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Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is a regular guest on some of the conservative talk radio shows. The term “talk radio” is often used synonymously with “conservative talk radio,” but in fact there are other formats. I remember growing up in suburban Boston, and people used to listen to a radio host named Paul Benzaquin, something of a radio legend in Boston, whose afternoon show consisted of people calling in to discuss various news topics. In those days this format was a novelty.
In recent years, though, the commercial talk format with the most success is in fact conservative talk. This has bothered liberal talkers who, for whatever reasons, can’t seem to garner the audiences that the conservative hosts do. And since audiences roughly equal revenue, most of the sponsorship dollars accrue to conservative talk radio. In this particular arena of ideas, one side wins.
Clearly, the conservative point of view did not prevail in the most recent national elections. To the contrary, conservatives and conservatism were sent packing. It looks like the biggest shift since the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. If anything, the conservative – or at least the Republican – members of Congress look cowed and lost.
Yet Sen. DeMint felt compelled to add an amendment to the District of Columbia voting rights bill that would prohibit from reinstatement of the old Fairness Doctrine. DeMint is calculating that getting DC a voting member of Congress is so much more important to its partisans than reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, that the DC bill will pass even with the DeMint amendment.
The Fairness Doctrine, repealed in 1985 after a controversial history, required equal (though not equal time) and balanced presentation of points of view within radio programs. You can date the rise of conservative talk radio to shortly after repeal.
Conservatives view restoration of the Fairness Doctrine as a gambit to neutralize them by diluting their radio format. Beyond the Fairness Doctrine, there are other ways the liberal Obama government could try and neutralize conservative talk radio. These include rules to reduce ownership concentration of radio stations, which in turn enables wider and easier syndication of popular hosts.
In the clash of ideas – and it is a clash – I am always skeptical when one side tries to limit the ability of the opposite side to state its case. Those that would limit anyone’s freedom of speech simply have never read the Constitution. Or if they did, they didn’t understand it (to paraphrase Harry Truman’s crack about Richard Nixon).
Yet the move to re-regulate radio has its adherents: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) offered an amendment that also passed. It would require the FCC to take whatever action is necessary to "encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership.” Whatever that means.
To an astonishing degree, radio – and all of the older forms of media – has competition unimagined back in 1985. The Internet really has changed everything such that there is no point of view whose proponents can’t make widely available. Liberal blogging is at least as potent a force as conservative radio. People can get opinions from literally countless sources now, radio being merely one of them. Media ownership is nothing if not diversified.
As a political and constitutional matter, the Obama administration ought to come out strongly against any attempt to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, either directly via the FCC or indirectly via ownership or diversity rules. As a constitutional issue, it is unlikely to pass muster. As a political issue, the administration would risk looking petty and hypocritical given that the president’s own weekly radio address and other communications are distributed widely through the Internet.
Right off the bat, the new administration should enunciate what IT initiatives from the Bush administration are staying, and which are going. My hunch is the transition team knows already what it want to keep or axe, so why keep career feds waiting? From everything you read and hear, you’d think the Dark Ages have ended and now we are headed toward Renaissance and Enlightenment. Maybe, but a few things seem worth keeping. I would nominate the Federal Core Desktop Configuration, the Trusted Internet Connection and the collection of web activities themed around transparency—USA.gov, Expectmore.gov, and USAspending.gov. Web sites are plastic, and the Obama administration can reshape them any way it wants. But why throw out good platforms and the development time and dollars that went with them?
Even with his inauguration still a couple of months off, President-elect Barack Obama faces a problem that is growing like The Blob. No, not the economy, but the ineptitude with the way the Federal response to the economy is shaping up. The mess will not retreat with the departure of the Bush team.
With each passing day, the carrying out of the bailout law mutates another generation from its original form. The Troubled Asset Relief Plan, or TARP, was enacted to let the Federal government buy the mortgage-backed securities dragging down the financial institutions that hold them. Now it has melted into a general relief fund for industries in trouble who are lining up for a handout.
In recent days, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has become hot under the collar trying to explain repeated restarts of the bailout plan. Paulson has two problems. First, the program has changed from buying the troubled assets held by financial institutions in the hopes of reselling them later, to buying everything but the assets for which TARP was originally named. Now the Treasury is buying preferred stock. Second, the credit and finance markets that were supposed to loosen up under the bailout have barely done so. The result? Many Americans, to say nothing of members of Congress, ask why their tax dollars are being spent at all.
