Thursday, January 29, 2009

Repeal TARP !!

1. Repeal TARP I !!! **

2. Take back all the money we gave to the ungrateful banks !!!

3. Then pass a tough, tough, tough new TARP 2 that makes them shape up and eat crow !!!

Oh, and while we're at it, let's dig up Teddy Roosevelt and start Busting Trusts again !!!

Read Ken's program to save the American economy. Boot Camp for Wall Street!

Coming soon, only in Guerrilla History.
** The Troubled Asset R elief Program, better know as the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout.

That was quick.

Unanimous votes make me nervous.
Here are the details, if you haven' seen them already:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hold your nose, but Blago deserves civil liberties too!

So much about this case stinks. Here is a sitting Governor, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, accused by Chicago Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of terrible things: trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat, trying to blackmail the Chicago Tribune, trying to shake down a childrens’ hospital for money, and more. His scandal has stained an entire generation of talented Illinois public figures including Jesse Jackson Jr., Rahm Emanuel, and Obama himself, just for coming in contact with them.

But there's more. The rampant public vilification of Blago since the charges, the ridicule (even from supposedly objective newsmen like CNN’s Anderson Cooper), the snide dismissals of him as crazy, the assumption of guilt, this stinks too. Yes, under our system of law, until proven guilty, even Blago deserves to be presumed innocent. He has denied the charges. Maybe he’s lying. Maybe he’s not. I don't know, but neither do you.

The treatment of his case, to a great extent brought on himself, has been abominable.

Can Blago really be innocent? So far, all we actually know are the prosecutor's charges and the snippets of evidence he has decided to disclose. Patrick Fitzgerald may be a fine man and an exceptional lawyer, but prosecutors are not always right and not always fair. They sometimes get carried away with their crusades, even when acting in perfectly good faith. That’s why, in this country, before we deem anyone guilty of a crime and send them to jail, we first guarantee them due process of law, the right to state their case, to confront their accusers, to present their evidence and arguments, to speak in their own defense, to have a lawyer, to have their case decided by a jury.

So far, Blago has had none of these things. The media presumes him guilty. The US Senate presumes him guilty. The Illinois legislature presumes him guilty. He is an inconvenient, detested political pariah with poll rated in the single digits.

And worse, rather than a court of law, he faces the prospect of having his case heard first by a group of politicians in the Illinois State Senate. And one of the first decisions these politicians made was to limit his right to call witnesses in his defense. Bloggo asked for a slew of celebrities: Rahm Emanuel, Jesse Jackson, and others. Was this merely a publicity ploy? Maybe. Would it be embarrassing and uncomfortable for them to appear? Certainly. But that's not the point. If they have evidence that could clear his name, then Blago has the right to have it presented before being found guilty. The legislature could have found a way to accommodate Emanual, Jackson, et al, perhaps by hearing them first in executive session before deciding whether to call them publicly. But it chose not to.

I certainly understand Blago’s decision to boycott his Illinois impeachment trial and instead flee to New York City to plead his case out TV talk shows. If Blago is indeed guilty, then he has nothing to lose. The State legislators will convict him anyways. And of he is innocent, then he preserves his rights for the better tribunal, a court of law, where he can avail himself of full legal rights. His presence before the illinois Senate would only lend legitimacy to a forum he claims is a stacked against him.

Maybe Blagojevich should have stepped down from office while his case was being heard so the State could function smoothy. But if he actually is innocent (and, again, he may be lying), what a terrible precedent that would be.

Blago is no fool. His handling of his appointment of Roland Burrus to the US Senate proves he is crazy as a fox. The Illinois Senate may impeach him and kick him out of office in the next few weeks, but that won't end the story. If Blago goes kicking and screaming and protesting his innocence, then prepare yourselves for the huge book deal, the TV reality show, and the slew of revisionist literature that will surely clog the airwaves and bookstores pronouncing him a victim of prosecutorial abuse.

That’s what happens when you deny civil liberties, even to an apparent scoundrel like Blago.
Where is Clarence Darrow when we need him?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why rank Gerald Ford so high?

