Thursday, July 26, 2007

Put the war and the media in perspective

War by its very nature enables soldiers to commit atrocities. Bombs and bullets in the air, friends and comrades dying, harsh weather and terrain and separation from loved ones together create, over time, an amount of stress that is beyond my ability to comprehend. The notion that some individuals in such circumstances occasionally commit crimes against innocents is not only understandable, but documented fact.

Unfortunately, columnist Kathleen Parker dismisses this reality out of hand as a “preconceived belief” about war. Ms. Parker in her July 25 column calls attention to questionable Iraq field reporting contained in The New Republic, discussing its charges of troops playing with body parts of dead babies and driving armored vehicles through walls to kill dogs sunning themselves. These charges are probably false, she reasons, because we have not heard about them.

Given the pick-and-choose, corporate-sponsored state of mainstream media today, this line of thinking is flawed enough in itself. There's a lot we're not hearing about, and quite a bit of what we do hear is less than the whole truth. We all remember Geraldo Rivera’s mistakes in the field: In 2001, being 300 miles away from where he said he was in Afghanistan, and in 2003, much to the military’s chagrin, revealing an upcoming U.S. operation by drawing a map in the sand on Fox News. Reaching 85 million households, one would think Fox would have drawn the ire of Kathleen Parker, who this week derided The New Republic (which, for comparative purposes, has a circulation of less than 65,000) for its “low journalistic standards.” Parker goes further, however, to liken The New Republic to Duke rape prosecutor Richard Nifong in believing what it wants to believe about our military and the goings-on in Iraq, and acting rashly in accordance.

Parker’s cautioning against rushed judgment, assumption and self-fulfilling prophecy is welcome and certainly justified. (If only Muslim Americans got the same benefit of the doubt: 5/30/07.) Her argument falters, though, when confronted with many Iraq stories we have heard about, such as U.S. soldiers’ murder of 24 civilians at Haditha and the despicable grunt work at Abu Gharib prison involving attack dogs, nude mounds of men and Lord knows what else. Suggesting that we focus on U.S. honor and victory in Iraq, Kathleen Parker joins George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove in their systematic denial of reality. In the real world, few could explain what victory in Iraq would even look like anymore. Furthermore, as the U.S. body count approaches 3,700, Ms. Parker’s emphasis on honor would be more appropriate in conversations with maimed veterans and mourning families.

When General Calley and his troops massacred civilians at My Lai in Vietnam, it was a fact, however disturbing, that Americans were forced to accept. Though I thankfully do not know from experience, war is hell. The Bush Administration created hell in Iraq by rashly invading without even a plan for our actions in the aftermath. Demonizing our troops, as The New Republic may have done, errors by ignoring the horrendous conditions in which they are and have been operating for over four years—and the larger decisions of those who sent them in the first place. Insensitive as it is to sell short the troops’ dismal environment, the latter is certainly the graver sin.

We honor our troops’ efforts and sacrifices with good intelligence, sufficient combat equipment and proper care upon returning home. Having denied these from the very beginning, our leaders bear full responsibility for the current state of affairs. Kathleen Parker—and indeed all of us—would be better off leaving extraneous Geraldos and New Republics alone and putting this administration and its war under an intense and honest microscope.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Change the Taxi, Change the Mindset

Should I ever become inspired to purchase a Hummer H2, the city of Chicago could certainly help me get a decent return on my investment. All I would have to do to defray its atrocious $55,510 cost is register the veritable mammoth with the Department of Consumer Service’s Public Vehicle Division and start up a chauffer service for the well-to-do. Add a few extra bells and whistles and, provided the vehicle had running boards and an eight-passenger maximum capacity, I would be licensed and (hopefully) making money faster than I could count it.

