How Fast You Want it, Fam?

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 28, 2009

images12The Senegalese have a very quick-witted, simple saying that’s been nagging me for many years since I visited the poor West African nation: “You run too fast, you trip.”

Senegal was emblematic – and still is I’m told – of a nation that just chills.  2-3 hour lunches. People may be poor, but they are laid back, and the warm climate compliments the mood.  As one friend put it: “In Senegal, we work to live. In the West, you live to work.” Point taken. Off point, though.

So, fast and trip saying comes to mind when I think about Charter Communications latest announcement unveiling hi-speed broadband that’s even fast than the broadband we’re seeing now.  But, as I’m clicking around on the rather fast, click-before-I-blink-my-eye connection on the home PC, I can’t help but think if this is fast enough.  Writes US News’ Dave LaGesse: “Broadband bragging rights could go to Charter Communications, which is ready to launch a 60 Mbps service. It would apparently be the fastest available to U.S. consumers. No details yet on price or when, or where, the service will appear from the cableco.”

This might seem like a crazy question: is faster really better? But, when considering the $30B proposed for broadband expansion in the recent economic stimulus package passed by the House, one is forced to ask if it’s better sense to focus more on that digital infrastructure enhancement rather than upgrading speed.  True: can’t stop market forces.  Still, there are large portions of the American landscape, particularly in rural America, which have little or no broadband connection.  What would 60 mbps mean to a poor family in Tennessee or Mississippi?

Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves in the desire for speed.  There is a lack of balance between wanting so much speed and the need for sensible progress in technological deployment.  In getting pressed for speed we might not need, just yet, we’re not focused on laying out the platform for future advancements.  We’re like a recent episode of “Fringe” where unsuspecting Internet users have their brains liquified by a murderous digital virus while surfing.  If we don’t slow down and get smart, we’ll definitely end up tripping.


GUEST BLOG: Garland Nixon on “Obama’s Ethics Rule Waiver; Hypocrisy or “Big Picture” Move?”

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 27, 2009
news Two days after implementing sweeping new ethics rules President Obama has decided to waive a provision regarding former lobbyist to bring Mr. William Lynn into the Administration to fill the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense. This move attracted immediate criticism from people on both sides of the aisle. The Administration’s reasoning was clear and concise:

“Because Mr. Lynn came so highly recommended from experts across the political spectrum, the president-elect felt it was critical that he fill this position,” said Obama Transition spokesman Tommy Vietor.

“After consultation with counsel to the president,” said Director of the Office of Management of Budget Peter Orszag in a statement, “I hereby waive the requirements of Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Ethics Pledge of Mr. William Lynn. I have determined that it is in the public interest to grant the waiver given Mr. Lynn’s qualifications for his position and the current national security situation

Though appearing to be worthy of the criticism it has received, I would argue that it is a classic Obama move and reflects his focus on the big picture. The two highlighted portions of the statement: “it is in the public interest” and “and the current national security situation” are indicative of the results oriented thinking process President Obama has continually demonstrated. He created a new set of ethics rules to accomplish his Presidential mission. A critical part of the mission is to keep the American people safe and he believes that appointing Mr. Lynn in this position is the most effective move he can make to accomplish this goal. Therefore he must make a decision as to which is more important, the rule or the goal. It would be imprudent to appoint a lesser qualified person to the position of Deputy Secretary of the Department of Defense, possibly making the unit less effective,just to keep from breaking a non-binding ethics rule, not a law… but a rule. When considering that this position is critical to the safety of our nation, what reasonable person could argue that the rule is more important.

The rule is part of a process which is designed to accomplish a mission, in this case national Security. President Obama is clearly a man who believes in rules and order, but being a results oriented thinker I doubt that he would ever hesitate to waive a rule if it would compromise the success of the mission.

The Dilemma in the Feingold Proposal

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 25, 2009

images11Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D) wants a Constitutional Amendment eliminating Senate appointments by state Governors. Says Feingold: “The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.  In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators.  They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.  I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute.”

