Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Happened When I Got Pregnant

Mikaela says:
This picture illustrates better than I could explain: I got buried.

My cat and dog sense that something's up, and they're desperate to deepen their bond with me before having to compete with an infant, especially our cat, who's just a baby himself. And yes, he's sitting ON my face here. He's not subtle!

And then there's the figurative aspect of being buried -- under too much information and too many expectations about how to be as a parent, as a mommy consumer, as a poor but earnest environmentalist.

Take for example: paint for the baby's room. I want to do the right thing here. It took me forever to work up the energy and nerve to even shop for paint for the baby's room. I'm not really a decorative arts kinda gal. My partner, however, showed no signs that this would ever make his list of things to do, so I had to face my demons. Thank god for the internet. I really don't know what moms did before they could search for things online. I found this great paint company that does bio-degradable, zero-toxics, low-emissions paint. For $50 a gallon. Gulp.

Now, I hate paint samples. At one inch square, how can you really tell what color it is, much less how it will look in YOUR room on YOUR walls? You can't. And with infinitesimal differences among neighboring shades? Impossible to choose and feel confident. But I chose. And felt really crappy about it.

I was about to order online when I stumbled on a blog entry that mentioned someone bought the same paint at Ace Hardware. Really? A place where I could shop IN PERSON? And have it TODAY? Ok, so maybe the internet's not the best thing ever. This immediate gratification thing (or rather instant knowing of how much you screwed up in your color selection) is even better! And the best part? The paint's $6 cheaper at Ace than the online listing.

So I go to Ace during lunch today. I get really excited when I see a display for my paint that has page-size samples. Hallelujah! But on closer inspection, d'oh! Only for limited colors, none of which are my chosen options. Crap.

I bite the bullet and buy 2 gallons of one color and a gallon of the other. That's $132. With painters tape and brushes? We're talking $170. To paint a room. To paint a room in a way that's environmentally safe. And if I wasn't poor before, this pretty much nails it. Holy crap. And I gotta say based on the little dot of color on the gallon cans? I didn't do so well.

Good thing we've gotten so many donations of gently-used items from generous moms. This kid's going to be banging on pots and pans and playing at parks exclusively until it's 4.

Maybe by then I won't be so buried under all this weight, or at least my cat will want to sleep with my kid more than me!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Republican ideological rigidity is bankrupt

marjorie says...

When the Republican administration of George W. Bush appropriated $700 billion last fall to try to solve the economic crisis, it was money dedicated to bailing-out big banks and it has almost no oversight built into it. The banks basically were given carte blanche, and they still aren't giving out the credit our economy needs.

When the Democratic administration of Barack Obama seeks to save our economy by pumping a little more than that into REAL JOBS and REAL TAX CUTS for ordinary Americans, not a single Republican in the House would vote for it. Good thing there's a Democratic majority to pass the stimulus package--which they did today.

I am highly critical of this stimulus package myself, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. What else are we going to do....right now?

The Republican mantras of no regulation and trickle down tax cut economics is completely bankrupt. We have been trickle-downed, quite frankly, until we're literally dying.

And the vote on party lines today shows just how rigid this dogma is in that party.

Arnold-Jones and KUNM deserve props

marjorie says...

After writing an initial piece about the plans of Janice Arnold-Jones to webcast her committees at the New Mexico legislature, I was so snowed under the past couple of days that I haven't had much time to pay attention--beyond watching the inaugural webcasting run. But I hope you all have.

While legislators keep debating the merits of webcasting (New Mexico is only one of about five states that don't broadcast their legislative debates), public radio station KUNM is picking up the slack--you can listen to the Senate floor debates, and occasional House and Committee debates, throughout the session.

And Arnold-Jones says she'll continue webcasting until she is officially forced to stop--talk about getting the old-school legislators at the Roundhouse in an uproar.

When Arnold-Jones turned on her web camera Monday afternoon, you'd think the world was coming to an end. Committee Chair Edward Sandoval asked her to turn it off, but she refused. House Speaker Ben Lujan didn't look happy in the least--in fact he look quite perturbed even though he tried to hide it. And he chided her for not speaking to him about it in advance.