The H2 is one of 61 vehicles on the Public Vehicle Division’s Approved Vehicles List, a collection of public passenger vehicles that comply with Section 9-112-060 of the City of Chicago municipal code. The makes and models of vehicles used by the 21 local taxi companies must be on the list as well, but this is of little consequence because requirements are basic and few. Perusing the list, it appears as though virtually any automobile can be licensed for public use--that is, driven constantly around town as a source of income for its owner and operator. The next time you hail a cab, you could find yourself in a Cadillac Escalade, a Ford Expedition or a Lincoln Navigator because these gas hogs (along with over a dozen others) are also approved.

Of course, taxi companies and the drivers who work for them are not interested in filling an Escalade’s 26-gallon tank when gas is around $3.45 a gallon, especially considering its lowly 13 miles-per-gallon average. There is indeed a slew of nonsensical vehicles on the list, ones that, for their price tags and gas mileage, could never realistically turn a profit in the public transportation industry. So what is the taxi of choice, the most popular cab in Chicago? Do you even need to ask? I did, but only for purposes of confirmation. And sure enough, at nearly 90% of the cab companies I called, Ford’s Crown Victoria was the immediate, sure-fire answer. Had all of them answered the phone, this figure would likely be even higher. Common sense? Hardly.

From 1992 to 2006, no model of the Crown Vic ever broached 19 mpg, and where city driving (read: taxi driving) is concerned, the figure is closer to 17. This is quite average for an SUV, but pathetic for a sedan. Simply put, the ubiquitous Crown Vic is a gas-guzzler. It is little wonder that cabbies are calling for the city to implement a $1 gasoline surcharge and/or a 25% rate increase on every fare. Perhaps if cabbies drove more fuel-efficient vehicles, like the 13,000 hybrids New York is currently implementing, such measures would not be necessary.

Some people would protest the move, probably on the basis of comfort or interior space. Even in these selling-point categories, however, Ford’s bread and butter is only marginally better than the others. Front- and rear-headroom measurements in a 2001 Crown Vic, checking in at 39.4 and 38.0 inches, respectively, are virtually identical to those of a Honda Accord of the same year, which boasts 40.0 and 37.6 inches in those categories, respectively. The story is the same with legroom dimensions—certainly an important factor in taxis; the Crown Vic’s front (42.5 inches) and rear (39.6 inches) best those of the Accord (42.1 and 37.9 inches, respectively) to a minute and unnoticeable degree. The kicker is that a 2001 Crown Vic gets about 380 miles per tank of gas, which is roughly 30 fewer than a Honda Accord made in the same year, despite the fact that the Accord’s tank requires three fewer gallons to fill.

The disparity in gasoline consumption between the two would on a single-case basis be as minute as their interior dimension differences, but multiplying it by Chicago’s 6,300 taxis and the 365 days per year that they are in service yields notable differences in consumption. Making the Accord Chicago’s new taxi standard would have positive ramifications for the local economy (as dollars normally spent on gas could be used elsewhere), to say nothing of the improvements in air quality it would bring about. Further still, the move would place Chicago in the vanguard of environmentally-friendly metropolitan centers and would give a shot in the arm to current political discourse about reducing dependence on foreign oil.

This would be an uphill battle, however, because good gas mileage is seemingly far from being a Chicago priority. This is illustrated by the Public Vehicle Division’s conspicuous lack of a required minimum mpg, a reality which would allow for the licensing of my hypothetical H2 for taxi purposes. Furthermore, an editorialist in the Tribune a few weeks ago blamed cabbies’ gasoline plight on their own driving habits, citing hard braking and accelerating as the main causes of wasted gas. It is unfortunate, though likely, that this represents widespread sentiment. While it may accurately describe some taxi drivers, it erroneously places in their hands a high degree of control. In this way, the rationale fails to address a number of the industry’s realities: namely, that customer preference determines A/C and window settings, that traffic determines the amounts of engine idling and cruise control time, and that cab companies determine what car to purchase and how often it is serviced.