Whereas Feingold’s reasoning is understandable given recent events, one has to question the boldness of a Constitutional change in the midst of tough economic times and other major policy decisions on the national table.  The first question: how substantive and important is this Amendment?  Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) may have been caught on tape discussing the potential bidding of then President-elect Obama’s vacant Senate seat, but money never passed hands.  Nor has the Governor been removed from office by the Illinois Senate, yet. The salacious details create great political drama and provide important conversation on the role of money, corruption and cronyism in politics.

How much of an impact will a fresh Constitutional Amendment have on public policy and governance?  And, won’t this debate, coupled with the unfolding drama in Illinois, distract legislators from the serious business of negotiating and passing a nearly trillion dollar economic stimulus package?  Additionally, won’t special elections place serious financial burdens on states and be perceived as unfunded mandates from the federal government?  How would this Amendment impact the relationship between the federal government and states as Congress will need state cooperation in a crumbling economy?  And then there’s the question of whether unfair federal laws are being imposed on the states.

Politically, a Feingold Amendment may also carry future risks for Democrats, particularly as embattled and angry Governors look for payback if they lose one of their most favorite tools of authority.

Brand New & the Inaugural Post-Mortem

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 24, 2009

images31There are quite a few who dash to dash the hyperbole of “historic moments” and “first Black President” this and that. Even though, coming correct, the glib satisfaction of seeing it fascinates. Understand, however, that moving forward, it can’t (won’t) be about “Black President(s)” as much as it’s really on the new President who is setting new precedent. Really can’t chew on the re-run “Cosby Show” comparisons or the blah-blah Washington social calendar gossip. The booming horn and swaggering blast of that Kanye West/Rhymefest lyrical confab titled “Brand New” blazes the background of the thought. President Barack Obama, without doubt, is as brand new as the New Year. All else distracts.

Still, of the more fascinating sights and sounds during the swearing-in was the way in which millions braved biting cold temperatures to get less than a glimpse. Just to say: “we were there.” The plasma screen and HD weren’t enough for the nearly two million who hit the National Mall. This is no simple feat, barely moving into overcrowded Metro stations since 4 am in single digit wind chill. Yet, even in this age of virtual experience and the 24/7 digital news cycle, there are many who crave the touch and feel. Perhaps that says something refreshing about the detached, “social media” and Facebooked fix we’re in. To participate in it rather than watch it on a screen.

The history of the moment kept the air warm that day, but it also posed the problem of high and – some could argue – unreasonable expectations.

At one point last checked, the temperature read 23 degrees. There were reported winds of 15 mph, dropping the mercury to feel like 10. Yet, the size of crowds at key Metro stations could fool one into believing it was somewhat of a comfortable spring day, minus streaming lines of humanity bundled in winter clothing.

Patience is obviously tested during these moments, the excitement and euphoria mixed in with the tension of a big moment. There was also a great chance that many wouldn’t make it in time to see the new President placing his hand on Lincoln’s bible on a jumbo-tron. Imagine making that long cross-country trek then getting stuck in a subway. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing since he ended up re-taking the oath, anyway. Still, there was a warm energy driving these crowds, an unmistakable sense of religious-like revival combined with the jubilant madness of a music concert. It was inspirational, yet frightening on a cult-of-personality scale certain to give the new President and those around him pause.

As it was, lot of frozen tears and snot caked the steps and grass between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. And there was quite a bit of exhaling and relief throughout the crowds, the moment finally hear. Even Obama, typically cool, could have displayed a spark of almost boyish glee as he and Chief Justice John Roberts tripped over lines during the Inaugural oath. That’s no consolation, however, once you watch the tape twice and realize Roberts mauled it to the point where grumpy legal heads had to question its validity.

And, then, there was the speech. Profound, powerful and … serious. It appeared to soar several thousand feet above the heads of many simple-minded citizens on the ground. This was, by all accounts, heady. He didn’t chastise, but he wasn’t gentle either. Nor should he be. The world is quite a hot, uncertain mess at the moment. Instead, he opted for the “party over” approach, a deeply intestinal history lesson, the professor offering weighty lecture – it wasn’t meant to give the rhetorical punch of the campaign trail. The hard work is ahead, his candor stretched with all the makings of a rather creepy and humorless Home Depot do-it-yourself workshop. His recent 68 percent Gallup poll approval rating may signal the national weariness.

