaining far too much traction especially among gullible enviro's (and thus is a greater threat to those of us calling for managed and responsible levels of growth and policies that require developers to pay their fair share). Mallahan also appears open to use of impact fees, has said at least that developers should foot more of the bill for Mercer and said he supports as a condition for growth requiring developers to do 1 for 1 replacement.
I do agree however with Mallahan critics who say he's too cozy and too close to the establishment. We're no doubt facing the prospect that he will be filling his administration with pre-Nickels insiders dating back several administrations. However, after sitting down with both McGinn and Mallahan, I strongly believe that of the two, Mallahan is more likely to meet with us and especially neighborhood groups when it comes to growth questions, listen to their perspective, and on occasion respond especially on the key question of how much growth our city should absorb. (admittedly, if Mallahan allows these establishment types to run him - this could be washed out to be sure)
Mallahan readily and refreshingly acknowledges he has more to learn including from us, the neighborhoods and across a range of issues. McGinn I see as darn inflexible and not just on this key issue of growth. I sure saw that when he blindly supported the recent TOD bill sponsored by Futurewise and openly criticized our efforts to restrict the runaway growth that bill aimed to promote. McGinn seems very closed minded here and less likely to support mitigation to protect trees, open space, streams, and our existing low income housing stock. I think that will cross over to other issues too. He's a know-it-all and not in a good way. I also can't help getting the feeling that McGinn just is not competent enough to do the job nor are the people he would hire as his staff, whereas with Mallahan for better or worse that simply is not the issue -he is very competent.
So that's my two cents on this race. Ever onward!
Rachel Maddow on LIEberman (video) (Updated)
MSNBC-Maddow, video (08:54).
Howie P.S. Jane Hamsher joins Rachel to offer historical perspective. Robert Scheer writes "Lieberman Twists the Knife." Ezra Klein (WaPo) says "I don't know why I don't take Joe Lieberman's threat to filibuster health-care reform more seriously, but I just don't." ED Schultz DOES, video (12:31). Political Wire adds their 2 cents: "Analyzing Lieberman's Threat."
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
"A Transit-Loving, Car-Hating, Bike-Riding, Progressive Environmentalist Who's Passionately Supporting Joe Mallahan"
A common perception about this year's mayor's race is that Mike McGinn is the guy with the fervent supporters. His all-volunteer campaign has been powered by a flock of righteous, genuflecting, "Mike Bikes"-emblazoned activists and bloggers who seem to view their man as the second coming of Obama.
Mallahan, meanwhile, seems to have picked up more measured support from people who support the tunnel, think McGinn is elitist, or generally find Joe the "safer" choice. He seems like he's been the fallback, and one not embraced with enthusiasm.
That's why it was so interesting to hear from Judy Lightfoot, a longtime educator, writer, and dyed-in-the-compost greenie (and also a friend of mine), who is strongly committed to Mallahan and devoting her time to his campaign. I asked her to write up the story of how she got here. It's after the jump.A TRANSIT-LOVING, CAR-HATING, BIKE-RIDING, PROGRESSIVE ENVIRONMENTALIST CASTS HER VOTE FOR MAYOR
by Judy Lightfoot
I cycle, walk, and ride transit so routinely it feels weird to drive the family car (average annual mileage: 4000). I adore a poem written by my husband, also a transit fan, titled "Reasons to Take the Bus" (the first reason is "Because it kneels for us all"). I conserve resources, recycle scrupulously, fret about environmental degradation, and nag politicians to halt global climate change. It would be reasonable for anyone who knows my M.O., especially anyone who also knows my love of language as a writer and a former English teacher, to think Mike McGinn would be my choice for mayor. Certainly Mike's articulateness, gained perhaps from repeated experiences as a lawyer having to make a persuasive case, appealed to me.
But ever since my first glimpses of the candidates I've been concerned about what seems to me a stubborn self-righteousness in the way Mike stands for the good things he believes in. Next to this, his grace as a public speaker shrinks in importance. Besides, it's one thing to address an audience gracefully, and another to engage in successful give-and-take with people you're working with on something delicate or complicated. We who speak well from a lectern often suck at moving a working group forward on a project, and vice-versa. It seemed to me unlikely that the give-and-take required for leading a sizeable city with multiple concerns would be the forte of someone who acts like an environmental ideologue.