Webcasting is now being "studied" by a subcommittee of the House Rules committee. Arnold-Jones is still webcasting. And a lively debate has erupted in the House about webcasting. You can read about it over on the NMI and Heath Haussamen's site. Haussamen took Lujan to task on his blog, and the Speaker made a point of saying at the Rules committee yesterday that he wasn't opposed to webcasting, despite what a certain blogger in Las Cruces says.

Best quote of the entire debacle (not to mention headline)? From Trip Jennings report yesterday, Sleepy lawmakers can rest easy for now:

Among the critics of the proposal was Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, who said during the committee meeting that he worried about lawmakers’ privacy and of potentially embarrassing moments being captured on camera.
“If I am sleeping and I am being recorded, that can be used as political gain,” Begaye said.

Yes, he really said that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

there's a "question" about who CDR was advising

marjorie says...

You know those financial deals that CDR Financial put together for the New Mexico Finance Authority as an advisor on the GRIP project? They're called SWAPs? Well it seems that because the "complex contracts" were made with a variable interest rate the state is now at risk and has had to post about $16 million in collateral. The entire piece by Colleen Heild and Mike Gallagher at the Albuquerque Journal is worth the read. But here is the part that really got me:

CDR was paid more than $950,000 out of bond proceeds, but Finance Authority boss Bill Sisneros, who took over after the initial deal with CDR was done, says the company's role in the bond transaction isn't clear.

He said, "CDR was paid by the counter-parties in the swaps, so there is a question of who they were advising." The swaps have saved the state about $8 million in lower interest costs since they were approved in 2004, Duff said.

Um, is this a round about way of saying the NMFA is pretty clear that the state's financial adviser was actually looking out for the interests of the banks who were our "counter-parties"?

Sounds like it to me.

Just to remind folks: CDR Financial is the company at the heart of the federal investigation into whether or not "pay to play" deals were being made with the Richardson administration. CDR was hired to advise the NMFA back in 2004 regarding how to refinance state transportation debt in such a way that the state would save money. The outcome has been the ability to build such things as the Rail Runner from Belen to Santa Fe. Since then, it's emerged that CDR is accused of colluding with banks to "bid rig" in the municipal bond market across the nation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Bush Gigglefest

Thanks, Keith.

And good riddance...

Mikaela says:
Former VP Dick Cheney really got a pass yesterday. As the chief architect of the most evil designs of Bush & Co., he really deserved some ire heaped on his head yesterday. Yes, Obama's speech was a smackdown of Bush personally as a leader, but much of the substance that we've now repudiated came from Cheney & his lawyer, David Addington.

And so it was that the news of his "injury" moving boxes out of his White House office was not met with the amount of sympathy it might have been otherwise. And that he showed up to the inauguration in a wheelchair and a funny little hat? (Can't find a photo w/ the hat at the actual inauguration ceremony - if you see one, alert me!) Somehow, that made things all too perfect for righteous gloating. Sorry, Mom! Not polite, I know.

And just to twist the knife a little, I missed this bit of hilarity from the Onion, which is really too good not to repost!

Vice Presidential Handlers Lure Cheney Into Traveling Crate

WASHINGTON—A team of nine specially trained handlers have successfully lured outgoing vice president Dick Cheney into a reinforced steel traveling crate in order to transport him back to his permanent enclosure in Casper, WY, official sources reported Monday. "He's a smart one. Once he sees the crate, he gets pretty nippy, but we've learned a few tricks over the years," chief VP wrangler Ted Irving breathlessly said while applying pressure to a deep gash on his forearm. "If we break a rabbit's legs and throw it in there, he will eventually go in to finish it off. Doesn't work with dead rabbits, though. Cheney only eats what he kills." Irving said that the latest vice presidential relocation went much more smoothly than September's diplomatic trip to Georgia, which was delayed for several hours after Cheney mauled three secret service agents and escaped inside the White House walls.

Heinrich on the inauguration

marjorie says...