All of these are relevant factors in the mpg equation, and it is thus ultimately incumbent upon local cab companies to buy more fuel-efficient cars. This top-down approach to conservation would admittedly involve significant initial investment, and should thus be spurred by government incentives. The Crown Victoria is an SUV in a sedan’s body, and it must go the way of the dinosaur to make room for a model automobile, one able to set an example for local motorists and truly give credence to Mayor Daley’s push for a greener city. Bike paths, after all, can only go so far.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Immigrants Rally in Waukegan

Though the fight for immigration reform is dead in Congress (for the time being), local residents are fighting to prevent an ordinance in Waukegan, Illinois that would give local law enforcement the ability to enforce immigration laws.

The city council in Waukegan, yesterday, voted to reject submitting an application to the immigration officials in order to be given the authority to enforce federal laws. Though the immigrant activists were successful, this article explains why they’re still angry.


Protesters don't sway council
Deportation initiative funding to be sought

By Andrew L. Wang
Tribune staff reporter

July 17, 2007, 12:11 AM CDT

Waukegan became the latest microcosm of a nation split on immigration Monday as thousands of people descended on the far north suburb to protest a controversial program that would allow local police to initiate deportation proceedings for immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

In the end, the City Council declined by a 7-2 vote to reconsider its decision to apply for the federal program, leaving Latino activists angry, but heartened that they had gotten their message out and drawn a crowd to the suburbs.

"This is ground zero for us," said Ramon Becerra, regional head of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. He said the techniques his organization used in Waukegan—getting information out quickly on Spanish language radio stations, chartering buses, distributing flyers to pro-Latino businesses and threatening a boycott of others—are templates for his group and others to make their voices heard when they feel local officials aren't listening.

About 3,000 people attended the 5 p.m. rally outside City Hall, according to Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran. Chartered buses came from Chicago, Elgin, Wheeling and Cicero. On Monday morning, outraged callers flooded two Chicago-based Spanish radio shows.

But it wasn't just the Latino groups who attracted activists from elsewhere. Among the leaders of the anti-illegal immigration protesters was William Gheen of North Carolina, president of Americans for Legal Immigration. He said the debate in suburbs such as Waukegan is critical because their leaders aren't yet beholden to minority interests.

"Chicago's too far gone right now," he said. "Chicago is the next L.A."

But he said the debate isn't really about Latinos or any particular group.

"This isn't about diversity, this is about the law. . . . If you do not have existing laws enforced, then you want the downfall of the republic," Gheen said.

Not everyone engaged in the debate was from out of town. First in line to get a ticket for Monday's City Council meeting was Karen Van Heirseele, a Waukegan resident of 22 years who is in favor of the plan, referred to as 287(g) for short, after a section of the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. She was not happy that so many outsiders were weighing in on the decision—even those who agreed with her.

"I don't see where people outside of our city have the right to come here and tell our City Council how to run our city," she said. "They don't see the local goings-on. They don't have children here, they don't see the schools, they aren't part of the community."

Earlier in the day, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed for a temporary restraining order after learning that the city planned to limit attendance at the meeting. Citing public safety, city officials required tickets that were only available at a city office two miles from City Hall.

MALDEF said that location would be too "inconvenient" for some to visit because it was not located near public transportation, and filed for the order on behalf of three Waukegan plaintiffs.

Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffman ordered city officials to distribute half of the 400 tickets at City Hall, which is accessible by public transportation.

The meeting capped off a nearly monthlong period that started inauspiciously, with no activists from either side attending a June 18 meeting when the council voted to authorize Police Chief William Biang to apply for the program.

City and police officials have said the program would allow some officers to start deportation proceedings for immigrants—legal or illegal—convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape and drug-related felonies. Those officials have said the goal is to rid the city of criminals, not persecute immigrants who live within the law.

But opposition quickly grew, as thousands of Latinos turned out for public meetings and protests. Their leaders said the program could lead to police abuses against Latinos, and make undocumented immigrants reluctant to report crime.

