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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

January 15, 2008


Up or Down (Change Can Go Both Ways)

Manager Wanted for the Top Spot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Real Managerial Experience Required - Others Need Not Apply

We need a manager. We need someone who can see the picture as a whole, not just as they want or wish it to appear. For the past seven years, we have looked through the lens of the Bush administration. It's a small lens with a short, pinpoint focus that doesn't allow for more than a tunnel-vision view of our nation and our planet.

All of the world's nations simply don't fit in a one-size-fits-all global sweater. There are differences in the ways that our planet's 6.6 billion residents want to live and be governed. I believe that it is safe to assume that most do actually want to kind of freedom that the US represents, but they don't want it dictated by the likes of George W. Bush. But not all of the planet is ready for a Western-style type of government.

Statements such as "You're either with us or against us," by President Bush and his ilk have created ore friction between the US and many of our allies. We spent three years berating France and Germany for not following us blindly into Iraq while they were serving by our side in Afghanistan. What a joke it was to stop calling our favorite fast food French Fries in protest.

Freedom Fries anyone?

The presumption that the nations of Central Asia, or any other part of the World, want to emulate us doesn't breed trust - it breeds hate. It breeds the kind of hate that doesn't only lasts years, but generations. And, in the case of the Bush administration, it has changed what was a bad situation in the middle east into the intolerable one which we have today.

Take a look at the good will which the US had enjoyed - however briefly - after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Everyone in what we term the Western World was behind us. Even France's national newspaper, Le Mond, had as its headline, "Today, We Are All America". They joined us, along with our other allies, in our response to invade the nation harboring our enemies - al Qaeda and its supporters. That included The Taliban and its brutal religious reign of terror. The right job was on the right track with the right support. In other words, the task was true and the manner in which the US was attempting to achieve this task was just as true.

That's when the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney, and other members of the Bush inner circle, decided to take this new found good will and abuse it. All of a sudden Iraq was the center of a vast terrorist conspiracy and it was Saddam Hussein, Iraq's dictator, who was behind the 911 attacks. Never mind that 15 of the 19 hijackers were of Saudi Arabian origin and not one of them hailed from Iraq - Iraq was to blame. Even today, if one were to ask members of our own expeditionary force in Iraq who was responsible for 911, a majority would still say Iraq and Saddam Hussein. At its high point, our nation's military believed by a nine-to-one margin that Iraq was the instigator on that September day. A majority of the American public believed the same thing, and, let's face facts here, no one in the Bush administration was going to tell us anything different.

Each and every time some piece of evidence came out that deflected the Bush lies about the reasons to invade Iraq, the President and his minions (can you say "Fox News"?) came to his defense. After all, repeat a lie enough tomes and it becomes the truth...


We saw an undercover CIA operative - an expert in Weapons of Mass Destruction - outed because her husband told the truth. We saw our anti-terrorism expert, Richard Clark, "retired" for his advice which didn't center around the Bushies' already predetermined ends. And we saw the Downing Street memos, which proved many of the lies of the Bush administration, in conjunction with those of the British, led by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, hardly mentioned by the main stream media, a new Right Wing ally.

As a result of all of the "planned failings" of the Bush administration, we have lost our favorable place in the world. And in the wake of 911, when we could have achieved greatness in the world, we followed the Bushco lead and made more enemies than we have before and have made sure that they will be our enemies for the remainder of most of our lifetimes.

And that is on George W. Bush. That buck, no matter how often he attempts to shift its ownership, will remain with him long after he leaves office and long after he leaves this planet. The fighting is still bad in Iraq with dozens of Americans losing their lives every month while dozens of Iraqis still die, en masse, on any given day. Afghanistan is still a mess and that same group - The Taliban - which the President took so much pride in taking the credit for removing from power is now back.

And on the home front, we still have no control over our trade deficits, our national debt, the health care debacle and the rampant destruction of the middle class. That, too, is on President Bush.

We need a leader who won't take the baton from George Bush, but refuse it and begin anew. And it won't be easy. We're going to need a new President that will look at the future with hope, not disdain. We're going to need a man, or a woman, at the top of our political food chain who will look at those he serves as his, or her, responsibility, not a source of food. we're going to need a leader that will do his best to make the lives of the millions who suffer better, even if it means that the Wall Street types have to begin paying their fair share. We're going to need that leader to realize that great nations provide health care for all of her citizens and that no one, regardless of their personal wealth, should have to suffer because they weren't lucky enough to be born on third base. And, most importantly, we're going to need a leader who knows that this great nation needs to lead by example and no by rhetoric.

There truly is a lot of work to do, made so much more so by this, The Administration of Diminished Responsibility, and it has to begin on January 21, 2009.

-Noah Greenberg

Bush Vs. Iran

There is a time-honored saying that goes: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I happened to be watching television, once upon a time, when George W. Bush tried to use that saying to illustrate a point he was trying to make. He stumbled over it and was unable to finish the quote! That is because, in my opinion, he does not - and never will - understand the meaning.