For example, we need to get more people out of their cars and into mass transit, but Mike, convinced that his way was the only "right" way, threatened to block the tunnel project even though he knew that delays would drive up the costs of a viaduct solution and put public safety at risk. And when he caved on the tunnel, as my Crosscut colleague Skip Berger put it on KUOW last week, Mike should have said "Though I dislike the tunnel solution that Seattle wants, as Mayor I'll make sure we get the best, safest, most economical tunnel built as quickly as possible." It was as if Mike would rather kvetch than lead.
In sum, the tireless righteousness that has drawn like-minded people to Mike's various causes in the recent past began to seem like the wrong strength for a mayor to bring to Seattle's sometimes contentious diversity of voices and visions. An effective mayor has to be pragmatic, flexible, capable of blending and tweaking different approaches to solving problems, and willing to offer wholehearted leadership on solutions he may not have originated himself. Nor was there any reason to think that Mike would, in office, be a better friend to the environment than Joe.
So I decided to volunteer for Joe's campaign. I phone-banked a little, then offered to interview family and friends who have known him since way back, for a series on his website that the campaign dubbed "I Know Joe" (I was feeling frustrated that Seattle didn't seem to see past the suit and tie and sometimes clumsy self-presentation). I also agreed to write about Joe's tours around Seattle neighborhoods.
Watching him with other people, I've witnessed a level of engagement and a genuineness that's rare even in people not trapped in the political spotlight. There's nothing particularly smooth about his sociable moves, but he draws people into the warmth of his interest in them. Joe enjoys conversing with people in Spanish and Japanese, and Jennifer Clark, a U Chicago grad school friend of his who he worked with on last year's Obama campaign, told me Joe will try speaking any language. "His energy makes up for accuracy," she laughed. He clearly loves discussing issues with anybody wanting to engage, and I've seen him freely disagree with voters instead of pandering or making promises he might not be able to keep. I noticed, too, that his inexperience in elected public office, so like his opponent's, seemed balanced by a willingness to listen to opposing views as well as to admit that he didn't know the answers to some of the questions he was asked.
Moreover, I've learned that Joe's commitment to social justice, a concern that matters hugely to me, is neither "put on" nor shouldered as a weary burden. It's a glad, thoroughly integrated part of his character, rooted in growing up as a member of the Mallahan family. Mike Russo, an old friend of Joe's from his organizing days in Chicago, told me that Joe's parents and the nine children ate plain rice for Friday dinner so that the money saved could be donated to worthy causes. Today, three of Joe's siblings work (respectively) in Tanzania, Guatemala, and Oaxaca on behalf of the poor. According to Russo, when Joe's brother here in Seattle heard that a local bed-and-treatment facility for teen prostitutes had lost its funding, he promised a city councilmember, "I'll raise the money you need for the facility, or I'll pay for it myself." In short, taking action for social justice is in Joe's blood. Clark remembers that back in Chicago, when Joe and his wife bought their first sofa, they saved up twice the price of the one they wanted and gave half the total to charity.
So Joe's business experience feels relevant to me, but not in the narrow sense the media present. They don't quote him when he says that as a corporate insider he's committed to leading his former colleagues to take more responsibility for helping people stuck on the margins build better lives. They don't hear him say that as a public servant he hopes to use what he learned in business to increase the number of jobs that pay living wages and to use savings from more efficient city budgets and departments to enhance human services. They don't listen to his reason why we need more police officers: because staff shortages keep the police force in constant crisis mode, and more officers will mean more time for them to relax and talk peaceably with the citizens they serve. In this world of unexamined sound-bites some friends of mine shudder every time Joe uses the word "efficient," because it reminds them of his corporate background. But especially in an economy with engines flooding like the Titanic's, where will support for human services come from, if not out of savings squeezed from efficiencies? And who is more likely to squeeze more effectively than an experienced manager?
A story told by an old friend of Joe's sums up, for me, his gift for solving complicated or emotionally fraught problems. It's a combination of openness, empathy, and an intelligent detachment that lets him reframe an issue in a compelling way. Someone had told Clark's young son that Santa was a myth and that parents were the ones who bought the presents and stuffed the stockings. The boy was devastated. "If there's no Santa, then there's no Easter bunny, no tooth fairy!" he wept, and his parents could not console him. Joe, who was visiting at the time, drew him aside to talk, and after a while the parents saw their son smile again. Joe had quietly led the boy to see that he'd crossed over into the circle of people who make magic for others.