Sparring rhetoric turned to dueling boycotts, as Latino activists marked businesses that disapproved of 287(g) with orange fliers and discouraged people from shopping at stores that didn't show the sign. Their counterparts encouraged the like-minded on Sunday to avoid shops that displayed the sign. The City Council announced it would reconsider the issue.

The debate continued at Monday's protest where activists, separated into pro and con by a wall of traffic barriers, carried signs and U.S. flags and chanted or yelled over bullhorns and wireless microphones outside City Hall.

A heavy police presence, including mounted and K-9 officers, made sure the two sides didn't mingle.

On the north end were about 250 people who favored the city applying for the federal immigration certification, including Gheen.

More than 2,000 protesters on the south end included Miguel Arizmendi, 47, president of Waukegan's Tonatico Social Club, named after the Mexican town from which many Waukegan immigrants hail.

Arizmendi, who said he came to Waukegan 30 years ago, said he has been pulled over by police who gave what seemed like flimsy reasons, such as a noisy muffler, and let him go as soon as they saw his immigration papers were in order.

"If police are going to do immigration jobs, we're going to be in trouble," he said.

"For any reason, they can stop you. Anything you do, the police are going to be right behind you."

After Monday's vote, Jose Guzman, the Waukegan head of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said he felt betrayed by aldermen for whom he'd campaigned.

"I feel like these people stabbed me in my back," he said after the vote.

The battle over the program comes at a critical time for Waukegan, which for years has tried to reinvent itself and put its industrial past behind it in favor of high-end development on its waterfront. The city that has long been home to working class whites has seen an influx of immigrants from Mexico and Central America over the last three decades.

U.S. census estimates from 2005 indicate that more than half of the city's residents may be of Latino heritage, but that likely is an underestimate given the uncertain size of Waukegan's undocumented population.

Waukegan joins the northwest suburb Carpentersville as being among the local hot spots in the illegal immigration debate.

Carpentersville has been mired in debate since fall, when two trustees introduced a proposed ordinance designed to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and to deny licenses to businesses that employ those immigrants. The idea was put on hold, but the village also has applied for 287(g), and in June the Village Board voted 5-2 to make English the official language.

About 40 percent of the village's 37,000 residents are Latino.

Residents of other suburbs in the Chicago area, from Elgin and Cicero to Berwyn, have complained about conditions often associated with growing Latino populations, such as crowded classrooms and many families sharing the same home.

What many of the suburbs have in common is a quickly growing immigrant population and political structure where Latinos have little political clout.

With the influx of immigrants reshaping the town, elected officials have fought to preserve the status quo and, sometimes, please their largely white voting base.

Becerra said the debate over immigration is really about economics: Undocumented immigrants come to America to support their children, forcing locals to share what they've thought of as theirs alone.

"People have been living [in the suburbs] for generations. People here are not resilient. They don't know how to adapt to changes," he said.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Friday, July 13, 2007

America's Seven-Year War

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times stated that a recent intelligence report indicates that the U.S. is no safer from terrorism than it was on September 10, 2001. If this were not enough to stop the so-called War on Terror in its tracks, I don't know what is.

For the past five and a half years, the Bush administration has been at war with terrorists and enemy combatants in the name of freedom and democracy. U.S. forces have invaded two countries and dissolved their respective governments. U.S. policymakers have subverted the Geneva conventions to allow for the practice of torturing detainees (though the secret CIA-established prisons at which this measure is employed were not approved by elected officials). And the White House, legally or otherwise, has paved the way for federal agents to wiretap phones and read emails of private citizens without first obtaining warrants. The LA Times report notwithstanding, many changes have occurred as part and parcel of the War on Terror--both within our society and in our relationships with other nations--which should lead us all to question how and why they have come about.

