a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Money, money, money and the system: Lawrence Lessig

Posted on the May 28th, 2010

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig gave a talk last week at the Yahoo! campus (“Innovation Corruption” May 20, 2010). He spoke about how corruption in government and business are blocking innovation in the U.S.

In case you think this has always been the case and isn’t getting much worse, Lessig explains how this isn’t so. The details he provides are more than a little disheartening to hear. But…

His plea to the audience was to not be passive – that the public is very much a part of the problem when clearly there are patterns but no one does anything about it. As a major player in the Internet world, he’d like to see Yahoo! pushing for competition in the IP world. As far as the government is concerned, Lessig would like to see a return to citizen-funded elections – a concept born during Teddy Roosevelt’s term in office. Such a system would eliminate money from the economy of influence – the underlying cause of corruption and ultimate roadblock to innovation.

If you really want to understand precisely how the system goes so incredibly awry, you will learn here.

And if you agree with Lessig, you can go to his website, ChangeCongress.org, and sign up to participate in helping him bring our political leaders back to serving the common good. Lessig’s organization is non-partisan — its sole bias is for the good of “we the people.”  I think Lessig has a great idea here.

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Teddy Roosevelt was right

Posted on the February 9th, 2010

From Lawrence Lessig today:

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Best Q&A anywhere on the planet today: Laura Liswood

Posted on the February 2nd, 2010

In a question and answer interview at Davos, Der Spiegel online talked to Laura Liswood about the gender gap (“Men Who Have Daughters Tend to See Better” Feb 2, 2010).  Liswood is the founder of the Council of World Women Leaders.

All of the answers are super, but my favorite: Question — why are so few women running countries and big companies?

I think in most cases it is not that men don’t want women to make a career. Most of the dynamics between dominant and non-dominant group members happens unconsciously. I’ve written a book on that topic called “The Loudest Duck.” It talks about the question of where we get our images about what a leader is, what a woman is, what other groups are. Our parents teach us, our teachers, our religion, experiences. I remember talking to the first female president of Iceland, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was president for 16 years. After she had been in office for eight years children in Iceland thought that only women could be president.

Great quote from Liswood’s website: “There’s no such thing as a glass ceiling for women, it’s just a thick layer of men.”

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Today’s opinion pick: A Contrarian Musing on Obama’s State of the Union, 2010

Posted on the January 28th, 2010

In my  mailbox this morning from A Contrarian Musing:

Whatever one liked or disliked about President Obama at the end of his campaign for election to the Presidency, you will like or dislike about his State of the Union speech last night.  The message was, for the most part, just onward we go.

As to whether or not he won any wobblers back, any new support, or shoved others away, well, I doubt it.  All he did was just re-affirm, just reaffirmed his determination to move on down the road he advocated in his election campaign, for those who listened carefully back then.

The President made it clear that he is pressing on with his agenda, that he is sticking to his guns, so to speak, that he is not changing directions from what he campaigned on for election in the first place, within the boundaries of “politics as the art of the possible.”  He is not deterred, just all the more focused.

It is important, in all of this, to take note that Obama is not a lefty — but not quite the standard moderate either — and neither of these things can be said across-the-board of his staff and closest political confidants. What Obama is, to put it in common terms, is a do-gooder who is willing to use whatever tools, right or left, within the confines of Constitutional principles and American middle class humanitarian values, that will get the job done of doing good.  I would call this a levelheaded, good-hearted man of historical insight, humanitarian energy, and moral and practical determination to make the world a better place, in a workmanship-like way.

The interesting thing — aside from the specific policies he spoke in support of — is the tonality and staging of the speech. In the beginning, Obama assumed a regular guy manner, purposefully speaking in the vernacular, just a good guy from the neighborhood, putting on no superior airs, who has come to give a little, plain enough talk.

Then, here and there, he entered the professorial mode, the intellectual mode, the CEO mode — something the middle class and the SES elites think of as their true, lifestyle demeanor (the “in charge” class). Then he moved on toward the conventional, political speech style.