This was not what many – dare we say most – in the Mall crowd expected, a thesis on how traditions of the old compliment tools of the new; grand allocution on what makes us great and how we can be greater. How American heritage dictates American future. They wanted hype and stadium boom bap.

Too cold for that, fam.

One could feel the great, tectonic paradigm shift between two eras that reaches well beyond the packed crowds on the National Mall. There is more than a transition of Presidents taking place. National callings transcend ideology and partisanship as folks stress to recalibrate their place. With expectations high, there is a big conversation taking place at the moment, citizens on the street also demanding something very different from the political norm of the previous eight years.

This is supposedly the “post-partisan” era just as much as the social desire for a “post-racial” era. Still, challenges ahead for the new President as Mall crowds angrily booed the outgoing Administration, taunting the Texan with the old time dis of a sports team loss. For some reason, I can’t help but wonder if that could translate into problems along the way – the left is already growling at the bi-partisan love fest. Obama’s desire to somehow tamp down the rancor characteristic of modern American politics will have to go beyond the usual tug between governing bodies back and forth across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many talking heads, political junkies, and pundits alike may accuse Barack Obama of being the predictable President. Predictable in the sense that he abhors what he can’t anticipate. He is an Executive consumed by preparation – a Commander-in-Chief who realizes the virtue in steady planning. This is what makes him somewhat practical and pragmatic in his approach. He doesn’t like what he can’t see – or, at least, what he can’t have some sort of control over.

That doesn’t mean he can’t surprise us. In that sense, he’s quite an unpredictable President.

That’s when President and First Lady calmly stepped from behind the 5-inch thickness of their muscled, bullet-proof “brand new” Cadillac, appearing unplanned, unstaged, unscripted and, to the formidable phalanx of Secret Service agents surrounding him, annoyingly unexpected.  But, it was breath-taking and fantastic on multiple levels. For one, it exhibited a clear departure from the previous President. Obama, through street walk and previous Ben’s Chili Bowl visit, relays a clear message that he’s the “People President” – it’s not about him so much as it is about what he can affect on “we.”

Despite the reserved nature of a President once accused of professorial “aloofness,” Obama is proving himself as somewhat spontaneous. Embracing the experience as one big exciting adventure, seeking to draw us in. His inaugural speech defied expectations and that same tenor is set with something as simple as motorcade fanfare. There is serious power in this, an intoxicating form of constituent relationship management that keeps both supporters and detractors on their toes. A way to appeal directly to the public without the restrictions of media lense and Executive pulpit. Though he claims himself the transparent President, expect us all challenged from simply keeping up with Barack Obama.

How Philly Could Determine the Fate of Public Libraries

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 20, 2009

news2It’s easy to get polemic and bust a rhyme or two on the fantastic history unfolding in D.C. this week. But, since we’re supposedly ushering in a “new era” of comity and political virtue, we’d be remiss without any reflection on what we can contribute to our most precious human resource: kids. Which is why we should pay close attention to how a standoff over a big city library system could have far-reaching consequences.

Trapped, like many other cities and states, in fierce battle for fiscal survival, Philadelphia faces a $1 billion budget shortfall forcing its new school era Mayor Michael Nutter into tough choices. Nutter, who boldly campaigned in 2006 with an anti-machine message in the city that coined “pay-to-play,” got pressed into a tight fix, having to fall back from promises on the stump in an effort to stave off budgetary oblivion. This means digging deep into Philly’s coffers in a search for money that really isn’t there. Hence, look to cut programs perceived as easy prey: libraries.

Shutting down 11 of them in a troubled system of 54 branches seemed plausible and sensible, a fairly reasonable and less dubious path of action given the economic climate. In this digital age, modern convention dictates that few use the library anyway. Everything is Googled or parsed into bits of USB-fitted flash drives. The convenience of rapid access tends to trump intellectual curiosity these days, with libraries ranked at the lowest rung of the information food chain. That’s unfortunate. And anyone familiar with fledgling urban library systems is fully aware that neighborhood tome repositories aren’t exactly attracting as much community support and advocacy these days. No surprise that the 11 branches picked for closure are located in the north and south western parts of the city, where we find the bulk of “Ill-town’s” most neglected, impoverished and Blacker neighborhoods. City Hall strategists made a shrewd calculation: if we close them, who will notice?