That is why, I submit, he is now somewhere in the Middle East saying that Iran is a threat to world peace. Pardon me, but isn't this the same George Bush who fooled us once with the lie that it was Saddam Hussein who brought down the World Trade Center and upon whom we needed to declare war? And now he wants to fool us twice by provoking another "Gulf of Tonkin" incident in the Strait of Hormuz, and using that to justify war on Iran?

How long - Oh, God, how long - will We the People tolerate this kind of duplicity in the leadership of our country?

-Carroll S. Rankin

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

It’s the word du jour: *change.* Everyone is using it these days, but most especially, politicians. Sen. Barack Obama made it his mantra in Iowa with “stand for change.” Then Sen. Hillary Clinton added it to her mantra about experience with “ready for change.” Even the Republicans, who are as opposed to change as anyone on the planet, began using the term in their campaigning, with Mitt Romney leading the pack.

But talking about change, envisioning change and actually making change happen are very different elements of the political process.

Philadelphia is an example of that process. In political stasis for the past eight years during the corrupt pay-to-play Street Administration, the city is now poise for change. It would behoove Americans to take a long look at what Philadelphia is attempting to do when they consider how they will vote for president. Because in the real world of divergent political interests, change is easier to talk about than it ever is to realize.

On January 7th, change began in earnest in Philadelphia when the new mayor, Michael Nutter, elected by a landslide 85 percent of voters, was inaugurated. Regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, people voted in droves for the 50-year-old, Democrat, Catholic, African-American Nutter.

I supported Nutter for mayor vehemently, despite hearing criticisms about his proposals for Philadelphia, because I thought he was the best hope for change in this very damaged and dangerous city. I thought he embodied experience and vision and we needed both in equal measure.

Nutter had a long political history in City Council–14 years–of taking on the tough issues and meeting them. He was a fighter, but he was also someone who was able to cross political divides when necessary or stand firm in his corner when that was demanded. He’s a smart, no-nonsense, let’s-get-it-done kind of guy. But he’s also surprisingly affable.

Nutter’s first week in office was a revelation. He had his entire cabinet sworn in the same day he was. He thought it would make a good stand for transparency and ethics, which have been *his* mantra for change. His second day in office, he held an open house for all Philadelphians to meet him. The event was supposed to run from 4 to 8pm, but because the line of people went on for blocks around City Hall, he stayed for an additional two and a half hours. He said he didn’t want to turn away anyone who had come out to meet the new mayor.

One could say the long nightmare of the Street Administration is finally over with this fresh, new approach to government. One could, but then one would just be talking change, not realizing it and Nutter has named his new agenda “Philadelphia Realized.”

I won’t pretend I am not impressed with all Nutter has laid out for his first term. It’s impressive. The question is, how doable is it?

One of the reasons America should look to Philadelphia when it comes to talk of change is because vision is far from enough. Nor, even, is experience. There has to be the will on the part of not just the citizenry, but other members of government, to change along with the person heralding that change.

Philadelphia has long been viewed as one of the most politically corrupt cities in the country. Patronage has been a way of life, as have back-room deals. Scandals and indictments marred much of the Street Administration. Nutter led the ethics drive in City Council–he is the literal antithesis of the Street crowd in that regard.

But many of Street’s cronies are still in office, a big part of the city government’s landscape. Thus although transparency and ethics are vital to change, will those deeply entrenched in the politics of patronage and quid pro quo be willing to meet Nutter’s challenge?

If the crime issue is any indicator, the answer is not an unequivocal yes. The FOP is already at odds with Nutter, and the animosity started prior to the inauguration.

The nomination of Everett Gillison as deputy mayor for safety outraged the FOP because Gillison had, as an attorney and public defender, represented the man who killed Officer Gary Skerski. Nutter apologized to FOP head John McNesby for not alerting him prior to the appointment, but did not withdraw Gillison from the post. Tensions remain.

Nutter has issued a crime emergency in the city–something he promised to do on his first day of office when he was campaigning. The murder rate is no longer the lead story in local news, but the violence has not abated. It’s merely a new year–the numbers get rolled back to zero on January 1st. But they are already climbing.

In these early days of the new year, there have been three shootings by police, the most recent two blocks from my house in Germantown on January 11. All three shootings are under investigation, but as one friend who heads a social service agency in the city said to me the day after the Germantown shooting of a suspect who pointed a gun at police and fought with them before being shot and killed, “It looks like the police have finally decided to fight back.”

The police shootings mean Nutter’s newly appointed police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, who came from Washington , D.C. and thus already faces the thin blue line against outsiders, will be hitting the ground running.

Ramsey won’t be the only one.

Nutter’s agenda–presented immediately after he was sworn in–is a lofty one. He intends to cut the murder rate dramatically, by as much as 50 percent. Other cities have done it, he asserts. But other cities don’t have our gun problem. Two days after the inauguration, ABC’s *Nightline* ran a segment on “Killadelphia,” focusing on the trauma center at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where doctors all over the nation train in gunshot wound trauma, because no other hospital in the country sees more such trauma.

One trauma surgeon featured in the news story noted that many of the victims were “repeats”–they had been wounded more than once because their lifestyle was one of gangs or crime. The same surgeon also noted that when murders happen early in the evening, the retaliation will bring more victims into the ER by night’s end. “People want revenge, not the police.”