We need a mayor capable of leading us to cross over barriers of difference into a widening circle of people who will make, if not magic, a better life for others and our city. Of the two candidates, Joe seems like the man who can do this. And that's why he has my vote.
Judy Lightfoot, a former teacher, is a contributor to Crosscut. She's also a Freestyle Volunteer, meeting for weekly coffee and conversation with individuals sharing our public spaces who are socially isolated by mental illness or homelessness. Currently she's volunteering as a phone-banker and unpaid writer for the Mallahan campaign.
"Suzie, there you go again!" (video)
David Goldstein, video (01:25).
Howie P.S.: Suzie claims she has made political contributions to "some Democrats and and to some Republicans." FACT: All her contributions were to Republicans.
Fine, but don't lie to us about it.
"Daou: Don't bother waiting for bloggers to get credit for the Public Option"
Howie P.S.: MSNBC and talkers like Ed Schultz won't get their due, as well, I suppose.
Peter Daou, writing in the Huffington Post. Peter was Hillary's online adviser:Your thoughts?Not surprisingly, despite lots of buzz about the use of the Internet as a fundraising and organizing tool, the outsized role played by blog denizens was buried in the gush of excitement that followed Election Day. Ultimately, that relatively small band of online progressives received very little of the credit they deserved for changing the course of American history.But don't hold your breath waiting to read about the netroots' pivotal role in forcing the inclusion of a public option -- it's just not the way things work in our current media and political world. Instead, at most expect to hear vague allusions to the 'left'. Or even more likely, the credit will go to liberal-leaning legislators and will reference "public support," neglecting the fact that it took bloggers to draw attention to the polling that showed a majority favored the public option.
Now, a similar dynamic is playing out. Although it's far from clear what the final health care bill will look like, especially the public option (opt-out, trigger, etc.), there's absolutely no doubt that it is alive primarily because of the vigorous efforts of online progressive activists and bloggers on Huffington Post, Firedoglake, Daily Kos, TPM, Think Progress, Media Matters, Salon, AmericaBlog, Crooks and Liars, and hundreds of smaller sites (not to mention MoveOn).
"UW Poll: Constantine leads Hutchison, Mallahan tops McGinn" (Updated)
Howie P.S.: Andrew (NPI Advocate) has more instant analysis, from an East King County perspective.
Businessman Joe Mallahan has moved out to an eight-point lead over lawyer Mike McGinn in the race for Seattle mayor, according to the new Washington Poll, while Dow Constantine is ahead of Susan Hutchison in the contest for King County executive.Mallahan is "stretching a lead out even though the figures leave a whopping 19 percent undecided," said University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto, who oversaw the poll. Mallahan leads 44 percent to 36 percent.The Washington Poll surveyed all regions of the state, but took into account the anticipated higher turnout in King County. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percent and has a pretty good track record in recent elections.
The survey yielded one fascinating development. Mallahan and McGinn were tied during the portion of the poll taken during Oct. 14-20. After McGinn's aparent flip-flop on the deep-bored tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, subsequent polling showed Mallahan ahead 45 percent to 29 percent.
The Washington Poll's figures in the county exec's race run counter to findings by two SurveyUSA polls for KING5 news.
The Washington Poll has Constantine at 47 percent, Hutchison with 34 percent with a big 19 percent undecided.
"I think that's going to hold, in large part due to high turnout in the city," Barreto said.
We all knew Seattle was a Democratic city, but the Washington Poll shows just how Democratic. The executive race is officially nonpartisan, but Democrat Constantine has a 70 to 21 percent lead in Jet City. Hutchison is ahead 40-28 in the rest of King County, with a big 32 percent undecided. "They have not circled the wagons for her, at least not yet," Barreto said.
The Washington Poll, which interviewed a total of 724 voters, brings very good news for supporters of same-sex domestic partnerships.
Referendum 71, where an "approved" vote upholds the state's new expanded gay rights law, garners 57 percent 'yes' to 38 percent 'no' with 5 percent undecided. Among voters who say they've already mailed in ballots, R-71 was carrying by a 55-45 margin.
R-71 is ahead by 60-35 in the Puget Sound area and 55-40 elsewhere in Western Washington. But the vote count in Eastern Washington, the most conservative part of the state, breaks nearly even with 46 percent 'yes' and 49 percent 'no.'
The Washington Poll has accurately tracked professional-initiative sponsor Tim Eyman's past victories and defeats.