But it was in the end that he came to himself, to his true self, I believe.  The tonality in the last segment of Obama’s State of the Union speech is singularly fascinating, for it had none of the performance intent in it.  It was somberly intense. It was quiet, and it was from the heart of hearts of the man, so to speak. It was almost a private conversation moment. One could have heard a pin drop in the House chamber as he did this part of his speech, this was a ministerial moment of the true believer.

It was Obama at his most passionate, for (and this is so ironic), his most genuine passion is a deep and quiet passion. This was his personal passion, and it is so much different than his performance passion. If you want to better understand the passionate Obama, listen to the tonality of this part of his speech.  Here is a man being true to himself.

Watch State of the Union 2010 speech here.

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Good advice and why it’s being ignored: Stiglitz and Lessig

Posted on the January 23rd, 2010

In a seven-minute interview on Thursday for The Washington Note, Nobel Economics winner Joseph Stiglitz prescribes good sense remedies for the USA economy:

And in a two-minute talk to the public this week, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig explains why  Congress isn’t listening:

Learn more about the work of Change Congress here.

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Poet Stephen Burt explains the Massachusetts heartbreak

Posted on the January 22nd, 2010

If you’re up to one more post-mortem on the Democrats losing the Senate race last Tuesday in Massachusetts, there’s a good one by Stephen Burt, a local resident himself, in the London Review of Books (“The People’s Seat” Jan 20, 2010):

National and international analysts will tell you that Massachusetts rejected Obama, and there’s something in that: according to one pollster almost 20 per cent of Brown’s support came from people who voted for the president but disapprove of him today…

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Who fired the first shot? No limits on corporate spending for elections

Posted on the January 22nd, 2010

Yesterday, corporations won a game-changing victory in the U.S. Supreme Court when the justices struck down a ban limiting big biz spending on elections.

Whose brainchild was this? An article yesterday in Mother Jones profiles the Indiana lawyer, James Bopp Jr., who started it all (“The Man Who Took Down Campaign Finance Reform” Jan 21, 2010).

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Today’s opinion pick: A Contrarian Musing on health care reform

Posted on the January 22nd, 2010

In a recent e-mail exchange with a friend in the U.S., who is a political science scholar, we discussed the stunning Democratic Party loss in Massachusetts on Tuesday, and the crisis it has created for the proposed health reform process. I asked for some guesstimating, looking backward, on these questions:

Why is it that Obama approached health care from the perspective of a grand overhaul? Why didn’t the White House look at the problems, and choose one or two immediately effective things to change — openly speaking of it as the beginning of a complex process? For example, had they just gone for a limited public option — limited in that it would be a prototype program in one state or another, or with a certain selected group — they could have passed it with a little horse trading, and it would have been a great warning shot across the bow of the private insurers. Once this program was shown to be working well, it could have been used as evidence in proposing further legislation. Why not?

I suspect that Harry and Nancy initially told the President that if he would sit tight they would bring him a comprehensive health reform bill, take all the heat, and let him take the bows, and he consented to that.  In addition, I suspect they told him that it would be quick, and done in the background in a low profile process until ready for a vote and signing, and he liked that idea, as well.  He liked that, since he could then focus on the rest of the big agenda and make those actions high profile until the health bill was ready.

Instead what happened is that the health reform bill writing process became the fight that drew the crowds, drew the media, and made the most thunder, and took over the Administration’s image, leaving all hands on deck explaining, explaining, explaining instead of doing, doing, doing.  The jobs issue looked like it was and is being sacrificed, even willingly put last in line, in the whole agenda.

And keep in mind that the bill did three hugely hazardous things. It proposed financing much of the costs on the backs of those who, as with many labor contracts, have the best employer insurance coverage, and it touched the third rail by implicating Medicare and Social Security issues in the mix. In addition to all of this, the bill quickly became such a catch all of complexity that it confused and puzzled and permitted imaginations negative and positive to go wild.

