Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Obama voices 'Dreams,' hobnobs with legends

Obama voices 'Dreams,' hobnobs with legends

May 26, 2005


On five weekend days spread through February, March and April, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) headed to Bosco Productions on East Grand in Chicago, a recording studio.

The result, just released, is the audiobook, in Obama's own voice, of his best-selling autobiography, Dreams from My Father. The complete book took Obama 20 hours to record in five sessions of four hours each. The compact disc set listening time is 7.5 hours.

Random House is offering several ways to hear Obama tell his story; the abridged compact disc set is $25.95 and an abridged audio download was selling online for $13. Maybe this will lead to an Emmy for Obama.

Earlier in May, Obama and wife, Michelle, headed to California to attend part of Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball weekend, which ran May 13-15 at her spread in Santa Barbara. The current edition of People magazine, which puts the Oprah festivities on the cover, features a great picture of Obama, grinning from here to there as he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Barbra Streisand.

Obama paid for the trip himself, not out of political funds, one of his spokesmen told me.

Why no Illinois filibuster

There is a reason why Illinois federal judicial picks never figure in controversial Senate confirmation fights. That's because for years there has been a bipartisan deal between the Illinois powers in Congress to only send consensus nominations to the White House.

Here's how it works under the Illinois Pact, where the advise part of advise and consent is taken seriously. It is a model the rest of the nation may want to pay some attention to as the Senate gets back to work after averting a showdown over President Bush's most contentious nominees.

The deal ensures the party in the minority still has a voice in picking federal judges. It worked like this Wednesday. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Obama, with the agreement of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), sent Bush two proposed nominees -- Gary Feinerman, the solicitor general for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Virginia Kendall, a federal prosecutor, for one vacancy on the federal District Court sitting in Chicago.

Illinois Democrats get one out of every four slots, since the GOP holds the White House. Hastert, as the top Republican -- and with Bush in the White House -- has three out of every four slots. If a Democrat were to be president, the ratio would be reversed.

What makes this work is that no name goes forward unless all three -- Hastert, Durbin, Obama -- can live with the choice. The names sent to Bush on Wednesday came from the Democrats, and two were provided to give Bush a choice.

Dems aim at Roskam

State Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton), who is running for Congress (for the retiring Rep. Henry Hyde [R-Ill.] seat), skipped a vote in Springfield on Friday on a Democratic resolution against Bush's plan to create private investment accounts from Social Security payroll taxes which passed. He was one of seven state senators who did not vote, but the only one to get in the cross hairs of Citizen Action, a Democratic-allied group working against the Bush plan. Not voting calls into question, said Citizen Action, his "readiness for Congress."

Cloutless in Chicago

So Mayor Daley has discovered that clout plays a role in city hiring and now, with yet another expose in the headlines, finally wants to do something about it. He is looking to invent some antiseptic process that may restore some credibility to his administration.

Let me tell you a story.

In the late 1960s, even at the height of wide-open patronage under the first Mayor Daley, the city had a system that let in the naive applicants who did not know they were supposed to get a political sponsor for a job. I was a junior in high school, at Von Steuben, on the North Side and clueless about clout. My mother, of blessed memory, had said there is this thing called civil service, where people with the top grades on tests were first in line for jobs.

I cold-called City Hall sometime in 1968 and asked what exams were being given for people without a high school diploma. I was told the Chicago Public Library hired junior library clerks without a degree.

I took the test, scored, I think second place and just like that got a job that I worked at for three summers. My point is, there are systems for Mayor Daley to do it right. There are ways. Always have been. There just has to be the political will.

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