Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dirty Lobbyists vs. Campaign donors

From the London Times: Cronyism fears as Obama donor tipped for key post
"President Obama, having campaigned on a promise to end the culture of cronyism, seems poised to appoint one of his biggest campaign fundraisers as the next American ambassador in London."

And David Brooks: The Big Test
"I fear [the Obama administration] is going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists." Emphasis mine.

While I applaud the efforts by President Obama to restore ethics to the White House and minimize the influence of special interest groups, this seems like a huge contradiction. Fundraisers and bundlers can get a cush appointment, but lobbyists are branded with the bright scarlet "L." Seems like a dinstinction without a difference. Who do you think ultimately has more influence over a politician? Someone who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for your campaign? Or someone who is politically connected with an address on K Street?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So much for honey

Nancy Pelosi met with Pope Benedict XVI yesterday with her husband in the Vatican.

Pelosi identifies as “an ardent, practicing Catholic”, so I can only imagine that this encounter was quite meaningful to her. She shared a photograph with the Pope of her family’s Papal visit from the 1950s and used her press statement following the visit to demonstrate the areas in church doctrine where Pelosi and the Democratic Party shared positions, rather than disagreed (poverty, hunger, and global warming).

I found this to be gracious and very much the states woman. And it seemed like Pelosi wanted to use the encounter to look for areas of common ground to work together with the Catholic Church.

The Vatican, on the other hand, took the opportunity to publicly snub her in his effort to push the strict Papal agenda on social issues, in particular abortion. His statement:
His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.
Pelosi isn’t afraid to speak her mind on abortion. She ruffled the Vatican’s feathers pretty good back in August on Meet the Press by talking about both her support for abortion and contraception. Apparently, the Pope hasn’t gotten over it, and certainly didn’t view the encounter with Pelosi as an opportunity to change her mind. Maybe this has something to do with the tendency of women to be so prone to pride (according to an article in the Vatican official newspaper). I mean, really – what’s the point in even trying to talk with these powerful women? They just can’t be reasoned with.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Women's Studies meet the Board Room

Being married to a rising “mistress of the universe,” we often discuss the abundance of men in a majority of our daily meetings. While this certainly isn’t a new observation or stop-the-presses worthy, it does bring the women’s studies courses to life when you have to actually sit in these conference rooms and grit your teeth through all of the battle of the sexes b.s.

Last weekend, Kristof’s column (linked above) focused on the idea that more women in banking might have prevented some of the group-think decision making that led to the banking collapse. Kristof brings up the point that is often used to argue for the need for more women in leadership: diversity of viewpoints. “There seems to be a strong consensus that diverse groups perform better at problem solving than homogeneous groups."

I would argue that diversity of viewpoints is not simply relegated to gender or race. While certainly the minority, there are plenty of failed females in the recent “bust bowl” on Wall Street: Erin Callan, Zoe Cruz, and Sallie Krawcheck, to name a few.

As psychiatrist Carlotta G. Miles said at a recent HBS conference, “When we hire ‘sameness,’ we get sameness of thinking.” When board rooms continue to look the same regardless of race or gender – with Ivy educated, coastal elites – the concentration of similar viewpoints is a clear recipe for disaster.

I’m just a Stimulus Package

The Center for American Progress has a clever video that explains how the stimulus package actually works.

I find it useful in a “Schoolhouse Rocks” kind of way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let them eat crust

Catching up from the last week:

“Breadwinners? Or should I say crustwinners.” Ellen Goodman: The curse of an equal workforce

Thank you, Senators: The Senate Discovers Women

“A new study released Wednesday, shows that as the economy began to slow, so did the advancement of women.” The super glue on the corporate ladder in the recession: Fewer women winning jobs in executive suites

The K Street pull. Apparently, Obama’s “strict” anti-lobbyist sentiment isn’t shared by some of his closet aides. Daschle, Obama aides join K Street
To be sure, it’s a turn of the revolving door that’s slower and quieter than the movement from K Street to the new administration, where lobbyists are required to obtain waivers and sign ethics pledges before taking their jobs.