As to why not a piecemeal bill instead of an omnibus, comprehensive bill?  Well, this was Harry and Nancy’s one big thing in life, and they wanted it big while the getting looked gettable.  I wonder if the two of them are not in a frame of mind that this administration, probably this Presidency, is not their career cap, and they are willing to go down and out with that legacy?

As for why the decision to do health bill during the President’s first year, one has to see that the economic crash, especially the financial system crisis, was not anticipated. So the Administration and congregation found themselves on too short notice with too many imponderables to come up with a new plan, so they just tinkered with the old plan, and still are doing so.

In addition, there is that idea of not taking the eye-off-of-the-prize thing about their plans, which means not changing priorities even though jobs are the priority for the public, and the immediate priority on top of that.  So, what they have done is rationalize their old plans, and actually in an underlying way, as jobs programs — you know, health care reform as a jobs program, as an economic recovery program, as an economic growth program, as a re-industrial program.  There is an ideologue-like attitude about the old plan, I suspect.

I think the Obama Administration, partly by their righteous good nature about rationality and non-partisanship, and partly because they assumed their majorities made it less relevant, forgot that the Presidency, when successful, is no less a political campaign than was the election campaign. Governance is a campaign thing at the governors’ and at the Presidential level.

I learned a hard lesson myself (when I worked for a while in a state job)  — it was that the other political party is always the opposition, always, always; so to be the big spirited guy and assume there is a spirit of common team goodwill and attitude in any project is to let one’s guard down and to get skewered for sure. That’s what the founders wanted, and that is what we got: competing interests, balances of power (read that as opposing forces), and loyal opposition all around.

The best we can hope for in this system is common civility and some measure of public courtesy in the eternal punching match of the process, in the eternal one-upmanship of it all.

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Who’s to blame for the Democratic loss in Massachusetts?

Posted on the January 20th, 2010

A lot of fingers are pointing toward President Obama today, as the primary cause for the stunning upset victory of the Republican candidate in the Senate race in Massachusetts yesterday. But Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig says the culprit is elsewhere:

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Words from Nancy Pelosi, USA’s most powerful woman

Posted on the February 26th, 2009

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When professional journalism meets citizen journalism

Posted on the January 24th, 2009

The CNN news video below offers a terrific example of professional journalism integrating citizen journalism reporting into a news feature.

As described in a post Thursday from The Washington Note: (“CNN’s Photosynth Another Leap in Moving Content with New Technology”  Jan 22, 2009)

CNN‘s John King shows how pictures that regular folks took at the Inauguration can be synthesized into a photographic wall much larger than any single person had themselves. This is called CNN‘s “Photosynth.”

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Today’s opinion pick: “Barack Obama’s Prose Style”

Posted on the January 23rd, 2009

When President Obama stepped to the podium at his inauguration on Tuesday and began to speak, I felt the same curiosity (and slight apprehension) that many, I think, have come to feel every time he makes a major speech. My nervous jitters worried the question – can he rise once again to the occasion? The curiosity encircled my question – how will he rise to the occasion?

For me, our shiny new President didn’t disappoint, but some disagree (or think they do).  New York Time‘s columnist Stanley Fish discusses an intriguing type of reaction to the speech in his “Think Again” column today.

An excerpt:

Commentators on radio and television have been doing a two-step. First they say that the speech lacked the eloquence of his speech on race or of his remarks on the night he won the presidency; and then they spend lots of time talking about the implications of a sentence (“We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals”), a clause (“programs will end”), a phrase (“dust ourselves off”) or even a single word (“Muslim,” “non-believers.”)

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That rant against financial market charlatanism

Posted on the December 4th, 2008

Who wrote this?

..He invests his property. He goes, in a condescending amateurish way, into the City, attends meetings of Directors, and has to do with the traffic in Shares. As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Shares. Have Shares enough to be on Boards of Directors in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament? Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never originated anything, never produced anything? Sufficient answer to all; Shares. O mighty Shares! To set those blaring images so high, and to cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to cry out, night and day, ‘Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers of the earth, and fatten on us!'”