Defying political wisdom, quite a few did take notice – and the book flap hit the fan. A coalition of library patrons, City Council members and lawyers literally threw the book at Nutter, citing an obscure 20-year old city ordinance which stipulated the Mayor could not unilaterally close “city buildings” without City Council approval. Common Pleas Court Juge Idee Fox ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, maintaining her position even after city attorneys desperately pleaded that keeping the whole system open could actually make a bad situation worse with drastic cuts beyond the nearly dozen proposed.

Nutter may have wrongly assumed his libraries could be an easy target for the fiscal hatchet. His attempt at solvency earned the now embattled communications-savvy Mayor many critics within the City of Brotherly Love, as parents, activists, lawyers and students appeared to gang up on him.

Philadelphians, for the most part, are hisorically accustomed to hard times and humble beginnings in this steely blue collar gotham of 1 million residents. Keeping that in mind, many Philly dwellers frantically hold on to old traditions and symbols because it’s all we’ve got under fairly dreadful circumstances – which might explain our fanatic loyalty to the city’s sports teams.

Which leads to the outrage. Public libraries in places like North or West Philly are virtual safe havens for kids with few alternatives after school. There is a longstanding preemptive element to the public library: for every child or teenager with their head in a textbook or glazing through that day’s homework is one less idle mind wreaking criminal havoc. Some of my first books ever were picked from a Logan Library shelf; it was, for certain, a second home. Indeed, Logan library was the undisputed intellectual core of our neighborhood, a place where many a student – from straight-A types to those who were barely passing – found a spot to complete lessons, enjoy a good book or kill time within safer walls until parents returned from work. Public librarians get many props for playing a crucial and thankless role in caring for neighborhood kids that aren’t theirs.

The basic notion of a city library as community center should be enough to persuade the Nutter Administration against closure. Not really. We must understand the Mayor is faced with a dilemma of Machiavellian proportion, forced to cut the few to save the many. The fact that he’s bold-faced straight about it and opts for full disclosure earns him an accolade or two. But, Nutter, in his haste to maintain both political austerity and compassionate public face, could be missing out on a greater opportunity. Philly could be on the cusp of creating a model for urban renewal and intellectual renaissance – through it’s fledgling library system.

Nutter himself lit that light bulb when he claimed, amid storming criticism from angry advocates, a future move to possibly transform the closed libraries into “knowledge centers.” Alluding to city interest in a public-private partnership, the Mayor talked of inviting corporate sponsors to annex the closed libraries “rent free” while encouraging them to build learning centers. On the real, Nutter doesn’t appear to have really considered it – crisis communications leads elected officials to say things they never thought about and end up regretting later. He was simply taming the opposition. His fetch bone.

But, if carefully designed and managed, the concept of “knowledge center” could dramatically reshape urban centers and revive a new age of intellectual enlightenment. Take it a step further than simply having companies own naming rights to the libraries. We all agree that libraries, as we know them, are becoming a bit obsolete – even though we like them. But, it doesn’t matter how much public affection we pour on an obsolete institution if it’s hurting the bottom line. Why not consider a model that not only provides a sorely needed face lift for the 21st century library, but also puts it in a position to actually serve as a reliable revenue stream and economic development engine for government?

The problem with libraries in the modern age is that they are “free” and “open.” That doesn’t comport with city and state governments bitten by the corporate bug, mayors and governors measuring progress on performance management models and the creation of diverse revenue sources. In this environment, governments are either outsourcing services or searching for ways in which they can partner with private businesses. Businesses, of course, reap the rewards of either massive branding opportunities or direct profit. This could save libraries while simultaneously reviving neighborhoods in need of an economic boost.

Typically, cities rely on the building of either subway stops or sprawling retail centers to serve as hubs which attract economic progress to a neighborhood. But, privately-owned, government-sponsored “knowledge centers” sprinkled in key “hot spots” or areas needing an injection of development could be more potent.

