First Daughters

If I am not mistaken, John Kennedy, Jr. was the last boy to live in the White House.  Since then we have had the Johnson Daughters, Nixon girls, Amy Carter, Chelsea Clinton, the Bush twins, and the Obama girls.  One could also count Margaret Truman who did live in the White House even though she was in her twenties.  I have to say, that all of the first daughters have done pretty well for themselves.

Lynda Johnson married Charles Robb, a Marine she met while he was assigned to the White House.  Lynda once told some of us that she never thought she was marrying another politician.  She assumed that Chuck would be a career Marine.  [I had the pleasure of working for Governor Robb and knew Mrs. Robb from her work with the Virginia Commission of the Status of Women of which I was a member.]  Tricia Nixon and Luci Johnson opted for quieter lives.  Julie Nixon married an Eisenhower.

Gail Collins has an interesting column in today’s New York Times on the almost eve of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

This is hard, let me tell you,” said Hillary Clinton.She was referring to preparations for her daughter’s big day, not high-stakes diplomacy. Although the two might be connected. Maybe the North Koreans threatened to nuke the American-South Korean war games because they thought our country would be easy to bulldoze while the secretary of state was laboring under the stress of wedding planning.

“I was one of those brides of our vintage,” Clinton told me a while back. We are of the same generation, and during her presidential campaign she once said that she was always happy to see me because at least there would be somebody her age on the press plane.

“We agreed to get married one weekend, got married the next weekend,” Clinton reminisced.

Chelsea is definitely going in a different direction. The estimates of the cost of her wedding have all been coming from people who aren’t actually involved in it, but if they get any more grandiose, we will have stories on Fox News about how the ceremony cost more than the national budget of Burundi.

Let her have her day. She’s due. Chelsea has been a national public figure against her will since she was 12, and in all that time she has never embarrassed her family — or us. Before she went off to Columbia to study public health policy, she worked for a New York management consulting firm and a hedge fund where her colleagues unanimously (and off-the-recordly) reported that she was a stupendously hard worker. She recognized early on that when celebrity is thrust on you, the trick is to learn to do something besides being famous.

(Talking to you, Bristol.)

Caroline Kennedy married a non political man just as Chelsea seems to be doing.  But Caroline made an abortive attempt to enter politics as New York Senator, has been campaigning for Obama and may yet have a political future.  Her brother died much too young but I think everyone thought he was planning on entering politics.  It is too early to tell about Chelsea’s political future.

Caroline Schlossberg

Collins talks about Amy Carter

I  always had a feeling that Amy Carter, who was sent to public school in Washington amid a crush of publicity, did not love the experience.But she seemed to be happy at her own wedding in 1996 in the yard of her late grandmother’s house, cutting a wedding cake she had baked herself. The bride wore an embroidered dress from the 1920s. The groom, a computer consultant, wore a ponytail. Her father did not give her away because, as Jimmy Carter told the press, “Amy said she didn’t belong to anyone.”

The Bush twins also turned out well.

Jenna Bush had a few unfortunate brushes with the law during her White House years. But it was nothing that couldn’t have been avoided if the legal drinking age in Texas had been 18. Anyway, she seems to have turned out great. After graduation, she worked for Unicef, taught at an inner-city public school in Washington and wrote a book about a young woman with AIDS in Latin America. She is now a reading coordinator at a school in Baltimore and makes occasional reports on education for “Today.”

Her sister, Barbara, worked at a hospital in South Africa, did educational programming for a museum and now leads a Peace Corps-type organization called Global Health Corps. The twins are only 28, but they already seem to have racked up more good works than Mother Teresa.

Collins concludes

Happy wedding, Chelsea. Excellent job, Bush twins. Good luck, Amy Carter, wherever you are. We are pleased to be a country that produced such nice young adults out of such a lunatic political environment.

Amen.  And good luck to the Obama girls.  I’m sure they will turn out just as well as the other First Daughters.

Sox and the DL

For a month or so now, the recitation of Red Sox on the disabled list has taken a bit of time.  Sage Stossel had a great op-ed drawing in last Sunday’s Boston Globe. 

Now they are coming back.  Matsuzaka, Martinez, Lowrie, Cameron, Buchholtz.  Veriteck and Pedroia are still practicing fielding even with broken feet.  This morning’s Globe headline: 

Red Sox regain punch

Ortiz, Martinez knock out Angels

Was last night a sign that things are turning around?

