Monday, January 19, 2009

Top 5: Predecessors to the Obama Presidency

Tomorrow we inaugurate our first black president. Many people helped prepare the way for this event. It would be difficult to imagine this historic event without these “John the Baptist’s” of the Obama presidency. Here are my Top 5.
  1. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the most important leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he helped bring an end to institutionalized racism and disenfranchisement of blacks.
  2. Jesse Jackson. His “Rainbow Coalition” attempted to bring all racial minorities together in his attempts to win the presidency. Even though he was unsuccessful at securing the presidency, good ideas often must be tried and failed before they are successful. Since Obama did not win a majority of whites, it was indeed a rainbow coalition that put him over the top.
  3. Howard Dean. Dean was an important predecessor in two different ways. First, his 2004 race for the presidency demonstrated the power of the Internet to mobilize voters. Obama built upon Dean’s accomplishments and saw new heights in the use of the Internet to build a grassroots organization. Second, as chair of the DNC, Dean extended the reach of the Democratic Party with his 50-State Strategy. By strengthening party organization in places where Democrats have not been competitive, Dean helped Obama win some formerly Red states, such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana.
  4. David Palmer. Dennis Haysbert played this character on the 24 television series. We should not diminish this character’s importance just because he is fictional. Art of many forms, including TV shows, help us imagine possibilities for the future and overcome our prejudices. This was not the only depiction of a black president in film. Here you will find a complete list.
  5. Hillary Clinton. Last Spring, I thought that Clinton was diminishing Obama’s chances by staying in the race until the end. With the benefit of hindsight, I am now of a different opinion. By staying in the race, Clinton forced Obama into building grassroots organizations in all 50 states. This ultimately helped Obama win the general election.
Who would you add to the list?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Top 5: Most Perplexing Things About US Automobiles

The Treasury department has recently given a line of credit to the “Big 3” automakers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) to help them survive the economic downturn. Whether they continue to survive long-term is still an open question. Ultimately, it will be consumers who decide. Will consumers prefer Big 3 products, or other companie's products? With that in mind, here are some of the most perplexing things I find about the products of the Big 3.

  1. GMC: GMC makes products that are almost identical to Chevrolet products. Many of the parts are even interchangeable. So, isn’t it superfluous? Why would GM have a division that mostly competes with another one of its divisions?
  2. Heating/AC: Why can a Japanese car company make heating and AC controls that are more intuitive and practical than American car companies? What the heck does “bi-level” mean anyway? And why can’t I have the AC and the lower vent on at the same time in an American automobile?
  3. Car Names: Two words, Fiesta and Probe. Why would anyone want to drive something called a Fiesta or a Probe? I don’t think anyone buys a car because they like the name, but I’ll bet there are plenty who wouldn’t buy a car because of the name. There are so many choices out there, it’s easy to cross one off the list because it has funny name.
  4. Ford Minivans: Why can’t Ford make a decent minivan? If you already make good trucks and SUVs, is it that much of a stretch to come up with a good minivan? Ford used to make the Windstar, which was awful according to any rating organization you look at. Now, it no longer makes a minivan. I guess it’s accepted defeat.
  5. A political scientist can tell what’s wrong, but highly paid auto executives can’t: The US auto companies pay a lot of smart people a lot of money to make good management decisions. So, why do they do so many dumb things? I’m just a political scientist with no auto industry expertise, and yet, many of the problems with US automobiles seem obvious to me. I can only surmise, as an outsider, that there is something wrong with the decision making structure in these bloated, bureaucratic companies. There is a theory in political science that while the public is largely stupid when it comes to political issues, it is collectively quite wise. Maybe in these car companies we are witnessing the opposite—a bunch of smart executives who are collectively quite stupid.
Anything you find perplexing about GM, Ford, or Chrysler products?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Blagojevich Impeached!

So much for prediction #4 (see below). Jake was right (see comment section), the Illinois House impeached Blagojevich, and he still hasn't stepped down. In the next step, a trial will be held in the Illinois Senate to decide if the charges are true. He may still step before it comes to that, but I hesitate to make any more predictions about the Governors determination to stay in office.