But it serves to highlight new loopholes in the president’s rules to limit the influence of lobbyists. It also reveals apparent disconnects between the soaring rhetoric during the campaign and the pragmatic and lucrative career choices by some insiders — on K Street and beyond — now that it’s over.
A great profile of a Nebraska women attorney, Penny Berger. SuperWomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them: Featuring Penny Berger of Lincoln, Nebraska

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shovel ready and kissable

The front page of the New York Times has an article about men being hit harder than women in the recession layoffs (As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force). And boy, have there been layoffs. Today’s job report for January is dismal.

In one way, I welcome the story because it’s at least demonstrating the real contributions women are making during this recession. I’m ready to pull my hair out if I see one more anecdote-filled fluff piece on:

- women suffering for no longer having a rich boyfriend;

- men having to learn how to be fathers now that they are laid off;

- women saving the economy through coupons; or

- women’s cost-consciousness by choosing a used wedding dress;

- Let alone the fashion series encouraging women to discover discount shopping and buying basics.

Up until now, the biggest contribution that women as a collective force have made on the economy is buying more lipstick (known as the Lipstick Index). And even that depends on who you ask.

So, while this piece is certainly not good news for women, I am grateful for the first step towards a shift in the paradigm about women's role in the economy.

[P.S. Women Do! has a nice reality check on the real story in the Time's article: "The most popular story on the NYT's website today is a business piece about how women are getting ready to overtake men in the workforce--not by salary or prestige, but by sheer numbers. The reason: They're not getting laid off as much. The reason they're not getting laid off as much: They do crap jobs for no money."]

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ex-boyfriends = campaign cash

Freshman Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received rave reviews for her speech at last night’s Washington Press Club Foundation dinner. Some of my favorite lines:

I bring you greetings from the state of Minnesota where in the words of our unofficial poet laureate Garrison Keillor, all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the recounts are above average.

So I'm up here telling the jokes and Al Franken is going to be the senator. What's wrong with that picture?

I set an all-time US Senate record, and this is true, I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends. Speaker Pelosi, I may have the all-time record in the Senate, but I know in the House, that record is held by Barney Frank.

As my husband, points out, for me, ex boyfriends aren't an expanding base.

Now it is double pressure for me because tomorrow morning I'm speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. My plan is to offer thanks to the Almighty supreme being who at any moment can unleash his wrath on those who don't follow his commandments. I know half of you think I am talking about Rahm Emanuel. The truth is this event was always trickier for me than the National Prayer Breakfast because as you know, God forgives and reporters don't.

This room has the greatest, the most thorough, the most hard working, most brilliant reporters in the world, all of whom were scooped on the John Edwards story by the National Enquirer.

Now we have a new president. And he's our first wired president. He is never without his Blackberry. Although like many Americans I look forward to a colorblind society when we can just call it a Berry.

Now we have John Roberts - we'll remember the moment forever, administering the oath. When he was reading the words, as many of you remember, he messed up the word faithfully. Somewhere, Eliot Spitzer and Vito Fossella are saying "Join the Club."

Let's hear for a little sass from an elected women! For the full transcript, click here. It's worth it.

Justice Ginsberg hospitalized

Press is reporting that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has undergone surgery for pancreatic cancer. This makes me terribly sad, and my heart goes out to her for a full and fast recovery.

I had the chance to see Justice Ginsburg speak last fall at Harvard Law School’s Celebration 55: The Women's Leadership Summit, marking the 55th anniversary of women’s enrollment at the law school.

She was incredibly inspiring to hear speak. I was so impressed with her acute sense of where she fits in history. She contextualized her comments with a history review of the first female admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar, Belva Lockwood. Facing multitudes of barriers in her own professional career, Justice Ginsberg understood that change is made slowly yet boldly.

A nice summary of her talk can be found here and the full webcast of the discussion is here.

