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Archive for the ‘Obama Cabinet’ Category

Painted Painted Painted, Painted… White?

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 16, 2009

The Rolling Stones saw a red door and wanted to paint it black. Steven Chu, US Energy Secretary and Nobel prize winner, saw a black roof and he wants to paint it white.

Either way it’s no colour anymore.

While Jagger’s nihilistic anthem grew to become one of the theme songs of the Vietnam War, Chu’s hopeful musing may grow to become a touchstone of the greening of America. You see, Steven Chu is smarter than you, me… well, pretty much everyone this side of Steven Hawking, and sometimes it takes genius to perceive and promote the obvious. We all know that dark colors absorb heat– it’s why we wear white in the summer– yet we seem to have forgotten that when we made our rooftops and roads black or other dark colors.


In a speech a couple of weeks ago, Chu pointed out that if (admittedly unrealistically) we all painted our roofs and roads white the carbon impact would be the same as removing all the world’s cars for eleven years. No cap and trade gyrations, no 17,000 page House Bills alleging to set a roadmap to saving the environment whole similarly saving ExxonMobil’s shareholders any undue pain, no laws enforcing the use of hu-manure in our landscaping to limit nitrogen fertilizer production. Just white paint, leading to a 10-20% reduction in electricity bills in a standard building while also killing off the “heat island” effect that those of us who live in large cities know all too well and reflecting solar radiation back into space, leading to an overall atmospheric cooling.

It seems so easy that it can’t really work, right? Yet there exists a large and ever growing body of research that Chu drew on in his comments that shows that not only do white roofs work, but they work better than initial estimates ever dreamed they could.

This dichotomy, the exquisitely simple answer for the dauntingly complex problem, is something that Americans are loathe to accept. We all complain about the complexity of life, the unneeded red tape of bureaucracy, the burying of common sense under layer upon layer of sophistry, yet when a simple idea comes along that can make a real impact we are conditioned to laugh it off or at the very best give it a shrugged, “Huh, that’s interesting… but what’s the catch?”. That, to me, is one of the most interesting challenges we Americans face as a society, this reverence for simplicity and common sense but our out of hand rejection of it when it appears.

It emerges so many times, just in the energy debate and in forms from the everyday to the grandiose. We are falling over ourselves to buy impractical and unsafe miniaturized cars in an effort to reduce carbon footprint… yet we won’t take a train or bus to get to work. We want vehicles that use less fuel, but instead of insisting upon real research into petroleum-free cars and trucks we have stalled out on this hybrid vehicle temporization which allows us to feel good about the direction we’re going in while actually stalling the progress towards the destination. A friend of this blog has for years been saying that what we need is an energy “Manhattan Project”, bringing together the best minds in a crash program to actually make an impact on energy problems… yet we spend even more money than that would take in uncoordinated fits and starts in a million directions that aren’t mutually supporting.

I won’t bother you with yet another call for a return to common sense– we’ve heard it a million times from some of the the least sensible people out there and we ignore it every time, perhaps because we have heard it a million times from some of the least sensible people out there. What I will do, though, is ask you to share with someone else (or with the comments section of this entry… hint hint) at least one of those dumb ideas you’ve had, the one that you say, “Nah, that couldn’t be right” but that keeps popping into your head. Forget how geekish it sounds, that it could be (hell, probably is) fundamentally flawed in some way, whatever. A Nobel Laureate is pimping the wonderfully non-complex idea of painting our rooftops white and using light colored cement for roads because it would make a huge difference in energy usage; can your ideas be much simpler or more obvious than that?

We laugh off so many ideas that seem unworkable because they aren’t nearly complex enough to mesh with our incredibly complex society; perhaps it is time to stop laughing and paint it white.


Posted in American Politics, Environment, Obama Cabinet | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

An Even Happier St. Patty’s Day

Posted by Bob Kohm on March 17, 2009

On this day, a day that all of America takes on the green of Ireland, we have a little present for our Irish brethren across the sea– we’re goign to teach you a bit about real football. President Obama has just named Dan Rooney– yes, that Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers– as the Ambassador of the United States to Ireland. Not only do you get a prince, you get one who knows the difference between soccer and football!

Posted in American History, American Politics, European Union, Obama Cabinet | 2 Comments »

Sanjay Gupta Kicked Upstairs and Off the Air?

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 6, 2009

cnn-logo1Is there a more annoying thing than turning on CNN to try and catch the news and instead getting Dr. Sanjay Gupta smiling his way through a two segment piece on pancreatic cancer? As impressed as I’ve been with Obama’s Cabinet & senior staff picks, the buzz about naming Sanjay Gupta Surgeon General drives me to distraction. I get the rationale– the Surgeon General’s chief job is to cheerlead the White House’s health policy and various causes and a media-savvy guy like Gupta has the ins to smooth that process, but sheesh, Sanjay Gupta in a position of authority over anything? He did have a functionary-type job in the Clinton White House, granted, but I’d prefer a Surgeon General who might have treated an actual patient or at least has stepped into a hospital without a producer and cameraman in the last ten years. Call me a traditionalist.