Charles Dickens wrote this paragraph in describing a character in “Our Mutual Friend,” his novel first published in the years 1864-65. The book was written in the years leading up to the British financial crisis of 1866. A footnote from the paragraph explains:

“The 1850s saw an unprecedented boom in shareholding and speculation. The British financial crisis of 1866 and the spectacular failure of Overend and Gurney with other companies confirmed what many observers and moralists had prophesied. This passage shows Dickens aware of changing conditions…”

More about the financial crisis of 1866

Thanks Wikipedia:

Overend, Gurney & Company was a London wholesale discount bank, known as “the bankers’ bank”, which collapsed in 1866 owing about 11 million pounds (£828 million at 2003 prices). Until events at Northern Rock in September 2007, it was the last run on a British bank…

The bank’s core business was the buying and selling of bills of exchange at a discount. It was well respected, and expanded rapidly, reaching a turnover double its competitors combined. For forty years it was the greatest discounting-house in the world. During the financial crisis of 1825, the firm able to make short loans to many other bankers. The house indeed became known as “the bankers’ banker,” and secured many of the previous clients of the Bank of England. Samuel Gurney died in 1856…

After Samuel Gurney’s retirement, the bank expanded its investment portfolio, and took on substantial investments in railways and other long term investments rather than holding short term cash reserves as was necessary for their role. It found itself with liabilities of around £4 million, and liquid assets of only £1 million. In an effort to recover its liquidity, the business was incorporated as a limited company in July 1865 and sold its £15 shares at a £9 premium, taking advantage of the buoyant market during the years of 1864-66…

Overend Gurney’s monetary difficulties increased, and it requested assistance from the Bank of England, but this was refused. The bank suspended payments on 10 May 1866. Panic spread across London, Liverpool, Manchester, Norwich, Derby and Bristol the following day, with large crowds around Overend Gurney’s head offices at 65 Lombard Street. The failure of Overend Gurney was the most significant casualty of the credit crisis. The bank went into liquidation in June 1866. The financial crisis following the collapse saw the bank rate rise to 10 per cent for three months. More than 200 companies, including other banks, failed as a result.

The directors of the company were tried at the Old Bailey for fraud based on false statements in the prospectus for the 1865 offering of shares. However, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn said that they were guilty only of “grave error” rather than criminal behaviour, and the jury acquitted them. The advisor was found to be guilty. Although some of the Gurneys lost their fortunes in the bank’s collapse, the Norwich cousins succeeded in insulating themselves from the bank’s problems, and the Gurney bank escaped significant damage to its business and reputation.

The thing is…

And I mention this because it seems to me it’s a key underlying factor of the whole current Wall Street meltdown: it’s that we the citizenry can scream in accusatory outrage until the cows come home but the art and practice of fleecing the gullible and unwary is one of the oldest in human history. Just consider the ever popular shell game which has been around at least since the Middle Ages. And poor judgement and stupidity never seem to be in short supply in human behavior.

Why am I bringing this up? It’s this recent Washington Post story on government oversight of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout now underway. The article headline signals the bad news — “Bailout Oversight Lacking, GAO Says Investigators Find Few Safeguards or Gauges of Success.”

So for now…

It seems to be the same old same old — and by old I refer to those days of 1866, as well as to recent times. Some of the Wall Street whizzes who’ve been busily burning down the house for the past several years apparently think the $700 billion bailout is just a new supply of matches. They’re continuing their usual business practices, and happily continuing to fatten on us, as Dickens wrote.

They may even be humming along to the tune of “Everything old is new again” — (I offer this as a little laugh because we dare not cry relief from the dreariness of this post dose of righteous wrath).

But the good news is…

This isn’t 1866. It’s true we don’t have the eloquent and brilliant voice of the fiery Dickens to speak truth to the scoundrels and dimwitted among us, but we do have some pretty good voices of our own day that are fierce and strong, and so offer hope. They’re all telling us that we the people have to get smarter. That we have to read and listen more, read and listen better and more deeply, just as they are.