Governments could easily emulate the local Borders or Barnes & Noble model as a basic first step. These leading bookstore chains are already nothing more than corporate-owned libraries where many consumers now spend countless hours browsing through books, accessing WiFi and sipping on the latest caffeinated drink. Rather than close the libraries altogether, Nutter could propose a dramatic and inexpensive overhaul of the public library system whereby corporations are invited to adopt those locations, take them over “rent-free” and renovate them into multi-faceted “knowledge centers.” These centers would not only serve as libraries, but also highly sophisticated community hubs offering an array of services, products and information access points through either conventional book learning or digital medium: from WiFi hotspots to computer labs and “cafes;” from “mini-universities” where both certificate-driven courses, GED programs or college credits are earned to conference locations for workshops, community forums and seminars; from classes in the visual and performing arts to lessons in martial arts. The library ceases being simply a pit stop for latch-key kids, but also as economic and intellectual drivers. The economic development component kicks in as these innovative centers expand based on use and interest.

As an incentive, businesses investing in these efforts could receive generous tax breaks; perhaps there would be room for discussing revenue sharing with the city. The lure of businesses fulfilling a community service or an aspect of corporate responsibility should be attractive. Businesses, such as a FedEx/Kinkos or UPS store, may want to offer services within these centers; Starbucks or Seattle’s Best could sell coffee and pastries. Another revenue source for the city could come in the form of very cheap annual usage fees: a Netflix model of book, audio and visual media borrowing. What’s $10 or $20 per year in annual usage fees for the luxury of checking out as many books or CDs/DVDs as you want for a 2-3 week period? Why not offer legal digital file sharing services or access points for the downloading of music onto mp3 players? And, although WiFi could be free (with libraries, perhaps, serving as wide-ranging wireless router points for whole neighborhoods, thereby allowing Philly to realize its mission of citywide WiFi), patrons would have to pay very nominal fees for use of center-owned PCs provided by corporate sponsors.

This is all very conceptual, but if applied correctly, city governments like Philly could successfully create socio-economic engines in communities in need, with “knowledge centers” serving as both job training facilities or even college recruitment facilities. And, changing the face of the library to catch up with modern trends could be a way to naturally attract neighborhood youth to a vast and compelling interactive world of knowledge acquisition.

GUEST BLOG: Garland Nixon on “Obama and the Lincoln Legacy”

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 19, 2009

images1It is quite clear, even to the casual observer, that President Elect Obama has employed the legacy of Abraham Lincoln as a theme for his Presidential campaign. He announced his candidacy in Lincoln’s adopted home of Springfield Illinois and spoke of Lincoln’s political and social philosophies repeatedly in his speeches. He will be travelling to Washington by train just as Lincoln did and stopping for a speech in Philadelphia, again mirroring Lincoln’s pre-inaugural activities. The closing symbolic act of his campaign will be to get sworn in on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Republican Party has laid claim to the Lincoln legacy for years by touting themselves as the “Party of Lincoln,” which seems rather far fetched considering the fact that President Lincoln was ideologically a center left politician. When he was elected, Lincoln represented a loose coalition of former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, abolitionists, and a nativist anti- immigrant group called the “Know Nothing” party. This group collectively branded themselves the Republican party as they came together over a period of several years prior to his election. Any unbiased review of Lincoln’s policies clearly reveals that he was left of center and in no way ideologically aligned with the Republican Party of today. President elect Obama’s campaign has emphasized the similarities between his political philosophy and Abraham Lincoln’s. He often echoes Lincoln’s emphasis on national unity by referring to the United States specifically as the Union, which also serves to remind modern day pro-confederates who won the war and that the South “won’t rise again.” He is openly reclaiming the Legacy of the Lincoln Presidency from the Republican Party by demonstrating his ideological alignment with Honest Abe. Invoking Lincoln’s legacy while proposing left of center populist policies will leave the Republican Party in the position of voicing their support of President Obama whenever they attempt to make gains using Lincoln’s Party affiliation. I suspect it will be quite rare to hear members of the GOP promoting themselves as the “Party of Lincoln” over the next four to eight years.

Obama as “Game Changer” …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 16, 2009

images3We’re already seeing dramatic signs of a different kind of presidency and we can say, with certainty, that Obama will do the exact opposite of his predecessor. Based on what we’ve seen during the transition, he appears set on a total paradigm shift, more so than a game-change. A game-change still implies a touch of the old Washington, supporting the cynical notion of modern American politics as petty and destructive. Obama desires a new tone and is eager to rebuild public trust in government. His shift encourages pragmatism over ideology and partisanship – to him, it’s not about what sounds good or what’s the better argument. Instead, his governing approach will rely on what – he believes – works.