Then again, it will get him off of CNN…

Posted in Healthcare Policy, Obama Cabinet | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Leon Panetta at CIA Means Bad Things Long Term for DNI

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 5, 2009


It is no secret that many view the CIA as, once again, a broken organization. Still reeling from the triple blows of the selective intelligence scandal that led to the disastrous   briefing before the start of the Iraq War, the indignity of the DCI having to answer to an “Intelligence Czar” after the 9/11 Commission Report hit and the misadventures of some of the folks on the Ops side of the house, CIA is little more than a gaggle of intelligent analysts working under a shell shocked and demoralized hierarchy of GS-15s and SES appointees trying to regain some swagger and find a direction. Sure, the meta-stuff is out there– track bin Laden, analyze alQ data, keep an eye on China & Russia, get a handle on the developing Egyptian situation, etc.– but that stuff is almost background noise at this point; it’s the stoplight idling of a sports car engine.

Enter management guru but intelligence naif Leon Panetta. Panetta is nobody’s idea of a DCI– he’s a political guy who happens to be good at running organizations; at the top level he doesn’t seem like someone who can restore the sense of purpose and bravado to the Agency. 

He’s actually uniquely suited to do so.

Barack Obama is a very pragmatic guy; some in the GOP may crow (still… yawn) about Democrats meaning big government, but I believe that Obama will be looking to set his government as an efficient machine and kick off the training wheels when he has confidence in each component. When I consider that the whole DNI overlord position is just another layer of bureaucracy rather than a true coordinator of disparate agencies and departments and hear in the background that idling engine stuck in traffic at Langley I start to see something new emerging. 

Leon Panetta is a mechanic. He’s there to tune the engine and fix the machine so that it can run on its own again. 

Panetta’s entire skill set revolves around taking malfunctioning bureaucracies and government institutions and making them work; look at the discipline and efficiency he imposed upon the biggest group of glory hounds we’ve seen in recent years, the Clinton Cabinet. If Mr. Panetta can bring that kind of efficiency and purpose to Langley, CIA may again become the useful tool that it once was and that I believe Mr. Obama intends for it to be again. If CIA under Panetta can gain the confidence of Obama in two years, I would look for the office of DNI to first be downplayed and then, eventually, eliminated as a cost savings to the American Government.

Dennis Blair, who will be installed at DNI, is exactly the intel pro who can keep the operations and analysis flowing while Panetta acts as a one man HR & Organizational Review shop. Put them together and you have the chance of CIA coming out of this being what it should actually be– a flexible organization that while task oriented also follows a long term strategic trajectory and does so without internal drama. Dare to dream.

As for the politics of the announcement, this one was a beauty. While incoming Chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Diane von Furstenberg Feinstein got her designer togs all wrinkled rushing to find the nearest mic to scream into today over Panetta being chosen against her stated desires and without her even being consulted, other members of Senate Select Intel (notably the gentleman from Oregon) were waiting to cut her off at the knees with the acknowledgement that they had been consulted.

The whole announcement drama can be traced back to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s very public bitch-slapping of Rahm Emmanuel while he was effectively gagged by Patrick Fitzgerald and the Blago mess. Madame Speaker very kindly (and publicly) advised Emmanuel that not only was his advice and counsel not needed nor welcomed when the topic was House Leadership and procedure but that the incoming President was not allowed to speak to any member of the Democratic Caucus in the House without what amounted to her permission, and that the President was then to provide her with a debrief of every conversation that she chose to allow.  It would seem that Ms. Pelosi’s powerplay was deemed in need of a similarly public reversal, hence Mr. Obama choosing to embarrass the hell out of Pelosi ally Feinstein today by goign under, around, and over her without a word on the nomination. She’s not in a position to torpedo the nomination– Panetta has too many friends that Feinstein relies upon, and besides there’s no way any Dem is going to get in the way of the juggernaut that will be the Confirmation Hearings and come out unscathed.

In the end the Panetta pick is a slightly risky one for Obama– should CIA have some great failing in the next year due to a lack of professionalism, having a non-intel guy at the helm will look bad– but one that could pay high dividends, both in the return to function of the CIA as well as in undoing the dopey DNI implementation. That it sevred as an object lesson in power politics to Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid and all other interested parties– well, that was just cake.

Posted in American Politics, Intelligence (and lack thereof), Obama Cabinet | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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