Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Note To All Obama Appointees: Pay Your Darned Taxes.

A few weeks ago, when I had the unmitigated gall to state that just maybe Barack Obama should have more Negroes in his Cabinet, I was roundly shouted down, Joseph Lowery-style, as being trapped in the 60's. What did it matter if the folks were black? The diversity is at the top of the ticket. We're in a recession. This ain't Soul Train. Hire the best and brightest. Color, schmolor.

The thing that kinda ticks me off about this line of thinking is that it assumes that white candidates are always qualified beyond reproach, an ironclad fact that's never to be questioned. Needless to say, I don't agree with this assertion, and to some degree, it smacks of "white man's ice is colder" syndrome. Why assume that there aren't a sh*tload of qualified blacks out there? And BTW, if you've got so much dirt that you can't get cleared for the gig by the Senate, what good are your qualifications anyway?

[Editor's Note: I'm sure all this "like Obama one day, criticize him the next" yo-yo'ing is confusing some of you. Don't be puzzled. It's called objectivity.]

So far, not unlike prior administrations, Obama is having his appointees reveal (or have revealed) some particularly embarrassing information. There was Tim Geithner's $43,000 tax return snafu, which might be excusable if the guy weren't applying for a gig to run the freakin' IRS!!!. How can you be an expert at something, yet fail miserably at its most basic concepts? Seriously, would you hire a landscaper with a grass allergy? Hand your kids over to a babysitter who hates crying? Buy some nookie from a virgin pimp? Think about it.

There was Bill Richardson's pay-to-play cluster, which caused him to withdraw from his Commerce appointment. And now, yet another Obama choice is being dinged for something very, very silly.
Thomas A. Daschle, nominated to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, did not pay more than $128,000 in taxes over three years, a revelation that poses a potential obstacle to his Senate confirmation.

The back taxes, along with $12,000 in interest and penalties, involved unreported consulting fees, questionable charitable contributions, and a car and driver provided by a private equity firm run by entrepreneur and longtime Democratic Party donor Leo J. Hindery Jr., according to a confidential draft report prepared by Senate Finance Committee staff.

A spokeswoman for Daschle confirmed last night that he recently paid back taxes in excess of $100,000. She said that Daschle, a former Senate majority leader, and his accountant discovered the error regarding the luxury car service and reported it to the committee after his vetting was completed.

Daschle paid the back taxes six days before his first Senate confirmation hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Finance Committee, however, has jurisdiction over his nomination.

Because of an apparent clerical error by the equity firm, Daschle did not report more than $83,000 in consulting fees in 2007 and has not provided sufficient documentation relating to $15,000 in charitable contributions over three years, according to the panel's report. He and his wife, Linda, gave $276,000 in charitable contributions during the three-year period being studied by the panel, according to a Daschle aide.

His spokeswoman, Jenny Backus, said the presidential transition team "concluded that some of his charitable donations were not properly documented and may have been deducted in error," and the couple paid $5,693 in back taxes.

In addition to earning $2.1 million from the law firm Alston & Bird, the former three-term senator has also been on the payroll of Hindery's private equity firm, InterMedia Advisors, since he left the Senate in 2005, earning $1 million per year, according to documents filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
Are these honest errors? Prolly. A guy making $3M/year is liable to run into some tax problems. But ask youself this question: how hard would it be to find someone both qualified and squeaky clean? And BTW, what happened to that pledge Barry made a couple of weeks ago about hiring lobbyists? In case you didn't know, Daschle wasn't busting suds at Sizzler. He was getting nearly $20k/pop to "speak" to the very same companies he's now supposed to keep in check. Yeah, that's pretty d*mn cruddy.

[UPDATE: Here's one more for ya'. $900 seems like small change, but I guess if you gotta go, you gotta go.]
An Obama administration official says Nancy Killefer is withdrawing her candidacy to be the first chief performance officer for the federal government.

The official said the 55-year-old executive with consulting giant McKinsey & Co., will detail her reason for pulling out later Tuesday.

When her selection was announced by President Barack Obama on Jan. 7, The Associated Press disclosed that in 2005 the District of Columbia government had filed a more than $900 tax lien on her home for failure to pay unemployment compensation tax on household help.

Since then, administration officials have refused to answer questions about the tax error which she resolved five months after the lien was filed.
Nancy prolly looked at the piddy gubb'ment check she was gonna get from the Feds, compared it to her lavish corporate salary, and said "bump it". I woulda too.

Again, I'm not saying these folks aren't qualified to get the gigs, but I think it also shows that when you limit yourself to a relatively small pool of cronies and also-rans, you're more apt to have embarrassing episodes like the three mentioned above. Does this reflect badly on Obama? Not necessarily. But it does perhaps suggest that he leans too heavily on the same ole' methods of choosing his lackeys as his predecessors? Despite all his talk of "change", I think it does.

Besides, it's clear that running a Cabinet level position doesn't necessarily require domain expertise, but rather a proven track record of leadership. Among the others considered for the HHS post: Howard Dean and Kathleen Sebelius. Neither strikes me as being a particularly well versed in "Improving the health, safety, and well-being of America", which is the department's stated motto.

But, I digress. Back to the "where's the Negroes?" thing, apparently I'm not the only one who noticed the lack of AverageBros in Obama's Cabinet. America's favorite marginalized organization, the Congressional Black Caucus, is crying the same song.
The Congressional Black Caucus is lobbying President Barack Obama to pick African-American technology executive John Thompson to be his commerce secretary.

Thompson is chairman and chief executive officer of Symantec Corp, the software security company best known for its Norton computer protection products. He is expected to step down in early April.

In a letter to Obama, the caucus members stressed that Thompson is the only African-American leading a major technology company.

The letter, sent last week and obtained Thursday by The Hill, also lists the seven black Cabinet members chosen by President Clinton during his two terms. Obama has selected four African-Americans for Cabinet positions.

“We commend you for making diversity an important priority as you consider your Cabinet selections, in terms of race, perspectives, party and geography given past progress by other presidents in naming African-Americans to senior Cabinet posts,” said the letter, signed by 38 of the 41 members of the CBC.
This being politricks and all, of course Obama just disregarded this nonsense and is about to appoint a Republican Vermont Senator to that Commerce gig. The motivation isn't who's "best for the job", it's really a move to help the Dems win their bulletproof majority in the Senate in a few years. Smart politricks? You betcha. Change? Uhh, not so much.

What should you make of this post? I'm not even sure myself, but my overall feeling is that I expected Obama's change-fueled ascent to be something new, innovative, and well, different. Hiring cronies, also-rans, and rewarding supporters smacks as more of the same to me. I'm just sayin'.

[BREAKING NEWS: Daschle also just pulled out. Maybe Barack is putting his pimp hand down behind the scenes. Assuming he has one. He prolly don't.]

Question: Do the personal snafus of his appointees reflect poorly on Barack Obama's judgement? Does the CBC have a point about the lack of blacks in the Obama Cabinet?

Daschle Owed Back Taxes That Exceeded $128,000 [WashPost]

CBC wants African-American as Commerce secretary [TheHill]

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