I don't know about you, but politician's statements often sound the same to me. Probably because they're largely written by PR professionals. So it's refreshing to read the guest blog by Martin Heinrich with reflections about yesterday's inauguration--over on Heath Haussamen's site today. I figure it was written by him--description of a Cooper's hawk and all. Here are a few excerpts:

...I was seated off to one side about 50 yards from where then-President-elect Obama would soon take the oath of office. ...The wind was brisk, and before long I couldn’t feel my ears, but I wouldn’t trade yesterday’s memories for the world.
...Occasionally, the enormous crowd would break into a chant of “O-BA-MA… O-BA-MA,” but with such a huge number of people it wasn’t possible for the chant to remain synchronized for long. Overhead, the sky was clear and blue with a just a few wispy clouds. A Cooper’s hawk that calls the nation’s Capitol home circled overhead.
After Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath of office and the crowd erupted again, President Obama began his inaugural address. He spoke of the great challenges that we face and how we will meet them. His words were emotional and passionate, but tethered to the reality of policy. By this time, my toes had become as numb as my ears, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

critically hopeful in the age of se puede!

marjorie says...

In his inauguration speech, Obama right off the mark made clear his awareness that—unlike some of the others who’ve taken the oath of office before him—he assumes the role during troubled times:
…every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. … So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
Wait. That’s my generation. Lost in the momentousness of this election, I had somehow not registered that Obama, while slightly older than myself, is part of my generation.
I’ll leave it to the human geographers to explain what that means on a macro level. But for myself, I think it means I’m vested.
Ever somewhat itinerate—someone who lingers on the outside, gravitates to the back of the room--the flash of that notion in my mind was a touch jarring. Just sort I suspect this election caused a lot of people to have a similar experience—of suddenly feeling vested, responsible, connected.
So many are emotional about Obama. But I find that I’m emotional about my friends—the ones like Dave, who is Obama’s age and voted for the first time, who followed the contest like he previously only followed sports—and who had to pop in on my instant messenger today to simply say “he’s president.”
An affirmation was most certainly in order. Is in order.
Si se puede!
I have radical community organizing friends who are celebrating an American president today. Can I dwell for a moment on just how remarkable that is—given that we’re speaking of the seat of world power?
Such moments fill me with happiness, at the same time I’m already moving toward the hard task of being counter –it’s just a fact—to this remarkable man.
What I know is that this thing has multiple facets. One facet is great pride in what we have achieved. I can be there with you all in this sentiment, without reserve.
But another is that this is also a fa├žade, in many ways, that masks what we have to always be cognizant of: that, yes, we are indeed talking about the center of power. And as long as such a thing exists there also exists an “outside of power.”
And that requires a critical perspective, always.
However, before I go there, I’ll point you to what I loved the most about Obama’s speech today—the part that actually does give me “hope” about him. That's his own shout-out to the unknown laborers who built this country. Somehow, I really think he means it.

…it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. 
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. 
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. 
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked 'til their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

Welcome, Mr. President and the New Era You Usher In...

Mikaela says:
Well, deed's done, and we've done it! I thought I'd have to watch online from work, but my boss came over and stole me away to his friend's house to watch the whole thing with a bunch of aging, white liberal strangers. Pretty great, actually. The best line was probably after VP Joe Biden was swarn in. Boss's wife says, "Now go arrest Cheney! I believe you'll find he's an enemy combatant."

They cringed at Rev. Warren and cheered Rev. Lowery, who I believe was the best part of the whole event. I can't wait to get the transcript and re-post it here for those who missed it. Just perfect.

And our President. Who can say enough about our President? I'm so proud of him, and of us. Proud to call him my President. Proud to call him the President of the United States of America. Just proud.

Here's my favorite part of his speech, or at least the part that got me, personally, the most:

"[W]e know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Loved the John Williams piece w/ Perlman and Ma on violin and cello, respectively, and the totally hot clarinetist Anthony McGill.

The poem I thought was a little weak, but had a few great lines. I'll have to look at it again. It wasn't a good sign that no one knew when it had ended...

And the whole thing almost exactly on time, so that some of us could sneak out and back into work w/ relatively little delay! Thanks, Senator Feinstein! You did a great job not grandstanding at all and keeping things moving.

Welcome to a new day, a new era, a new hope spreading from our capitol all the way into this little political grinch's heart.

Rev. Lowry's Benediction

Mikaela posts her transcription:

Given at Obama’s Inauguration, January 20, 2009

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far along the way,
Thou who has by thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray,
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
Shadow beneath our hand, may we forever stand, true to thee, oh God,
And true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day. We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th President of these United States, his family, and his administration. He has come to this high office in a low moment in the national and indeed global fiscal climate.