If  you don’t have your own list of such, I offer my short roster of favorites:

Activist Organizations:

Some who see it and tell it like it is:

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A glance at online news of politics USA

Posted on the December 2nd, 2008

Some items of interest this week:

I. Are Wall Street bankers losing their influence over the White House?

In appointing Timothy Geithner to the cabinet post of Treasury Secretary, President-elect Obama is breaking a long chain of Wall Street bankers running U.S. government, according to William D. Cohan at The Daily Beast (“Obama Gives Wall Street the Cold Shoulder” Nov 24, 2008).

Analyzing Obama’s choice of Geithner, Cohan writes:

But this surely drives home the point that one of Obama’s definitions of change is to not allow Wall Street its traditional role in running things. Tim Geithner, the presumptive Secretary of the Treasury, is all of a regulator, an academic and a civil servant. One thing he is not is a Wall Street banker (although he would have been an effective one.) Larry Summers, soon-to-be Obama’s director of the National Economic Council, is the son of economists, an economist himself, a former president of Harvard University and a former Secretary of the Treasury. He was never a banker and never worked on Wall Street. Indeed none of Obama’s cabinet picks, or rumored cabinet picks to date have worked in any substantive way on Wall Street.

The current U.S. Treasury Secretary is Henry Paulson — previously the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

To see short biographies of Obama’s new economic team, go here (“President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden Announce Key Members of Economic Team” TPM, Nov 2008).

II. Obama’s not happy with Wall Street’s legendary greed is good credo

Obama offered a reprimand to the country’s top businesspeople last week in an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC network (Nov 26, 2008).


BARBARA WALTERS: How did you feel when you read about the three heads of the auto companies taking private planes to Washington?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I thought maybe they’re a little tone deaf to what’s happening in America right now. And this has been a chronic problem, not just for the auto industry, I mean, we’re sort of focused on them. But I think it’s been a problem for the captains of industry generally. When people are pulling down hundred million dollar bonuses on Wall Street, and taking enormous risks with other people’s money, that indicates a sense that you don’t have any perspective on what’s happening to ordinary Americans. When the auto makers are getting paid far more than their counterparts at Toyota, or at Honda, and yet they’re losing money a lot faster than Japanese auto makers are, that tell me that they’re not seeing what’s going on out there, and one of the things I hope my presidency helps to usher in is a, a return to an ethic of responsibility. That if you’re placed in a position of power, then you’ve got responsibilities to your workers. You’ve got a responsibility to your community. Your share holders. That if — there’s got to be a point where you say, ‘You know what, I have enough, and now I’m in this position of responsibility, let me make sure that I’m doing right by people, and, and acting in a way that is responsible.’ And that’s true, by the way, for members of congress, that’s true for the president, that’s true for cabinet members, that’s true for parents. I want all of us to start thinking a little bit more, not just about what’s good for me, but let’s start thinking about what’s good for our children, what’s good for our country. The more we do that, the better off we’re going to be.

III. Obama names his National Security team

Yesterday, Obama held a press conference to introduce his choices for his National Security team. From the Obama website change.gov:

Nominees announced today include Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Eric Holder as Attorney General, Governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Susan Rice as Ambassador to the United Nations, and General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret) as National Security Adviser. President-elect Obama also announced that he has asked Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense.

Video of the press conference here (27:01)

IV. The everlasting Clinton(s) factor

As noted above, Obama has picked Hillary Clinton to be his new Secretary of State. And as Newsweek‘s Senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe said in an interview yesterday (Countdown with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC, Dec 1, 2008):

“…for the media, Hillary Clinton has overshadowed every other pick coming out of this transition…”

My impression while clicking around online is that this Hillary media storm occurred with news outlets worldwide, given the high international profile of the former First Lady. Visiting various USA newsites and blogs, the two questions I saw posed most often were: one, why did Obama really choose his former arch-rival Hillary; and two, what does this choice tell us about what kind of president Obama will be?

