As I reported in my book After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era and in a Newsweek column at the time (which focused on how the Red Cross was duped into becoming a gravy train for “lost business” grants to car service and limo drivers in New York who overstated their losses), despite its best intentions, the Red Cross was pretty bad at long-term relief. Tens of millions were wasted or even stolen. (Someone in Michigan got $286,000 to repay his dead brother’s mortgage.) And little of it was given out based on consistent, transparent standards. Will the Red Cross be similarly pressured into spending its surplus Sandy donations on projects it cannot handle?
If the Red Cross is still incompetent implementing long-term relief programs, but is planning again to provide them, that’s a story. If it has gotten better at using what is again likely to be hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to offer long-term aid, that’s an even better story. Or if 11 years after its 9/11 missteps, America’s go-to charity is using Sandy as another billboard for collecting funds only to hoard another windfall, that’s obviously something we need to know.
Getting Mitt’s transition papers:
No matter who wins the vote on Tuesday, someone ought to get as many of the transition memos generated by Governor Romney’s much-heralded transition task force as possible.
Obviously, if he wins, this will be great - though really difficult to obtain - material because it will shed immediate light on what his plans are. Is he going to be moderate Mitt or the “severe conservative” already thinking about heading off a challenge from the right in a 2016 Iowa caucus?
But even if Romney loses, the work done by his transition planners could make for some great stories. These papers, which will be much easier for a reporter to coax someone into leaking if President Obama wins, would tell us about the Romney Administration policy and personnel choices that might have been, while shedding light on who the real Romney is. They might also suggest some paths for President Obama to take toward bipartisanship. Suppose, for example, that Romney’s people - as a way toward ending the deficit stalemate - had a Simpson-Bowles-like plan in the works that reversed his “severe conservative” pledge not to ask the well-off to sacrifice extra tax payments. Obama could seize on it as a great idea and maybe even consider a cabinet post for a member of the transition team - such as its chief, former Utah governor Michael Leavitt, or even Romney himself — to lead the effort.
The ex-president’s book deal:
If Obama loses, I’d like to see a quick report on what his book advance is likely to be. After all, before he was anybody, he wrote a bestseller, Dreams from My Father, that showcased terrific writing and storytelling skills. The book revealed an autobiographer willing to share his thoughts and emotions to a degree that politicians usually do not. If Obama can make an account of growing up and going to Harvard Law School riveting, imagine what he can do with his most recent material.
Longer term, to get the scoop on an Obama book deal, someone needs to bird-dog Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who has negotiated DC-centric books for authors ranging from Bill and Hillary Clinton, to Bob Woodward and Katharine Graham, to Sarah Palin and George W. and Laura Bush. Barnett represented Obama for the publication of his second book, The Audacity of Hope, and was on his presidential debate prep team.