The latest figures indicate Eyman may be going down to defeat for the first time in an off-year election. Among all registered voters, Eyman's Initiative 1033 is favored by 41 percent and opposed by 46 percent. The measure would restrict spending growth by state, county and local government. Among likely voters, the figures on I-1033 are 40 percent 'yes' and 49 percent 'no,' with about 10 percent undecided.
"The undecideds are starting to trend 'no,'" Barretta said.
The poll was taken Oct. 14-26. It involved actual interviews with voters, unlike the so-called robocalls used in other polls.
Maddow: The "Opt out option" for dummies (video)
Howie P.S. Rachel uses visual aids to explain the political menu for the public option. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)discusses his concerns about the "opt out" option.
"U.S. official resigns over Afghan war"
When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.Howie P.S.: Eugene Robinson (WaPo):
A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.
But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency."I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."If the United States is to remain in Afghanistan, Hoh said, he would advise a reduction in combat forces.
The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer," Holbrooke said in an interview. "We all thought that given how serious his letter was, how much commitment there was, and his prior track record, we should pay close attention to him."
While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"
Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve.
"There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there -- a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.
As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.' "
"I realize what I'm getting into . . . what people are going to say about me," he said. "I never thought I would be doing this."
Hoh's journey -- from Marine, reconstruction expert and diplomat to war protester -- was not an easy one. Over the weeks he spent thinking about and drafting his resignation letter, he said, "I felt physically nauseous at times."
His first ambition in life was to become a firefighter, like his father. Instead, after graduation from Tufts University and a desk job at a publishing firm, he joined the Marines in 1998. After five years in Japan and at the Pentagon -- and at a point early in the Iraq war when it appeared to many in the military that the conflict was all but over -- he left the Marines to join the private sector, only to be recruited as a Defense Department civilian in Iraq. A trained combat engineer, he was sent to manage reconstruction efforts in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.
"At one point," Hoh said, "I employed up to 5,000 Iraqis" handing out tens of millions of dollars in cash to construct roads and mosques. His program was one of the few later praised as a success by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
In 2005, Hoh took a job with BearingPoint, a major technology and management contractor at the State Department, and was sent to the Iraq desk in Foggy Bottom. When the U.S. effort in Iraq began to turn south in early 2006, he was recalled to active duty from the reserves. He assumed command of a company in Anbar province, where Marines were dying by the dozens.
Hoh came home in the spring of 2007 with citations for what one Marine evaluator called "uncommon bravery," a recommendation for promotion, and what he later recognized was post-traumatic stress disorder. Of all the deaths he witnessed, the one that weighed most heavily on him happened in a helicopter crash in Anbar in December 2006. He and a friend, Maj. Joseph T. McCloud, were aboard when the aircraft fell into the rushing waters below Haditha dam. Hoh swam to shore, dropped his 90 pounds of gear and dived back in to try to save McCloud and three others he could hear calling for help.
He was a strong swimmer, he said, but by the time he reached them, "they were gone."
'You can't sleep'
It wasn't until his third month home, in an apartment in Arlington, that it hit him like a wave. "All the things you hear about how it comes over you, it really did. . . . You have dreams, you can't sleep. You're just, 'Why did I fail? Why didn't I save that man? Why are his kids growing up without a father?' "
Like many Marines in similar situations, he didn't seek help. "The only thing I did," Hoh said, "was drink myself blind."
What finally began to bring him back, he said, was a television show -- "Rescue Me" on the FX cable network -- about a fictional New York firefighter who descended into "survivor guilt" and alcoholism after losing his best friend in the World Trade Center attacks.
He began talking to friends and researching the subject online. He visited McCloud's family and "apologized to his wife . . . because I didn't do enough to save them," even though his rational side knew he had done everything he could.
Hoh represented the service at the funeral of a Marine from his company who committed suicide after returning from Iraq. "My God, I was so afraid they were going to be angry," he said of the man's family. "But they weren't. All they did was tell me how much he loved the Marine Corps."
"It's something I'll carry for the rest of my life," he said of his Iraq experiences. "But it's something I've settled, I've reconciled with."
Late last year, a friend told Hoh that the State Department was offering year-long renewable hires for Foreign Service officers in Afghanistan. It was a chance, he thought, to use the development skills he had learned in Tikrit under a fresh administration that promised a new strategy.