A third problem is mechanics of the program itself. The staff and processes to execute the rescue are hardly in place.
Now comes the General Motors (GM)/Ford Motor bailout gambit. GM chairman Rick Wagoner keeps saying bankruptcy is not an option. Insiders say what he means is Chapter 11, under which the company could reorganize and conceivably have a chance of surviving in a properly-scaled way. So he is telling lawmakers that, should GM run out of cash before it receives money from the government, it would go bankrupt under Chapter 7, meaning liquidation and the long-tentacled implications of that. Estimates run to $350 billion in lost tax revenues from GM itself, its employees, and the taxes generated by the company’s vast supply and dealer chain.
GM is in effect threatening the nuclear option as an alternative to a Federal bailout.
For Obama, this all means he’ll have some ‘splainin’ to do come January 21.
To be sure, the Bush administration has done an abysmal job of explaining the reasons for the rescue plan. For that matter, it failed to make the plausible case that the whole financial emergency has its roots in Democratic housing policy.
Whatever. It will be Obama’s burden to sell continuation of the rescue. And will be his job to stand up to blackmail from the domestic auto industry.
Obama faces an even knottier problem. His dilemma will be this: demanding that GM reorganize with new management under Chapter 11 as a condition of government-backed loans will mean the older, heavily unionized factories will be the ones to close, and union contracts will have to be abrogated. There is no other way.
Obama, though, is beholden to no one more than the unions, which raised hundred of millions of dollars for his campaign. So the GM policy which would be best for the United States (U.S.) would also be the worst for the United Auto Workers (UAW).
To take this a step further, the union agenda under the new Democratic majorities and presidency is anathema to the rest of the U.S. auto industry, the relatively healthy part. GM, Ford, and Chrysler have been sick for a long time. But the market for cars in the U.S. has been just fine until this economic reversal. Toyota and Honda, for example, build in the U.S. most of the cars they sell here. They do so in mostly non-union plants outside of Michigan—the most heavily unionized, most heavily taxed, and most fiscally dire state.
Topping unions’ agenda is elimination of secret balloting for establishing union representation, coupled with sharp limits on companies’ rights to counter union appeals.
No doubt the non-unionized auto plants are among the targets of unions planning for a restoration to, say, 1937. What effect might that have on the auto plants if the goal is pay and benefits that now exist in UAW contracts?
Few are really knowledgeable of what Obama is made of. But we’ll find out soon.
The economic rescue package just signed into law looms large as a transition challenge for the incoming president.
Both candidates supported the legislation, so both must be prepared to live with it should he become president.
Because leadership in the Senate larded up the bailout parts of the legislation with tax and health benefits—the sweeteners—the bill has something for nearly every department in the executive branch.
The big roles, those concerned with the acquisition of so-called toxic assets and the whole galaxy of oversight that goes with it, fall on Treasury, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Commission. So one interesting question is this: Would either John McCain or Barack Obama consider retaining Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, at least for a couple of years, to make sure the rescue plan is implemented as everyone envisions? What about FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair?
It’s an odd turn of events in that most of the speculation has been on Homeland Security, which has made a great show of its transition planning. But the staid and dull Treasury has emerged as the most critical department going into transition. Unless the next administration keeps Paulson, the rescue process of buying and selling the mortgage securities will be particularly challenging, like a relief pitcher coming into a game in the 2nd inning facing loaded bases, no one out and the fat part of the order.
Other agencies that are busy because of the bailout include the FDIC, at the moment figuring out how it will raise its reserves to the minimum necessary to insure $250,000 deposits. Also the SEC, which is tasked with studying possible changes in asset accounting rules. This occurs even as the SEC wonders whether it will survive the re-regulatory fever gripping Capitol Hill.
Don’t forget to feel sorry for the IRS. Its IT staff must undertake extensive reprogramming of agency systems to account for all the new tax changes included in the economic rescue bill—presuming the managers can figure them all out.
Maybe because they can’t ever resist, lawmakers added provisions for mental health to the bill. That means Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration have to develop new standards and rules for the providers of this type of care. That includes a ban on discrimination based on genetics. The Labor Department gets the job of auditing health plans to make sure they comply.
Energy, EPA and Transportation will be involved in rulemaking for energy tax provisions that extend even to the Chevrolet Volt, a super-hybrid car not even yet on the market.
Far from being merely a rescue bill, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is an omnibus that involves large swatches of the federal government and presents new work for the next administration.