So, literally minutes after I posted my c-span presidental rankings last week (see Jan. 18, below), two friends shot back the question: Why Gerald Ford? How on earth did he deserve such a high rank?

"How did Gerald Ford break into the top 10?" wrote my legal colleague David Durkin. "You're not a 'great President' simply for not repeating the abuse of power that led to your immediate predecessor's eventual ouster."

"How did Gerry Ford crack the top ten?" echoed Jim Hershberg, author of the terrific biography of Harvard nuclear bomb-meister James B. Conant, who added "(Love it that you rated him higher than RR.)"

What's the story with Gerry Ford? Wasn't he just a dupe, a dope, a boob, a joke on Saturday Night Live, that creep who pardoned Richard Nixon? Wasn't he the bumbling guy portrayed by SNL's Chevy Chase? The mediocrity chosen as VP by a cynical Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate as a stop-gap against impeachment, that the country would consider Ford not up to the job?

Yes, it's true, most historians rate him lower than I do. The c-span 1999 poll rated him #23, and other recent polls rate him #27 or #28. Obviousy, I see it differenlty.

I have always admired Gerald Ford. Its no mystery to me why Gerald Ford's friends and neighbors in Michigan elected him to Congress thirteen times before Nixon tapped him in 1973 to replace bribe-taking VP Spiro Agnew, who had recently been forced to resign. Nixon knew the Democratic-majority Congress would confirm Ford, even on being nominated by a widely-hated scoudrel like himself. (The Senate cofirmation vote was 92-3; the House 387-35.) Everyone liked Gerry Ford, even if they hated Nixon.
Why? There are times in our history when something simple and basic like being a normal, level-headed, tolerant, self-effacing, non-paranoid human being counts for plenty. By 1974, after almost ten years of LBJ and Nixon, Vietnam and Watergate, the Credibility Gap, the flood of arrogance, lies, and deceit from Washington, the simple disarming honesty of Gerald Ford suddenly in the White House was a profound statement, a remarkable breath of fresh air.

Gerald Ford was nobody's fool. He could take a ribbing from Chevy Chase and laugh at himself, but that was no sign of weakness. Ford was a Yale-trained lawyer, a World War II Navy combat veteran, and a college football standout at Michigan.
Ford had a deliberate goal as President of re-unifying the country after Vietnam and Watergate. Yes, he pardoned Nixon, but he also offered amnesty to Vietnam draft resisters. He twice avoided re-engaging the country in Southeast Asian wars, both in 1975, first when Cambodian forces seized the US merchant ship Mayaguez, then again when North Vietnam launched its final assault on Saigon.
Today we appreciate the danger of deficits and wasteful Federal spending; Gerald Ford issued 66 presidential vetoes, mostly of Appropriations Bills, and made all but twelve stick. Today we lament a Republican Party cow-towing to the Ideological Right; Gerald Ford stood squarely with moderates, nominating as his own VP not Ronald Reagan, but rather Reagan's nemesis, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Today we cringe at how Presidents and candidates too-often treat their families as stage props; Ford gave us his wife Betty, a dancer, free thinker, and outspoken feminist, not shy talking about her human foibles.
All in all, a pretty good legacy. "I'm not a Lincoln, I'm just a Ford," Ford himself quipped at one point. There are times when a Ford is exactly the right thing. That's why I rated him #10.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why James Garfield over LBJ and the Adamses?

James A. Garfield accepting surrender of US Grant at the 1880 Republican convention after 36 ballots.  
Since I posted my Presidential rankings for the C-SPAN 2009 Historians Survey a few days ago, I've received pointed questions from friends about some of my choices. (See January 18 post below.)

For instance, how could I put Gerald Ford so high on the list, in the top ten, for God's sake? And what was I thinking in ranking James Garfield, who served only four months before being shot in the back, above LBJ and both the Adamses? And, in putting George W. Bush at the near-bottom (#41 out of 43), wasn't I just following a liberal fad that will disappear in a few years, much as Harry Truman has gained popularity over time.

Over the next few days, I will tackle each of these. Yes, Gerald Ford deserves his high spot. Yes, James Garfield outranks LBJ, John Adams, and John Quincy. And no, George W. Bush's bottom status is no passing liberal fancy. Bush is no Harry Truman. He will be considered as much a bottom-feeder a century from now as today.