In photographs he brought home from Afghanistan, Hoh appears as a tall young man in civilian clothes, with a neatly trimmed beard and a pristine flak jacket. He stands with Eikenberry, the ambassador, on visits to northern Kunar province and Zabul, in the south. He walks with Zabul Gov. Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, confers with U.S. military officers and sits at food-laden meeting tables with Afghan tribal leaders. In one picture, taken on a desolate stretch of desert on the Pakistani border, he poses next to a hand-painted sign in Pashto marking the frontier.
The border picture was taken in early summer, after he arrived in Zabul following two months in a civilian staff job at the military brigade headquarters in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. It was in Jalalabad that his doubts started to form.
Hoh was assigned to research the response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April visit. Mullen wanted to know why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed. Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate.
Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away." Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.
"That's really what kind of shook me," he said. "I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism."
'Continued . . . assault'
Zabul is "one of the five or six provinces always vying for the most difficult and neglected," a State Department official said. Kandahar, the Taliban homeland, is to the southwest and Pakistan to the south. Highway 1, the main link between Kandahar and Kabul and the only paved road in Zabul, bisects the province. Over the past year, the official said, security has become increasingly difficult.
By the time Hoh arrived at the U.S. military-run provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in the Zabul capital of Qalat, he said, "I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance." He read all the books he could get his hands on, from ancient Afghan history, to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, through Taliban rule in the 1990s and the eight years of U.S. military involvement.
Frank Ruggiero, the Kandahar-based regional head of the U.S. PRTs in the south, considered Hoh "very capable" and appointed him the senior official among the three U.S. civilians in the province. "I always thought very highly of Matt," he said in a telephone interview.
In accordance with administration policy of decentralizing power in Afghanistan, Hoh worked to increase the political capabilities and clout of Naseri, the provincial governor, and other local officials. "Materially, I don't think we accomplished much," he said in retrospect, but "I think I did represent our government well."
Naseri told him that at least 190 local insurgent groups were fighting in the largely rural province, Hoh said. "It was probably exaggerated," he said, "but the truth is that the majority" are residents with "loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and to their financial supporters."
Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, he said in his resignation letter, that the war "has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency."
With "multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups," he wrote, the insurgency "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."
American families, he said at the end of the letter, "must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more."
'Their problem to solve'
Ruggiero said that he was taken aback by Hoh's resignation but that he made no effort to dissuade him. "It's Matt's decision, and I honored, I respected" it, he said. "I didn't agree with his assessment, but it was his decision."
Eikenberry expressed similar respect, but declined through an aide to discuss "individual personnel matters."
Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., Eikenberry's deputy, said he met with Hoh in Kabul but spoke to him "in confidence. I respect him as a thoughtful man who has rendered selfless service to our country, and I expect most of Matt's colleagues would share this positive estimation of him, whatever may be our differences of policy or program perspectives."
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation.
He also would suggest providing more support for Pakistan, better U.S. communication and propaganda skills to match those of al-Qaeda, and more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clean up government corruption -- all options being discussed in White House deliberations.
"We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," Hoh said. "But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve."
Obama is at the key juncture: in or out. If he ratifies the counterinsurgency strategy and approves a troop increase, he'll be committing the United States to see the project through to its end. Advisers say the president's goals for "fixing" Afghanistan are realistic, even modest. To me, however, the whole enterprise looks unrealistic and immodest.
We invaded Afghanistan to ensure that the country could never again be used to launch attacks against the United States. That mission is accomplished, and our only goal should be making sure it stays accomplished -- whether the place is run by Hamid Karzai or the Taliban. The counterinsurgency campaign that Obama is contemplating looks like a step onto the slipperiest slope imaginable. It doesn't matter whether the step is tentative or bold.
Sometimes a "war president" has to decide to start bringing the troops home. That's what Obama must do.
"List of Pundits who Declared the P.O. Dead"
The "public option" is dead, but birth has been given to the "co-op" by Senator Kent Conrad.
The public option has flat-lined. As for the legislative outlook for health reform, the Senate will approve a bill without the public option. The current House version includes the public option, but I'm not so sure the Blue Dogs will want to walk the plank and vote on a provision that won't become law.
Thomas J. Whalen:
The public option appears deader than the pennant chances of the Kansas City Royals. Nonprofit cooperatives will now take center stage in the health care debate and from the White House's perspective, this may not be such a bad thing.
Sen. Kent Conrad:
In the Senate, the cooperative plan is the only one that has the prospect of getting 60 votes.