One of the great scenes in American literature centers on a baby’s bottom.
Mayoral candidate and political newcomer Kevin McClusky, is seeking to unseat the experienced, dubiously ethical incumbent, Frank Skeffington. McClusky favors the new medium of television. One television interview features the entire McClusky family. In our scene, the show is being viewed by a disloyal Skeffington supporter, Festus Garvey.
McClusky’s baby daughter, Valerie, “toddles over to her father and, in the process of hauling herself up onto her father’s knee, seems to get stuck midway. She struggles to pull herself up, her little dress shoots up in the back, and the camera is focused for a long, dominant moment on the cunning sight of the little backside, encased in little rubber pants. It is a touching and comic sight...
“’Oh, by God that’s good!” Festus Garvey cried in admiration...By God the little behind is worth a thousand votes in the pocket. What decent mother could vote against the lovin’ father of that little behind?’”
Edwin O’Connor, in The Last Hurrah, understood an essential political truth back in 1956.
Elections produce images that can possess great power. Whether they occur spontaneously, which is rare now, or are ginned up, images can connect with voters at an emotional level that policies, positions and platforms simply don’t.
The current presidential campaign has already produced a few. Who will forget the image, during Sarah Palin’s Republican convention speech, of Palin’s daughter, Piper, licking her hand and smoothing baby brother Trig’s hair?
By God, that was good!
I cite Palin because she is winning the images battle.
Forgetting about politics, you’ve got to admit that the reaction in elite media and entertainment circles against Sarah Palin as vice presidential choice of John McCain, well it borders on hysteria. Hard as they throw dirt at her, the more popular she seems to grow. An outburst by actor Alec Baldwin, whose tastelessness has acquired a kind of grandeur, probably gained Palin 10 counties.
One reason is those images. She’s on Newsweek’s cover with a shotgun over her shoulder, for Pete’s sake. Inside, she’s wrapped in a gigantic Old Glory. She’s in the new WSJ. magazine from the Wall Street Journal running on a beach, ponytail bobbing.
And there’s Piper smoothing Trig’s little head.
Nobody’s passionate about Sen. Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s running mate. Biden? Older white guy—are those hair implants?
John F. Kennedy replays now, in our heads, playing touch football, sailing, walking barefoot on the beach, bending to kiss his stroke-stilled father’s pate. Richard Nixon will always have a sweaty chin, but he squeaked by years later, saved by live television of cops whacking away on kids outside the ’68 Democratic convention. Wasn’t that the year Ed Muskie shed a tear, or seemed to, on the steps of the Manchester Union Leader? (He walked on the beach, but in business suit and dress shoes.) George H.W. Bush glanced at his watch during a debate with Bill Clinton.
Barack Obama hasn’t really produced much in the way of imagery. If anything, one thinks of detachment. In his big rally speeches, in Germany and Denver, the dominant image is of a man walking alone up a ramp to the rostrum, at the crowd but apart from it. He’s a cool dude, but he is a man more of smooth words than arresting images. John McCain’s power images consist of black and white footage depicting his Vietnam services years, including his captivity in the Hanoi Hilton. They don’t seem to have moved groups of voters the way Palin’s imagery has.
Images by themselves don’t decide elections. Voters are emotional, true, but only to a point. They also possess a rational side. In a close election like this one, imagery might nudge it.
McClusky beat Skeffington.
One thing the next president will face is something that would put any red-blooded candidate to sleep: federal acquisition. So my recommendation for Messrs. McCain and Obama is this: Start figuring out who your federal procurement policy point person is going to be.
Acquisition doesn’t put me to sleep. Like a secular Talmud, the Federal Acquisition Regulation is a rich, deep pool of accumulated wisdom and reaction to long-ago events. Who could be bored by that? So from a strictly intellectual standpoint, the devising and execution of acquisition strategies is far more than a technical or bureaucratic exercise.
It’s an art form.
It’s an art form in the sense that a practitioner has available a wide palette of tools and approaches. Typically, acquisition officers, consulting with their program team counterparts, spend a lot of time deciding on the best strategy for a particular buy. Cost-plus? Fixed Price? Requirements contract? Task order series? Will it require a competitive demonstrations?
But—and this is where acquisition morphs into its more bureaucratic and technical phase—once a way is chosen and vendors notified, the agency is obligated to stick with its strategy to the letter.
