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The [Wednesday] Papers

Are you excited about the new Treasury chief nominee? The Tribune editorial board sure is. They love Henry Paulson Jr.. Normally I wouldn't weigh in on such a thing, but the Tribune's love letter to Paulson this morning was so off the mark it bears close analysis. Stay with me on this one.

"President Bush's nominee to be the next treasury secretary has a history of speaking truth to power," the Tribune opines. "We'd like to think that comes from the more than 20 years that Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Henry Paulson Jr. spent in Chicago, a town that likes bluntness.

"Bush's two prior treasury secretaries - the chief spokesmen for the president's economic and tax policies - didn't have Paulson's top-drawer reputation. It was clear from the get-go that Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, never really bought into the Bush economic program, particularly tax cuts; O'Neill oddly let himself become a Cabinet back-bencher during a war.

"The second, John Snow, who resigned Tuesday, was ineffective - even sour - when he was sent out to sell Bush's bold plans for revitalizing Social Security and the tax code."

I would take issue with the notion that the job of Treasury Secretary is to be a press secretary, but let's skip over that and get to the heart of the matter.

Paul O'Neill didn't have a top-drawer reputation? He was the widely-admired CEO of Alcoa. But don't take my word for it. A January 2001 editorial in the . . . Chicago Tribune . . . described O'Neill as "blunt-speaking," you know, just how Chicago likes it. In fact, the editorial was titled "Listen To Truth-Teller At Treasury."

Not only that, but the central theme of the editorial was that O'Neill had stated an uncomfortable truth at his confirmation hearing, one the paper said "President George W. Bush has yet to acknowledge: That big tax cut package Bush made the centerpiece of his campaign won't do much to boost a slowing economy."

Now the paper complains that O'Neill "never really bought into the Bush economic program, particularly tax cuts."

But back in 2001, the Trib editorial page wrote that O'Neill's economic priorities were "precisely" right, and that "the last thing President Bush should do is jerk the nation back into the dreary era of federal budgets scripted in red."

(Also, what does it mean to say, as the Trib edit does, that "O'Neill oddly let himself become a Cabinet back-bencher during a war"? What should O'Neill have done as Treasury Secretary, issue war bonds? And how is one simultaneously a back-bencher and one who is too outspoken, which got him fired? And how did the Tribune editorial board feel about the truth-telling of O'Neill's The Price of Loyalty? I'll tell you how. In a 2004 editorial, it disparaged O'Neill's central revelation - that the president was trumping up a case to invade Iraq from the moment he got into office - as old news.)

Now let's move on to John Snow: Again, the biggest criticism of Snow was his, well, bluntness, particularly in stating that the number of job losses suffered under the Bush presidency was a myth, and that the outsourcing of American jobs was good.

But to lay blame on Snow for also failing to advance the president's agenda, as the Tribune does, might lead cooler heads to consider whether it has been the president himself who has failed.

But then, the Trib editorial board is all over the map on this one. For example, the paper stated in a 2002 editorial that the job of the then-incoming Snow was "to make the president's case that tax cuts would spur economic growth" - just a year after it praised O'Neill for taking exactly the opposite tack.

At the same time, the Tribune noted that Snow was not a supply-sider and in fact was a strong critic of budget deficits.

In other words, Bush - the MBA president - twice named Treasury secretaries who were fundamentally in opposition to his economic program. And in both case, the Tribune editorial page praised the picks but later turned on them - just like the president.

This time around, the Trib is pleased as punch that Henry Paulson is so rich that he "doesn't need this job."

I'm not sure there has ever been a Treasury Secretary who "needed" the job. And certainly, O'Neill and Snow were really, really, really rich too.

In fact, the Trib gets the equation exactly backward. The job was so wanting it desperately needed Paulson. "Mr. Bush has been looking for months outside his circle but has had trouble finding someone who wanted the post so late in his term and in such an embattled administration," the Wall Street Journal reports, in just one of many accounts describing the difficulty of finding someone wanting to be the next Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America.

Not only that, but Paulson may be the most reluctant Treasury Secretary in history. It has been widely reported by now that he had to be aggressively recruited to take the job. His arms must still be sore from all the twisting.

"Mr. Paulson accepted an invitation to have dinner with Mr. Bush in mid-April but then cancelled because he didn't want to lead the president to believe he would take the job, according to a person close to him. Among his concerns was that Treasury secretaries in this administration have had relatively little power," the Journal says. Backbenchers!

"Mr. Bush and Mr. Paulson met at the White House on Saturday, May 20. Mr. Paulson was still reluctant - but relented the next day."