Hence, we are witnessing rather simple, yet extraordinary political events we haven’t seen in quite some time. Casual dinners with adversaries; meetings with Congressional rivals for input; even a Washington Hilton dinner in honor of McCain is unprecedented, yet it holds all the elements of real class and humility. Even his public strolls through D.C. are a far departure from the fortress mentality of the outgoing President. These are carefully and politically choreographed events to craft the image of a public, transparent and open President willing to consider different perspectives.

Obama’s ability to change the tone in Washington rests with his greatest asset: communication. He will aggressively govern through buy-in and consensus – or, at least, the impression of such. The American public could witness the greatest era of civic education and involvement since the Civil Rights Movement. The reward in this could be a Presidency in which all stakeholders feel involved; the risk is the potential of naysayers, critics and enemies to take perceived kindness for weakness. Still, what many fail to assess is the rather shrewd political mastermind that is Barack Obama – those who challenge him must come correct or, otherwise, beware.

Bush legacy (final thoughts)

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 15, 2009

images21Despite the turbulent economic times we’re faced with now, the Bush legacy will focus on national security and his indelible imprint on the volatile global climate. He will not be missed. It will be difficult for him to leave without being defensive and defiant.

The legacy is clearly mixed and tragic: history will tell of a President full of contradictions, disappointments and non-reflection. Contradictions of a “conservative” President ushering in an age of unabated government spending and bloated deficits. Disappointments in the sense that many of his decisions appeared to clash with reality and common sense. Non-reflection based on a perceived refusal to fully consider the magnitude of those decisions and where they led us as a nation.

Iraq is his main talking point since he invested so much in it, politically and personally. There is much melancholy and irony in the observation claiming he kept America safe from attack by setting his Presidential clock to September 12th. Attacks may have been avoided in the post-9/11 world, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was President during nine months of warnings before that fateful day. Still, probably the biggest point in Bush’s legacy as President is the dramatic erosion of public trust in government.

Hearing Melee

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 13, 2009


Much of the speculation surrounding confirmation hearings is always a bit of gossip-page melee that political hacks can’t seem to shake. It’s a vicious tradition that is so ingrained in the American political psyche, ripping apart the Presidential nominee – part of it is purely psyho-social. But, it is also part political intimidation, a sort of rite of passage where the legislative branch has to test the fortitude of the executive branch. Senators – on both sides of the aisle – want to take a bite out of Obama’s “honeymoon” period, hence the grilling will be intense at times. The hearings will also be used as sharp negotiating tools as Congress mulls an $850 billion plus stimulus package.

Despite the celebrity spotlight on the Hillary Clinton hearings, the hearing to watch is Eric Holder’s for a number of reasons. Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) is looking to reassert himself, both on the Hill and back in his home state where he will face stiff opposition from Democrats looking to maximize gains made in the Keystone State in 2008. In the addition, any major judicial appointment or nomination, whether Supreme Court or AG, is an ideological lightning rod for conservatives. Holder’s tainted tenure in the Clinton Administration is an opening for Republicans.

And, look to Tim Geithner’s hearing as another intense battle as Senators will use it as an opportunity to promote their individual economic agendas as the country is faced with fiscal crisis. But, the real issue should also be the extent of Geitner’s relationships with Wall Street bankers and brokers, and what was happening on his watch as President of the New York Federal Reserve as the sub-prime mortgage bomb exploded.

Leon Panetta’s hearing should be fairly uneventful, since the focus is on the economy more so than national security on the moment. However, Sen. Feinstein is looking for a stage in the absence of Hillary Clinton – still, Panetta is being picked because there is a sense that the CIA needs a management overhaul. Hillary Clinton’s confirmation will sail through Committee, although tough questions will arise concerning her primary differences with then Candidate Obama and the extent of her husband’s global fundraising efforts. When looking at $10-$25 million donations from Saudi Arabia to Clinton’s foundation, Senators will sniff about for a quid pro quo, especially since we’re faced with renewed conflict in the Middle East.

