car·riage re·turn

n. the lever or mechanism on a typewriter that would cause the cylinder on which the paper was held (the carriage) to return to the left margin of the page

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Catching Up on the Latest Cabinet News

There’s been a good deal of news breaking in the last 24 or so hours,so I’ll try to catch up on that before posting Part IV in the “Filling the Cabinet”series (which will hopefully be ready for Friday morning publication). First,the news that broke late last night:

Gov. Napolitano for DHS,Penny Pritzker for Commerce?

I’ll have more to say on Gov. Napolitano and Ms. Pritzker in my National Security and Industry profiles. My immediate reaction toward these selections is mixed. I’d certainly expected the DHS job to go to a Democrat –specifically,Rep. Jane Harman. After the 2006 midterm elections,Rep. Harman (D-CA) was snubbed by Nancy Pelosi,who wanted in install an impeached and convicted US District Court Judge,Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL),as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence over the very senior Rep. Harman because she did not get along with Mrs. Harman and considered her a political rival.

In 1988 Pelosi,along with her chief lieutenant Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD),voted in favor of impeaching Hastings,who was subsequently convicted by the US Senate of perjury and corruption stemming from a $150,000 bribe he accepted in return for lenient sentencing of the defendant in a racketeering case. Hastings was only the sixth federal judge in US history to be removed from office. Pelosi was rightfully slammed for her partisan decision to back Hastings over Harman,and ultimately caved in under pressure,naming Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) to chair the committee. Jeff Stein of CQ Politics has advanced Rep. Harman as a potential head of the Central Intelligence Agency. I’ll have more to say about Rep. Harman (including her controversial defense of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program) should she ultimately wind up at the Agency.

With respect to Gov. Napolitano,as Secretary of Homeland Security she’ll have the lead on illegal immigration,something with which she is already well-acquainted (if not particularly distinguished) as a border state chief executive:

The one issue Republicans think they can use against the popular Napolitano is illegal immigration,because the huge number of border crossings have left many Arizonans feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Her critics claim she came to the problem late,but she seems to have navigated it deftly. Last November angry voters passed Proposition 200,which in part provides that undocumented aliens receive no state welfare benefits that they are not entitled to. Napolitano opposed it,as well as several bills that targeted illegal immigrants.

Instead,she looked to the systems and people that make illegal immigration possible:she ordered state contractors to ensure that their employees are legal,set up an undercover unit to catch forgers of identity documents and demanded the Federal Government,which is responsible for immigration,reimburse the $217 million Arizona has spent since 2003 on imprisoning undocumented aliens convicted of crimes. In mid-August she declared a state of emergency in Arizona to direct more funds to protecting border areas from illegal crossings.

- TIME,America’s 5 Best Governors,13 Nov 2005

Perhaps a choice tailored to achieving a working consensus on immigration policy (as well as other national security issues),The Washington Post‘s John Pomfret characterized Gov. Napolitano’s stance on illegal immigration as “too-tough for some,not-tough-enough for others.”It is notable that,in a supposedly red state,as of September Gov. Napolitano’s approval rating was (narrowly) higher than Arizona’s own John McCain,54%-53%. I haven’t yet done enough research to say if Gov. Napolitano’s the right person to head DHS,but her bipartisan appeal does make approval seem likely.

Of note:Gov. Napolitano is barred by term limits from running for reelection in 2010.

As for Ms. Pritzker,I don’t think much more research is necessary for me to form an opinion. To set the stage,here’s a Wall Street Journal article from 21 July 2008:

Billionaire Penny Pritzker helped run Hinsdale,Ill.-based Superior,overseeing her family’s 50% ownership stake. She now serves as Barack Obama’s national campaign-finance chairwoman,which means her banking past could prove to be an embarrassment to her —and perhaps to the campaign.

Superior was seized in 2001 and later closed by federal regulators. Government investigators and consumer advocates have contended that Superior engaged in unsound financial activities and predatory lending practices.

