Finally, some good news

Progressives have taken quite a beating in the Obama cabinet announcements. Free marketeers Summers or Geithner are the options at Treasury, militarists Clinton and Kerry are top candidates for the State Department, and Commerce nearly went to Penny Pritzker, whose main qualifications were that she inherited a lot of money and was effective at convincing a lot of rich people to donate to Obama.

Fortunately, Pritzker has taken herself out of consideration after it became clear that her involvement in a collapsed bank deeply implicated in the subprime lending market might lead to bad publicity. (Update: a good article on the Pritzker family's long history of shady business dealings. It turns out they were pioneers in the use of foreign tax shelters to avoid paying their share of the tax burden - a practice, incidentally, that was a key early factor in driving the financialization of the economy because it forced the US to deregulate its banking system so rich people's capital wouldn't all go overseas.) And we might also escape Clinton because her husband's financial dealings have been so questionable. But it's cold comfort when you have to hope for self-sabotage to avoid neoliberal/corporate/imperialist nominees from an ostensibly liberal president-elect.

On another key appointment, I'm still not sure if we finally have an ally or not. Tom Daschle will be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, and he will also be given the lead role in crafting a health reform proposal. Daschle co-wrote a book on reforming healthcare, which I haven't seen yet, but if the National Review is right, he supports
mandates on individuals and businesses to buy or offer coverage; new government-run insurance options for the under-65 population; a national governmental agency offering anyone who wants it to sign up for insurance outside of work; large new subsidy programs; and much more government involvement in determining what is and is not effective medical care.
If this is true, and if Daschle can use his experience as a former Senate leader to push reform thru Congress, then we have our first reason for optimism.

The reason I had to resort to quoting National Review is that all the other accounts focus on Daschle's plan to create a Federal Health Board, which would regulate the entire health industry and, like the Federal Reserve Board, be insulated from political pressure. While such a body could no doubt bring some order out of the absurdly complex mix of inefficient private insurers and the restricted and fragmented public insurers, it's not at all clear that creating an unaccountable body to do this is the right way to go. I will try to get ahold of Daschle's book and figure out the details. In the meantime, the best indication that Daschle might be our friend is his incredible glasses.

If the Daschle appointment is our only (ambiguous) ray of light coming from the emerging Obama administration, there is one development we can celebrate without reserve: Henry Waxman has usurped John Dingell's position as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Dingell is an old (really old - he first joined Congress in 1955) friend of the auto industry, and has been a maddening obstacle for years to finally taking action on the climate crisis. The Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to bypass the seniority system and hand control to Waxman, who should help advance legislation to fight global warming. But the big question remains - will the government act forcefully enough to avert disaster, or will new laws be too little too late? We'll have to wait for more concrete signals from the Obama administration, but in the meantime we can make our demands clear on the Global Day of Action on Climate, December 6 (in Chicago at Millenium Park, 11am).

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