But because we know you’ve got the whole world in your hands, we pray not only for our own nation, but the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of moral ills, for we know that Lord, you are able to work through faithful leadership, to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor – or the least of these – and from favoritism toward the rich – the elite of these. We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union and while we have sewn the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness, and we come in the spirit of union and solidarity to commit our support to our President by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other, and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate, on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, tolerance, not intolerance, and as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques – or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle, look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia. We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone with your hands of power and your heart of love.

Help us, then, now Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, where every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness as the mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who will do justice and love mercy say amen. Say amen. And Amen.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Holy's the Obama era

marjorie says...

photo by Jon Person/Flickr

MLK discusses the first black U.S. president

marjorie says...

The BBC brings this really amazing clip of Martin Luther King expressing surprise at the degree to which the United States had been able to make progress on racial justice, and in light of that he says he could see there being an African American president in under 40 years.

Cloud cover

Maggie says:
It's been a quiet stretch for me on m-pyre... sorry about that. Post-election, I immersed myself in the bubble of it'll-be-okay-ness, and the cloud cover has been pretty thick. There has been some not-okayness, of course - some of those Cabinet picks, a dismaying center course strategy, Middle East destruction, and far too many friends and family seeing the worst of this economic disaster. And I know - hiding in the bubble is a lazy form of citizenship. Emotionally exhausted from the election, seeking a break from the stress of contemplating the horrors our government perpetrates, I needed so much to take a couple of months and think only what could be, even though that meant forcing my brain not to get too invested when the Agriculture pick is another Corn King and the uniform critique of our trade deals is hushed away now that it might mean something. There is the hope and promise of politics, and then there is the application of politics, and those are not the same two animals. Those of us who are applicators (read: wonks) at heart have been carried over into the Promiseland the last year. Now that we've all arrived, here together - blind believers and hopeful yet tentative wonks - how will those seeds of hope be planted? How will they be nourished or fertilized or tended to?

Getting past the season of the Lame Duck means for me, getting back to the business of nurturing both the seeds of hope and the mechanics of fertilization, keeping an eye on the sky while knowing where to look underneath the soil. When the great horror ends - we're on the 24-hour-countdown now, folks - it is truly a new day. How new a day is up to all of us. The cloud cover will lift, and the fear will end, and then our wonky hopeful hearts can start digging into the ground again.

Forecast, January 20, 2009: The sun will shine again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The play in GripGate

marjorie says...

(Here's a piece I posted at NMI last week about GripGate)

The concept of “pay-to-play” has grabbed the attention of New Mexicans since Gov. Bill Richardson’s quest to be Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration was derailed by a federal investigation.

That investigation is centered on whether or not Richardson or his staff instructed the New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA) to give a couple of lucrative state contracts to CDR Financial Inc., a financial investments advisory firm, after several large donations were made by the firm to two of Richardson’s political action committees in 2003 and 2004.

CDR contributed a total of $100,000 to the PACs but wasn’t alone. According to The Albuquerque Journal, 20 financial companies, advisers, lawyers and agents made at least $12 million for work they did on Gov. Richardson’s Investment Partnership (GRIP) in 2004. Of that, Bloomberg reports that CDR raked in $1.48 million for advising the NMFA “… on interest-rate swaps and restructuring escrow funds for $1.6 billion of transportation bonds issued by the agency.”

These reports illuminate the heart of the scandal that the New Mexico Independent has dubbed GRIPgate: the complex process of issuing government bonds that is difficult for outsiders to understand and perhaps easier for insiders to manipulate.

What investigators want to know is, did the Richardson administration dole out investment consulting fees (”play”) in return for political contributions (”pay”). What New Mexico taxpayers need to know is, did insiders game the process to benefit themselves with the public’s money? And, if so, what can be done about it?

“People focus on the ‘pay-to-play,’ but that’s chump change compared to the money we’re talking about,” Sherman Golden, a municipal bond expert told NMI. “Any time a bond issue is happening, a big question is whether or not the bidding was fair, unbiased, at market rate, or was it rigged?”

The complex bond market

The federal investigation in New Mexico stems from a larger national probe into possible bid-rigging in the municipal bond market.