George W. Bush and his administration have been successful at propagating the myth of the War on Terror--that it is a simple struggle of good and evil, the West versus radical Islamists, America versus the terrorists. This convenient dichotomy has placed Americans on the good side; after all, who can argue with freedom and democracy? But if you do happen to argue, you're a terrorist sympathizer; it was the Commander in Chief, after all, who proclaimed, "Either you're with us or you're against us." As irrational as it is, the sentiment has until recently discouraged politicians and citizens alike from speaking out against the crimes of this rogue administration. The most recent manifestation of the spinelessness this attitude has spawned can be seen in the senate Democrats' rescinding on their bill to impose a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. In this way, a black and white picture of reality painted by the Bush administration has, especially in the War on Terror, reduced the actions of would-be challengers to mere floundering and undermined democratic principles of discourse.

As No Questions Asked author Lisa Finnegan noted, the media since 9/11 has failed to scrutinize administration policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq. The major networks have all stood compliantly in line, quick to report on the latest skirmish but ever slow to question the larger state of affairs. Worse yet, the media has lent credence to Bush's erroneous dichotomy using terminology like the "clash of civilizations," elevating the scope and threat of Al-Qaeda far beyond their realistic levels.

This practice has gotten completely out of hand. The botched amateur terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, for example, were interpreted as ominous signs of the "new Al-Qaeda"--a dispersed and desperate group, totally unpredictable in its forms and actions. Unfortunately, the reality is that such an attack represents the most common form of terrorism: small-scale, isolated and usually limited in its physical impact. The case was given just treatment in Steve Chapman's July 12 Tribune editorial, but in our post-9/11 world of paranoia, 9/11 has typically been held as the new conceptual standard. That is, many assume that each and every attack is intended to equal its severity. The notion that 9/11 was an extreme and deadly exception to the rule is much closer to reality, but this idea has certainly not been in vogue during the Bush era. As Chapman put it, "Intent and ability are not the same thing." The administration and the media have significantly distorted both, the former creating an atmosphere of perpetual tension, and the latter tagging along every step of the way.

In TV news broadcasting, such a notion is hardly new. An article in the March 1987 issue of the Western Political Quarterly, whose relevance persists to this day, notes that CBS, NBC and ABC have consistently provided distorted coverage of international terrorism, downplaying bombings and political threats while over-reporting more dramatic events such as hostage seizures and hijackings.[1] Researchers Michael Carpini and Bruce A. Williams found that from 1969 to 1980, terrorists' targeting of businesses and their affiliates was reported with much less frequency than cases in which private citizens were involved. It is understandable, then, why a large percentage of Americans naively define terrorism as a struggle between innocence and evil. Furthermore, statistics compiled by the authors indicate that coverage is erratic year-to-year and that the number of terrorist attacks in a given year, involving U.S. citizens or not, rarely has a bearing on the number of coverage minutes devoted to the subject.

The simplifications and half-truths produced and spread by our government and the media over the past six years have contributed to all-time lows in presidential and congressional approval ratings, significant political polarization, and dire straits for the United States Treasury and Armed Forces. Serious domestic problems including poverty, urban decay and the health care crisis have been largely ignored by the preoccupied federal government. It is of little doubt that debate over who is to blame will surround many of these conditions for years to come, long after America recovers from the disastrous Bush era. More importantly, however, over 80,000 Iraqi civilians and over 3,600 U.S. troops have been killed in the so-called War on Terror.

There is thus a tragic, yet poignant truth contained in that LA Times story. The current character of the War on Terror, with its tools of unilateral coercion, conformity and partisanship in politics, and the all-too-prevalent secrecy of it all, represents a self-replicating cycle of failure. Though some slogans have changed and visible decision makers have been forced into early retirement, the strategy and rationale have remained constant to the detriment of America's reputation and security. It is our duty to continue fighting terrorism, but executive-branch crusading must go to the trash heap if we are to begin repairing the damage. In 2008, when Americans go back to the polls to select a new leader, one can only hope we choose one who is more politically in-touch, more worldly, and more open to opposing viewpoints. The time has come to relegate America's Seven-Year War to the past and ensure that our methods of safeguarding national security truly reflect the greatness of this nation.