What kind of unsound financial practices? According to Mortgage News Daily:

Superior Bank was,in the early 2000s,a leading subprime lender and that operation continued,under FDIC supervision,for months. During this time,according to the Journal,Superior funded more than 6,700 new subprime loans worth more than $550 million. Most of these loans were subsequently sold to another bank. The problems was,many of these loans suffered from the same deficiencies as other subprime loans –unqualified borrowers,inflated appraisals,and inadequate verification of borrowers’incomes.

The WSJ states,“Hundreds of borrowers who took out Superior subprime loans on the FDIC’s watch –some with initial interest rates higher than 12 percent –have lost their homes to foreclosure.”The FDIC stopped funding new Superior loans in early 2002 and closed the lending operation by mid-year. [emphasis mine]

And what was Ms. Pritzer’s explanation for the closure of Superior Bank? From the same WSJ article linked to above:

In a written response to questions,Ms. Pritzker said the reasons for Superior’s fall “were complex. They include changes in accounting practices,auditing failures,reversals in regulatory positions and general economic conditions.”During her tenure at the thrift,she said,she believed it followed “ethical business practices”and complied with “fair lending laws.”For years,she said,Superior’s financial statements were found to be acceptable by regulators.

According to Infoplease,in 2002 the rate for a 15-year fixed mortgage was 6.02%;for a 30-year fixed mortgage,it was 6.56%. Even given the sub-prime status of these mortgages,an interest rate of double that for a regular 15-year fixed mortgage is highly suspect as an example of predatory lending. Ironically,as familiar with predatory lending as Ms. Pritzker is,she is also the chair of TransUnion,the third-largest consumer credit reporting agency in the United States.

Unlike Gov. Napolitano,who seems at the very least competent and credible,my initial reaction toward the selection of Ms. Pritzker is one of extreme animosity and trepidation.

Fmr. Senator Daschle appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services

I’ll admit to a certain relief when I heard President-elect Obama had (reportedly) named Tom Daschle to head up the Department of Health and Human Services,simply because that area of domestic policy hasn’t much attracted my interest. I know Tim has reservations about Sen. Daschle’s appointment,and I’m sure he’ll express them at some point. I haven’t yet read enough about Daschle’s plan or dug into his background sufficiently to address his appointment,but I will address it once I reach the Public Welfare section of the series. Hopefully by then I’ll be read up on it enough to give some decent insight.

One note:Politico indicates that Daschle will be more of a visionary leader than a hands-on administrator:

Daschle,who will be 61 next month,will focus on what the official called the “30,000-foot” part of the job,with powerful deputies handling day-to-day matters. “He’s going to do the broader perspective,” the official said.

Foggy Bottom Noise

Former Bush 41 Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger,recently interviewed by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC,offered his opinion on Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State:

“I’m not trying to defend her. I think she would be,in terms of a competent Secretary of State,I think she stands probably head and shoulders above anybody else I can think of,”he said. “There are all these peculiar connections that the Clintons have had for years,and I can’t deny any of those. I do believe,however,when it comes to the serious issues of foreign affairs,she probably brings more to the job than most of the other possible candidates.”

Ms. Mitchell followed up that comment by asking Mr. Eagleburger in turn his opinion on other prospective appointees:

  • On Bill Richardson:

“Again,I don’t want to beat everybody to death,but I have very little respect for his intelligence and his knowledge of foreign affairs.”

  • On John Kerry:

“Good. But is he able to stand up to the Vice President? I’m not sure of that.”

Personally,I don’t think John Kerry could stand up to a reasonably bright college sophomore armed with a modestly-written Wikipedia précis,but I’m sure there are those who would disagree.

  • On Chuck Hagel (who I’ll be profiling on Friday):

“I think he could be a good Secretary of State. I shouldn’t deny that. I think he could be quite good.”