And this is what is so puzzling about the Air Force’s tanker deal. The service needs to buy 179 new tankers, in three lots over the next 20 years. Hence the designation KC-X for the first lot, followed by KC-Y and KC-Z.
GAO, in sustaining Boeing’s protest, threw the book at the Air Force.
I’ll start at the conclusion: The right thing to happen now is for the Air Force to start over, and revaluate the bids according to its stated criteria.
What it must also do is shut its ears to members of Congress screeching about buy-American or American jobs. Those things don’t apply to this acquisition.
To its credit, the GAO stuck to the Air Force’s conduct relative to how it said it would conduct the competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Its 67-page report upholding the protest didn’t get into the stupid issues about which the politicians from Washington state and elsewhere have gotten so exercised. Issues like jobs and “foreign” competition. They’re stupid because there’s not much difference in how many U.S. jobs would ensue with either contractor. They are irrelevant because such considerations aren’t included in the FAR or in this acquisition.
No, the Air Force got flak for not doing in the evaluation what it said it would do in the solicitation. For instance, it gave extra weight to the fact that the Northrop proposed platform is bigger and will carry more fuel than Boeing’s. Each bidder had a threshold and a maximum performance to meet in various functions, but above the maximum it wasn’t supposed to matter.
But the Air Force went ahead and made it matter, so the Northrop’s bigger plane—the infamous Airbus-derivative—got too much credit relative to the smaller Boeing 767 derivative. In so doing “the agency violated the solicitation’s evaluation provision that ‘no consideration will be provided for exceeding [key performance parameter] KPP objectives,’” GAO stated.
By the same token, the Air Force blithely ignored Northrop’s refusal to meet a material solicitation requirement—namely that it establish an “organic” maintenance depot within two years. Even worse, the Air Force didn’t bother to find out for sure if the Northrop plane was even capable of refueling all of the aircraft it would be required to—even drones.
It goes on and on. GAO did not uphold every count of Boeing’s protest, but the tone and weight of report is undisputable. The Air Force, already in political trouble, screwed up a huge and politically sensitive acquisition.
No matter that the next presidential inauguration is more than a year away. Already, a transitional frame of mind has crept into many heads in the federal IT community. Which initiatives of the Bush administration have the legs to traverse a new administration and which don't?
I'll say outright I expect the language and emphases will change, but a lot of the activities that now occupy CIOs and worry contractors will continue.
The question is more complicated than it seems at first. Two reasons: One: A given administration initiative often has a legislative counterpart. That not only keeps it alive legally, but also means there's a member who makes the initiative his or her hobby even as presidents come and go. Examples are the Federal Information Security Management Act and the Federal Activities Inventory Reporting Act.
And two, because initiatives form at three levels, making them hard to simply wipe away.
Here's what I mean. At the highest level is an administration's philosophy, the general approach it brings to the policies it institutes. The Clinton administration favored a smaller government workforce amplified by technology. And it sure produced a smaller workforce, cutting the ranks of federal workers by an estimated 300,000.
The Bush administration has a corporate mindset that's accelerated the rate of outsourcing, to the point where contractors perform managerial work.
At the next level down are policies and regulations. To call the President's Management Agenda the centerpiece of this administration's approach to running the government is an understatement. OMB appointees have treated it with zeal, almost like their Constitution or their Torah -- a touchstone anchoring every activity.
"Thou shalt integrate budget and performance. Thou shalt source strategically." And so on. The emphasis is on results, and whether programs should exist in the first place. These policies find expression in initiatives such as the Lines of Business, the Program Assessment Rating Tool, the Federal Enterprise Architecture.
More recently OMB issued what is sure to be a classic -- the standard desktop configuration for Windows XP and Vista. Designed to ensure better, PC security, this arcane technical exercise has the weight of policy. The memo was signed by Clay Johnson, the deputy OMB director for management.
Finally there are specific agency programs and initiatives with dollars behind them. Things like Secure Border Initiative or Deepwater. If the appropriators on the Hill like these programs, they continue. For instance, the House and the administration are in agreement on higher funding next year for the ongoing IRS Business Systems Modernization. But they differ on Future Combat Systems for the Army, with House appropriators wanting to cut $150 million or so.
As Ecclesiastes wrote and The Byrds made popular: "For everything there is a season...a time to keep and a time to lose..." So what will be kept and what discarded? Here are my predictions on a few of the highly visible W era management initiatives:
Now is the time for government executives and contractors to stay loose on their feet, read the appropriations bills and make sure both sides of the aisle hear your case