The Afghanistan War Logs

Someone has leaked six years worth of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan through a website called WikiLeaks.org. 

White House spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, and National Security Advisor, James Jones, have both condemned the leaks.  The White House is also using them to explain why the President ordered the increase in troops. But what do they really show?  The Afghanistan War Logs show that there are probably a lot more civilian casualties than we thought; the insurgents have weapons that can shoot down our military aircraft; and there is a lot of corruption by warlords and government in Afghanistan.   There is also information that at least part of the government of Pakistan has been aiding the Taliban.  Is any of this really new?  Has anything changed since December?  I think the answer to both questions is “no.”

The most interesting information to emerge is from the Guardian.

The shadow of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, hangs heavily over the US-led coalition’s campaign in Afghanistan. Again and again, the secret watchers of American military intelligence, whose furtive and often confused attempts at information gathering are collated in the 2004-2009 war logs, glimpse the hidden hand of the al-Qaida chief or catch a tantalising whiff of his whereabouts, only for the trail to turn cold and peter out.

Reportedly a high-level meeting was held in Quetta, Pakistan, where six suicide bombers were given orders for an operation in northern Afghanistan. Two persons have been given targets in Kunduz, two in Mazar-e-Sharif and the last two are said to come to Faryab,” the report claimed.It went on: “These meetings take place once every month, and there are usually about 20 people present. The place for the meeting alternates between Quetta and villages (NFDG) [no further details given] on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The top four people in these meetings are Mullah Omar [the Taliban leader], Osama bin Laden, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah [Baradar]. “The six foreigners who have been given the assignment have each been given $50,000 [£32,000] to conduct the attacks, and they have been promised that their families will be taken care of.”

So are we really fighting in Afghanistan and trying to navigate a very complicated cultural and political situation because George W. Bush lost interest in pursuring bin Laden?  We now seem to be the outsiders trying to impose a solution instead of fighting terrorism.  I keep waiting for someone to talk about winning hearts and minds like in Vietnam.  Reports are that many Afghani’s don’t like either President Karzai or the American troops.

John Nichols writes in the Nation

The echo you are hearing is that of the Nixon administration responding to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Indeed, as Dan Ellsberg, the military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers says: “I’m very impressed by the release. It is the first release in 39 years or 40 years, since I first gave the Pentagon papers to the Senate, of the scale of the Pentagon papers.”

 We can only hope that Obama and his aides have read enough history to recognize that Nixon’s over-reaction to the Pentagon Papers began a process that would lead — at least in part — to a House Judiciary Committee vote to impeach him and the only presidential resignation in the country’s history.

I’ve always thought that the President’s strategy was to increase the troops, tough it out until 2011, and then start leaving.  I hope that these revelations push him harder in that direction.

And I am very proud of the reaction of Senator John Kerry.  John Nichols again

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, did a whole lot better than the administration.

 “However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Kerry, whose discomfort with the Afghanistan operation has grown increasingly evident. “Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

 Kerry should hold hearings with regard to the Afghanistan War Logs.

As a bonus, here is a short history of the War in Afghanistan from the New York Times.

The Conflict in Afghanistan

  • 1979 The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. Mujahedeen — Islamic fighters — from across the globe, including Osama bin Laden, come to fight Soviet forces.
  • 1989 Last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan.
  • 1996 The Taliban take control of Afghanistan, imposing fundamentalist Islamic law. Osama bin Laden takes refuge in the country.
  • Sept. 2001 After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush gives the Taliban an ultimatum to hand over bin Laden; the Taliban refuse, and in October the U.S. leads a campaign that drives the Taliban out of major Afghan cities by the end of the year.
  • 2002 Hamid Karzai becomes interim president of Afghanistan. The Taliban continue to wage guerrilla warfare near the border with Pakistan.
  • 2004 New constitution is ratified, making Afghanistan an Islamic state with a strong president. Later, Mr. Karzai wins the country’s first presidential election.
  • Feb. 2009 President Obama orders 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
  • Aug. 2009 President Karzai wins re-election in a vote marred by fraud.
  • Dec. 2009 President Obama issues orders to send 30,000 troops in 2010, bringing the total American force to about 100,000.
  • The case for ending tax cuts

    This week Kenneth Feinberg announced the list of banks that took tax payer money while paying our huge bonuses.  On NPR, John Ydstie reported that

    In the fall of 2008, with the financial system on the verge of collapse, 17 large banks that were being propped up by taxpayers doled out $1.6 billion in bonuses.