Justice Ginsberg also showed an amazing awareness of the political role of the courts. She spoke about her decision to read from the bench her dissent in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. case.
“If you think the court has not just gone wrong, if you think it’s gone wrong egregiously so, that’s when you read your opinion from the bench. And it may be that you have another forum in mind…I had a particular audience. It was Congress. And it was saying, in effect, ‘Congress you could not have meant what this Court thinks you meant, so fix it,’” she said.
I’m so glad that Congress chose to listen to Justice Ginsberg and passed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it President Obama’s first piece of legislation to sign. She is one of the many unsung heroes that made that legislation possible.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"L" is the loneliest letter

Three articles today about lobbyists in the news today:

The Scarlet Lobbyist (WaPo)
Lost in the popular vision of martini-swilling lobbyists is the reality that, in a government grown so sprawling, lobbyists perform an indispensable mediating function, simultaneously translating the legitimate needs of the clients they represent to policymakers and vice versa.

Patrick targets lobbyists (Boston Globe)
Governor Deval Patrick is taking aim at a time-worn Beacon Hill practice: state government hiring expensive lobbyists to influence state government.

And in the new edition of the Boston Phoenix: Money Talks: Can Beacon Hill reform itself when the State Senate President and the new House Speaker rake in so much lobbyist cash?

Gang of One

Politico today has a profile piece about Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson as one of the Democrats that President Obama will also need to woo for the passage of the Stimulus/Recovery bill in the Senate. You remember Senator Nelson, right? From the (in)famous Gang of 14?

As the only state-wide Democrat in elected office, Nelson tries to protect himself by voting mostly Republican, yet caucusing with the Democrats. He even highlights his support from President Bush on his website.

Nelson describes his view on the stimulus bill:

“As a governor, I was always kidded about [and] referred to as being as tight as three coats of paint,” he said. “And I want to be tight with taxpayers’ money. So I want to make sure we get the best bang for the buck.”

Sounds to me like he might be painting himself into a corner. At some point, when you try to please everyone, you represent no one, and irritate everyone. Nelson likes to claim he takes a “common sense” approach to governing. If he’s serious about helping his state, he needs to come to the table with real ideas, not just Republican-fed talking points and the threat of a “no” vote.

Take it where you can get it

Thank you NBC for reminding us of the new crack in the glass ceiling made by the appointment of Bonnie Newman for Senator Gregg's vacated seat.

With Newman, the U.S. Senate is now 18% women. Not bad, but still not great. It's better than CEOs (2.4%) and equity partners at law firms (16%).

From NBC's Chris Donovan
A few interesting tidbits IF Gregg resigns his seat and Bonnie Newman takes his place...

1. The Senate will then have 18 female members -- a new record. Interestingly enough, in 2000 the then-nine female senators who served published a book titled, "Nine and Counting: The Women of the Senate" -- so that number has now been doubled.

2. New Hampshire will become the FOURTH state to currently have two female senators: (Washington, California and Maine do now)

3. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) will, after only 30 days in office, become the SENIOR Senator from New Hampshire. As Senate Historical Office's Betty Koed points out, with that new title comes the privilege of getting the coveted Daniel Webster Senate desk. By law, the senior senator from NH gets to use the desk!
Here's hoping that number will continue to climb in the 2010 midterm election.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Roller coaster

Whew! What a whirlwind today. I had quite a testy post drafted about the huge double standard surrounding Nancy Killefer’s withdrawal of her nomination for chief performance officer in the Obama administration, compared to the much bigger tax issues from Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle.

Others were quicker than I was to comment, including a great post on the Chicago Tribune blog “The Swamp that’s now been removed. The double standard was glaring. It seemed like a repeat of ZoĆ« Baird. Killefer’s nomination can be derailed for less than a $1000 in unpaid nanny taxes, but Dashcle kept the steadfast support of the President for over $140,000 in back taxes for the use of a private car.

This from an administration promising an end to politics as usual?

So, I’m more than relieved to see that Daschle has also decided to withdraw his nomination. Whether it was the embarrassment of the internet revival of an old campaign commercial, the New York Times editorial today, or the Administration telling him to withdraw, it was the right thing to do.