The answers, of course, can largely only be speculation. But in a column yesterday, Matthew Yglesias captured the central focus of the discussion well, I think. Recalling some of the major differences on foreign policy between Obama and Hillary Clinton during the campaign, Yglesias writes (“A hawk in the roost?” The National, Nov 27, 2008):

For all the speculation about Obama’s offer to Clinton, there has been no real account of the rationale or motivations for his decision – at least not beyond vague, and endlessly repeated, references to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, a profile of the cabinet Abraham Lincoln assembled under wildly different circumstances. The transition team has done very little to outline the substantive agenda it expects a Clinton-led State Department to tackle, and indeed, perhaps the ongoing financial crisis will mean any bold new foreign initiatives will be put on the back-burner.

What is unclear at this point is whether Clinton joining the Obama team means that Clinton has gained faith in Obama’s approach, or that Obama has lost faith in his own. The very fact of Obama’s election would seem to tilt things in his direction: there was a consistent trajectory to their disagreements, and Obama was on the right side – a judgment vindicated by his victories over both Clinton and McCain. It’s not merely that he won, but that winning demonstrates his supposedly “risky” positions were not so risky after all.

V. Do you wanna speak English, Uncle Sam asks

The U.S. Department of Education is sponsoring a new online program offering free English language instruction. Titled U.S.A. Learns, the website…

…promotes programs that help American adults get the basic skills they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens.  The major areas of support are Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English Language Acquisition.  These programs emphasize basic skills such as reading, writing, math, English language competency and problem-solving.

Read more background about the program here (“Learning English the Web Way” The New York Times, Nov 24, 2008).

See previous A glance at online news of politics USA

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A glance at online news of politics USA

Posted on the November 23rd, 2008

I may be right, I may be wrong, but my impression is…

If it’s true, as widely reported, that President-elect Obama has chosen Hillary Clinton (in effect, the Clintons) to be his new Secretary of State, it seems to me he may be doing something analogous to pushing the reset button on a malfunctioning computer.

Could it be that by choosing Senator Clinton, Obama is re-setting USA foreign policy? Could he be (figuratively speaking) returning to the pre-Bush era of eight years ago — returning to the President Clinton era that is familiar and, more or less, reassuring to world leaders? Could it be that Obama (who reportedly is a pragmatist) sees this reset as the best possible starting point to begin building his own, distinctive foreign policy?

Some items of interest this week

I. As mentioned above, rumor has it that President-elect Barack Obama wants Senator Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. But will former President Bill Clinton’s recent, highly lucrative, worldwide business activities pose an obstacle for her? Do some of the former president’s activities — paid speaking engagements, donations to his official library — create conflicts of interest for his wife who would be one of the highest officials in American government?  (“Bill goes to the vet” Politico.com, Nov 19, 2008).

On the other hand, some say Hillary might simply tell Obama “No thanks! (“Clinton Said to Be Unsure About Cabinet Job” The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2008).

II. Another cabinet appointment of great importance to people outside the U.S. (in light of the ongoing worldwide economic crisis) is Obama’s new Secretary of the Treasury. On Friday it was widely reported that Obama has chosen Timothy Geithner as his new Treasury Secretary — a formal announcement reportedly is expected tomorrow.

The news of this choice reportedly caused an immediate surge of optimism on Wall Street, sending markets up a soaring 500 points (“Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary” The Huffington Post).

III. President-elect Barack Obama is already doing something innovative — he’s posting his weekly, three-to-four minute radio broadcasts to the public on his newly created YouTube channel change.gov. As a helpful aid to those who need it, the video has subtitles in English.

In this week’s talk, Obama announces he has directed his economic team to assemble an Economic Recovery Plan that will save or create 2.5 million more jobs by January of 2011.

IV. When she becomes First Lady, Michelle Obama says she wants to be Mom-in-Chief. What does she mean by this (“Michelle’s Closet Agenda” The Daily Beast, Nov 18, 2008)?

Hint from the article:

Don’t be fooled by her Brady Bunch moments. The Mom-in-Chief will promote feminism, speak out on Iraq, and tackle America’s public health crisis.