Uneasy Times for Black Politicos

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 10, 2009


The (dis) appointment of Roland Burris appears to spin out of unnecessary control at every speeding   moment of the news cycle, even as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Illinois chum/senior Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) fail to see the full reality of it. Talking heads continue to spin numerous scenarios, each one as plausible and astonishing given the horrifically simple nature of the whole affair. Ultimately, somebody in Senate leadership will fall back into crusty disposition and conclude that they should have just let Burris in.

This is clearly an example of politicians slipping on the political cost-benefit analysis. Reid, privately accused by colleagues of chamber isolation, may have wrongly assumed that a Burris appointment by scandal-challenged Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) would damage Democratic prospects in the 111th Congress. Thus, he got skittish – and in that moment, he bucked up a bit too much for his own good. Beyond predictable grousing from shell-shocked Republicans and the typical gossip-page babble from the blogs, the drama over Burris would have evaporated into the dust of political past.

B&B, linked by geography and ambition, called the Majority Leader’s bluff from the moment it was announced. Reid jumped, instigated by Durbin. At the moment, as Burris readies legal action on promises unfulfilled, President-elect Obama is carpe diem on the sideline. It’s no mystery that Reid is a bit gruff on the brothers lately – from his recently disclosed resistance to high profile Black Senate appointments in Illinois to rather vocal indignation about not ” … work[ing] for Obama.” The perception is that Reid didn’t seem as aggressive when offered chances for pushback against the outgoing President. Suddenly, questions are mounting regarding the Majority Leader’s ability to manage his majority. Ousting Reid is not such a bad thing for a President-elect getting roughed up by an eager gang of Democratic leaders suddenly pumped over control on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some, like Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and a coterie of aging African American activists, point to race as a factor in Reid’s game. Comparisons to Bull Connor and George Wallace are a bit overstated and, on the real, over-the-top. Burris being turned away from Senate doors might be embarrassing, but hardly disturbing or on the level of head-knocking segregationist police, fire-hosed protesters or German Shepards gnawing on human beings. Certainly, one could accuse Reid of being a recluse, of underestimating Burris and the impact that race could have on the affair. This is where it got ugly. Burris suing the Senate majority is not a great start to a festive inaugural week. In fact, it’s downright distracting. Perhaps, Democrats, adjusting to new found super-majority status, are past the stage of euphoria. Or: there is some unseen, unspoken and unofficial period of collective national adjustment to the thought of a Black man running things. It’s setting in.

Too many folks are quick to claim “post-racial” transition in the final analysis of this election. It might be a “post-racial” election, but far from a “post-racial” era. In fact, we are about to experience tension between various expectations and realities that could, potentially, aggravate the racial dynamic – particularly during an economic downturn. The extent of this we can’t predict.

What is certain is that Blagojevich, as dense as he sounds on wiretaps, masterfully worked that tension to his own political advantage. In that sense, the Black political establishment, while in the bliss of ultimate political maturity, finds itself getting played. Before it could truly grasp the significance of reaching the next level, it’s held back by the grip of a dusty paradigm. Perhaps, there is a price that comes with maturity: for the jubilation of one Black President, there is the pain of multiple scandals. Burris may not be scandalous, but it is unfortunate that, on the cusp of becoming the lone African American in the Senate, he will be tainted by scandal. And he’s not alone. He may join colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, such as House Ways and Means Chair Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who face fresh money investigations. They are not alone – House Judiciary Chair. John Conyers’ (D-MI) wife, Detroit Councilwoman Monica Conyers, is under probe and newly minted California Rep. Laura Richardson (D) faces an ethics probe, as well. And, although gone from Congress, the smell of cash in former Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-LA) fridge is still fresh.

Elsewhere, as Obama reached heights once thought as unattainable, former Detroit “hip hop mayor” Kwame Kilpatrick (D) was jailed, his mother CBC Chair Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-MI) barely hanging on to her seat in the wake of the embattled son’s scandal. North Carolina State House Rep. Thomas Wright (D) sits in a Craven, NC prison for an eight year sentence. In Maryland, Baltimore’s first Black female Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) faces a 12-count indictment with Councilwoman Helen Holton separately charged in the same week. Nearby, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, powerful State Senator Ulysses Currie (D) also worries over an ongoing FBI probe.

These are uneasy times for African Americans in politics.