    On Friday, the Obama administration’s pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, passed judgment.

    According to Feinberg, “…many were over $10 million per individual.”

    And what exactly have these individuals done with their bonuses?  Have they created jobs?  I don’t think so.

    Which brings me to the tax cut which is looming as the next hot potato for the Democrats and for President Obama.  We all remember the conversation the President had with Joe the Plumber during the campaign during which Obama, who clearly thought he was talking with someone rational, tried to explain that he was not going to raise taxes on the middle class.

    The New York Times reports

    Democratic leaders, including Mr. Obama, say they are intent on letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled at the end of this year. But they have pledged to continue the lower tax rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 — what Democrats call the middle class.

    Most Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone, and some Democrats agree, saying it would be unwise to raise taxes on anyone while the economy remains weak. If no action is taken, taxes on income, dividends, capital gains and estates would all rise.

    We do not buy into the theory that because the economy is still recovering, extending tax cuts for the highest earners is a necessary or effective policy response,” said Gene Sperling, counselor to Mr. Geithner.

    “While we are supporting measures like small-business lending and tax cuts to spark growth,” Mr. Sperling added, “it is also important to show the world that we are following through on our commitment to long-term fiscal discipline.”

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont makes the case for the change in the Nation.

    The American people are hurting. As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, life savings and their ability to get a higher education. Today, some 22 percent of our children live in poverty, and millions more have become dependent on food stamps for their food.

    And while the Great Wall Street Recession has devastated the middle class, the truth is that working families have been experiencing a decline for decades. During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.

     But, not everybody is hurting. While the middle class disappears and poverty increases the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.

    The New York Times story points out how difficult changing the tax policy will be as it will involve many different element.

    Congress must also wrestle with the estate tax, which lapsed last year but will automatically be reinstated effectively at a 55 percent rate on Jan. 1 for estates larger than $1 million. Lawmakers must also deal with an array of other provisions, including tax rates on dividends and capital gains, and the Alternative Minimum Tax, which has been adjusted annually to prevent millions of middle-class families from paying higher tax bills. The child tax credit would also be reduced.

    So what should the strategy be?

    Negotiations are expected to start in the Senate, where it is hardest for Democrats to advance legislation because of Republican filibusters. But some Democrats say a fallback plan would be to have their larger majority in the House approve a continuation of the lower rates just for the middle class right before the election, almost daring Republicans to oppose them.

    In that case, Democrats say, Republicans who opposed the bill would be blocking a tax cut for more than 95 percent of Americans to defend tax cuts for a relatively few wealthy households. Republicans are readying an arsenal of economic data to portray the Democrats as endangering the precarious recovery and harming small-business owners, some of whom are taxed at the top personal income tax rates.

    But some lawmakers, including Mr. Wyden, [Senator from Oregon] say the deficit concerns and the attention on the debt commission could help forge a deal: a short-term continuation of the tax cuts for the middle class, and perhaps some new tax breaks for businesses, that would buy lawmakers time to undertake a broad overhaul of the tax code in the next Congress.

    It will be interesting to see if a change for the middle class can be made before the election and even more interesting to see what the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform reports in December.

    I am not an economist, but won’t the revenue generated by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations making over a certain amount – or that off shore their jobs-  help the deficit?   And I wonder if some are not actually paying more on their unemployment than those bankers are on their bonuses?

    Race is complicated

    3 days ago no one had heard of Shirley Sherrod who turns out to be the wife of Charles Sherrod, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

    The Nation reports on Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

    Up until a few days ago, most of the nation didn’t know who Shirley Sherrod was, but for people who have made a life and a career out of studying civil rights, like Nation columnist Melissa Harris-Lacewell, that name was no news to them. Shirley Sherrod is the wife of Charles Sherrod, a foundational member of the Civil Rights Movement and one of the founders of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Lacewell explains that Sherrod “was not just a bureaucrat working away in Georgia; this is a woman who is part of a family that has made real contributions to advancing the conversation on race in America.”