That’s another reality Nutter will have to face as he sets his agenda for his crime emergency.

Harrisburg is another reality that won’t go away. Many of the proposals Nutter put forth on day one of his Administration will require the complicity of Harrisburg. Yet the capital has long been averse to doing anything that might serve the city it considers an embarrassment to and plague on the rest of the state. For example, Nutter said he wants to halve the staggering high school dropout rate in the city which is over 35 percent for Latino students, over 30 percent for African American students and over 20 percent for white students.

The mayor also wants to double the number of four-year college degrees awarded to Philadelphia residents. Nutter asserts that altering the educations of inner city youth will vastly increase their chances for staying away from gangs and criminality.

Of course the mayor is not wrong–this has proven to be the case in other cities, why not Philadelphia?

One big political challenge facing Nutter on this issue, however, is that Harrisburg has already wrested control of the School District from the city during the Street Administration. Does the mayor intend to regain control of the School District, and if so–how? Resistance to that in Harrisburg and from the School District itself will be high.

Then there is the budget, the most problematic issue facing Nutter in the next two weeks, when he’s scheduled to submit the new budget to City Council. The budget will be definitive. It will be a veritable blue-print for the changes Nutter wants to implement. He has long argued that he wants to trim the fat from the budget and cut any wasteful spending. But that is where he will face his biggest challenge, one that will equal the problem of violence in the city in terms of possible impasse.

Nutter–a Wharton graduate with superb financial acumen--and his stellar finance team will be deciding how best to cut that waste, invest in new financial ventures and zero in on what initiatives the mayor should address first. Making the job more difficult: Nutter has decided to dump any and all vestiges of the Street Administration–including the former mayor’s budget model.

Nutter promised to alter the budget process by focusing on outcome, not predictions. His “merit-based” budget will link every aspect of city management to performance: funding will match that performance. Whether Nutter can begin with that plan in place, or if he will set it up after the first budget cycle gives him a sense of those performance models is unclear. But regardless, the new day in Philadelphia that he promised will begin with the budget.

That, however, is also where Philadelphia politics is most likely to come into play. As Philadelphians witnessed during the mayoral contest where Nutter ran against four other Democrats: Street’s chosen heir-apparent, Congressman Chakah Fatah, Democratic Chairman and Congressman Bob Brady, Harrisburg veteran Dwight Evans and former deputy mayor Tom Knox, there are alliances aplenty in Philadelphia and those did not disappear when Nutter won the primary.

City Council heavy-weight Jannie Blackwell assumed her support for Knox would catapult her into the job of Council president. But she wagered wrong. So did the Council members who voted to endorse Brady. Marion Tasco initially endorsed Evans, but shifted her alliance to Nutter post-primary. Will she be the new Council president?

John Street led a contentious Council when he was president and had a conflicted relationship with Council throughout his eight years as mayor. He played favorites with some members and virtually ignored others. Nutter, who has an amicable relationship with many of the members still in office since he left in 2006 to run for mayor, is likely to forge a strong relationship with Council overall. But Blackwell, Council President Anna Verna and some others may present problems for the mayor.

Another controversial budgetary issue will be pensions and health care for union workers. This has always been one of the stickiest problems in the city and one where patronage, corruption and actual need all converge to create one gigantic mess. Nutter said he is already in negotiations with the unions and intends to be “firm but fair” in his determinations. But it’s anyone’s guess how well things will go on that front. Millions in city revenue is caught up in pension and health-care plans for city workers. How Nutter handles that powder keg might be the truest test of his mettle.

Whenever one talks of change, hope flutters, people feel inspired. I have tremendous hope for Nutter as mayor, but I have written those words before in the early days of new mayoralties–from Bill Green to Wilson Goode to Ed Rendell. Each promised dramatic changes for the city. Only one, Rendell, came close to delivering, while the Green and Goode Administrations were arguably the worst in Philadelphia history.

Philadelphia politics has long looked like Iraq–we have our own Sunni and Shia factions here and never the twain have met on many occasions. Part of creating change is finding ways to make people who have divergent and even antithetical ways of governing come together.

Nutter may be the mayor to bring Philadelphia back from the brink of financial, social and ethical disaster. But his vision and his new, stellar coterie of cabinet members and deputies will not be enough to make that much-needed change if the old guard refuses to come on board the change express.

Nutter based his campaign on hope, on believing that people wanted change more than they wanted the status quo. Nutter’s got many hurdles–Harrisburg, the FOP, City Council, the unions–to leap. The need for change is there as is Nutter’s plan for effectuating it. What remains to be seen is whether the stalwarts will put their own agendas aside to embrace Nutter’s.

In response to Louisiana's new Governor Jindal's "We have the opportunity - born of tragedy but embraced still the same - to make right decades of failure in government," and Madman's response, "And whose government failed them, Governor Jindal?" Rhian writes:

This was the plan all along. Jindal is a neocon puppet, bought and paid for. Weather manipulation, blown levees, witnesses now dead, recovery stalled, neocon installed as governor.

He or she who laughs last however, laughs best. Final chapter is pending for New Orleans.

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-Noah Greenberg