It seems to me that we're in for more of the same, no matter what assurances Bush gave Paulson about how much flexibility he would have to do his job honestly. Consider this passage from The New York Times this morning: "Like Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Paulson has strong views on economic policies that support balanced budgets, which may not match with the Bush administration policies that have contributed to historic budget deficits."

Skyway to Heaven
Of course, we don't know if city workers put extra toll collectors on the Skyway to make sure the mayor didn't have to wait on his return from weekends at his Michigan cottage because the mayor ordered it (unlikely) or because they were just being tiny men (likely), but more significant is the absolute absence of any coherent defense of the mayor's boys at the Sorich trial.

Judging by the Tribune's account today, the defense has stumbled badly.

"[Defense lawyer] Cynthia Giachetti on Tuesday suggested that [former Streets and San personnel director Jack] Drumgould was so desperate to find toll collectors that he gladly took recommendations for new employees from a variety of people.

"Drumgould responded that he received plenty of names of people to hire from the mayor's office and from then-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, a leader of the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization."


"Sorich's attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, pointed out that Drumgould received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony even though he was involved in the alleged corruption."

[Um, you got immunity because you were in on it with my client? Doesn't that acknowledge his client's guilt?]

"You never violated a criminal statute?" Durkin asked.

"Drumgould responded that he had not but he acknowledged violating the federal Shakman decree, which prohibits political influence in hiring and promotion for most city jobs."


Durkin tried the old but historically ineffective line that political hiring has long been a fact of life around here but is only now being prosecuted as a crime. He then tried to ask questions about the hiring policies of the late Mayor Harold Washington, who has not been charged in the case.

"Outside the presence of the jury, [U.S. District Court Judge Robert] Coar told Durkin he was 'getting way beyond what's reasonable here' and told Durkin some of his theories 'are beyond far-fetched.'"

Or, perhaps better said, it's the same defense George Ryan's lawyer, Dan Webb, tried without the style. And it's heading toward the same conclusion.

The best hope for the defense is that there is an recalcitrant juror on the panel. Or that we'll soon see the criminal backgrounds of the jurors exposed and the case will be thrown into a tizzy. But even that didn't work for Ryan, a slim chance at a successful appeal notwithstanding.

Wi-Fi Sigh
Huh. The Sun-Times published a press release from the mayor's office and accidentally put the name of one of their reporters on top of it.

But seriously, wouldn't it be great to have city-wide Wi-Fi?

Sure. But isn't it also a bit more complicated than the early reports? For example, where will the points of corruption be? Because this is Chicago; we know it will happen. Which of the mayor's pals are already setting themselves up for a slice? Who will get the contracts?

Beyond that, what kind of service will we get - will it be like cable TV? Or cell phones? Will the service just kind of blank out during high winds or aldermanic campaigns?

And is this fair to private businesses? Where is the Starbucks lobby?

All interesting questions. Far more interesting than wild assertions like a mayor "determined" do something for the poor saying "We'll be the first major city to move ahead in [bridging] this digital divide. No other city has done that in America."

The Tribune's account quotes an expert noting that Philadephia is close to launching Wi-Fi, having approved a contract with EarthLink, and that San Francisco, Portland, and Anaheim are also working on deals.

I have a feeling the digital divide question has come up in those cities as well. So unless he can back up his mouth, the mayor ought to cool the hyperbole and the press ought to stop reporting it.

Letter Carriers
"Ald. Eugene Schulter's idea to implant microchips in dogs should first be tested on Chicago aldermen," suggests Ken Marier, of Lakeview.

"When Ozzie Guillen became manager of the White Sox, he put the fun back in the fundamentals. When Dusty Baker took over the reins of the Cubs, he took the mental out of the same," observes Reese Thompson, of the Near North Side.

Both in the Sun-Times.

Katie's Cuts
All I have to say about Paige Wiser's examination of Katie Couric's various hairstyles over the years is . . . boy, Katie had a bad 90s.

All in the Sun-Times Family
The Sun-Times is a family newspaper. Today, the wife of the publisher writes a send-off column to their college-bound son. A couple weeks ago, their daughter wrote about her vacation with mom (second story in the package). What's next, a column from the family pet?

The Beachwood Tip Line: Free with purchase of an education-funding lottery ticket.


Posted on May 31, 2006

MUSIC - Holiday Hullabaloo.
POLITICS - Bank Profits Soaring.
SPORTS - Chicago vs. Michigan, 1903.

BOOKS - Dia De Los Muertos Stories.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: West Town Blues.

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