[1] Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Bruce A. Williams. "Television and Terrorism: Patterns of Presentation and Occurrence, 1969 to 1980." The Western Political Quarterly 40.1 (1987): 45-64. 12 July 2007.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Meet Nancy Pelosi...

Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) is currently the Speaker of the House. Actually, she is the first ever female Speaker and came in with a pretty ambitious 100 hour agenda to work through.

She came in, not widely popular, but not too disliked either. She has had the task of proving to the American public that the Democrats can govern effectively. Has she done that?

Not according to this Washington Post article that takes a critical look at who Nancy Pelosi is and what she has done so far in her capacity as Speaker of the House.

Edging Away From Inner Circle, Pelosi Asserts Authority

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 9, 2007; A01

In February, only a month after becoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi settled weeks of threats from Rep. John D. Dingell, her blustery Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, by putting in writing her assent to one of his big demands -- Pelosi's new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming would not infringe on his power to write legislation as he saw fit.

Four months later, Dingell (D-Mich.) appeared in the speaker's conference room to walk through a bill that would override California's attempts to combat global warming by raising fuel efficiency standards, strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases and promote a controversial effort to turn coal into liquid fuel.

This time, Pelosi was in no mood to mollify Dingell. The bill he was sponsoring, she said, was unacceptable. The environmental costs would be too severe, the political costs for the Democratic caucus too high, she said.

The two episodes with Dingell illustrate Pelosi's evolution from a somewhat tentative political figure reliant on a small circle of advisers to the undisputed leader of the House's fractious Democratic majority.

"Nancy now represents the majority of this caucus, overwhelmingly," said Barney Frank (Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

But if Pelosi has succeeded in uniting her party during her initial months as speaker, she and the rest of the leadership have yet to convince the nation that the Democrats can govern.

Pelosi, of California, has succeeded in getting all of her opening agenda through the House. But few of the initiatives have made it to the president, and only one has become law: an increase in the minimum wage.

The obstacle has been the Senate, where Democrats hold only a one-seat advantage. But that failure has colored all of Congress, including Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership.

The new Democratic Congress took office in January with a 43 percent approval rating. Since then, its rating has sunk to about the same low levels as President Bush's, a bit below 30 percent. And Pelosi's own approval ratings have slipped, from 48 percent in a March poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press to 36 percent last month in a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll. Over the same time frame, her disapproval ratings climbed from 22 percent to 39 percent.

As the first speaker since Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to have to manage a new majority after a switch in party rule, Pelosi came in with an ambitious 100-hour agenda and some challenges that would quickly strain the Democratic caucus: finishing all of the government's domestic budget plans left undone by the Republicans, enacting an ethics program unpopular with many lawmakers and, most important, funding a war most Democrats oppose.

Pelosi faced an inherent conflict -- unite a Democratic majority or fulfill her promises to run a more transparent and bipartisan House. In her first six months, she has chosen the former, not without a price.

Combative Republicans repeatedly tried to use her initial openness against her. They tried to force a vote to end the District's gun ban as a price for giving the city a vote in the House and attempted to make Democrats vote on a GOP resolution declaring that the House would always fund the troops in Iraq, at a time when many liberals wanted to end funding. In both instances, Pelosi pulled the proposals before they were voted on, violating her pledges of bipartisanship but keeping Democratic unity intact.

Now Democratic leaders worry that they must get some of the domestic agenda passed soon, to show voters they can govern, even as they are still dogged by a creative Republican resistance that has bedeviled Pelosi and her party.

* * *

After the 2006 elections swept the Republicans from power, Pelosi stood as a historic figure, the highest-ranking elected woman in the nation's history. But she had no obvious models on which to build her speakership.