"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. There never have been," he said. "So to continue to chase that rabbit I think is just a wasted effort."
One more Conrad, just because I don't like the guy:
"It is very clear that in the United States Senate, the public option does not have the votes," he said. "If we have to get to 60 votes, you cannot get there with public option. That's why I was asked to come up with an alternative."
Of course he’s not going to include a public option — as DC’s beltway class well knows, it’s been gone for a long time.
Rahm and the Baucus Caucus dealt the public option away months ago in order to keep stakeholders at the negotiating tables, and from filling the coffers of Republicans in 2010.
"I think the president has a real opportunity to fundamentally change the tone of his administration," Gingrich tells NRO. But, he says, "I think it takes deeper change than simply yes or no on the public option. Frankly, if he does come out against a public option — given what the Left and the ACLU have said — it would be a very significant moment, and we should not understate how significant that would be."
Is the public option really dead? Probably.
Perhaps the better question is whether the public option was ever really 'alive', meaning that it ever had enough votes to pass both the House and the Senate.
It is dead. Never had a chance. Yet, debate over the public option will continue.
Steve Steckler: The public option was like a cheap tattoo on the bride in an arranged marriage, betraying a questionable past (Medicare cost history) and an ominous future (budget-driven service constraints) for what was supposed to be love at first sight.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson:
President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and a parade of House and Senate Democrats should get academy awards for their play act on the public heath care option. It's as dead as a doornail.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich:
"It’s my opinion that the blue dogs are doing exactly what the white house wants them to do. The public option was a trial balloon. I can not stress how cynical and brutal the politics are. This is not about the public option. Anyone looking for the public option needs to look someplace else. It is not going to happen and anybody who says it is is in fantasy land."
Well, the public option... it will still keep growing for a few days, but it's dead. It's not going to happen.
I think it's pretty dead, Campbell. I think it's safe to say that right now it looks like it's a goner.
Fmr. Sen. Tom Daschle
It's probably on life support. It'll go to the Senate floor. There, they will have other votes. There may be other dynamics. There's another amendment on a public option that probably has a lot more possibility, and that is the so-called Snow amendment, which is a trigger for a public option over the course of several years.
The big federal insurance apparatus isn't going to happen.
The wascally wabbit is dead. It doesn't have a chance.
I think what this signaled this weekend is that the public option is dead. It's not coming back.
Well, but the public plan was never going to be on the table.
And real gem from none other than Tweety:
OK. Let's take a look at the bottom line. We asked The Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars, do the Democratic leaders who are pushing the public option now really deep down know that it's dead, that it can't be part of a solution that gets 60 votes, 218 in the House?
Sen. Lindsey Graham:
Appearing on FOX News Sunday this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) declared that a health reform bill in the House "is dead" and that "we should just throw it in the garbage can."
The public option in health care is dead. So go buy the health care stocks. But what else does President Obama have up his sleeve?
Snowe's support in committee virtually ensures that the public option won't wind up in the final bill as she is on the record opposing such a move and it's hard to see the White House giving up her support after they won it once.
The real "public option" is to scrap the current grandiose plans and to start over. There is no health care crisis, and doing no harm is far preferable to doing real damage to a good health care system.
There's, first of all, the people who still want the public option. I think they've unconsciously capitulated; they don't realize it yet.
I — Nancy Pelosi firmly believes that when the moment comes, she can gather her caucus together, tell them that she fought harder for the public option than Barack Obama did, than Harry Reid did, than any senator did. No one fought harder for it than Nancy Pelosi, and she is now telling her troops they’re going to have to go forward without it. That moment is going to come.
If there is anything that's been made clear over the last two weeks, it is that the public option is a political non-starter that threatens the entire reform effort. It's time to let it go.
Wolf, I think it's now clear that a robust public option, the type supported and proposed by Senator Rockefeller today, is dead. They simply do not have the votes.
"I wish we could have a public option, but I'm also a realist."
President Barack Obama:
"I absolutely do not believe that it’s dead," Obama told Univision. "I think that it’s something that we can still include as part of a comprehensive reform effort."
(Thanks to all who helped compile this list.)
Colbert on R-71 (video)
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|The Word - Don't Ask Don't Tell|
Comedy Central, video (05:48):
The petition signers who want to overturn the "everything but marriage" bill should be able to stay in the closet that the gay people have abandoned.H/t to Dan Kirkdorffer.