As a matter of note,in a 2002 interview on CNN,Mr. Eagleburger said of a possible invasion of Iraq,“I am not at all convinced now that this is something we have to do this very moment.”

David Bromwich,writing for The Huffington Post,was much less enthusiastic about the apparent offer of the Secretaryship to Sen. Clinton:

It is said that Barack Obama has read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book,Team of Rivals,about the war cabinet of Abraham Lincoln. It is said Obama wants to constitute his cabinet out of former rivals because he liked the book and he models himself on Lincoln.

Implausible as it sounds,this is the best explanation anyone has given of the offer of the position of secretary of state to Hillary Clinton. Lincoln took William Seward at State,and Seward was a rival indeed,but he had fought for Lincoln with ferocious loyalty and all his eloquence throughout the campaign,and he put his considerable vote-getting power at Lincoln’s disposal. What can be said for Hillary Clinton? She fought against Obama until the last possible moment,and on the way exploited,for the purpose of discrediting him,most of the devices the Republicans would later tap in the general election. She said Obama had not shown himself fit to be commander-in-chief. She pretended not to know for sure whether or not he was a Muslim.

Team of Rivals is a pleasant work of popular history,only harmful to the extent that you weave fantasies around it. Anyone who cares about Obama’s fortunes after his first large public mistake (for even to offer Clinton the position was a mistake) should close his copy of Goodwin and open the actual words of Hillary Clinton on Iraq,and the things Barack Obama said about those words.

Mr. Bromwich elaborates his concern by citing key instances in what he sees as a larger pattern of missteps on the part of the President-elect:

Signs going as far back as July,and as near as yesterday,from persons “close to Barack Obama”ranging from Patrick Leahy to Cass Sunstein,have suggested there ought to be no serious investigation of crimes around domestic surveillance and torture. What of the hundreds of Bush appointees sown throughout the departments and the agencies? These people’s ideas of right and wrong will come in part from what the new administration shows itself to care about and what it prefers to disregard. Indifference in this setting is not magnanimity.

Tuesday the Democrats voted to allow Joe Lieberman to keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. Lieberman did his worst to tear down Barack Obama in 2008 by questioning his love of his country and his fitness to lead a secure government. Compare Lieberman and Clinton now with another person who has been mentioned for secretary of state,Chuck Hagel. Hagel accompanied Obama on his foreign tour even as Lieberman accompanied McCain. That we are not now at war with Iran may also be owed in part to a courageous letter that Hagel wrote to Admiral Fallon last October,on the recklessness of American saber rattling–this,when Clinton and Lieberman were voting the AIPAC line and saying,with docility,that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was a terrorist organization. They hoped if there was a war it would be over by the election.

Mr. Bromwhich’s conclusion is essentially suggestive of a streak of evident appeasement in the President-elect’s character. He finds this problematic because “A party in control must in some respects resemble any other institution that hopes to maintain itself. Reward those who sap and undermine,and you likewise discourage those who are loyal. People will practice the bad arts that they see are profitable.”

To my mind,Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Lieberman have been rewarded enough in the last few days,Clinton by even entering consideration as a plausible Secretary of State (much less the apparent front-runner for the job),and Lieberman for not being run out of the Democratic caucus on a unsanded,sliver-riddled hickory rail.

Tweedle Dee &Tweedle Dum (Rubin &Summers)

While we’re on the subject of bad ideas,Robert Scheer wrote the following for Truthdig:

This is not change we can believe in. Not if Robert Rubin or his protégé,Lawrence Summers,get to call the shots on the economy in President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration. Both Clinton-era treasury secretaries deserve a great deal of the blame for the radical deregulation of the financial industry that has derailed the world economy. They both should,along with former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan,perform rites of contrition and be kept at a safe distance from the leadership of our nation.

If either of these jokers is named Treasury Secretary,at least they’ll have a friend in Ms. Pritzker over in Commerce.

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