The issue is whether financial advisory companies — such as CDR — rigged the bidding process for banks wanting to provide investment services for government bond issues, so that banks bid lower than they would have, had the process been competitive, and knew ahead of time which bank would win. The resulting increased profits to the banks would have allowed for kickbacks to the financial advisory firm that arranged the whole thing.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, the financial advisers being investigated referred to the rigged bids as “sloppy bids”:

…the evidence amassed so far included tape-recorded phone calls, in which the independent specialists who are supposed to help local governments pick their bankers could be heard telling bankers: “We want you to bid on this deal, but you’re not going to get it — you’re going to get the next one. We want you to submit a sloppy bid.” …Unsuspecting governments then accepted the recommended bids, and paid too much …

Since the investigation began, about 20 cities, counties, and school districts — including Los Angeles — have sued CDR along with a number of big multi-state banks, alleging that the firm got kickbacks from the banks for steering public bond business their way.

Along with CDR, one of the banks in the national investigation is also central to the story in New Mexico’s specific investigation: JP Morgan Chase.

Keep reading at NMI.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bailouts and Nationalization

marjorie says...

The $825 billion federal stimulus proposal presented by House Democrats this week proposed $275 billion in tax cuts and $550 billion in spending.

The summary, by the way, is excellent reading.
The economy lost 2 million jobs in the last four months and is projected to lose another 3 million to 5 million in the coming year.
Unemployment is going to continue to rise, they say, even with this stimulus package. But without the infusion of federal cash, it will soar into the double digits — and that doesn’t count the numbers who’ve been shifted from full-time work to part time.
And while the deficit will grow dramatically, the Democrats say that without the stimulus spending the growing deficit “…will be devastating and we face the risk of economic chaos.”
While it might seem counter-intuitive that the deficit will grow more if we don’t spend close to a trillion dollars, the Democrats contend that the spending will lead to more economic activity, which will decrease the payment of unemployment benefits and increase tax revenue.
The economic crisis is laid at the feet of consumer debt, which was propelled by stagnant wages while the rich got a heck of a lot richer during the recent economic boom.
The figures given are stunning: 96 percent of income growth in this country since 2001 went to the wealthiest 10 percent, while the rest of the country sustained its standard of living by "...borrowing...and borrowing...and borrowing":
Since 2001, as worker productivity went up, 96% of the income growth in this country went to the wealthiest 10% of society. While they were benefiting from record high worker productivity, the remaining 90% of American’s were struggling to sustain their standard of living. They sustained it by borrowing… and borrowing… and borrowing, and when they couldn’t borrow anymore, the bottom fell out.
The result is that the credit market eventually froze up because of a consumer base stretched beyond its ability to pay debt--including mortgages, a subsequent lack of consumer spending, and businesses consequently laying off workers or simply shutting down.
The document also gives the rationale behind the bulk of the stimulus package being designated for direct spending rather than tax cuts.
In a nutshell, Americans are so strapped by debt that they're more likely to spend any tax cut or stimulus check on paying down their debt, rather than consuming new goods and services:
The tax rebates last spring showed that Americans have become so concerned about
their debt and saving that they will not spend a large fraction of any tax cut. Over the last two decades, Americans’ saving rate went from 8 percent of income to near zero. ... As we saw in the spring [when the federal government issued stimulus checks], a sizable fraction of any tax cut to them will be used to pay down debts and not be spent. The same logic applies to tax cuts for corporations who have become more obsessed with reducing their excessive leverage than in hiring or investing.
On the other hand, the authors state, direct federal spending will have nearly complete "pass through" to new goods and services.
Other interesting reading today was this article in the New York Times about the fact that we are nationalizing the banks, although we don't want to call it that. It seems some of these banks are "too big to fail" but can't get their act together enough to survive on their own. End result: we--as in, "the public"--buy them.
We knew we were doing this anyway last year when they passed the bail-out package. But because nationalization is such a dirty word, it seems there was a lack of oversight and accountability built into the cash transfers to the banks--something that has been protested loudly ever since. There's no transparency hardly at all.