The last time a Democrat took the gavel from a Republican speaker was 1955, when Sam Rayburn (Tex.) resumed a speakership he had relinquished only two years before. The most recent Democratic speakers -- Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (Mass.), Jim Wright (Tex.) and Thomas S. Foley (Wash.) -- reigned over a Democratic caucus that had grown complacent after decades in power. Those speakers passively allowed their powerful committee chairmen to set the legislative agenda.

Pelosi's situation made her most like Gingrich, another politically minded insurgent who assumed control after years in the minority. Like Gingrich, she rose not through the committee structure but by playing in the rougher world of politics.

Pelosi wanted to maintain the Republicans' much more centralized power structure but recognized that old bulls such as Dingell, David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who had served as committee chairmen before the GOP swept to power, would have to be respected.

"There is a necessity for a unity of voice and purpose in the Democratic Party . . . and the only way you're going to do that was to have a central management to create consensus, not simply individual, discrete committee agendas," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

But as the face of that central power, Pelosi, who declined an interview request for this article, lacked Gingrich's flair for public appearances and off-the-cuff prognostication. Her sex made her extraordinary, but it was also something of a liability, leading her to be constantly underestimated, said Steve Elmendorf, who was chief of staff to Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) when he was House minority leader.

"We would have these private meetings when she was [House minority] leader where she was decisive, focused, even dismissive of people at times," Frank said. "I'd say to her, I'd beg her, 'Please, Nancy, be this person in public.' "

But to some Democrats, her biggest liability was the tight circle of confidants -- tough-minded fellow Bay Area liberals such as Reps. George Miller, Anna G. Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren; tart-tongued Reps. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.); and gruff Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.) -- that allies worried would insulate her from public opinion and the rest of the caucus.

Even before she received the gavel, those fears appeared to be confirmed when she disastrously backed Murtha's challenge to Hoyer for majority leader. She saw the Iraq war as the defining issue of the time and extolled Murtha as the man to end it, but he was trounced.

"That was a defining moment for her," said Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-Md.), whose political roots are entangled with Pelosi's in Baltimore, where she grew up. "It made her stronger, because she understood then that she really had to widen her circle."

* * *

Once she assumed the speakership, Pelosi took on a frenetic schedule. She met with Democratic leaders formally three times a week but often informally two to three times daily, and held sessions with chairmen, freshmen and other lawmakers.

There is a downside to the pace. She tends to micromanage, frustrating staff members with her unwillingness to delegate tasks, and she jealously guards her schedule.

Still, an instinct for compromise and consultation got Pelosi through a series of initial tests that could have blown up publicly but instead passed quietly. After Murtha's defeat in November, his close ally Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said lawmakers who had promised their votes to Murtha but delivered them to Hoyer were not to be trusted and should be unmasked. Brendan Daly, Pelosi's communications director, got wind that Moran would be on PBS's "NewsHour" and quickly called Moran's staff to command that he not go on the show and that he stop the threats.

Just weeks later, Pelosi pushed aside Jane Harman (Calif.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, then skipped over Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), an African American and an impeached federal judge who was next in line, to name Sylvestre Reyes (Tex.) as chairman of the powerful Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The move was expected to cause an uproar, not only with the Congressional Black Caucus but also with the "Blue Dog" Democrats -- conservative and moderate lawmakers who backed Harman. It did not, however, because she has provided other key assignments to assuage those left out.

The next challenge came as House Democratic leaders tried to force a turn in the Iraq war through a spending bill, only to have Pelosi sideswiped by the man she had entrusted to end the war -- Murtha.

Senior Democrats had been huddling with different factions of the caucus, trying to reach a strong consensus before going public with a bill. Without telling Pelosi, Murtha laid out the bill's strategy on a liberal Web site, The legislation called for such stringent readiness standards for deploying combat forces that the president's planned troop increase would be strangled by red tape.

Pelosi learned of Murtha's remarks from reporters. At that point, authority over the war-funding bill very publicly shifted to the House Appropriations Committee and Obey, its chairman, who was conspicuously not a member of her inner circle.

