SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

The Junior Senator From NY: Caroline, er, Kirsten Gillibrand

As reported in The Huffington Post, Kirsten Gillibrand will be taking over the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As for Caroline Kennedy, she really couldn’t have managed this situation more poorly.

Where She Went Wrong

She should never have courted Gov. Paterson publicly, or at least as publicly as she did. In the blink of an eye, she went from private figure/JFK’s daughter to Obama supporter to the future junior senator from New York. One day the media pundits are wondering whether she’ll make a run at the seat, and the next she’s already in upstate New York talking to the key players in New York politics. A bit fast? A bit too in your proverbial face?

She would have been wise to speak to Paterson privately, behind closed doors. There would have been less pressure on both of them, and it would have shown more political savvy. Her entrance onto the political stage was dramatic from the start, and now her political death makes for equally good theater.

The Withdrawal Effect

Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from the Senate seat is a disaster for women in politics. Even if people don’t say it, the gender issue will be on their minds. Why couldn’t she just stick it out? If she wasn’t picked, then she wasn’t picked. It would have been an unfortunate political defeat, but at least she would have saved face. She could’ve gotten more experience working alongside lawmakers and other New York public figures, and then made a run in two years when that very Senate seat is up. At that point, who would deny her? She has the Kennedy name, would’ve had her face in the news for a couple years, and would’ve had a campaign fund raising machine behind her unlike any of her competitors. That was a total lack of foresight.

Now she leaves the media to wonder what happened. A housekeeper issue? Her taxes weren’t in order? She wanted to be near her ailing uncle?

Talk about a missed opportunity.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Obama’s First 100 Days: Day 1

Since the days of FDR, following a new president’s first 100 days in office has been a tradition in the media. What actions will President Barack Obama take? Will we see policies advanced similar to those of the previous administration? Or will he break away from George W. Bush? To answer these questions, the first 100 days of the Obama presidency will be a good barometer of where we stand as a nation.

President Obama showed up for his first day on the job, and made it very clear that this is no longer George W. Bush’s White House. He quickly set the tone by freezing the salaries of his senior White House officials, imposing the highest limits on lobbying in the history of any administration (according to Obama himself), and calling for the government to disclose more information. For the video, please go to The Huffington Post’s link.

Here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s decisions:

1. White House Pay Freeze

The freeze would hold salaries at their current levels for the approximately 100 White House employees who make over $100,000 per year. As an act of good faith, he wants the administration to be a reflection of the troubles Americans are facing:

Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington[.]

Those affected by the freeze include the new White House Chief of Staff (Rahm Emanuel), national security adviser (Jim Johnson), and press secretary (Robert Gibbs).

2. New Lobbying Rules

The new rules (a) ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff; (b) ban those already hired from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted; (c) ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of Obama’s administration; and (d) require that anyone who leaves his administration cannot try to influence former friends and colleagues for at least two years.

How do you like that, K Street?

3. Greater Government Transparency

Again, Obama made a clear break from Bush policies. He is directing his agencies to follow a very different interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act:

For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law…

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

In his closing, Obama recognized that these new directives will not resolve all the issues, but that hopefully they serve as a small step toward reestablishing a once-held trust between the people and their government:

Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that’s why, as of today, I’m directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans — scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs — because the way to solve the problem of our time is — the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.

The executive orders and directives I’m issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people in the days and weeks, months and years to come. That’s a pretty good place to start.

It was just the first day, and only small steps were taken, but we are headed in the right direction.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bailout and the Media: A Circus Coming to a Town Near You

Arianna Huffington’s latest blog post was a slap in the face. Directing her scathing remarks at the media, she wonders why reporters are so enamored by the Blago-Burris and Kennedy-Paterson-Cuomo stories, yet have put such limited effort into uncovering the colossal mystery that is the nearly trillion-dollar bailout.

I give Ms. Huffington high marks for her compelling argument. Here’s a sample on display:

“[T]he bailout is a fascinating story. Not so much a whodunit as a who’s-doing-it. This mystery is unfolding right in front of us, and the size of the victim pool could very well depend on whether we unravel the mystery in flashback or while it’s still in progress.”

Here’s a quote that blew my mind:

“As a GAO report last month dryly concluded: ‘The rapid pace of implementation and evolving nature of the program have hampered efforts to put a comprehensive system of internal control in place. Until such a system is fully developed and implemented, there is heightened risk that the interests of the government and taxpayers may not be adequately protected and that the program objectives may not be achieved in an efficient and effective manner.’ In other words, the money is flying out the door but no one is watching where it’s going.”

As Ms. Huffington points out, the bailout is a poorly-hatched plan that is spiraling wildly out of control. Worse yet, we don’t know anything about it because the government won’t tell us.

That’s where the journalists should come in. You see, the media ought to be America’s watchdog. It’s supposed to represent what Thomas L. Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, has coined the “democratization of technology” and the “democratization of information”: innovations in computerization and telecommunications that have made it possible for hundreds of millions of people around the world to get connected and exchange information, news, knowledge, money, etc.

Now, a second news article is reporting that the soon-to-be Obama administration, and senior Democrats, are talking to the current administration about requesting the remaining rescue funds ($350 billion).

According to the article, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Service Committee, will soon be proposing legislation that would overhaul the remaining funds.

Here are some important points to the overhaul:

1. Treasury must develop foreclosure relief plans for owner-occupied homes by March 15 and start committing TARP funds to it by April 1. The plans can include government guarantees for modified loans, paying down second liens and outright loan purchases to bring down payments.

2. Toughen executive compensation rules and make some of them retroactive for banks that have already received funds.

3. Give smaller banks access to TARP funds and set benchmarks for institutions to meet in expanding their lending.

Will there be greater oversight and accountability over how the second half of the bailout package is utilized?

Ms. Huffington notes in her post:

“There is an all-too-real economic drama playing out behind the drawn curtain — a mystery waiting to be unraveled. And journalistic careers to be made by those doing the unraveling. So what are the media waiting for?”

Hopefully this post helped to pull the curtain back just a little bit.

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ground Report and the Citizen Journalist

Thanks to The Huffington Post, I learned of a really interesting news source: Ground Report. What’s Ground Report? Check out this revolutionary concept (found on their “About” page):

On GroundReport, you’ll find trusted world news, video and opinion from citizen journalists like you.

GroundReport.com is a global news platform that lets anyone publish videos and articles and earn money based on traffic. We have over 3,000 contributors worldwide who regularly break stories hours, days and weeks before major media outlets.

GroundReport brings you on-the-ground news coverage you won’t find anywhere else. And unlike other sites, we pay all of our contributors a share of revenues, based on their traffic.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To the aspiring citizen journalists out there: grab a camera, find a story, and inform the world!

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , | 2 Comments