The outcome is pressure on Obama, et al, to build accountability into the government. That's, you know, basically kind of sort of maybe "nationalization." The NYT calls it "a hint."
Choice quotes:
“We are down a path that this country has not seen since Andrew Jackson shut down the Second National Bank of the United States,” said Gerard Cassidy, a banking analyst at RBC Capital Markets. “We are going to go back to a time when the government controlled the banking system.”

Christopher Whalen, a managing partner at Institutional Risk Analytics, said the approach also covers up the underlying reality that the government is already essentially the majority shareholder in Citigroup.
“There’s nobody else out there to invest in them,” Mr. Whalen said. “We already own them.”

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Wringing in the New Year

Mikaela says:
I'm loving all the year-end wrap-up going on. Everyone's taking stock of the last year, and checking in with the last 8 while they're at it, in preparation for the next big change to prepare ourselves for.

I can honestly say that I'd prepared myself for Obama's defeat. Even when they called it for him on election night, a part of me was protecting itself from disappointment, and I refused to really give in to the good feelings that such a victory should have caused.

I'm still holding my breath.

Then again, I'm doing the same thing about being pregnant, despite the growing body of evidence swelling in front of me. I just can't bear to start thinking about how different, and perhaps wonderful, life will be with a baby, just in case something doesn't go as well as I might hope.

Instead, I'm happy to focus all my energy looking backward and channeling my fears as anger toward all that I know went wrong under Bush & Co. I just finished the Angler, a look at Cheney's vice presidency based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting in the Washington Post.

It's a surprisingly optimistic book, chronicling not just Cheney's attempts to accrue power to himself, the vice presidency, and the executive officer, but also his lost battles and ultimate failures. Condoleeza Rice emerges as a good guy in this narrative. She's cast as the voice of reason that holds out against Cheney & other crazies and ultimately prevails as Bush's most trusted advisor. Interesting. I always lumped her in with all the neocon forces of darkness. Not that she's all that great. In fact, saying that she's the sanest of the bunch helps throw into illuminating bas relief just how crazy this administration has been, and how far off the cliff they've driven all of us.

Want some numbers to back all that up? Look to Harper's Index! Here's a (rather long) sampling of my favorites:

  • Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42
  • Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98
  • Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182
  • Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0
  • Number charged with an immigration violation: 762
  • Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0
  • Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39
  • Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50
  • Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069
  • Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100
  • Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0
  • Portion of Bush’s presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3
  • Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62
  • Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10
  • Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40
  • Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4
  • Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4
  • Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000
  • Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130
  • Minimum amount that religious groups received in congressional earmarks from 2003 to 2006: $209,000,000
  • Amount such groups received during the previous fourteen years: $107,000,000
  • Percentage change in U.S. discretionary spending during Bush’s presidency: +31
  • Percentage change during Reagan’s and Clinton’s, respectively: +16, +0.3
  • Number of the five directors of the No Child Left Behind reading program with financial ties to a curriculum they developed: 4
  • Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1
  • Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37
  • Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37
And lastly, after my own review of a little notebook I carry around in my voluminous bag (perfect, my sister said, for a diaper bag -- only where will I put all the additional stuff???), I came across this little rant that summarizes my anger and fear about Bush.

He’s a shell,

A shadow, a dark-side projection,
National doppelganger of fear,
A jock-strappin’ cowboy,
A repeated mistake,
A stupid promise that comes back to jail you,
A self-satisfied frat boy,
Blank check-writer,
Good-will exploiter,
Epitome of ineptness --
A mass of mediocrity
That bites my nails
Empties my reserves of hope
Does everything but comfort me
In the white-fear darkness of night
When I realize again
There are more of him coming.

And with that expended, I feel much more ready to bring in a new year, a new era, a new President, a return to the Constitution and country I love.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sacrificial Lamb or Ascendent Messiah?

marjorie says...

I don’t want to let the day go by without pausing for a moment to reflect on this remarkable photograph by Heath Haussamen—which he quietly slipped into an analysis he wrote regarding the implications of Bill Richardson’s withdrawal as Obama's cabinet secretary designate.
The sacrificial lamb?
Or, perhaps...
The messianic deliverer?
Is Bill an innocent victim of wrong-headed perceptions resulting from the New Mexico free-for-all of unlimited campaign contributions? Or is he getting his comeuppance from years spent trying to deliver New Mexico from the deep poverty that riddles it, all the while his minions squeezed the dough out of every nook, cranny and pocket to be found?
The debate is raging, and something tells me it will be for a long time.