"Murtha said, 'I had my plans.' He couldn't get them done, so Obey took over," said a senior House Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not cleared to discuss internal deliberations.

By the time Pelosi met with the chairmen last month to finalize the House's energy bill, her grasp on the levers of power was nearly complete. It was at this meeting that she shut down Dingell's proposals as harmful to the environment, and thus to her caucus. According to participants, she virtually manhandled Dingell, the House's longest-serving member and, at age 81, still an imposing figure.

Dingell grew angry, but he directed his rage not at Pelosi but at Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who had tried to cool him down. If Emanuel wanted to get involved in energy policy, he should try to get on the committee, Dingell snapped.

Emanuel was happy to take the heat.

"I was never part of and still am not part of that Miller/Eshoo/Lofgren/Murtha circle," Emanuel said, "and I would consider myself a true Pelosi loyalist."

To be sure, the inner circle remains powerful, particularly Miller. His longtime chief of staff, John Lawrence, is now Pelosi's chief of staff. Another veteran Miller aide, Dan Beard, is the House's new chief administrative officer, responsible for everything from broken BlackBerrys to the Capitol's decrepit power plant.

But even Pelosi's closest confidants say their influence has been diluted by the demands of the speakership. Eshoo grew wistful as she spoke recently of her "pal" Pelosi.

"I went to a conference during Memorial Day," she recalled. "And I told George Miller, 'You know, I miss Nancy.' "

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

one interesting race...

Now that immigration is dead in the Senate, I thought the year was going to be boring and uneventful. I was actually afraid that I'd have nothing valuable to post in this blog but little did I know that Illinois is home to some of the strangest politics in this country. Not only do we have a love affair with nepotism (see previous posts), but now we've got inter-family politics in the mix as well.

Apparently Representative Melissa Bean (D-8) in the northern suburbs is in danger of losing her seat, AGAIN. Bill Scheurer ran last time as an Independent but lost (obviously). Now, his wife Randi is running on the Independent ticket while Bill is planning on running on the Moderate Party's ticket.

This will be one interesting race.

Wife, husband might be rivals in U.S. House race

By Susan Kuczka
Tribune staff reporter

July 2, 2007

When Bill Scheurer ran as an independent in last year's race for the northwest suburban 8th Congressional District seat held by Barrington Democrat Melissa Bean, his wife, Randi, backed him every step of the way.

But now it will be Randi Scheurer taking the lead when she makes a run at unseating Bean, the two-term incumbent, in the 2008 Democratic primary.

"I'm running because I want to bring our troops home from Iraq now," said Scheurer, whose 29-year-old son recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the National Guard. "I consider this an illegal war, an immoral war and a war of aggression."

Although she has never run for office, Randi Scheurer got a firsthand look at how campaigns work when her husband ran under the Moderate Party banner.

Bill Scheurer said he's likely to run again as the Moderate Party candidate in next year's election. He garnered more than 5 percent of the vote in 2006, guaranteeing the party a spot on the ballot.

Married 35 years, the Scheurers said they do not expect their competing candidacies to drive a wedge between them because they both will be campaigning for an immediate troop withdrawal from the Middle East.

"We'd be happy if either one of us got in because the issue is so pressing," said Randi Scheurer, an artist and mother of four who is a member of Military Families Speak Out.

"I believe our representative isn't listening to the voices of our community," said Scheurer, who criticized Bean for supporting funding for the Iraq war.

Brian Herman, a spokesman for Bean, said her voting record shows consistent support of the troops.

"She continues to reach out and respond to her constituents, and looks forward to running on her record," Herman said.

Long Grove businessman Steve Greenberg announced plans to seek the GOP nomination.

Both Randi and Bill Scheurer said they would rely on donations to fund their individual campaigns. Most important, they said, will be taking their campaign directly to residents of their Lindenhurst neighborhood and other 8th District towns.

"I know how to walk the streets and go door to door, which I think will be the real key," Randi Scheurer said.


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