    And even though right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart only showed a short excerpt of Shirley Sherrod’s NAACP banquet speech and the administration rushed to judgment, Harris-Lacewell told Morning Joe that some good could come out of this scenario. She says that a national conversation on race is a bad idea, but a national classroom on race should be considered. Embedded under all of this mess is a beautiful story of Sherrod, the Spooner Family and interracial cooperation around issues of justice, Harris-Lacewell says. “The real narrative that Ms. Sherrod was telling is the narrative of someone who’s father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, who developed prejudices and yet found a way through her advocacy and work to be a true advocate for this white farm family.”

    And lest we forget, the NAACP also rushed to judgement by first applauding her dismissal.  I guess we can forgive Ben Jealous who is too young to have lived though the SNCC days or the segregated schools attended by Shirley Sherrod.  Did he recognize the last name, I wonder.  The white family she helped, the Spooners, jumped to her defense.

    Image: Former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod

    For wisdom on this issue, I turn to Eugene Robinson’s column in today’s Washington Post.

    After the Shirley Sherrod episode, there’s no longer any need to mince words: A cynical right-wing propaganda machine is peddling the poisonous fiction that when African Americans or other minorities reach positions of power, they seek some kind of revenge against whites.

    A few of the purveyors of this bigoted nonsense might actually believe it. Most of them, however, are merely seeking political gain by inviting white voters to question the motives and good faith of the nation’s first African American president. This is really about tearing Barack Obama down.

    It looked like a clear case of black racism in action. Within hours, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. The NAACP, under attack from the right for having denounced racism in the Tea Party movement, issued a statement blasting Sherrod and condemning her attitude as unacceptable.

    But Breitbart had overstepped. The full video of Sherrod’s speech showed that she wasn’t bragging about being a racist, she was telling what amounted to a parable about prejudice and reconciliation. For one thing, the incident happened in 1986, when she was working for a nonprofit, long before she joined the federal government. For another, she helped that white man and his family save their farm, and they became friends. Through him, she said, she learned to look past race toward our common humanity.

    In effect, she was telling the story of America’s struggle with race, but with the roles reversed. For hundreds of years, black people were enslaved, oppressed and discriminated against by whites — until the civil rights movement gave us all a path toward redemption.

    So why was she forced to pull over and text a resignation?  Robinson explains

    The Sherrod case has fully exposed the right-wing campaign to use racial fear to destroy Obama’s presidency, and I hope the effect is to finally stiffen some spines in the administration. The way to deal with bullies is to confront them, not run away. Yet Sherrod was fired before even being allowed to tell her side of the story. She said the official who carried out the execution explained that she had to resign immediately because the story was going to be on Glenn Beck’s show that evening. Ironically, Beck was the only Fox host who, upon hearing the rest of Sherrod’s speech, promptly called for her to be reinstated. On Wednesday, Vilsack offered to rehire her.

    Shirley Sherrod stuck to her principles and stood her ground. I hope the White House learns a lesson.

    Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture has apologized and offered her a job.  President Obama called to apologize.  It seems unlikely at this writing that she will go back to work for the USDA, but one can never tell.

    The New York Times story points out

    That, however, is unlikely to be the end of it for Mr. Obama, who has struggled since the beginning of his presidency with whether, when and how to deal with volatile matters of race. No matter how hard his White House tries to keep the issue from defining his presidency, it keeps popping back up, fueled in part by high expectations from the left for the first black president, and in part by tactical opposition politics on the right.

    The Sherrod flap spotlighted how Mr. Obama is caught between these competing political forces, and renewed criticism from some of his supporters, especially prominent African-Americans, that he has been too defensive in dealing with matters of race — and too quick to react to criticism from the right

    “I think what you see in this White House is a hypersensitivity about issues of race, that has them often leaning too far to avoid confronting these issues, and in so doing lays the foundation for the very problem they would like to avoid,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an advocacy group here.

    I don’t pretend to know what the President should do.  On one hand you have the right including leaders like Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party quick to find reverse racism, i.e. favoritism, is anything that the President tries to do.  It is unlikely that given what is happened Congress will vote to fund the settlement for black farmers denied loans and other benefits for which he requested an appropriation.   The lawsuit was settled in 1999, but farmers have never seen a penny.  According the NPR story, some of them are hopeful that the Shirley Sherrod incident will help move things along, but I am afraid just the opposite will happen.  I hope they are right.