I'll start with James Garfield, only because this was the first challenge to come up. Stick with me.

The basics are simple: James Garfield, a Civil War veteran and career Congressman, was elected President in 1880, inaugurated in March 1881, shot by Charles Guiteau four months later, and died about two months after that. He was mourned by hundreds of thousands, respected for confronting political bosses, and credited with the modern Civil Service system adopted after his death.

During his term, he prevailed over Sen. Roscoe Conkling, dictator of the NY Republican machine, in a high-profile brawl over abusive patronage. His Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, started the country on a strong foreign policy that culminated in TR's "big stick" approach twenty years later.  Here (above) is my favorite cartoon of Garfield, by PUCK artist Joseph Keppler, showing Garfield accepting the surrender of Ulysses Grant at the 1880 Republican Convention after Grant's 3rd term movement collapsed on the 36th ballot:

It was my friend David Stewart, author of the terrific book THE SUMMER OF 1787: The Men who Invented the US Constitution, who blew the whistle on me. "Whoa, big fella!," he wrote, knowing of my own book about the Garfield assassintion, (DARK HORSE). " James Garfield ahead of Lyndon Johnson and both Adamses? We're dishing out some home-cooking here. Remind us again, what did Garfield do as president?"

Good question. So let's deal with it squarely.

Ranking presidents means making choices. James Garfield's presidency had only a small impact because it was so short. Even giving him maximum credit, he stand mid-pack, slightly above center, which is where I ranked him, at #18.

Now let's look at the competition.

Lyndon Baines Johnson? We can start and end the conversation with one word: Vietnam. I don't recall James Garfield ever going out and getting the country stuck in a full-scale land war half-way around the world, commiting half-a-million troops to the effort, most unwilling draftees, all based on bad intelligence and bad advice, then misleading the country as tens of thousands died, then allowing the war to spin out of control and destroy his domestic agenda, causing the country then to react by electing an even worse leader in Richard M. Nixon.

This is LBJ's legacy. Yes, he had a sterling record on Civil Rights and passed a boatload of Great Society legislation. But his own Democratic Party was ready to kick him overboard when he declined to run for re-election in 1968. Without his Civil Rights record, Vietnam easily would have sunk LBJ to the bottom half of the list. As is, I gave him much credit for his domestic agenda, with an overall rank of #19.  I think he owes me a "thank you."

Then there are the Adamses. Let's start with John Adams, the second president, serving from 1797 to 1801, the first to be voted out of office. Yes, he came across wonderfully in that terrific HBO miniseries where he was play by the fine actor Paul Giamatti, based on the biography by David McCullough. And yes, John Adams was a sterling patriot and fine man during most of his life.

But his presidency was a sorry mess. Its emblem was the Alien and Seditions Acts. I do not recall James Garfield ever pushing Congress to pass a law allowing him to throw dozens of newspaper editors in jail for the simple act of publicly opposing his foreign policy, as well as locking up large numbers of immigrants on trumped up claims of disloyalty -- as did John Adams. The abuse was flagrant.

Adams showed his bad temperament again after losing re-election in 1800 by refusing to act civilly toward Thomas Jefferson, the person who beat him, at Jefferson's 1801 Inauguration. I rated Adams the best I could given a bad record. He ranked #31 on my list, just above Rutherford Hayes and William Howard Taft. Once again, I am ready to accept a "thank you" note from the Adams family.

Finally, there is John Quincy, whom I rate well above his father at #25, though still mediocre. Another fine man; another disappointing president. From the moment he entered office, his political opponents branded his Administration the product of a "corrupt bargain," and for four years the albatross stuck, fair or not.

That's the explanation. I am very comfortable with where I placed James Garfield, notwithstanding LBJ and the Adamses. Tomorrow, I'll talk about Gerald Ford.

Thanks for listening. --KenA

Friday, January 23, 2009

Advice for Caroline Kennedy

Personally, I'm glad NY Governor David Paterson decided to choose a lesser-known New York politico for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, passing over two leading celebrity pols: Caroline Kennedy and State AG Andrew Cuomo. It's good to give new talent a chance. Whether upstate Cong. Kirsten Gillibrand will be able to handle to bright lights and unblinking eyes of the NY media, time will now tell.