Richardson & the Feds: what do we know? Not much

marjorie says...

Now that the shock of yesterday's news that Bill Richardson isn't going to be Commerce Secretary has subsided, and now that I have finally digested the eating of my own words that the federal investigation of CDR Financial wouldn't derail his nomination, let's think about what we actually know.

First, we don't know much.

Richardson says it was his decision, but just about everyone else thinks it was Obama's.

And while Obama expresses regret, his transition team is pointing the finger at Richardson, saying he wasn't forthcoming enough about the investigation. The Richardson camp says he was very forthcoming and that everyone has known since last August about the federal investigation into CDR Financials dealings in New Mexico (the company got lucrative state contracts shortly after making two big contributions to Richardson political action committees back in 2003 and 2004).

Richardson is right; everyone has known. This leads me to believe that something changed in just the past couple of weeks.

As some speculate, maybe it's simply the result of increasing nervousness as the Obama team has to deal with the Illinois scandal--in which the governor there tried to sell Obama's senate seat. This line of reasoning says that it became untenable for the Obama team to have such close proximity to possible corruption in New Mexico.

This speculation is highly plausible, and I suspect that it's a big contributing factor for Obama not sticking it out with Richardson.

But there's also the fact that the 2008 federal grand jury has completed its work. Here is what NMI's Trip Jennings described:

...the federal grand jury asked to review evidence in the case during 2008 has been released from its duty, meaning a new grand jury empaneled this year must take up the case all over again, including witness testimony. And that could mean a drawn-out inquiry. Federal grand juries, which prosecutors use to determine if there is enough probable cause to issue indictments, are empaneled for only a year in New Mexico.
A federal grand jury is empaneled on a yearly basis, during which time it hears testimony on a wide variety of matters. Here's how Bloomberg describes the process:
To be charged with a felony, a person has the right to be indicted by a grand jury, the U.S. Constitution says. The panel of 16 to 23 people is meant to act as a buffer between prosecutors and their suspects, said James Montana, a former federal prosecutor and partner with Chicago-based law firm Vedder Price.
Grand Jury
Acting in secrecy mandated by law, grand juries review documents and hear evidence from victims, witnesses and occasionally the subjects of the investigation.
While the Justice Department will sometimes give a target notice of an investigation and invite that person to appear, neither step is required and such appearances are "extremely rare," said Montana. To indict, 12 of the grand jurors must agree there is probable cause a crime was committed.
Ok, so this gives us two possibilities, to my way of thinking:

1. We may have a long road ahead of us before we find out whether or not CDR Financial and the Richardson administration had some shady dealings going on. And this is most certainly not a given, although the big contributions by CDR Financial certainly make me raise my eyebrows. Hopefully the feds have clued in to what all the rest of us here know: there are no campaign contribution limits in New Mexico, so it's kind of hard to prove that $100,000 gets one special favors. This is a structural problem.

2. We may know pretty quick, and if this is the case it doesn't bode well for Richardson. Why would the Feds have the grand jury look into something starting back in August, and not plan to have it wrap up by the end of the year, if they know they would just have to start over again in January? If this is how it works (please enlighten me if it isn't), it's highly possible that the 2008 grand jury got what it needed to either make an indictment, or not. And if this is the case, why would the Feds let Richardson's nomination be derailed...if there's nothing there?

Well, one answer is that the Feds are the Feds, and could care less about the political fortunes of politicians. The speculation is rampant. And like everyone else, m-pyre is holding its breath.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Heaven forbid we let Illinois outshine us

marjorie says...

Just yesterday, I got a little note in my inbox from an analyst who works for an advocacy group:

"I guess i just don't get what the fuss is about in Illinois - Richardson is as bad or worse and it is just business as usual here."

This commentary is pretty normal I find here in the state. Most people think that if we're not a "pay to play" state, we're just short of it by an arm wring or two.

What a day
. My Gmail chat window was dead as a doornail until about noon. Then it lit up like a Christmas tree...all my reporter friends making a mad dash for their computers.

(Wrinkled Brow. big Sigh)

Bill...say it isn't so.