And one group that seems to be particularly happy with Michelle Obama becoming First Lady is the world of high fashion (“Michelle Obama’s White House Style” WWD, Nov 11, 2008). Now there’s a new website, Mrs. O, solely dedicated to daily chronicling and photos of what that style is.

It was first inspired by Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. The site hopes to be a central, ever evolving resource to chronicle Mrs. O’s look, while providing fashion commentary and information. The site will encourage visitors to contribute tips, photos and commentary, and share enthusiasm for the budding style icon, Mrs. O.

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Laughs along the U.S. Presidential campaign trail (III)

Posted on the November 2nd, 2008

Les Misbarack (One more day):

Laughs along the U.S. Presidential campaign trail (II) here.

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The audacious optimism of Barack Obama

Posted on the October 31st, 2008

There’s a telling anecdote early in “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. Obama has just described what he calls the drubbing he took when he lost badly in the 2000 election after challenging the Democratic incumbent for his congressional seat:

A year and a half later, the scars of that loss sufficiently healed, I had lunch with a media consultant who had been encouraging me for some time to run for statewide office. As it happened, the lunch was scheduled for late September 2001.

“You realize, don’t you, that the political dynamics have changed,” he said as he picked at his salad.

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing full well what he meant. We both looked at the newspaper beside him. There on the front page, was Osama bin Laden.

“Hell of a thing, isn’t it?” he said, shaking his head. “Really bad luck. You can’t change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you were at the start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now…” His voice trailed off and he shrugged apologetically before signalling the waiter to bring us the check.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through reading Obama’s 2006 book. Essentially a political document, as a New York Times review describes it, the book primarily lays out Obama’s political ideas. He recounts some of his experiences in elective political office, and reflects on what he has learned from them. Whether you are a supporter of Obama or not, the book is helpful as a compact refresher course in some basic history about American government and how it came to be.

The book is also a primer on the realities of how the political system functions today. As most of the world now knows, Obama subscribes more to the glass half-full philosophy than the glass half-empty. I find it one of the most admirable things about him. I admit, though, that while reading his detailing at times of the hard, complex dynamics of how the government actually functions, I myself have to resist mightily seeing the glass as dry as a bone.

It may be for this reason that the anecdote above that he related is staying in the forefront of my mind as I continue my reading of his book. I ask myself what I or someone else might have done if, in similar circumstances, life had dished up the same ridiculous name blame game. Talk about a clear cut challenge of how to view that proverbial glass!

You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out how Obama confronted the situation. On the other hand, it’s now kind of obvious, isn’t it.

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

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Laughs along the U.S. Presidential campaign trail (II)

Posted on the October 27th, 2008

It’s been a a few decades since the Smothers Brothers starred in their own television show, a weekly satirical skewering of, among other things, politics and politicians. Earlier this month, the duo appeared on a late night comedy show hosted by Craig Ferguson:

See Laughs along the U.S. Presidential campaign trail (I) here.

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Gray Lady goes for Obama

Posted on the October 24th, 2008

Today, the country’s premier newspaper The New York Times (aka The Gray Lady) endorsed Barack Obama for President.

Excerpt from the endorsement:

Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems.

In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.

If you want details about the candidates and their differences, the editorial’s got ’em in full — the endorsement runs to three pages. If there is still anyone out there who says he or she doesn’t know who Obama is, you have to wonder what planet they live on.

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Michelle Obama on what American voters want

Posted on the October 9th, 2008

Yesterday Michelle Obama sat down for an interview with comedian Jon Stewart of THE DAILY SHOW. An early comment she makes is that she and Barack have been campaigning for 20 months – so for those who feel as if this U.S. Presidential electoral process seems endless, I think she might agree with you.

Part I (04:14) intro blurb
Michelle Obama knows there are some people who will never vote for Barack Obama, but most Americans want a leader who will find solutions that make sense. See video here.

Part II (04:28) intro blurb
Michelle Obama puts herself in the position of a voter when she listens to her husband speak. See video here.

UPDATE: On the same day, Michelle Obama did another major interview, this one on The Larry King Show. Here she talks more seriously about various aspects of the campaign and the Obamas’ home life.

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