Still, I sympathize for Caroline Kennedy. By every appearance, she seems a very decent private person who does a lot of good for important causes. But she allowed herself to be pressured into launching a dismal campaign w/o basic preparation, marked by poor staff work, and no clear message, hoping that her name, her place in the public heart as cute cuddly child of JFK, plus strong-arming by high-powered family backers like uncle Ted Kennedy, would make up for lack of qualifications. It created an image (fair or not) of an undeserving, spoiled celebrity demanding a prize she never earned.

Even fans of Kennedys (and I count myself one) cringed at the spectacle. She was simply the wrong Kennedy cousin for the job, since so many others have built strong records of public service over the years. Not surprisingly, it all failed.

So, on the day after it all collapsed, my advice for Caroline Kennedy is this:

First, accept failure as failure. Don't gripe at the press or the governor. Don't complain about mud-slinging. That's all part of the game. The problem was on your side. Your basic campaign failed. If you ever expect to try again, you must now go back, thoroughly dissect what went wrong, and learn from it. Consider the whole thing as a tuition payment for a first-rate education in real-life politics.

Second, have a good laugh. Self-deprecating humor is the most healthy kind, both for your own psyche as well as public consumption. Your campaign's collossal loss can soon make a very funny story for you to tell. And if you lead the laugh, it takes out the sting.

Third, close the door and scream at your advisors. They did a terrible job. Before sending you out before the press, why on earth did they not train you, prep you, make you practice in front of a camera, pepper you with tough questions, send you to campaign boot camp? It was their job to show you your weaknesses so your could fix them. (Like all those on-camera "you knows.") Instead, they fed you to the lions and stood aside. It was their fault. Don't let them off the hook.

Finally, go back to enjoying life. Your have a good one. That age-old wisdom is true: The best revenge is living well.

I wish best of luck to Caroline and Kirsten both. All the best. --KenA

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rating the Presidents

I recently had the chance to particitate in C-SPAN's new poll of historians to rate the Presidents, the "2009 Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership." The overall group's results will be released around Presidents Day 2009.

Here's the list I submitted, with my cumulative raw score for each. (Ratings were based on ten elements: economic management, crisis leadership, vision, international relations, so on.) It's certainly full of my own prejudice and bias, with many arguable points. George W. Bush appears only as 41st out of 43. I ranked two as worse: Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. I gave the top spot to George Washington, narrowly edging out Abe Lincoln (downgraded for treatment of wartime dissent and choosing a lousy successor) and FDR (some of whose New Deal programs didn't work very well).

Free free to disagree or haggle with any of it. All the best. --KenA

1. George Washington 90
2. Abraham Lincoln 88
3. F.D. Roosevelt 87
4. T. Roosevelt 76
5. Thomas Jefferson 70

6. Andrew Jackson 66
7. Dwight Eisenhower 63
8. James Monroe 62
9. Harry Truman 62
10. Gerald Ford 61

11. Ronald Reagan 61
12. George H.W. Bush 60
13. Bill Clinton 60
14. James Polk 60
15. Wm. McKinley 59

16. Woordow Wilson 59
17. J.F. Kennedy 58
18. James Garfield 57
19. Lyndon B. Johnson 56
20. Calvin Coolidge 56

21. James Madison 55
22/23. Grover Cleveland 53
24. Chester A. Arthur 53
25. John Quincy Adams 53

26. Benjamin Harrison 53
27. Ulysses Grant 52
28. Jimmy Carter 50
29. Zachary Taylor 51
30. Wm. Henry Harrison 51

31. John Adams 50
32. Rutherford Hayes 49
33. John Tyler 48
34. Wm.Howard Taft 48
35. Herbert Hoover 46

36. Martin Van Buren 45
37. Richard M. Nixon 44
38. Millard Fillmore 43
39. Warren G. Harding 42
40. Franklin Pierce 42

41. George W. Bush 40
42. James Buchanan 40
43. Andrew Johnson 36