    A small group of black farmers rally at the Agriculture Department

    The White House may have, as Eugene Robinson hopes, learned the lesson not to react without all the facts.  But I fear that race is still an issue that divides us to the point we can’t talk about it.  During the Lincoln-Douglas debates. the part of Andrew Breitbart/Glenn Beck was played by Stephen Douglas.  Douglas said “I do not regard the negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is any kin to me whatsoever.”  The problem for all the modern day Stephen Douglas’s is that a black man has been elected President.  The problem for Barack Obama is being the first.  And the ultimate irony is that it is almost exactly one year since Henry Lewis Gates was arrested.

    The Frank-Dodd Financial Reform Bill

    Helene Cooper writes in the New York Times this afternoon

     President Obama signed into law on Wednesday a sweeping expansion of federal financial regulation, marking another — and perhaps last — major legislative victory before the midterm elections in November, which could recast the Congressional landscape.

    The signature achievement — a response to the 2008 financial crisis that fundamentally alters the relationship between Wall Street and the federal officials charged with regulating it — is a culmination of two years of fierce lobbying and intense debate over how to deal with the financial excesses that tipped the nation into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

    The law subjects more financial companies to federal oversight, regulates many derivatives contracts and creates a panel to detect risks as well as a consumer protection regulator. A number of the details have been left for regulators to work out, inevitably setting off complicated tangles down the road that could last for years.

    Obama Financial Reform

    Mr. Obama took pains to try to show how the complex legislation, with is dense pages on derivatives practices, will protect ordinary Americans.

    “If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, or a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print,” Mr. Obama said. “But what often happens as a result, is that many Americans are caught by hidden fees and penalties, or saddled with loans they can’t afford.”

    He said the law would crack down on abusive practices in the mortgage industry, simplifying contracts and ending hidden fees and penalties, “so folks know what they’re signing.”

    So what exactly is in the bill?  According to a summary in the Christian Science Monitor

    A bill summary by Capitol Hill staff members includes 100 points. Here’s a shorter take, 10 points, focusing on less-publicized elements as well as some core provisions:

    • A first-ever federal office focused on the insurance industry will monitor the insurance industry for systemic risk. The industry will remain regulated largely at the state level.

    • FDIC deposit insurance for account-holders at banks, thrift institutions, and credit unions will be raised to $250,000 (from $100,000) retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008.

    • The State Department would have to submit an “illicit minerals trade strategy” for the Congo region. Manufacturers that use minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo would have to disclose measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the materials. The provision, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas, could affect high-tech firms like Intel and Apple.

    • The bill beefs up the powers of the Securities and Exchange Commission, including extra funds for enforcement. The SEC would get new power to impose fiduriary responsibility on investment brokers. That means the brokers would have to offer advice based on the best interest of clients, not broker fees. Consumer advocates say the bill should have mandated this change, not allowed the SEC to consider it.

    • New disclosure rules would apply to credit-rating firms, along with new penalties if the firms are irresponsible. In a nod to an amendment backed by Sen. Al Franken (D) of Minnesota, the bill seeks to end “shopping for ratings” by calling for the SEC to propose ways to prevent issuers of asset-backed securities from picking the firm they think will give the highest rating.

    • Shareholders would get a “say on pay,” with the right to a nonbinding vote on executive pay and golden parachutes. Standards for listing on an exchange would require that compensation committees include only independent directors.

    • Reforms would reshape Federal Reserve powers, including a ban on Fed bailouts targeted at specific firms (like AIG) in the future. The presidents of regional Fed banks would be selected entirely by directors representing the public, and not partly by directors representing banks that the Fed regulates.

    • The bill creates a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to consoldiate duties now charged to various federal agencies. It would have a consumer hot line, for questions on things like mortgages, and a new office of financial literacy.

    • A Financial Stability Oversight Council of top economic regulators will monitor systemwide risks. The bill summary says this group will ask the Federal Reserve to adopt “increasingly strict rules for capital, leverage, liquidity, risk management and other requirements as companies grow in size and complexity.”

    • An “orderly liquidation” mechanism would allow the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to dismantle large financial companies that are on the brink of failure. Shareholders and unsecured creditors would bear losses, to end taxpayer bailouts. But the bill also allows the FDIC to shelter solvent banks from having to bear losses if there is a threat to overall US financial stability

    Thank you to Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Scott Brown and all the Democrats except Ben Nelson we have a start and reining in the runway, unregulated financial system.